Friday, April 27, 2007

Lunar Ravings

Last night, feeling bored, but resisting the urge to go to bed, I switched over to one of the digital religious channels - as you do! I like looking at these channels for a bit of light relief - being an atheist myself I find the rantings and ravings of the preachers rather comical. However, what really caught my attention last night was a science documentary, filmed in a "Horizon" type style, about the universe. Now being very interested in cosmology and that sort of thing, I felt compelled to watch. That's why I was half asleep at work today - I stayed up too late, but then I'm always doing that! I digress. The thrust of the film was that the conditions and environment of the earth and its place in the universe are ideal for humanity to study the universe and discover the laws of nature. Being a channel of religious intent, the argument was of course leading to the conclusion that the universe as we find it is no accident, but was designed that way by you know who.
So what was it that you know who got up to in his creative workshop then? Well, for one thing, he made the Moon at just the right size and distance from the earth so that when there is a total eclipse, it covers all the Sun's disk, and no more. This allows us to see the Sun's corona or atmosphere. This in turn has allowed astronomers to study the corona and gain insight into the composition and dynamics of the Sun, and the stars in general. Also, the moon produces tidal cycles which have a big impact upon the natural history of the planet. Add to this, that light from stars travelling close to the Sun's rim enabled physicists during a total eclipse in 1919 to validate Einstein's theory that light is bent in gravitational fields. Of course, all this can only be because you know who made it so! What the program didn't mention was that this is only a temporary arrangement because the Moon is actually gradually receding from the earth. This is because of tidal forces causing a transfer of energy from the earth to the Moon, with the added effect that the earth is gradually slowing down on its axis - the days are getting longer! It was also mentioned that because we have a clear atmosphere - its not full of haze due to dense clouds of carbon dioxide etc, we are able to study the night sky which would otherwise be invisible to us. Apparently, clear atmospheres are very rare. However, what the programme failed to mention is that it is life itself, which helps to keep a clear atmosphere, with plants dependent upon all the carbon dioxide, and then giving out oxygen which us and other animals need to breathe. Mars has a clear atmosphere, albeit very thin compared to ours, but this was not mentioned. The program went on to talk about our position in the galaxy, being about half way out from the centre, in the comparative void between spiral arms. This gives us a very good view of the galactic plane which would otherwise be hidden from us - again advantageous for the study of the cosmos. Also, if we were situated at the centre of the galaxy, the earth would be bathed in such intense radiation that life could never have arisen, or we might even get sucked into a black hole - there may be one at the centre of every spiral galaxy. If we were near the periphery of the galaxy, there would not be the variety of minerals necessary for the formation of planets like ours, much less life itself, and of course, a not very good view of the galaxy. OK, fine. One thought does however spring to mind and it is this: there are billions of galaxies and billions of billions of chances of finding planets like our own. I do not find it at all surprising that the universe seems to have been engineered for our benefit, and that is because life on earth, and anywhere else it might exist in the universe, comes about, and adapts itself by Darwinian natural selection, to fit exactly into the environment in which it finds itself. We are products of the environment; the universe does not exist because of us, but rather the reverse. There is therefore no need for you know who. Also, the programme went on to state that if the laws of physics were only an itsy witsy bit different to what they are, then the universe could not exist as we find it, and therefore life would not exist. So what? The universe is the way it is. If it wasn't we wouldn't be here - and the point is??? You might as well say that it is a miracle that a footprint in the mud exactly matches the shape of the base of the foot that made it! Not really a miracle, but in a round about way, that's why the conditions in the universe seem so ideal for our survival.

Getting back to the Moon: according to Carl Sagan in his book "The Tragedy of the Moon", its a big shame that our nearest planetary neighbour Venus doesn't have a moon. You see, if you know who had really planned it to enhance our understanding of the universe as the programme purports, he would have given Venus a moon. We would then have seen in ancient times that celestial bodies do actually orbit one another. It would also have been clear that not everything orbits about the earth. The geocentric view of the universe was pretty well fundamental in medieval Christianity, and the Church, following the Christian way, tortured and murdered people who dared to suggest otherwise. Who knows how many people would not have perished had you know who had given Venus a moon. The other upshot of this, is that our understanding of the universe would have been much accelerated and scientific and technological progress may have put our present day travellings out amongst the stars, instead of where we are today, scratching to reach the boundaries of the Solar System. If you know who had really wanted to help us along in our scientific endeavours, he really could have done a better job!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cliffs of doom

