30 September 2012

Single Frame Stories Week 9 "In Retrospect"

For this weeks Single Frame Story, the topic is "In Retrospect"

"In retrospect, when Earths billionaires started building the Moonbase, we should have realized just how bad things were becoming."

I'm quite pleased with this picture, even though it's quite simple I was able to figure out how to get the shadows working thanks to Strawberry Singh and her tutorials, and I had a go at the windlight settings, but depth of field makes it all look weird.

Taken at Moonbase 

“The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

28 September 2012

Book Review:- The Scope of Skepticism


Kylie Sturgess is a powerhouse..really..I just looked at her "About Me" page and I just went Wow, she's busy...
She writes for the Skeptical Enquirer, has been the co-host for the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne in 2010 and 2012, she also writes for Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, appears on The Skeptic Zone podcast and The Pod Delusion, all this while teaching philosophy and studying psychology.
I first came across Kylie when looking for podcasts that feature scientists, and found the  Token Skeptic podcast and she has just produced a book about some of the people she has interviewed on the show.

The book is titled:-

The Scope of Skepticism: Interviews, Essays and Observations From the Token Skeptic Podcast

Kylie started the Token Skeptic podcast on 26th December 2009, and now has about 15,000 downloads a month. Episodes can be from 20 minutes to over an hour, and encompasses a wide variety of guests over the 137 (Another one!) 138 episodes she has done so far. 

Token Skeptic episodes include interviews with Andy Lewis of the Quackometer, Dr Steve Novella and his talk at QEDCon (highly recommended), Robin Ince, members of StoptheAVN, Laurence Leung, Dr Richard Wiseman, and Warren Bonett of Embiggen Books. (Warren gets a special mention as he put my suggestion in a window display once.)

The book is a collection of interviews that include Tim Minchin, Stephen Fry, Daniel Loxton, Dr Pamela Gay, Dr Petra Boynton (who I follow on twitter), with 18 interviews in total.

I enjoyed reading many of them, Tim Minchin, Steven Fry are well known and totally wonderful, others I have not heard of before, such as Benjamin Radford, Liz Liddell and some who I didn't know by name, but by what they did such as Sharon Hill of doubtful news.

I admit I did find the one with Caroline Watt to be most interesting and also about the online parapsychology course that she runs (Started 24th September so a bit late now if anyone was interested, sorry).

There was one interview where I'm thinking "What?...what?..call yourself a skeptic?.... You have to buy the book to find out who that was...It's not expensive...so go ahead.. 

If that is not enough Kylie, also blogs at Free Thought Blogs

Do yourself a favor and add the Token Skeptic podcast to your podcast list.

“Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism" - David Suzuki 

Token Skeptic image used with permission of Kylie Sturguess

27 September 2012

Single Frame Stories Week 8 "Objectification"

For this weeks Single Frame Story, the topic is "Objectification"

I must thank the wonderful Strawberry Singh for her fairy presence, and I regret that my main viewer froze just as I had everything set up, so AGAIN..I'm using a less than good quality picture resolution :-(

"Listening to my beautiful little friend Strawberry telling me about her problems, I imagined she would be  wonderful as a candleholder."

"There is nothing more objectifying than poverty." ~Sarah Katherine Lewis

26 September 2012

US Commission on International Religious Freedom

 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

         I've never heard of this commission before, but then it's not really surprising, as there is so much stuff government do that nobody recognizes or utilizes, but as someone who watches the activities of the churches and religion it's still a bit odd. I asked on twitter if anyone else had heard of it, and only 1 person in about 7 US citizens did.

It's an independent body that investigates religious freedom in the world, just as the title says. I don't see anywhere on it site to say it covers freedom FROM religion, it's been around since 1998 and was formed with the passing of the US International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

I am glad to see it sees Defamation of Religion as a dangerous move to move from people have human rights to religion having some sort of special protection.

What is very puzzling to me is that some of these pages on current issues have not been updated since 2009, such as the anti-antisemitism pages. It's almost as if they realised no one was actually visiting their site, and so stopped bothering. On the other hand the What's New page is updated with their activities

I'm also not sure how well the pages are fact checked as one page on Burma states how the commission met with the oppressed Buddhists, who actually are the majority. I suspect they met with the Muslims.

The Commission on International Religious Freedom issues an annual report every May 1, and has some quite interesting documents and reports on it's site, oddly enough most of the countries of concern are Muslim ones. Seems they doesn't really play nice with minority religions, and dare I say it, atheists.

But...That's not all....

The US State Dept has Office of International Religious Freedom

What is the difference between USCIRF and the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom?

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity, while the Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) — also established under IRFA—is part of the U.S. State Department.  Both USCIRF and the State Department release annual reports on international religious freedom, but each has different purposes. The State Department's report documents religious freedom violations in every country in the world.  USCIRF’s Annual Report, by statute, recommends countries to be designated as “countries of particular concern” which the Executive Branch must consider.  The report also examines select countries, and while also documenting abuses, makes policy recommendations to the executive and legislative branches of government.  USCIRF’s report also comments on the effectiveness of the State Department’s efforts to promote international religious freedom.

So I still don't get why two of these Departments are needed? But I don't see the USCIRF as either a good or a bad thing, but somehow it just makes me uneasy. Maybe it's because as a atheist I see religion as a mental illness, and these organisations have been setup help propagate it, even though on the other hand it's possibly helping others to be free of tyranny.

I'll keep it bookmarked, it might produce something of interest every May.

