Backwards Glances Index 2006 part 3
A word of warning - owing to the Weekly Glance's attempted topicality some of the links below may be even more ephemeral than usual. (Tip - a search for cached versions of missing sites is often productive using either Google or The Internet Archive Way Back Machine.)
June 19th 2006 Bye Bye Bunting
June 22nd 2006 Ramblings
July 3rd 2006 How Democracy Works
July 7th 2006 Bad Company
July 13th 2006 Dangers of Homeopathy
July 22nd 2006 Gasoline on the Flames
July 28th 2006 The Malaysian Malaise
August 1st 2006 Man With Two Brains
August 3rd 2006 Lobbying for Armageddon
August 9th 2006 The Marching Morons
August 15th 2006 Rant for the Day
August 17th 2006 Language of Ignorance
August 19th 2006 Retrofit Fallacy
August 29th 2006 Merkel, Know Thy Place
September 1st 2006 The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right
September 10th 2006 In Defense of Ignorance
September 16th 2006 Here We Go Again
September 23rd 2006 The God Delusion
October 6th 2006 Musings (on the veil)
October 11th 2006 No Freedom At All
October 15th 2006 Sanctifying Work
October 17th 2006 Two Views (on the veil)
October 25th 2006 Nothing To Be Proud About
October 31st 2006 Gray Matter
November 1st 2006 What Makes You Think You're Something Special?
November 4th 2006 When Does a Sin Become an Indiscretion?
November 10th 2006 Interesting Times
November 12th 2006 Motes and Beams
November 15th 2006 Delivering Devout Dullards
November 20th 2006 Biblical Truth?
November 23rd 2006 Mass Murder?
November 28th 2006 Cats United
December 7th 2006 No War
December 13th 2006 In Denial
December 15th 2006 How Rude To Question Religious Faith
December 23rd 2006 Some Festive Cheer
December 24th 2006 Happy New Year
Bunting - Madeleine Bunting in her
piece in today's Guardian on leaving daily journalism claims that "For the
first time in a generation, religion is part of the national conversation;
people want to talk and read about it." She attributes this largely to the
recent prominence of Islam, but neglects to say it is not Islam per se
that has prompted the debate on religion she welcomes but violent Islam
- the Islam of al-Qaeda, not necessarily that of the folks down the road at
the local mosque, who have been done no favors by the fanatics. Another
unlooked for consequence of Islamist terrorism is that it has given followers
of other religions the feeling that they too can step outside the norms of law
and order when they feel their faith is "offended" or insulted. Recent
examples in the UK have included groups of Sikhs and Hindus, not necessarily
representative of their fellow religionists, who respectively caused
a play and an
art exhibition to be closed using the threat of
violence, and, in the latter case, actual vandalism. Such threats and
criminality do not, by any stretch of the imagination, constitute a
"conversation". The fact that in Blair's Britain such lawbreakers and vandals
rarely end up in court to answer for their criminal behavior is deeply
worrying and can only serve as an encouragement. Violent and anti-social acts
should invite prosecution, not "conversation".
Religion has indeed become part of the "national conversation" but only because faith groups think threats of violence and disorderly behavior will earn respect for their beliefs. In 80's view this has backfired badly - such behavior not only does not engender respect of any kind but also places tolerance under threat. Many religionists seem to conflate the two, but there are great differences. Supernatural beliefs are not, in 80's view, worthy of respect but can be tolerated. (80 was amazed to find that as well as the definition of "tolerate" one would expect, "putting up with something or somebody unpleasant" in several dictionaries consulted there is another, "Recognize and respect (rights and beliefs of others)". This is redefining the term so as to avoid offence - it is also nonsense.)
Before Bunting tells us why she welcomes this conversation she takes the time to repeat an old calumny against the "secular left". She tells us she has "lost count of the number of times at recent public debates where some good soul has got up to lambast religion for its barbaric history of violence and despotism. It's a cherished myth on the secular left, but its wilful historical ignorance increasingly irritates me." In the real world the evidence for this "myth" is overwhelming - but she takes the time to repeat another when she says "Much of the worst violence of that (20th) century was the product of atheist regimes." She neglects to mention the role of, say, the Roman Catholic church in appeasing and enabling the likes of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini, although the facts are not hard to find. She then makes another pre-emptive attack on Richard Dawkins (she did this before over his TV show Root of All Evil?) asserting that his yet-to-be-published book "The God Delusion" is likely to give the link between religion and violence "another lease of life" when published this autumn. (Surely every jihadist act of murder does that?) She would have been wiser to wait and read the book first - squealing before you are hit is childish and incurs the same risk as "crying wolf".
We can at least be thankful that Bunting does not want this "conversation" she is so keen on to end in theocracy, for she sensibly says "...the secularism of political life in this country has sunk deep and precious roots for good reasons and that should not be reversed." Phew, that's a relief. She also says there should be "...no exclusive claims for any tradition. Instead, what's needed is an ever-ready openness to understand the metaphors of other faiths." This, after her first point is somewhat of a let down and displays the very ignorance of religion she ascribes to the "secular left". No exclusive claims for any tradition? But that is the very basis of the monotheistic faiths - we have the one and only truth revealed to us alone by God. If religionists are given the freedom to infiltrate the welfare and education system in Britain, as the Blair government seems determined to do, they will only use this as an opportunity to proselytize those who come into their care. The conversion of others to the one true faith, whichever one true faith that may be, is in the operating manual, and it would be naive in the extreme to think that those whose job is to win souls for their particular version of God would not take advantage of a position of privilege to do just that. As for understanding the "metaphors of other faiths" - how does this help in dealing with the most dangerous bunch, the fundamentalists who believe that every obscure and contradictory word in their holy books is literally true? Try telling them that you are trying to understand their metaphor - assuming they understand the word, 80 can guarantee that they will not take kindly to it.
Bunting rounds out her piece by suggesting that religious insight may play a beneficial role in the direction of scientific research. Here again she is guilty of the very ignorance of which she accuses others. Where religion has in the past been able to influence science it has been in the direction of suppression or distortion of scientific findings in order to avoid conflict with established dogma. To once more take the Roman Catholic church as a convenient example, look at the treatment of Galileo and Bruno, let alone the current resistance to stem cell research and the outright lies regarding the efficacy of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/Aids. Yet Bunting wants more involvement of faith in science? She also shows that, like many others, she has fallen for a modern myth when she implies that Hinduism foretells the finding of quantum physics or that Buddhist meditation does the same for neuroscience. This is the sort of drivel promulgated by the movie What the Bleep Do We Know? and people like Deepak Chopra. She may find it personally comforting to believe that scientific research is merely confirming what religionists have known all along but it is nonsense. Any real advances in, say, evidence-based medicine, have occurred in the last century because of scientific research and often in spite of religious efforts at suppression - and it still goes on, just look at the current fuss in the USA over the cervical cancer vaccine.
In her final paragraph Bunting addresses the readers who will be glad to see the back of her and her "..habit of referencing the religious traditions that have inspired me..." and informs them that it is their " ...prejudice....rooted in a misreading of history and a western cultural hegemony that has formulated a self-serving fantasy of its own superiority. Our future as a species is too precarious to allow for such vanity." What a stunningly arrogant statement - if you don't agree with her ignorant maunderings the fault is down to your prejudice. One of the greatest threats to "our future as a species" is the widespread illogical and backward adherence to the very supernatural beliefs that she seems to find so admirable. Her final sentence is little better, "We need vastly more humility and more sustained curiosity about how previous ages and other cultures have understood the nature of the human person and our yearning for freedom." Such humility should surely rule out anyone claiming a dialogue with the creator of the cosmos, let alone knowing the will of such a creator and his/her/its rules concerning, say, birth control. As for "our yearning for freedom" this will never be satisfied by slavishly following the scriptural pronouncements of prophets and messiahs long dead who demonstrably had no inkling of the truly amazing (and often frightening) cosmos revealed by modern science. The future that humankind faces will be a lot bleaker if, instead of facing future challenges with logic and rationality, we retreat into the comforting (to some) but false picture of the world and its history vouchsafed by religion. Bunting leaves the Guardian for the position of director at the thinktank Demos. That organization's website lists its six areas of focus "public services; science and technology; cities and public space; people and communities; arts and culture; and global security." It seems religion does not merit a section of its own but 80 is sure that Bunting will do her best to rectify this appalling oversight. (also see Cry Baby Bunting and Baby Bunting's Back)
- a recent
Pew Global Attitudes Research has revealed a strange situation in the UK.
While 63% of all Britons have a favorable view of Muslims, the Muslims (at
least those who were questioned) do not reciprocate. The poll found that
British Muslims have far more negative views of westerners and western culture
than their European counterparts. They are also more prone to anti-semitism,
only 32% of British Muslims viewed Jews favorably, as opposed to French
Muslims who clocked up 71%. Whether this can be explained by British Muslims
perhaps feeling able to express themselves more openly than their European
co-religionists is not examined - Pew seem to take the answers given at face
value. Assuming the survey is accurate, one wonders why so many of these
people bother to stay in the UK when they disapprove so strongly of the
majority of its people and culture. One could be cynical and point to the free
healthcare and social services - something hard to find or nonexistent in the
countries that immigrants left behind but it does not explain the attitudes of
those actually born in the country. A major contributory factor here is likely
to be Britain's part in Bush's Iraq war. Regarding those who dislike Britain
so much, an old saying comes to mind, "If you know of a better hole - go to
One such possible hole is the USA, where there is a row going on about whether women should be partitioned from men when worshipping in a mosque. One group, the Islamic Society of San Francisco, which deems such segregation more of a cultural prohibition than a religious one, decided women should not be corralled in this way and removed the barrier at San Francisco's largest downtown mosque. The move has split worshippers along the lines of those who welcome such a progressive move and those, both men and women, who want the old ways to continue. The latter group's protests reveal why the women have to be segregated, not because of anything they themselves have done, but because of the inability of men to concentrate on talking to their all-powerful god when women are around. One Yemeni cab driver quoted in the New York Times (reg rqd) said "I don't want to be distracted by ladies in the back when I am praying". Such a remark says little for this man's powers of concentration, even when at prayer. One wonders what his driving must be like with all those hussies parading up and down the street, distracting him. His sexist attitude and inability to control his libidinous thoughts has a long history. The NYT article tells us "Some early adherents of Islam showed up late for prayers so they could stay in the back and ogle the women's behinds, even penning bawdy odes to the sight..." So, yet again, women are penalized for being unwitting objects of male lust. But then why bother to re-examine your own attitudes and clean up the inside of your head when it is easier just to blame the women and wall them off? Such a mindset likely lies behind a lot of the disapproval expressed by the British Muslims that Pew surveyed. While women in the UK have yet to achieve full equality with men, especially in terms of pay, they are no doubt already considered far too uppity for some. Which all raises again the question of just how compatible Islam can be with sexual equality and secular democracy.
One of the problems with fundamentalist Islam, as well as its Christian counterpart, is a very basic one, the inability (or unwillingness) to change with the times, to reflect what we have learned since these faiths were founded. This can be seen even in the thinking of those that many would class as moderates. In a Washington Post piece on the morality of Iran possessing nuclear weapons there is a telling quote from an Iranian cleric, Mohsen Kadivar, who is not in favor of the bomb. "In the time of the prophet, we didn't have nuclear bombs, so there's not a verse about it in the Koran." There are also no verses on a host of other topics - topics on which the prophet said nothing because he knew nothing. Let's face it, the prophet or any other ancient holy men were producing laws and beliefs based on the knowledge of their time, in Mohammed's case circa 600 CE - knowledge now shown in many cases to be inaccurate, erroneous or most often, absent.* This is another basis for a so-called clash of cultures, whether it is between strict Muslims or devout Christians and modern secular society. We live in times that are increasingly perilous and which present us with such huge problems as global climate change and mass epidemics. To take our knowledge of the world from ancient scriptures written by men who could only be the products of their times and culture is a recipe for disaster. Yet, in the UK for example, the Blair government is pushing for more sectarian schools, schools which can only exacerbate the situation. The country does not need Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Sikh schools - it needs mixed schooling - mixed sex and mixed religion in order to start children off learning that we are all human beings first and foremost and that the religious (or racial) labeling of children (and adults) is divisive and harmful. The world, because of modern travel and communications, has shrunk so much that we can no longer rely upon geographical separation to keep different faiths and ideologies apart. A recent outrageous example of this was the whipped-up hysteria in many countries over cartoons of Mohammed - the outrage seemed more over the fact that it was non-Muslims who drew them rather than any real offence - depictions of the prophet in Islam are far from rare - a fact that those who fomented the riots and protests coveniently forgot.
The latest instance of trying to censor or block offensive images is a Pakistani attempt to block access to web sites that carry caricatures of the prophet Muhammed. (This even extends to 80's favorite strip, Jesus and Mo.) Pakistan's move, accompanied by the ridiculous statement that such depictions are "intellectual terrorism", will fail. (80 is willing to bet such intellectual terrorism has killed far fewer people than the prevalent jihadist kind.) The internet was designed to be an unbreakable communications network that if damaged or blocked can re-route - and that is exactly what will happen, thanks to technology and a large measure of human ingenuity. More outrageous is that the attorney-general has been asked to "explore legal avenues for implementing a global ban on these sites." The Pakistani government has yet to realize that in many ways we are now in a global village and if you don't like what your neighbors find acceptable then tough, don't look, and, above all, don't start start dictating to others who do not share your faith what they may or may not see. Any faith that feels so threatened by a few pictures reveals just how shaky it really is. Once a genie is out of a bottle it is well nigh impossible to put it back.
Footnote - to the above. As you may recall, the whole Mohammed cartoon row came about because a Danish author, Kåre Bluitgen, was struggling to find anyone willing to illustrate a children's book of the prophet's life. Right-wing newspaper Jyllands-Posten stepped in with drawings solicited from 12 artists - with results that are too well-known to repeat. But what happened to the book? It was eventually illustrated and published but has now run into more trouble - school libraries are reluctant to stock it. Not, one might imagine, because of the cartoons row but, in at least one instance, for another and more interesting reason. One school librarian put it this way "It is not because of the Mohammed controversy, or that we want to exercise censorship, but it is a very violent book, and if it is read without conversation with an adult, it will give a wrong impression of Islam, not the least the Muslims’ view on other religions..." In other words because it is perhaps too accurate. (Thanks to the Gates of Vienna blog for this story, for an alternative take see here. Also do take a look at the Skeptic's Annotated Quran)
* This point is made far more clearly by Paul Kurtz in his piece Why I Am a Skeptic about Religious Claims, "The Bible, Qur'an, and other classical documents are full of contradictions and factual errors. They were written by human beings in ancient civilizations, expressing the scientific and moral speculations of their day. They do not convey the eternal word of God, but rather the yearnings of ancient tribes based on oral legends and received doctrines; as such, they are hardly relevant to all cultures and times. The Old and New Testaments are not accurate accounts of historical events. The reliability of the Old Testament is highly questionable in the events and personages it depicts; Moses, Abraham, Joseph, etc. are largely uncorroborated by historical evidence. As for the New Testament, scholarship has shown that none of its authors knew Jesus directly. The four Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses but are products of oral tradition and hearsay. There is but flimsy and contradictory evidence for the virgin birth, the healings of Jesus, and the Resurrection. Similarly, contrary to Muslim claims that that religion's scriptures passed virtually unmediated from Allah, there have in fact been several versions of the Qur'an; it is no less a product of oral traditions than the Bible. Likewise, the provenance of the Hadith, allegedly passed down by Muhammad's companions, has not been independently confirmed by reliable" Do take a moment or two to read Kurtz's whole essay - it would be time well-spent. (thanks to the excellent Butterflies and Wheels for bringing this essay to 80's attention)
Good Riddance - 80 must apologize for the late mention of some good news. According to The Daily Record the Britain will no longer be a refuge, as it has for these past many months, for alleged baby-trafficker and self-styled archbishop Gilbert Deya. He "has been arrested and is facing the boot from Scotland" where he has been skulking. It seems he was spotted in Edinburgh Sheriff Court last week while he, oh the irony, was "supporting a couple involved in a civil paternity case". He is currently in Dungavel Immigration Centre in Lanarkshire awaiting extradition. Now perhaps the distraught parents in Kenya whose children are missing will be able to find some answers. For more, see What, Still Here?
Poacher Turned Gamekeeper? - sadly not. Iran's delegate to the new U.N. Human Rights Council has not been met with universal approval. It seems that prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi, described as "hardline" and who has been responsible for "... the closure of dozens of newspapers in the last few years, often without valid legal excuse or observance of Iranian laws governing the press." believes his job is to "to help prevent the West and other world powers from using the issue of human rights to attack his government. " This is particularly rich coming from a man who was involved in the botched cover-up, at the very least, of the murder while in Iranian custody of Iranian Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi. Human Rights Watch has made its views plain saying that Saeed Mortazavi is implicated in "in illegally detaining and torturing numerous former prisoners." To send such a delegate demonstrates that the current Iranian government is incapable of understanding the concept of human rights, let alone defending them. It is all very well for Mortazavi to cite such disgusting instances as the Abu Ghraib torture or illegal detention in Guantanamo Bay but his country sanctions the public judicial murder of homosexuals as a matter of course and sentences an 18 year-old girl to death for defending herself against rape. The idea that any country that employs the barbaric system of sharia law should be represented on any body dealing with human rights is obscene. Nobel Peace laureate and attorney Shirin Ebadi puts it thus, "Maybe we should regard people like Mr. Mortazavi as representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran's attitude toward human rights." Payam Akhavan, a former UN war crimes prosecutor was rather more blunt in his estimation of Mortazavi and others "I think that we have to treat these people not as dignitaries but as accused criminals." At one stroke the brand new UN Human Rights Council is reduced to the level of a joke.
How Democracy Works - or at least how President George W Bush sees it "The president breaks a law. A court rules that the president broke the law. Our Congress then responds swiftly by vowing to introduce a bill that would make the president's actions retroactively legal, thereby showing that his astute reading of the Constitution was simply ahead of its time. Then the president signs the bill into law, which he has the option to disregard according to his own signing edict -- which he has already done at least 750 times." This is from Bush's Sick Vision of 'Democracy by Larisa Alexandrovna, posted on AlterNet. On this day, July 4th, it is interesting to reflect on what the nation's founders would make of this new King George. Something tells 80 that they would be less than impressed. Also on Alternet is Patriotism and the Fourth of July by Howard Zinn in which he looks at that other historic document, the Declaration of Independence, which he declares "..gives us the true meaning of a patriot, someone who supports a country's ideals, not necessarily its government." He also reminds us that the Declaration says "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it." And as for George.... (also see this interview with David L. Holmes, author of 'The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, in which Holmes "...identifies the first five presidents and Benjamin Franklin as Deists who practiced a faith that differed from orthodox Christianity. Fascinating stuff and good ammunition to use on the "this nation was founded as a Christian nation" crowd. Did you know that rationalist Thomas Jefferson removed all mention of miracles from his bible? Holmes tells us, "I've seen the original Jefferson Bible, and it's a really neat cutting job! It's really something to see.")
Thou Shalt Not... - the religious right in the US are always banging on about the biblical Ten Commandments, but how closely does their man the Oval Office adhere to these Iron Age tribal rules? (We won't get into just which version of the Ten Commandments is the "real one") This piece by Brooke Allen and Patrick Doyle in The Nation looks at Bush's record on following the Mosaic ordinances and finds that, unsurprisingly, he does not do very well.... (for an analysis of the Ten Commandments and their implications by Austin Cline, see here.)
Modern Myths - spaceflight has attracted more than its share of myths and one man seems determined to dispel them. From hideously expensive space pens to astronomically high cost estimates for a human Mars mission to the moon landings "hoax" Dwayne A Day is there to shed light and, more often than not, indulge in some well-researched debunking. Most of Day's articles that 80 has read come courtesy of a free (and excellent) newsletter, The Space Review, but his stuff can also be found in Spaceflight, the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society (BIS). His latest piece in The Space Review looks at the myth surrounding the "other" US launch site at Vandenburg on the California coast. The largest launch facility there, Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6), is, according to local folklore, cursed by the Chumash Indians. Day digs to try and find the truth, if any, behind the story. (Also see his piece on the mysterious Soviet Merkur "manned spacecraft" on display in the Smithsonian - it is not what it seems.)
Don't Miss Randi - the latest podcast from Point of Inquiry with James Randi back on form after his recent illness. Also check out the other podcasts which feature among others, Joe Nickell on Psychic Detectives, Jerry Coyne on The Case Against Intelligent Design and Tom Flynn on The Rise of the Non-Religious. Also don't forget the latest issue of Randi's weekly commentary Swift. His correspondence with one Robert Harper, PhD regarding the $1 Million Dollar Challenge shows us three things. Firstly, Randi's waspish humor is gratifyingly intact, secondly that possession of a PhD is no guarantee that the holder is not a twit, and thirdly that dealing with such people can be a very irritating experience. Happily for us, the readers, it is also pretty damn funny. One wonders whether Harper is acquainted with Victor Zammit - they seem to have much in common. (As a bonus here is a clip of Randi on the subject of the "Cottingley Fairies" from his 1991 Granada TV series James Randi: Psychic Investigator.)
As Bad as Blair - anyone harboring hopes that Tory leader David Cameron would have a more intelligent view of the role of "faith" in public life, with unrepresentative and bigoted religious leaders no longer being consulted over government policy will have such hopes dashed when they read this quote from the boy wonder. "I’m a member of the Church of England. I believe that faith-based communities and faith-based schools have an incalculable amount to contribute to the well-being of our society and to enhancing the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society". (Quote courtesy of the National Secular Society (NSS) Newsline. If you find statements such as Cameron's deeply worrying why not join the NSS and make your voice heard?)
FOIFITS - no, not forfeits, but an acronym for Followers of Invisible Friends In The Sky. Yes, Tony Youens, the closet neologist who gave us cloob, has been at it again. Check out his latest Commentary on Jerry Springer: The Opera and his encounter with the inevitable fundagelical protesters outside the theater. Great stuff. Tony has also sent 80 notice of a statement (download as a PDF/Acrobat document here) by the "national science academies of 67 countries.." protesting the teaching of creationism in schools (ah, creationism, now there is a cloob if ever there was one). This report from the Scotsman gives more details, although, in the nowadays obligatory quest for journalistic balance, religious ignoramus and messiah wannabe Stephen Green of Christian Voice is asked to comment. He starts off by saying "I am encouraged that these guys feel rattled enough to issue this statement...." and goes on to demonstrate his complete lack of understanding of the situation - he actually seems to think that the scientists have been "rattled" by the claims of creationism/intelligent design. No, Jesus' little sunbeam, they are rattled because children are being fed fables as fact, scripture instead of science, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with the many environmental and other problems facing their generation. (for more on Jerry Springer: The Opera see Polly Toynbee's This is your last chance to offend the holy zealots -The story of Jerry Springer the Opera reveals a cowardly shift that lets religious intimidation triumph)
The Scotsman, mindful of the need to balance even the balance (anyone one left out will claim their faith is insulted, no doubt) also asks the opinion of an Islamic creationist group, Al Nasr. Their spokesman's answer equals Green's for imbecility "Evolution is a theory. There are many scientific claims in the Koran - about geography and embryology for example - that are clearly correct and science cannot disprove them. So one has to believe [the Koran] has more weight when it comes to the origins of life than evolutionary theory." Wrong, wrong, wrong - there are no scientific claims in the Koran but there are plenty of 7th century misconceptions. See this page from the Skeptic's Annotated Quran (Koran). To take the first subject the Al Nasr spokesman mentions, geography. According to the Quran "The sun rises and sets at particular places on a flat earth. At the westernmost point on earth, the sun sets in a muddy spring" also "The earth is fixed and does not move." Cutting edge stuff, this. As for embryology, you can do no better than look at this article by Syed Kamran Mirza which again reveals a level of knowledge that obtained in the early medieval period. Balance in reporting is all very admirable but balance implies two equal weights. Pitting modern scientific knowledge against the superstitions and ignorance enshrined in ancient scriptures is like trying to balance a stone with a feather - and equally pointless. Admittedly the effect can be to reveal the poverty of the religionist's arguments but it can also give them the "oxygen of publicity" something they surely do not merit. No, 80 is not saying these people should be censored - just that their views are only entitled to the same consideration and analysis extended to fairy tales and mythology. (also see Royal Society Says Enough).
Bad Company - here is an interesting item regarding the chum of the beleaguered British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, Philip Anschutz. It seems that when this billionaire is not planning a super casino for London's Millennium Dome he is funding creationists such as the Discovery Institute and supporting the campaign against gay marriage. He was also, according to the Independent, involved in a (failed) ballot initiative to "overturn state laws that protected gay rights." It seems strange that a man who shows such signs of a right-wing fundamentalist Christian outlook is in the gambling business - but we must also be aware he is a man described by Forbes magazine as the "greediest executive". While the bible does not explicitly condemn gambling (at least according to this page) there is no denying the malign effect it can have upon on people's lives. A silly piece of trivia perhaps, but 80 was amused to note the name of Anschutz's ranch where he entertained Prescott. Eagle's Nest - now who else had a spread with that name? Prescott claimed that his stay at the ranch was partly prompted by both men's interest in the great anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. Perhaps Anschutz is unaware that Wilberforce famously renounced gambling - or does he cherry pick the parts of Wilberforce's life story that suit him, much as folk do with the bible? One thing is for sure - Anschutz's cultivation of Prescott was a waste of time - a man hanging onto his position by his fingernails is really in no position to do any favors for anyone.
