Two stories in the Telegraph caught my eye this week in relation to unborn babies.

The first is truly shocking.  A woman, Penelope Trunk, was bombarded with complaints after she sent out a tweet saying she was having a miscarriage in the middle of a board meeting and she was pleased as she would otherwise have to wait so long for an abortion in her home state.

The second was inspiring.  The director of a Planned Parenthood outlet in Texas resigned after watching the abortion of a baby on an ultrasound.  She is now a pro-life campaigner.  I truly believe that if more people were aware of things like foetal development and what an abortion exactly entails, the numbers of pro-lifers would grow exponentially.

This posting is actually a response to another blogger – The Friendly Humanist- who wrote a response  to a posting of mine of entitled ‘Creationism, Evolution…’ which was mainly a rant about why I dislike Richard Dawkins. 

Firstly, I would like to point out that I am not a creationist.  Much of the post I am responding to seemed to focus on my apparent denial of evolution.  I do not deny evolution can or has taken place. What I do deny is that I am a scientist and can do anymore than broadly agree or disagree with what scientists say.  I am told to read popular science books in order to understand the theory.  However, although the reading of popular science books is interesting, it doesn’t qualify me as a scientist, and my point stands.  In fact I would guard against listening to anyone who claims they are an expert on something just because they have a few ladybird guides on their shelf.

To add to this, it was suggested I had no interest in this subject.  That is not what I said.  I said I had no interest in buying any of Dawkins’ works.  This is something different.  I don’t want to contribute to his growing fortune: I don’t like him.  That doesn’t mean I have no interest in the topic – or indeed of buying any books by other scientists.  I would even read some of Dawkins books, I just would not buy them.

The Friendly Humanist also asserts that Richard Dawkins does not have an obsession with religion.  This claim is based upon the fact that of the ten popular books he has written, only one  is about religion.  I stand by my claim.   Richard Dawkins is probably Britain’s most famous athiest and much of his output in terms of media relations is related to this.  From (my apologies) his wikipedia entry:

Dawkins is an outspoken atheist, secular humanist, sceptic, scientific rationalist, and supporter of the Brights movement and has involved himself with the corresponding organizations. As early as a 1996 Oxford debate including Shmuley Boteach, he was introduced as “The World’s most famous atheist”.[35] He is a prominent critic of religion, and has been described as a militant atheist.[36][37][38] He is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, a vice-president of the British Humanist Association (since 1996), a Distinguished Supporter of the Humanist Society of Scotland, a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism, and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[39][40][41][42] In 2003, he signed Humanism and Its Aspirations, published by the American Humanist Association.[43]  … Dawkins has said that the publication of The God Delusion is “probably the culmination” of his campaign against religion.    (grr – font gone crazy, curse my lack of computer skills!)

 He was also one of the prime supporters of the ‘athiest’ bus campaign (‘probably no God’ sounds more agnostic to me) and, as well as ‘The God Delusion’ book he was also responsible for the television series ‘The Root of All Evil’ about the malign influence of religion on society.  If you go to you will notice as much room is made for religious discussion as for discussions upon evolution on the forum.   

The next point deals with Dawkins comparison of creationists to Holocaust deniers.   The Friendly Humanist says this accurate, but says he would not use this analogy himself.  Why not?   Could it be that comparing creationists to Holocaust deniers is grossly offensive?

This really gets to the core of my problem with Dawkins, which was overlooked by the Friendly Humanist.  It is my worry about the whole creationism vs evolution debate.  Much of it is not undertaken in reasonable discourse, but through mudslinging and insults.  This comes from both sides, but I do strongly feel that much of the tone coming from certain segments of evolutionists lies comes in the form of irritantly smug assumptions which lurk not too far from the surface: ‘we are smart, they are not’ followed by ‘we are European and sophisticated, they are American and primitive’ or ‘we are Western and progressive, they are Middle Eastern or Oriental, and barbaric’.  The fact the most prominently athiest evolutionary scientist not only encourages this, but engages in it himself is outrageous. 

