Some things Matt Dillahunty should know about Sye ten Bruggencate

Matt Dillahunty, co-host of the Atheist Experience cable access television programme based in Austin, Texas, and all ’round upstanding member of the skeptical / humanist / atheist community, has been in Sye ten Bruggencate’s crosshairs now for some time.

Sye, being special, doesn’t think he should have to phone in to the programme when Matt is taking questions from callers. Sye wants to be a guest on the show so he can do what he always does when pretending to listen to what his opponents are saying, i.e., play stupid word-games, and deliberately misrepresent everything anyone says to him.

I don’t know how much Matt has already heard about Sye’s tactics, beyond what he’s figured out for himself since posting the video reply below, but I thought it might be useful to flesh out the basics so he can brace himself for the most frustrating “debate” of his life, should it ever happen.

Sye will begin by asking Matt if it’s possible he could be wrong about everything he thinks he knows. He will then proceed to use interchangeable definitions of what the words ‘possible’, ‘wrong’, ‘everything’ and ‘know’ actually mean, depending on the route he chooses to take through his cascading script of pre-written responses. He might throw in some other words he wants to redefine as well, such as “evidence”, “logic” and “reason” — but regardless of how he approaches it, Sye will lie about what Matt has actually said within at least the first two or three minutes of the debate.

He will then claim he wants to be absolutely sure about what Matt has said, and ask him to repeat his response — banking on the fact that because Matt isn’t a robot he will phrase his reply slightly differently the second time around. Then Sye will say that Matt has contradicted himself, by misquoting what Matt said in his first reply. When Matt then corrects him on this, Sye has the only “in” he needs for the rest of his trick to work. He might even repeat the misquote a second time. This is called anchoring, and it works by creating a moment in the conversation which the audience can be called back to at a later time, minus certain pertinent details.

Sye will then make it seem as if the conversation has moved on, or that he is interested in clarifying a statement Matt has made at another time, perhaps during a different debate, or on his podcast — but this too is mere misdirection by Sye, who is only biding his time for a chance to spring what stand-up comedians refer to as a call-back — where the anchor made earlier in the conversation can be used to make it seem as if rather than it being Sye who deliberately misquoted what Matt said, it was actually Matt who admitted to making a mistake. Sye knows that Matt will spot this, but it doesn’t matter. Sye isn’t debating with Matt, he is preaching to his own audience, and fishing for quotes which he can selectively cut and paste when he wishes to later brag to his enablers about “defeating” Matt Dillahunty in debate.

As for the the old parlour trick itself, it can be adapted for all kinds of situations, and it’s possible Sye himself learned it from the same books read by everyone from magicians, who use it to misdirect the audience while a switch is performed, to police interrogators who require the subject to become agitated and bamboozled by having their words twisted. If you watch Sye in action you will actually see his expression change when the window of opportunity to use this slight of hand is opened up to him. It usually happens around the part of his act where he starts interrupting his opponent while they’re explaining something he would prefer not to talk about.

He’s also rather fond of appearing to contradict himself on something he himself has earlier said, so that when his opponent points this out he can accuse them of being incapable of knowing what is right and what is wrong because they’ve already “admitted” they could be wrong about everything they think they know — even though this in and of itself is the very thing which he lied about in the misquote anchored earlier on.

And that’s it. That is the sum-total of Sye ten Bruggencate’s “argument”. End of. There is no more. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Where black is the colour and none is the number, there you will find Sye’s “ideas”. He is not interested in listening to anyone who disagrees with him, he is interested in lying about what people have actually said, so he can shill DVD’s for Eric Hovind, and Crown Rights Media. That is all. There is no “proof that God exists” involved. Just lies, tricks, bullying tactics, and his own giant ego.

One final point, speaking now directly to Matt Dillahunty: Matt, please know that no matter what Sye says to you about how a video or audio recording of the debate be used, should it ever happen, with regard to publishing, editing, repacking, distribution and commercial exploitation, he is lying to your face. No matter what. He is going to edit what you have actually said, quote you out of context, and rewrite what you actually said when he posts to his various comments disabled blogs in promotion of whatever product he uses you to produce. He is attempting to heighten his own profile by using you and the Atheist Experience as means of doing so. They’re running out of cash, and they’re running out of people to pull their tricks on. He wants to be the next Ray Comfort / Hovind / Ham / insert name of liar for Jesus tax dodging cretin here, and he is going to use your name to do it.

In short, do not believe a word he says. He is by far and away the nastiest little spoiled child you will ever have the displeasure of meeting, and as more and more people in the community work out exactly how his scam works, the more he has to look for another audience — which he believes you’re going to give him. He’s probably, for once, right. So, please — if you do debate him, make sure he can’t sit down for a week. I can’t think of anyone out there in the anti-everything brigade who deserves it rammed down their throat more than Sye ten Bruggencate.

A word on Jason Burns latest “farewell” video

As many of you know I am taking a break from the Fundamentally Flawed podcast until at least March, 2014. This also involves my taking a break from the day-to-day ins and outs of the religion verses rationalism “debate” on-line. But the one topic I have kept quietly tuned-in to is that of Jason Burns, because it was myself and a few others who contacted the authorities when he threatened to harm himself a few weeks ago, and I wanted to make sure our concerns were followed-up by the NHS team in his area.

Jason was off-topic during the period of time which immediately followed our reporting his threat to slash his own wrists, because I was asked by the doctor I spoke to at the Royal Oldham Hospital to leave it up to the professionals, as well as being advised that it would be against various confidentiality laws to discuss the case openly while it was ongoing.