Quote - “Why should a British citizen who happens to be Muslim have to rely on clerics and other leaders of the religious community to communicate with the Prime Minister?” Amartya Sen, Nobel prize-winning economist, in his new book Identity and Violence. (brought to 80's attention by the National Secular Society's free weekly email newsletter Newsline. (see a Breath of Sanity)
Cui Bono? - a familiar name appeared in this piece from the Guardian about a father, Rob MacDonald, who has won the legal right to challenge the replacement of his son's school, Tamworth Manor, and another school, Mitcham Vale, both in Merton, London by one of Blair's academies. The proposed sponsor for this academy, Lord Harris of Peckham, is mentioned on the web site of Christian Voice (CV), a group of bigots who want everyone's lives ruled by their superstitious beliefs. CV has won attention and notoriety for its opposition to Jerry Springer: The Opera (JS:TO) and for such brave deeds as the threatening of a cancer charity if it accepted a donation from a benefit performance of JS:TO. (see "Christians" Cut Cancer Cash). So, one may well ask, what is Lord Harris's name doing on their site? It seems that Harris is considered by CV to be one of a "... list of peers normally sympathetic on ‘Christian Issues’ ". Now obviously Harris has no control over the placing of his name on the site - 80 mentions George Bush frequently, for example - but one cannot help but think that anyone considered sympathetic by a group like CV should be kept well away from any involvement in children's education. Harris is one of several sponsors whose motives should be examined very closely indeed - think Vardy. Even if Harris wins the sponsorship, and if the record so far of payments by other successful sponsors is anything to go by, there is no guarantee he would actually cough up. According to this Guardian piece "Most of the sponsors who agreed to fund the prime minister's flagship academy programme have not paid the £2m they pledged..." the result being that "In all, 23 of the 27 academies opened so far are still waiting to receive what was pledged." This makes a complete mockery of any economic argument in favor of these institutions. Well done, Blair and chums, you have allowed the school curriculum to become polluted with supernaturalism and so far it is the taxpayer footing the bill for this outrage. (also see Campaign Against Academies in Merton and No To Academies)
Moronic Makeover - "This statue proves that Jesus Christ is Lord over America, he is Lord over Tennessee, he is Lord over Memphis." Thus spake the historically challenged homophobe, Apostle Alton R. Williams, (yep, apostle!) on the unveiling of a christianized version of the USA's most recognizable landmark, the Statue of Liberty. The poor Lady now sports a cross instead of a torch, carries the Ten Commandments instead of a tablet engaved with the date of the Declaration of Independence, and has the (mistranslated) name Jehovah engraved on her crown. The statue, all of 72 feet high (including the "tomb of Christ" upon which she somewhat sacrilegiously plants her sandalled feet) cost the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church a princely $260,000. Williams, when asked if the money could have been better spent replied, "I personally feel that the answer for the poor is Jesus Christ." 80 doubts whether many of the poor would agree. The "Apostle" has written that a teardrop at the corner of the Lady's eye "...is God's response to what he calls the nation's ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools and the country's "promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism and humanism." His church has, in the past, ".. bought full-page advertisements in The Commercial Appeal, the Memphis daily, condemning homosexuality" and, in another of his writings, Williams said "... Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans's embrace of sin." Perhaps the Lady is crying at being turned into such a tawdry piece of Christian propaganda by this ignorant bigot. (Quotes are from the New York Times which, requires free registration.)
Thought for the Day - give your left and right hemispheres a good workout. (warning - broadband required)
Dangers of Homeopathy - one timeworn excuse made for this quack treatment is that, given how much the ingredients are diluted, it is at least harmless. After all plain water can't hurt you, can it? Yes it bloody well can, taken in lieu of, say, an anti-malarial drug. Blindingly obvious? Not if you don't realize that there is no evidence that homeopathy works in any way whatsoever (apart from a possible placebo effect). A BBC Newsnight investigation found that people, wary of possible side effects from modern (ie effective) drugs, are travelling to risky areas having only taken a homeopathic remedy. Worse, the undercover survey conducted by Sense About Science found that all ten homeopaths visted by intern Alice Tuff advised her to use homeopathic products instead of being referred to a GP or conventional travel clinics where effective medicines are available. "Alice, who recorded the discussions, said she would be travelling through several African countries, which included places where the World Health Organisation has reported an increase in P. falciparum, the most dangerous species of malaria." These irresponsible quacktitioners are putting the lives of the ill-informed and gullible at risk and should be prosecuted for doing so. (see also Faith-Based Medicine and Homeowatch and this excellent piece from The Times by Jamie Whyte entitled Homoeopathy: voodoo on the NHS )
Deya Update - more news for those who, like 80, have been following the interminable saga of Gilbert Deya and the miracle babies. Deya has vowed to fight his deportation to Kenya to answer allegations of baby-trafficking. 10 days of detention have done little to temper his bluster "The Home Office had no reason to detain me and it has no reason to deport me. I am determined to remain in the UK." Let's hope the UK is equally determined for him to answer to the Kenyan authorities. Deya's nonsensical talk of miraculous pregnancies should not be entertained for a moment - those babies came from somewhere other than Deya's God and all the evidence indicates that somewhere was a backstreet clinic in Nairobi. His wife and alleged confederates are in the hands of the Kenyan authorities and no time should be wasted in packing him off to join them.
Holy Toast - Can't get the Virgin Mary to appear on your toast? Don't despair, technology has the answer! Now, if only they could make her weep melted butter.........
Scheer Disbelief - "At least the other [presidents] knew a lot about the world, had experience, had brains about this, cared. This guy had the platinum American Express card and didn’t even want to see Paris or London." Veteran reporter and now editor of Truthdig, Robert Scheer, describing how "after he had spent decades covering U.S. presidents, (George W) Bush threw him for a loop". Taken from an interview on Democracy Now, available as streaming video, mp3 audio file or transcript. Recommended.
Quote - "The right to question religion and to freely express one’s views on religious matters is a human right. Human beings have human rights, religions do not. This Council has a solemn duty to protect people -- not ideas, religions, customs, beliefs or traditional practices, especially when they are used as justification for the abuse of human rights. It is the believer, not the belief, that must be protected." Roy Brown, head of the International Humanist and Ethical Union delegation, in a statement responding to the call from some delegates to the new United Nations Human Rights Council for limits to freedom of speech with regard to religion. Why does the fact that such a request came from countries such as Bangladesh, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates come as no surprise? (Brought to 80's attention by Humanist Network News, a free weekly newsletter and podcast - subscribe here)
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night - for those of us who enjoy excruciating, syntax-mangling, meandering and verbose introductory paragraphs, and even for those who don't, although they are unlikely to be reading 80's maunderings, despite the fact that they might actually enjoy them or at least gain a different perspective on the world, even though they arrived on this site as the result of a poorly-couched search engine inquiry as many confused individuals do, here are the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. As a taster here is the runner-up, Stuart Vasepuru's fine contribution to world literature, "I know what you're thinking, punk," hissed Wordy Harry to his new editor, "you're thinking, 'Did he use six superfluous adjectives or only five?' - and to tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement; but being as this is English, the most powerful language in the world, whose subtle nuances will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel loquacious?' - well do you, punk?" Great stuff.
Quote - "I am sure I speak for millions when I say that it is high time that the fuzz moved in on the Blairite high command, and they might as well start with his tennis partner. As far as I am concerned, the whole lot of them deserve to have their collars felt. If the cops decide to launch dawn raids on all the other arch-toadies of the regime, they will find many of us prepared to hold their coats." Boris Johnson, faux-buffoon, Conservative MP, journalist and star of Boriswatch and the Adventures of Bonking Boris commenting in the Daily Telegraph on the arrest and subsequent questioning of Lord Cashpoint, friend, confidant and tennis partner of Tony Blair. (Also see cartoonist Steve Bell's take on the "cash for honours" inquiry.)
A Room Somewhere on the Afghan/Pakistani Border - imagine, if you will, that you have succeeded where the USA has failed (and is now apparently no longer even trying). You have found bin Laden and his cohorts and can eavesdrop on a planning session for further attacks on the infidel Crusaders. But where, they ask themselves, to strike with maximum effect and show the world that al Qaeda is still capable of destroying the oppressors of Islam? An explosion and the resulting deaths and injuries are not enough - something iconic is needed, an image to stay in the mind, like that of the collapsing towers of 9/11. Suddenly inspiration strikes one of the bearded assembly. "I know, let's destroy Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo, in Alabama, that will make the world tremble." All heads in the room swivel toward the speaker, who now seems a little less sure of himself beneath their steely gaze. He begins to sweat and fervently wishes he had remained silent. Finally bin Laden speaks, "Fool, you know nothing. Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo, is listed by their Homeland Security department as a critical potential target." Suddenly there is a clamor of voices in the small room as the others push their own suggestions. "We could destroy Sweetwater flea market in Tennessee", "How about Amish Country Popcorn in Indiana?" "There's always the kangaroo conservation center". The leader climbs somewhat unsteadily to his feet, leans forward (almost disconnecting his dialysis machine in the process) and looks around desparingly at his companions, "No, no, no. This is hopeless - those accursed, cunning Americans have all these targets too well covered. I am afraid we shall have to admit defeat - we will never beat a nation that predicts our every move." (also see here)
Butterflies and Wheels - 80 was minded to write about an article by Karen Armstrong in the Guardian on Saturday but procrastinated. Now Ophelia Benson of Butterflies and Wheels has put the very point that 80 had in mind - and likely made a better job of it too. You can subscribe for a free weekly update from Butterfies and Wheels here - it is highly recommended. (And now she's added more)
Quote - "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution." Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in a letter dated May 18th to President Bush voicing his concerns that "..the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters." See the New York Times (reg rqd), which broke the story, and also the Washington Post.
Gasoline on the Flames - "The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday. The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said." (New York Times reg rqd) Fresh from vetoing the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act" in order to "protect" surplus embryonic stem cells in fertility clinics from research, calling it "murder", the imbecile Bush makes damn' sure the arms flow to Israel is not interrupted. This, of course takes priority over such wimpish things as ceasefires. So let's get this straight, Bush has, by his veto, made sure the unused embryos from fertility clinics go into the trash instead of being used for medical research which could potentially benefit millions. He has also expedited delivery of munitions to tear apart the bodies of helpless Lebanese civilians caught between the terrorist Hezbollah and Israel's totally disproportionate response to the former's kidnappings and rocket strikes. Bush's veto and his blind and wreckless support of Israel may well have the same cause - Christian fundamentalism. Bush's need to pander to his religious friends is certainly behind the nonsensical veto. It is worth also remembering these same fundamentalist nutjobs believe Israel has to be protected at all costs because God gave it to the Jews and they have to be in possession of "Greater Israel" before we can all enjoy Armageddon. No one should really be surprised by the President's actions - if we hadn't already had enough evidence that this man is an ignorant dolt we only need to read the transcript of his conversation with his poodle Blair and others and see his offensive groping of Angela Merkel. (Mark Morford has something to say about the latter in Bush Gropes, Planet Cringes and here are Andrew Rawnsley's thoughts on the former, It wasn't the 'Yo' that was humiliating, it was the 'No') Update - here is proof Blair is not Bush's poodle - not exclusively anyway.
Potato Pair's Pogrom - hot on the heels of the news that the Potato Pair are now running Poland comes a move to hound those "...who collaborated with the communist secret services from public life." According to this BBC news report the move could "...lead to the dismissal of hundreds of thousands of people working in business, the media and government." No one will be safe from the new law. Even the "...well-respected former finance minister, Zyta Gilowska, was recently sacked after she was accused of informing - claims she strongly denies." Actually it is not true that no one will be safe - the priesthood will be exempt, which is odd, to say the least, considering that "...an estimated one in ten Polish priests collaborated with the communist regime" (including this guy). For the reason why, one needs to look no further than the fundamentalist, hardline Roman Catholicism of both the President, Lech Kaczynski (aka Spud 1) and his twin brother Jaroslav (Spud 2) who recently became the Prime Minister. They already countenance an anti-semitic Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja (described here as blurring the lines between church and state) and were no doubt behind the absurd, fawning restrictions enforced during the recent visit of Pope Ratzinger. Poor Poland, lurching from a Soviet fiefdom to a Vatican one. It seems that this Potato Pair are perfect papal pawns.
Mystery Map - here's a strange one. Users of Google Earth, "a 3D interface to the planet" have spotted an area in China, near the village of Huangyangtan that appears to be a large scale model (900x700m) of a location on the Sino-Indian border. But what on earth is it for? One suggestion is that it is used to train helicopter pilots in the event of a border dispute but surely a decent flight simulator would be a much cheaper (and far less arduous) option? For more pictures and some frankly bizarre explanations take a look here scroll down. Also see the comments posted by the Google Earth Community.
On This Day - in 1925 in a Tennessee courtroom the "Scopes Monkey Trial" ended with a guilty verdict and a fine of $100 for John Scopes. His crime? Teaching evolution. At least 81 years later we have put all such silliness behind us....oh, wait. See this original report from the New York Times (reg rqd) and also, for a very detailed look at the trial go here - also be sure to read this report of the affair by H L Mencken, written with his characteristic flair " The Scopes trial, from the start, has been carried on in a manner exactly fitted to the anti- evolution law and the simian imbecility under it. There hasn't been the slightest pretense to decorum. The rustic judge, a candidate for re-election, has postured the yokels like a clown in a ten-cent side show, and almost every word he has uttered has been an undisguised appeal to their prejudices and superstitions. The chief prosecuting attorney, beginning like a competent lawyer and a man of self-respect, ended like a convert at a Billy Sunday revival. It fell to him, finally, to make a clear and astounding statement of theory of justice prevailing under fundamentalism. What he said, in brief, was that a man accused of infidelity had no rights whatever under Tennessee law..."
Quote - "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning." Bill Gates, from a piece in Time magazine and brought to 80's attention by the free weekly Humanist Network News in an article on atheists and philanthropy.
- as if to compensate somehow for the disaster that is
George W Bush the Lone Star state has a most original runner in the race
for governor - Kinky Friedman. This man is something of an institution and
his participation, dressed in his trademark all black cowboy duds and with
a one-liner for any situation, has shaken up what looked to be a dull
campaign. According to the
Washington Post this comic country singer, mystery novelist and Texas
humorist has managed to accrue the 137,154 certified signatures necessary
to get on the ballot, easily exceeding the minimum of 45,540, and
confounding those who said he wouldn't make it.
The idea of Kinky Friedman as governor of Texas is no more absurd than Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California - and he is certainly more amusing. He describes himself as a "..compassionate redneck" and always has a quip for his many supporters. When one man calls out "I'm voting for you!" he fires back "May the God of your choice bless you." He has big plans for the state announcing "We can make Texas number one in renewable fuels -- which is a helluva lot better than being number one in executions, toll roads, property taxes and dropouts!" There are two Republicans in the race, including the incumbent governor and also a Democrat candidate, who, the Post tells us, is known as "What's-his-name, the Democrat." Even if he doesn't win the contest Friedman has certainly injected some humor into the world of politics and his participation may well make an impression on the campaigns of his rivals.
You can't help liking the guy whose 1970's band, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, performed such anti-bigot anthems as "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore," and a "parody of Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee" called "Asshole From El Paso," which suggested that men from that Texas city were a little too fond of sheep. His style has not changed, he announced recently that he prefers campaigning among Hispanics because "their food is better ". His stance on some hot button issues will likely confuse the hell out of the voters - he supports school prayer and gay marriage. Of the latter he says "They have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us." He enjoys quoting a pig farmer who told him "You ain't worth a damn, but you're better than what we got." Come on, Texas, it is time to atone for Dubya. Kinky's campaign site is here. Even if his bid fails you can still expect some fireworks. He has said "If I lose this race I will retire in a petulant snit, I'm not going to go out gracefully, I promise you." Also see this New Yorker piece by Dan Halpern on Friedman's candidacy, including such gems as his remark about Baptists - they don't keep them underwater long enough.....
Secret Weapon - one thing the po-faced religious fundamentalists cannot deal with is humor. A lovely illustration of this was brought to 80's attention by Mediawatchwatch (Watching Pointing Laughing - a wonderful logo) in a piece on the mocking of űber bigots Christian Voice at EuroPride - check out the Flickr link.
The Malaysian Malaise - would seem to be over-regulation, by busybodies of all kinds. The Fatwa Council recently banned the use of botox for wrinkly Muslims and now the National Registration Department "after consulting with various religious bodies" has banned the use of certain types of names. These are an unlikely bunch of monikers including Hitler, smelly dog, 007, hunchback and snake. Perhaps the bureaucrats are doing some kids a favor after all. But, this BBC news page tells us the "..ban extends further. Parents will not be able to call their babies after animals, insects, fruit, vegetables or colours. Numbers are also not allowed, so little James Bonds cannot flaunt their 007 status on their ID cards. Other restrictions stop parents giving children royal or honorary titles as names or calling their little ones after Japanese cars." So any proud parents who wanted to call their newborn little darling Prince Cabbage Vermillion Toyota Stagbeetle III will be sadly disappointed.........(Also see Which Way to Mecca? featuring the Malaysian National Space Agency and the difficulty of facing Mecca to pray five times a day when orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes. Mmm tricky...)
Quote - "America wasn’t founded as a theocracy, America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state." Reverend Gregory A. Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in St Paul, Minn. in a piece in the New York Times (reg rqd) which tells how Boyd has unhitched his church from the Republican party bandwagon. Also featured is Pastor Brian D. McLaren of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., who told the NYT "More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right. You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ " Both men are a part of what the article calls the "emerging church" which is "at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment." This article is well worth reading to learn that not all evangelical Christians in the US can be counted as automatic Republican voters. But far too many can - for an example see this op-ed by Dave Zirin, You Can Keep the Faith.
Not Sorry Enough - Mel Gibson, devout Catholic, actor and Oscar winner has apologized for being caught driving under the influence of alcohol and for his subsequent behavior, including alleged anti-semitic remarks. 80 is now waiting for him to apologize for The Passion of the Christ, where he was caught directing under the influence of bigotry. (also see this post from Alternet, Mel Gibson, Jew hater)
The Looneys of Lubbock - UPI has an interesting piece in its "Quirks" section about the citizens of Lubbock, Texas. These good folk are being exhorted by public officials to pray to the great Meterologist in the Sky to send them rain. So far this year the area has received only half the usual amount, therefore these 21st century Americans are going to implore the ancient Israelite storm god to precipitate, in his mercy. They should be careful what they ask for, because this particular storm god is a nasty, capricious deity and he may well send a deluge - he has been known to do so in the past. In fact much more interesting than the actual report of the superstitious folk of Lubbock are the comments posted on the page. Lowell Skelton writes "How disturbing. Is this really the 21st Century? I'm just stunned. Perhaps we should be content that they're not sacrificing virgins as well. What's next, court decisions from tarot cards? These yokels should try praying in one hand and spitting in the other, and see which one fills up first." Another person with no time for this silliness is David, who wrote "Never a good idea. History is full of instances where drought-stricken villages prayed to the gods for rain only to be wiped out by catastrophic flood. Besides, everybody knows that Tlaloc is the rain god in these parts. He'll stomp Jesus for coming on his turf."
To counter such sensible offerings there is Randy Wood, who is not happy at all, in fact he is so upset he posted his message twice, "Why would you file this story under QUIRKS of all categories? I think that right there by doing that proves the problem many Christians have with the mainstream media in that it treats Christians as odd/weird people that would actually trust God for rain. You would never treat a Muslim or other religious person with such disrespect. I live in Lubbock and DO NOT appreciate your lack of respect for good people that trust Jesus Christ for even small things such as rain." Wood is one of those who mistakenly thinks that capitalizing words somehow adds force to his argument. IT DOESN'T. What Wood really needs to ask is why did his precious Jesus Christ let Lubbock dry out in the first place? Oh, of course, he was moving in mysterious ways just like dad. (Talking of dad, here is a fine piece by Ophelia Benson called Meet the Deity which answers that burning question, what is he really like? If this is who the Lubbockians are praying to - forget it - he wouldn't even piss on you if you were on fire.)
The Now Show - do take a moment to listen to The Now Show from BBC Radio 4, and in particular a song from Mitch Benn. This is an excellent Dylan pastiche called God Is On Everyone's Side and will certainly appeal to readers of this page. You can listen to the show or download an mp3 here. If you just want to hear Benn's song fast forward to 24:15 (approx) - you won't regret it.
Buddy List - if you are, like 80, somewhat confused as to which factions in the bloody mess that is the Middle East are allied with each other, which are not, and who are the "don't knows" this handy chart, courtesy of Slate, will make things easier. Easier for you that is, if not for the poor sods being blown to bits in South Lebanon, caught between Hizbollah and the Israelis while The Decider twiddles his (barely opposable) thumbs. (For an assessment of just how effective Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been so far in stopping the violence see this op-ed by Eugene Robinson, A War of Her Own. And here is a view from the ground of Condi's New Middle East she has been prattling on about.)
Quote - "The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people: these have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation." Kim Howells, British Foreign Office Minister speaking in Beirut. Now let's hear Blair say it...
Man With Two Brains - no, not Steve Martin but Dr. Steve E. Abrams, a veterinarian from Kansas who can keep two completely contradictory ideas snuggled side by side within his skull. Commenting on the elections for the State Board of Education, of which he is chairman but is not up for re-election, in which moderate Republicans and Democrats are combining their efforts to defeat proponents of so-called Intelligent Design/Creationism (IDC) Abrams indignantly rejected the accusation that as the science curriculum now stands it favors IDC. He told the New York Times (reg rqd) "We have explicitly stated that the standards must be based on scientific evidence, what is observable, measurable, testable, repeatable and unfalsifiable." Which sounds reasonable and sensible enough until Abrams adds "In my personal faith, yes, I am a creationist, but that doesn’t have anything to do with science. I can separate them." Furthermore he agreed that "my personal views of Scripture have no room in the science classroom." So, he believes in Young Earth Creationism (YEC), no doubt sincerely, and yet claims to be happy that children be taught what he must surely regard as falsehoods. So he is not just a man with two brains but a hypocritical man with two brains. The YEC position does not just reject evolutionary theory, which underlies all of modern biology, but almost all science, including astronomy, geology, physics, you name it.
A clue to just where Abrams stands politically is given in the way he described the moderates on both political sides that want the standards changed. Abrams doubted they were in fact moderates, dismissing them with, "They’re liberals". In any other English-speaking culture on the planet this would describe people who were perhaps left of center in their political stance, but in Bush's America is code for atheistic immoral scum. The fact that some Republicans are also pressing for a change seems to have escaped him - unless anyone who disagrees with him is automatically a "liberal". Now Abrams may have two brains but Connie Morris, a conservative Republican who is running for re-election, seems not to have one at all. This is her view of a process that is backed by exquisitely detailed evidence not only from fossils and DNA studies but also can be observed happening around us today. "It’s a nice bedtime story. Science doesn’t back it up." She no doubt has a bumper sticker that says "Pig ignorant - and proud of it". (For more on the elections see here) Update - the opponents of evolution lost control (reg rqd) of the board and Connie Morris was not re-elected.
Tangential Plug - 80 has links to some great sites in the sidebar and if you clink on the Links Page you will find many more - including Professor Tangent who provides "nutrition for the mind". Here is the site's own description "Just as some foods that taste good might have little nutritional value, or could even be harmful, ideas sometimes seem emotionally satisfying but have little basis in fact or logic. Such ideas could be harmful if they become so entrenched as to obscure alternatives that might lead to the truth. Be at least as careful about what goes into your mind as you are about what goes into your stomach. Professor Tangent can help you decide with skeptical inquiry, brainteasers, games, logic, common sense, humor and curriculum suggestions for educators, homeschoolers and students of all ages. Quality thinking protects you from being deceived by others, and prevents you from deceiving yourself." A truly excellent site and suitable for inquiring minds of all ages - highly recommended.
Sites For Sore Eyes
- so many web pages are full of vacuous nonsense it is
a great relief to find some that try to redress the balance. Featured in
the return of this occasional section is
Live Science with two pages that
are well worth a moment of your time. The first is a piece by Benjamin
Radford (a name familiar to readers of
Skeptical Inquirer) called
Medical 'Miracles' Not Supported by Evidence about the claims of Adam
Dreamhealer, the latest in a long line of "psychic healers" out to fleece
the ignorant and the gullible of their hard-earned cash. Still with
quackery, Christopher Wanjek writing in the
Medicine page takes a look at
Kevin Trudeau, a
con artist who produces books on "natural healing". Wanjek was concerned
that in reviewing Trudeau's latest work, "More Natural Cures Revealed," he
would be giving him undeserved publicity - as it is, Trudeau is adept
enough at hoodwinking the media on his own. Wanjek describes the book as
"..a fascinating cross between a health book, fictitious novel, and a
paranoid, hate-filled rant along the lines of "Mein Kampf." " - just the
kind of publicity, in 80's view that the book and the rest of Trudeau's
trashy outpourings deserve. Both Radford's and Wanjek's pieces mean that
Live Science will become a regular port of call for 80.
