Sacral Architecture [en]

Admittedly, religion can be good for something. What I enjoy most, is some of the architecture it left behind. As for Christianity, some of their buildings even prove useful for skiing:

Shout-out to the rider and the photo team! I think I know who you guys are;)

Btw, found this on Facebook, with no copyright notice in the metadata. So I just assume it’s public domain. Please let me know if you have plausible claims on the image, and want credit or removal!

Update: Rider confirmed as Tobi. Kudos. Turns out however, it’s not exactly a sacral place. More like a mini theme-park, called Play-Castle Tirol. Well, at least the snow is real!

Getting Old in Other Fields [en]

I notice that a most of my recent (!) posts are related to atheism and similar. Didn’t I study computer science and software engineering? Does that mean I’m getting old?

A comic that makes fun about how physicists when they get older inevitably have to be smartasses in other fields.

As seen on SMBC

Hm, I have to post some more on computing in the future. That’s serious stuff, but I can still pull it off. It can’t be true that I’m that far along the line already!

Then again: computer stuff tends to be soooo nerdy. Why not more travel reports? Or snowboarding pics? Or why not express my reservations about surrealism? Ahhhrgg!!! I’m going there, and I cannot help it…

Respect [en]

Recently, friends have brought to my attention that I tend to be rather annoying at times, with respect to stating my views on religion. In particular, that I like to bring up related issues in conversation and to stick to the ensuing discussion persistently. They also point out that I can be quite upfront about such topics, and often lack respect for other people’s religious views.

Well, yes, I admit most of that is true. However, as far as lack of respect goes, I try to apply the following rule:

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

H. L. Mencken, Minority Report (1956)

I originally read this in Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and for a long time I thought he was the original author of the quote. I cannot find it right now, but I think Richard went on to elaborate what it means. It may have been along these lines:

If people mention above belief, we may nod politely, and we should let it go. However, if they constantly rub it in our faces, or insist that we accept their theory as truth, we should point out its flaws. This may go as far as stating that one might consider their wives ugly and their kids not overly bright — if that is what evidence suggests.

So that’s how I like to hold it with religion. Though I have to admit that I am in deed overly sensitive when it comes to religion being rubbed in my face. And yes, on such occasions, I may point out the flaws in religious concepts quickly and sometimes aggressively.

And of course, the religions I’ve encountered so far make it way too easy to point out flaws! Don’t think so? Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me, and discuss your objections…

Note: The original quote is from the fifties, so no wonder it’s slightly sexist. Please feel free to replace all occurrences of fellow with gal, his with her, and (if you wish) wife with husband. IMHO the resulting sentence transports the message equally well.

New Rule: Germany Needs a TV-Show Like Bill Maher’s [en]

Germany has never been as renown for good comedy or politics, as it was for bureaucracy, luxury cars, or invading Poland. Needless to say that political TV shows here are pretty repetitive and uncontroversial. I have to admit that I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’m always bored to death when I get a glimpse of one these prime-time talk shows with high-profile political guests.

And while many German comedians like to have a poke at politicians, there seems to be few shows that seriously discuss politics from a humorous point of view. Actually, only the heute show comes to mind, which is — as the name suggests — more or less a rip-off of John Stewart’s Daily Show. It’s not bad, but definitely not as good as the original.

So sure, I’m jealous of the US for having great shows like John’s and Stephen Colbert’s. I’ve been watching them for quite some time now. But I got even more jealous, when I recently discovered Real Time with Bill Maher.

Unlike other comedy shows, which focus on monologue or dialogue, Bill Maher invites several guests and actually has a discussion with them. While some of the guests appear on the show regularly, there is a huge variety of guest from politics, culture and science — some rather famous, others hardly known outside their field. But they all seem to have interesting things to say on Real Time and actively engage in discussion. It may be because Bill does not shy away from inviting guests with different points of view. At the same time he manages to moderate conflicts and keep the discussion factual while encouraging witty humor.

Of course Bill (also being a stand-up comedian) throws in his own jokes now and then. For instance his proposal for a new gun control law, after the horrible Trayvon Martin incident:

I think we should have a ‘use it or loose it’ law. Yeah. Where at least once every 6 months you HAVE to shoot someone! After all, isn’t that what gun nuts really want? Otherwise what’s the point of collecting something that just sits on the shelf? I mean I collect rare Ming-Dynasty opium pipes — but I USE them.

Or this remark to Republican voters in the 2012 primaries:

For a Republican candidate to NOT disappoint you, he would have to be Jesus of Nazareth. And even Jesus would be toast after a few news-cycles, because:
– Feed the hungry? Sounds suspiciously like welfare!
– And heal the sick? For free?? … That is definitely Obama-Care!
– And turn the other cheek? Maybe you didn’t hear, Jesus, but this is the party that cheers executions!

Or his famous New Rule segments:

New rule: If you wanna send me a link, you must take the extra 5 seconds to tell me what it is! How do I know if I’m going to see some adorable kittens at play or a piece of truly disgusting fetish porn that will be burnt into my brain for the rest of my life? I NEED that info, because really at this point, I’ve seen plenty of kittens.

New rule: If you find yourself prefacing more than half the things you say with: ‘I’m not a racist, but …’ — you’re probably a racist.

New Rule: Mitt Romney has to start understanding why people don’t like him. It’s not because he’s rich. It’s how he got rich. […] Henry Ford […] Walt Disney […] Jobs and Wozniak […] Mitt Romney […] You see what the first 3 have that Mitt doesn’t? A product! Something they made besides money.

Boy, I really wish we had a show like that here in Germany. Although, to be fair, American politicians really make it easy for comedians. I mean German politics is fucked up (especially here in Bavaria) but luckily we don’t have weirdos that would match up with Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin or Rick Santorum.

