Ok, so you reached the meaty part of the web-site. The part where I let go with all my feelings as basically offend half of you. (More than half if I'm doing it right.) Now, since I've already explained that this web-site is mostly going to be read by friends, why would I want to offend them all?
Therapy mostly, I guess. I think its good to express your feelings, and having a good rant is a way of getting things out of your system. And if having a rant over half a bottle of Hunter Valley white with a few friends is good for the soul*, then hell, ranting to millions of people over the Internet should be even better!
I've got a lot of things to get off my chest, so I've given them all headings. If you think you're going to be offended, then please keep reading. That's just what I want. Perhaps you could even e-mail me and tell me how offended you are?
I can also give you my unsolicited opinions on computer hardware. (It gets a little bit rant-ish, but not really.)
Here's my first problem with religion: Those damn posters that you will find outside almost every church in Sydney (and the rest of Australia for all I know.) They always have some twee message, usually relating to the current season (Christmas, Easter, whatever) and sometimes there a quote of whatever.
Now, I'm not against Churches putting up posters, per se, I'm mostly just against bad advertising. And these posters are just so damn tacky. I saw one the other day that had a metaphor involving cricket (it being Summer). I mean, are these posters achieving anything? Am I supposed to read one and suddenly decide to give up a lifetime of atheism, rock into church and get down on my knees an start praying?
(Oh, and "Jesus: Thermonuclear Protection" stickers on cars get my goat too, though not as much as "Bad Boy" ones.)
Some quick background: I've lived my entire life without any sort of spiritual beliefs. I've never believed in any sort of supernatural being, be it God, the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. This includes my entire childhood. I had Scripture classes while at school and went to Church and Sunday School several times during my formative years. My parents never sat me down an explicitly told me not to believe in God. I just never thought any of the stories I was being told were even slightly credible. Apart from religion, I am also incredulous of any sort or paranormal or "New Age" beliefs.
I have thought for many years that Atheists are too quiet about their beliefs. Whereas people who do believe in a God (or whatever) always seem to have the need to tell everyone who will listen about their beliefs (usually in some attempt to indoctrinate the "heathen"), Atheists are usually quite happy to just sit back, secure in the knowledge that they are right, and if other people choose to believe in a God.... well... what harm can it do? Certainly not worth the agro of challenging somebody's belief structure. You'll probably just encourage them to stick Bibles through your letter box.
I think this is wrong. I believe Atheists should be just as vocal in their beliefs as everyone else out there. We should let those around us know what we believe and we should seek to convince others of the validity of our beliefs. Perhaps if more people do we can hasten the decline of religion (and its substitutes) everywhere. This is a worthy goal. It would, in my opinion, right a lot of injustices, end a lot of conflicts, save a lot of money, and generally make the world a nicer and more rational place.
So, why atheism? Well, I certainly see nothing that leads me to believe in anything else, that's for sure. If there were a God, I'd want to see prayers answered daily, not just occasionally (and well with in statistical norms for pure coincidence.) If there were a God, and he designed the world, He could have done it a lot better. If there were a God, He wouldn't be so damned unreachable (or move in such mysterious ways.) If God has no direct influence on this world, then what is the point of believing in Him? Religion, in general, is such a poorly worked out joke, its a wonder anybody believes in it at all.
This alone is enough for some good old agnosticism. But to me, agnosticism just doesn't go far enough. It's the wishy-washy easy way out. To be agnostic is to have no certainty in your life, to be constantly searching for the evidence to lead you to an answer of life's mysteries. Or, you could decide that it is impossible to find the answer, and so you reconcile yourself to never knowing anything about our purpose in life. (Some agnostics will think I'm being extreme here. Fair enough, I probably am. But this is a rant.)
Atheists, on the other hand, have their feet firmly planted on the ground, not swinging on the fence. There is no God, we are here through no design of any other entity, and the only way to discover the meaning of life is to find it yourself. (How exactly you choose to do that will vary. We are sufficiently complex creatures that we can't all be expected to come up with the same answers, either.)