Two More - 80 recently wrote about that faith-based hokum, homeopathy, but was considerably more restrained and polite than the Two Per Cent Company, which has a wonderful rant on the subject called You Might Need Arnica Montana. Even if you thought you did, after reading Two Per Cent's profanity laden piece you will have changed your mind - unless of course you are a true believer. (Also check out Allison DuBois: Debunked! by Two Per Cent - great stuff.) In James Randi's weekly commentary Swift he too takes aim at homeopathy, and in particular a junk remedy called Head On, which has found its way onto the shelves of major drug store chain Walgreens. It is a relief to see that Randi has lost none of his sharpness following his recovery from a recent serious illness. Randi, you will remember, featured prominently in the BBC Horizon science show called Homeopathy: The Test - a test which this "complementary" therapy flunked. An added bonus on the Horizon site is a transcript of a web chat with Randi that makes for interesting reading.
Religious Gadget Freaks - need look no further. If you have ever felt that when you are praying you are merely talking to yourself, then buy this technological miracle and be like the presidents of Iran and the USA - hear God answer! "The Prayer Antenna is part of a series of Religious Technological Artifacts that I am making. The Antenna receives signals from God (yes, your God). The Antenna currently takes the form of a surplus / thrift-store motor-cycle helmet (or similar) that is ornately ordained and fitted with sufficient technology to receive signals." (thanks Tony) And for those of us with strong stomachs and a sense of humor why not put in a bid for the latest in holy relics?
Faith that Divides - those who still harbor the quaint notion that religion in schools and public life is not divisive and harmful to social cohesion should read this Amherst Times article about a Jewish mother who had the gall to ask her local school board to consider "...prayers that were more generic and... less exclusionary." This was enough to trigger a fit among local Christians, "Anger spilled on to talk radio, in letters to the editor and at school board meetings attended by hundreds of people carrying signs praising Jesus." The mother and family finally could take no more and had to move from the area at great financial cost. The family's son had been singled out at school because he wore a yarmulke and his mother "described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except 'Alex the Jew.'" A speaker at a school board meeting suggested this solution if the boy was unhappy at his persecution, "If you want people to stop calling him ‘Jew boy,’ you tell him to give his heart to Jesus." Mmm, one wonders if this guy knows Mel Gibson. The family has now sued the school district, "challenging what they asserted was the pervasiveness of religion in the schools and seeking financial damages." The Indian River District school board and its supporters have given an object lesson in religious prejudice and can only make the case stronger for those, of different faiths and none, fighting to maintain the wall between church and state. (Ophelia Benson writing in Butterflies and Wheels has a very different take on this story and picks up on some things that passed 80 by - recommended)
Lobbying for Armageddon - in case you thought 80's imagination had run riot (see Gasoline on the Flames) do read this piece by Sarah Posner about those Christians in the US that can't wait for the final war they think is prophesied in the bible. Posner's opening paragraph should be enough to engage your attention "In a perfect world, a reporter at last week's press conference with George Bush and Tony Blair would have asked Bush, in the presence of his principal European ally, if he believes the European Union is the Antichrist. Although it sounds like the kind of Pat Robertson lunacy that makes even the wingnuts run for the nearest exit, it's a question Bush should be forced to answer. Bush and other leading Republicans have lined up behind a growing movement of Christian Zionists for whom a European Antichrist figures prominently in an end-times scenario." This is a frightening piece on the alliance between religious fundamentalists and neocons, both hoping and lobbying for war with Iran. These nutters actually want the world to end and are happy to take us with them.
No Laughing Matter - this piece by Michael Yglesias, writing in American Prospect, It's the Stupidity, Stupid, tells us "The president's ignorance would be hilarious if it weren't so dangerous". When you read that sentence you immediately thought of no other president than George W Bush didn't you? And you would be dead right. Bush's wilful ignorance of world affairs and his inability to communicate coherently have given many of us a laugh - a laugh that is swiftly stifled when you consider the number of deaths for which he is responsible. One example given by Yglesias is enough to make most people at first cringe in embarrassment, then become enraged at the thought that this know-nothing is the president of the USA. The great man said the other day "There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory, because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy." As Yglesias puts says "It is? Has Bush forgotten that Hamas came to power as a result of elections that he insisted the Palestinian Authority hold?" 80 yearns for the simpler times of "That's My Bush" the sitcom from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, before the public mood after 9/11 put a stop to such mockery. It is one thing to laugh at an inept clod and quite another to laugh at the commander-in-chief in time of war. It doesn't look like That's My Bush will ever return (pity) but for those who would like to remind themselves of the show or find out what on earth 80 is talking about see this page of clips from Comedy Central.
How Shall I Kill Thee? - let me count the ways. This piece by Duncan Campbell writing in the Guardian looks at the number of attempts that have been made to assassinate Fidel Castro - a grand (if suspiciously exact) total of 638, including exploding molluscs, snipers, poison pills, a fungus-infested scuba suit and exploding cigars. Weird and wonderful they may be, but all these disparate methods of terminating Castro have one thing in common - a conspicuous lack of success. It looks now like he will shuffle off this mortal coil without the CIA's help. On the subject of conspiracies, real or imagined, the 9/11 atrocity is one of the most popular, with a plethora of websites claiming that it was an "inside job". There is no convincing evidence of this but there was certainly a cover-up over how badly the Pentagon and others (no, we are not talking about My Pet Goat) reacted to the events of that day. This article in the Washington Post by Dan Eggen tells how the September 11 panel seriously considered referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. We are told "For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to the hijackings in testimony and media appearances." So, probably no big conspiracy but a minor (and still indefensible) one that attempted to conceal an ineffective and bungling response to the attacks of 9/11.
The Marching Morons - there is a lot to be said for the theory that the Bush administration and a compliant press have subjected US citizens to the Mushroom Strategy - keeping them in the dark and feeding them on shit. This is one possible explanation for the fact that half the country still believes Iraq had WMDs and that Saddam was in cahoots with al Qaeda over the 9/11 atrocity. Amitabh Pal, writing in The Progressive, frustratedly reports on the former, and quotes this unbelievable headline from Fox News, "ARE SADDAM HUSSEIN'S WMDS NOW IN HEZBOLLAH'S HANDS?" The point also comes across in another item from The Progressive, an interview with Gore Vidal by David Barsamian. Vidal, despite the accumulation of years is still as sharp as ever - as this reference to the current administration amply illustrates "I know these people. I don’t say that as though I know them personally. I know the types. I was brought up in Washington. When you are brought up in a zoo, you know what’s going on in the monkey house. You see a couple of monkeys loose and one is President and one is Vice President, you know it’s trouble. Monkeys make trouble." If anything, this maligns monkeys...
As well as ignorance of the
background of recent
world events another piece of evidence for the mushroom strategy is a
survey showing widespread ignorance in the US of one of the most
important ideas in science, Darwinian evolution by means of natural
selection. Over on the Pharyngula blog P Z Myers has helpfully put a
graphic showing the results of a survey of attitudes to evolution
in 34 developed countries - the US comes in at 33 - one place above
Turkey. The reason why the US is so poorly placed has been the
politicization of fundamentalist christian religion and its belief in
biblical literalism or as Myers has it "Put the blame where it belongs:
God and the Republican Party". (So tainted by religiosity is US politics
that some Democrats are also more than ready to wear God on their sleeve in
order to chase votes.) Even Greece, where evolution is "practically
unheard of in the country's schools" managed to clock in at 28. Many
in the US will be ashamed at such ignorance and rightly so, but the trend
of increasing religious influence on politics and hence publicly-funded
science and science education is under way all over the world. For
evangelical churches in Kenya are "pressing Kenya's national museum to
sideline its world-famous collection of hominid bones pointing to man's
evolution from ape to human. Leaders of the country's six-million-strong
Pentecostal congregation want Dr Richard Leakey's ground-breaking finds
relegated to a back room instead of being given their usual prime
billing." The morons are marching everywhere, even if the US has a
head start among the developed nations. (apologies to the shade of
"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." H L Mencken
Sites For Sore Eyes - here are another couple of sites that 80 is pleased to recommend to the discerning surfer. First up is the Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE) a UK-based organization. If you've not been to the site recently you will notice that it has had a revamp and now offers a very useful news service. There is also a "psychic challenge" whereby anyone demonstrating psychic powers is in with a chance to win £13000 ($24,500). It is notable that many psychics, including those who make a comfortable living from their "skill", are strangely content to pass up the chance to win some dosh by doing what they do every day anyway. Or is it because some of them know very well they are con artists and would not welcome such scrutiny? Some of them, you say, so what about the rest? These are likely genuine people who are deluded into thinking that their powers are real - if they fail a challenge they are quite capable of summoning up excuses for their failure - excuses which convince them, if nobody else. (80 is proud to be a member of ASKE but the contents of this site are 80's fault alone.) The second site came up when 80 was trawling through Doug's Archaeology Site (incidentally highly recommended in its own right) and clicked on a link to cult archaeology. This led to Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews' web pages on the subject, which should be required reading for anyone tempted to take people like Erich von Daniken or Graham Hancock seriously. Here you will find, among many other subjects, Alternative Histories, Lost Civilisations and a particularly good page with many links detailing so-called Out of Place Artifacts (OOPARTS) including the Batteries of Babylon, A ‘Neanderthal’ shot with a modern bullet (!) and ancient Egyptian aeroplanes. Even better, the whole cult archaeology section is but part of Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews' main site which also has pages on UFOs, real archaeology (see his blog) and much more. His history section is particularly fascinating to 80, who shares his interest in Dark Age Britain. Check it out. Highly recommended.
Worthwhile Worship - 80 likes to drop in now and again to the Landover Baptist Church web site ("where the worthwhile worship. Unsaved are not welcome") to enjoy some of their special version of that ol' time religion. One of the latest attractions on offer is a Secular Humanist Holy Bible Quiz described thus "The Lord placed two types of people on this, His only planet that matters: (1) Those who critically analyze and evaluate all available information, making decisions, including those involving their belief systems, based on thought, facts and reason; and (2) Folks who have been blessedly spared such tedium -- fundamentalist Christians. Find out what God and Jesus (and those they authorized to speak for them) thought about the nosy, anal-retentive folks who fall into the former category by taking this quiz." 80 scored pretty well by following this general rule, in the multiple choice questions you must choose the most prejudiced, bigoted and hateful answers as this will ensure that you are indeed walking in the ways of the Lord. Another bonus on the site is a look at Mel "Jew-hater" Gibson's current travails by the incomparable Mrs Betty Bowers, founder of the Mrs Betty Bowers' Christian Crack Whore Ministry and a shining example of doing well by doing good.
The Department of the Bleeding Obvious - is in action once more. It seems that people who are superstitious are, wait for it, superstitious! This piece of non-news is the result of a study by a team at the University of Wales, Bangor which concluded, according to this Times report that "Churchgoers in Britain are still highly superstitious and centuries of preaching the Gospel have failed to banish belief in omens and portents of good and bad luck." This is only news to those who have yet to realize that religious belief and superstition are the same thing. The authors, under Reverend Professor Leslie Francis, Professor of Practical Theology, (practical theology?*) in a paper to be published in Journal of Implicit Religion "..say that the findings contradict the hypothesis that Christian teaching precludes superstitious beliefs." Well, it was a bloody silly hypothesis anyway. To anyone free of a supernatural world view the difference between faith in a resurrection and a virgin birth and belief in the benefits of crossing fingers or knocking on wood is imperceptible. After all, what is most religion but organized superstition?
*"For centuries, theologians have been explaining the unknowable in terms of the-not-worth-knowing" H L Mencken
Quote - "Intelligent design is a defensible theological position -- the belief that life is so complex and perfect that a creator must lie somewhere behind it. But being untestable in its positing of a supernatural explanation for natural phenomena, it is no more scientific than the belief that Athena was born from Zeus's head." From an editorial in the Washington Post, Nothing Wrong With Kansas (also see Man With Two Brains)
Read the Small Print! - 80 has written often about the push by the Blair government for so-called City Academies and the way a number of these institutions flout the curriculum - see Cui Bono?, Give Me the Child, Pious Deceit, Educational Debauchery and A Damning Document. Here is a site, City Academies - Read The Small Print! on that same subject, but written by someone who was a pupil for a year at The Kings Academy, Middlesbrough. Stefan Walker's site is clear and informative, an excellent resource for those of us concerned at the damage being done to the UK education system, particularly by those who want every subject dealt with from a fundamentalist Christian viewpoint. Walker has also managed to attract the attention of a local newspaper to his concerns - the threat posed by these academies needs to be made as public as possible and Walker seems to have the knack for that. Drop in at his site, read what he has to say and leave a message of support. (Also see No To Academies and the National Secular Society)
The Passion of the Christopher - is a fearsome thing to behold. Readers of this page are most likely aware of 80's low opinion of Mel Gibson (see Not Sorry Enough) but this is surpassed by the vitriol Christopher Hitchens hurls at the actor/director. Anyone who describes Gibson's masterwork, The Passion of the Christ, as a "twistedly homoerotic spank-movie" immediately has 80's (favorable) attention and from there on in it just gets better. (See Hitchens on the "spank-movie" here)
Rant for the Day
- it is interesting that certain members of the
so-called "Muslim community" in the UK, while condemning acts of terrorism
seem keen enough to cash in on its effects. This article in the
Independent sums things up with the headline
us adopt Islamic family law to curb extremists, Muslims tell Kelly. UK
Secretary of State for Communities, Ruth Kelly, had 3 hours of meetings
with Muslim leaders one of whom, a Dr Syed Aziz Pasha, secretary general
of the Union of Muslim Organisations of the UK and Ireland apparently
asked for special Muslim holidays which seems innocuous enough, but he
also wants sharia law to cover Muslim family affairs, claiming that this
would, in some undefined manner, help cope with the extremists. So, even
though these people condemn terrorists they are happy to take advantage of
the climate of fear and concern to push for a separate legal system,
what's more a legal system that
does not accord
equality for women. (How many Muslim women are calling out for sharia?
80 is willing to bet they are damn sight less keen than their menfolk.
What a male chauvinist's dream - women's "inferiority" enshrined in law.)
This is exactly the wrong way to be going - Britain does not need
such a secondary system and even if one was put in place it is hardly
going to deter murderous young men with heads full of propaganda and
jihadist fervor. You can also imagine the clamor there would be for
Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and, for all 80 knows, Jedi justice, as every other
"religious community" tries to jump on the bandwagon. We have one law in
this country which ideally should treat all citizens equally - the system
is not perfect but allowing certain sections of the population to use a
medieval, discriminatory religious system of law is hardly the answer. 80
is certainly no fan of Kelly's but she
spoke sense when she said "What I do accept is that there is a lot of
anger and frustration out there in the community that needs to be properly
expressed and vented through the democratic process."
Note - through the democratic process - not
threats or bribes of sharia but through the process open to all UK
citizens of whatever race or faith.
Meanwhile that unelected body the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is warning the government to think "very carefully" after reports that airport security may contain an element of profiling. The MCB, so concerned at the adverse effect of such a strategy on the "muslim community" seems not to have noticed that the people who blow up tube trains and fly airplanes into skyscrapers are exclusively (so far) young Muslim males - it would be a complete dereliction of duty for the security services not to give these individuals special scrutiny. There is most certainly a need to be as sensitive as possible but to rule out such profiling would be criminally stupid. MCB spokesman, Inayat Bunglawala, in criticizing the idea makes what in 80's view is a revealing remark. "Before some kind of religious profiling is introduced, a case has to be made; and we are certainly not convinced by the arguments for this kind of profiling. First of all, Muslims are not an ethnicity, as was shown by the arrests in last week's raids; there are many white converts to Islam." It is blindingly obvious that race is not a factor in terrorism - but Islam certainly is and Bunglawala's words confirm this - the link between the terrorists is a fundamentalist brand of Islam. So racial profiling can be used, but in concert with religious profiling - and of course as much sensitivity as is practicable but if the choice is between the mangled bodies of British civilians, be they atheist, Christian, Muslim or Wiccan and causing offence to a community that forms roughly 3 per cent of the population which would you choose? The terrorists are no doubt ready to exploit things either way. (see the Guardian for an editorial on justice and counter-terrorism and this piece on profiling)
Another point that has not been made strongly enough arose when one reason given for militancy among disaffected young Muslim men is the slaughter in Iraq and Lebanon (Darfur, anyone? Oh no, that's just Muslim killing Muslim. As is, come to think of it, a large proportion of the current killing in Iraq). An "open letter, signed by three Muslim MPs, three peers and 38 community groups.." said Britain's stance on the Middle East was endangering lives at home. Do these clowns think they are alone in despairing at the violence of Bush and Blair's moronic policies? It is not just Muslims who are disgusted at Blair's supine acquiescence in Bush's wars - it is nearly every thinking person in the country. Bush is a dunce but Blair doesn't even have that poor excuse. You do not have to share someone's religion to feel outrage at their murder - you just have to share their humanity. More concentration on our common humaity and less on divisive superstitious beliefs would go a long way to making this planet a less violent place. A recent survey showed a large percentage of British Muslims see themselves as Muslim first and British second - this needs changing and not by some government citizenship test or similar daft ideas. People are human first - it is the only thing we all share - not religion, nationality or football team but humanity. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Medecin Sans Frontieres are examples of true humanitarian concern - unlike governments. Witness the unforgivable delay in obtaining a ceasefire in Lebanon or the unfulfilled pledges for Iranian earthquake victims and others, or the ongoing slaughter in Darfur. Damn all gods and damn all nationalism - they mean absolutely nothing compared to the death of a single child.
Of Sherlock and Kitzmiller - here are a couple of gems from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, (CSICOP) web site. First up, from the Skeptical Briefs newsletter is a an essay by Joe Nickell on Sherlock Holmes - paranormal investigator which looks at those cases where the Baker Street sleuth at first appeared to be up against the supernatural, but not for very long. Nickell notes that the super rational detective's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was anything but, falling for spiritualism and faked fairy photographs. The second CSICOP item is a detailed behind the scenes look at the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District court case by one of the expert witnesses at that trial, Barbara Forrest, including the dirty tricks played by the ID/creationists on Forrest herself. Famously the presiding judge, a George H W Bush appointee, John E Jones, shredded the ID/creationists' case, admonishing them for outright lying. (see Lying by Design).
Naturally the creationist crowd blamed the judge for the verdict, depite overwhelming evidence of their own deceitful practices, and continue to attack his integrity, even childishly comparing him to Hitler and Stalin. Such attacks demonstrate clearly the poverty of the creationists' arguments and tactics - they sought the confrontation, got trounced, and now spend their time whining about the result. The piece also makes clearer than ever before that despite repeated denials so-called Intelligent Design is a deliberate attempt to re-jig biblical creationism and give it a spurious scientific gloss in order to get around the defeat inflicted in an earlier case. This case, Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) led to the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing creationism in public schools and hence the Intelligent Design deception. An intrinsic part of that deception was the re-writing of a creationist tract, Of Pandas and People, using the language of Intelligent Design. For more on this book see this page from the Textbook League and these two reviews by Richard P. Aulie of the National Association of Biology Teachers. (For those of you who think such shenanigans is limited to the US see Pious Deceit and Intelligent Design hits Australia, the latter being a page from the excellent Intelligent Design Watch)
Practice Run? - here is an alarming piece in the New Yorker by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh concerning US involvement in Israeli planning for an attack on Hezbollah - before any Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. It seems that the likes of Cheney viewed the Israeli air and ground attacks as a preamble to taking out Iran's nuclear sites and going for "regime change" in that country. Do these idiots never learn? The Bush administration pissed away the huge sympathy and support from around the world after 9/11 by invading Iraq and providing al Qaeda with a wonderful recruitment opportunity. Instead of finishing the job in Aghanistan they took their eye off the ball and started indulging their neocon fantasies of securing the oil-producing areas of the Middle East. If Cheney and the other wreckless fools think attacking/invading Iran will end in anything other than another murderous quagmire they are even more deluded than their track record would suggest - and that record is one of many thousands dead with very little to show for all the carnage. Talking of track records, Seymour Hersh's is good enough to give his New Yorker piece a great deal of credence.
The Language of Ignorance - sometimes, not often, laziness is rewarded. Last week 80 intended to review the Finding My Religion column from SFGate.com (the online manifestation of the San Francisco Chronicle) which featured scientist Dr. Francis S. Collins, leading light of the Human Genome Project. The onetime self-described "committed materialist and... obnoxious atheist" has now embraced evangelical Christianity - or to put it another way, instead of finding answers to some of life's great conundrums for himself he has chosen to accept explanations on religious authority. The interview shows that for a man who is obviously an expert in his chosen field of genetics he is almost embarrassingly naive when it comes to his shiny new faith. But what has this to do with laziness? One might certainly think that Collins is intellectually lazy for not questioning the obvious inconsistencies in accepting that all of life on earth and human history is part of some supernatural being's "plan", which he calls "BioLogos". But no, it is 80's laziness that has been rewarded. While indulging in the all too common vice of procrastination (why is it not one of the deadly sins, one wonders?) 80 has been pipped handsomely at the post by Sam Harris, author of the The End of Faith, who has taken the trouble to (a) read Collins' new book "The Language of God" in which he "attempts to demonstrate a harmony between science and evangelical Christianity." and (b) trash it comprehensively. Read Harris' The Language of Ignorance courtesy of Truthdig magazine. Good stuff. (80 did actually manage to write about Finding My Religion last year see A Happy Atheist and in February, see If It Quacks Like a Duck)
BioLogos In a Nutshell - Dr. Francis S. Collins' religious breakthrough explained by the man himself (see The Language of Ignorance above) "I believe in a different model, which I call BioLogos. It's a model that I find entirely consistent with what I know scientifically and what I believe about God, which is the following: If God decided to create the universe and his purpose was to populate it with creatures in his image, with whom he could have fellowship and to whom he would give the knowledge of right and wrong, an ability to make decisions on their own free will and an immortal soul, and if he chose to use evolution to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that's not how he would have done it? It's an incredibly elegant means of creation. And because God is outside of time and space -- at least, I think that would make sense, given that he's not part of the natural world -- he could, at the very moment of creation, at the instant of the Big Bang, have this entire plan completely designed right down to our having this conversation. And it would seem perhaps a bit random and long and drawn out to us, but not to him."
Some Questions - and this plan would include the odd giant meteorite or massive eruption to cause mass extinctions would it? Why would that be? Perhaps God found himself in a blind alley and couldn't get the dinosaurs to adore him. Anyway, why would a supreme being make little motes likes us to worship him or even "have fellowship" with him in the first place? In 80's view this deity sounds more than a little insecure. How can we have free will when everything was planned " right down to our having this conversation" by the big G "at the instant of the Big Bang"? As for the "elegance of evolution" the "designer" in many ways did a lousy job. Just ask Rosemary Sceats, "No woman who has ever menstruated, had menstrual difficulties e.g. bleeding fibroids or endometriosis, been pregnant, given birth, with or without complications, suffered from repeated thrush and/or cystitis infections, and especially no woman to whom all of the above applies, could find the theory of so-called "intelligent design" anything but absurd. The female plumbing system provides gilt-edged evidence of the complete absence of design, intelligent or otherwise! And as for the male plumbing system, what sort of designer would put a sewer pipe right through the middle of a playground?" (courtesy of Victorian Skeptics)
Devilish Definitions - Absurdity, n.: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (this is part of a occasional dip into Beirce's no-nonsense lexicon. For more on Bierce and his work see here.)
Bush, the Verdict - it looks like Britain's beleaguered and gaffe-prone deputy prime minister John Prescott is in trouble again for saying what the majority of people in the country think - George Bush is "crap". Even if he does read Albert Camus. A YouGov survey in the Daily Telegraph tells us "...by a margin of more than five to one - the public wants Tony Blair to split from President George W Bush and either go it alone in the "war on terror", or work more closely with Europe." Will Blair heed any of this? Don't be stupid. Correction - the BBC radio news is now saying Prescott said US policy in the Middle East was crap (no argument there) and that Bush was a "cowboy" (Wrong! He is a dumb rich kid who likes to pretend he's a cowboy. He is, in Texas parlance, All Hat No Cattle.)
Retrofit Fallacy - there is a particularly repellent type of so-called psychic who offers to assist police in missing persons and murder cases. That they only seem to want to help with high profile cases often says more about their thirst for publicity than any supposed paranormal powers. They don't consider the effect on those family members who are desperate for any leads and the associated waste of police time and resources. (Even if the psychic genuinely believes he can help solve a mystery the effect on relatives and police is the same.) An old case has reappeared in the headlines, triggered by the return to the US of likely fantasist John Mark Karr, who has supposedly confessed to the murder of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. This fascinating piece by Joe Nickell reveals that there have been claims that late "psychic detective" Dorothy Allison had once "foreseen Karr's likeness and other identifying details." Nickell, in Shame on Shamus Sham subjects this assertion to skeptical scrutiny and finds things are not quite how they have been portrayed. It looks like another case of retrofitting. (For more on "psychic detectives" take a look at the Skeptic's Dictionary entry. For detailed examination of another "psychic detective" case see this excellent piece by Tony Youens and Adrian Shaw called Did a medium identify a murderer?) Update - the charges against John Mark Karr have been dropped.