Today, I took a trip to the seaside with some family members. Being keen spare-time photographers, my wife and I are currently working our way down the East Anglian coast and seeing what photographic opportunities present themselves. With all the concern over global warming, I had forgotten all about coastal erosion until it hit me square between the eyes this afternoon. We pulled in and parked the car at Weybourne beach, just west of Sheringham. The sixty pence my son helped me pay for parking was very reasonable compared to the complete rip-off of three pounds stirling at Wells-Next-the-Sea from whence we had just travelled. Anyway, I had seen a lot of evidence of coastal erosion a few weeks ago at Old Hunstanton where the cliffs have receded inland by a few feet over the past few years. However, at Weybourne, it was much more pronounced as the cliffs were far more obviously receding at a fairly rapid rate. What really brought it home was a large house on top of the cliff. This house had clearly, and fairly recently, been set back a fair distance from the edge of the cliff, but the cliff has receded at an alarming rate. Lying at the bottom of the cliff the remains of the garden wall are to be seen, and peering into the garden itself, the rear patio area is cracked up and falling into the sea. Gradually, the cliff is falling away and it is only a matter of time before the old, rambling house itself, takes the final plunge into oblivion. Pondering this, it occurred to me, that it can only be a matter of time before the shore-line villages themselves meet the same fate and become but distant memories. It would appear that there is little we can do about this. The Eastern seaboard is gradually, over geological periods, sinking anyway, while the far north and west rise further up from out of the sea. The country is on a tilt. Add to this climate change, where we are pretty much assured of the prospect ever more violent storms and high tides, and the gradual rise in sea levels, the whole process is set to accelerate. We must adapt to nature. Nature will not adapt to us.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Shoddy prose

When I was a teenager at school, me and a friend decided to write a book of rubbish poems. We never got very far with it. This is a good thing. We saved the literary world a lot of grief. I wrote a poem about taking a bath. Here it is:

Oh why did you leave me
when I was so comfortable in the silky soft waters of my bath?
Suddenly as the door slammed shut
A sudden feeling came over me such as that I had never felt before.
My big toe was stuck up the cold tap,
and my undies were on the floor.

The book, which in its production stage only got as far as a few scribblings in an exercise book, was titled "Trash by PJSRM". The letters are a conflation of our initials. It might lay somewhere now, gathering dust in the dark recesses of my friend's attic, or, most likely long ago lost or destroyed, returned to the dust of a near forgotten dream.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Unholy Vicars

This is going to be a bit of a rant; I can't help it - I'm a bit of a ranter! What this rant is about is the attitude of Anglican vicars in general, to wedding photographers. You see, I did wedding photography for many years until I gave it up about five years ago. I knew it was time to give up, because when I asked the grandparents to come and join the family group, the grandmother tripped and fell, hitting her head on a gravestone! I had decided anyway, that this would be my final wedding, but that really put the cap on it! Fortunately, the dear old lady wasn't too badly shaken up, and was soon frollicking with everyone else in the general reverie. What has that got to do with vicars? - you may ask. Well actually, nothing at all except that the accident happened in an Anglican graveyard, so maybe the vicar did have something to do with it! Oh, I forgot to mention, I also reversed my car into a guest's car when I was trying to park in the obscenely cramped and poky church car park. That must have been the vicar's fault as well, I'm too perfect a driver. The ides of March (it wasn't March - but who cares) were definitely against me on that day. So was the loss of my no claims bonus!

