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NUMBER 80 ARCHIVE

Backwards Glances 2002
June 29th to December 27th

Backwards Glances 2003 part 1
January 3rd to May 16th

Backwards Glances 2003 part 2
May 22nd to August 6th

Backwards Glances 2003 part 3
August 8th to December 31st

Backwards Glances 2004 part 1 January 7th to March 31st

Backwards Glances 2004 part 2 April 3rd to May 30th

Backwards Glances 2004 part 3 June 1st to July 31st

Backwards Glances 2004 part 4 Aug 2nd to Sept 30th

Backwards Glances 2004 part 5 Oct 1st to Dec 30th

Backwards Glances 2005 part 1 Jan 1st to Feb 14th

Backwards Glances 2005 part 2 Feb 15th to March 31st

Backwards Glances 2005 part 3 April 1st to July 30th 

Backwards Glances 2005 part 4 July 1st to Sept 30th

Backwards Glances 2005 part 5 Oct 1st to Dec 31st

Backwards Glances 2006 part 1 Jan 7th to Mar 14th

Backwards Glances 2006 part 2 Mar16th to May 15th

Backwards Glances 2006 part 3 June 19th to Dec 24th

Backward Glances 2007 part 1 Jan 6th to May 16th

Backwards Glances 2007 part 2 May 19th to Aug 20th

Backwards Glances 2007 part 3 Sept 5th to Dec 21st

Backwards Glances 2008 part 1 Jan 6th to May 1st

Backwards Glances 2008 part 2 May 6th - Sept 16th

Backwards Glances 2008 part 3 Sept 4th to Dec 27th

Backwards Glances 2009 part 1 Jan 17th to May 29th

Backwards Glances  2009 part 2 June 1st to Sept 23rd

Backwards Glances 2009 part 3 Sept 30th to to Dec 21st

Backwards Glances 2010 part 1 Jan 1st to Apr 29th

Backwards Glances 2010 part 2 May 6th to Sept 1st

Backwards Glances 2010 part 3 Sept 8th to Dec 28th

Backwards Glances 2011 part 1 Jan 1st to Mar 22nd

Backwards Glances 2011 part 2 March 22nd to May 30th

Backwards Glances 2011 part 3 June 2nd to Aug 31st

Backwards Glances 2011 part 4 Sept 1st to Dec 29th

Backwards Glances 2012 part 1 Jan 5th to Mar 29th

Backwards Glances 2012 part 2 April 3rd to July 8th

Backwards Glances 2012 part 3 August 2nd to Nov 6th

Backwards Glances 2012 part 4 Nov 13th to Dec 9th

Backwards Glances 2013 part 1 Jan 14th to July 12th

Backwards Glances 2013 part 2 July 21st to Dec 24th




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Why Number 80? This is a question that arises often (well, twice) and refers to the reason for the name of this site, rather than "why bother?" - to save searching here is the lowdown on Number 80 - so now you know.............

 




Issues of the original newsletter, Past Views, run from December 1999 to May 2005.  The email link at the bottom of the page is for feedback and comment if you think it may help. Please note correspondence may be published on this site unless you stipulate otherwise. Should correspondence be deemed abusive or threatening, any such stipulation will be ignored. If you place a link to Number 80 on your own website could you please link to this homepage - thanks.

Faith-Based News - check out Faith-Based News, a collection of links, updated (almost)  daily, to online news, articles, surveys and comment reflecting the influence of religion/superstition/pseudoscience/irrational beliefs (this now includes so-called "alternative or complementary medicine") around the globe, with occasional observations and asides.


Easter Treats - brought to 80's attention by Ophelia Benson. Swirly Crucifixion Pops and fancy chocolate or vanilla crucifix lollipops - for those who want to give Jesus a good licking. Another tasty treat is The Passion Fruit of the Christ Easter Soufflé - from America's Best Christian, Mrs Betty Bowers.

Headline Of The Week - Mermaid infestation? Who you gonna call? from The Freethinker, although sadly the article beneath is far from funny. It concerns a despicable Pentecostal preacher Helen Ukpabio. This "...Christian charlatan is the founder of the controversial Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries in Nigeria, which has 150 branches in Africa and Europe. Ukpabio’s “speciality” is “liberating” victims of the black arts in “deliverance sessions” and has been holding meetings in London with people who believe she has power to exorcise demons."  Here is an example of her advice "If a child under the age of two screams in the night and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan." An incitement to child abuse if ever there was one. Also see Call to ban ‘witch hunter’ Helen Ukpabio who poses risk to children.

Cameron's Cynical Ploy - Samuel Johnson said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." It is likely that he meant false patriotism, wrapping oneself in the flag purely to gain some advantage. It could be added that religion is also such a refuge. Faced by the church's criticism of his "big society" bullshit and the drift of many Conservative voters toward Nigel Farage's Little England party, David Cameron is wrapping himself in Christianity. His sudden declaration of his Christian evangelism is a transparent ploy to appeal to those clowns that claim Britain is a Christian country. While it is true the the country still has an established church, along with 26 unelected bishops in the House of Lords, the general populace have little interest in religion as the 2011 census results indicate.

One wonders which version of Jesus Cameron follows, Jesus the lefty that said "Blessed are the peacemakers...", or the Jesus that said "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Such inconsistency is the hallmark of the gospel Jesus and allows people to follow whatever version of the godman suits them. Such a chameleon Christ is useful to politicians so long as they aren't too specific about which Jesus they mean. It will be interesting to see if the church leaders continue to criticise Cameron or whether his cynical espousal of Christianity fools them into toning things down. The British public, disillusioned with all the political parties and increasingly less religious, is unlikely to be swayed by Cameron's unconvincing transformation into a promoter of so-called Christian values. Also see Prime Minister calls on Christians to be more "evangelical".
 

NHS Waste - We learn from Christianity Today "A Church of England clergyman has defied his church's ban on same-sex marriage, marrying his partner in a ceremony in front of friends and family on Saturday. Canon Jeremy Pemberton, a senior hospital chaplain in the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust.....". Never mind gay marriage, why is the NHS using scarce funds to pay for a chaplain? He should be paid by his church. No doubt some patients will benefit from the presence of chaplains but there is no reason whatsoever for them to be on the National Health Service payroll. The Church of England is not short of money and should pay for its own operatives. For more on this scandalous situation see Hospital chaplains paid more than nurses and 150% more than cleaners – but which is more important? and Hospital chaplains largely unaffected by cuts to NHS frontline services.
 

Read Of The Week - is Thought Police Lineup by Robert M Price, theologian and writer of such works as The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul, both of which 80 can recommend. He is also an aficionado of the Cthulhu Mythos of H P Lovecraft. He is also a skeptic on whether there was an historical Jesus, the evidence for whom is far scantier than one might imagine. Thought Police Lineup attempts to define atheism, agnosticism and other terms for those unencumbered by religion taking, as a start, the news that the Saudi Arabian lawmakers have declared atheists are no better than terrorists and should be treated as such.

Be Careful What You Wish For - Homeopathy Awareness Week runs from April 10th-16th and is the homeopathy industry's attempt to promote its products to the world. The problem with this strategy is that the more one learns about homeopathy the more it becomes obvious that it is primitive, magical quackery that is dangerous only in that those taken in by its nonsense may forego real evidence-based treatment and suffer dire consequences. It is an obscenity that the cash-strapped National Health Service wastes money on its funding, but times are changing. It is encouraging to see that such misuse of taxpayer's money is on the wane - see The decline of homeopathy on the NHS. In the Guardian science section is an article called Homeopathy awareness can make the world a healthier, happier place. 80 clicked on the link, expecting some clueless guff in support of quackery but instead found a sensible article by Michael Marshall, project director for the Good Thinking Society, on the uselessness of homeopathy beyond its possible placebo effect. Homeopathy - the more you look the less sense it makes. Also see Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake.

 

The above video is from the British Humanist Association and is one of four narrated by Stephen Fry as part of the That's Humanism campaign.