Two Surveys - 80 learned a good while ago to treat surveys with a certain amount of suspicion. Take for example the alarming news that 30% of students in the UK say they believe in creationism and intelligent design. Harriet Swain, writing in the Guardian, reports that a survey by Opinionpanel Research of over a 1000 students found a worrying number either believed in a creationist explanation (the kind of explanation that explains nothing) or plumped for its thinly disguised "scientific" version, Intelligent Design (which still explains nothing). Any British taxpayer must despair that their hard-earned dosh combined with the Blair government's less than adroit handling of education has produced the crop of know-nothings quoted in Swain's piece. Here's one, "I have grown up in a family that goes to church and I have become a Christian. When I look at things in the world I think it is amazing that God has created it for us. If you have faith in God you can believe he has done it, whether there is evidence or not." Whether there is evidence or not! This person, who seems to have passed through the education system utterly unscathed by rational thought or critical thinking is "studying to be a primary school teacher". The idea that this fantasist is to be entrusted with the education of young children is deeply worrying and, if the survey is correct, she is far from alone. Believing in creationism in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is not admirable or devout - it is inexcusably ignorant and stupid - and to pollute children's minds with such nonsense is little short of criminal. Of even greater concern is the news that of those questioned "nearly 20% said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school."
Now contrast this with the results of another survey of children in Cornwall by the Welsh National Centre for Religious Education, University of Wales, Bangor on their attitudes to religion. Here is a sampling of the findings concerning religious education (RE) and God. “God means a lot to me” Yes: 12%; No 66%, “God helps me lead a better life” Yes: 11%; No 60%, “I have a religious faith” Yes 19%; No 60%. How come the children of Cornwall express such sensible opinions compared to the students in the Opinionpanel Research survey? The full 12 page Cornish report has been made available online by the Cornwall Humanists. Despite looking on the Opinionpanel Research web site 80 was unable to unearth any details of its own survey. It would have been interesting to see how the questions were formulated and what effect this may have had on the results. One wonders if the Cornish pupils had been asked the questions that Opinionpanel Research used for its survey would the result have shown 30% believing in creationist fairy tales? The Cornish pupils were slightly younger than the Opinionpanel students. Does this mean the younger generation are more rational than their elders? Or will they have their down-to-earth attitude changed by further "education"? Or are Cornish folk naturally more rational? Surveys often raise more questions than they answer. (If anyone has access to more detail on OpinionPanel Research's survey method and questions please let 80 know) Bonus - see what our friends Jesus and Mo' have to say on the subject.
Quote - "I believe that as a Muslim there is no better place to live than Britain. That doesn’t mean that all in the garden is rosy; often Islamophobia is palpable. But my message is: whether you are white, Asian, black, Muslim, Christian or Jew, if you don’t like where you’re living you have two choices: either you live elsewhere, or you engage in the political process, attempt to create change and ultimately respect the will of the majority." Shahid Malik, the Labour MP in an op-ed in the Times called If you want sharia law, you should go and live in Saudi.
Why, Why, Why? - do take a moment to read this characteristically excellent piece by Muriel Gray, We all hate this murderous foreign policy, so what makes a suicide bomber? in which she looks at what drives young men to blow themselves and innocent bystanders to pieces. If you are sick and tired of all the pussyfooting around what is really at fault then read this article. Highly recommended. (See here for some other recent stuff by Gray from the Sunday Herald)
The Color of Idiocy - it is very disturbing when parents foist their delusional world view upon their children. A recent example has been those parents who are convinced their offspring are psychic, that they are, to use the current term, Indigo Children. Such a betrayal of the trust children place in their parents is unforgivable and enough to raise any caring person's blood pressure dangerously high. Giving vent to his disgust and fury is Tony Youens in his latest Commentary, Colour Prejudice. As ever he is absolutely spot on in his scathing attack as he takes us through the ten signs that tell a parent that their little darling is "indigo". Great stuff - and bloody funny. Also see Imagine There's No Heaven - on tolerance and the latest religionist craze of being "offended" all the damn' time.
Which Is ET's Web Browser? - Firefox, of course. The crops cannot lie.
Chocolate Madonna - now 80 may be wrong here but we don't seem to have had an apparition of God's one night stand in chocolate before. There have been endless snivelling statues, various stains and once even a fencepost but not chocolate - until now. CNN tells us under the headline Sweet Mary, mother of God? "Workers at a chocolate company have discovered a 2-inch-tall (5-centimeter-tall) column of chocolate drippings that they believe bears a striking resemblance to traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary." Most people would probably not have noticed that the brown, snot-like accretion resembled Mary but happily a gullible catholic was on hand to make the identification. How? Apparently Cruz Jacinto "..froze when she noticed the unusual shape of this cast-off: It looked just like the Virgin Mary on the prayer card she always carries in her right pocket." That clinches it then, a miracle! On the down side it sounds like productivity may be affected, as Jacinto is far from alone in her belief. "...employees of Bodega Chocolates have spent much of their time hovering over the tiny figure, praying and placing rose petals and candles around it." (Not wishing to outdone, an alligator from Wisconsin has the name of the big G on its side. Beat that, you chocolate-worshipping heretics.) (This is hard to keep on top of - JC himself has now appeared in a pregnant woman's ultrascan.)
Merkel, Know Thy Place - enlightenment values have a new enemy in the German chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Ratzinger has a new friend. Following a meeting with Ratzinger Merkel said that she had spoken about "freedom of religion" when in fact it was nothing of the sort, as revealed in her subsequent comment "We spoke about the role of Europe and I emphasised the need for a constitution and that it should refer to our Christian values." Since when has freedom of religion had anything to do with enshrining one particular religion, Christianity, in the European constitution? But then we should should be used to such self-serving doublespeak from those who want to sneak theocracy into the European Union. They failed the last time they tried and will fail again. Her comments also reveal in advance Merkel's attitude to Turkey, a mainly Islamic country, joining the EU - they are not welcome. Or perhaps Merkel would like some "Islamic values" written in as well - values that would make Merkel, as a woman, a second class citizen with far less legal rights than a man. One wonders whether this idiot, and yes, idiot is not too strong a word, has actually thought any of this through. Mind you, look at some Christian values and they are not so terribly different "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent..." 1 Timothy 2:11-15 So shut up Angela and try actually reading some of these "scriptures" before you open your mouth. (For more from the "good book" on a woman's place see here. For comparison here is what the Quran has to say. They are both disgustingly misogynist tracts that have no place in a modern society)
Papal Support - can be a two-edged weapon. It is reported that Pope Ratzinger "is considering aligning his church more closely with the theory of "intelligent design" taught in some US states." Many will view this as a retrograde step after Wojtyla, Ratzinger's predecessor, gave the strong impression he had no trouble with Darwinian evolution (Truth Cannot Contradict Truth). Ratzinger, however, obviously fears for mankind's special place in the order of things as laid out by his God - he has said "We are not the accidental product, without meaning, of evolution." 80 is rather amused at the news - any one with two brain cells to rub together can see that "intelligent design" (ID) is creationism wearing an ill-fitting lab coat - as was confirmed by Judge John Jones in his verdict on the Kitzmiller/Dover School Board court case. ID proponents are still arguing for ID to be taught in science classes in the US and are still frantically trying to hide its theological underpinnings. Therefore, at least in 80's view, it can hardly aid their case to win the backing of the boss of the largest Christian group on the planet. ID isn't a religious idea? Go tell it to the Pope.
Quotes - "A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge." Carl Sagan
"If you could prove religious beliefs with the scientific method, it would be science.....and nobody would believe it." Stephen Colbert
The Good Guys - here are a couple of interesting pieces, one by Paul Kurtz and the other an interview with Michael Shermer. The Kurtz piece discusses atheism or unbelief, or, more accurately, in his view, the application of philosphical skepticism toward religious claims. The automatic denial of a deity's existence without examining the evidence (such as it is) offered by believers is as much a faith position as theirs. A fine piece and one you could recommend to the less rabid religionists of your acquaintance. (One quibble - if you introduce a self-coined neologism, in this case eupraxsophy, please gloss it. 80 had to look the word up) The interview with Shermer is on Salon.com, a site that requires you to watch an ad before you get what you are after. (If you are using Firefox the link you need to access the article is not visible - it would seem Salon.com are in thrall to Microsoft, necessitating the use of Internet Explorer) The interview, The joys of life without God, is well worth the trivial effort to access it for it discusses, as the Salon blurb puts it, "why Darwin matters, how believing in God is the same as believing in astrology, and why it doesn't take divine faith to experience something bigger than ourselves." Another topic covered is the new found religious belief of human genome scientist, Francis Collins, whose new book was so comprehensively shredded by Sam Harris. (see Language of Ignorance) Shermer's reaction to Collins is more laid back than Harris' but equally (and justifiably) dismissive.
Shermer, at the end of the interview, also touches upon the emotion of awe, which religionists seem to think is reserved for them alone - in this as in so much else they are dead wrong. In answer to the question "What do you believe in?" Shermer has this to say "I believe in the indomitable human spirit and the amazing capacity we have for understanding the world; for love, joy and happiness. Science not only does not take away any of those things, it adds to the sum of human knowledge. When I look through my little telescope in my backyard at the planets, moon or Andromeda galaxy that is 2.9 million light-years away, I can enjoy the beauty of the night sky and appreciate it on an emotional level. Then I can think that the photons of light that are landing on my retina left 2.9 million years ago, when we were just barely bipedal hominids in Africa, and are just now arriving tonight. Boy, that's just awe-inspiring. To me, that's what it means to be spiritual -- what makes your spine tingle. It's what gives you a sense of awe and wonder and transcendence. It doesn't matter to me if you call it God or the cosmos. We're all talking about the same thing, whether it's religious people or New Age spiritual people or Buddhists or scientists. We're all talking about having a sense of awe and wonder at something grander than ourselves."
* A eupraxsophy is a nonreligious lifestance or worldview emphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logic, observation and science (rather than faith, mysticism or revelation) toward that end. The word is based on the Greek words for "good practice and wisdom." Eupraxsophies, like religions, are cosmic in their outlook, but eschew the supernatural component of religion, avoiding the "transcendental temptation," From Wikipedia's page on Kurtz.
Quote - "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality." Carl Sagan
Nothing Like Enough
- sometimes 80 can be very gullible. A half-heard
radio news story gave the impression the UK government was actually willing to
re-examine the dogma of multiculturalism. It was only when reading
from the Guardian on UK communities secretary and
catholic cultist Ruth
Kelly's announcement of an integration commission, recommended over a year
ago, to look at immigration and "engage critically with multiculturalism"
that any optimism was crushed. One telltale sentence revealed that the
announcement signified little as the commission is not going to address
one of the major problems of multiculturalism at all. As the Guardian
paragraph puts it "Ms Kelly has asked the commission to look at ideas such
as greater support for English lessons for new immigrants and help for
student exchanges and twinning between schools from different communities.
But the commission will not debate faith schools (emphasis added)." 80's immediate reaction
to this was to ask, "If sectarian schools are not to be debated what is the
bloody point of the whole exercise?" It is no good fiddling around with
every other sector affecting immigrants if children are still being
filled with divisive nonsense with the government's encouragement and
major "abrahamic" faiths, Christianity and Islam, both make claims to have
the only true answer to life's dilemmas. Such exclusivity automatically
leads to the impression that those of other faiths (or even a different
version of one's own, think Protestant, Catholic, Sunni, Shia) are somehow
"other", wrong, damned, not part of our tribe - and therefore
worthy of persecution and punishment. In fact the Quran
on about this excessively, and the Old Testament is
different. You cannot pump kid's heads full of this stuff and not
expect it to affect their future attitude to those of other faiths.
The obvious place to start dealing with the failure of multiculturalism is in the schools because that is often where the damage is first done. Blair's government is still forging ahead with the expansion of sectarian schools apparently unaware that education in the hands of religionists is a sure recipe for discord - these fools have the example of Northern Ireland under their noses but still do not see the problem. Later statements by Kelly about the need to "stamp out" Muslim fundamentalist schools saying "They should be shut down. Different institutions are open to abuse and where we find abuse we have got to stamp it out and prevent that happening." are all well and good but do not go anywhere near far enough. This BBC report illustrates how little grasp Kelly, or her master Blair, has of the malign effects of sectarian schooling. "...she said Muslims were entitled to the same rights as Anglicans, Catholics, Hindus and Jewish groups which all had faith schools." Instead of according rights to more and more religions to have their own schools at taxpayer's expense all state-funded education should be secular - making for the ultimate level playing field. If individual parents wish to inculcate their chosen beliefs into their kids let them do it at their own expense - the state should not subsidize superstition of any kind. What the state should provide are lessons on comparative religion and critical thinking - supplying the tools for pupils to be able to make up their own minds. Is this likely to happen anytime soon? Don't hold your breath - governments have never liked a populace that thinks for itself - especially when that government is headed by a religious control freak. But what about after Blair? The succession of Gordon Brown (if it is not derailed by a resurgent Labor left) will only put another religionist at the helm. That light at the end of the tunnel is actually an oncoming train.
The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right - is an hilarious piece by Rob Lanham posted on Alternet. He details the history of the rise of the religious right's influence on politics and points out some of the absurdities of trying to live in the modern world while following the rules of an Iron Age tribe from the Middle East. One quote will suffice to make you want to read the rest. "Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye believed the time had come to get evangelicals mobilized behind a candidate that represented their values. That candidate was Reagan, the first president to come to power with the help of what has come to be known as the Religious Right. Reagan was also the first high-level politician to work opposite a chimpanzee (as he did in Bedtime for Bonzo), a noble tradition carried on today by Vice President Dick Cheney. ..." (the article is excerpted from The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right by Rob Lanham, Penguin Putnam, 2006)
Donald, Duck! - Donald Rumsfeld was arrogant and offensive enough in a recent speech to equate those who criticize the debacle in Iraq and the inept performance of the Bush administration with those who attempted to appease Hitler and his gang in the 1930s. Keith Olbermann, host of Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC could not let this outrageous slur pass, and delivered, on air, an articulate, withering and sustained attack on Rumsfeld's record and attitude. This is way overdue - let's hope more in the mainstream media show some guts by denouncing Bush's gallows-crew. A transcript and video can be seen here (courtesy of Crooks and Liars). Highly recommended. (also see What Keeps Don Rumsfeld Up at Night? by Arianna Huffington) Update - Rumsfeld is now trying to weasel his way out of the anger over his speech claiming his offensive remarks were misrepresented by the news media. Yeah, right. Also well worth a look is Leonard Pitts' piece World War II comparisons don’t fit Iraq
Devilish Definitions - Cabbage: A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
Homeopathetic - if homeopathy is to be subject to any form of regulation it should meet the same standards as real, evidence-based medicine. In the UK the The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has introduced a voluntary scheme whereby "homeopathic products will receive a licence if they can provide data proving the treatments are safe - this will not need to be evidence from clinical trials which other drugs have to have." There is no evidence for the efficacy of homeopathy beyond a placebo effect so it has zero chance of meeting the standards imposed on real medicine. The move by the MHRA seems to tacitly acknowledge this fact by allowing homeopathy to escape testing in any meaningful way. The laughable part of the new scheme is that the homeopathists are required to provide data proving the treatments are safe - of course they are bloody safe - homeopathic potions are so diluted not one molecule of the "active ingredient" is left, which is just as well as some of the substances used are poisonous. So yes, homeopathy is safe - safe and useless. What is dangerous and potentially lethal is when a patient forgoes effective treatment for homeopathy or, as happened in Australia, people were being sold a homeopathic meningiococcal vaccine and in the UK folk were given a homeopathic antimalarial potion before travelling to areas rife with the disease..
War is Good - for business. If you doubt this, read Blatantly Boasting War Profiteers by Sarah Anderson on the scum that do oh so very well from the death and suffering of fellow human beings - and then crow about it.
In Defense of Ignorance
- in an outdoor mass at a fairground outside
Munich Pope Ratzinger confirmed his commitment to poor education,
inadequate or non-existent social services, poverty and ignorance when, to
BBC report, "He praised people in Africa and Asia for rejecting "the
cynicism that considers mockery of the sacred to be an exercise of freedom
and that holds up utility as the supreme moral criterion". As living
standards rise and women become more empowered fewer people need the
crutch that is religion, so it becomes even more vital for institutions
such as the Roman Catholic church to maintain an underclass, for the whole
scam cannot function without suitably untutored worshippers. (This is
notable in the schism in the Anglican communion - African bishops have
large congregations that their European counterparts can only dream of.)
As for the mockery of the sacred (which it oh
so richly deserves) who decides what constitutes mockery - and more
importantly who defines "the sacred"? In the current climate it seems
pretty near anybody - the areas that religionists consider to be taboo is
growing as they vie with one other to express their outrage at being
offended by secular society.
Take this news feature about a so-called Tomb of Christ in, of all places, Aomori in Japan. The story goes that "Jesus escaped Jerusalem and made his way to Aomori in Japan where he became a rice farmer." The correspondent bluntly notes that "Christians say the story is nonsense". How very offensive and dismissive of them. You can't have it both ways, but all religious groups have a damn' good try. They want the right to criticize others while attempting to place their own beliefs beyond question (often employing threats of violence to achieve this, a ploy used often, but not exclusively, by Muslims. Others are following their example.). One wonders at Ratzinger's concerns - is his faith or his God such a flimsy thing that mere mockery is dangerous? The short answer is yes - the organized superstitions called religions are so full of contradictions, unsubstantiated stories and downright lies that a few pertinent questions, aided by an appreciation of the absurdities inherent in supernatural belief can do a lot of good - not good for Ratzinger perhaps, ensconced in his power base, but good for the many people worldwide suffering under the yoke of "faith". As Pope Leo X is reported to have said "It has served us well, this myth of Christ." The myth does not hold up too well under even light scrutiny - it is far better from Ratzinger's point of view for the flock to remain in the dark than to question that myth's basis.
Quote - "People in Africa and Asia admire our scientific and technical progress, but at the same time they are frightened by a form of rationality which totally excludes God" Pope Ratzinger, also frightened, perhaps speaking at a reunion of old comrades.
Yes, There Is a God - no long white beard though, just bank upon bank of quietly humming servers.
Quote - "Teaching music is not in accordance with the Islamic establishment, and teaching music to schoolchildren brings corruption." Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and world class killjoy - who amazingly is considered "a man who loves the arts.." Go figure.. (For interesting evidence that music is "hard-wired" into human beings see Survival of the Harmonious by Drake Bennett. The ayatollah can't beat evolution - even if the old boy doesn't believe in it.)
Quote - “The main conflicts all over the world come from religious ideas" Chief Rabbi Metzger from an article in The Times.
- In a
recent attack on the Democrats in the US Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas
George Doran had this to say "Since the mid-1940s we have been accustomed
to look askance at Germans. They were protagonists of the Second World War
and so responsible for fifty million deaths. We say, 'How awful,' and yet
in our country we have, for the most part, allowed the party of death and
the court system it has produced to eliminate, since 1973, upwards of
forty million* of
our fellow citizens without allowing them to see the light of day. They
have done their best to make ours a true culture of death. No doubt, we
shall soon outstrip the Nazis in doing human beings to death." Thus this
deeply ignorant and bigoted individual attempts to equate the torture and
death of children and adults by the Nazis with the embryos destroyed by
abortion (and IVF).
Perhaps Bishop Doran should take his head out of his fundament for a moment and see what a totally inaccurate comparison this is. (He might also ponder the fact that the terms "Nazi" and "German" are not interchangeable.) We are talking (in most cases) of a non-sentient embryo as opposed to a conscious human being. Here is a picture of an embryo. Now here is a picture of some Auschwitz inmates - surely not even a bishop can mistake the two? Don't count on it, these guys are more concerned with concealing the pedophiles in their own ranks than understanding the pressures that face many ordinary people in the world today. Does this fool Doran imagine that a woman's decision to have an abortion is ever taken lightly? If his damned church stopped opposing contraception there would be a lot fewer abortions (numbers are dropping anyway) - but then that is far too rational a course for these whited sepulchres. In 80's view they are beneath contempt.
(* no doubt a lower number than that of spontaneously aborted blastocysts and embryos - but then God causes those to happen doesn't he? And another thing - embryos aren't citizens.)
Faith-Based News - you may or may not be aware of a page on 80's site called Faith-Based News. It is clearly titled "A collection of links to news and comment reflecting the influence of religion/superstition around the globe". Which makes it strange that a couple of people have queried 80 concerning the subject matter of the page, namely why does news about established religions receive the same treatment as reports about superstition, ritual abuse and witchcraft? The answer to this is straightforward - 80 does not distinguish between the various types of irrational belief - they are all nonsensical. Simple as that. Beware when looking through the contents for, as the page's subtitle warns the reader, "Health Warning - reading too many of these can result in severe depression tinged with disgust".
Look Out For - Stewart Lee. The comedian, co-writer and co-director of Jerry Springer: The Opera, asks What's Wrong with Blasphemy? as part of UK Channel Five TV series Don't Get Me Started. Lee, articulate, scathing and very funny debates with clergymen, politicians and journalists. (Tuesday September 5th Channel Five 19:15)
Here We Go Again - was Pope Ratzinger really unaware of the consequences of his speech in which he quoted unflattering remarks about the founder of Islam? Surely after the absurd, violent (and orchestrated) overreaction to the Mohammed cartoons he should have realized what would happen? Maybe he did, and this is very much a return to form for Ratzinger (see Panzerkardinal) after a short honeymoon period following his election as pontiff. It is hard to believe he is unworldly enough to think his words (or rather those of an obscure Byzantine emperor) would not spark a reaction among Muslims. So once again we are faced with Muslims reacting violently to accusations of violence - thereby confirming for many that yes, Islam is a violent religion. Certainly the expansion of Islam in the early middle ages was not accomplished by being sweetness and light but by violent conquest - do those complaining about Ratzinger not acknowledge this fact? Both Christianity and Islam have shameful histories of violence, both against each other and within, as sects and heretics were rooted out. In fact, once the moron Bush took the lid off the Iraq pressure cooker Shiites and Sunnis immediately started murdering each other.
These days Christian sects tend not to settle their differences by murder - not yet anyway, but with the advent of increasingly assertive religiosity and a corresponding willingness to be offended by almost anything perhaps it won't be too long. Meanwhile watch out for repressive governments in Muslim countries stokeing up the row to distract a turbulent population with an external bogeyman. Last time it was the Danish cartoons, this time Ratzinger has handed them the opportunity. The power of religious belief to set human beings at each others' throats is returning to the world (although it never really went away completely) but this is a different world, not of swords and spears but roadside bombs, AK-47s, suicide bombers and supposedly "surgical" airstrikes. it is also a world more interconnected and vulnerable than ever before - witness how swift the reaction to Ratzinger's speech has been. The cartoon row only really got going after it was deliberately stirred up months after the original publication, this time things seem to be happening much faster. Perhaps, along with all the other medieval mumbo-jumbo he embraces, Ratzinger would like to be the first pope in centuries to preach a crusade.
How dare you, Mr. President - Keith Olbermann delivers a moving and impassioned piece commemorating the attacks of 9/11 and examining the progress, if any, that has been made since at Ground Zero and in the "war on terror". Bush and his administration do not fare well. Recommended. Transcript and video are here, courtesy of Alternet.
Catholic Truth? - here is an equation that only makes sense if you are ignorant or stupid (being Roman Catholic helps, but is not essential). Homosexual = pedophile. A simple little equation based upon nothing more than unthinking prejudice - it is certainly not based on fact, but when has the real world ever bothered bigots with a bee in their collective bonnets? A nasty little Edinburgh-based bunch of laypeople, Catholic Truth, have started a campaign to "out" any gay priests. Why? Because these clods think the above equation reflects reality - at least to their own satisfaction (and how easily the simple-minded are satisfied). Now the Catholic church on its past record cannot help but know a lot about pedophiles - they have had enough of them in the priesthood after all - so why don't Catholic Truth ask for figures regarding the sexual orientation of the hordes of priests who have been caught taking advantage of their trusted position to abuse children? 80 is willing to bet that gays are far outnumbered by "straights" on this roll of shame - if only for the reason they are outnumbered in the general population. Catholic Truth's nasty little request in a newsletter for congregation members to snitch on their priest is frankly nauseating and obviously wide open to abuse. Besides, if they failed to spot pedophiles abusing children over a period of years how will they manage to tell whether a priest is gay? (Perhaps its the way they swing their censers.) One would have hoped that by the 21st century we would have seen the last of such "queer-bashing" tactics but thanks to the redeeming power of religion such disgusting behavior appears to be on the increase. Catholic Truth can take their "heavenly witness protection programme" and shove it. For more on this see the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association's news release. And for another story of Catholic morality click here - and not a gay in sight......Oh, just to mention Pope Ratzinger yet again it appears he has extended his papal tour.
Look Out For - Tony Robinson's "rollicking story about a strain of evangelical Christianity that takes the Book of Revelation literally: the so-called "End-Timers". Put crudely, End-Timers believe that the Apocalypse is coming, and they wield considerable (and worrying) political clout in the USA." The The Doomsday Code is on UK Channel 4 this Saturday, September 16th at 7pm and runs for two hours. It is repeated Tuesday at 1:30am. The show is part of a Channel 4 strand examining religious extremism - see here for more.
