Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why I no longer call myself an Atheist

It has only been in very recent times that calling yourself an atheist has become a socially acceptable norm.

Atheists are no longer hunted down, tortured and killed by the multitudes of zealous believers in whatever deity/deities is/are flavour of the century at the time of their unbelief in him/it or them.

I have been proud to call myself an atheist ever since I read enough books to learn that that is definitely what I am in relation to the divine; an unbeliever.

So I am, when the question of theism comes up, definitely atheist. Not a theist which is the opposite. See how easily a simple tap of the space bar can completely change how you define yourself?

The problem I have with calling myself an atheist is that it is reactionary and negative. By saying I am an atheist what I am essentially doing is defining myself by my non-belief in god.

Think about this. If you are an atheist then you think that no god or gods exist. That means that saying ‘I am an atheist’ is like saying I am a person who doesn't believe in something that doesn't exist or I don’t believe in nothing.

You could compare it to saying, instead of, ‘I breathe air’, you say, ‘I don’t breathe a vacuum’.

I propose that those people who currently call themselves atheists, many of whom are much smarter than I am, you may be surprised to learn, stop defining yourselves by being anti-nothing and start defining yourselves are being pro-something.

I propose when asked the religion question, instead of saying ‘I am an atheist’ and waiting for the expression of shock and horror, confusion or fear, you say something like ‘I am a realist’. Then you might get to explain what that means.

For me, I think that we can only define our existence based on the accumulation of knowledge we, as a race, have managed to acquire. Human beings have fantastic imaginations, or so we think, and that is great, however anything that only exists in the human imagination has to be defined as ‘not real’.

If you can’t measure or observe it or do repeatable experiments on it to prove it is there, then the probability is that, well, it’s not there.

Gods, fairies, Pegasus, the Kraken etc have no evidence whatsoever to support them and therefore must be defined as not real.

The point I am trying to make is that ‘we’, as far atheists can be grouped together as we, should define ourselves by something that we are as opposed to something that we are not.

Something positive rather than something negative.

I live my life based on what we as a species, and I personally, currently understand about life, the universe and everything.

I don’t believe in god but I also don’t believe in many, many other things; even some vaguely scientific things, like the existence of wormholes or the possibility of time travel.

I don’t believe in homeopathy, astrology, Brian of Nazareth or the Lord of the Rings - as much as I would like to meet Gandalf, he’s not real, sorry to burst your bubble Ringolics - but that’s not how I want to be defined; by the many things I don’t believe in.Or one specific thing that I don't believe in, GOD. 

By saying I am an atheist I feel I am giving theists far too much credit. I am not defining myself in my own way, I am defining myself as not them. It makes me sound like a reactionary. It's theists who hold the wild unsubstantiated beliefs. I feel it should be them defining themselves as not us. If it didn't already mean something else then a good term would have been naturalist and then non-believers in the real world would be unnaturalists.

I want to be defined by the things I do believe in, like being excellent to each other and partying on, dudes!

So on those, actually fairly rare occasions, when I am asked about my religion, I plan to say what I am and not what I am not.

So even though the term that I propose is already in use to mean something similar, I think it could also come to mean a person living in the real, material world, as opposed to magical fairyland. Perhaps other, smarter atheists might come up with a better term but until then, here it is. 

I am a realist.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Don't blow your whistle

My dad got himself a Bear Grylls survival knife. I think he sees himself as a sort of intrepid explorer of the wilderness.

With it came a whistle for attracting attention.

Trying the whistle at home we noticed that our little dog, a vicious little primeval throw-back, comes dashing in when it hears the sound. Even if it's at the bottom of the garden it hears it and appears as if teleported.

So when you're out in the wilds of Canada or Alaska hiking and you fall down, breaking your ankle and need to signal for help.


Because instead of help you are more likely to attract a snarling, ravenous pack of wolves.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One day in Pattaya

Today I happened to catch the local Pattaya news in English. It's very different to the local news back home. Here's a quick summary to give you an idea. I didn't make any of this up.

In the headline story; a bullet fell from the sky, smashed through the roof a young girl’s bedroom and hit her in the leg. From the tone of the report the family of the girl were having a hard time convincing the police they should do anything about it. As if a rain of bullets is a regular nuisance in this part of the world.

Someone nearby must have been shooting a gun in the air was the casual comment attributed to the local police. Well, yes, probably someone who really struggled in physics class in school. Perhaps they thought the bullets just float off into space? Nothing to to worry about, the police have more important matters to attend to. 

That was perhaps the craziest story of the day but this being Pattaya it had competition for the title.