One of the things I find most annoying about dawkins is his claim that as an athiest he is an open minded person.  I doubt very much he is.  Indeed, when questioned if he would mind if his daughter became religious he suggested she wa s’too intelligent’ for that.  I doubt a conversion would be welcolmed by him.  I think I’d rather take my chances coming out as gay to Dick Cheney than coming out as a Christian to Dawkins.  

Dawkins comes across as the playground bully:  if you don’t agree with me you are stupid and  I will ridicule you and get all my friends to do the same.  For Dawkins, it isn’t just about whether evolution is true or not – it IS about the fact that he is anti-religious.  Evolution is a means by which he can criticise the religious, they are his ‘other’.

This was the point of the post I had written.  I do not intend to engage in a debate about whether or not evolution can be proven or whether or not creationism is ridiculous.  My point was that Richard dawkins, who claims to want to educate people about evolution, alienates vast swathes of people with his derogatory rhetoric.  I don’t think he is a great ambassador for science.  Just the opposite.   Generally, I have found that if I want to change someone’s opinion on something it is not productive to start calling that person ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘insane’.  If I have no intention of changing their mind, but merely want a fight, then by all that is the way to go.  I don’t believe Dawkin’s tactics of ‘debate’ are likely to make any creationist think ‘well, I really must get into this evolution then!  I don’t want to look stupid!’

In my opinion he is an egomaniac.  Dawkins seems to view himself as somekind of messiah of knowledge and if you don’t follow him (and mean him specifically) you are an apostate. I think he loves it when creationists flock to denounce him: it helps him sell books and make money and boosts his profile.  And I maintain that is his point.

I have just returned from an excellent holiday – with baby in tow, and I thought I would write a little about Babies On Planes.

Firstly, congratulations to my baby who behaved brilliantly (if I don’t say so myself).  He slept most of the time and when he didn’t sleep he was happy to munch on biscuits and play with his toys.  Secondly, thank-you to Delta Airlines who provided us with a free seat nearby (the flight wasn’t quite full) to give us some extra room.  Thirdly, a big thank-you to all the genial and friendly people we met on the flight who showed absolutely no distress at sitting next to a baby!

The one fly in the ointment was our connection flight on a tiny propeller aeroplane (not sure what the correct name for this is).  As we began taxiing towards the runway our little one, with impeccable timing, decides to do a poo.  Fantastic.  Every time he shifted his weight, never mind moved, great clouds of stink emanated from his otherwise perfect little bottom.  Somewhat Judas-like, I hoped no-one thought I had made that smell. 

Soon after take-off, despite the little seat belt being still on, we could take it no longer (and judging by the number of t-shirts pulled over noses, neither could our fellow flyers) and rushed off to the sole loo.  I braced myself for a fairly unclean pull-out table.  I reached the tiny room – quite cupboard like, actually – and was surprised to find nothing.  Yep, no baby changing facilities.  Ah, we must have forgotten that babies do not, in fact, need to be changed on small planes.  Our mistake.  Must tell little one.

The steward informed that this scenario had occured before (really?!!  well, who would’ve thought it possible??) and suggested we change him on the loo seat.  Hmmm.  The toilet itself was basically a box shape with a lid on top.  So, when I put put my baby to change him – despite us using a mat as well, his head was at the hinges of the toilet and surrounding area.  The unclean surrounding area.  How revolting.  As I struggled to get him out of there asap, I wondered how on earth a seriously overweight or disabled person would have coped in that loo-cupboard?  Maybe they don’t go on small planes either…


For an amusing article about travelling on a plane with a baby see this:

… almost unheard of. 

It is often said that if men could get pregnant abortions would be available with your burger at McDonald’s.  I joke, but it is widely assumed or stated that male pregnancies would result in an abortion on-demand world – the implication being that what stops this is sexism.

Actually, I take a different view. I think if men could get pregnant then abortion would go the way of smoking.  Why?

Well, I think pregnancy and birth would be viewed as the apex of masculinity.  The man would stoically put up with the aches and pains, boast about the ordeal of giving birth and how little pain relief he needed (a test of his strength you see) he would proudly display his stretch marks as evidence of the whopping great baby he miraculously carried through nine months.  Pregnancy would be a sign of his virility, a sign of his strength and a rite of passage into the world of ‘real men’.   The pregnant male body and the post-partum male body would be seen as the height of attractiveness and envied by other men. 