But in his latest and apparently last video, Jason himself has disclosed some of the details of what has been happening for the past few weeks, and so since it is now a matter of public record I think its only right to fill in a few of the gaps which are conveniently left out in Jason’s account:

In the video, Jason essentially makes the accusation that we only contacted the police because we couldn’t “beat him” in rational (love his flagrant misuse of that word) and scholarly debate. Further he asserts that we are censoring him through the use of “Stalinist Russia” style tactics. This was after he was called into his doctor’s office under the auspices of receiving a general health check-up, only to find when he arrived that it was for a mental health assessment. He also claims to have been told that if he doesn’t stop using YouTube he would be sectioned under the mental health act.

Reading between the lines here, I think what’s probably closer to the truth is that he was warned not to post any more videos threatening to hurt himself. I’m particularly glad to see that the NHS didn’t scupper the chances of him actually attending this check-up by flagging it up to him in advance. But the best news of all is that Jason, despite our worst fears, has been given the all-clear in terms of his mental state.

Sadly, however, this brings us to the rather disconcerting fact — that far from acting the way he does because of any underlying mental health issues, Jason’s behaviour actually falls within acceptable levels, despite that there are obvious signs of a persecution complex, and a level of narcissism which borders on being a dark satirical parody of the crazy Christian stereotype.

First, to address the question of him being persecuted, let me make it abundantly clear once and for all, Jason was not “targeted” for special treatment. The only reason he came to our attention in the first place was because of the very ideas he claims we do not want to listen to. It is, simply put, the fact that we did listen to his ideas which placed him on our radar to begin with — not only because he is flat-out wrong about a great many things, but because he appears to take great joy from repeating many of his mistakes even after he has had them pointed out. But in the world of Jason Burns, the ease with which some of his arguments can be shown false is merely proof that they are in-fact valid.

Secondly, on the question of him losing “thousands” of “scholarly” videos. Jason removed these videos himself. They were on the topic of Christianity and in particular the resurrection. No-one has ever said that these videos should be removed. No-one tried to have these videos removed from YouTube. The only videos which we took issue with were the ones in which he named specific individuals, accused them of saying and doing things which they hadn’t done or said, and which he then refuse to discuss openly while making further accusations of being bullied, simply by being held to account for spreading what he knew to be lies.

When Jason blocked users who wanted to comment on some of his videos, or disabled comments on them altogether, a mirror channel which also hosted them and did not censor or block comments from anyone, did briefly mark some of these videos as private, while the health authorities who were looking into his mental state conducted their investigation — but they were not deleted, and they were not used as a way to bait or cajole Jason into an argument for argument’s sake. His frustration at these videos being hosted on a channel he doesn’t control has nothing at all to do him being made to look silly, as he claims in the latest video, and everything to do with the fact he can’t pick and choose who comments on them, and selectively remove those comments which disagree with what he says in them.

Another fact which Jason glosses over by simply not mentioning it, is that in the lead up to his video wherein he threatened to harm himself, he posted a video which accused my friend Kat of faking a serious illness, which saw her hospitalised on and off for several long weeks, so as to get a sympathy vote and boost sales of her husband Alex’s music. The number of people with whom we fundamentally disagree and have had shouting matches with on the podcast several times, who put aside their differences with Alex and Kat when they needed a helping hand through a rough patch was genuinely moving. But the only thing Jason Burns could offer was a sickeningly cruel accusation of fraud, and in a tone of voice which couldn’t have been more offensive if he’d actually ordered Kat to get back in the kitchen and shut up. The fact that he now chooses to pretend this entire incident didn’t happen, and that he was scolded for it even by people who he sees as being on his “side” tells you everything you need to know about Jason’s actual interest in discussing the facts, and why he now feels the need to adopt a little boy lost persona where he is the victim of something he actually created all by himself.

Moreover, now we’re being told in that “look at me being persecuted” passive aggressive way which a certain brand of religious activists have turned into an art form, that it’s actually him who has been on the receiving end of hatred and threats of violence; that his own doctor telling him to stop posting to YouTube has nothing to do with him being caught redhanded in the middle of several very harmful lies, but that it is we who are the devils with whom Christian apologists must be careful not to dance; that it is we who have caused him great injury.

This, my friends, is as close an insight as you are likely to get into the mindset of a fundamentalist; for even when every single friend, foe, professional healthcare worker and law enforcement authority with whom they have contact is telling them to be careful, they will always find a way to justify taking the one path which leads right back to where they started — having learned not a thing.

This is quite simply a case study into the very dangers of anti-rationalism which we are trying to raise awareness of. I couldn’t care less what religion you do or do not believe in; nor do I give a flying spaghetti monster if your religion tells you I am evil because I call a spade a spade — sans the jargon of “religious philosophy”. What I care about is when your religion tells you it’s OK to lie about me, what I think, what I have said, and what I believe. By all means repeat verbatim every single mistaken statement I have made here, or change of mind I have had about a given argument there. But pretty please, with a cherry on top, don’t lie about me and expect that by playing the hurt feelings card when I call you out on it I will mysteriously loose track of what actually happened, what was said, who said it, and who did what to whom as a result.

It is none of my business what you do in the privacy of your own imagination. But when the voices in your head tell you it’s OK to blame other people for threatening to self-harm, it absolutely becomes my business. I don’t care who someone thinks they are, when they threaten to hurt themselves, they are demonstrating that they are capable of violence, or that they believe a violent act is an appropriate route to solving a dispute — and preventing that from ever happening to me, or the people I care about will always be my one and only interest in keeping an eye on the likes of Jason Burns — regardless of what they want to tell themselves about my supposed agenda.