[Incidentally, I've already found the meaning of life. It's not something I can just explain to you, unfortunately. I could do a million Business Management courses and still not be able to capture the essence of my beliefs in a single mission statement. But it's all up their inside my head, and I know it's there, and that's what counts. Finding your own "meaning of life" is one of the great joys in life. It makes the world a much nicer place to life in.]
Atheism is the only reasonable belief in an enlightened universe. A lack of evidence for there not being a God should not be construed to mean that the existence of a divine entity is still an open question. All it tells us is that the concept of God is constructed in such a way that excludes empirical observation. I'm a great follower of a principle known as Ockham's Razor. Basically it says that simple theories are better.
If we follow this principle, even allowing for the possibility of a God unnecessarily complicates the world. For any unexplained phenomenon I can think of there is always a better answer than "It was a divine miracle." Events are misreported, people lie, people are stupid, the full facts are not made clear, all sorts of things interfere with the truth. And even if at the end of a thorough investigation no scientific answer can be given, this is not reason enough to put forward any sort of supernatural explanation. To do so does more damage to a working system of explanations than does leaving the event (temporarily) unexplained.
Science is the only rational alternative to religion. Science is special. It survives change. It survives mistakes. It survives not being able to provide an answer 100% of the time. Religion has a lot of trouble with all these things. And Religion and Science do not happily co-exist, no matter what people say. Atheism and Science, however, make a wonderful combination.
Here are a couple of links that you might like to explore if you've found yourself agreeing with my anywhere above, even if only slightly. <grin>
Australian Skeptics Home Page
Transcript of an interview with Richard Dawkins (pin-up heathen for militant atheists everywhere)
Endnote: The inspiration for this rant came from Peter Davis after he put up his own home page, on which he also has a rant about religion. Peter's own efforts gave me the final impetus I required to create this page. Thanks, Pete.
Look, Pauline. Just GO AWAY. You've got a nasty little mind and no idea what you're talking about. Your 15 minutes are up. Time to go.
You know the sort of thing I'm talking about. Great big concrete walls along the side of the road to help block the noise of the traffic for the houses behind them. Fair enough, I've got no problem with that. And by themselves, they're pretty awful to look at. So, what to do about this? Well, here's a radical idea! Plant some tree in front of them! Hide them! There are some barriers out there when they appear to be planning to do just that. Since it will be a while until the trees are fully grown, sometimes they pain the concrete green and brown, to help it blend in just that little bit extra. Great! No problems.
But they don't always do that. Oh no, sometimes they decide to get "creative". Abstract patterns in the concrete, fake wood patterns in the concrete, even things that look kind of like fossilised fish (in concrete?). Who was in charge of that great idea? Some engineer who fancied himself a bit of an artiste, probably.
But for me, the worst one of all, the straw that broke the camel's back, is a new barrier they put up along the Princes Highway near Sutherland, NSW. It started off as a plain concrete wall, with slightly ornate "pillars" holding them up. So far, so good. But then they added dolphins to the wall. Three dimensional, carved dolphins, made to look very loosely like they're skipping in and out of the "water" along the wall. And they paint them blue, while the rest of the wall stays grey! And not just one or two dolphins, either. Dozens of them, along a very short stretch of wall, probably only 100m long in total.
What is this crap? Do I want to see dolphins frolicking beside my car while I drive? No! It makes me think the Greenhouse effect truly has happened. Does the "art" enrich my soul as I drive past at 90kmph? No! Is there any redeeming feature at all to this example that I can find? No!
(Incidentally, they later added other barriers, but this time we got Sulphur-crested Cockatoos instead of dolphins. They weren't even in proportion to the dolphins.)
There have always been "cover" versions of songs. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. So what if some new 90's band decides to cash in on an obscure song from the 60's that I've probably never heard before? That's fine with me. And if somebody decides to down their own version of a song, i.e. changing the style or whatever, that's even better. The new version may not be better than the original (Take G 'n' R's Live and Let Die for example.) but at least the covering artist has made an effort. But there seems to be a nasty trend developing of bands covering more and more recent songs, and adding nothing to their versions whatsoever!