The baby or foetus would not be described as ‘a bunch of cells’ or compared to cancer or a parasite invading your body and leeching from you.  It would be seen as miracle, and men would take great pride that their bodies were capable of doing such a thing. 

It wouldn’t be a case of babies or work.  The idea that you have to give up one for the other would be unheard of.  The workplace would be based upon telecommuting, job shares and workplace creches.  This would allow the proud father to see his child and work – if he so wished.  He would not suffer financially for this as the workplace and jobmarket would recognise the extra skills and life experience that parenthood brings.  

Furthermore, jobs previously staffed by women (and underpaid as a result) would become more attractive.  It would be common to see male primary school teachers, kindergarten teachers, nannies and nurses.  The caring professions would be far more equally balanced in terms of gender. In particular in teaching, this would have added benefits for male and female students.   

If you were unemployed the state and local charities would be of unfailing help.  And there’d be no shame in receiving this.

Even better, the outside world would take into account the needs of parents with very young children – and those expecting.  Baby changing facilties would be everywhere – and would be clean and well stocked with supplies.  They would feature baby-appropriate changing tables, not the ridiculous pull-out hard plastic ones we see nowadays.  We would also see extra toilet facilties for pregnant people.  Buses and trains would have better and more areas designed for people with strollers, babies and toddlers.

Breastfeeding areas would be commonplace.   As would heaters for warming formula.  Baby-appropriate foods would be provided in restaurants and cafes.  Goodness, babies would be welcolmed in restaurants and cafes and aeroplanes would provide the necessary baby equipment – hence the drop in the rates of ‘oh no, I’m not sitting next to the baby…’

Being pregnant at university would not be a problem as facilties and advice related to the man’s condition and added needs would be there.  High schools would make provisions for pupils who found themselves in this situation – and the men in question would not be looked down upon. 

In short, as men have ordered the world to suit them (in many ways) today, so the world would be re-ordered to take account of his new abilities.  Pregnancy, babies and children would be valued and esteemed.

After the furore (rightly) surrounding the shooting of Tiller it would be nice to see someting for the murder of this man. But nope, Jim Pouillon’s death can’t even get onto mainstream media.  But it’s nothing to do with bias, I’m sure…

The president’s response:

You may wish to check out this site:

Below are a number of articles relating to recent stories in the Times.  One is a piece of research on the brain and religious belief.  The other two are concerned with Richard Dawkins – he has a new book coming out, The Greatest Show on Earth. 

I just thought I would ramble slightly about Richard Dawkins, who is possibly one of my least favourite public figures.  I will admit I have never read any of his books – not that I’m against reading them I would be perfectly happy to, but I’m not paying for one, so I’m waiting on charity.  I do, however, read with interest many articles related to or written by the man himself.  I find him very interesting.

Why do I find him interesting?  I  just wonder about his dogged obsession with religion and with those that practice it.  He is  a scientist and yet he seems to spend of his time trying to argue that following a religion is at best ridiculous and at worst positively harmful.  I just don’t understand why.  He is one of these people who appears to believe that science and religion are incompatible.  I’ll put my hand up and say I think that is a load of rubbish. 

Personally I think people like Dawkins, through their words and actions, try to make this the case.  They belittle people who hold religious beliefs.  They ridicule people who doubt and aren’t prepared to take what others say at face value and who sit on the fence.  Okay – Dawkins says evolution is a fact.  I am stupid not to believe him.  Well, guess what?  I, like I imagine the majority of people who follow him and love calling creationists stupid, am not a scientist.  If am to believe what he says it takes an element of faith.  I can’t verify much of what he says because I don’t have access to the research or fully understand the terms and the processes involved.  It’s been a long time since I did higher biology and chemistry!  I suspect that for most of his vociferous cheerleaders on websites and forums across the globe, this is also the case.  Perhaps they don’t wish to seem stupid for questioning? 