In closing, please do not give Jason what he wants. If he is serious about leaving YouTube (again) please let him do so. He is not interested in listening to what you have to say, he is interested in Jason Burns. His 15 Megabytes of fame are over. So let’s put his audience numbers back to where they belong once and for all.

My debate notes, for the podcast with Jason Burns (that never was)

Some people who listened to the podcast, which was supposed to be a debate between myself and Jason Burns, but which he failed to attend, were kind enough to ask for the text of my opening remarks. So here they are.

To be fair to Jason, he was in another Google Hangout with DPR Jones when the time which was arranged for him to meet instead with us came and went. I don’t know if he plans on rectifying this any time soon, but he is certainly welcome to do so on a future podcast.

He has also responded on his YouTube channel to my opening statement, after watching a recording of it, which you can see by clicking this link. In his reply, he appeared to be genuinely receptive to what me, and my Fundamentally Flawed friends, have been trying to explain to him for some time — so, if that’s all that was achieved, I’m happy to have done my bit.

Thanks again. Jim.


Is Christianity True?

The subject of tonight’s debate sounds simple enough; is Christianity true? But to answer that question honestly, we need to define exactly what we mean by Christianity. This is a much more complicated question, because to some people Christianity is about what they believe to be true, and to others it’s about what they believe they can prove is true.

For instance, there are plenty of people who would describe themselves as Christian if they were asked to fill out some basic information about themselves on a national survey, or in a hospital admissions form, or if they wanted to get married in a church.

They were educated in a school where Christian prayers were held on a morning; the local vicar or priest presided over special ceremonies at different times of the year, or because they have attended church with their family every week since they were a young child, and believe that the shared moral values of that community are one and the same thing as Christianity itself.

They might also believe that you can’t be a part of a loving and socially binding community unless all the members of that community share the same Christian beliefs. But many of them also know that there is a difference between what someone might believe, and what someone can prove. They are under no illusions about the stories in the bible being metaphorical; that the story of Adam and Eve, for instance, when properly understood, is a first century attempt at explaining the meaning of life, and how we came to be here. They understand that to believe it is a story which literally happened to two actual living human beings in history, is to completely misunderstand what the story is trying to tell us. They understand, in other words, the meaning of the word ‘Faith’.

People who recognise themselves in this group are referred to broadly as ‘Social Christians’. From a young age, Social Christians memorise the words to certain prayers, and as adults they regurgitate these same words at weddings, funerals, and regular Sunday service — kneeling and standing at the allotted times during the service at the same time as everyone else.

Many well meaning, perfectly good people in the Social Christian group don’t concern themselves too much with the finer details behind the cultural traditions which underpin these rituals, ceremonies, incantations, and sacred rites of passage. Probing questions about God, the teachings of Jesus, and the historical accuracy of the bible itself, are often compartmentalised into “those parts of religion which require further reading” — reading and learning which, in their busy lives balancing work with bringing up children, or managing their professional careers, they simply don’t have the time to study themselves with any serious depth.

Despite this, Social Christians comfort themselves with the notion that, while they don’t have the time to look for the answers to the deep and meaningful questions about life the universe and everything, which they are told a belief in Christianity can provide, somewhere deep within the hierarchy of their church and its wider affiliations, there must be some serious theologians and bible scholars, who do in fact understand the answers to these questions. They place their faith in the learne’d bishops, cardinals, senior pastors, and theologians, who run their church, even when these people appear to give contradictory or unsatisfactory answers to some of the really big questions.

So, from a certain point of view, if we ask the question of tonight’s debate ‘Is Christianity True?’ according to the values and beliefs of this social group, the answer would have to be yes; Christianity is true. Why? Well firstly, these people have no reason to believe that they are being lied to when they are told Christianity provides a space for them which deals with spiritual matters, as opposed to material concerns.

Christianity of this kind, is also a ready made social group, with people who understand each other’s worries; when their car decides to break down on the same day their mortgage payments are due, or their kids need yet another pair of new shoes for school. This kind of Social Christianity gives ordinary people, all around the world, an unbreakable safety-net; ready to catch them when they stumble and fall from the high wire of life.

So why, we have to ask, would anybody not want to believe in that? Surely you’d have to be some kind of nihilist, who doesn’t believe in anything at all, to dismiss that kind of belief? A belief in the goodness of people.

But the truth of this kind of Christianity even goes one better than that, because it’s not just about the small things on a person to person basis, which makes the social cohesion of the church a force for general good. Catholic relief organisations alone raise hundreds of millions of pounds every year to aid the poorest of the poor in the world. They go into dangerous regions to feed the hungry and home the homeless. Indeed the very selflessness of the people who do this work — literally doing what they are told in the New Testament they must do in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, is an area which no atheist I know, and certainly not myself personally, would ever seek to criticise — even though we could have an entirely separate debate about what exactly is meant by “the kingdom of heaven”, and why you would want to spend an eternity in such a place to begin with.

And yet my opponent this evening, Jason Burns, has repeatedly stated that atheists (all of us mind you) stand against the very values I have just made abundantly clear represent the best of human nature. Indeed, Jason Burns represents a sadly growing breed of Christian fundamentalists today, whose fingers are planted so firmly in their ears, that they don’t even hear the harsh criticisms of their actions which come from other Christians, let alone from those of us who were raised religious, but who now hold ourselves to a far better standard of truth, than a belief in belief itself.

Christian fundamentalists have, in recent years, had this harsh light of truth shone onto their actions, beliefs, and teachings — many of which make a mockery of those very people in the church who dedicate their lives to believing in the works attributed to the alleged Christ in the New Testament.

They betray their own in some extremely disturbing, and in many cases very deliberately antagonistic ways.