More Papal Wisdom - "...it is important to state clearly the God in whom we believe. Only this can free us from being afraid of God - which is ultimately at the root of modern atheism. Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life." So said the Pope during his current tour in a speech he made expressing his concerns about militant Islam, stating that violent conversion is contrary to reason and to God's plan (of course Ratzinger knows what that plan is, it is reason that is beyond his grasp, otherwise he would not conflate the two.). It seems for this miserable old man life is "emptiness" without belief in a magical being. It may well be true for him but he shouldn't assume everyone else shares this bleak outlook. Sorry for repeatedly mentioning Ratzinger but the old boy really does come out with some inanities, which the majority of the mainstream media parrots uncritically. Why can he not just say that violent jihad is wrong - not because it is contrary to some imaginary plan, but wrong because it hurts and oppresses people. Surely you don't need a Sky-Fairy to tell you that? Naturally he also took the opportunity for another cheap ( and unsubstantiated) jibe at atheists. No atheist of 80's acquaintance, and there are many, is "afraid" of God. How can you be afraid of a figment of someone else's imagination? It is only when such figments affect the actions of religious zealots that things become dangerous. Then it is the people that you fear, not their delusions. Ratzinger and many other believers just cannot get their heads around the fact that their God is unecessary. To quote Pierre-Simon Laplace, when he was asked by Napoleon why God was not mentioned in his description of the Solar System, "Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis".
The God Delusion - is the name of Richard Dawkins' latest book, favorably reviewed here by Joan Bakewell. She notes that he pulls no punches in his warnings about the toxic mixture of religion and politics, whether it is US right-wing fundamentalist Christians or Islamic jihadis attempting to foist their superstitious world view upon others. Her conclusion is "Dawkins is right to be not only angry but alarmed. Religions have the secular world running scared. This book is a clarion call to cower no longer. Primed by anger, redeemed by humour, it will, I trust, offend many." 80 cannot wait to get hold of a copy. Talking of Dawkins, 80 was recently alerted to his new website, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDF). (thanks, Tony). On the index page, apart from much general news and a calendar detailing Dawkins' tour promoting the new book, there is also the first of an original series of articles by the man himself, called Collateral Damage 1 : Embryos and Stem Cell research.
Elsewhere on the site Dawkins lays out his aims for the Foundation in video and transcript form. They cover a wide area and are obviously an opening salvo in a war with those religionists who clearly think their unsubstantiated superstitious beliefs should become the law of the land. The web site also intends to be a source of information on "scientific, rationalist and humanist" subjects. Dawkins also intends to make material available, announcing that "Within the legal limits imposed on non-profit organizations in the two countries, we intend to supply, either free or at nominal prices, DVDs, tapes, podcasts, booklets etc. These will initially include such of my own television documentaries etc. as I am allowed to provide. For example, I am negotiating to acquire the rights to my 1991 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for Children, entitled Growing Up in the Universe and originally broadcast by the BBC." In addition to this the archive is packed with video interviews, streaming audio and photos, all free to access. This is excellent stuff and ensures that the RDF web site will be a very regular port of call for 80.
On a page dedicated to reviews of The God Delusion are to be found some familiar names including James D. Watson, Steven Pinker, Derren Brown and Michael Frayn but 80 found the pithiest comment came from Penn Jillette, the large, loud one from Penn and Teller, "If this book doesn't change the world -- we're all screwed." Lest this all sounds somewhat po-faced a comment from Jillette's partner in magic, the typically mute Teller, shows that all is not gloom and doom, "I took the first 115 pages of The God Delusion on a short vacation, thinking this would be some heavy reading I might dip into. I'm normally a VERY slow reader. I burned through every page I'd brought, and kicked myself for not bringing more. You are the one author alive who could make an atheist polemic into a riot of vacation fun and a real page-turner. P.S. There are numerous passages that made me laugh aloud. What a delight." (Bonus - 80 has just found in the RDF archive The Atheism Tapes, a series of video interviews by Jonathan Miller in which he talks to among others, Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg and Daniel Dennett - highly recommended)
Papal Bull - Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate has a few things to say about Pope Ratzinger and his supposed faux pas - none of them good. As a bonus at the bottom of the page are links to his views on Ratzinger's predecessor and the patron saint of wrinkles, Mother Teresa. (Also see Tainted Saint for more on the ghoul of Calcutta.) Also commenting on portions of Ratzinger's speech is Sam Harris in a piece called ‘God’s Rottweiler’ Barks in Truthdig. One paragraph is worth quoting at length "The West is endangered, primarily, by the religious fragmentation of the human community, by religious impediments to clear thinking, and by the religious willingness of millions to sacrifice the real possibility of happiness in this world for a fantasy of a world to come. We are living in a world where untold millions of grown men and women can rationalize the violent sacrifice of their own children by recourse to fairy tales. We are living in world where millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of American Christians hope to soon be raptured into the sky by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy the holy genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. We are living in a world in which a silly old priest, by merely giving voice to his religious inanities, could conceivably start a war with 1.4 billion Muslims who take their own inanities in deadly earnest." Another gem from this week's Truthdig is a piece by Gore Vidal in which he reflects on 9/11 and the parallels between Bush's US and the change from republic to empire in ancient Rome.
Devilish Definitions - Palmistry, n. "The 947th method (according to Mimbleshaw's classification) of obtaining money by false pretenses. It consists in "reading character" in the wrinkles made by closing the hand. The pretense is not altogether false; character can really be read very accurately in this way, for the wrinkles in every hand submitted plainly spell the word "dupe." The imposture consists in not reading it aloud." Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
The Good Guys - here are a couple of items from last week's Humanist Network News (what do you mean don't subscribe? It's free!) First up is The New Naysayers by Jerry Adler which looks at three prominent individuals who have a naturalistic view of life and are far from reticent about the dangers (and absurdities) of religious belief. They are Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith", Daniel Dennett, whose latest work is "Breaking the Spell" and Richard Dawkins, whose new book, "The God Delusion" (see above) is about to be published. Two observations about Adler's piece - firstly describing these three men as "naysayers" appears to define them in a negative way, yet when you read Dawkins, say, on the awe and beauty that can be experienced in our natural universe you realize there is nothing negative about his views, they are a celebration of life and knowledge. Adler also spends too much time on the point that an uncompromising attitude toward religious belief alienates believers - as if taking the softer, Stephen Jay Gould "non-overlapping magisteria" approach would be more likely to sway them. There is no evidence that this is the case. The second item is a piece from NPR, an interview entitled An Atheist Antidote to Religious Fanaticism with Pat Berger, a resident of Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, whose outlook was changed by the 9/11 atrocities. She was already aware of the history of violence caused by religion but the attacks on September 11th brought it fully home. She says "And I thought, all of this for some -- you know, the imaginary Harvey, the imaginary rabbit. That is how I started to think of this supposed person who held our fate in his hands. Well, I didn't buy it."
Quote - "Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence," Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam, speaking without a trace of irony..
Musings - on the veil
precipitated by Jack Straw. Straw, MP for Blackburn and Leader of the
House of Commons, has said that when meeting his constituents he asks Muslim
women wearing veils to remove them, as he finds them a barrier to
communication. He has been widely quoted as saying "With all the caveats, I
would prefer women not to wear the veil". Naturally this has caused a furor -
it is now the fashion to take any comment that may be construed as critical of
any aspect of religion and scream blue murder. And yet the veil itself is not
actually specified in the Quran - it is later commentators and cultures
that laid down the rules that, in the most extreme interpretations, have
resulted in some women in Saudi Arabia for instance, not only wearing clothes
that totally envelop them but also sporting gloves so that no skin is bared
whatsoever. This surely raises the question that if Allah created women, why
should his work be shrouded thus? The answer lies perhaps in the low status of
women inherent in abrahamic religions and patriarchal cultures, which
obviously means it is the men who decide dress codes. If Christians adhered to
their own Bible as Muslims do to the Quran and its commentaries their women
would not only be covered but also silent in church.
Happily mainstream Christianity has, for the most part, left such
discrimination behind - although many a fundamentalist wishes this was not so.
The Church of England (C of E) or any other modern Protestant denomination
would have St Paul, that old misogynist, seething over the latitude allowed
these uppity women.
In western culture masks or veils have served different purposes - to hide the identity of a criminal (Dick Turpin), to hide the identity of a crimefighter (Batman?) or to conceal grief (particularly in Victorian and Edwardian times). When human beings talk together words alone are only a part of the discourse - we also watch the other person's facial expressions to interpret what they are saying, just as much as listening to their voice. For someone from a culture accustomed to conversing using words and facial expressions to talk to what is little more a disembodied pair of eyes can be unsettling and is definitely a barrier to communication. Perhaps it is not too much to ask, as Straw has, that some accommodation should be made by those living in a western democratic liberal society to to the sensibilities of that society. At the moment, in large part thanks to the ghettoisation that is an unwitting side effect of multiculturalism, there is little attempt to join in.
To many people in the UK, and particularly children the sight of someone completely covered (often in black) from head to foot and peering out at the world through a slit appears sinister - it cannot be helped, and is a product of western cultural history. Can western societies combat this via education? Perhaps, but should they have to? Such dress is often taken, rightly or wrongly, as a rejection of contemporary society. At the moment the western democracies are on the back foot, what's more, it is a foot hobbled by multiculturalism. All cultures are not equal and one that considers women of less value than men is obviously lacking. Such prejudices take a long time to eradicate, as evidenced by pay disparities and the glass ceiling effect still extant in western democracies, but at least things are (mostly) moving in the right direction. Ah, you might say, that is only your opinion as to whether the direction is the right one. But surely anything that improves the lot of disadvantaged groups in society is moving in the right direction?
If people wish to live in, say, the UK and enjoy the considerable freedoms and social and health services of that country then an effort should be made to assimilate to some degree. It has happened before with earlier waves of immigrants and there is no reason why it should not happen again - except perhaps for one thing. If your entire society, family structure, diet and dress are determined by your religion - where every detail of life is entwined with your faith - changing it will be very difficult indeed and will often be met by punishment inflicted by fellow religionists. Quite how this clash of cultures - and yes there is no getting away from it, it is a clash of cultures, will turn out is not clear. What is definitely unhelpful is the Blair government's idiotic espousal of state-funded sectarian schools, whether they are C of E, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish Muslim or Pastafarian. The first step toward assimilation and accommodation should begin with children of all races and religions learning to work and live together in the same schools - secular schools without religious indoctrination of any kind. Things do not look good on this front as the Tories' boy wonder, considered a possible future prime minister, is also in favor of what are euphemistically described as "faith" schools. It is no good having consultations and inquiries on social inclusion while planning to expand the number of sectarian schools funded with taxpayer's money. Meanwhile it is a sad and disgusting world in which so much hot air has been vented and lives lost over trivial things like cartoons and papal quotations and veils - and yet so little is being done to to stop Muslims murdering Muslims in Darfur and Baghdad. (Anyone who thinks that last sentence ignores the effects of the criminal war launched by the Bush regime and aided and abetted by Blair's bunch should try reading some other items on this site before climbing on that particular high horse.) Also contrast and compare this piece, Why Muslim women should thank Straw by Saira Khan with Jack Straw has unleashed a storm of prejudice and intensified division by Madeleine Bunting to see how divided opinions are on this subject.
Quote - "You can't teach somebody if they can't communicate, without seeing the response. Teaching is not like stuffing a goose with corn - its utterly reactive. In a social situation, everybody else's faces are giving away stuff left right and centre." Jean Seaton, professor of media history at the University of Westminster commenting on the difficulty teaching a masked student.
Quote - "I disagree with Straw. It's these women's religion. They should all be wearing the veil according to the proper teaching. Yes, maybe it puts some people off but look at nuns or people from other faiths which get people to do things with their clothes ... Nobody goes around telling them what they can and can't wear, they just get used to it." Jahangir Hussain, 16, student, talking to The Guardian.
This Is What They Do - "Scientology is not a religion. It is a business and its aim is to gain power over individuals and try to brainwash them. We see it as the duty of the state to inform students and parents about the danger of these schools." Bavarian Interior Minister Gunther Beckstein, talking about this clownish and yet deeply sinister organization's activities in Germany. Sadly he is missing the point that all religions, even ones made up by loony pulp SF writers, are out to "to gain power over individuals and try to brainwash them." That is their standard operating procedure. So in that sense Scientology definitely is a religion.
Quote - "The buck stops here, we're taking responsibility." House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert commenting on the Foley scandal. Well, there has to be a first time for everything. Just one thing needs a little clarification. Is that responsibility for Foley's predatory activities or responsibility for keeping quiet about them?
Astounding Psychic Powers Catch a Murderer! No, only joking, unlike so-called psychic Christine Holohan, who, to put it bluntly, appears to be seriously deluded as to her supposed magical abilities. Another, less charitable possibility is deliberate deceit, not necessarily for financial gain but for the uncritical publicity much of the media give so freely to paranormal claims of all kinds. For the rest of the story click on over to Tony Youen's Commentary page and read Dead Wrong and Another Failure This Way Comes. As far as 80 knows no "psychic" has ever supplied genuinely useful information to the police that has cracked a case. Plenty of guesses, vague impressions and a heap of bullshit perhaps, but no real leads have been given that could not have been obtained by conventional means. (Although things can, of course, be made to seem more impressive with a little judicious "retrofitting") It looks like that with Holohan the long and disreputable list of those ghouls and fantasists claiming to be a "psychic detectives" has gained another entry. For an in-depth investigation of Holohan's claims regarding the Jacqueline Poole murder case conducted by Youens and Adrian Shaw see Did a Medium Identify a Murderer?
How Important Are We - in the larger scheme of things? Not very, would be the charitable answer. Here is the view from Saturn. And from further out? How about this pale blue dot? Never mind the flags, pictures of leaders or biblical commandments that hang on classroom walls the world over, why not replace them with just this one picture? Religionists bang on about humility - they haven't the faintest idea.
Delusion Excerpts - while you are waiting for your copy of Richard Dawkins' latest book, The God Delusion, to arrive in the mail you can take the edge off your appetite slightly by reading a couple of extracts, one courtesy of the BBC and the other in The Guardian. The page from the Beeb also has an interview with Dawkins by Jeremy Paxman which you can stream or download.
Devil or Not? - Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez recently accused George W Bush of being the "Devil" in a speech at the UN. Now idiosyncratic San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford gets to the bottom of this accusation in his piece "Is Bush Really The Devil? Satan has better taste in shoes. Is far sexier. Can actually spell 'Venezuela.' I mean, come on" Enjoy!
Quote - "If certainties such as the war in Iraq and the axis of evil are based on a religious belief that God is on our side - versus we should be on God's side as Lincoln said - then certitude creates foreign policy problems." Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under the Clinton administration, commenting on the woeful mess that is Bush's foreign policy.
Cross Piece - now here's an interesting concatenation of assorted factors. One is the reputation of a particular medical "showman" for grisly stunts in the name of science. Another is the competition between religious groups to see which one can the most "offended" by something (anything) in modern culture, be it art exhibitions (Sikhs and Hindus), comic operas ( fundie Christians) or just about everything else (Muslims). The third is the abysmal ignorance of history demonstrated in this instance by one of these groups of aforementioned religionists - the fundie Christians.
The showman is one Gunther von Hagens, famous for making a
showbiz spectacle out of human body parts and their dissection in live
shows and on TV. He is
reported in the UK Daily Mirror tabloid (and elsewhere) to be undertaking
the crucifixion of a cadaver purportedly "to show how Jesus would have
suffered during the ordeal". This news (inaccurate news it now seems) was
enough to get Christian groups screaming about how offensive this would be.
Predictably uber-nutter and Christ-wannabe Stephen Green of Christian Voice
made sure his own far from still, small voice was heard. The Mirror reports
him as saying "This sounds gratuitously offensive and blasphemous. It could
well be we'd want to take action." One can almost hear his moist, and as yet
unpierced, palms rubbing together in anticipation of the fray and the possible
publicity for his sad little sect. Now, however, we shall let a little reality
intrude. Here is
an article in which a spokesman for van Hagen's
Institute for Plastination downplays any suggestion of a crucifixion TV
show. To quote, "As an anatomist inspired by the Renaissance, Dr. von Hagens
is fascinated by the curious alliance between the Church and anatomists from
the 1500s, and interested in expanding the boundaries of discussion about
anatomy. Thus, he welcomed the lively exchange with Mr. Curwin about anatomy,
anatomists, religion, death, God, and most interestingly, crucifixion's place
in history and anatomy, and the crucifixion experiments of Pierre Barbet and
Frederick Zugibe. What followed was an extended hypothetical discussion about
a hypothetical program showing the most common method of execution practiced
by the Romans, which, according to historical records, claimed the lives of as
many as 2000 people a day. While Dr. von Hagens enjoyed the sparkling dialogue
and banter about the filmic possibilities of such an endeavor, he did not at
any time agree to participate in staging a re-enactment of the crucifixion of
Jesus Christ, nor is he planning to do so in the future."
So much for that side of the story, but it does reveal (yet again) the level of ignorance among fundamentalist Christians about the times in which their faith developed. 80 does not know where the crucifixion of "2000 people a day" figure comes from quoted above (most likely Josephus), but it is a certain bet that many, many more pagans died from this disgusting method of torture/execution than Christians. In the wake of the Slave Revolt led by Spartacus against Rome in 73 BCE (many years before St Paul invented Christianity) over 6000 of his followers were crucified along the Appian Way. Crucifixion was also a popular punishment in the Hellenistic kingdoms founded by the successors to Alexander the Great, although the practice dates to well before that, being mentioned by Herodotus, "the father of Greek history" who wrote around 400 BCE. So far from being a special punishment associated with the Christian's likely mythical wonderworking godman (and the two poor sods nailed up either side of him) it was used for hundreds of years throughout the ancient world. Oddly the founder of Christianity, Paul, describes the demise of his Christ as seemingly happening on another spiritual plane altogether and not in the real everyday, physical world of blood, sweat, tears and nails. The "proper" crucifixion story as known to most Christians was concocted much later in the canonical gospels, the earliest of which, Mark, postdates Paul by 40 years or so according to current knowledge. (Even the Quran mentions crucifixion - albeit as a threat for those who violently resist "submission" to this most peaceful of religions - see 5:33) A big problem with recreating a crucifixion, should one wish to do such a grisly thing, is that no one is sure how it was done - there were likely different methods that varied from period to period and from geographical area to geographical area. The only known find of a crucifixion burial has not settled the matter - even here opinions vary, with one version having the the victim's knees drawn up in a bent position - a very different posture from the graceful depiction in many Catholic churches. Which all goes to show that crucifixion is a hard thing to nail down - or up. (Thanks yet again to Tony for the "heads up" on this one and for those who want more on crucifixion see here)
No Freedom At All -
radical Islamists have a knack for creating a row even when no "offence" has
been caused. The Mohammed cartoons had been published for months (in Denmark and
believe it or not,
before certain Danish imams hawked them around various Muslim countries bent on
fomenting outrage. Even then the imams had to
spice things up by adding cartoons
to the original set that were cruder and if possible less amusing than the
originals. This practice is known as shit-stirring and it seems to be
catching on. See
this page, from The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), that
reports "Muslims" have been outraged by an Apple store on 5th Avenue, New
York that purportedly mocks the Ka'ba, the black block that stands in the Masjid al-Haram
mosque in Mecca. Looking at images of the two the only thing they seem to
share is a cubic shape - surely these buggers aren't claiming to have
copyrighted the cube? Even more absurdly, as it seems that mere cubicity
isn't enough to stir up sufficient outrage, other daft claims were made -
"The fact that the building ... is called "Apple Mecca," is intended to be
open 24 hours a day like the Ka'ba, and moreover, contains bars selling
alcoholic beverages, constitutes a blatant insult to Islam." A swift check
Register reveals a different picture, "As far as we're aware it's not
called the "Apple Mecca", it does not serve alcoholic beverages, and
neither Jack Straw nor Salman Rushdie work behind the counter.". The store
has also been open since May, so these poor Islamists must have been going
through a slow burn for several months before they decided they just
couldn't stand it any more and so would stamp their feet and get all
cross. Sadly MEMRI has failed to supply a link to the web site that
originated this daft tale and so it remains unsubstantiated - but
perfectly, and sadly believable in the light of this new sport whereby
followers of various faiths vie with each other to see who can be the most
offended by cartoons, paintings, plays, musicals and now architecture.
Talking of overly-sensitive religions, Islam, currently well out in front of the rest of the outraged faithful competition has yet more problems with Denmark. No, not about the original dozen Mohammed cartoons, over which resentment still seethes, but over "...a video showing far-right activists drawing the (Mohammed) images..." that was aired on Danish TV. This BBC report informs us "Activists from the Danish People's Party were filmed at a summer camp, drinking, singing and taking part in a competition to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad, including one depicting him as a camel with beer bottles as humps." So, some right-wing nitwits are behaving just like .....right-wing nitwits. Don't they always? It is hardly surprising news but it was enough for "..a majority of Iranian MPs (to) have urged President Ahmadinejad to suspend relations with Denmark." Furthermore "Iran and Indonesia have both summoned the Danish ambassador to their foreign ministries in protest of the video." and "A militant group in Gaza has made threats against Danes in the Palestinian areas in connection with the [cartoon] matter." My, what a proportionate response. One thing the Iranians, Indonesians etc do not understand is that Denmark is a free country and the government does not control the news media - there is, wait for it, freedom of expression. This is, of course, totally beyond the comprehension of the governments of Islamic countries who are so loved by their citizens that they dare not allow them to speak their minds.
Do take a look at this article by Abdul Rahman bin Hammad al-Omar in the Gulf Times and try to understand his version of freedom Muslim-style. Here are the first sentences of this "scholar's" definition of freedom of faith "In a country ruled by Muslim authorities, a non-Muslim is guaranteed his freedom of faith. He has the full choice, either to embrace Islam to deliver himself from disbelief and attain prosperity, or to stick to his religion, and hence, choose disbelief, distress and be a loser in the Hereafter. Such a choice provides a clear-cut evidence against the disbeliever on the Day of Judgment. Muslims are forbidden from obliging a non-Muslim to embrace Islam, but he should pay the tribute to Muslims readily and submissively, surrender to Islamic laws, and should not practise his polytheistic rituals openly." He further goes on to say "Such a system based on respecting the opinions of others so long as their opinions are not violating the law of Allah is most (sic) magnanimous system. Opinions contrary to the laws of Allah result in nothing but corruption and falsehood, therefore these should not be communicated." That doesn't sound like any freedom that 80 recognizes. This next paragraph should certainly have a depressing effect on any Muslims rash enough to want to assimilate, even slightly, with the culture of the countries in which they have chosen to live, such as the UK or the Netherlands. "Muslims are enjoined not to imitate the behaviour of Allah’s enemies, or commit their indecencies. Behaviour-imitation will affect the Muslim’s attitudes, and may create in him a sensation of sympathy towards his enemy’s indecent mode of life. Allah wants the Muslim to be purged from all vices, and thus be a proper source for original Islamic thought, independent of all forms of man-made opinions, ideas, or modes of behaviour. The Muslim should be a model for others in both faith and behaviour, he should not be an imitator and dependent on others." The article is entitled, without even a whiff of irony, Islam and Freedom.
PROFESSOR STEVE JONES NAMED “SECULARIST OF THE YEAR” - The geneticist Professor Steve Jones has been named Secularist of the Year by the National Secular Society. Professor Jones is the 2006 winner of the £5,000 annual Irwin Prize for his contribution to the promotion of secularism. (for details see the National Secular Society and you can listen to Jones on "intelligent design" in a podcast, streaming audio or downloadable mp3 by going here.)
Just A Comma? - "We’re going to help the Iraqi people. Remember, 12 million of them voted in elections last December. That probably seems like a decade ago to you, but when the history is finally written, it will be just a comma." so says President George W Bush. Some comma - "A team of U.S. and Iraqi public health researchers has estimated that more than 600,000 civilians have died in violence across Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion, the highest estimate ever for the toll of the war here. The figure breaks down to about 15,000 violent deaths a month, a number that is quadruple the one for July given by Iraqi government hospitals and the morgue in Baghdad and published last month in a U.N. report in Iraq. That month was the highest for Iraqi civilian deaths since the U.S. invasion." LA Daily News (see The Lancet for details of the report in pdf format)
Quote - "Far from being crazy, the North Korean policy is quite rational. Faced with a US government that believes the communist regime should be removed from the map, the North Koreans pressed ahead with building a deterrent. George Bush stopped the oil supplies to North Korea that had been part of a framework to end its nuclear programme previously agreed with Bill Clinton. Bush had already threatened pre-emptive war - Iraq-style - against a regime he dubbed as belonging to the axis of evil." Dan Plesch, writing in the Guardian.
Quote - "We started with Iraq in the 'axis of evil' side, when we thought they did not yet have nuclear weapons, and that sent the signal to others that they better get them quick. I think we started on the wrong end of that." Former Democrat senator Sam Nunn talking to the Washington Post.
