You Are What You Bleed

Welcome to the weird world of Japanese Blood Typing. I would never have come across this fascinating subject had I not given blood today. I really enjoy giving blood – an altruistic activity that makes me feel good without demanding huge sacrifices. This time I was given a wee thank-you card, and a heart badge with my type on it (B+).

The card has this to say about the Japanese:

In Japan blood groups are a national obsession as it’s believed they influence everything from personality to choice of career and partner.You may be interested to know that people with Group B blood are thought to be attractive, emphatic but selfish. They are credited with intuition and are thought to be balanced and flexible. Another interesting fact is that around 40% are thought to be millionaires!

I heartily concur in that judgement. Inexplicably, I seem to have missed out on the millionaire thing, but perhaps that’s in my future. Nonsense on stilts, obviously, but apparently taken seriously by the Japanese. From the Wikipedia article:

Blood type harassment, called “bura-hara” (wasei-eigo-a portmanteau of “blood” and “harassment”), has been blamed for bullying of children in playgrounds, loss of job opportunities, and ending of happy relationships.[15]

Many people have been discriminated against because of their blood type. Employers have been asking blood types during interviews despite the warnings they have been given. Children at schools have been split up according to their blood type. The national softball team has customized training to fit each player’s blood type. Companies have given work assignments according to their employee’s blood type.[16]

Facebook in many Asian countries allows users to include their blood type in their profile.[citation needed]

Jaw-dropping stuff, so I dug out this infographic to explain it all at a glance. If you can work your way through that, I’ve added the classic Tony Hancock episode, The Blood Donor, at the end as a reward.

Japanese Blood Type Infographic

TED Talks: James Randi on psychic fraud

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

It’s a pleasure to offer the splendid James Randi, professional conjuror and passionate skeptic, a podium on Beautiful Railway Bridge. Today he talks about psychic fraud, lambasting the likes of Sylvia Browne, with a whack at the homeopathic industry for good measure. Please visit the James Randi Educational Foundation for further information about the ongoing struggle against stupidity.

A Temple to Atheism? Dear God, No!

I have been driven to prayer by faux philosopher, Alain de Botton’s idea for a “temple to atheism” in the City of London, as outlined in this Guardian article. Why does he want this temple? Because he thinks Richard DawkinsChristopher Hitchens, and other militant atheists are a “destructive force.” In other words, he wants a kinder, gentler atheism that stresses positivity and goodness, with an awe-inspiring building to evoke the correct response.

I think most people seek positivity and goodness in their own way, atheists and believers alike. Including Dawkins, who recognizes that the lies and institutionalised power of religion are the enemies of reason, and any happiness derived from religion depends on studiously ignoring the reality of how the world works. I don’t think Dawkins et al are being overly zealous in combatting what would be insane ideas if someone had only invented them just a moment ago. With hundreds or thousands of years of tradition behind them, they have accumulated an entirely undeserved authority. We think Scientology is utter bollocks, a cynical, money-making scam, but time will turn it into an established Truth.

That said, I part company with Dawkins in not thinking that religion will eventually succumb to the forces of reason, or that believers are influenced by everything in their holy books. Institutional religion has such deep roots in human societies that digging them all up is impossible – they’re like weeds, springing up where fear and longing meet a supernatural idea.

What makes this truth palatable is that we’re only human, and only give practical credence and expression to those parts of a holy book or political dogma that accord with the manners and mores of the society we inhabit. Obviously, it’s a chicken and egg situation, but societies do evolve in response to real events and real knowledge. Bad news if you live in a theocracy, because real knowledge is in short supply. For citizens of liberal democracies, religious institutions are generally more benign, their practiced doctrines more or less compatible with civilization. Even these societies have their fundamentalists, but they’re more likely to be marginalized. A glaring exception is the US, which has a thriving Christian Taliban, currently choosing the Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential election.

So I try to respond to people as fellow human beings, and refrain from criticizing their religious beliefs unless they bring them up, or behave in a completely unacceptable way. People are interesting and generally do the decent thing – I’d rather talk and try to understand where they’re coming from. I reserve my criticism and anger for the institutional coercion of secular societies and special pleading. Nobody should be exempt from secular laws.

This is the “temple” proposed by de Botton:

The spat came as De Botton revealed details of a temple to evoke more than 300m years of life on earth. Each centimetre of the tapering tower’s interior has been designed to represent a million years and a narrow band of gold will illustrate the relatively tiny amount of time humans have walked the planet. The exterior would be inscribed with a binary code denoting the human genome sequence.