For example, we now know, thanks to freedom of information requests filed with the authorities in the United States, that this dirty underbelly of Fundamentalist Christianity, have founded hundreds of extreme right wing political organisations, who enjoy tax exemption because of their pseudo-religious status.

These organisations have funded everything from the war on women’s reproductive rights, and the conservative led opposition to universal health care, to demands for pre-enlightenment notions about biology, chemistry and physics to be taught in state run schools, instead of science.

We fight against these attacks on our civil liberties, right alongside many of our Social Christian friends, who no more equate atheism with nihilism, than we on the non-religious side equate the Vatican sanctioned systematic rape of children, with the values of the vast majority of law abiding, right thinking Catholics, who are as appalled by these evil acts as the current Pope, who replaced a German theologian who actively protected those who carried out these atrocities, rather than obey the very creed he was sworn to uphold.

Not that crimes against children are the exclusive preserve of Catholic clerics. In Washington State, in November of this year, Larry and Carri Williams were given life imprisonment, for the beating and starving to death of their adopted daughter Hana. They were the fourth set of parents to be convicted of such crimes, in the United States alone, who cited the advice of a book called “To Train Up a Child” written by Michael and Debi Pearl, of the No Greater Joy Ministries, as a justification for their sick depravity.

This book, which claims to present biblical justification for its methods of raising a child to be a “good Christian” includes amongst its advice the use of whips on the bare skin of infants only a few months old, and insists that, quote, “Parents who don’t whip their babies into complete submission are indifferent, lazy, careless and neglectful”, and are guilty therefore of “creating a Nazi”.

The question here is, how fair would it be for me to insist that, if my opponent is serious about answering the question of tonight’s debate honestly, that he must justify the teachings of this perverted book, and the bible which inspired its writers to carry out such wicked acts on their own children?

Now, there are many who might argue that, since my opponent this evening recently described himself as being, “The UK’s foremost theologian”, that he should find it easy to justify the slow and painful torture of infants at the hands of people who believe as fervently in their heart of hearts as he does, that they have special permission from Yahweh, which gives them a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to questions such as this, and that it is therefore perfectly fair for me to ask him to explain such evil acts, using only his much claimed “vast scholarly knowledge of the bible” as a means of doing so.

But how many times do we atheists hear it said, that we are evil and morally bereft, simply because Stalin or Pol Pot were themselves anti-religious. And how often do we have to point out the ignorance of such statements, and remind those who continue nevertheless to churn them out, that for every psychopath who will use the first thing which springs into their twisted minds to justify their actions, there are millions of people around the world who spread peace, love, and understanding despite that they do not hold onto any religious notions about the origins of altruism, compassion, and morality?

How often do we have to explain that to use these kinds of false guilt by association tactics, is to stoop into using precisely the same kind of tricks we constantly find being used against us; and should therefore be above using ourselves?

And what of the values of Secular Humanism which we do uphold? We are often accused, after-all, of believing in nothing.

Well, as far as charitable works go, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, is specifically set-up, using the vast fortune of the Microsoft billionaire, himself an atheist, to eradicate some of the most virulent and life threatening diseases known to man. It does this by a focused application of methods proven to be effective, not by wishful thinking, but by the rigorous and true methods of science, and the best which 21st century medicine can offer.

In some of the most war torn and dangerous places on Earth, secular charities are given unique access to those who need their services the most, precisely because they are not affiliated with any church or religious group.

Ask yourself, how many children with Muslim parents would be left to die of treatable diseases, if the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, or Doctors Without Borders, only hired Christian missionaries — many of whom undoubtedly have humanitarian concerns at the forefront of their work, but who nevertheless side-load their efforts with the handing out of bibles and preaching about Jesus, when they do their work on behalf of religious charities?

So, I won’t be asking my opponent this evening to justify the evils which are carried out by Christians, in order to answer the topic of the debate, “Is Christianity True”? Neither will I ask him to explain, if as I expect him to assert that the answer to this question is “Yes”, how it is possible then for so many people around the world, who do not believe in any gods, let alone the specific God of the particular religion which Mr. Burns just so happens to belong to, nevertheless manage to live perfectly good and peaceful lives?

I won’t be asking this, primarily because we already know what the fundamentalist’s answer to this question is, and I’m sure that there are as many people watching this debate who are as tired as I am, of being told that this is because whether we atheists like it or not, we are just as incapable of escaping Yahweh’s iron grip as those who willingly grovel before the only book which claims He exists in the first place, despite that we can dismiss the bible as the bronze-age fiction it has been repeatedly proven to be.

No, the only thing which Jason has to do, in order to claim the sort of victory in this debate which he deserves, as opposed to the one he is already claiming to have won before it even took place, is accept that in the real world, the only things which matter have nothing to do with what you believe, but are to do with how you behave.

In the incestuous world of internet point scoring and petty squabbles, where professional liars like Tim, the self-styled Bible Thumping Wingnut, or Eric Hovind, Sye ten Bruggencate, and William Lane Craig — flourish in their efforts to distort and divide us into easy to attack stereotypes — all Jason Burns has to do, to be found in favour of the motion, and show that he is beyond using the sorts of tactics adopted by the lunatic fringe, is acknowledge the truth of the kind of Social Christianity which me, and many others like me were raised to believe in, because it is precisely this type of Christianity which will save the fundamentalists from themselves.

When I was a young man, sitting in the pews at church, at those family weddings, funerals and regular Sunday services — going through the motions because I believed it made me a good person — I did so because I saw what forgiveness and a peaceful understanding of one another can achieve, from people who learned their life lessons the hard way. My grandmother raised four children on the good will and community spirit of a once vibrant Catholic church, which today has fewer and fewer parishioners who regularly attend Sunday Mass, and which no longer has a priest in permanent residence.