Two cases in point: Heroes by The Wallflowers and Fight For Your Right (To Party) by NYCC. The Wallflowers song is just such a pathetic, half-hearted attempt at a classic David Bowie song, you wonder why they bothered. The fact that it's only from a Soundtrack (and for a bad movie, what's more) only makes you wonder even more what they were thinking. (OK, we know what they were thinking. They were all thinking of the money.)
NYCC's Beastie Boys cover was just totally unnecessary. And they didn't even bother to update the lyrics, so they still say "We're the Beastie Boys" in the song. Just what's going on here????
I thought the reason I was turning to 80's hits and "Classic Rock" more and more these days was because I was getting old and set in my ways. But when things like this come along, I truly feel justified in saying "The music was better in my day!". <grin>
2001 Additional: Well, the trend just keeps continuing. Madonna's American Pie... is there anything that isn't awful about this song? Firstly, the original is a classic, written and performed by somebody with an emotional attachment to the subject matter. Reason enough that it should never be touched by another artist, except maybe as a tribute to John McLean himself. But Madonna's version is just so God-damned awful anyway! It's a really bad dance track, and the instrumentation is pitiful. And this song got to number one in Australia, America and England? The world truly has gone to hell in a hand basket.
Westlife's Uptown Girl... I suppose they thought that because it was performed for charity that they could get away with this sacrilege? Not in my books! (I suppose I should point out here that I feel all "Boy Band" groups should be used as reactor shielding. Die, Boy Bands! Die!)
Let's try to even the score a little here. What good covers have there been?
Well, there are a number of "cover albums" which I think are well worth a listen. I mentioned above the idea of the "tribute" cover. Well, albums like "Red Hot and Blue" (covers of Cole Porter songs), or "Undone..." (covers of Duran Duran tracks) are well worth a listen. What makes them different? Well, firstly, usually none of the artists contributing to the album expect to release a single of their track. That is, they're not after fame and glory from the track. (Usually they've already got that, in fact, it's usually required. I have an album of DEVO covers performed by a heap of unknown artists, and let me tell you, does it suck!) Secondly, it's a whole album of covers, so of course there's going to be a couple of dodgy tracks, but that's OK in the context of the full album. Overall the covers are usually of the better variety on these albums anyway. (I think this is particularly true if the artists were allowed to chose which song they were going to cover, so they choose something which "speaks" to them.)
A similar concept is the album of covers by a single artist; albums like Annie Lenox's Medusa, or k.d. lang's Drag. Again, there's usually one or two dodgy tracks, but that's acceptable out of a whole album. Usually there is a single or two released from the album, which makes it a bit more suspect, but somehow to my mind there is less of an issue of "passing off", that is, the covering artist isn't trying to pretend in the slightest that this is their own work.
May 2001 Additional: It just keeps getting worse! As if it wasn't bad enough having singers doing awful covers, now we've got non-singers getting in on the act! I am, of course, referring to Gwyneth Paltrow's shocking rendition of Bette Davis Eyes. I haven't seen the movie (Duets) yet, and I think I never will if this song is in it. (I'm not a big fan of Gwyneth anyway.) Not only is it a bad cover, but it's like she's trying to sound like Kim Carnes, a big mistake, since Kim's voice was reedy and distinctive, so Gwyneth just sounds weak and awful.
September 2001 Additional: This isn't a new cover, but it's so God-awful that I must have blocked it from my mind. The group is Pearl Jam, who I started off with very little respect for and they lost all of that when they released "Last Kiss". (I mean, it's a bad Country and Western song*. There's no other way to describe it.) But my respect for them actually went negative when I was searching Napster one day for Paul McDermott's cover of Throw Your Arms Around Me. (The original is a great song by Hunters and Collectors, and Paul's cover is not at all bad. He sings it very much in his own style.) But these other matches started to turn up for Pearl Jam having done a cover of the song. Further investigation found that they had only ever covered it in their live acts, which makes things a little bit better, but they still killed it! And in the version I downloaded to judge just how bad it could be, Eddie Vedder introduces the song as being "about summer". Does he not listen to the words of the songs he sings? Just because the song mentions the word "Summer" does not mean that that is what the song is about! It's about love, separation and, of course sex. (It's the "Hectors and Collunters" after all, and that's what all their songs are about.)