Documentary Deceit - back in 2007 a documentary film called Expelled became notorious because of the deceitful way it was made. It was Creationist/Intelligent Design propaganda the makers of which duped various people featured therein as to the real purpose of the exercise. Those fooled included Richard Dawkins, P Z Myers and Eugenie Scott. This merely confirms the poverty of the arguments in favor of divine intervention - if you have to con people and make stuff up you have already lost. It also shows the producers actually, perhaps subconsciously, acknowledge the primacy of science by the very fact that to give the film verisimilitude they needed scientists to appear.

Now history is repeating itself with another deceitful "documentary" called The Principle in which the long-disproved idea of geocentrism, that the Sun goes round the Earth, is being promoted, along with other gobbledegook. One scientist who was duped into appearing is physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the Arizona State University Origins Project. He tells of his involvement in an article on Slate the title of which says it all I Have No Idea How I Ended Up in That Stupid Geocentrism Documentary. The narrator of The Principle, Kate Mulgrew, probably best known as Captain Janeaway in Star Trek: Voyager, has disowned her involvement in geocentric lunacy. Neither she nor Krauss were aware that one of the people behind the film was loon Robert Sungenis. To quote from Wikipedia "He is also known for his advocacy of geocentrism and his controversial beliefs about Jews, Judaism, and Holocaust revisionism." If you have to dupe people into appearing to support your unscientific twaddle you immediately undercut the argument you are trying to make. It's a pity that the intended audience for The Principle will be unaware of this. Also see from Phil Plait The Principle: A Documentary About Geocentrism. Yeah, I Know  Update - the film's makers respond, one even claiming the film isn't about geocentrism. Yeah, right.

Headline Of The Week - Baked beans in global warming query

Relics - you can tell Easter is coming when news items appear such as this one from New Scientist (NS). We learn "A new analysis of the Shroud of Turin, which appears to depict a man that has been crucified, suggests that whoever created it thought crucifixion involved the hands being nailed above the head." At least this piece is not arguing for the shroud's authenticity (see Miraculous Neutrons for a recent instance) NS notes "Some believe it is the cloth in which Jesus's body was wrapped after crucifixion. But reliable records of it only begin in the 14th century, and carbon dating suggests the Shroud is a medieval forgery."  Another Easter cash in relic has recently been discovered in Spain, we are told by the Telegraph. "Curators have been forced to remove a precious cup from display in a Spanish church when crowds swarmed there after historians claimed it was the holy grail." Naturally these historians have a book to plug - there is always a book. Looking at the picture of this gaudy goblet it would seem very out of place in the hand of a humble carpenter - haven't these historians seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The Telegraph adds "In Europe alone there are 200 supposed holy grails, the Spanish researchers admitted. They attempted to debunk the authenticity of some of the better known candidates in their book." Well, they would, wouldn't they?

Back in the real world 80 recommends a couple of items on the blog of Dr Robert R Cargill, of the University of Iowa. The first is No, no, you DIDN’T find the Holy Grail in which he makes his opinion clear on the Spanish historians' discovery "Of course, claiming to find the Holy Grail is as silly as other pseudoarchaeological claims, like purporting to find the nails of the cross, pieces of the true cross, the Ark of the Covenant, Noah’s Ark, the route of the Exodus, Atlantis, and Jesus’ family tomb. These are fools errands and the realm of the sensationalized absurd." This is something of a preamble to his next blog entry On the Christian Need for Relics: Holy Grail Edition which examines the whole phenomenon of relics and the reasons for their existence/manufacture. He also touches on the fact that there are no contemporary documents referring to the Jesus figure outside the New Testament (NT) that stand up to thorough scrutiny. Whatever else the NT is, it is not history. Cargill also looks in detail at the kind of cups actually in use in 1st century Palestine. He concludes this fascinating article with this paragraph, "Lest we forget, Easter is approaching. And thus ’tis the season for those who prey on the hopes of the honest faithful to make money by making sensational pseudoarchaeological claims related to Jesus…money made from those eagerly seeking a confirmation of their faith."

A Weighty Matter - the Minister for Pies and communities secretary Eric Pickles is throwing his weight around. This time the target is so-called militant atheists. This nonsense term is used for those unencumbered by religion and who work for a secular state - hardly militant. We learn from the Guardian, ""Militant atheists" should accept that Britain is a Christian country and "get over it", the communities secretary Eric Pickles said yesterday." He also said the "...non-believers should not be able to impose "politically correct intolerance" on others. The clod doesn't seem to realise that secularism safeguards the rights of all religious groups from persecution - it also means that the religious have no right to impose their beliefs on others. As for his Christian state claim, yes the country still has an established church, but out in the real world Christianity is dwindling. Pickles may not know it but his outburst is very much a rearguard action. Although the report doesn't mention it there is good reason that Pickles has an axe to grind. See below a piece that 80 originally wrote back in 2012. Update - 80 is not often in agreement with Giles Fraser but his When Eric Pickles calls Britain a Christian nation I side with the atheists is worth a look. Also see Why is Eric Pickles trying to foment trouble out of nothing?


 

Council Wars (2012) - after the successful High Court challenge to the practice of holding prayers during local council meetings many thought that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had overturned the ruling by using something called the Localism Act. However it would appear that the sylphlike politician, affectionately known as Eric The Hutt, is on shaky ground. We are informed "Legal advice obtained by the National Secular Society says that the Localism Act doesn't give councils the powers that Mr Pickles attributes to it." Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said "Mr Pickles is behaving like some sort of dictator, declaring a legitimate court judgment to be overturned simply because it doesn't suit his personal religious views. In doing so, he puts councils who take him at his word at risk of being in contempt of court. It is highly irresponsible of him. The Localism Act has not been tested in any court and Mr Pickles cannot simply walk in and give it any meaning that suits his purpose. Not only is he over-riding the courts but also the will of Parliament that never gave consideration to prayers during the drafting of the Localism Act."

Perhaps Jabba Eric has allowed his heart to rule his head. Well, not his heart, which is obviously under enough strain, but his evangelical Christianity. Pickles' membership of the scandal-hit Peniel (rendered by 80's spellchecker as Penile) Church hit the newspapers in 2000, highlighting concerns about religious influence over him as a member of parliament. In a piece called Sects, power and miracles in the Bible belt of Essex the Guardian tells of "...Bishop Michael Reid and the members of his Pentecostal church, which some describe as a 'disturbing religious sect'." One ex-church member and Pickles' constituent said "The bishop is a deeply troubled man who says terrible things about people who have opposed him. He has been excommunicated from another church, runs companies controlling millions of pounds and is very intimidating. How can you ask your MP to help you, if he supports the bishop?" This same bishop "...was excommunicated for 'raillery' - a biblical term for slander - from Liverpool's Devonshire Road Christian Fellowship in 1969 and his 'flesh was committed to Satan'." Reid was also notorious for claims of miracle healing cures. Do read the whole of the Guardian's fascinating report of the bishop, naked tennis players, his church and the MP.

Now, obviously none of the above is evidence that Pickles the Hutt is a religious loon, but, as 80 has pointed out many times before, you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.


Irony - the Tory government has done its best to tar disabled people as benefit scroungers and their claims bogus - a slur that has been taken up with alacrity in the right-wing press. Now that one of their own has been caught with her fingers in the till the Prime Minister is refusing to sack her. The parliamentary expenses scandal is too fresh in the minds of the public to let this go and this time PM Cameron is at odds with many in his own party. Can we say hypocrisy? Yes, I rather think we can.

Curate's Egg - the Alternet web site is a mixture of good and bad in 80's view, but on the whole there is more of the former than the latter. For every quacky item like this one plugging the dangers of the mercury in dental fillings (debunked here) there are many others promoting science and reason. Atheists Are 0.07% of the Federal Prison Population, Threatening Fact for Christian Fundamentalists is one such, in that it examines the statistics behind such claims to give a far more nuanced view and not just a feel-good puff for those of us unencumbered by religion. Another interesting piece looks at a subject mentioned further down this page, the angry reaction of fundamentalist Christians to the reboot of Sagan's Cosmos, titled Neil deGrasse Tyson Under Attack from Christians Who Want More Biblical Creationism on His Show. It points out that if a creation myth deserves a place in the show why should it be the Christian one and not one from other cultures? The biblical story is overly familiar to viewers in the USA - why not tell of the myths of Egypt or the Norsemen? Obviously such tales have no real place in a show dedicated to science but the point is well made.

