Monday, 27 July 2009

On My Opinion On Ireland's Blasphemy Law

An interesting story of recent times has been the introduction in Ireland of a blasphemy law, which could see people being fined €25,000 for saying or doing things which are offensive to the overly-sensitive*.

There has been something of an outcry, with Atheist Ireland promising to release a blasphemous statement Sometime Soon, Ditchkins being virtually apoplectic with rage and... well... not a lot else**.

WhyNotSmile has mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I can see how it is bad for freedom of speech and so on, but on the other hand, I am not sure that I am a big fan of freedom of speech anyway. I mean, in a political, sociological blah blah blah sense, I think freedom of speech is more or less a Good Thing, but in everyday life I generally wish everyone would just be nice to each other, and I'm not sure I couldn't get fully behind a law that enshrined that principle.

Also, since many people class 'Oh my God' as an exclamation of surprise as blasphemous, surely 90% of the country could be in court by the end of the month. Which seems a bit silly, although all those €25,000 fines would probably come in handy. In fact, maybe that's the idea. There's a recession, the government needs money, they can't raise taxes, so what do they do? Fine every fecker in the land. Quite clever, when you think about it.

* I have not been able to find exact details of the law, so this is part fiction and part speculation.

** The main reason I couldn't find exact details on the law was that when I Googled it, the first page of results was mainly atheists going beserk, and if I can't find what I'm looking for on page 1 of Google, I give up. I know, I know, modern technology has sent me to the dogs.

Friday, 24 July 2009


I'm back in Belfast now, and have been for several days, so no longer do I have to type this perched on the edge of a bed. I am now safely tucked in and unlikely to fall out.

I was listening to a podcast the other day about the 40th anniversary of the moon landings, and they were talking about whether it was worth the amount of money it cost ($13 billion, as Virtual Methodist reminded us recently). The scientist guy (I really must learn to take notes about these people's names) said it was worth it for (and again, I should have made a note of exactly what he said, but this is the general gist) the sense of worldwide collaboration, the sense of achievement and the symbolism of human advancement or something.

But to be honest, I think I could also have got quite inspired if the world had collaborated to spend $13 billion dollars to achieve worldwide reduction in poverty and increased access to, like, clean water. I could have been impressed by how far we had come.

Just sayin.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Ballysmile Fair Day

You'll have to excuse me if this is shorter than usual; I am writing from my parents' house, which overlaps with cyberspace in only one square metre of my sister's bedroom, much of which is occupied by a wardrobe. In a bid to lever my wireless network card into this vital space, I am sitting with one half of my bum on my sister's bed, one leg providing balance and the other supporting the laptop on the edge of my knee. About 90% of my brain is occupied in trying not to land in a heap on the floor.

Today's topic is the Ballysmile Fair Day, an event which, being second in magnitude only to The Twelfth, is, with almost cavilier recklessness, held annually in the same week, and encompasses virtually every reason I don't go out much. The day consists of a mixture of market stalls, bouncy castles, burger vans, and people-from-primary-school-I-haven't-seen-in-years-and-for-good-reason. Of course, as a child, I loved Fair Day, and went round the stalls like a tornado, buying up every fuzzy-colouring-in-board (remember those?) and inflatable hammer I could lay my hands on. But the intervening years have altered both my passions and the Fair, and Mama Smile and I agreed that it wasn't really 'our sort of thing', and we 'were'nt that fussed on going'.

So of course we had to call in, especially as we happened to be passing. And in fact, it was different to how I remember: much more in the way of knock-off electrical goods and pet supplies, not so many shell suits. Of course, some of the old reliables were still there: the bouncy castle, the lines of people queueing for burgers that they looked like they could have lived without, and as many 'Orange Volunteer', 'Protestant Boys' and 'RUC' pin badges as anyone could want. And I bumped into my best friend from primary school, who is one of those people-from-primary-school-I-haven't-seen-in-years-but-wish-I-had, as well as a few other friends of Mama Smile's, and their suddenly grown-up children, so it wasn't all bad.

Anyway, my leg's going numb, and I'm about to fall off the bed, so I'll go.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The WhyNotSmile Guide To John Calvin

It may have escaped your notice that 10th July marked the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birthday. Following from the highly successful 'WhyNotSmile Guide To John Wesley', we will now learn more about the man dubbed many things, including 'Father of Calvinism'.

John Calvin was[1] born in France at about the time of the Reformation, and was Roman Catholic by birth. At some point he had a "sudden conversion" and became Protestant, and therefore had to leg it to Geneva before they killed him.

In Geneva, he started thinking about Things, and in 1536 he published a book called The Institutes Of The Christian Religion; the book was republished several times, and finally weighed in at 4 books of eighty chapters, which is more 'Books You Imagine You Ought To Have A Basic Feel For' rather than 'Rollicking Great Read', and which one imagines may well have benefitted from the fact that there weren't all that many options for Those Who Were Into Reading in those days. Anyway, those who have more persistence with such things than me have given it good reports.

When your average theologian thinks of John Calvin, he thinks immediately of Predestination[2]. This can be summarised as the belief that, before creating the world, God made a list of everyone who would ever live, and then decided which ones He would save. This is probably not how it should be summarised, of course; I'm just saying it can be. Anyway, this is still a point of contention among Protestants today, particularly when expressed in the form of 'double predestination', which says that God also decided who He was going to send to Hell, but lots of people do not think this is correct. As far as I can tell, this also has something to do with the disctinction between 'Protestant' and 'Reformed' churches, but I am not sure what.