Open Letter to the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at London School of Economics [en]

Subject: Your controversy with the LSE Students’ Union

Dear Members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society,

I’m writing to support and encourage you in your struggle with the LSE Students’ Union, which apparently originated around your endorsement  of a Jesus and Mo cartoon on Facebook. Actually, to me it seems the conflict only arose because some people decided to be pissy about it.

I mean, come on! This whole issue is utterly ridiculous! I’m not familiar with the organization structure of the groups at your University, let alone their statutes. Admittedly, I wasn’t even able to reconstruct which particular Jesus and Mo strip caused all the hassle. (Was it seriously just the cover art of the Jesus and Mo Vol. 3 book?) Nevertheless, as someone who has read most Jesus and Mo strips in the past, I can say that the issue has been blown out of proportion tremendously.

Can people be offended by Jesus and Mo? They certainly can! Do people have good reason to be offended by Jesus and Mo, based on “any form of racism and discrimination” or lack of “tolerance, diversity, and respect”, as the LSE Students’ Union claims? I strongly disagree with that notion! Being familiar with the cartoons, I can say that Jesus and Mo do not engage in discrimination, intolerance, disrespect, or similar towards any person or group. The strips criticize concepts, rather than people. And IMHO they pick on concepts that deserve criticism, and they do it in a calm, civilized and well-rationalized manner.

Now, if people are offended by that, that’s all well and good. But are you the ones to blame? Heck no! Different people are offended by all kinds of things. And I think its not very polite to knowingly rub such things in their faces.  However, you did not rub anything into anyones face. You did not walk up to arbitrary students and try to convince them to like Jesus and Mo cartoons.  You did not nail a Jesus and Mo poster to a church door. You did not shout Jesus and Mo punchlines from a minaret. And even if you did, the worst thing I could say is that you were not being very polite. Or as you yourself put it, “offence is not a sufficient reason for certain artistic and satirical forms of expression to be prohibited.”

I for one feel offended by the prevalence of religious ideology in our society. I feel deeply troubled by the effects of superstitious believes on public live and politics. The fact that well-educated and influential members of our society still believe in supernatural deities is an insult to my intellect. But I’m not blaming these people for offending me. You won’t see me running to mommy (or the authorities) and demand that everyone else changes their offensive beliefs. Likewise, the people that are offended by your reference to Jesus and Mo should stop being such crybabies about it!

Sadly, this controversy is not going on in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Sumatra, or the US Bible Belt. This is happening in Britain, in Europe, for Bobs sake! In 2012! Whatever happened to our ideals of free speech and tolerance? Didn’t we learn anything from Voltaire? You are not the ones who are running contrary to these principles! But the LSE Students’ Union certainly appears to be.

That’s why I’d like to encourage you ‒ the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society ‒ not to give in to the demands of the LSE Students’ Union. I seriously doubt their claim that “the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students’ Union policy on inclusion and the society’s constitution.” And even if it was, there are higher values at stake here, and the respective statutes would need to be adjusted accordingly.

I’m confident that you’ll be be able to “engage with LSESU and work with them further to resolve the situation.” But please don’t compromise your ideals just to avoid conflict. I’m sure there are many people out there who fully agree with your stance on the issue. I certainly do. Please let all of us know, if you need any support!

Best regards,
Michael Riedel

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
probably not Voltaire

Titanic’s Überwachungs-ABC [en]

Die Titanic hat es mal wieder geschafft. Im aktuellen Heft gibt’s einen sehr guten Überblick zu dem, was mich im Moment an sogenannter “Sicherheitspolitik” stört. Leo Fischer kommentiert das Thema viel treffender und unaufgeregter als wir Internet-Nerds es je könnten:

Das kleine ABC der Überwachung

Der Herr Friedrich (und seine Vorgänger) sehen dabei nicht gut aus:)

Widerstand gegen Facebook formiert sich [en]

Dass ich persönlich kein großer Fan von Facebook bin, ist einigen Leuten sicher bekannt. Schön zu sehen daher, dass sich langsam Widerstand formiert!

Das entsprechende Engagement des Datenschutzbeauftragen von Schleswig-Hollstein mögen manche zwar für kleinkariert halten, es ist aber längst überfällig. Neulich wurde ich durch einen Telepolis-Artikel auch auf die Initiative Europe vs. Facebook aufmerksam, die sich kritisch mit dem Thema Datenschutz bei Facebook auseinander setzt. Die haben es wohl tatsächlich geschafft, die irischen Behörden dazu zu bewegen Facebooks dortige Europa-Zentrale mal etwas genauer unter die Lupe zu nehmen, was die Einhaltung europäischer Datenschutzbestimmungen angeht.

Auf der Website der Initiative gibt es auch eine schöne Auflistung dazu, welche personenbezogenen Daten Facebook überhaupt speichert. Da geht primär um den Teil der Daten, dessen Speicherung Facebook selbst zugibt ‒ also nur um die Spitze des Eisbergs. Ist zwar alles ziemlich offensichtlich, aber trotzdem ein netter Einstieg für Leute, die sich noch nicht mit dem Thema beschäftigt haben.

Höchste Zeit also, sich nach Alternativen umzusehen. (Google+ ist dabei kein Schritt in die richtige Richtung, denn es ist genauso zentralistisch strukturiert, und genauso von fiskalischen Interessen geleitet wie Facebook.) Werde mir mal genauer ansehen müssen, wie es derzeit um verteilte Ansätze wie Diaspora oder Buddycloud steht…

Update: Hier noch schöner kurzer Artikel bei, der meine Meinung zu Facebook ziemlich gut wider gibt.