Bomb Bluff? - given that North Korea's nuclear test was only equivalent to 550 tons of TNT (according to South Korean estimates) and no radiation was released one wonders if what was detonated was.....550 tons of TNT. In an article suggesting there may be a second test the South Korean director of the state-run Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Department (NEPD), Han Seung-Jae, said "No radioactivity has not yet been detected from the alleged nuclear test. It might not be detected at all if the alleged nuclear testing was conducted in a tightly sealed atmosphere such as a deep tunnel, and all radioactive rays and fallout are contained." he said. Further analysis may well prove 80 utterly wrong but at the moment it still seems a fair possibility that this could have been a very big conventional explosion. (See here and here for more)
What are the most widely
practiced religions of the world? - this little
The Register makes for interesting reading. It features a
league table of religions compiled by "..Adherents, an independent,
non-religiously affiliated organisation that monitors the number and size
of the world's religions." As the piece notes, the survey does not get into
the gritty question of what actually constitutes a religion - particularly
as it includes disbelief in the list of supernatural silliness. If accurate, the league table's top
five entries may come as a surprise to some. Suffice it to say that the
entry at number three made 80's day.
1 Christianity (2.1 billion)
2 Islam (1.3 billion)
3 Nonreligious (Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.1 billion)
4 Hinduism (900 million)
5 Chinese traditional religion (394 million)
A Fine Pair - of pieces from Ben Goldacre's Bad Science in the Guardian. The first returns to the subject of Channel 4's bullying harridan and nutritionist Gillian McKeith in TV's Gillian, the Victorian doctor. (also see You Are What You Eat) Her scientific knowledge is breathtaking, as Goldacre illustrates "...explaining in her 1.5m copies (gosh) bestselling books that chlorophyll is "high in oxygen"; eating it will oxygenate your blood (not without a searchlight up your bum to drive the photosynthesis of oxygen, I would suggest); and that "each sprouting seed is packed with the nutritional energy needed to create a full grown healthy plant" (I have an apple seed in my left hand and an apple tree in my right, for comparison, as I try to work out what she means)." His second target is a promotional scam/scheme to supply a British local council omega-3 fish oil capsules for distribution in schools, Omega-3 and kids? It still smells fishy. The only problem is that there seem to be no reliable studies to show that such a course would benefit anyone apart from generating publicity for the company concerned. For more from Goldacre and readers' feedback see his blog including the full fish oil story and more on McKeith - his Guardian column has a permanent link in the sidebar of this page.
Bringer of Light - plump, smug evangelist Jerry Falwell recently referred to Senator Hillary Clinton as "Lucifer", clearly intended to mean the Devil, in what he described as a tongue-in-cheek remark. A remark which he has refused to retract and has said he will repeat. Good. The bigoted butterball is welcome to display his abysmal ignorance in this way. The name Lucifer (Latin for bearer or bringer of light) only appears in Isaiah 14:12 "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!" This creates a puzzle, for how can a biblical book, written in Hebrew at about the time Rome was traditionally founded, use a Latin name? Because the version of the Bible used by Falwell and chums is the King James Authorized Version, which was not translated directly from the Hebrew but from a translation made by St Jerome, known as The Vulgate. Here he rendered a Hebrew phrase meaning "shining one, son of dawn" ie the morning star, as Lucifer. The passage is, in fact, about a Babylonian king who enjoyed the soubriquet "Morning Star", much as King Louis XIV was feted as the Sun King. So, no Devil there. There is, however, in the New Testament another character who claims to be the Morning Star, one that Christians would never equate with "Lucifer". Here he is in Revelation 22:16 "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." So, it would seem Jesus is really Lucifer and Falwell merely a fat, ignorant fool......... ( for further reading 80 recommends The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels ISBN 0-14-015368-3. Also check out Blogging the Bible for more oddities.)
Sanctifying Work - "Sanctifying work means to work with the spirit of Jesus Christ, to work competently and ethically, with the aim of loving God and serving others, and thus to sanctify the world from within, making the Gospel present in all activities whether they be outstanding or humble and hidden. In the eyes of God what matters is the love that is put into work, not its human success." from the Opus Dei web site. (see Hypocrisy In Government below)
Quote - "We had always feared Ruth Kelly's personal beliefs would make her unsuitable to be a champion of gay rights. Unfortunately these fears have become reality and she should now stand down." Lorely Burt, Liberal Democrat equality spokeswoman (see Hypocrisy In Government below)
Hypocrisy In Government - if one must apply one's faith to everyday life surely it should be done consistently. This article from the Guardian reports on "... open warfare over new gay rights legislation after Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, who is a devout Catholic, blocked the plans following protests from religious organisations." Kelly, a member of Roman Catholic cult Opus Dei, has in the past said that her faith is separate from her function as a member of government. 80 has labelled her a hypocrite (see Damned If You Do) for such a stance as one of the main precepts of Opus Dei is to apply your faith to your work - and now this report confirms she didn't mean a word of it, which makes her a liar and a hypocrite. Why the hell should religious organizations be exempt from aspects of gay rights legislation? Perhaps 80 should be allowed to opt out of any legislation he finds irksome on the grounds that he too has an imaginary friend who tells him it's OK? Put like that it sounds absurd, does it not? Yet this is exactly what religious organizations want and it seems like Blair (a catholic wannabe) and Kelly (a catholic cultist) are going to allow them to opt out. This sentence says it all "The consultation is particularly sensitive because both Kelly and her deputy equalities minister, Meg Munn, as well as Blair, are committed Christians."
The Liberal Democrats, Britain's third major party, can clearly see a serious conflict of interest while Kelly is in charge of equality legislation. This report tells us "The Liberal Democrats yesterday urged Ruth Kelly to give up her responsibility for equalities, claiming her personal beliefs were incompatible with defending gay rights. The attack followed a report that the communities secretary, a member of Opus Dei, was blocking proposals to stop religious organisations refusing services to people on grounds of their sexuality." Kelly, naturally, has donned her hypocrite's hat once more and denied the claims, calling them "absurd". They are not absurd - they are deeply worrying. In a country that is largely secular why on earth is legislation apparently being decided by a Christian cabal in Downing Street? Laws should not be passed, or in this case crippled, on the basis of superstition purely in order to benefit those who happen to share that superstition. 80 trusts the likes of Blair and Kelly to be fair and unprejudiced (in this or any other matter) about as far as he could spit a grand piano........
That "committed Christians" description above does not sit too well with another news item that shows the application of Blair's faith is patchy, to say the least. "The British government is exporting record levels of military equipment to 19 of the 20 states its own ministers and officials have just identified as 'major countries of concern' for human rights abuses." So Christian Blair is ready to use his faith to discriminate against gays but at the same time he is happy to sell weapons to torturers and murderers - he is utterly contemptible.
Quote - "At its very least, there is a growing feeling that the Muslim community is excessively sensitive to criticism, unwilling to engage in substantive debate. Much worse, is the feeling of some Muslim leaders that as a community they should be protected from criticism, argument, parody, satire and all the other challenges that happen in a society that has free speech as its highest value." David Davis, shadow home secretary in the Guardian
- here are two interesting takes on the British veil
debate. First is Polly Toynbee who nails her colors to the mast with the
title of her piece,
Only a fully secular state can protect women's rights, in which she
uses the veil row and sectarian schooling debate to make a more general
point about the treatment of women. Such sentiments are bound to have
unrepresentative groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain screaming
"islamophobia". This is rot - Toynbee is not so much attacking Islam (or
Christianity) but defending women's rights in a liberal democracy - and
those who choose to live in such a democracy should abide by the norms of
that society. This is not attacking religious belief but upholding the
principle that all people, regardless of gender, should be treated
equally. As for the claims that covering women up is to ensure "modesty"
it seems that such modes of dress engender little respect even in an
Islamic country as Toynbee tells us, "The veil turns women into things. It
was shocking to find on the streets of Kabul that invisible women behind
burkas are not treated with special respect. On the contrary, they are
pushed and shoved off pavements by men, jostled aside as if almost
subhuman without the face-to-face contact that recognises common
humanity." The abrahamic religions have always treated women as inferior
and the more fundamentalist the outlook the more women are oppressed,
which is one good reason why government and faith should be kept as
far apart as possible. (Even "moderate" religionists differ only in degree
from rabid zealots - they are but two points in a continuous spectrum of
faith, see Rant.)
At the moment with Blair's Christian cabal pushing for
relaxation of anti-discrimination legislation for
religious organizations and the expansion of sectarian schooling there is
no sign of religion's malevolent influence weakening just yet, although
there are now plenty of cracks in the nonsense that is Britain's version
of multiculturalism. Even the Reverend Blair has
come out over the case of a schoolteacher suspended for insisting on
wearing a veil whilst working. (For more on the veil business see
As a counterpart to Toynbee's piece is this by Muslim journalist Zaiba Malik, who has never herself worn a veil. To gain some insight into the current fuss she dressed for one day in the full rig "Firstly the black robe, or jilbab, which zips up at the front. Then the long rectangular hijab that wraps around my head and is secured with safety pins. Finally the niqab, which is a square of synthetic material with adjustable straps, a slit of about five inches for my eyes and a tiny heart-shaped bit of netting, which I assume is to let some air in." Her reaction to looking in the mirror while wearing this outfit is striking, "I'm horrified. I have disappeared and somebody I don't recognise is looking back at me. I cannot tell how old she is, how much she weighs, whether she has a kind or a sad face, whether she has long or short hair, whether she has any distinctive facial features at all. I've seen this person in black on the television and in newspapers, in the mountains of Afghanistan and the cities of Saudi Arabia, but she doesn't look right here, in my bedroom in a terraced house in west London." In 80's view such garb does not look right anywhere. Malik then took herself out and about in the capital to gauge the reactions of others which make for fascinating reading. Even when walking in parts of London with a large Muslim element she found no others dressed like her. An unpleasant side effect was that in this confining garb, Malik felt claustrophobic and clumsy "Im finding it hard to breathe. There is no real inlet for air and I can feel the heat of every breath I exhale, so my face just gets hotter and hotter. The slit for my eyes keeps slipping down to my nose, so I can barely see a thing. Throughout the day I trip up more times than I care to remember. As for peripheral vision, it's as if I'm stuck in a car buried in black snow." Of course some will say that if she had been made to wear this outfit from the age of, say, 15 she would no doubt have become accustomed to it by now - not that she would have had any choice in the matter. Her conclusion is that such clothing is not for her but she respects those women "...who bear this endurance test - the staring, the swearing, the discomfort, the loss of identity." Respect? 80 has an entirely different reaction - pity.
Khartoum's Killers - the government in Sudan is engaged in the ethnic cleansing by proxy of black Africans in the Darfur region, something it has repeatedly denied. These denials are now shown to be lies. The Janjaweed Arab militia are the chosen instrument of the government for this murderous campaign. Seeking refuge in Britain is an ex-member of the Janjaweed, who has told his story to the Times. He confirms the Sudanese military are heavily involved in the violence and that raids on villages were backed by military helicopters summoned by satellite phone. The fugitive, known as Dily, has had his authenticity confirmed by the Darfur Union, which represents Darfuris in Britain and also by the Aegis Trust, a pressure group which campaigns against genocide. The Trust is passing Dily's story to the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile the murderers in Khartoum still refuse to countenance the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force, no doubt hoping that by the time the sluggish outside world finally acts their genocidal activities will be complete. (For more on what is happening in Darfur see Amnesty International) Update - this seems to be the same story from the BBC.
Contrast and Compare - these two viewpoints in the current row/discussion on sectarian schools in the UK. "Schools with a religious character are part of the solution for society, not part of the problem." according to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham. Well, he would say that wouldn't he? But not all religionists are singing from the same hymn sheet. "The very existence of faith schools is a mistake. They have the effect of dividing children of different communities from each other, sowing seeds of ignorance and mistrust." says Rabbi Jonathan Romain of the Maidenhead Reform Jewish synagogue. (for more see here)
Nothing To Be Proud About - What do Botswana, Croatia, Tonga and the USA have in common? Not very much - except that they all occupy equal 53rd place in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2006. This was compiled from a total of 168 countries surveyed by Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders). This marks a worrying downward slide for the US, which last year was 9 places higher. In fact year on year the US position has deteriorated - in the first survey in 2002 the Land of the Free was 17th, but things have been all downhill since then. This would seem to confirm that the freedom of the press is being eroded by the Bush administration, along with other civil liberties, which it justifies as part of the "War on Terror". According to this page published by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs "Democracies foster the existence of a free press. An independent judiciary, civil society with rule of law, and free speech all support a free press. A free press must have legal protections." It is therefore exceeding strange that a government that talks of spreading freedom in the world is busy dismantling that same freedom on its own turf. The State Department does however acknowledge tensions between press and government stating that "Democracies foster a never-ending struggle between two rights: The government's obligation to protect national security; and the people's right to know, based on journalists' ability to access information. Governments sometimes need to limit access to information considered too sensitive for general distribution. But journalists in democracies are fully justified in pursuing such information." That last sentence should be in bold capitals with the words "and free of intimidation" tacked on the end. No one should be at all surprised by the fact that Iran, China, Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, North Korea are at the bottom of the heap but for the US to be overtaken by the likes of Serbia and Bulgaria will come as a surprise to many people. The UK lies at 27, a position it shares with Lithuania and top of the heap, tying for the number one slot, are Finland, Iceland, Ireland, and The Netherlands. So, if you want press freedom go to northern Europe. (For more on the Bush administration and its assault on a free press see here. For the situation in Canada (16th) see this piece from the Toronto Star)
Schroeder's View - "What worried me, despite a relaxed atmosphere to our talks, and to a certain degree what made me sceptical was how much it came through that this president saw himself as 'God-fearing' and saw that as the highest authority. I can well understand if someone is devout and strives for a dialogue with God, in this case prayer. The problem that I have with that starts when the impression arises that political decisions are the result of a dialogue with God." Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in his memoirs, "Decisions: My Life in Politics" on his concerns about how President Bush's religion affected his political decisions, particularly the invasion of Iraq.. He also has something to say about America's own Taliban, "We criticise rightly that in most Islamic states the role of religion for society and the character of the rule of law are not clearly separated. But we fail to recognise that in the US, Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies." To counter such, in 80's view, sensible observations, Schroeder then ruins things by praising Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB colonel busy turning the clock back in Russia by silencing opposition and putting European politicians in their place. Maybe this fondness for Vlad has something to do with Schroeder's "....lucrative job with the German-Russian consortium behind the proposed Russia-Germany Baltic Sea gas pipeline - a deal which the chancellor had helped negotiate himself while still in office." (For more see here)
Quote - "He turned out to be a strong man, raped 10 women. I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him!" -- Russian president Vladimir Putin joking (?) about sexual assault charges faced by Israeli President Moshe Katsav. The excuse offered for this disgusting remark? "Russian is a very complicated language, sometimes it is very sensitive from the point of view of phrasing." As opposed to Putin, who seems to be sensitive about nothing......
Gray Matter - tired of all the religious garbage? then read this excellent piece by Muriel Gray on being an Enlightenist. A what? An enlightenist. Here, let Gray explain "Enlightenists believe in the awe-inspiring, wonder, beauty and complexity of the universe, and aspire to unpick its mysteries by reason, constant questioning, observation, experiment, and analysis of evidence. The bedrock of our morality is empathy, from which logically springs love, forgiveness, tolerance and a profound desire to make a just, egalitarian society and reduce suffering. The more knowledge a person has, the more they question and understand the real world, and the more they are required to analyse what is true then the greater the increase in empathy. Enlightenists care and wish to do good not because a vengeful God tells them to, but because intelligence suggests it is the only and the right thing to do." Do read the whole article, but 80 cannot help giving one more quote "Let’s stop describing these tax-funded establishments as faith schools. They are superstition schools, for that is what they teach. Alongside hard facts, innocent children are hoodwinked into accepting as real the mythology of virgin births, gods who regard women with bare heads as wicked harlots, that Noah’s Ark was real and that Darwin was wrong. It’s clear that, given the rising tide of superstition sweeping our country, no politician will help end this state-funded child abuse, and so it is time to try and fight back." Check out Gray's articles in the Sunday Herald archive.
Unholy Auction - according to this report "A coalition of Christians plans to boycott eBay until the company stops allowing its users to sell deceased saints' body parts." The group, calling itself the International Crusade For Holy Relics, is planning to begin the boycott on November 1st, as apparently years of discussions have not stopped the online auctioneers trading in "..class-one relics, such as the bones, fingernail clippings and hair samples of venerable figures in Christian history." One wonders what class-two relics are - perhaps sacred secretions and holy exudates? The mind boggles (as the stomach heaves). However, what must surely be the hottest item in the wacky world of Christian relics does not even merit a mention and so 80, in a spirit of humility and public service, brings the foreskin of Christ, properly called the Holy Prepuce, to your attention. As was common in the Middle Ages several abbeys, churches and cathedrals all claimed to possess this somewhat bizarre relic. Now either they were plugging what are known as pious frauds or maybe they all had a piece of the prepuce which leads one to wonder just how big this thing was supposed to be....Someone else who thought the prepuce was of considerable size was 17th century Catholic theologian Leo Allatius who "..speculated that the Holy Foreskin may have ascended into Heaven at the same time as Jesus himself and might have become the rings of Saturn, then only recently observed by telescope." Sadly the images taken by Pioneer, Cassini and Voyager missions have failed to reveal a huge foreskin orbiting the gas giant. (do take a look here for another unlikely relic left behind by JC)
How to Crash Satan's Birthday Party and Ruin Halloween - just follow the advice of the Landover Baptist Church and you will be safe at this terrifying time of year. Attractions include Holy Ghost Halloween Costumes, Visit God's House of Horrors Online and Turn Halloween Into a Fun Filled Night of Wiccan Hunting. For those seeking an alternative for a kids' Halloween party why not try these genuine suggestions for some nice Christian games from Domestic Church? Play Bean Bag Toss (David 'slays' Goliath by tossing "stones" made out of pantyhose and cotton balls at a cut out Goliath with velcro across his forehead. If your stone hits the target...you win!) or maybe you'd prefer Fish Pond (This activity is always popular with the little ones. For your party make it a "Fisher of Men" pond, with a large cut out of Jesus sitting in a boat at the front of the pond. The child looks as though they (sic) are in the boat with Jesus as they fish out candy, holy cards and medals.) Now 80 can tell you're excited already and we haven't even mentioned Bobbing For Apples yet (This games (sic) is messy and messy the way it is usually played, with a tub of water. Hanging the apples with strings threaded through from a model tree is less messy and actually more difficult to catch the apple! Adam and Eve really had to think about disobeying God, it wasn't an accident.) 80 will spend the evening as usual, handing out LSD-laced apples and candies to trick or treaters so that they can really learn about heaven and hell..... (for more on Halloween see What the Hell Are You Afraid of? and Finding Faith Through Fear)
The God Delusion - read the first chapter online of Richard Dawkins' bestseller courtesy of the New York Times. Also read a review of the book by Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, who wriggles around amusingly trying to explain why God created atheists. Sacks' oversimplification of Dawkins' position and his attempts to absolve religion of its history of repression, prejudice and violence are risible and in the final analysis very sad. It appears that Sacks' thinks Dawkins was created by God as a warning to religionists who are lacking humility. But then if you believe in a magical being who can do absolutely anything you can then use said being to "explain" away anything you damn well like - just don't claim such a stance is useful, productive, enlightening or intellectually honest. Far more refreshing and informative (and believable) is the inimitable Lewis Black's take on religion, courtesy of Pharyngula. After enjoying Black see this debate on religion before it disappears - Colbert versus Carell, Islam versus Christianity. (You will need broadband for these last two links)
Why do Atheists care about Religion? - click here for a very good answer..... (broadband required)
What Makes You Think
You're Something Special? - why do religious organizations and individual
believers think that they deserve special consideration because of their
faith? The recent example in the UK of the teaching assistant who
complained of discrimination when she was asked to remove her mask in the
classroom is a case in point. What if 80 turned up to work wearing a
piratical headscarf, the sign of a devotee of the
Flying Spaghetti Monster
(FSM), and refused to remove it when asked? Ah, but the teaching assistant
believed she was following the dictates of her religion. But then so is 80
- so what is the difference? In fact there is no difference - 80 can no more
prove the existence of the FSM than the teaching assistant can prove the
existence of her deity. If rules and laws are waived to accommodate the
religious beliefs of groups and individuals who worship Yahweh or Allah
then surely the same courtesy should be extended to Pastafarians (FSM devotees).
Another even more absurd example was
the news that "Manchester Police have
been told not to arrest Muslims at prayer times during the holy month of
Ramadan....An internal email listing prayer times has been sent to
officers who have been asked not to execute arrest warrants during prayer
times for reasons of religious sensitivity." If you have broken the law
and the police have enough evidence to arrest you then you should be
arrested, whether or not you happen to be talking to your deity/Imaginary
Friend at that moment. Another instance of this unwarranted deference to
those with a supernatural world view is the Blair government's exemption of religious
organizations from full compliance with gay rights legislation. (see
Hypocrisy In Government) Anyone else who
discriminates this way could find themselves facing prosecution but if
your Imaginary Friend tells you that gays are not equal to other
citizens that makes it OK. Try practicing such discrimination on the
grounds of skin color and see how far you get.
There is a line from the Beatles' song "Hey Bulldog" that keeps running through 80's head while reading these reports "What makes you think you're something special when you smile?" only now it comes out as "What makes you think you're something special when you pray?" Just because someone holds irrational beliefs and talks to an Imaginary Friend should not entitle them to special consideration - especially in matters of law but also in matters of criticism and even ridicule. This view was expressed with far more fluency than 80 can manage by A C Grayling writing in the Guardian "It is time to refuse to tip-toe around people who claim respect, consideration, special treatment, or any other kind of immunity, on the grounds that they have a religious faith, as if having faith were a privilege-endowing virtue, as if it were noble to believe in unsupported claims and ancient superstitions. It is neither. Faith is a commitment to belief contrary to evidence and reason..." Furthermore "..to believe something in the face of evidence and against reason - to believe something by faith - is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect. It is time to say so." To which 80 can only say, damn' right! There is far too much pussyfooting and deference given to religion - bolstered by the feeling among religionists that their beliefs are not to be questioned or criticized. Anyone, bishop, imam, whatever that claims the creator of the universe hates homosexuals or insists women must wear masks and tents, and that anyone who disagrees will burn forever in hell should not ever be allowed to say these things without being vigorously challenged. Just because an irrational prejudice is written down in a so-called holy book does not mean it is not despicable. Any government that seeks to appease the more rabid religionists will find that whatever concessions are made they will never be enough. (for reports from around the world on the malign effects of superstition/religion see Faith-Based News)
for Fantasists - “This was a massive defeat for the staff in
so-called faith schools who are non-religious or of another religion. They
have just been rendered second class employees. Workplace protections
which they had taken for granted have now been swept away without any
consultation or warning. There appears to be no limit to what Mr Blair is
prepared to do to satisfy the never-ending demands of the churches. He has
not only let down these thousands of employees, he has betrayed the unions
representing them by seeking to bring in this measure in such an underhand
“The real message from last week’s U-turn on school admissions quotas was that it is the churches that call the tune in our schools. The price the Government was happy to pay to appease church leaders was to accept that faith schools could do what they liked on admissions even if that created an apartheid education system.
“This week’s Government concession to the churches was achieved by slipping changes in at the very last moment with Machiavellian amendments clearly designed to pass unnoticed. When the amendments were uncovered by the National Secular Society, peers and unions accused education minister Lord Adonis of a complete failure to consult them on such an important change. Lord Adonis insisted that unions had been “thoroughly consulted”
“Yet it emerged last night in the Commons that neither the largest teaching union (the NUT), nor the National Association of Head Teachers, had been consulted at all -- despite head teachers being those most affected by the changes. The other group caught up in this newly legalised discrimination are support staff. The GMB union, which represents them, has issued a statement expressing its dismay at the changes, about which it, too, states it had not been consulted." Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society (NSS) talking about the Blair government's underhand appeasement of the religious lobby over discrimination legislation in sectarian (faith) schools. Taken from the NSS Newsline - a free weekly newsletter - subscribe here. If you live in the UK and are worried about this growing tide of appeasement why not join the NSS and do something about it? (If you want to know more about Lord Adonis "... an unelected lord, who is only a minister due to being a Blair favourite ..." see Wikipedia. With such a splendidly pagan name it is ironic he is a faith lobby lickspittle.)
When Does A Sin Become An "Indiscretion"? - when it is committed by a hypocrite called Ted Haggard apparently. Haggard, president of the 30 million-member National Association of Evangelicals, the largest evangelical group in America, and also founder and senior pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has recently faced accusations of sex with a "homosexual prostitute" and drug taking. See here for a copy of an email from Pastor Ross Parsley, who is currently keeping Haggard's seat warm at the New Life Church, stating, "..it is important for you to know that he (Haggard) confessed to the overseers that some of the accusations against him are true." Now in 80's view gay sex is no more scandalous than straight sex - unless that is you have spent a large amount of time promoting so-called "biblical values". Perhaps Haggard will now recall ruefully the words in his book "Judge not lest ye be judged..." No doubt after a suitable period in the outer darkness and a suitably tearful contrition (just like this) he will return to promoting bigotry as though nothing has happened. (see what happened when Richard Dawkins met Haggard here. Also see the reaction to the scandal from Mrs Betty Bowers, America's best Christian. Those bosom buddies Jesus and Mo' have their own take on the scandal.)