There is, of course, More To It Than That; it will not surprise you to hear that Calvin's 'Institutes' (as it is commonly known) dealt with all manner of topics theological, but I herein summarise the main points for your convenience[3]:

1. Total depravity. The idea behind this is that we are all so bad that we would not naturally turn towards God, and are therefore enslaved to sin unless God lifts us out of it. Generally most Protestant churches agree with this, but the Roman Catholic church considers it heresy (and on reading some Protestant writers on the topic, one can be inclined to the impression that this is a major point in its favour).

2. Unconditional election. This bit is all about who receives God's mercy. The 'unconditional' bit means that there are no conditions based on anything inherent within the person concerned. The 'election' means 'choosing', so 'unconditional election' means that God chooses who will be saved based entirely on His own decision and not on anything that that person has done (since, as we have seen in point (1), no one is capable of doing good without God anyway).[4] Anyway, this ties in with predestination, and is violently disagreed with by lots of non-Calvinists (including Methodists, who believe something more in line with 'conditional election', and Catholics, who beleive something else that I'm not at all sure about).[5] Of course, no one on earth knows who the elect are, which gives us all hope.

3. Limited atonement. Ah, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, how many bytes of webspace have been devoted to thy debate. But we call it 'limited' here, mainly so the 'TULIP' thing works. The point is that Christ's death on the cross was for the 'elect' (see point 2), and not everyone (see Catholicism, Methodism, Lutheran etc.).

4. Irresistable grace. This means that once God has His eye on you, you can't turn away. It's a bit like watching a car crash, only God is watching, and has in fact caused the car crash, and it's not really a car crash because it's a Good Thing. Anyway, Methodists disagree, and so do some other people.

5. Perseverance of the saints. In other words, 'once a saint, always a saint'. But if you stop being a saint, then you were never really a saint in the first place. Also, by 'saints' we mean the Protestant and (dare I say it? heck, why not, most of you have stopped reading by now anyway) biblical meaning of the term, as in 'Christian, believer, sinner saved by grace', and not the Catholic meaning, of 'dead person who is now in heaven'.

There are also lots of other things that Calvin either started, or talked about more than anyone else, including ditching all the sacraments except baptism and communion, not being at all keen on the Pope, liking Covenent Theology, and doing all sorts of unexpected things to church structure. But since I mainly don't really understand them, we shall not dwell further upon them here.

Anyway, Calvin's legacy is mostly the Presbyterian Church, and, by some argument which I can't follow, Capitalism.

[1] As with all WhyNotSmile Guides, the research behind this article is based entirely on the first thing that comes up on typing the subject into Google, plus anything WhyNotSmile happens to remember while typing.

[2] I have no idea if this is true, as I do not know any average theologians. I have merely introduced it as a literary device.

[3] The five points listed here are known as the 'Five Points Of Calvinism', or 'TULIP' for short.

[4] I think. But I'm not entirely sure. This may mean something completely different.

[5] These are, of course, generalisations. There are probably Methodists who believe the moon is made of green cheese and we're all descended from jellyfish, but I'm saying that this is the official line of the church.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


In the past, I have railed against Windows Vista to anyone who will listen. I have shouted about it, got mad at it, and would have thrown it out the window if it hadn't had my computer attached. Today, however, is different. Today I have not got mad at Vista, I have simply been defeated by it.

Here is my problem: I have a folder which I created a couple of days ago. It is not anything fancy, just an ordinary folder. When I go to properties, it says it is 'read-only'. I do not want this, so I uncheck the box. It does things with progress bars, and I think 'well that worked'. Then I check and, no, no change, all still read-only.

The bizarre thing is that the files inside the folder do not appear to be read-only, as it lets me change them at will. But when my browser/apache configuration tries to access them - no, not a chance.

In addition, beside the 'read-only' box, it says "(applies only to files in folder)", implying that the files may be read only, but the folder is not. This is, of course, the opposite of reality.

I have trawled t'internet, dispatched a number of heated responses to Microcrap, and am on the verge of giving up.

Can anyone help?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

In Which Methods For Determining The Relative Profitability Of Various Films Are Discussed

Now here is a story I find quite surprising. 'They' were making a new list of the top 10 grossing films of all time, and decided to adjust it for inflation. Using this approach, Titanic is not, in fact, the biggest grossing film of all time (though it's still fairly crap but in a quite watchable sort of way, which is not a measure used on the chart), but comes in at Number 6; the top spot is occupied by Gone With The Wind.

Anyway, what puzzles me is this: why did no one ever think of this before? I mean, I had thought of it before, that newer films will always do better in these kinds of lists, simply because it's now exceptionally expensive to go to the cinema, whereas in 'the past' you could get in for a jam jar and some fluff, and it's not as if I'd ever really thought about it that much, or am any kind of Expert. So how come actual Experts have never thought of this?

And why don't they just count how many tickets are sold? Because this would also allow for the fact that some cinemas are more expensive than others. You could practically buy The Strand Cinema, for example, for the amount of money you've spent even before you get through the door at the Odyssey, what with car parking and so on. In fact, some friends of mine turned up at The Strand the other week and discovered that it was 'Mad Monday' or 'Wild Wednesday' or something and got in for the princely sum of about £1.50 for the pair of them. You could hardly get a handful of popcorn for that in most places.

So, in summary, I think they should change their system.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

On Opportunities

Now here is something to ponder. Ever now and then I get offered a 'Once In A Lifetime Opportunity' to win a holiday to somewhere exotic, or buy my dream home in the sun or something. However, since I seem to be offered these things reasonably often, they are not really once in a lifetime opportunities.

Things I expect to happen once in my lifetime are, on the whole, rather more mundane, such as buying a bag of 1000 paperclips, installing cavity wall insulation, or reading 'Catch-22' (please never again).

Just a thought.