But where the fundamentalists see declining church numbers in this country and elsewhere as a portent to the end times, we see it as a great victory for common sense — because it means that, finally, people are beginning to understand that caring for one another, and having a strong sense of social responsibility, are not values exclusive to Christianity, but are the best argument for Secular Humanism it is possible to make; that you don’t need to believe in things which aren’t true, in order to live a good and fulfilled life.

The problem for Jason, and his ilk, is that in acknowledging these shared values, they must also acknowledge that, continuing to call it Christianity at this point, merely highlights the futility of seeking to mislabel those aspects which define a good life well lived, simply in order to be seen, like a modern day Pharisee, to be holier than holy — to be seen by ones peers as being better than someone who believes in things which can be proven to be true, simply by saying you believe in things which cannot.

So I would like to invite my opponent to accept that, from our point of view, the tactics he employs of simply lying to himself and other people about who we are, as atheists, does nothing to preach the message of the gospel he believes in. If he can do this, he will easily claim the victory which only he thinks it is necessary for him to win in tonight’s debate.

Sadly, however, I rather suspect he will refuse to do this. I suggest that, instead, what we’re going to hear from Jason, and his all broadcast and no receive Cosa Nostra of sheep in wolves clothing, not just tonight but in the coming weeks, is a repeat of that same demand, which is made of those of us on the non-religious benches over and over again; to explain away a string of unrelated, out-of-context anecdotes, about personal experiences, and the second and third hand accounts of these experiences, by authors already-on-board the lucrative Christian publishing gravy train; and those writers of fan fiction which grease it’s wheels; who are as oblivious to the real world which science has revealed to all of us, as they are blind to the fact that their entire modus operandi is seen, by the lights of the modern communication age, for the blatant scam that is, was, and always will be.

We’re not going to hear anything from Jason, about how his twisted version of Christianity accounts for the mountain of scientific evidence which points to the universe being billions of years old, or the Earth itself being abundant with life, precisely because of the natural mechanisms described in astonishing detail by evolutionary biology, or indeed the complementary sciences of physics, cosmology, chemistry, and geology — all of which prove beyond any reasonable doubt that page one, chapter one, verse one of the bible itself simply isn’t true.

But in the world of Jason Burns, and other fundamentalists like him, none of these matters of fact are of any concern.

They are so focused on their complete mischaracterisation of what the word ‘atheist’ itself actually means, that when we shout from the rooftops about how amazing the universe is precisely because there are no gods — they simply assume our efforts to point out this basic fact must be a trick; designed to cheat them into abandoning their emotionally comforting yet logically fallacious, carefully annotated collection of call and response received opinions, which seldom bear any relationship to the facts.

In their world of internal dialogue, where the existence of devils and demons is accepted without question, but the intellectual honesty of the scientific method is fair game, to be torn apart until it is stripped of the facts which prevent it from fitting the narrative they wish to spin — by our simple honesty in admitting that we do not see any evidence for the existence of a supernatural aspect, we are admitting that we did not find the evidence planted for us in the places where they manufactured it.

Their cookie cutter production line process, of squinting in a dimly lit room at the very same sacred texts which we have had quoted at us, as if we haven’t heard them literally chapter and verse a thousand times before, is in it’s very failure to sway us towards their twisted goals, merely yet more proof of what they already believed about us, before they pretended to listen to what we have to say.

So, in closing, I simply say this to all the Jason Burns out there watching and listening to tonight’s debate; we know what you believe and why you believe it. But the childish games you’ve played in the past year alone haven’t even begun to convince us why we must believe it too. In fact all you’ve achieved is the exact opposite.

And yet persuade us of your claims you must — not simply to justify the uncountable number of times you have misquoted what we have actually said to you, and said about you, and about the shallow and ignorant non-arguments you make against our deliberate and unceasing campaign against the lies you teach to children; or in your endless YouTube diatribes about how “evil”, “nasty”, and “dirty” we are, simply because we pay attention to the details you would prefer went away.

No. You must explain why we should believe what you believe for no other reason, than if your version of Christianity really is true, it is your moral duty to convince us of it — not with your words, but with your actions.

But, as Spiderman once said, with great power comes great responsibility, so you must also recognise that, by definition, it must also be our moral responsibility to save you from becoming the very thing you fear the most, because we share this planet together whether you like it or not. None of us exist in a vacuum.

And so I invite my opponent tonight, to accept what far too many have refused to do before. Listen to us, when we tell you in all sincerity, Social Christian, Secular Humanist, Agnostic, Atheist, and all points in-between, together with one undivided voice of reason — your brand of Fundamentally Flawed religious extremism is not only completely untrue, it is dangerous; and if you had any real understanding of why we despise what religious fundamentalism does to retard human progress, in it’s total and complete ignorance of what Einstein, Turing, Dirac, Pauli, Newton, Darwin and Jesus wanted to teach all of us, you wouldn’t want it to be true either.

Secret Law, or this is how democracy dies.

torture-scene-with-rats-from-the-movie-1984The founder of Lavabit, Ladar Levison, has spoken to Democracy Now about his decision to close his encrypted email service, rather than, as he said, be forced to commit crimes against his fellow Americans.

Although Levison is prevented from talking about what this means, because a secret system which operates outside of judicial oversight would automatically see him given a five year prison sentence if he did, it is widely believed that his decision to close Lavabit, without any prior warning to his hundreds of thousands of paying customers, was in response to being ordered to give the security services back-door access to the emails of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — a user of Lavabit.