On the same bulletin:

A notorious drug dealer was arrested but not until after he managed to grab the under-cover policeman who was following him, probably disguised in a mac, large glasses and false moustache, and hold him hostage. He then proceeded to dispose of the majority of his stash, presumably by flushing it down the toilet. Eventually he handed himself in without a struggle.  They have him for a few pills in his car. Oh, and for kidnapping.

A South African man shot himself in the head at the local firing range. Apparently the instructor handed him the loaded gun and he just put it to his head and pulled the trigger. That’s the story the gun club are telling anyway, it’s yet to be investigated.

Two young boys were shot, but not killed, in gang related violence.

A man was stabbed outside a restaurant after drunkenly hitting on a woman who was having dinner with her, evidently knife wielding, male friends. Seven of them grabbed him, took him outside, gave him a severe beating and stabbed him. He’s in hospital but looks likely to survive.  He’s probably trying out his lines on the nurses.

A drunk driver crashed her car and proceeded to resist all attempts to help her, verbally abusing anyone who tried.

Watching the local news here makes me think I’m wandering through life oblivious to all around me. I did meet a man in a pub with a manic look in his eye that, within the space of one game of pool, described in detail the three times he’d been stabbed and pulled up his shirt to proudly display the evidence. Needless to say I paid my tab and left. Not my kind of drinking partner.

I don’t believe in jinxes, or cursing myself, so I’m not afraid to say that I've lived here for five months without witnessing a single incident of violent or dangerously insane behaviour; except on the roads that is. I have always felt safe and unconcerned even late at night. Maybe my peripheral vision’s just really bad?  

To my friends who may be reading this. Don’t let this put you of visiting. It’s really not all that bad.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why it's better to have some crime in your country

Three innocent Korean tourists were conned today in Pattaya by a magician allegedly from Dubai.

He approached the three handsome, fashionably dressed, young gentlemen in the street and invited them to participate in one of his magic tricks.

The wily con artist asked them to hand over their Ipad, some cash and other stuff claiming he would make it disappear.

Hands up who knows what's coming?

He waved his hands a couple of times, made the cash and Ipad disappear and while the impressed young men were still clapping, legged it down the street and disappeared himself.

I can just imagine them standing there, looking confused, for several minutes waiting for him to reappear!

They were featured on the Thai news explaining this in the police station to three police officers who were chuckling and nudging each other like schoolboys.

"So tell us again what happened? And you just handed him all your stuff? How much cash? Oh yes! We'll catch him, don't you worry son. Now about that description. Are you sure he wasn't wearing a top hat and cape?"

I can't speak Thai and I'm sure neither can those unfortunate Korean lads but we all know that's what those cops were saying.

And that's why, if you live somewhere like Seoul or Tokyo, with almost no street crime at all, you should probably take some sort of awareness lessons before you attempt any adventure abroad.

In case anyone is interested the perpetrator got away with about £1000 worth of cash and expensive toys.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

You smell like fish

Lin: I'm going for a shower
Me: Yeah, you smell like fish.
Lin: How long ago fish die?
Me: About a week ago!
Lin: Well that's not so bad then.

Lin 1 : Me 0

Friday, October 5, 2012

What the Thai motorcycle test should consist of

As I mentioned in my previous post the Thai practical motorcycle test consists of driving around a short course with a slalom, a few corners and two stop signs. This does not, in any way, test your ability to survive on Thailand's roads!

This blog will prepare you much better; or put you off entirely which is probably the safest option anyway.

The test I would make prospective drivers take is as follows:

Practical Test 1 - Driving down the wrong side of the road. Simply drive a little bit slower than normal and keep to the far side of the wrong side, if you know what I mean. Beware of other people coming towards you at night time on your side of the road with no lights on. Stealth mode as it's known in Thailand is perfectly acceptable if you are too poor or lazy to get your lights fixed.

Practical Test 2 - Motorway driving

This test will involve the examiner riding on the back of your bike while you weave in and out between cement trucks, lorries and other traffic without slowing down. You will be required to drive in the left hand lane to demonstrate your ability to avoid the cars and other bikes pulling out of side streets without looking and veering wildly across several lanes. Or sometimes pulling out in front of fast moving traffic and driving really slowly.

You will be required to demonstrate your ability not to swear and make rude hand gestures at the people who cut you off or nearly run you off the road. Keep a calm head at all times as road rage attacks are common here and have been known to result in shootings and stabbings.

Written Test - Sample questions from the section on signalling. Three questions to answer.

