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Category: Perth (page 1 of 4)

Free de-baptisms

It was Orientation Day at UWA. Clubs (like the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society) set up booths and attract members. So do churches.

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It’s not my idea. I think I saw it here first.

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Where did I say that? Oh, yes: here. Why are atheists so rude?

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Click for larger images. Or put your favourites in comments.

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Meeting James Randi

There’s really only one person who qualifies as a living legend in skepticism, and it’s James “The Amazing” Randi. For decades, he’s performed magic and taken the hairbrush to spoon-benders, psychics, and faith healers. A bit of background if you’re unfamiliar with his work.

He’s also behind the “Million Dollar Challenge“, in which anyone can walk off with a million bucks if they can do supernatural feats under controlled conditions.

Last week marked Randi’s first visit to Perth as part of his “An Evening With James Randi” tour with Think Inc. Since the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society was helping with arrangements, five of us took up the invitation to meet Randi at the airport.

Randi is 86 now, but he was in surprisingly good spirits despite what must be a grueling touring schedule. He was wheeled by members of his entourage, which included Richard Saunders of the Skeptic Zone podcast. With luggage collected, we headed to the nearest airport Dome café for some refreshment.

While we were chatting, Richard Saunders took a banknote (Mongolian, I believe he said) and split it up into two perfect squares. With one, he folded an origami pig with wings. Pigasus is his own creation. I hadn’t realised he was an origami expert. Very cool!

Ever the performer, Randi delighted us with some cigarette magic using the rolled-up other half of Richard’s banknote. Pretending to push the roll into his other hand, he palmed it instead, making it seem to disappear when the expected hand was empty.

This is the general idea:

I’ve always loved magic, but I’ve never done the sleight of hand. What I love is how magicians exploit our expectations, and make us realise how bad our assumptions can be. Important lessons for skeptics, to be sure, and probably the reason that magicians are the greatest skeptics.

There was a question on my mind. I asked Randi, “Have things changed? It used to be that in the 70s, we’d be fighting astrology, pyramid power, and Bigfoot. Now, we fight…”

“…pyramid power!” said Richard.

“Yes, exactly,” I said. “But now we also have homeopathy, anti-vaxxers, and Bigfoot. Are things moving?”

Randi thought not; people still believe a lot of the same nonsense they always have. Trying to quote accurately here: “If you go to some of the most backward places on Earth, you find people believing the same things that have since before I was around.”

It’s true. Psychics today use the same techniques they’ve used for a hundred years. It’s all a bit dispiriting. If we’re just confronted with more new nonsense along with the old nonsense, then what keeps us going?

Perhaps if there’s a bright spot, it’s this: We no longer fight alone. There’s now an organised skeptical movement taking on fakes, fools, and folly. And we have James Randi to thank for that.

I swam naked… and survived! Reflections on skinny dipping

Today I got naked with 800 people and jumped into the ocean. It was an attempt at the world’s biggest skinny dip at Perth’s Swanbourne Beach.

You may not know this, reader, but at one time I was a rather enthusiastic nude beach goer. In my Mormon days, no less. Even though I normally wore the g’s, I loved the opportunity to throw off the constraints of clothing and swim freely with nothing on.

The first time I went to a nude beach was in Barcelona in 2004. I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was people, doing people things. Some old, some young. Gay couples cuddled, a professor-looking type strode au natural across the sand. But the thing that stood out most to me was a young couple kissing. He drew a modest towel around himself, and he and she kissed like boys and girls have kissed on that same Spanish beach for millennia. I was seeing something primal and human. I was watching Orpheus and Euridice. The eternal dance.

I’ve had that kind of experience at nude beaches several times. Once on a stroll, I saw a nude man and woman, and as I got closer, I saw their baby was with them. The human family. Somehow the lack of clothing made the moment transcendant.

Then I would go back to church, with their conventional views on ‘modesty’ and ‘morality’, and I’d think, What a small worldview. This world is so much more than they can imagine. It was one more thing that got me thinking, and put some mental distance between me and the church.

The people at Swanbourne Beach are not much of a draw really — lots of dudes, some younger couples (shy female, won’t undress), and gangs of leathery 60-somethings sitting around talking, being entirely too comfortable around each other. But that’s okay; I don’t care how people look. There’s something about getting nude in public that’s very come-as-you-are. Everyone looks fine to me. Which was the message of the Skinny Dip: everyone’s body is fine. Proceeds are even going to the Butterfly Foundation, which raises awareness about body image.