Part Two: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/13/former_internet_provider_gagged_by_national

You don’t need to be from the tin foil hat brigade to see that, unless something is done to shut down this blatantly unconstitutional legal loophole, it could well be the start of a cascading series of events which result in mass public disobedience and demonstrations. There are people on the streets of Egypt, Syria, and other countries around the world, who are fighting to rid themselves of exactly this kind of police state tyranny and mass surveillance. To suggest “it couldn’t happen here” simply isn’t backed up by the facts.

Last week, President Obama went on television, to tell us with a straight face that some of the speculation in the press and on-line about the kinds of data that these laws allow the security services to collect are “far fetched”; that the actual content of emails and phone calls are not monitored, and that there is no program set-up for the wholesale monitoring of the American people.

But as anyone with even an ounce of understanding about how the internet actually works will tell you, the so-called meta-data which the secret police do admit to gathering, tells them far more about the ins and outs of our daily lives than the content of our phone calls and the wording of our emails ever could — because it contains geolocation data, timestamps, and the name of the person sending the information — and since it is now against the secret law to encrypt your communications, most SMS text messages, emails, instant messaging and video conferencing is transmitted as plain text, which anyone with the right equipment can intercept.

And even if a person accused under these secret laws of committing secret crimes, on evidence which no judge or jury can ask to see is ever allowed into a court of law to defend themselves, the security services do not need to disclose any details of what they collected and why they collected it, but can instead simply assert that it is within their legal remit to gather data in the interest of national security, and the accused’s legal defence is forbidden from asking anything more about it. It is their word against yours, and if you don’t like it, enjoy your stay in prison.

The American people are proud of their constitution and the founding fathers who wrote it. Just as we British are proud of our parliamentary democracy. Indeed we’re all proud of the work which the vast majority of security specialists carry out, to keep us safe from terrorists, and those who wish us harm. But these secret laws can’t protect us from ourselves, and are quickly turning us into the very thing we’re so desperate to avoid becoming.

The people who have implemented these secret laws are unpatriotic, money grabbing, power hungry, paranoid puppet masters, with as little respect for ordinary people as they have for themselves. They are the same cabal of superrich, who protect their banker friends from criminal investigation into the worldwide financial collapse, while funding Super PACs which put more poor people into privately run prisons than any other country in the world. They are the same low life who want to put you in jail for sharing music via BitTorrent, while they issue letters to your Internet Service Provider, requesting your private information to be handed over with no questions asked, which the ISP’s aren’t even allowed to talk about to their own legal team.

But perhaps the most troubling part about all of this, is that these are exactly the kinds of abuses which while still a US Senator Barack Obama warned of, and expressed a wish to do something about. This can only mean one of two things. The first possibility is that at some point shortly after becoming President, Obama had certain information revealed to him which is so critical to national security that it takes precedence over all other concerns, in which case there is no longer any such thing as due legal process, and the American government has become the very kind of domestic tyranny the founding fathers warned us about. Or, two, the rich white men who own him have made it abundantly clear to Obama that it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. Either way, this is how empires come to an end. This is how democracy dies.

Are you going to take it sitting down? Donate to Lavabit here and help Ladar Levison take this all the way to the supreme court. Those who have tried in the past have been silenced, and forced to settle out of court.

Support the mounting campaign to force Apple, Google, Microsoft and other titans of the modern age to say publicly what everyone in the technology industry is saying privately; that this is wrong, and we will not allow it to happen. If we stop using FaceTime, and Skype, if we boycott GMail and Yahoo!, if we tell the businesses whose entire fortunes rests upon our trusting them to provide a secure and transparent service, that we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore, they will have no choice but to listen. They will be on the side of their own customers, when it comes time to debate this issue at the highest levels. They will use their power for the good of everyone, not just the tiny minority who want to keep us frightened and silent.

It does not matter what your personal politics are. This is not a red team versus a blue team issue. It is about defending democracy and the rule of law. Write to your political leaders, and demand that they exercise their privilege to speak on the floor of the house about this clear and dangerous abuse of power — because the people who it affects have literally had their right to speak about it taken away.

Bilderberg Group meeting in Watford 2013

Considering the guest-list, it’s absolutely astonishing that the in’s and out’s of what is discussed at meetings of the Bilderberg Group are never reported in the media.

Of course this could always have something to do with the fact that those involved spend more time working on their golf swing, or swigging back expensive wines and spirits, than they do deciding which direction to take the world in next — as is the mantra of those conspiracy theorists who rarely stop to think that they themselves might be as much a part of the so-called New World Order as the captains of industry who mingle with politicians at this prestigious and secretive event every couple of years.

Whatever is on the agenda, it should only be right that our elected representatives are held accountable for their involvement — who they met with and what they talked about — especially if they’re billing the British tax payer for that round of drinks which see newspaper proprietors exchange amusing anecdotes about poor people with their criminal friends in big oil and gas.

But in a world where you can go to prison for sending a tweet, but not a single banker who caused the global financial meltdown has been so much as arrested, I don’t think we should hold our breath waiting for any of the people invited to this years meeting of the Bilderberg Group, at the Grove Hotel, Watford, to reveal too much about their involvement.

It is nice to see, however, that at least at this year’s event, there is an area set aside for bloggers — although I can’t imagine any photographers will be invited to wander the grounds, and take snaps of Saudi arms dealers shaking hands with the head of Goldman Sachs — but that is the sort of meeting this is, whether or not your inner skeptic is ready to accept the fact that this sort of thing really does go on — pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, your government is in control.

There is an excellent piece by Charlie Skelton in the Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/02/week-ahead-bilderberg-2013-watford

..and you can follow Charlie on twitter here: https://twitter.com/deYook

Why I switched from Apple iPhone to HTC One Android.