Secularist of the Year awarded to Turkish MP, Safak Pavey - "Turkish MP and human rights campaigner, Safak Pavey, has won this year's award for Secularist of the Year. She was presented with the £5,000 Irwin Prize by honorary associate and shadow foreign office minister, Kerry McCarthy MP, at a lunch-time event hosted by the National Secular Society (NSS) on Saturday. Safak Pavey is a member of Turkey's main opposition party and sits for the Istanbul constituency. She is known for her international work in human rights, the promotion of the rights of women and minorities in Turkey, as well as humanitarian aid and peace-building." Read the rest here on the NSS site. Given the recent threats of revenge on those in opposition to Turkish prime minister Erdoğan and his cronies, her job can only get tougher.

 

The above video is from the British Humanist Association and is one of four narrated by Stephen Fry as part of the That's Humanism campaign.

...And In Happy News - those of you who are able to receive BBC1 TV should find tonight's Panorama (20:30) current affairs show well worth seeing. It takes a look at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and more particularly the activities of its independent mayor, Lutfur Rahman. This individual is alleged to have links with Islamic extremists and of running the borough as a private fiefdom. Those who have been following the reports by journalist Andrew Gilligan or Private Eye magazine will not be surprised by Panorama's investigation but now the government, in the generous shape of Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, is belatedly taking an interest. Gilligan quotes Pickles in his blog, saying “There is a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and mismanagement of council staff and resources by the mayoral administration in Tower Hamlets. I will be carefully examining the evidence provided by Panorama's thorough investigation and will consider the appropriate next steps, including the case for exercising the legal powers available to me." The main worry is that Panorama is a mere 30 minutes in length, not really enough to cover the full extent of the problem. Expect the mayor's critics to be accused of racism or Islamophobia in the usual Islamist attempt at stifling opposition. Also see Betrayal and Panorama: Student Bengali ‘journalist’ reveals BBC’s confidential sources to Lutfur Rahman from the Trial By Jeory blog about the skulduggery used to try and stop Panorama being aired.

Update - from the Guardian (where else?) "A London mayor who was accused by the Panorama programme of diverting £2m in public grants allegedly to shore up his vote has complained of racism and Islamophobia by the BBC."  Well, he would say that wouldn't he?

Update - "Fraud investigators sent into Tower Hamlets as Eric Pickles passes file of evidence to the Met Police looking at allegations of financial mismanagement in Lutfur Rahman's London borough." Full story here. Also see Lutfur Rahman's Muslim favouritism: the evidence by Andrew Gilligan.

Headline Of The Week - Homeopathic remedies recalled for containing real medicine

Religious Miscellany - here's a quick look at some news items that caught 80's eye over the last few days. First up is a warning from the Pope to the mafia. This was in the form of telling them repent or you will go to hell. The only problem here is whether there will be room for the gangsters, given that the place is packed with child-raping priests and their protectors. At least the pontiff has now set up a child sex abuse commission, although one of his choices for that body is Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston. The director of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) David Clohessy, himself a victim of clerical child abuse, accuses O'Malley of withholding the names of some abusive priests. According to Clohessy "Cardinal O’Malley is a very charming, charismatic, bright, humble man...He’s done a superb job at gestures, symbols, words and apologies. But gestures, and words and symbols and apologies don’t protect children." This is reminiscent of the appointment of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, along with O'Malley, to an inquiry into sexual abuse in the church in Ireland in 2010. See Adding Insult To Injury.

Here are a couple of stories that involve creationists. Amid the row over Russell Crowe's Noah movie we learn "...creationist Ray Comfort released his own “Noah” movie on Tuesday to warn that God’s judgement is near at hand." The mercifully short film "...seeks to prove through on-the-street interviews that the end times are upon us." Another flood is unlikely as God promised not to do it again (although he is known to be a liar) but the evil old weirdo has plenty of other ways to kill everyone to hand. Comfort is known for his "...edited and abridged version of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, with a 50-page foreword detailing creationist arguments against the theory of evolution. Stan Guffey, a biologist at the University of Tennessee, has alleged that most of Comfort's section on Darwin's life was plagiarised from his work." We further learn that "Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, noted that Comfort deleted four chapters by Darwin that described the evidence for evolution, adding that two of the omitted chapters, Chapters 11 and 12, showcased biogeography, some of Darwin's strongest evidence for evolution." (source: Wikipedia). Intellectual dishonesty is the hallmark of creationists. This must be so, as scientific evidence entirely refutes their claims.

The TV series Cosmos, fronted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, is a modern version of the original, highly acclaimed Cosmos with Carl Sagan. Now a recent edition of the series on comets has got up creationists' noses. Originally regarded by humanity as presaging doom such as accompanying the death of kings (see the Bayeux Tapestry) Tyson explained that they are from an conjectured cloud of comets surrounding the solar system nearly a light year distant, named after Dutch astronomer Jan Hendrik Oort. The problem for creationists is that these distant comets are regarded as left over from the formation of the solar system, about 4.6 billion years ago. As they consider the entire universe to be no more then 6000 years old, it is impossible for them to accept such huge spans of time. This piece by Chris Mooney Yes, "Cosmos" Fans, Creationists Also Deny the Science of Comets is an amusing look at the situation. As 80 has noted before, these young Earth creationists actually deny science in its entirety yet happily use technology that relies on the findings of that same godless science.
 

 

The above video is from the British Humanist Association and is one of four narrated by Stephen Fry as part of the That's Humanism campaign.

 

Faith-Based Misogyny Versus Human Rights - 80 was dismayed to read in the Telegraph that "Islamic law is to be effectively enshrined in the British legal system for the first time under guidelines for solicitors on drawing up “Sharia compliant” wills." This would mean women and girls will be treated as of less worth compared to men and exclude non-Muslims altogether. Such a will, we are told, "...which would be recognised by Britain’s courts, will also prevent children born out of wedlock – and even those who have been adopted – from being counted as legitimate heirs."

The Law Society, which produced the guidance for Sharia-style wills, according to Wikipedia, "...is the professional association that represents and governs the solicitors' profession in England and Wales. It provides services and support to practising and training solicitors as well as serving as a sounding board for law reform. Members of the Society are often consulted when important issues are being debated in Parliament or by the executive." Quite why this body acknowledges a system that treats females and non-Muslims as less than human is puzzling and smells like one of the rotten fruits of multiculturalism.

We further learn "The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class...Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised." Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society, said "There is a wide variety of spiritual, religious and cultural beliefs within our population, and the Law Society wants to support its members so they can help clients from all backgrounds." A laudable aspiration perhaps, but not at the the cost of acquiescing to faith-based misogyny and discrimination toward non-Muslims.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society (NSS), said "This guidance marks a further stage in the British legal establishment’s undermining of democratically determined human rights-compliant law in favour of religious law from another era and another culture. British equality law is more comprehensive in scope and remedies than any elsewhere in the world. Instead of protecting it, The Law Society seems determined to sacrifice the progress made in the last 500 years.".

See on the NSS web site a blog titled Sharia law is well and truly operating in the UK – thanks to the Law Society by Sadikur Rahman of the Lawyers' Secular Society (LSS), who concludes "The guidance should be withdrawn. Solicitors are still officers of the Court and have a duty as clearly stated in the Code of Conduct to abide by the Equality Act. How solicitors can do this and still draft "sharia compliant" wills is beyond me."

The LSS has a petition asking the Law Society to "...withdraw your guidance legitimising discrimination against women, non-Muslims, and ‘illegitimate’ and adopted children."  which you can sign here.

Update - For reaction to the Law Society's guidance see Sharia law in UK: calls for Parliamentary inquiry.

Update - a related item from Howie's Corner, Oppose Sharia Student Loans.