Brilliant. Sounds like a really imaginative architectural project. I’d be proud to back something like that if only he didn’t tack the silly label of “temple to atheism” on it. Ask yourself, what does this project have to do with belief or non-belief? It’s about science, evolution, the whole glorious panoply of emerging life on earth. Isn’t that enough? And we already have such buildings. They’re called the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum among many others. The only way de Botton’s project could be a temple to atheism is if he installed an altar at its centre, housing an illuminated copy of The God Delusion. Even then, it would be pure idolatry.

The fact is that being religious does not preclude either respect for the scientific method or the well-established theories derived from it. Catholics, for example, accept the Big Bang and evolution, although they insist on a God somewhere in the process. By and large, only fundamentalists reject the basic tenets of science. By calling this a temple to atheism, he is in fact shutting the door in the faces of those believers who respect science. As atheists, we can’t afford to do this. We need all the help we can get to establish and maintain secular societies where both belief and non-belief are protected and tolerated.

As it happens, de Botton has already run into trouble with his daft label.

Discussions with City authorities about a possible site stalled because “they can’t be seen to be connected to anything to do with atheism”, the project’s architect, Tom Greenall, said.

Well, d’uh!

Please read the Guardian article, which has all the meat on its bones. I hope there’s a cif article on the subject soon, so we can all pile in with comments.

Colbert for President 2012

The Guardian reported yesterday that Stephen Colbert has taken the first step to running in the Republican primaries. On his show, The Colbert Report, he signed over authority to Jon Stewart to raise funds on his behalf. Thus opening the way to creating a super PAC, which can raise as much money as it likes for a candidate, as long as it’s not co-ordinating directly with the candidate.

The Blue Meanies won’t let me play or share clips from Friday’s show, but I do have Colbert’s epiphany on the Thursday show. A poll shows that, were he to run, he would get 5% of the Republican vote as against Jon Huntsman’s 4%. Watch Colbert struggling to make a decision in this video.

Obviously it’s satire, but American politics in general, and Republican politics in particular, are a parody of the democratic system. They are fueled by obscene amounts of corporate political donations, which were given a legal rubber stamp by the Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), 558 U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 876 (January 21, 2010), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions.

The creeping notion of corporate personhood has reached its apotheosis in this insane ruling, with dire consequences for American democracy, which wasn’t in great shape to begin with.

So if Colbert can draw attention to the absurdity of the situation by pretending to run for “President of South Carolina,” then he’s a hero. This what news media should be talking about, not leaving it up to a comedian.

A few suggestions for Colbert’s campaign:

1) Pronounce the last syllable of your name to rhyme with shirt. Republicans hate the French.

2) Choose Tina Fey as your running mate. She already has the Sarah Palin vote sewn up.

3) Adopt this campaign slogan: Colbert/Fey Go All The Way!!! Really, it’s a winner.

I hope that helps.

Evangelical Sexperiment

Just when you thought evangelical Christianity had reached the crazy as a bedbug stage and couldn’t get any worse, suddenly it does.  In this case it appears to have mutated into something like the creature from Mimic, and is impersonating John Lennon and Yoko Ono in terminal hippy mode.

What am I blathering about, you may ask.  Indeed, it’s a question I often ask myself. Well, a Texas pastor and his lady wife are planning to spend 24 hours in bed on the roof of their church in Grapevine, near Dallas.   You can read the Guardian article here.  So why are pastor Ed Young and Mrs pastor Ed Young doing this?  To “underline the importance of regular sex between married Christian couples,” according to the article. Disappointingly, they won’t be practising what they preach, particularly since the whole thing will be streamed live on his website.  (Go on, you know you want to click that link.) Could be a nice little earner, there, pastor.  Instead, in his own words:

For 24 hours straight, we’ll be joined by some very special guests for bedside interviews , talk via Skype with Pastors and friends from around the world, and discuss tantalizing truths about sex as God intended.

In case you were wondering, they’re promoting a book.

Sound familiar?  John & Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace, at the Amsterdam Hilton in 1969, of course.  The inspiration for many imitations.  Theirs lasted for 7 days.  Can’t help thinking it was a lot more fun than this bed-in will be.

Here’s a video of John & Yoko’s, and I’m sure you will be glued to the streaming action from pastor Young’s website, starting January 13.