I’ve been an Apple customer for a very long time. I still am ‘that guy’ who harps on about Mac OS X at every available opportunity. But iOS, the operating system at the heart of every iPhone, is something quite different to that which keeps the Mac ahead of the other desktop operating systems; and that’s why this week I switched to Android.

HTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-04There are a million and one reasons to stick with iPhone once you’re already hooked into the iCloud ecosystem. Everything, as they say, ‘just works’. On top of that the iPhone 5′s styling is textbook Jonathan Ive; Apple’s British-born design guru who Steve Jobs called his righthand-man.

But while iPhone users have spent the last few years patting themselves on the back for not only having the nicest looking phones on the market, but the first truly smart-phones in the world, Google powered devices have been slowly but surely evolving from ‘me too’ cheap copies of the iPhone, into a whole new class of device; which with the arrival of the HTC One sees the whole Post-PC concept, first begun by Apple, taken into a radically new direction.

Upon the first arrival of the Android OS, it was true to say that most of the devices which ran it only succeeded because of how many iPhone-like functions they mimicked, but at a lower price-point. It’s easy to forget how many of the now commonplace functions of a mobile phone simply didn’t exist before Apple entered the market. But as a consequence of the corner-cutting which earlier Android powered devices had to take to keep costs and lawsuits down to a minimum, many of them merely looked on in awe at the iPhone, despite that on paper many had faster processors, bigger clearer screens, and higher resolution cameras. The weak link was the OS itself, and the image problem it gave devices that simply didn’t have that famous Apple finishing touch. Users who fell for the impressive specs while being given the sales-pitch in the showroom, soon found that after spending real time with their handset, something wasn’t quite right.

Well, I’ve lived with my HTC One for just over four days now, and I can’t begin to explain how impressively it does away with the notion that non-iOS powered smartphones are forever playing catch-up to Apple when it comes to the finer details. Those days, simply put, are well and truly over.

My old iPhone was the original model 4 — the 4S came along about 6 months into my previous contract with Three Mobile here in the UK˙; and if I’d switched-up to the iPhone 5 before the end of the contract it would have cost quite a lot of money. So since the regular iPhone 4 still ran the latest version of iOS — at least, that is, it claimed to — I settled myself with the belief that, once it came time to renew my contract and take out a new device, Apple would have come up with something to keep me happy in the intervening months; it was just a matter of waiting.

But then I started to think about what was really going on. It’s true that the iPhone 4 simply wasn’t powerful enough to run most apps properly. Back in the days when the desktop PC was the main portal through which most people accessed the internet, we were used to the notion of a computer becoming obsolete after 3 or 4 years — such was the pace of development in the sound, graphics and general processing which was happening in the PC space at that time.

But, once the notion of the post-PC device took ahold, the time it took for new devices to become old news increased dramatically. My iPhone 4 was less than 1 year old when it first started to randomly crash and run even very basic apps at a snail’s pace. Even the ubiquitous Apple Apps Store would become so unresponsive, simply by attempting to scroll through the selection of available apps, I began to contemplate an unnerving thought; and the uneasy feeling that Apple had deliberately included some unnecessarily processor hungry bits of code, just to leave users of older handsets feeling inadequate, solidified itself in my mind with the release of Siri; the voice command software which refused to run on the iPhone 4, even though the company who originally produced it had an earlier version running happily on the much slower iPhone 3.

While there’s nothing new about electronics manufacturers purposefully producing devices designed to fail, on the gambit that loyal users will simply upgrade to the latest hardware to run the latest software, the fact that this flies in the face of everything Apple were supposed to be about, leaves those of us who go all the way back to the mid-1990′s with Apple, feeling as if they’ve become the very thing they once stood sharply against, now that they are one of the world’s most profitable companies. “Think different” was never supposed to be an excuse to charge more for less; but that’s precisely the mantra Apple’s iPhone devision seems to have embraced in recent times; for shame.

Current iPhone users, who intend to upgrade to another iPhone within the next few months, should consider the following. Just one hour into using my HTC One, I’d…

• Installed a third party app without jailbreaking the device
• Downloaded a bunch of ringtones and alerts without having to open iTunes, stand on one leg, and whistle Dixie
• Switched the default browser to Chrome
• Re-installed every app which I’d previously used on the iPhone, without having to hand over my credit card details first
• Programmed the HTC One to be a remote control for my TV, Home Theatre System, and a time-shift scheduler for my PVR
• Dragged and dropped the music I want to listen to directly from the desktop without having to take a university degree course in using iTunes
• and — shock horror — I used it to make an actual phone call, and was able to hear everything the person on the other end was saying as well as they could hear me!

Features:
Listening to the Beats Audio sound system is a really weird (in a good way) experience. It’s like sitting in front of a decent home HiFi stereo speaker set-up twice the size of the phone itself. The pseudo-surround-sound software really works very well and the stereo spread is lifelike and focused, only starting to distort when you get into the ‘too loud anyway’ volume range.

The 4.7 inch 1080p display is bright and focused. It handles full HD video very easily, with no fragmentation or ripping. Every time I pick up the device, I’m as impressed all over again as the first time I switched it on by how sharp and slick looking the display is.

The case is made from robust materials which make the handset feel substantial. It’s not so thin you’d find yourself checking your pocket when out and about, to make sure you hadn’t dropped it — a common problem with the flyaway light iPhone 5.