So this was a good chance to get back to the dear old Swanny. Oldest Boy (now 19) opted not to come along because a) Dad naked, and b) there might be too much penis for his liking. He’s quite right; these things do tend to get rather penisy.

I wondered what the headline in the West would be: perhaps Naked Skinny-Dip for Charity: 800 Nudists Hit Swanbourne for World Record Attempt. I actually ran into some friends at the event, and we chatted in our sarongs, provided by the organisers. It was a cold grey morning, but no one seemed to mind.

But when we all got to the water and got our gear off, there was a plot twist: choppy seas and huge waves. A horn sounded, and in we went, the front line getting battered by walls of water. Now the headline was Terror Dip: Sexy Swim Becomes Desperate Race for Survival as 3-Meter Waves Pound Shore. It was such a struggle to get into the water that I could hardly concentrate on the boobs. The trick to avoiding waves is to get out past them, but the 600 or so people who made it that far found themselves on a roiling roller-coaster that was quite worrying, but actually really fun. Good thing the Surf Life Savers were out there on their jet skis, watching everyone like hawks.

Did we make the world record? No, for that to happen we’d all have to be in the water for 5 minutes, and about 100 people looked at those waves and said NOPE. I don’t blame them, especially if they didn’t feel they were strong swimmers. That stuff was dangerous. I was dumped by a serious wave on the way in and lost my hat, but hats can be replaced. It was still fun, and I’d do it again next year.

Pre-debate interview: “Where Do I Come From?”

Before the big fight, there’s always a session where the fighters get together and talk some trash. Well, that’s what we did today on RTRfm — it was me and Rory Shiner talking about the upcoming debate at Wesley Uniting Church in Perth. Except there wasn’t any trash talk, and we didn’t smash (very many) chairs over each other. I did, however, make a pointy point. Here’s the interview.

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The point I made was this: Christianity says that it’s good at answering the question of “Why are we here?” But it isn’t! Their answer for the purpose of life is terrible, and it makes no sense.

If you can make it, do. This was between me and a Christian; throw the Hindu guy into the mix and I don’t know what will happen. There may be twice as much babbling, which means I’ll have to try and make twice as much sense.

Debate: “Where Do I Come From?”

This is exciting for Perth people: I’ve been invited to be Teh Atheist in a debate entitled “Where Do I Come From?” Also appearing will be Christian pastor Rory Shiner, and Kanaga Dharmananda for the Hindu team.

It’s going to be at Wesley Uniting Church, on the corner of William and Hay St, this Thursday afternoon (3 May 2012) at 12:30. I have to say: some religious people aren’t too keen on atheists — these guys invite me to their church to speak. That says something, I think.

That Hindu cosmology — I bet you could make that stuff sound pretty close to the scientific view, even if it is a series of guesses. I wonder what the Christian guy will say to that.

It seems a number of Perth Atheists are coming. Come and join the atheist cheering section! (Are you allowed to cheer in church?)

Talk the Talk: Carillon Shemozzle

I was talking about the word ‘shemozzle’ and the word ‘carillon’ on today’s “Talk the Talk” podcast. I shall never look at Perth’s Carillon City shopping centre in quite the same way again.

I forgot to include a shoutout to Laverne and Shirley, which is the first place most of us ever heard the word ‘shemozzle’ (or more probably, ‘shlemazel’).

Also: my computer doesn’t seem to recognise ‘shemozzle’, which is too bad. And when I type ‘shlemazel’, it suggests ‘schlemiel’. These computers don’t know from Yiddish!

Listen here, or subscribe via iTunes.

Why are atheists so rude?

It was Orientation Day on campus. People can sign up for clubs (including the UWA Atheist and Skeptic Society), and there are always tons of church groups doing their schtick. So I like to see what’s out there.

Here’s a conversation I had. It went pretty much just like this.

Anti-porn with Save the Source

Madge stumbled upon this flyer, and I had to go because I’m such a sucker for Word Art. Would you turn down an invite to an anti-porn lecture?

No, I didn’t think you would. Nor would about 20 other Perth Skeptics. The speaker had no idea what he was in for.