Read Of The Week - is Pastor Fred Phelps: 'An angry, bigoted man who thrived on conflict' by Louis Theroux, who made two documentaries on the Westboro Baptist Church.

 

Headline Of The Week - Satanic Temple leader Lucien Greaves can’t wait to turn Fred Phelps gay in the afterlife. Phelps, you may recall, was the leader of the virulently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church which became notorious for picketing funeral services with signs saying God Hates Fags and other nonsense. In common with other nutjobs like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Phelps believed the condoning of homosexuality has visited disaster on the USA. The church itself was little more than Phelps' extended family and has never had many adherents. Last year Phelps was excommunicated by the all male council of elders from his own church for reportedly asking for“ kinder treatment of fellow church members”. As Phelps himself was extremely obnoxious the mind boggles as to quite how vile these elders are, many of whom are Phelps family members. Now the old bastard is reportedly at death's door.

Lucien Greaves of the New York Satanic Temple is promising to do to Phelps what happened to Phelps' mother, namely to hold a "Pink Mass" over his grave to turn him gay in the afterlife. This is, in 80's view an impossible task as there is no afterlife but maybe the Satanists will get something from the ceremony. More amusingly the Westboro Church's activities likely had the reverse effect to that which was intended, analogous to the Streisand Effect. By their extreme bigotry they offended many people who became more supportive for the equal treatment of all, without regard to sexual orientation. Update - Phelps has now shuffled off this mortal coil.

BBC Drops Homosexuality Debate From 'Free Speech' Show After Objections From Mosque - "The BBC has controversially dropped a debate on homosexuality from a live panel discussion show because of objections from Birmingham Central Mosque in which the programme was being filmed." Read on at the National Secular Society.

Flight Of Fancy - one of the more bizarre stories about missing Malaysian plane MH370 involves self-publicist and so-called psychic Uri Geller. The spoon-bending fantasist is claiming to have been contacted by a "significant figure" in Malaysia to track the plane using "remote viewing". The story is not independently confirmed and could be a case of Geller's craving for publicity. He said "Remote viewing has been used by the CIA for decades." . 80 noted back in 2004 "Remote viewing was intensively, expensively and fruitlessly evaluated by the CIA and the US Army" As the entry in the the Skeptic's Dictionary (SD) reminds us, remote viewing is just "...a fancy name for telepathy or clairvoyance, the alleged psychic ability to perceive places, persons, and actions that are not within the range of the senses." The CIA assessment of various psychic "powers" was the subject of a book by Jon Ronson called The Men Who Stare at Goats which later became a movie starring George Clooney. Also see here.

According to the SD the term remote viewing "...seems to have been invented by physicist Dr. Russell Targ and physicist/scientologist Dr. Harold Puthoff to describe their work with alleged psychics for the U.S. government..." We further learn " In the 1970s, Geller was tested at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) by Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ. [James] Randi refers to Puthoff and Targ as "the Laurel and Hardy of psi," which is an insult to Laurel and Hardy." These two clowns "... deemed Geller such a gifted psychic that they invented a term to describe his powers: the "Geller effect." Perhaps the "gullible effect" is a more accurate description. It's sad but inevitable that a mystery such as the fate of flight MH370 will bring out individuals seeking to ride on its coattails.  One small mercy is that at least Sylvia Browne is no longer around to promote herself on the back of other people's tragedies. Update - the missing flight attracts not just "remote viewers". Billy Graham's daughter describes in her blog how the mystery of what happened to the people is a snapshot of what the Rapture will be like.  

 

Offended Bandwagon Rolls On - we learn "Malaysia has banned a translation of an Ultraman comic book after it referred to the popular Japanese superhero as "Allah", authorities said." The Malaysian home ministry has form on this. In 2007 it took action against a Catholic newspaper, the Herald, for using the word Allah for God - a dispute that still ongoing. The name means "the God" in Arabic and there is no rational reason as to why Islam denies its use to others - but then rationality has nothing to do with it. In the modern world religionists always seem to be looking for ways to be offended - a trend that seems to have started with Islam but now everyone wants a piece. The Malaysian ministry has said the use of the word in association with Ultraman would "confuse Muslim youth and damage their faith". Their faith must be a fragile thing to be derailed by a comic book. A far more likely reason is that such use of the word could endanger "public safety". In other words, the ministry is acting pre-emptively to derail any violence by the rent-a-mobs that seem so prevalent in Muslim countries.

As mentioned above, many other religions have joined the "I am offended" bandwagon. Hollywood's latest Old Testament epic about Noah, starring Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins, is drawing fire from American Christians partly on the grounds that it is - don't laugh - "historically inaccurate". It is a myth and certainly not original to the Christian bible anyway - the story is far older than that book and is likely of Mesopotamian origin. In fact many cultures worldwide have flood myths which merely shows that fertile low lying areas are subject to the occasional inundation. Christians do not have a unique claim to the story and for them to say so is a sign of ignorance. We now learn that, much to the unhappiness of the director, Paramount Pictures have added a disclaimer. It seems the slightest deviation from the exact biblical version of the story is unacceptable to these folk. That there is no single authoritative Christian bible doesn't seem to trouble them.

Now, as is the way with such things, the film is also in trouble with Muslims. We are told "Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the highest authority of Sunni Islam... issued a fatwa, (religious injunction) against the film last Thursday." The ban on the depiction of any prophet apparently, not just Mohammed, is the reason given plus a hint of violence in that such images "provoke the feelings of believers". 80 remembers going to see John Huston's 1966 movie The Bible...In The Beginning which covered from the Creation, the Garden of Eden, through Noah's Flood to Abraham. Despite Ulla Bergryd's blonde, Scandinavian Eve and well-known hellraisers Richard Harris playing Cain and Peter O'Toole playing not one, but three angels, no one took offence - or if they did they kept it to themselves. If only today's whiners followed suit....

 

Religious Sickness - it is tragic to read of parents that spurn modern medicine in favor of prayer for their sick children - such reliance on faith healing can, with a serious illness, result in the child's death or mental/physical impairment. Recently in the UK a couple were jailed for manslaughter after their child died of rickets, a treatable vitamin deficiency, exacerbated by their Vegan diet. We learn that the "...pair repeatedly rejected medical treatment and ignored the advice of relatives to seek help after their son became ill, stating that only God gives life."

The judge in this case pronounced "The secular courts of this country apply the secular law of the land. They do so equally to all who come before them. The law respects the right of everyone to freedom of thought and belief. However the right to manifest one's religion is not absolute. It is limited in particular by the rights of others. The state has a particularly important duty to protect the right to life, especially when a young child is concerned."

In the US a short while ago we are told "A Philadelphia couple whose two children died after being denied medical care in favor of prayer-based "faith healing" will spend years behind bars." They already had one child die of pneumonia and were on probation which was "...was conditional upon their seeking medical attention in the event that any of their children ever got sick." Their Christian sect actually prohibits the use of medicine. The father told the investigators "We believe in divine healing, that Jesus shed blood for our healing and that he died on the cross to break the devil's power." The judge told them "You've killed two of your children... not God, not your church, not religious devotion-- you."

A British judge has overruled the religious beliefs of parents in order for their child to receive a vital blood transfusion. As Jehovah's Witnesses the couple had agreed to the baby boy, suffering from heart disease, being operated on but not to him receiving blood during the procedure. This child would not  survive the treatment without transfusion. The judge, while expressing sympathy for the parent's beliefs, said ''Standing back and looking at (the baby's) welfare best interests, I am in no doubt whatsoever that it is in his best interests to undergo the surgery that is proposed.'' Furthermore he was "...of the view, notwithstanding the parents' understandable objections on religious grounds, that it is in (his) welfare best interests to receive blood products both during the surgery and, if necessary, subsequent to it.''

Meanwhile in Idaho it is reported "Republican legislators...struck down a proposed law aimed at preventing the deaths of children whose parents eschew medical treatment in favor of prayer." Democratic state Rep. John Gannon proposed the legislation after an apalling number of child deaths were caused by the inaction of a Christian sect, the Followers of Christ. Those who blocked the law obviously "religious freedom" above the wellbeing of innocent children, which is ironic in that they fiercely oppose abortion. So they insist a fetus be retained, but when it is born and becomes a child and falls seriously ill they advocate leaving it to die.