Update - Haggard admits to "massage"; says he bought meth but threw it away. Yeah, right. See here - the page includes video of űber-hypocrite Haggard railing against homosexuality. Take a good look as he leers into the camera - with a face like that no wonder he had to pay for sex, err, allegedly. (It certainly is a bad week for religious nutters. Kent Hovind, the creationist nitwit who goes by the soubriquet Dr Dino, has been convicted, along with Mrs Dino, of tax fraud. "Hovind faces a maximum of 288 years in prison. His wife faces up to 225 years. Her charges include aiding and abetting her husband with 44 counts of evading bank-reporting requirements." So that's what "an helpmeet" does! Hovind believed that his activities, including his pathetic theme park, were not liable to taxation because as "... workers of God, he and all employees of the theme park and his ministry are exempt from paying taxes." The judge begged to differ........
Apologize Yourself - see this video (and transcript) of Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown commenting on Bush's (National Guard AWOL) demand that Senator John Kerry (Vietnam Veteran) apologize to US troops over a remark he made in a speech to students. Olbermann unflinchingly puts the need to apologize right back in Bush's court, where it belongs with these words. "A brief reminder, Mr. Bush: You are not the United States of America. You are merely a politician whose entire legacy will have been a willingness to make anything political; to have, in this case, refused to acknowledge that the insult wasn’t about the troops, and that the insult was not even truly about you either, that the insult, in fact, is you."
Interesting Times - 80 would be less than truthful if he said that he hasn't enjoyed the comprehensive and thoroughly deserved kicking that George W Bush and his thugs received at the hands of the American electorate - the prompt departure of Rumsfeld (and his possible prosecution) being the icing on the cake - but now there is a lot of work to be done. Bush and company have been busy poisoning American politics for 6 years and at last the tables have turned. The Democrats are going to have to show that they can rise above this and work with the Bush administration in the next two years, even if they have to hold their collective noses to do so. Meanwhile Bush, while talking of bipartisanship still appears keen to push some contentious items through Congress while there is still time. One thing seems certain though, and that is that the grotesque bully John Bolton, aka Scary Mustache Guy, will not be US envoy to the UN for much longer. He was appointed by Bush during a Congressional recess after his nomination stalled in the Senate and is likely to be an early casualty of the changed political landscape. Recess appointments that are used purely as a ploy to circumvent the will of elected lawmakers do not fare well when it comes to confirmation, particularly when the appointee in question is as unpleasant and pugnacious as Bolton.
And of course still lurking in the background is éminence grise Dick Cheney - who will be less than happy that Bush junior appears to be turning to members of his daddy's retinue (think Gates, Baker). Perhaps for the sake of getting the job done the Democrats will go lightly with Dubya, at least for a while, but there is no reason why it shouldn't be open season on Cheney. Now that 80 will enjoy. An early target is likely to be the tax breaks given to Big Oil, possibly combined with an investigation of the Cheney energy task force which confirmed for many observers that US energy policy was being decided by oil and gas companies. Cheney's stonewalling of any inquiries into the make up of that task force went as far as the Supreme Court, which decided in Cheney's favor. There are many who would like to reopen that particular can of worms. Another item of great interest would be Cheney's exact relationship with Halliburton, his old firm that has done so well out of the Iraq invasion. One thing is for sure - after November 7th it can no longer be business as usual for Bush, Cheney and their neocon pals. It is now time for some reality-based policies, which likely will involve actually talking to members of the "axis of evil" instead of just slinging mud at them. Both Democrats and Republicans would do well to heed the words of Otto von Bismarck "Politics is the art of the possible".
(For a typically idiosyncratic look at some of the unlamented casualties of the election results read Eleven New And Happy Things Santorum dead, religious right imploding, Bush whimpering in the corner. Can we all exhale now? by Mark Morford)
Quote - "It's been kind of tough out there." Dennis Hastert, soon to be ex-Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, commenting on the mid-term elections.
Vidal Vote Quote - "So, my fellow countrymen, as I sit here, not yet at Gettysburg, I have a notion that this is the most important vote that you’ll probably ever cast. Because should this gang of thugs continue in the two houses of Congress, there isn’t any chance of getting the Constitution back...." Gore Vidal, talking in a video interview courtesy of Truthdig.
Motes and Beams
- this is ridiculous. Pope Ratzinger has taken it upon
himself to warn against "alarmist science". He
the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences "This means avoiding needlessly
alarming predictions when these are not supported by sufficient data or
exceed science's actual ability to predict. But it also means avoiding the
opposite, namely a silence, born of fear, in the face of genuine
problems." Read that first bit again "..needlessly alarming predictions
when these are not supported by sufficient data..". And this from an old
man who is convinced that if you don't follow his particular Christian
sect and adhere to all its nonsensical beliefs you will be damned by his
"loving" God to everlasting torment . Give me alarmist science anyday
rather than Ratzinger's promise of eternal damnation. Science, or more
accurately the scientific method is a self-correcting system for
obtaining knowledge of the universe. It is always remaking itself in
the light of new discoveries and does not lay claim to absolute knowledge.
Ratzinger's source of knowledge, divine revelation, claims utter
certainty, and is a stultifying thing
which creates a culture in which to question is to be disloyal and even
heretical - which invites punishment. There is no new knowledge to be had,
although in Ratzinger's church there are innovations of sorts - dogmatic
assertions with no evidence beyond "It's true because I said so". An
example of this is the recent move to
abolish the idea of limbo, a sort of holding area for the souls of
good people who for various reasons cannot enter heaven. Such reasons
include being unfortunate enough to be born before Jesus appeared to
redeem everyone. By some lights other souls bound for limbo are those of
dead babies who died without the benefit of being splashed with water and
mumbled over by a priest. Doing away with limbo is surprisingly easy - it
has no evidence to support its existence in the first place. By contrast
try arbitrarily doing away with the law of gravity and you will find that
in the real world things cannot be made to vanish by theological fiat.
Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the Catholic pedophile-shifting Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor have spoken out about those who campaign for no religion in public life saying they have "intolerant faith position". One wonders how Williams feels about O'Connor's faith position that, as Williams is not a Catholic, he is headed for hell - or perhaps purgatory if the old Sky Fairy is in a good mood on the day the archbishop kicks the bucket. Neither of these idiots have got into their theology-addled brains that no one is trying to stop them from worshipping their particular version of a deity. The problems arise when their superstitions are bound up with the state and they expect taxpayer's money, taxpayers who may be of a different religion or none at all, to subsidise their fantasies. This is most obvious in the debates in the UK about whether sectarian schools should have to follow laws which apply to other educational establishments and businesses (see Special Treatment for Fantasists). It doesn't help their case that the introduction of the Dynamic Duo's little rant against secularism is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete bollocks. For example, "If we pay attention to what is actually happening in the United Kingdom and beyond, we will see that religiously-inspired public engagement need not be sectarian, and can in fact be radically inclusive." This is the sort of inclusiveness that currently has various faiths competing with each other to see how "offended" they can be by the mainstream, secular culture that now surrounds them. Thanks to militant Islam, which showed them the way, we now have Sikhs, Hindus and Christians threatening violence if they don't get their way. The most recent illustration of this was a report from the Evangelical Alliance which said "If, as most Christians accept, they should be politically involved in democratic processes, many believe this may, where necessary, take the form of active resistance to the state. This may encompass disobedience to law, civil disobedience, involving selective, non-violent resistance or, ultimately, violent revolution." Christians are welcome to play apart in the democracy of modern Britain but their idea of "playing a part" is to have their silly irrational beliefs and prejudices enshrined in laws that affect everyone else.
It is about time secularism started throwing some weight around. Ratzinger will find on his upcoming visit to Turkey that it is not just a European phenomenon. At the recent funeral of elder statesman and 5 times prime minister Bulent Ecevit a crowd of thousands in Ankara chanted "Turkey is secular and will remain secular" and booed closet Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he arrived. Many people on this planet are not satisfied with supernatural explanations for the world we see around us - particularly when these "explanations" all lay claim to being the only explanation. All around the world religion divides people and teaches them to look down on those from other faiths. Imagine if a scientist performs an experiment yet others are unable to duplicate her results. Instead of examining where she may have erred, the scientist says the experiment only gives the right answers if carried out by, say, a Christian or a Hindu. It sounds absurd, does it not? Religions are not universal and are different wherever you go, whereas findings arrived at by the scientific method can be verified - using the same protocols an experiment in Mecca will give the same results as one in Delhi and one in New York. With the threats facing humankind today, to turn towards religion for answers or to involve religion (ah, but which one?) in legislation is absolutely idiotic and extremely dangerous. This is not to deny others the comforts of their personal faith/delusions but revelation and superstition are no match for the universality and replicability of the findings of science when dealing with the real, physical world around us - which is the only world for which we have any evidence.
Quote - “I’m not saying religion doesn’t have its uses. Personally, I turn to it whenever I want my intelligence insulted”. Pat Condell, comedian, whose show Faith, Hope and Sanity: A Few Jokes About Religion Before it Kills us All is at the Etcetera Theatre. Check out his web site - excellent stuff! (item courtesy of the National Secular Society's Newsline, a free weekly newsletter - subscribe here. Join the NSS here, The National Secular Society - challenging religious privilege)
Devout Dullards - a while back 80 mentioned a particularly
obnoxious Islamist called Mullah Krekar who reckoned that all Muslims need
to do is outbreed everybody else in order to make Europe their own (see
Breed for Victory). In a parallel
development (which could be called an instance of convergent evolution in
monotheistic, patriarchal fundamentalist religion - but won't be) a bunch
of Christians in the US are following the same hymn sheet. A frankly
creepy bunch, the Quiverfull
movement's followers are trying to turn their women into non-stop baby
machines that they may eventually make the US a theocracy by sheer force
of numbers. Familes with 11 or 13 kids are not exceptional. Naturally the
name Quiverfull is adopted from the the Christian bible, Psalm 127, "Like
arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is
the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when
they contend with their enemies in the gate." Now who wouldn't want to
take Iron Age principles developed to defend a walled city from other
tribes and apply them to life in 21st century America? Anyone who uses
brain perhaps? The full implications of this world view for women's
reproductive choice are spelt out in a book, A Full Quiver: Family
Planning and the Lordship of Christ, which,
according to this
article by Kathryn Joyce, "...argues that God, as the "Great
Physician" and sole "Birth Controller," opens and closes the womb on a
case-by-case basis. Women's attempts to control their own bodies--the
Lord's temple--are a seizure of divine power." Mary Pride, author of one
the movement's founding texts, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to
Reality states baldly "My body is not my own." Furthermore she says
"Feminism is a totally self-consistent system aimed at rejecting God's
role for women. Those who adopt any part of its lifestyle can't help
picking up its philosophy." "Family planning," Pride argues, "is the
mother of abortion. A generation had to be indoctrinated in the ideal of
planning children around personal convenience before abortion could be
But it is no good breeding God's little automata if they are sent to schools where the "good work" done may be unravelled - they might perhaps learn critical thinking and examine their beliefs in the light of reason - heaven forbid! (But see these clods) The answer is, of course, to school them at home in order to be able to fill their innocent little heads with undiluted religious bigotry, hatred and wilful ignorance. A whole industry has sprung up to provide teaching materials that do not contradict a view of the world seen through the warping lens of scripture. Take a look at these "textbooks" available from Christianbook.com. Any child learning about the world from these tomes is being brainwashed into believing utter nonsense. Consider It Couldn't Just Happen: Fascinating Facts About God's World by Lawrence Richards described here as "It's never safe to assume that children will grow uprejecting (sic) faulty theories and accepting truthful ones. If your children are starting to ask questions about the Big Bang or what happened to the dinosaurs, then show them the right answers here. Based on a biblical, creationist perspective, this colorful book covers many theories children are likely to hear purported as 'gospel truth', giving scientific evidence why it just isn't so!" Or how about Dry Bones and Other Fossils by Gary and Mary Packer? We are told "With this colorfully illustrated and cheerfully narrated guide, you'll discover how long it took the Grand Canyon to form and how fossils actually contradict evolution theory. Great for homeschoolers, this biblically based guide by a real paleontologist answers your kids' hardest questions..." Including how come a "real paleontologist" is peddling this ignorant crap? Perhaps not. There is page after page of this twaddle but 80 will mention just one more, Evolution Exposed Classroom, by Roger Patterson and published by none other than Answers in Genesis. This waste of trees is described thus "The most popular biology textbooks used in public schools today are saturated with references to evolutionary beliefs, which are misrepresented as irrefutable facts. Patterson helps teens recognize and refute the blantant (sic) bias toward evolutionism in these books by refuting false ideas with cross-references and summaries of online articles, definitions of key terms, tables, cahrts (sic), and illustrations." (Whoever writes this blurb for Christianbook.com should a) learn what refute actually means, and b) fire up his/her spellchecker)
The parents that raise their children in this fashion make the fanatical tennis moms and dads whose sole aim is to drive their kids to sporting glory at Wimbledon seem almost normal. Raising children to be warriors in some future Army of God takes away any choice from them, their life is already mapped out, not as individual human beings but as God's Righteous Robots. And talking of robots, the religious indoctrination of children is not acceptable to everyone. A charity, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, has turned down a donation of 4000 foot-high, battery-operated talking Jesus dolls (...the most important person in history. Ever.) which quote bible verses, destined for distribution to needy kids at Christmas. They were refused because, according to a vice-president of the charity, as a government entity, Marines "don't profess one religion over another. We can't take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family." It is a pity they were not just rejected because no kid is that needy but at least they were rejected. Check out the quality of the other religious dolls available - this Virgin Mary looks like a guy in drag - but perhaps the manufacturers, One2Believe, know something we don't. Moses looks boss-eyed (the description calls the eyes "realistic" - who knew?) and hunky David has nice muscles and " ... 18 points of articulation including hands and fingers that grasp and hold". My, he should prove popular with boys and girls of all ages. (Update - Toys for Tots have had a change of heart and will take the Holy Homunculi for distribution. The reason given? "Toys for Tots has found appropriate places for these items." Just what these "appropriate places" are has yet to be revealed. May 80 suggest trash incinerators or landfill sites?)
Those kids that don't manage to throw off the yoke their parents fitted them for at birth are going to have an interesting, if paranoid time, living in the modern world. Paranoid because in order to compensate for their nonsensical beliefs they will develop, as have their parents, one hell of a persecution complex. (It is a pity they cannot be transported back in time to say the reign of Diocletian - then they would have something to whine about. But even that persecution wasn't all it was cracked up to be. History shows us that most of the oppression of Christians has been by, well, Christians.) There is one thing though that these kids should try and understand, although it will be hard for them if they have been fed a diet of righteous homeschoolin' from the cradle. It is simply this, the same laws of physics that underpin all science, that make your cellphone, television or pacemaker work, also inform us the world is 4.5 billion years old - not 10,000. This may be an uncomfortable fact but you cannot pick and choose among the laws of physics - unlike the way you can choose which laws to follow in Iron Age priestly texts like Leviticus. If you reject evolution you also reject all the myriad strands of evidence from physics, geology, biology, astronomy, and paleontology and more, for an attack on evolution is an attack on all science. It is hypocritical to enjoy the fruits of technology and yet deny the validity of the underlying science. But then the sort of people who write books such as those peddled by Christianbook.com, and the parents that buy them are obviously untroubled by any vestige of intellectual integrity.
"It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World
Biblical Truth? - "I am not politically motivated or minded, I just follow the biblical truth." So says Nadia Eweida, a British Airways worker who lost her appeal over the wearing of a cross outside her uniform. 80 wonders exactly which part of the bible states that Christians have to walk around with a miniature instrument of torture and execution dangling from their necks - it must be a verse he missed somehow. 80 further wonders how closely Ewieda adheres to her savior's actual instructions in the New Testament, such as, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children,and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26. Doesn't sound like much of a recipe for harmony, does it?
At least Jesus is being more honest about the divisive effects of religion than say, the Blair government with its reckless promotion of sectarian (faith) schooling. A report in the Guardian on a study into apparently non-existent "terrorist hotbeds" in Britain had this enlightening piece of information tucked away in the final paragraph, "Research from the University of Lancaster showed that white schoolchildren were less willing to integrate than Asian Muslim children of a similar age. That study, paid for by the government, found that white children were more intolerant of other faiths and races when educated separately than Asian Muslim pupils." Will this government-funded study curb the enthusiasm for sectarian schools shown by Blair, Kelly, Adonis and chums? Don't hold your breath. Even more worrying is that religious factionalism is also causing trouble in Britain's overcrowded jails, as described in this piece, "A "potentially explosive" dispute between Muslim factions inside Britain's largest prison has been revealed by independent jail watchdogs." It is little wonder that 80 finds calls for more religion in public life to be deeply irresponsible.
The Jesus character in the New Testament Matthew story also had something to say about ostentatious religiosity, something that certainly is on the rise in Britain (and elsewhere) these days. The Archbishop of York and others should bear this in mind next time they start banging on about bringing their superstitions further into the public square, "...take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them." However, the current attitude of stroppy Christians, so keen to publicly witness their faith, is more reminiscent of the words of another great teacher, Tom Lehrer, from the song Be Prepared, "Be prepared! And be careful not to do Your good deeds when there's no one watching you..."
Quote - 'I'm not tempted to write a song about George W.Bush. I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them." Tom Lehrer in an interview from The Sidney Morning Herald in 2003.
Quote - "We have become a society where we all gather around the microwave or the television. Even while you are eating, the television is blaring. Come on! Parents should spend more time talking to children because that is where behaviour is learned, in the home." The latest outburst from the increasingly irritating and lippy Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. 80 wonders how much of a grasp of normal life Sentamu has - when did you last "gather around the microwave" with your family? Blimey, evenings round at the archbishop's house must be a right barrel of laughs.
Dalai Lama Promotes Secularism - The Dalai Lama has come out in defence of secularism. Speaking in Tokyo, the Tibetan spiritual figurehead said: "Secularism does not mean rejection of all religions. It means respect for all religions and human beings including non-believers. I am talking to you not as a Tibetan or a Buddhist but as a human being having a friendly discussion and sharing my experiences on the benefits of cultivating basic human values."
In a lecture on "A Good Heart – The key to Health and Happiness" the Dalai Lama emphasises that cultivating secular ethics – which he said has nothing to do with religion – benefits all human beings. He said strengthening inner values of warm-heartedness and compassion benefits both believers and non-believers in leading a happy and meaningful life. He said, "Love and compassion attracts, hatred and anger repels." He also appealed for nuclear disarmament and that the 21st century should be made a century of dialogue.
Underlining the importance of internal and external values for a happy life, he said Japan has the potential to combine both values with its rich spiritual tradition and technological progress. "You have a rich spiritual tradition. The Shinto values of protecting nature and respect for the environment are relevant to this day. Buddhism as Japan's traditional religion teaches humane values."
Responding to a question from the audience, he said Japan is the most relevant nation in taking the lead towards abolition of nuclear weapons as the country had suffered the deadly impacts of history's first nuclear weapon. He also called for a complete ban on arms sales especially to undemocratic nations. "Peace does not mean absence of conflicts. Differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; through humane ways," the Dalai Lama said amidst a thunderous applause.
Terry Sanderson, vice president of the National Secular Society, said: "It is not often that we can raise a cheer for a religious leader, but the Dalai Lama is sensible to say that a universal ethic is better than one based on religion. Secularism asks us to keep our religion to ourselves, which enables us as human beings to share what unites us rather than what divides us." (the above paragraph was lifted wholesale from the National Secular Society's Newsline, a free weekly newsletter)
Mass Murder? - recent news that the celibate old men in the Vatican may be reconsidering their attitude to condom use is welcome, although the mooted restriction of their use to married couples is daft. Anyone can contract HIV/AIDS, not just the matrimonially shackled. But there is something else in these reports that has apparently gone unremarked. Take this example from the Guardian " Mexican cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, who heads the papal department responsible for health issues ... said some 40 million people were reckoned to be HIV positive and Aids was claiming around 8,000 lives a day. "The disease is not retreating. On the contrary, its aggressiveness seems to be increasing, even though in the more developed countries the strength of the increase is noticed less." 8000 lives a day - 2,920,000 a year. If even a small proportion of these people could have been saved by condom use but were deterred by Vatican lies about their efficacy as a barrier to infection (see Wicked) this is an enormous crime - mass murder in fact - and this is without thinking of the thousands of orphans, often themselves infected, that have been created by the Roman Catholic church's irrational policy. Bear this in mind the next time you hear Ratzinger or one of his creatures such as Murphy-O'Connor holding forth on morality. Such hypocrites are beneath contempt. While they dither and dawdle people are dying like flies.
The World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS supremo, Dr Kevin De Cock (as fine an example of nominative determinism as you will ever see) has urged the Vatican to get a move on. 80 can't but help a feeling that De Cock's frustration with the Catholic church shows in his comments "We're very pleased to hear this. But our concern is that these deep theological decisions take account of the biological consequences of infection. Could we please have this debate in a hurry. Lives are at risk and time is short." "Deep theological decisions" indeed - superstitious procrastination is more like it. For those like De Cock who are doing their best to combat the epidemic tiptoeing around the irrational nonsense spouted by various "faith" groups must be a real strain. De Cock acknowledges this, bending over backwards not to alienate the religionists, "I think the involvement of the faith-based community in Aids is extremely important. As with any other group that has its own special beliefs and ideas and philosophies, we have to accept that that is so and remember that there is far more that unites us than divides us in the struggle against Aids." And yet just think of the progress that could be made if the practitioners of evidence-based medicine were allowed to get on with the job without having to pussyfoot around what, in 80's view, is little more than superstition-based cruelty and murder.
No Spoon Long Enough - it is said that if you sup with the Devil it is wise to use a long spoon. If the Devil happens to be that creepy and litigious cult called Scientology no spoon is long enough, as the City of London police now seem to realize. According to this Guardian piece the relationship between the cops and the cultists began "with tea and biscuits for constables at the police cordon after the July 7 terrorist attacks, (and then) progressed to lunches with senior officers and continues with regular invitations to gala nights and jive concerts." It seems astounding that the police did not trouble themselves to research L Ron Hubbard's invented cult on the web - there is plenty of reliable information out there regarding this bunch. As after the 9/11 attacks in the US the Scientologists appear to use such disasters to insinuate themselves into the good graces of the authorities.
The Guardian's original report has triggered a rethink by the City cops as we are now told "An internal review of the hospitality policy of City of London police was ordered yesterday after revelations that officers had been accepting invitations, dinners and gifts from the Church of Scientology worth thousands of pounds." Had they made the trifling effort of checking on the web in the first place they would have found there is a deeply sinister side to Scientology, once you look past the glitz of Hollywood names like Cruise and Travolta. This is well documented particularly at Operation Clambake which since 1996 has been revealing the truth about their beliefs and methods. One person who cannot be asked is Lisa McPherson - one look at this site set up in her memory should have had the City of London cops running a mile. Are they really that gullible or greedy that a few enticements blinded them to the evidence that is out there? Shockingly, the answer, at least until the Guardian revelations, would appear to be yes. (see Hubbard's Bare Cupboard and Hubbard's Minions plus Narconon Is Scientology. Here is a 1991 article from Time magazine called The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power. For the unvarnished truth about Hubbard's life, as opposed to his fantasies, read Bare-Faced Messiah)
The Gospel According to Hubbard - "Hubbard's secret scriptures teach that 75 million years ago, an evil galactic overlord named Xenu solved the galaxy's overpopulation problem by freezing excess people and transporting the bodies to Teegeeack, now called Earth. After the hapless travelers were defrosted, they were chained to volcanoes that were blown up by hydrogen bombs -- and their disembodied spirits continue to haunt mankind today." (courtesy of Wired)
The Good and the Dross - the good stuff first. Here is a piece by Richard Dawkins called "I'm an atheist, BUT . . ." about those who feel they have to hedge their declaration of non-belief in a deity with some sort of mealymouthed disclaimer. Another good read, in 80's view, is this article by A C Grayling on Faith's Last Gasp. Grayling sees the current intrusion of religion into politics as not so much a sign of its renewed vigor but more a sign of its death throes. He tells us "...the fact is that only 10 per cent of the British population attend church, mosque, synagogue or temple every week, and this figure is declining in all but immigrant communities. This is hardly the stuff of religious resurgence." True, but it is a minority with influence out of all proportion to its actual numbers - look at members of Blair's cabinet and the bishops who infest House of Lords, let alone those who feel violence is an appropriate means by which to make their case. They are also sure to take full advantage of the feeling, ingrained over centuries, that it is not "nice" to question religious beliefs - let alone give them the mockery and ridicule they so richly deserve. Grayling's is an interesting and well-argued piece but 80 finds it overly optimistic.
Meanwhile, in France, it is not so much a case of faith's last gasp but faith's last puke. It seems that Jesus and his mom have been appearing to the Cap-Verdi prayer group at St Paul's Catholic Church in Cannes. Unfortunately for the gallic gullible these apparitions have had some nasty side effects, "..the chosen ones are suffering vomiting and convulsions more akin to scenes from The Exorcist". So, one would think, perhaps it isn't Mary and her lad but something more, shall we say, satanic? Those who have experienced the visions will have none of it, certain they have seen and heard Christ and the Virgin. How can they tell? Perhaps because, true to all other such visitations, the manifestations have nothing whatsoever to say of earthshaking importance, as here "..Jesus started talking and I began writing down everything he told me. It was about cleaning my house and cleaning the homes of others to prepare for the coming of the Lord."