* Which may actually be a tautology.
Okay, I'd been promising a rant on Bad Harmonica Playing for about 2 years and had never got around to it. It's time to come clean. I was never going to have a rant about Bad Harmonica Playing. It was all just going to be an excuse to slag off on Alanis Morrisett. (Think back, if you dare, to the end of her song One Hand In My Pocket, and you may recall the awful harmonica there.) Now that that's all in the open, however, I find I can't even muster the energy to really rip into her. The very thought of her saps my strength, not to mention my will to live. She's just a really awful singer and a really annoying person.
Incidentally, if you want to hear some good harmonica playing, listen to Midnight Oil's Blue Sky Mine.
There are two parts to this rant: the doors themselves, and the people who (cannot) use them. Let's start with the latter first.
The other day I happened to be waiting for a friend at the V&A Museum, London. It has a medium-sized revolving door for its main entrance. I was a little bit early so I got to watch quite a few people coming and going, and it was amazing the number of people who had trouble with the process of using a revolving door. Let's break things down:
So... there you have it... people are idiots and don't know how to even go through a door. It makes me worry about the future of the human race. But just as worrying is that given that people cannot operate revolving doors, why do we have them?
Two separate doors would solve the 4th point above. Point 3 was only fixed by temporarily converting the doors to a more regular design, and sliding doors can be made automatic more easily, thus allowing American tourists to conserve all important calories for being loud on The Tube. Regular doors are probably cheaper to install and maintain too.
You can also see through a regular door more easily, and they're more easily locked.
Do revolving doors have any advantages? Only one, that I can think of, which is that they provide a kind of "air lock", for places where it's particularly hot, cold or windy. But two sets of sliding doors one after the other can provide exactly the same service.
So, if there are any architects reading this, please do the world a favour and just forget about revolving doors, ok?
You know what I'm talking about... that little paper label that's stuck to "luxury" soaps like Imperial Leather. On one side they have the regular recessed logo, such as most soaps use, but on the other size they have a small rectangular paper label with another copy if the same logo. What is the point of this?
By sticking a label on the soap, they have effectively made it one sided! You now have to hold it a particular way as you lather up in the shower, otherwise you just end up scratching yourself with a bit of paper, which I suspect doesn't have the same cleaning qualities.
Next, as the soap starts to wear down, it wears into an odd shape because part of it is "protected" by the label. When the soap gets really small the label even makes it harder to do a "Vulcan mind meld" with the next bar of soap, so you're forced to actually throw the last bit out. Throw out soap??? You should never need to throw out soap!
I know what you're thinking... "Why don't you just take the label off?" Well, believe me I've tried! But they actually make it quite difficult. First of all, on a fresh bar the label is actually recessed, which means it's hard to attack without a knife or other sharp implement, and there are usually none handy in the shower when it suddenly becomes an issue. Secondly, they use quite amazing glue. I don't know how they do it, considering that a lot of sticky stuff is actually removed by soap/detergent, but they manage to use a glue that sticks bloody well to the soap, so you have to pick away at the edges, getting bits of soap stuck under your finger nails as you do. And the paper tears into little bits too, of course.
So there you have it... soap labels... the scourge of the bathroom! Write to your MP today!
Well, that's all the rants there are at the moment. If you read them all, I'm impressed! If you read them all and agreed with me more than half the time, then we should meet up and have a beer together! Send me an e-mail and let's see what we can organise! (If you're female, don't forget to include a photo. <grin>)
* I am of course referring to the "soul" in a metaphorical sense. There's no good reason to believe anything like a soul actually exists, and plenty of good reasons to think that it doesn't.