To quote physicist Steven Weinberg "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

Rage Against The Trivial - we learn that pop star Katy Perry's latest  video has been censored in reaction to statements that it was offensive to Muslims - well some Muslims anyway. Apparently those with very sharp eyes spotted that one of the dancers was apparently wearing an Allah pendant. What is the world coming to? For an appraisal of the absurdity and pettiness of the "offended Muslim lobby" see this piece from Howie's Corner which skewers such hypocrisy.

Moving Mysteriously - we learn that the second floor of an activity center at a rural Mississippi church collapsed during an evening youth service, sending about 70 people crashing down and injuring 35 of them. Pastor Tommy Davis at Freedom Baptist Church said "In the middle of the student service, the floor — which is a second-story floor — gave way, causing about 70 students to fall... But it’s got to be said that no one was seriously injured, no one was trapped. God’s hand was certainly taking care of the kids who were in that building.”  Why didn't his god stop the accident happening in the first place? Or was he just moving in a mysterious way?

         

 
We also learn of the Salvadoran fisherman who claimed he drifted at sea for more than a year said that his faith in his god kept him alive during his journey. His actual words were "I always had faith in God, that I was going to live, asking him every day, every night. I never lost faith that one day I was going to get out (of the situation)" Again, it doesn't seem to occur to him to ask why his god put him in such a predicament in the first place. It seems this deity puts people in harm's way and then gets credited with the victims' survival. A sort of sacred variant Munchausen Syndrome by proxy. Greek philosopher Epicurus pondered this when he said
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

 

Loon

Clerical Clod - Rowan Williams, ex-archbishop of Canterbury, tells us he questions "...whether he had let gay and lesbian people down during his time as Archbishop amid rows over the Church’s teaching on gay relationships." He says “I know that is what a great many of my gay and lesbian friends would say that I did." One wonders what his friends think of his support for the Islamic Human Rights Commission? This bunch recently held its Islamophobia Awards in London and Williams voiced his support on its web site. What difference is there between Islamic human rights and and universal human rights?

Islamic human rights accept that women are of less worth than men under that mockery of justice sharia law and that homosexuality is an abomination that must be punished. Williams has form on this - remember when this clown announced in 2008 that he thought the introduction of sharia to Britain was inevitable? 80 wondered at the time how William's wife reacted to his acceptance of a misogynistic system. (See Bearded Cleric Sharia Shock) Now with his endorsement of the Islamophobia industry's gala 80 wonders if Williams reference to his "gay and lesbian friends" is little more than bullshit. If such do exist they should shun him. (Thanks to Harry's Place and Pink News)

 

 

Malala Yousafzai backs campaign against FGM - "Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who has spearheaded the campaign for universal education for children, has backed a campaign led by the 17-year-old British student Fahma Mohamed to get education about female genital mutilation into all schools in the UK." Read the rest here. If you haven't signed the petition asking for education secretary, Michael Gove, to raise awareness in schools of this cruel and unnecessary practice please do so here.

Update - Gove has agreed to write to headteachers regarding FGM  drawing their attention to guidelines around the issue and reminding them of their duty to protect schoolgirls.

 

Haram - the Mars One one-way project to land volunteers on the fourth planet to stay, funded by a reality TV show, has never seemed likely to proceed. Although it has attracted a large number of applicants it was always obvious that, while the organizers put out some nice artwork, they really have no clue of the cost and complexity of such an undertaking. Now something has happened to kill it off completely - a fatwa. We learn "A fatwa issued by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the UAE claimed a trip to the red planet was prohibited by Islam....Such a one-way journey poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam,” the committee said. “There is a possibility that an individual who travels to planet Mars may not be able to remain alive there, and is more vulnerable to death.”

This is possibly the only time that 80 is actually in accord with Muslim clerics' pronouncements - but being clerics, they have to ruin things by expressing " ... disdain that some volunteers want to leave the planet in order to escape punishment or evade standing before Almighty Allah for judgment."  Do they think that their god is a planetary deity only? One whose writ does not run beyond Earth orbit? Then it became obvious who rules the Red Planet -  Mars himself. Update - Mars One has responded to the fatwa, very respectfully of course. After all, there's no need making interplanetary travel any more difficult than it is already.

The O T God - is one seriously nasty piece of work. Check out God's 12 Biggest Dick Moves in the Old Testament for some examples of this vile deity's behavior - and then look at the comments where some contributors try and make excuses for him. In a similar vein is Dear Christian, would you kill your kid for God? and finally How many has God killed?

 

Read Of The Week - is from the National Secular Society web site and titled Publish and be damned by Abhishek Phadnis. "The mainstream media's craven refusal to print the Jesus & Mo cartoon seriously undermines the principle of free expression, and will further embolden professional offense takers"  Also recommended reading on the subject of self-censorship is Twenty five years on from Rushdie we are too frightened to say we are scared by Nick Cohen.

 

Spaghetti Sacrilege - this report from the British Humanist Association (BHA) is of a piece with the item on Jesus and Mo' above. We learn "Non-religious students at London South Bank University have had posters advertising their society banned for being ‘offensive’. The poster publicising the South Bank Atheist Society (SBAS) depicted Michelangelo’s famous ‘Creation of Adam’ fresco from the Sistine Chapel but with the character of god replaced with the satirical online deity the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ (FSM).

Along with the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Students Societies (AHS), of which SBAS is a member, we've expressed exasperation and condemned the decision as ‘utterly ridiculous’ and part of ‘rising tide of frivolous censorship that is curtailing the legitimate activities of our members.’"

Update - The London South Bank University (LSBU) Students Union has apologized for its high-handed behavior. Thinking before acting would be a good policy for it to follow in future.

 

Miraculous Neutrons - the latest attempt to dismiss the 1988 radio-carbon dating of the medieval Turin Shroud has been put forward, claiming neutron radiation skewed the results. The team behind the claim, led by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy, posit that the radiation came from an earthquake in Jerusalem, in 33 AD. This seems to be a rather desperate move for several reasons. Some people believe that the Turin Shroud is the burial shroud of Jesus, and that it is his form that is "miraculously" imprinted on the cloth, although there is no known connection between the Shroud and 1st century Judea. It first enters the historical record in 1390 AD, in Lirey, France, when "...Bishop Pierre d'Arcis wrote a memorandum to Antipope Clement VII, stating that the shroud was a forgery and that the artist had confessed." Despite efforts to place it in various locations before that date none are convincing.

It is also important to appreciate that the Christian gospels are not historical documents, but theological ones, although there may be some nuggets of history therein. Assuming the Jesus character was an historical personage it is still not known when he was born or when he died. Jesus' crucifixion must have happened some time during Pontius Pilate's tour of duty as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, so no later than 36 AD, when he was ordered back to Rome. Modern research suggests a crucifixion date between 30-33 AD although there is no consensus. The three synoptic gospels only agree on the day of the month but the Gospel of John does not, possibly for theological reasons. This is not really very useful though as most scholars agree Luke and Matthew based their gospels on Mark, the first to be written. Even the fourth gospel, that of John, shows evidence of being aware of Mark. Therefore what seems like multiple attestation is not. The earthquake at the death of Jesus is mentioned only by Matthew, who  also has an earthquake accompanying the opening of Jesus' tomb. None of the other gospels mention earthquakes. (Or zombies for that matter)

The Carpinteri team "...hypothesizes that high-frequency pressure waves generated in the Earth's crust during earthquakes are the source of such neutron emissions" based upon their own research. The exact mechanism, however, is not pinned down. According to this report "...The researchers therefore believe that neutron emission from a historical earthquake in 33 A.D. in Old Jerusalem, which measured 8.2 on the Richter Scale, could have been strong enough to cause neutron imaging through its interaction with nitrogen nuclei. On the one hand, this could have created the distinctive image on the Shroud through radiation imagery, while on the other, it could have increased the level of carbon-14 isotopes found on the linen fibres that could have confused the 1988 radiocarbon dating tests." The team are still a long way from demonstrating how this could have occurred.