Further reading

US State Dept Office of International Religious Freedom


USCIRF Wikipedia entry (Out of Date)

The ACLU has a few words about USCIRF

We will be a better country when each religious group can trust its members to obey the dictates of their own religious faith without assistance from the legal structure of their country. - Margaret Mead

24 September 2012

Book Review Economix

My latest reading has been the very interesting Economix. It's a fairly comprehensive but simple comic book introduction to the history of Economics in Europe/USA, and how it's been a failure for the vast majority of the population.

Yes, it's a comic, and I think this would be readable by almost anyone as it comes across as both a history and a bit like a detective story. (Can you find where the money has gone?)

It has a fairly good coverage of our current financial crisis, and a simplified theoretical model of Capitalism and Socialism, and how the practise of both didn't work according to the theory.

Like many Gen Xers I remember the Cold War as we "confronted" the Soviet Union, and eventually the mobile phone and the laptop defeated the Hammer and Sickle. I still clearly remember the pictures on the TV news of people in Eastern Germany knocking down the Berlin wall. Those where the days when many people thought a new world was beginning.
 When it was all over, we were expecting the military to shrink, and life was to get better for the rest of us. (It didn't, it hasn't)

Naturally the author has left out many things, but I thought the most obvious addition would have been to write at least something on the French economy and society.
While the the US republicans continually try to minimise the state, France IS the state. The is only one French Government, and the many of the utilities are still state run, such as the electricity supply via EDF (Electricite de France). The UK Thatcher Government decided to privatise their electricity in the slavish belief that the market forces would provide cheaper energy, unsurprisingly it failed.
Not being daunted by this failure the UK privatised the rail network, but not to real competition, but to state subsidised monopolies.

How does the current economy affect you?
Why does it seem the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?
How come bankers get rescued by Government, but small businesses don't?
Is Alan Greenspan a genius? 
Does it just come down to Socialism for the rich, and Capitalism for the poor?

This is something your young teen and your Grandparents could both read, understand and both equally get angry about. The teen seeing their future being locked away, and the Grandparents wondering why their pension doesn't buy very much.

Where has all the money gone?  Guess.

The books website is http://economixcomix.com/

"An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living."
- Nicholas Chamfort (1741 - 1794)

18 September 2012

Finally, An Australian Charity Commission

But is it one that will do us any good?

The Australian Tax Office has been after one for years, I'm sure the more conscientious staff of the ATO have been in despair due to the blatant tax avoidance of the religious section of the charity sector for decades.

It looks that it will be for advise on setting up a Charity, and accepting reports from charities.

From the website:-

What's the latest on reporting?

Although the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) legislation is still being finalised, it is expected that the following reporting obligations will apply.
For the 2012-13 reporting period, all registered charities will be expected to report basic information about their operations (non-financial only) (annual information statement).
For the 2013-14 reporting period onwards, registered charities will be expected to provide annual information statements, for:
  • small charities – report basic information about their operations and finances
  • medium and large charities –  report more detailed information (financial and non-financial) about their operations, including financial reports.
This two-stage approach follows from the 17 May 2012 announcement  from the Assistant Treasurer (The Hon. David Bradbury MP) and the Minister for Social Inclusion (The Hon. Mark Butler MP). It will allow more time for additional public consultation on the proposed financial reporting framework.
After the requirements are finalised, the ACNC will provide guidance about reporting obligations to help charities understand their obligations in a timely way.
I can't see anything about public information, only that the Government will see these reports.

Australian Charity Commission

“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” - Horace Mann

17 September 2012

Single Frame Stories Week 7 "Depth Perception"

 This week the Single Frame Story theme is "Depth Perception", and my initial attempt was quite frustrating, until I did a bit of reinterpretation.

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist: the threat is rather to life itself.” – Rachel Carson

13 September 2012

Single Frame Stories Week 6 "On Top"

This week on Single Frame Stories the topic is "On Top". I thought the obvious, then decided I had better think of something else. I would like to thank the wonderful Monty Burns for the inspiration along with the rest of the 1% (you bastards!).

Burns thought too small with blocking the Sun, I sucked out all the air & sold it back to them, Still not enough for a Republican nomination

This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you. - Montgomery Burns

12 September 2012

Compare the USA and Australian Church Govt subsidies

Research Report: How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the United States

Ryan T. Cragun, Stephanie Yeager, and Desmond Vega

I have never heard of Ryan T Cragun before, but he has written a lot of interesting material about religion in the USA, and as a Ex-Mormon will have an interesting viewpoint.

This report is worth reading in it's entirety, (really it is) and then the footnotes as well, but to sum it up the subsidies from the US Government amount to $US 71 Billion at least. Remember this is subsidies not wealth, this does not include their assets.

A comparison with Australia could be made with the figures from John Perkins and Frank Gomaz from 2008 on much the same topic. Their conclusion was about A$31 billion in Government subsidies to Churches.

So according to these numbers, each US Citizen pays, or more likely misses out $228 per person per year, while Australians pay an amazing $1476 per person per year!!

The usual disclaimers apply, as no one actually knows how much the churches actually have, (that also includes themselves)  all these numbers are speculative.

"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it's a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."- Benjamin Franklin

03 September 2012

Single Frame Stories Week 5 "Little did she know"

After days walking around the abandoned Starship, Shockwave finally felt safe. "I feel much safer with you here" she said.

For Week 5 of http://singleframestories.wordpress.com/

What’s that screaming? A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming…
— Barbarella