Monday, 31 March 2008

Monday Bit of Wisdom No. 2

In honour of Richard Dawkins' imminent visit to Inverness, I decided that today's Bit of Wisdom should come from his book Unweaving the Rainbow - in fact, it is the opening paragraph of the first chapter, and just the first of many arresting ideas in the book.
"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."

It's quite a thought and, on a gloomy Monday, when you're feeling a bit sorry for yourself, it might even make your small life seem a bit more special - it certainly does for me.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

The Dawkins Rap

Picked this up over on
Pharyngula and had to share it.

Funny funny funny! I can't wait to see Richard do his rap for us in Inverness next week...

Atheist Blogroll Has a New Member - Me!

I am chuffed to bits to be added to the Atheist Blogroll. From now on there will be a permanent link in the sidebar so that you can keep up to date with what's new.

The Blogroll recently got its 600th member. If you would like to be added, check out Mojoey's blog.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Funny Friday!

I find Fridays really depressing - don't know about the rest of you - so I have declared Fridays on The View From the Pond to be Funny Fridays. Last week we had the magnificent Dave Allen on getting to grips with Catholicism (catch it here if you missed it last week) and this Friday I present more YouTube mirth, courtesy of Archie's made me giggle - thanks Archie!

and have a fun Friday everyone!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The Following Blogs are Excellent

A big, humble, tear-soaked thankyou to Reasonable Robinson over at Gullibility for presenting me with this award. I am speechless. In fact, it's taken me a month to get over the shock...

I am, in turn, honoured to be able to pass on the award for Excellence in Blogging to:

A Toy's Own Story for wittiest bear on the web,

Too Many Tribbles for sheer intelligence (and being a sci-fi nut)

Greg over at Greg's Brain for being unique (and a little bit scary)

Dorid at the Radula - intelligent AND creative? - it just ain't fair!

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Monday Bit of Wisdom

In a new, and possibly regular (if I can get myself organised) feature - Monday is to play host, here at The View From the Pond, to a bit of wisdom from someone older and wiser than I.

In the essay On Suicide, David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher and atheist, argues for a person's right to end their own life if they choose. I love this passage - it is very close to my own view and is startlingly modern.
"It is providence surely that has placed me at this present moment in this chamber: but may I not leave it when I think proper, without being liable to the imputation of having deserted my post or station? When I shall be dead, the principles of which I am composed will still perform their part in the universe, and will be equally useful in the grand fabric, as when they composed this individual creature. The difference to the whole will be no greater than betwixt my being in a chamber and in the open air. The one change is of more importance to me than the other; but not more so to the universe."

So elegant, so modest...and so true. That is one of the biggest challenges for the atheist, at least it is for this atheist - to accept that you are of no importance in the universe - no more than the chamber for all those particles, and yet to still find value in your life, even when things aren't going well. Still working on that one...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

I got a Ticket!


I am so excited. After failing to get a ticket for Richard Dawkins' visit to Inverness next month, I put my name down, without much hope of success, for any returns. A day later I got a call from Eden Court Theatre to say that there was a ticket available! Made my day.

It is still incredible to me that the mighty Richard Dawkins is coming to our neck of the woods. Although we have the cheek to call ourselves a city, we are far from it, and being so far north of anywhere interesting, we are usually missed off the itinerary of the British tours of anyone vaguely intellectual. So I have no idea why we have been so lucky - I'm just immensely, immensely grateful.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Dave Allen on God

Well, it's the first day of Spring, and we have snow forecast for the next three days, so I, for one, need cheering up. So here, for all of you out there who are feeling down, is the incomparable Dave Allen talking about his introduction to Catholicism...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Dawkins comes to town

Good news - Richard Dawkins is venturing up to the far north and doing a talk here in the back of beyond.

Bad news - not a ticket to be found.

It is absolutely maddening. You know that people are just getting tickets because he's famous. It is for sure that this event will be wall-to-wall with people who just want to be seen at the right events.

Ah well. Maybe it's better not to go anyway. I am firm in my atheism and need no persuasion or support. If my place is taken by someone who will learn something about atheism, then I guess I can live with that.

Now I just have to keep a firm grip on my middle-aged dignity and not turn up with my copy of the God Delusion and a pen at the stage door...

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Mystical Book Meme

Thanks to Greg for tagging me with this dinky little meme. The rules are:

1. Look up page 123 in the book nearest to you right now.

2. Find the fifth sentence and write it down. Then write down the next three sentences.

3. Tag some other folk.

As chance would have it, I just got a lovely parcel of books from Amazon today, so I chose one of them - Boomsday by Christopher Buckley

"The idea of aging, self-indulgent Boomers killing themselves rather than becoming an oppressive financial burden to their children and the nation was not anathema to these young viewers. In fact, to them it sounded like a darn good idea. They especially liked the part where the government would eliminate all death taxes so Mom and Dad's money could flow straight to them."

Ouch! Far too close to home, that one!

I couldn't stop at just one book so, inspired by Greg's crack about me (not) choosing a bible as my book "de meme", I had to go to the atheist's bible - Richard Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker...

"But what we can say is that there is a length of 306 characters in cows, which is virtually identical to a length of 306 characters in peas. Cows and peas differ from each other in only two characters out of these 306. We don't know exactly how long ago the common ancestor of cows and peas lived, but fossil evidence suggests that it was somewhere between 1000 and 2000 million years ago. Call it 1.5 billion years ago."

He's talking here about DNA as an archival medium and it all gets a bit technical for me, but I love that image of a cow/pea ancestor long, long ago.

And finally, and talking about humour and science, I wanted to include a Terry Pratchett book as a tribute to that very witty writer. He was recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's and he did a round of interviews today talking about the condition. Brave man and I wish him many years of vigour. Here is p.123, line 5 of Witches Abroad -

"Could have been a big tornado or something somewhere." said Nanny Ogg. "Picked it up, see, then the wind drops and down it comes. You get funny things happening in high winds. Remember that big gale we had last year? One of my hens laid the same egg four times."


And I hereby tag

Reasonable Robinson
and Jenny B

Saturday, 8 March 2008


I'm beginning to wonder what is the point of highlighting these infringements of our personal freedom. It seems the more we complain, the worse it actually gets. One finds oneself coming out with spluttering cliches - "George Orwell wouldn't believe it." "Was this what we fought two world wars for?" - you know the kind of impotent fury one feels welling up whenever the latest story appears in the press.

But thanks anyway to Boing Boing for posting Heathrow Terminal 5 to fingerprint DOMESTIC passengers.

I have already declared that I am not going to step on any plane that requires me to take my shoes off to be checked for explosives (mind you, I don't have a life to speak of so the question of getting on a plane hardly arises) so it's easy for me to pretend these things are happening. But how far are we going to let this go?

Do we just have to let it run its course, knowing that the pendulum will swing back when some tipping point (to mix my metaphors) is reached? I fear so.