The precision with which the team date the year and magnitude of the neutron-emitting earthquake is suspect. There were two earthquakes in the region during the period in question, "...a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D."  Update - After a look at the team's paper the earthquake data given is in fact irrelevant and the source they give has been shown to be effectively useless.

Another concern that 80 has written about previously (Ecce Homo Erectus!) is regarding the dimensions of the figure on the shroud. Gregory S Paul says in The Shroud of Turin, The Great Gothic Art Fraud "...from an artistic and anatomical perspective, the shroud image is an embarrassingly obvious fraud committed by a Gothic artist following the standard conventions of his time. The artistic errors are so severe that it is impossible for the shroud to record the image of an actual human body—unless it was a very seriously pathological person with a brain the size of a Homo erectus."

Perhaps as more details are made available the above points will be answered. Presently all evidence still points to the shroud being a medieval pious fraud
. The Carpinteri team's paper is here (PDF) and, after a brief perusal, in 80's view does not merit the uncritical coverage it has garnered in the press and online.

Update - Richard Carrier gives the story a far more scathing reception than 80 in the highly amusing Magical Earthquake Ray Beams Caused the Shroud of Turn.

French Lesson - "You have a tradition of multiculturalism, but you cannot accept everything in the name of tolerance, and certainly not the abuse of girls through mutilation and forced marriage. You have to tell parents cutting is not acceptable and if they don't listen you threaten them with prosecution and jail. It works." Isabelle Gillette-Faye of Gams on Britain's abysmal record on FGM. Read the story of the French family that was travelling to London to have their daughters mutilated when they were stopped by the police. It should be a matter of national shame that Britain is so lax in combating this vile practice.

Caring Conservatism? - Not likely. We learn from the Guardian "Michael Gove was urged on Saturday to stop dodging calls to take action on female genital mutilation as the number of signatures on a petition asking the education secretary to intervene rose to more than 130,000. Campaigners want Gove to write to headteachers asking them to train staff and educate parents about the horror of FGM. Scotland's government has already reacted to the End FGM campaign, supported by the Guardian, it says it will be writing to every Scottish headteacher calling on them to train teachers and parents about the warning signs and risks of the practice. However, Whitehall's response has remained lukewarm, with Gove's department steadfastly refusing to communicate directly with headteachers on the issue."  See here for the petition link and background to this story. What is wrong with the Education Secretary? Has he had an empathy bypass? Update - See here for another reason Gove should not be in charge of education Alice Roberts and BHA complain to Michael Gove over Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm’s Quality Badge breaching ‘no creationism’ policy. Update - it seems the petition has got to Gove after all. Fahma Mohamed, the sponsor of the petition, is to meet with the Education Secretary and Children's Minister Edward Timpson at the end of February. If you've not signed the petition yet please do so and get friends and family to sign up as well. There are already over 178,000 signatures - it would be even better to hit 200,000 before the meeting.

 

Nye versus Ham - when 80 learned beforehand of the  debate between Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and Ken Ham (creationist) it was with a feeling of dismay. What was the point of the exercise beyond giving the wilfully ignorant creationist some publicity? This is Richard Dawkins' standpoint and a lot of sense it makes - for Dawkins. The USA has always had an anti-intellectual streak among certain members of the population. Their backs would be put up by some wiseass scientist (as they see it) telling the little guy (as they see it) what to believe. That this is a gross mischaracterization is neither here nor there - it's the way such a debate would be perceived. Nye, though, comes across as a regular guy who happens to place evidence above points scoring. Another trait he exhibits is patience - something that is badly needed when discussing evolution with such as Ham. (You can see the Nye/Ham debate on YouTube.)

Anyone who talks or corresponds with creationists more than a couple of times on the subject of evolution must expect to be asked the same questions over and over, no matter how many times one gives an answer. This where the wilful ignorance comes in - the answers to most queries are easily available but no effort is made to find them by the questioner. Another chestnut is the line where one is told evolution is "just a theory". One can explain time and time again that the word theory in science means something very different from what it colloquially means, but it will make no difference. One other common annoyance, often employed by Ham, is to think quoting from the Bible is a form of evidence.

80, at one time or another, has encountered all these tactics and has no patience with them whatsoever. Nye, to his credit, has that patience and what could be called the common touch. Adam Rutherford, writing in the Guardian, has taken some typical creationist's questions and, just for fun, given them the responses they really deserve. Some of those commenting enjoyed the joke, but plenty of others just don't get it - and, inevitably, among them are some creationists. Some people have expressed surprise at the result of a poll on the Christian Today web site in which Nye was declared the overwhelming winner. Those who were surprised made the mistake of confusing Christians with creationists - the evolution-deniers are a small minority. The reason they need to be kept in check though is that they continually strive by fair means or foul, usually foul, to pollute school science classes with their nonsense, disguising creationism in a lab coat and calling it Intelligent Design - and not just in the USA. Now, as if Ham and his chums weren't enough, there are also Muslim creationists - such as Harun Yahya - who are obviously inspired by their American counterparts.

Tell schools to teach risks of female genital mutilation before the summer - You wouldn't think school girls in the UK have to worry about female genital mutilation (FGM), but we do. Although it is illegal in the UK, it is still happening - 24,000 girls in the UK are currently at risk of FGM. People just don't talk about it, doctors don't check for it and teachers don't teach it....We need to act now. Many girls are sent away to be cut over the summer holidays. Some are cut at home. They call it the 'cutting season'. If every headteacher was given the information they need to talk about FGM to students and parents we could reach every girl who is at risk before the holidays. We could convince families not to send their daughters to be cut and we can help girls who are at risk. We could break the cycle so the next generation is safe. Please sign the petition calling for Michael Gove to get schools to teach about FGM before the summer holidays.

Also see Police target 'cutters' in campaign against UK female genital mutilation which, among other things, points out that FGM has been illegal in Wales and England since 1985 and yet there has not been one prosecution. Female genital mutilation: A family speaks out against the abuse is a BBC report on this vile form of child abuse. We learn "Some accuse the authorities in the UK, in the NHS, schools, and social services, of turning a blind eye because of cultural sensitivities - being unwilling to meddle in someone else's accepted ritual, instead of seeing it as an assault inflicted on a child powerless to object." Never mind multicultural claptrap and respect for other cultures - some things are just wrong. "Campaigners want it to be mandatory for healthcare and other professionals to have to report suspected FGM, just as they report stab wounds, or other forms of child abuse."  Why the hell is this not happening already?

Rights Of The Child - despite Pope Francis's media friendly persona, nothing much seems to have changed within the Roman Catholic church. This week the UN committee on the Rights of the Child issued a report on the widespread child abuse by clergy and the subsequent cover-ups, where such clergy were moved to new posts elsewhere. The church's response so far has been defiant as reported here "The leadership of the Roman Catholic church is engaged in a tense standoff with the United Nations after a damning report on the Holy See's handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal was branded out of date, unfair and ideological by a top Vatican official."

The UN report also said something that has long been obvious to many who have commented on the abuse scandal, "...the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children's best interests". Any sane person acknowledges how despicable child abuse is when committed by anyone, but the crime is compounded when those abusing claim to be occupying the moral higher moral ground. The committee however made an error by not concentrating solely on the abuse of children.

That it also "...found fault with some central church teachings and their impact on children's health, urging the Vatican to reconsider its stance on abortion and contraception, and encouraging it to tone down criticism of homosexuality in an attempt to reduce "social stigmatisation" and violence against gay youths and children raised by gay couples." would be commendable but it gives the church the opportunity to try and dilute the report's impact. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the so-called Holy See's UN observer, seized on this, saying "...he suspected pro-gay rights NGOs had influenced the committee and "reinforced an ideological line" in the UN." Still, the report is a major step toward the day when the church reports abusers straight to the civil authorities instead of dealing with such matters behind closed doors.