Anyway, back to vicars. As a general rule I don't like them. As an even more general rule, when it comes to wedding photography I absolutely cannot stand them - they drive me mad!!! When it comes to wedding photography they lose all sense of proportion. If they were Christian before, they certainly ain't Christian when it comes to wedding photographers - oh yes, and sometimes videographers. You see, they just don't seem to understand that the bride and the groom are paying a large sum of their hard earned money to have their wedding photographed - ALL of their wedding photographed. Lets face it, if you don't photograph the actual ceremony, you haven't photographed the wedding - only the bits around the periphary! But vicars, just don't seem to get it! OK, I can understand being asked not to use flash - thats an obvious distraction - but no photographs at all - thats just plain barmy. Now, I am not saying that all vicars are like this. They fall along a sliding scale from fairly liberal to complete arseholes - and the scale in my experience is weighted heavily towards the latter. I had rows with two vicars who seemed to think that visibly doing your job and taking photographs during the service was committing the ultimate sin for which you would deservedly spend an eternity in hell. After all - how dare I even think of taking a photograph - the bride and groom didn't want it, no, they only sold their souls to the devil asking for it and saying its ok, the vicars all right and won't mind!! They just don't get it. You see, they get wedding photographers mixed up with the paparazzi - in their warped and blinkered minds, they ARE the paparazzi! One vicar told me he couldn't concentrate on the ceremony with the photographer taking photographs. Now, if that isn't pathetic, then I don't know what is. They spend years learning how to take services, preach sermons and EVEN take wedding ceremonies with crowds of people looking on - but when it comes to a man standing in the aisle with a camera on a tripod, not using a flash, and taking discreet shots at moments designed not to cause a distraction - they fall to bits and just can't handle it! One vicar told me that I was the most intrusive photographer he'd ever met. You see, I had dared to place myself in a good spot, not in anybodies way - but unfortunately not invisible as he would have liked me to have been. I had also dared to have the audacity to carry out the bride's request to photograph her walking up the aisle at the start of the service. The guy was a nutter! I noticed, at this particular wedding, that there was a lone video camera on a tripod up to one side of the alter, but no videographer behind it. Puzzled, I asked the videographer afterwards why this was the case, and was told the vicar would only allow the wedding to be videoed if the camera was operated by remote control. The idea of the guy actually standing with his camera was too much to bare! WHAT is WRONG with these people??? They don't come from this planet - they are all lizards in disguise! They are not Roman Catholics. What! - Did I say they are not Roman Catholics??? Dead right I did, and the reason is that I have photographed absolutely loads of Roman Catholic weddings and the priests were all wonderful and placed virtually no restrictions upon me whatsoever. Now, I am sure there is nothing in Roman Catholic doctrine which singles out wedding photographers as people to be nice to! But what is very noticeable, is that Roman Catholic priests seem to me to be much happier people with far fewer hang ups than Anglicans. Anglican vicars seem to be permanantly constipated, while Roman Catholic priests obviousely have good bowel movements! "Blessed are the unconstipated, for they shall inherit the respect of wedding photographers". Maybe thats a verse from the "Jerusalem Bible" (the extremely superior translation often used by Roman Catholics) - or maybe not! If I'm bound for hell for all the sinful shots I took as a wedding photographer, then its as sure as hell that I'll be meeting a lot of Anglican vicars when I get there. What I won't be doing, is taking their photograph!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Life and death and life

I am reading a book at the moment on reincarnation. I don't normally read books on reincarnation, but a friend at work lent it to me, probably thinking I needed it - what does HE know??? I am of a somewhat sceptical nature. I was once a devout Christian, but not any more. In fact, I completely reject the whole notion of god or gods, consigning it to the realms of fantasy, myth, folk-lore and legends with a sprinkling of wishful thinking mixed with superstitious fear. In short, I'm a "born again" atheist. There, that's got that out of my system, I feel so much better! Thankfully, the book hasn't mentioned god yet and I'm over half way through it, so I haven't given up on it yet. If the writer stays away from the g word for the rest of the book, I dare say I might even finish it.

Yes, I am a skeptic, but I will consider almost anything weird, so long as there is some reasonable evidence to back it up. What seems to come out of this book, as well as documentaries I have seen on the television is that there are many well documented cases of people, often young children, who seem to have detailed and very accurate memories of past lives, sometimes, many past lives. A lot of research has been carried out into this, and the weight of the evidence seems to be far too great for mere chance. There is also, it would appear, evidence building, that between incarnations we go through a process of reviewing our previous life in a sort of a "judgement"and choosing the next one. Another colleague at work lent me a book by a different author who claims to have had an "out of body" experience after clinically "dying" during a major operation. The spooky thing is, the whole experience she describes is almost exactly similar to the "between births" claims of the subjects in the reincarnation book, lending a degree of independant re-inforcement to the argument. I am not saying here that I neccesarily believe that these are real cases of reincarnation, but if they are not, then there is a lot of further research needed to come up with a rational, reasonable explanation. Is it possible, for example, for a person to "receive" the thoughts and personality of a dead person, and not actually be reincarnated? There is plenty of evidence in physics to suggest that time can go backwards. Also, at the quantum level of the sub-conscious mind, who knows what is possible. We hardly know anything about what constitutes consciousness, let alone the mind. We are only scratching the surface.

Personally, although I reject the idea of a god, I don't, in principle, have a problem with reincarnation - of a sort. The reasoning goes like this:

There was a time before my birth when I didn't exist.
When I die I will go back to that same state of non-existance. Since I came out of that state to be here writing this now, who's to say I won't do so again at some point in the future?

There is a problem here, however, as what I describe is not true reincarnation in the classical sense of the word, because I have left out the concept of a spirit or soul. The "reincarnation" I describe would not transmit any memories between lives, because although "I" might live again, I could never be conscious of this life without a soul or spirit which constitutes the essence of "me" crossing from one life to the next. However, another way of looking at life is that we are all immortal until we die. As we cannot experience being dead because we have to be conscious to experience anything, we cannot be conscious of being dead. In that sense, the only thing we will ever experience is life itself. Death doesn't exist in our experience. Better make the most of life!