1 - The car in front of you is signalling left and slowing down. Do they intend to
a) Turn left.
b) Continue driving slowly and signalling left indefinitely
c) Pull out back into traffic and speed up
d) I don't know

2 - The car in front is driving in two lanes and signalling right. Do they intend to
a) Move into the right hand lane
b) Move into the left hand lane
c) Continue driving in two lanes indefinitely
d) I don't know

3 - The car in front has their hazard lights on but are still driving in the middle of three lanes. Are they
a) Experiencing a mechanical fault and signalling their intention to pull over and stop.
b) Carrying a heavy load and mistakenly think having their hazard lights on is the right thing to do
c) Drunk and have hit the hazard light button while hunting for their lighter
d) I don't know

The correct answer to all three questions is I don't know. Never ever trust signals in Thailand. People here think they're just pretty flashing lights used for decoration.

I'd also introduce a psychological, Catch 22 style test. You will have to prove you are sane before you are allowed to drive on Thailand's roads. The catch is that by wanting to drive here you are automatically pronounced insane and therefore unfit to drive. Everyone goes back to riding bicycles and we all get fitter, and die from heat exposure/skin cancer instead of high speed impact. Shut up about the economy, bicycles save the planet man.

How to get your Thai motorcycle licence in Pattaya

Finally, after three days of messing about, I got my Thai motorcycle licence. It was a close run thing. I failed the written test the first time. Didn't help that the same question came up five times and I got it wrong four times. I started to doubt myself after seeing it four times and changed my answer.  Luckily, this being Thailand, the girl let me try again and I passed. Did you know it’s legal to drive a tank used for warfare (their terminology) on Thai roads but not a vehicle without a windscreen? Neither did I.

So here's your step by faltering step guide. 

Step one is to get a medical cert from a clinic to prove you are healthy enough to cope with the extreme stress of driving on Thai roads. This is given on payment of approximately 100Baht without any sort of medical checks at all.

Step two is to go to immigration in Jomtien Soi 5 with two photos, your tenancy agreement and two copies of your passport. They’re quite quick and efficient, to be fair to them, but if you don’t go early enough in the day you have to come back the next day to collect the paperwork; which is, of course, what I had to do.

Step three: Drive for several miles out of town to the driver and vehicle registration office, near the regent's school on 36, without yet having a legal licence. Make sure you get there before 9 am as if you arrive later you’ll be told to come back the next day. And yes, that’s what I had to do. 

There’s an eye test and more forms to fill out. They’ll help you but in a much more surly and world weary way than the immigration people. It is a very busy office and I can understand that us non Thai speakers are an extra irritation in an already hectic working day. Don’t worry about the eye test, the Thai man in front of me was blatantly colour blind and was just guessing when it came to green/red. In fact he just said red for both until the expression of the official warned him and he went for green a couple of times after that. I knew the word for red had forgotten the word for green. Luckily they let foreigners do it in English. I could probably have said bread, fellow and spleen and would still have got the nod.

Be prepared to be there until around two O’clock. Why? Because you have to watch some vaguely driving related soap operas in a little room packed with other foreigners, most of whom are asleep. I had a little nap myself. I never did find out if the boy injured in the accident recovered or not.

After the videos there’s a short break for lunch before taking the practical test. This involves driving around a very short course. It starts with a slalom followed by driving along a raised ramp about a foot wide, not sure why, but I nearly fell off. You have to stop a couple of times; only putting one foot down and then you're done. Next its into the office for the aforementioned computer based, multiple choice, written text. 

There’s not much advice I can give you about the test except that common sense won’t really help you. When the question asks you which picture illustrates correct parking don’t be fooled by the cars parked neatly in car-park parking spaces. It’s some sort of trick. This question came up three times and I got it wrong three times.

It’s different if you already have a motorcycle licence from the EU or the USA. You’ll only have to do the eye test and they’ll give you the Thai licence. Just fill out the forms. There might be some other countries that are OK too. Australia and NZ probably but you can do your own research my fine antipodean friends. Anyone know why antipodean gets a red line on Word’s spell checker? Me neither.

The day after receiving my new licence I pulled out of Central Festival shopping centre straight into the sweaty arms of a lurking gang of police officers. I flashed my shiny new licence and they told me to be on my way. I have to say, that felt pretty good. I drove straight to the nearest bar spent the 400Baht it had saved me on a few celebratory drinks before driving home. Only kidding, but it felt good. I drove along beach road in the late evening sunshine with a happy smile of victory on my face and all the hassle of getting the licence was worth it.