Read Of The Week - is Jesus and Mo: it’s time to pick a horse by Charlie Klendjian secretary of the Lawyers' Secular Society (LSS) on the events surrounding the hoo-hah over Jesus and Mo comic strip and the gutlessness of major media outfits. It also elucidates the subject of the comic below. (The LSS now has a permanent link in the sidebar of this page)

For an explanation of the above see here

Headline Of The Week - Woman finds image of Jesus in her toe bruise. The runner-up is Pope’s Metaphor is Viciously Attacked By Seabird.

Shortlist Announced For Secularist Of The Year 2014 - The shortlist has been announced for this year's Irwin Prize for Secularist of the Year. The award is presented annually in recognition of an individual or an organisation considered to have made an outstanding contribution to the secular cause. Read on at the National Secular Society to learn the details. The event is being held on March 29th at a lunch in central London.

A fungus-dropping Martian

Martian Madness - 80 has been following the exploration of Mars with great interest for many years but lately things have become a little weird. The Opportunity rover recently imaged an area of surface to show a rock, resembling a jelly donut that was not seen in imagery of the same spot 12 sols (Martian days) earlier. Informed speculation from the rover team suggests the rock, dubbed Pinnacle Island, in fact was dislodged by the rover's own wheels, or less likely, that it was a fragment from a nearby meteorite impact. This was not enough for litigious, self-described astrobiologist Rhawn Joseph. He believes the object is no rock but a “...mushroom-like fungus, a composite organism consisting of colonies of lichen and cyanobacteria, and which on Earth is known as Apothecium.” Joseph is so convinced of his interpretation that he is suing NASA for not investigating things further. That he publishes his hypothesis on the Journal of Cosmology web site however is not exactly reassuring. In an earlier 2010 paper by him and a Rudolf Schild it is claimed that lunar regolith samples contain microfossils, as does a Martian meteorite. If verified, such a discovery would have set the astrobiology world alight, yet 4 years later, not a peep.

Filing suit against NASA and administrator Charles Bolden, Joseph demands that they "...thoroughly scientifically investigate a putative biological organism on Mars identified/discovered by petitioner and referred to by NASA as: ‘unlike anything we have seen before'.’" Surely if the cash-strapped space agency thought there was the slightest chance of the object being biological it would be shouting the fact from the rooftops? One thing that would bring about a big boost in funding would be the discovery of life on Mars. So far, there has been no response from the rover team. But there just might be another explanation for the mystery object. It was dropped off by a passing alien when the camera was pointing the other way

That bastion of sober journalism, the Daily Mail, under the headline Has Nasa's (sic) Curiosity rover spotted a UFO on MARS? Rover images reveals conical object streaking through the sky informs us "UFO hunters believe that may have found evidence of a UFO streaking through the sky - on Mars. They claim a picture taken by the Curiosity rover shows a possible extra terrestrial craft. In the image, a bright object can been seen appearing to leave a trail in the Martian sky." So, if we agree with Rhawn Joseph that the object is a fungus that has appeared somehow on the the inhospitable, bleak, dry and freezing Martian surface perhaps the alien theory is a better explanation for its existence, as it is highly unlikely to have grown there. Update - latest news from Universe Today titled Some Ideas on Where the ‘Jelly Donut’ Rock on Mars Came from — and no, it’s not a mushroom. (Also see Debunkx2 and The Cold of Space) Update - from NASA Where Martian 'Jelly Doughnut' Rock Came From. One assumes Rhawn Joseph has dropped his fungus law suit now in light of this.

Read Of The Week - is The Liberal Democrats face a true test of liberty by Nick Cohen and is a much needed sane commentary on the barely-veiled death threats to Maajid Nawaz and the spineless lack of support from the leader of the political party for which he is a prospective candidate. A LibDem activist (?) meanwhile, Mohammed Shafiq, is out to do as much shit-stirring as he can. Update - Nick Clegg has now spoken in support of Maajid Nawaz.

A Right Charlie - the Telegraph informs us that Prince Charles "...is pushing for an acceptance of complementary medicines and urging medical watchdogs to regulate their professions in order to better protect patients." The idea that there should be regulation of so-called complementary and alternative medicines and treatments is a sensible one but there is a fly in the altmed ointment. We learn, "A source said that the Prince wanted to see “evidence-based complementary treatments taking a proper integrated approach that gives people choice and where regulation would build confidence in making choices”. " It would be helpful to have a list of "evidence-based complementary treatments" the trouble is the list would be a blank sheet of paper.

Perhaps Windsor should do a little research. One treatment he espouses is mentioned in this 2004 Observer report, the Gerson therapy for cancer. "... which involves taking daily coffee enemas and drinking litres of fruit juice instead of using drugs. Charles gave an enthusiastic endorsement last week to the Gerson Therapy, which eschews chemotherapy in favour of 13 fruit juices a day, coffee enemas and weekly injections of vitamins."

"Cancer specialists have told The Observer that there is no scientific basis for the theory and that it can be dangerous because patients who are seriously ill often come off their normal treatment to try something unproven which may leave them badly dehydrated." Despite this, Windsor prattles "...of one patient who turned to Gerson Therapy having been told she was suffering from terminal cancer and would not survive another course of chemotherapy. Happily, seven years later, she is alive and well. So it is vital that, rather than dismissing such experiences, we should further investigate the beneficial nature of these treatments.' "

Someone really should tell Charles that such anecdotes are not data. If he wants to be useful he could, perhaps, sink some of his considerable fortune in properly conducted double blind studies of his alternative medicine? If Gerson therapy actually worked it would be adopted right away - but it doesn't and wishing does not make it so. The wannabe king should stick to architecture and gardening. Also see Prince Charles and "Alternative" Medicine and Alternative cancer diets, what does the evidence say?

Parliamentary Candidate Maajid Nawaz Under Pressure For Posting Jesus And Mo Cartoon On Twitter - "A petition has been set up on Change.org in support of Maajid Nawaz, the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hampstead and Killburn, who posted an innocuous 'Jesus and Mo' cartoon on his Twitter timeline and stated that he, as a Muslim, was not offended by the content.

His tweet followed a BBC Big Questions programme in which the cartoons were discussed and Maajid Nawaz was included as a studio guest. The cartoon depicts Jesus and Mo saying 'Hey' and 'How ya doin'" to each other.

Maajid is the co-founder and chair of the anti-extremism think tank Quilliam, and co-founder of Khudi, a Pakistan based social movement campaigning to entrench democratic culture among the nation's youth.

Following his tweet on 12 January, Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation, Muslim commentator Mo Ansar and Bradford Respect MP George Galloway all took to Twitter calling for calling for Maajid Nawaz to be ousted from the post of the Liberal Democrats' PPC. A petition was then set up calling on Nick Clegg to remove Nawaz.

A counter petition has now been set up calling on the Liberal Democrats to give Nawaz their full support.

Organisers of the petition said: "Islamists and political opponents have mounted a campaign against Maajid Nawaz, resulting in numerous threats to his life. We note that this campaign, rather than being based on legitimate concerns of Muslims, is a political campaign which is being spear-headed by a group of Muslim reactionaries with a track record of promoting extremism. They are seeking to use Muslim communities in order to whip up hatred against a liberal and secular Muslims. We are concerned that this campaign will also be used by anti-Muslim extremists as evidence of Muslim intolerance and incompatibility with liberal values which could, in turn, fuel anti-Muslim bigotry."

Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society said: "We simply can't have a climate where politicians are intimidated into silence by people who believe they have a right not to have their religious sensibilities offended. Anything other than complete Liberal Democrat support for Maajid could have a very chilling effect on free speech in this country."

You can add your name to the petition in support of Maajid here.

The above is re-posted from the National Secular Society web site. Elsewhere Abusive press release promoted by MAB  shows the lies being pushed by Muslim Association of Britain, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which claims the Jesus & Mo cartoons are abusive. Crap - 80 would not post abusive material. Obviously satire goes right over the heads of these people. Also see Update: Liberal Democrats are failing to support Maajid Nawaz  Perhaps Clegg can't cope with three scandals simultaneously. Update - Clegg's somewhat lukewarm support for Maajid Nawaz does him no credit. For crying out loud, Nawaz has done absolutely nothing wrong!