The whole thing is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quadcore chip, running at 1.7GHz with 2GB of RAM. I’m old enough to remember when these were the sort of specifications desktop PC users drooled over, in anticipation of running the latest shoot-em-up video game. Not that pumping that sort of power into a mobile device necessarily means the software is capable of utilising it. Specs are vanity but software is reality, and many handhelds which boast impressive numbers fall short of delivering the sort of balances system performance which Apple perfected on the Mac and transferred to the iPhone. But, unlike previous Android powered phones, HTC have harnessed the full power of the hardware to compliment beautifully Android’s Open Source heritage — letting loose some genuinely jaw-dropping bells, whistles and impress the hell out of your friends gadgets and gizmos.

The camera, for example, is everything you’d want from a dedicated mid-priced point-and-shoot compact. As a pro-camera, I’ve been using a Canon EOS 300D for the past 10 years, but the HTC One actually performs way better in low-light. The full resolution HD video capture, which the DSLR doesn’t even do, much less at 60 frames per second, is truly staggering; and the neat slow-motion mode, which at first might seem gimmicky, actually adds a level of creativity I can imagine coming in super-useful when shooting sporting events, and other things which might happen quickly, but which the viewer wants to study later in better detail. This all adds up to actually inspiring me to go-back to my hobby of photography after a long time away, after becoming disillusioned with the flat-by-comparison performance of my other dedicated point and shoot, a Canon G10 — which at the time cost me nearly £400, doesn’t support full frame HD video and doesn’t exactly slip into the pocket.

Then there’s the photo software. HTC have made a smart move in concentrating on how the image is processed, rather than simply throwing megapixels at the ubiquitous problem of how much light it’s possible to get into a lens with a small surface area — the HTC One having just a 25mm aperture.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the same scene, one with low-light no-flash, and one with standard settings auto-flash, between the iPhone 4 and the HTC One:

iPhone with flash.  This is not a post-process effect, it really is that washed out.

iPhone with flash. This is not a post-process effect, it really is that washed out.

iPhone, no flash.  No option for low-light mode.

iPhone, no flash. No option for low-light mode.

HTC One with Flash

HTC One with Flash

HTC One without flash, on Standard Low-Light Setting

HTC One without flash, on Standard Low-Light Setting

In both cases, getting these photographs out of the two devices wasn’t easy. The HTC One Sync software works as well on the Mac as I suspect it would on Windows, but it wasn’t as Drag-and-Drop simple as it should be. But what you gain in fast loading times, and access to the whole Android file system, is a trade off against the rather clunky way of having to wait for the software to Sync the contents of the phone with the Sync folder on the computer. Having said that, when compared to the way the process is handled by the iPhone — insisting as it does on performing the whole thing via the slow, buggy and downright horrible iPhoto software — there is no comparison. In the time it’s taken me to write this entire paragraph iPhoto is still ‘thinking’ about what to do next, just to grab two photographs. Someone should tell Apple it’s 2013, and iLife as a whole desperately needs a make-over.

To be fair to iOS, there are some things which Android doesn’t do, which the iPhone thinks nothing of. Again, this is a spit and polish, finishing touches ‘thing’, which will no-doubt be fixed over time. For example, if you want to place a shortcut icon in the Dock at the base of the screen, you have to open the Icon View of all your apps, and long-hold, drag and drop, rather than simply being able to do it from the Home Screen. Similarly, there is discrepant behaviour in removing icons from the Dock as opposed to moving them from the regular Home Screen; for example, if you long-hold an icon in the Home Screen, you get two options — one to edit the app’s details, and one to remove it from the Home Screen. But if you do the same from the Dock, the only option is to uninstall the app. Why these three different options can’t be available from no matter where you long-hold the icon you want to move is a mystery to me.

Similarly, you’re limited to having only 5 left to right sweeping Home Screen panels, which soon fill up when you include a few Widgets — and for some again mysterious reason it isn’t possible to change the order of these panels simply by moving them around in the Edit Widgets screen — something made to seem even more unusual by nature of the fact you can actually long-hold on these panes, and move them around, despite that this doesn’t actually do anything to change the order in which they appear on the Home Screen.

One thing which is a vast improvement to the way iOS handles a similar operation is the long-hold Home button function, which on the iPhone launches Siri, and on the HTC One instantly switches to Google Now — Google’s latest way of presenting location aware content on useful ‘cards’, which are populated with relevant information about your interests and local services. This is a feature Google have only recently rolled out, and it seems set to become the main way in which voice-commands and at-a-glance information are accessed via Android powered devices.

While not all of these services are as-yet up and running, the HTC One already handles speech recognition much quicker and more accurately than Siri on the iPhone 5. With two clicks you can be Googling anything at all, without physically typing a single word — and while it lacks the occasionally quirky artificial intelligence of Siri, the speed with which data is transferred and displayed is very impressive, and the actual voice recognition software seems to play a lot better with regional British dialects like my strong Northern accent; whereas Siri sometimes demands that we adopt an American accent to be properly understood.

While it shouldn’t come as a shock that Google knows a lot about search, and processing complex data in an almost magically short timeframe (that is after all the number one reason why Google are who they are) Apple’s Siri is noticeably slower and less accurate in this area — although it is only fair to point out the comparison I’m using here is based upon my experience of Siri on a friend’s iPhone 5, and I didn’t personally use Siri day-to-day on my previous iPhone when for a few weeks last year I ran the Cydia jailbreak.

Summary Cons:
There are three of four ways to do something in Android and only one of them is useful. The included headphones feel absolutely horrible and sound even worse; and unless they’re plugged in the built-in FM radio doesn’t work at all. TV Tuner software feels unfinished, although the programmable remote control with built-in IR receiver is a really nice idea.

Summary Pros:
Ridiculously pretty, bright and focused screen with great colour separation. Very nice video and stills camera. Super fast multitasking processor; no waiting for even very intensive tasks. Seamless Google integration, with voice commands way more polished and accurate than Siri for iPhone.