In this respect, I find his followers similar to those of religious faiths.  They are taking what he says at face value because they believe in him.  They may well be correct – I don’t know.  The argument seems reasonable, but who knows?

Somewhat problematic for the argument that religion and science are  incompatible is that fact that, as Dawkins himself points out, many of the ‘top-level’ Christian leaders do not dispute evolution.  For them there is no conflict of interests.  But for Dawkins this isn’t enough.  The pope is still dim (re: condoms and aids) and other preachers should make it clear in sermons that Adam and Eve etc are not real and the stories are metaphorical.   Perhaps, in that case, Dawkins should make it explicit in his interviews and anything he publishes etc that the truth or otherwise of evolution does not deny the existence of a deity, or even the truth of the Abrahamic religions?

Leaving them aside, his main worry seems to be creationists in the US, maybe followed distantly by Muslims in Britain.  A whopping 40%  of Americans are creationists and Dawkins compares them to holocaust deniers.  This is highly offensive.  A holocaust denier is someone who twists the facts of the historical record in order to bolster a racist agenda.  These people are motivated by their hatred of Jews.  The facts do not matter.  For a creationist, evolution has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.  There are questions about the theory that they believe have not been adequately answered.  They believe the story of  creation not in order to further a hate campaign, but as part of a belief system.  

I think Dawkins is either a liar or is pretty good at shooting himself in the foot.  Either he wants people to know about evolution and to ‘convert’ the creationists or he just wants a nice argument to bolster his book sales.  I think if it was the former then he would be wise to act in a more conciliatory manner, and watch his language (ie the use of the word ‘ignorant’, I would also like to point out at this point that some of the people I know who are most knowledgeable about evolution are in fact creationists) .  Worse, I believe his words convert more people to fundamentalist ideas than anything else as they engender a sense of victimhood and persecution amongst those who don’t agree with what he says.  

However, if his purpose is the latter, then he is doing very nicely for himself.

I came across this artcile in the Daily Telegraph and thought I would comment on it as it is a topic dear to my, er, heart!

I jest, but I do genuinely believe that women are underserved in the public toilet stakes.  I fully support those women (and count myself as one) who nip into the men’s room (unless you are intoxicated this is usually a very messy and pungent experience) because they are just fed up of waiting.

I would also like to add that the group of people who suffer the most in terms of these facilities is not women, but babies and toddlers.  Since moving to the US I have been astounded at the lack of adequate toilet facilities for babies – nevermind breastfeeding mothers.  Not only are the baby facilities almost exclusively in the women’s toilet – and then in the disabled cubicle, when there is one – but it solely consists of one pull-down, very hard, changing table with a safety strap.  It is usually dirty. 

Given the gargantuan size of most American shopping malls is it really too difficult to provide a decent baby changing area which is clean, accessible for fathers, and contains a separate area for nursing mothers? 

On this point I would like to single out the John Lewis store at the end of Prince’s Street in Edinburgh – they have THE best baby changing facilties I have ever come across.  They had a whole room which contained:

– three changing stations (one a pull-out boo!).  Two consisted of padded areas with adjacent sinks.  There were rolls of paper to put down over the changing area ( for cleanliness) and sanitising equipment.

– large bins for waste disposal

–  electric heaters for bottled milk/formula

– about fifteen chairs to sit in whilst you fed your baby or other children waited

– a separate, secluded, area in case you wanted to breastfeed in private

– NO ADULT TOILETS!!!! Which vastly improves the cleanliness of these facilities

– an added bonus of a lovely view across Edinburgh!

– oh, and not to forget it was accessible to fathers as well as mothers.  Thank goodness.

And I didn’t have to pay a penny to use it.

I would like to add an honourable mention to Boots the chemist in Aberdeen which had a ‘mother’s room’ (poor show) which did include similar changing stations and had a nursing area, but which also supplied nappies/diapers in case you had run out!  No charge for this.   They didn’t quite impress me as much as the room was not as clean as I would like and the bins very definitely needed emptying.  But that said, I think I would break down and cry in delight if I found something similar in and around Washington DC.