Read Of The Week - is 15 ways atheists can stand up for rationality by Jeffrey Tayler. Although written for unbelievers combating the religiosity of the US, the points made are of universal relevance - although it's not recommended trying these suggestions in some Muslim countries, as it may well be the last thing you do - see 13, Unlucky For Some.

 

image copyright Satanic Temple

A Good Result - here's an update to the story about Satanists wanting to place a statue to match the 10 Commandments monument outside the Oklahoma state capitol (see Devilish Designs). In How a Satanic Goat Statue Threatens the Christian Right - we learn that with other religions and groups including Hindus and Pastafarians, liable to get on the bandwagon the state legislature has now placed a moratorium on such monuments. It is plain that the unconstitutional Ten Commandments display was acceptable to the Oklahoma state legislature because it was Christian, but any rival monuments were not, so now no one can have a monument. Which is just how it should be anyway. Anyone that believes that there must be a wall between church and state will view this as a win. They also owe the Satanic Temple a debt of gratitude. Another blow for religious conservatives in the state is the news that Oklahoma’s Ban on Gay Marriage Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules.

13, Unlucky For Some - we learn from the Guardian "An Afghan man is believed to have become the first atheist to be granted asylum in the UK on the basis of his views on religion. The 23-year-old, who has not been identified, feared that if forcibly returned to his homeland he would face persecution for having renounced his faith." He could in fact be judicially murdered under barbaric Sharia law for being an apostate from Islam. The Guardian report goes on to say "The status of atheism under the 1951 refugee convention is not consistently applied by countries around the world. Australia has accepted atheism as grounds for asylum for those fleeing religious persecution in Afghanistan. But the US courts have dismissed claims, ruling that atheists do not have defined beliefs or practices for purposes of American asylum regulations." It is obvious that the US should bring its asylum regulations into the 21st century.

The Freethinker magazine has a detailed report on the findings of an International Humanist and Ethical Union study under the headline "Atheists face death in 13 countries - all of them Islamic." The countries are Yemen, Sudan, UAE, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Mauretania, Malaysia, Iran, Afghanistan and that popular holiday destination, the Maldives. You can subscribe to The Freethinker magazine here and download a sample issue in PDF format here. The Freethinker web site is one of 80's regular ports of call and is highly recommended.

A fairly unremarkable but reasonable opinion piece by Zoe Williams on the ramifications of granting asylum to the Afghani atheist has attracted a large number (over a thousand and counting) of  comments. Many of these were triggered by the first commenter "bromleyboy" (there is apparently often a rush to be the first) who chose to misinterpret the article as buoying up what would seem to be something of a hobbyhorse for him, by saying, "Finally we are coming round to accept that atheism is, in effect, a religion." This atheism is a religion nonsense, often stated by religionists, attracted a large number of replies pointing out that atheism is no more a religion than say, being bald is a hair color or not collecting stamps is a hobby...
 

The Odour Of Sanctity

 

 

Humanism - here's a couple of items on the subject that are well worth checking out. First up is an entry from philosopher Stephen Law's blog called What is Humanism? He begins by defining what he means by the term, saying, "“Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad." He goes on to say "Humanists place particular emphasise on the role of science and reason. They believe that, if we want to know what is true, reason and science are invaluable tools – tools we should apply without limit. No beliefs should be placed beyond rational, critical scrutiny."

Furthermore "Humanists are atheists. That is not to say that they must be atheists in the positive sense, however. Humanists need not deny there is a god or gods. But they do not sign up to belief in a god or gods. Humanists tend to be similarly sceptical about the existence of other supernatural agents of the sort that many religions suppose exist, such as angels and demons." This entry in Law's blog has found a place in the short definitions section in the sidebar of Number 80's home page.

The second good thing is a new blog, Civitas Humana. The author, Francis Adams tells us, "I hope that in writing this blog others can learn from my experiences, teach me from theirs, and that together we can grow into a less primitive and more humanist, secular society." An aspiration with which pretty much all of the regular readers of Number 80 would sympathise.

80 heard of Civitas Humana from Matthew Ferguson's blog called Κέλσος (Celsus)"...which helps to defend secular humanism and naturalism against the attacks of religious apologetics. In a world of ubiquitous religious indoctrination and pressures to conform, many feel uncomfortable and threatened when they think about or choose to leave religion. Κέλσος helps to equip non-believers with arguments and defenses for when they are targeted by religious proselytizing, especially under the guise of “evidence.”"  In turn 80 learned about Κέλσος from Richard Carrier's excellent Freethought blog, both now permanently linked in the sidebar of 80's home page.

Christian Comedy Blues - Pat Condell is not impressed by the cringeworthy concept of Christian Comedy and explains why

 

Angels And Devils - it is more than a little dismaying that in this day and age some people still believe in angels and devils, but they do, and little can be done about it. It is somewhat more dismaying to be told by Roman Catholic priest and "angelologist", the evocatively named Father Renzo Lavatori, that belief in angels is on the increase - or as he puts it,"back in fashion". He does claim that his picture of these celestial beings differs from the normal image of humans with wings - he says they are "...a bit like sunlight that refracts on you through a crystal vase." One wonders if Lavatori would benefit from a visit to an optician. We also learn that this cleric, somewhat unsurprisingly, claims to be a demonologist.

Which revelation brings us to another recent report that the Church of Rome is also training up a new generation of priests to meet a growing demand for exorcisms. We are told that there has been “an unprecedented rise” in cases of “demonic possession”. This is far more worrying than the angel silliness. Even the new media-savvy Pope Francis was spotted doing a quick exorcism recently, although a Vatican spokesman played it down, claiming the Pontiff "did not intend" to do so. Perhaps he just couldn't control himself.

 

"Me, perform an exorcism? Certainly not! This is merely a Vulcan Mind Meld"

It is easy to laugh at this guff but real damage could be done to vulnerable people. The Archbishop of Madrid said the Spanish church was aware of many cases that “go beyond the competence of psychologists” and that they were occurring with“striking frequency”. What qualifications does he possess to permit him to pronounce upon whether a case goes beyond the competence of psychologists? Indulging a mentally ill person's delusion that they are possessed by a demon is foolhardy in the extreme and should be outlawed by the civil authorities. In Catholic countries like Spain and Italy though, this is unlikely to happen. Saying, as does Italian cleric Fr Vincenzio Taraborelli, that the need for exorcisms is "rare, very rare" and that "...cases where a mental illness is apparent, we try to send them to a doctor." is hardly reassuring. In the real world someone exhibiting the signs of demonic possession is obviously suffering from mental illness.

Theologian Monsignor Bruno Forte demonstrates the primitive, nonsensical mindset involved when he says “God has the power to beat his adversary, but Satan never ceases to work. There are people who experiment with subjection to the Devil, even a state of diabolical possession, for which the help of an exorcist can be necessary,” If God is omnipotent how come he is unable to banish the Devil forever? Perhaps the old boy has a soft spot for him, as didn't he create everything, including the Prince of Darkness? Forte goes on to say "The great majority do not have need of an exorcism, but medical treatment. But with those who are possessed we begin a course of conversion, help them to return to prayer, to the sacraments, to enable them to throw off the possession.”  Again, does a priest possess the competence to decide that an exorcist is required, rather than medical treatment? It seems unlikely.

This angels and devils bullshit shows that no matter how Pope Francis manipulates the press and the public into believing the Catholic church is changing for the better, in reality it is the same old business as usual. (Also see Pope's Charm Offensive and, in a lighter vein, Vatican launches Home Exorcism Kit) Meanwhile, the Church of England is far from free of Devil drivel. Former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali is all in a lather because the baptism service repartee no longer includes "Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?" in favor of a more modern formulation about rejecting evil.

Biblical Birth Control: The Surprisingly Contraception-Friendly Old Testament - When the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases about the conflict between new healthcare mandates and religion, it sparked a heated conversation on the religious rights of for-profit corporations. Read on

 

 

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