The sponsoring organisation was “Save the Source“. The “source” is men, or “johns” — they’re the source for all the money that goes to keep the “girls” enslaved in porn. Apparently. And just because the speaker (did anyone catch his name? I’ll have to call him Mr Source) wants to “save” men, this does not mean StS is a religious organisation. No, no. The similarity of his shtick to Judeo-Christian horseshit is purely coincidental.

Rather than describe the sight of Mr Source broken and worn down by logic, facts, and reason — yet still holding fast to his opinion! — I thought I’d present his talking points and arguments so that other can learn from the tactics of this spiritual quackery.

Some men are “addicted” to porn. This would be valid, if a valid definition of addiction were provided, which it never was.

Porn leads to prostitution. This makes no sense. Wouldn’t jacking off at home mean less employment for sex workers?

Porn leads to harder porn. The speaker imagined porn along a spectrum: A nude woman sitting in a chair on one end, and “bestiology” (his term) at the other. But this is by no means a given; it’s a slippery slope argument. Porn could be seen as a collection of genres, where people tend to gravitate toward the kinds of porn they like and leave the rest alone.

Porn leads to rape and violence. In fact, the FBI reports that rape and violence is down. Yet Mr Source claims that porn consumption is booming! How does that work?

Porn harms men. Well, asked someone, what if porn doesn’t harm a certain man? Then, says Mr Source, porn is still bad because it harms the women who act in it. What if (asked someone) a woman is is a porn film because she wants to be? For example, in amateur porn? Then it’s still bad, said Mr Source, because it harms the men who view it. This is circular reasoning. It took him a while to figure out why, but I think I got it through to him in the end.

Porn is a serious problem because he’s seen so many problems associated with it. This is actually two logical problems: confirmation bias — he notices people who have problems, but ignores people who quite enjoy porn. And if they enjoy porn, well, that’s a problem, too! Because he’s defining porn as a problem. This is begging the question, or assuming the antecedent.

Porn gives young men unrealistic expectations about what sexual acts girls ought to be doing. This may be true — inexperienced guys may have unrealistic expectations — until a girl stands up to him and tells him. But this is true for any set of expectations we might have, no matter our age or gender.

One thread that came up over and over again is that women are vessels of purity that must remain pure and unsullied, while men are the drivers of the process — the “source” of the money. Does he know that women look at porn? He does now — the audience saw to that.

In short, Mr Source wasn’t terribly concerned about any empirical work showing the downsides of porn, or using reason or logic. Instead, he chose to argue from his own personal preferences, saying that porn is bad because he knows porn is bad.

I’m a father of two teenage boys, and I’m sure that they are either looking at porn, or they will. When they do, my hope is that they’ll be able to come to me with questions or ask for information, like they already do about sex. I don’t want them to be laden down with guilt and shame about it — guilt and shame that is promoted by people like Mr Source, and converted into money for his courses and workshops.

Advance Australia what?

I’ve read that Christians in Roman times were mistrusted for having allegiance to a king other than Caesar. And now it seems that modern Christians are doing little to dispel such suspicion.

Some private Christian schools are singing an alternative version of the national anthem which promotes religious values and talks of Christ.

Instead of the official second verse of Advance Australia Fair, which starts “Beneath our radiant Southern Cross”, the alternative verse says “With Christ our head and cornerstone, we’ll build our nation’s might”.

The version of the anthem is sung every fortnight at Thornlie Christian College and Christian Schools Australia WA executive officer Ray Dallin confirmed that it was regularly sung at other school assemblies and churches.

Original verses from 1879 in the National Library of Australia music collection do not include the Christian verse.

A spokeswoman from the office of Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that under national protocols, the anthem should not be modified and alternative words should not be used. The two authorised verses were proclaimed in 1984.

This story has been front-page news in Perth, but I’m actually having trouble getting worked up over it. For one thing, I’ve never been big on national fervour, anthems, or the like, so I don’t feel personally affronted that someone has altered it. It’s more annoying than sacrilegious. For another, this is happening in private religious schools, which is bad, but at least I’m not paying (as much) for it.

About the worst thing is that, just like in America, Christians are trying to re-write history, claiming that the original version was intended to be more Jesus-y. This kind of revisionism is SOP for that mob.

h/t to Calico in comments

Atheist Bake Sale 2

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