Christ as hygiene advisor doesn't really cut it (it's better to ask Betty). You would think if these supernatural creatures have made the effort to appear, in the process causing a 14-year-old girl to smash windows and then begin bleeding 'pinkish-yellow' blood, they would at least have had something of interest to say. This is definitely a job for the experts - Ratzinger should dispatch a papal ghostbuster immediately. Perhaps even stranger than the apparition story itself is this comment posted below by a reader "A true believer would know that Christ and Mary would certainly not appear together. In fact why would Christ appear in some place like France? Does no one know their Bible any more?" 80 wonders why they wouldn't appear together - have they had a row, or is it some kind of contractual obligation thing? Tim, a francophobe from the UK, doesn't tell us - nor does he say why these holy ghosts shouldn't appear in "some place like France". If Jesus is at least one third of the creator of the universe surely he can appear where he, and his mom damn' well please - even France.
- it has been said one of the most difficult things to
do is organizing atheists, freethinkers, secularists agnostics and the
like. The task has been compared to
herding cats for
such people are individualists with, in many cases, an ornery streak. But
organization of some sort is needed to meet the threat of burgeoning
religiosity that has been triggered chiefly in response to violent Islamic
malevolent influence of fundamentalist Christians on the Bush
administration is obvious, as is the
supine attitude of the Blair government toward religious
lobbying that has a malign influence upon policy and legislation. In
order to combat the new, stroppier, mainstream Christians (think the
current Archbishop of
York) as well as unrepresentative
faith groups with the ear of government, secularists of all types must
mobilize and make themselves heard. The
Foundation is one such mobilization effort, based on both sides of the
Atlantic. In the UK the National
Secular Society, in the words of its motto, challenges religious
privilege. For an idea of what the NSS stands for and what it opposes read
Does faith unite or divide communities? by Keith Porteous Wood,
Executive Director of the NSS. If you find yourself nodding in agreement
join? The focus of the piece on sectarian ("faith") schooling
indicates one of the main battlegrounds in the UK, where Blair is zealous
expand the state funding of such schools. If you are a British citizen
why not let him know what you think? Quentin Brodie Cooper of the
UK Brights has set up a
which states "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ban within
government-funded schools the promotion or practice of any particular
faith or religion. Faith-based or sect schools encourage and propagate
divisions within our society. Schools should be places where our children
are taught to think about the world around them and come to their own
conclusions. In short, they should be taught, not only about the profusion
of religions and faiths but also about how moral and socially responsible
lives can be led without them; rather than, at a time before they have
sufficiently developed critical faculties, being indoctrinated." Also for
those in the UK who would like to join a regional secularist group or to
set one up of their own, this page
is invaluable. The groups listed on this
SecularUK website are not part of
the NSS but share its aims, promoting them on a local level.
On an international level take a look at Beyond Belief 2006 - here is part of the mission statement, "Religions are increasingly a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. Fundamentalist movements - some violent in the extreme - are growing. Science and religion are at odds in the classrooms and courtrooms. And a return to religious values is widely touted as an antidote to the alleged decline in public morality. After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason? Will faith and dogma trump rational inquiry, or will it be possible to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews? Can evolutionary biology, anthropology and neuroscience help us to better understand how we construct beliefs, and experience empathy, fear and awe? Can science help us create a new rational narrative as poetic and powerful as those that have traditionally sustained societies? Can we treat religion as a natural phenomenon? Can we be good without God? And if not God, then what?" The Science Network in association with the Crick-Jacobs Center brought together a group of scientists and philosophers to discuss such questions at a meeting at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. The participants included Richard Dawkins, Anne Druyan, Sam Harris, Harold Kroto, Lawrence Krauss, Carolyn Porco, Michael Shermer and Steven Weinberg. Many of the talks are available as videos on the site. Some commentators labelled the speakers as "evangelists for science", with the implication that this is a bad thing. Here once again we come up against the entrenched attitude that it is somehow wrong, impolite, even sacrilegious to question the claims of religion and that the promotion of a natural, instead of a supernatural world view detracts from the wonder of our cosmos. What rot, and yet it is repeated again and again, from Keats' whining about Newton "unweaving the rainbow" onwards. The late and greatly missed Douglas Adams summed up this view perfectly "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
Guerilla Gallery Ghetto - "I felt the spirit of Christmas was being lost. It was becoming increasingly uncommercialised and more and more to do with religion so we decided to open our own shop and sell pointless stuff you didn't need." So says guerilla artist Banksy giving a reason, if one was needed, for the launching of Santa's Ghetto. Situated in London's West End Santa's Ghetto features various festive artworks, many of which are sure to offend the "traditional" Christmas nutjobs. Mark Brown, writing in the Guardian describes some of the attractions. "In one big painting depicting the wicked witch and Hansel and Gretel, the witch has been replaced by singer Michael Jackson trying to entice the children with a candy walking stick. Rather ostentatiously, there are two Mona Lisas. One has Marge Simpson's towered blue hair and the other is showing her backside. Other works have a Hello Kitty influence, although if you look long enough you will notice the sweet girl holding the kitten is also holding a hand grenade." This will be the fifth year that Banksy's "squat art concept store" has offered an antidote to Christmas schmaltz, this festive season featuring the works of no less than 20 underground artists. 80 has mentioned Banksy before in connection with Israel's West Bank wall (see Art As Ridicule). For some of his work on the web look here)
- but plenty of ill-informed whingeing. Many religious
commentators take offence at the attitude of non-believers to their
fantasies - oops, I meant devout and sincere unsubstantiated beliefs.
Richard Dawkins in particular comes in for criticism, being called
scathing and derisive when he points out some of the many absurdities
inherent in religion. This is all part of the attitude that people's
religious beliefs should be "respected" and ringfaced against the need for
the kind of evidence that we demand in other spheres of human life (a
similarity can be found here with the offense taken by devotees of
so-called complementary alternative medicine if you are rude enough to ask
for evidence, beyond the usual anecdotes, of the efficacy of their
nostrums.) This militant touchiness on behalf of religionists has had a
boost recently, for several reasons. Firstly there is the me-tooism 80 has
mentioned before, whereby religionists become pushier and more assertive
of what they perceive to be their rights - a phenomenon that seems to have
taken off as a reaction to the rise of militant Islam. Secondly is that in
countries such as the UK and the USA the governments have been
particularly receptive to lobbying from religious groups. In America this
has mainly been the work of fundagelical Christians but in "multicultural"
Britain there is a wider field, including not only Christian bishops, who
sit in the House of Lords, but also
groups that have decided they
represent various "religious communities" and are mandated to speak for
them. It seems that the latter are going to have a rougher ride from
Blair's government as even that bunch of clowns is beginning to see the
problems and alienation caused by dealing with unrepresentative groups
holding fundamentalist sympathies. Blair
called for more attempts at integration into British society from
"radical Muslims" and "...warned them they could not be allowed to
override what he described as the country's core values of democracy,
tolerance and respect for the law." Better late than never, I suppose,
although the Guardian article on this development then rather spoils
things by asking the opinion of the Muslim Council of Britain, which is
understandably not happy to see its gravy train threatened. Perhaps this
change of tack from Blair heralds the end of the nonsense of individuals
being lumped together into various "faith communities" by government - but
don't hold your breath.
The third reason for touchiness is something that is now a regular feature of the winter holidays - ignorant Christians whining about a war on Christmas. We have all read on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australia about attacks on the celebration of a "traditional" Christmas (whatever that is). Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society in the UK decided not to take tabloid-driven anti-Christmas stories at face value but to investigate the truth of these claims. In this comment piece in the Guardian, "An 'aggressive secularist' speaks" he comprehensively debunks the "Winterval" nonsense and many of the other stories beloved of evangelicals looking for something they can claim as evidence of their persecution (and boy, how they love to feel persecuted). Sanderson gives particular attention to the increasingly irritating John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, with his daft remarks about "illiberal atheism" and "aggressive secularists". The only aggression around comes from the Sentamus of this world, insisting their particular faith should override all others in the country as here, "This aggressive brand of secularism is trying to undermine the cultural traditions of this country by using flawed arguments about 'multi-faith, multiculturalism', whilst at the same time trying to negate faith groups all together." Paranoid codswallop - but codswallop swallowed whole by his flock. The whole point of a secular society is that those of different faiths and none can flourish - with no one getting the upper hand - and certainly not a society with bishops sitting in the House of Lords.
The Christian celebration of Christmas is but one of many winter solstice festivals that humans have held at the turning of the year - as 80 has mentioned before, compared to some solstice festivities Christianity is a Jesus-come-lately (see Our Pagan Christmas). In a country with an increasingly mixed and secular population for Christianity to remain the sole official religion would be unfair - on the other hand to allow equal space to every other belief would be unworkable (Jedi, anyone?). Surely the most reasonable answer is for none of them to have official recognition - whether they are Christian sects or Muslim "councils". If these groups want to lobby government they should all start from the same place - from the outside. No religion or faith or belief should have any inside track when opposing or proposing legislation. But it seems that some things will never die down - on the same Guardian comment site as Terry Sanderson's debunking of "the war on Christmas" there is a piece by Very Reverend Colin Slee dean of Southwark, repeating exactly the same claptrap that Sanderson just blew out of the water. For the real story of the War on Christmas take a look at the Landover Baptist Church which has many examples, including this unmissable war report from Mrs Betty Bowers, currently embedded with the Christian Soldiers.
Read - Joan Bakewell's take on the "war on Christmas" in the UK from the Independent - recommended. For the US perspective read An Exit Strategy for the War on Christmas by Barbara Ehrenreich writing in AlterNet, also recommended.
Science Just Science - James Rocks of the aforementioned campaign group has put up a petition (for British citizens) which asks Tony Blair to keep fairy tales out of the school science curriculum. The fact that there is even a need for such action is deeply worrying and recent developments such as the mass mailing to schools of creationism/intelligent design DVDs and teaching materials are more cause for concern. The name of the outfit behind the mailings laughingly call itself Truth About Science. (Take a look at their website to see the quality of their arguments - and don't snigger - these clowns are screwing with your kid's education.) The Science Just Science petition runs thus "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the use of creationist and other pseudo-scientific propaganda in Government-funded schools. The Prime Minister has recently spoken about the importance of science education in the UK. Creationism & Intelligent design are greatly featured in the media and are being used disingenuously to portray science & the theory or evolution as being in crisis when they are not. Moreover groups such as Truth in Science are targeting our nation's children and their science education with material that is not only non-scientific but have been rejected by the scientific community. These ideas therefore do not constitute science, cannot be considered scientific education and therefore do not belong in the nation's science classrooms." Please sign - to survive the challenges of the 21st century we need science - not superstition. In the same vein is this petition launched by Jamie Wallis asking "the Prime Minister to Make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16. In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought." Hear, hear!
Gibson the Ghoul - 80 has no intention of seeing the foulmouthed, homophobic anti-semite Mel Gibson's latest offering - the man's beliefs and personality are enough to stifle any desire to put money in his pocket - but it seems that ordinary squeamishness is enough to give "Apocalypto", a movie purportedly about the Maya, a miss. This is the content warning given in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Advisory: This film contains nudity, decapitations, forced sex, throat cuttings, arrows in the neck, arrows through the mouth and a scene in which a jaguar bites into a man's head. Sensitive viewers may find some of this disturbing" And the not so sensitive, if this from the Washington Post is anything to go by, ""Apocalypto" depicts the Maya as a super-cruel, psycho-sadistic society on the skids, a ghoulscape engaged in widespread slavery, reckless sewage treatment and bad rave dancing, with a real lust for human blood. Think: Caligula of the Yucatan. Follow the bouncing heads!" It seems, as with The Passion of the Christ, that Gibson's pretensions to authenticity are mere window-dressing - the main aim would appear to be to allow Gibson to indulge his sado-masochistic fantasies. These were a subtext in some of his other movies (dislocating your shoulder for a bet, anyone?) but when he directs it dominates. (also see Authentic Lethal Passion?) Update - the Huffington Post has thoughtfully made available captioned stills from the movie - 80 doubts Gibson that would approve of what they say..... Finally, a snippet from the Biblical Archaeology Society's November meeting, "When asked which texts were used for scripting The Passion of the Christ, Ehrman replied, “The Gospel of Mel.”
Devilish Definitions - Christian, n. "One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin." Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
In Denial - Iran's mentally unstable president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, aka the Poison Dwarf (PD) reveals what an abysmally ignorant little man he is by setting up his Holocaust Denial conference. It is supposed to be in retaliation for the publishing of the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark that caused so much fuss - but only after being stoked up like crazy by various imams over several months. Living in a theocracy the Poison Dwarf appears incapable of understanding the concept of free speech. The idea that a newspaper can print something that some may find offensive and not be gagged or punished by the government is totally beyond his grasp. So what does this mental pygmy do? He convenes a conference for Holocaust deniers and other assorted nutcases. Not only does the PD not get the difference between opposing the state of Israel and denying that the Holocaust occurred - a horrendous happening for which there is plenty of evidence - he shows himself an even bigger fool for entertaining such attendees as "David Duke, formerly of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist associate of the jailed David Irving and a brace of other seedy anti-semites with dubious or non-existent academic credentials...." as the Guardian leader puts it. (By the way, 80 thinks that those that deny the Holocaust should not be punished and certainly not imprisoned like Nazi loving, revisionist "historian" Irving - freedom of expression must be protected even if what is said is offensive nonsense. Irving has been proved a liar in a British court - that should be sufficient.)
Ahmadinejad was also in the news recently for something else - he faced "..unprecedented outburst of public opposition yesterday from student demonstrators who burned his picture and chanted "Death to the dictator"." And remember this takes real guts in Iran - these students are risking their lives telling the Dwarf what they think. Ahmadinejad made a point of publicly saying that the protesters should not be punished - what a magnanimous gesture - at least not immediately, but it is a safe bet that names and pictures were taken*. In a country that publicly hangs gays and stones girls to death it is unlikely that any kind of protest will go unpunished for long. As regards the Holocaust, the only revision required is in the minds of those who see it as a purely Jewish tragedy - many others such as gays and gypsies and Christians were processed in the Nazi murder factories. It is too late to unmake the state of Israel no matter how much Ahmadinejad wishes it - but it is possible for Israel to abide by UN resolutions, dismantle the illegal settlements on territory outside its 1967 borders and begin a proper dialog with the Palestinians. Admittedly to do this would require the US to stop supporting Israel come what may - which is unlikely to happen overnight. For once Tony Blair is right when he says the Israeli - Palestine conflict must be addressed if there is to be any hope of a wider peace in the region. (Read Jimmy Carter on Israel, Palestine, peace and apartheid) * Update - "Iranian student activists who staged an angry protest against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week have gone into hiding in fear for their lives after his supporters threatened them with revenge." See this report which reveals the full extent of the students protests, "A shoe was thrown at Mr Ahmadinejad while a student had his nose broken by an aide to a cabinet minister. Protesters later surrounded the president's car, prompting a security guard to fire a stun grenade to warn them off. Four cars in the presidential convoy collided in their haste to leave. Mr Ahmadinejad's staff later insisted he had remained calm and ordered that the students should go unpunished. But some of those present say he accused them of being paid United States agents who would be confronted."
Quote - "We certainly say there was a Holocaust, we lived through the Holocaust. But in no way can it be used as a justification for perpetrating unjust acts against the Palestinians." British Rabbi Ahron Cohen, who is attending the Holocaust conference in Iran.
Bladdered Bishop - another good "war on Christmas" piece penned by Jasper Gerard in the Observer shows, yet again, the whole thing to be hype - and as proof that Christmas has survived unscathed he uses the unfortunate example of the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Reverend Tom Butler, who was observed apparently the worse for drink sitting in the back of someone else's car throwing stuffed toys around. When asked what he was up to he is reported to have said "I'm the Bishop of Southwark. It's what I do." And the best of luck to him - he sounds a lot more fun than his po-faced counterpart the Archbishop Of York, St Sentamu. As Gerard says " Let's have more bishops lit up like Christmas Trees". As for any threat to Christmas he tells us "When a bishop (of Southwark) falls over bladdered after a stonking good party, you know the Christmas season is in rude health. Everyone short of Osama bin Laden has been asked if they want to kill Christmas; they look faintly puzzled and say they couldn't give a toss, really. The attitude of the fanatical Christmas murderers is: 'If you want to gorge yourself on Bernard Matthews and Asda special-value plum pudding to demonstrate your oneness with the Almighty, you go ahead, matey. Bottoms up.'" Cheers!
How Rude to Question
Religious Faith - as has been noted before by 80 (and
plenty of others) there is an area of human experience that is deemed by many,
for no good reason, as we shall see, to be beyond question - or more
accurately, protected from rational inquiry. The area of human experience
in question is, of course, religious belief and the moral standards
derived therefrom. This review
of Richard Dawkins' documentary "Root of all Evil?" by Lakshmi Chaudhry is
a good example of the inability to grasp that religion claims and beliefs
should be questioned at least as rigorously as any other human activity,
particularly when such beliefs/claims are used as the justification for
violence, censorship and social exclusion. In Chaudhry's view Dawkins
proceeds by "...bullying, berating and heckling the devoutly faithful he
encounters along his way." which is, to put it charitably, a less than
accurate description of the biologist's tactics. To say that Dawkins
"confronts" and "storms" is daft - they are both laughable descriptions of
the softly-spoken, almost genteel Dawkins. The only person who is directly
exposed to some waspish remarks in the movie is the now-disgraced preacher
Ted Haggard, and this episode is notable in that it is the only example.
(And the fact that Haggard told Dawkins he didn't understand evolution may
have had a bearing.) Dawkins' general demeanor is that of a polite but
persistent questioner - and it is this persistence that many seem to find
so offensive or disrespectful. In this they are completely wrong - it is
the believers who are making unsubstantiated claims on the basis of faith
and therefore it is only right that they should be required to explain
themselves. The fact that Dawkins ignores their "go no further" barriers
is not abrasiveness or rudeness - it is merely the application of rational
inquiry. (It is also worth noting Chaudrhy even has the name of Dawkins'
documentary wrong - it is "The Root of All Evil?". It is a question - not
a statement - you can tell this as it is followed by a question mark. How
could Chaudrhy have missed this? Even minimal research would have shown
the title was not Dawkins choice, but that of
the TV channel that broadcast the original two-part documentary in the UK.
It was Dawkins who insisted on the question mark. But then "Root of All
Evil" as a statement helps Chaudrhy in his case against this arrogant
atheist. Whether Chaudrhy is a believer or not, he doesn't want facts to
ruin his sermon.)
If a believer tells you that they talk daily with, for example, the reincarnated spirit of a preacher who lived in ancient Judaea, and furthermore demands that this preacher's beliefs and proscriptions should apply to everyone, believer or not, on pain of eternal torment after death then they damn' well should explain themselves. If they postulate the existence of a being who transcends all we have learned about the material universe and physical law surely it is incumbent upon them to provide some evidence to support this amazing claim? Even more so when they say this transcendent being takes a very close interest in, say, the sex lives of human beings and, in order to avoid everlasting damnation, you must adhere to what the believers say this being demands. Especially when these demands include the condemnation, demonisation and social exclusion of fellow human beings whose sexual orientation doesn't fit the Iron Age tribal rules of which this transcendent being seems inordinately fond.
To anyone who has seen "Root of All Evil?" Chaudhry's description of Dawkins is unrecognizable. The idea that he "..storms his way around the world in the state of high dudgeon.." and exhibits "apocalyptic outrage" would be funny except that it is a gross misrepresentation. What Chaudrhy chooses to see as "apocalyptic outrage" is merely the natural exasperation felt when talking to people who repeatedly make unsubstantiated claims, claims moreover that affect how others are allowed to lead their lives, claims that they can only back up by reference to Iron Age priestly writings and chronicles that are clearly built upon the world view of their time and the prevailing politics. If 80 announced that all ginger-haired people are accursed and unnatural, yet could only by way of justification say that this information was vouchsafed him by an invisible and undetectable elf who tells nothing but the unvarnished truth you would be justified in questioning his sanity and/or sincerity. Even producing a book of rules and stories supposedly dictated by said elf and transcribed without error is unlikely to convince doubters. And yet change "ginger-haired" to "homosexual" and "elf" to another 3 letter word, God, and this is exactly the sort of thing that believers come out with every single day.
Chaudrhy accuses Dawkins of making a simplistic strawman of religious faith that does not do justice to the depth and complexity of belief. How does Chaudrhy achieve this? By making a strawman of his own and calling it Dawkins. In fact one does not need to go into the depths and complexities of religious faith - these are mere accretions around the basic idea of a supernatural being that displays, in 80's view, an unhealthy interest in certain human activities. It is noteworthy that the God of the abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is very much a male God - the tribal leaders ideal writ large and lording it over not some middle eastern tribe but the whole cosmos. The power and the testosterone. That these religions were very much products of their times is confirmed by their misogynistic attitudes as much as anything else. The holy books of these religions - often claimed to directly inspired by the invisible elf/God himself - are used in a circular way to place religious beliefs beyond question. God say you must do X. Why should I do X? Because it is written in the holy book. Why does that make it compulsory? Because the holy book is written/directly inspired by by God..... Yet most modern religionists do not follow their holy books to the letter. One good reason for this is that the Christian and Jewish holy books, are in fact compilations of many writings from many periods and tend to address the problems, politics and issues of the time of their composition. Those who trawl through Leviticus for laws condemning homosexuality tend to gloss over the other stipulations on, say, clothing or diet. As for the Islamic holy book that too is inconsistent, seeming to reflect two different times - one when Mohammed and his followers were a minority and whose language is relatively inclusive and tolerant and one from the later, militant period where infidels are condemned left right and center in a most bloodthirsty fashion. If these ancient texts are inconsistent, full of violence and often self-contradictory, which they certainly are, should they be used to dictate how life should be lived in the very different world 21st century?
Chaudrhy also accuses Dawkins of promoting science as "atheist theology" and attempts to prove the point by quoting not Dawkins himself but another hostile commentator, Marilynne Robinson, who obviously has been busy constructing her own straw Dawkins. She says "[Dawkins] has a simple-as-that, plain-as-day approach to the grandest questions, unencumbered by doubt, consistency, or countervailing information." What balderdash - Dawkins has the approach of the scientist who, when faced by "countervailing information" will use such information to arrive at a more accurate picture of reality. The attitudes Robinson attributes to Dawkins are in fact applicable in their entirety to religion. Science, or more accurately, the scientific method takes into account new information and builds upon it - religion would call such new material heresy and stamp it out, in many cases violently. To be "unencumbered by doubt" is the preserve of the faithful and the politician - scientifically obtained knowledge is always open to reinterpretation should new data become available. In fact scientists deliberately look for new data while religionists make a virtue of the unchanging nature of their beliefs - even in the face of contradictory evidence. Journalists like Chaudrhy and others that attempt to show that Dawkins' atheism is just another form of faith are utterly wrong - they seem unable to envisage a life led without supernaturalism. This merely demonstrates their own shortcomings, in particular their inability to understand the scientific method and their tendency to treat everything as a faith position (80 detects a whiff of post-modernism here). This is noticeable when Chaudrhy treats religion and science as equivalent in some way, entirely missing the point that religion is unyielding whereas science is continually making itself anew in the light of fresh information, information that is actively sought. It is perfectly possible to live a good and fulfilling life for its own sake and not because of the fear of eternal damnation. It is also perfectly in order and desirable that those that make claims of a supernatural kind should justify such claims without recourse to faith, ancient books or secret messages from a holy elf. No easy task.(Talking of Dawkins, here is a letter from him in the Guardian on the attempt to sneak intelligent design (creationism in a cheap tuxedo) into UK science classes. Also see Intelligent design: The God Lab from New Scientist, describing the setting up of an intelligent design "laboratory".)
A-Z of Unbelief - it is the time of year when newspapers and others generate lists of various kinds. The UK Independent newspaper, true to its moniker, has produced not a list but what it claims is a "Dictionary of Atheism". It has some amusing entries and endeared itself to 80 by including a lengthy quote from Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary - a magnificent work mentioned more than a few times on these pages - and an entry on Bertrand Russell's celebrated teapot. Particularly close to 80's heart, exposing as it does a glaring, undemocratic anachronism, is this, "Twenty-six: nil The number of Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords compared with the number of humanist representatives."
The Atheist Delusion - God is real. And he's unbelievable. Enjoy this animation about how faith trumps science and reason anyday. Good stuff from Edward Current. (brought to 80's attention by the National Secular Society's Newsline - delivered free to your Inbox every Friday - why not sign up?)
Stop Meddling, Period. - here is a periodic table with a difference - it charts political interference in science by, you guessed it, the Bush administration. The table has been compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which claims "..scientists who work for and advise the federal government have seen their work manipulated, suppressed, distorted, while agencies have systematically limited public and policy maker access to critical scientific information." Who would have thought it? Well, about 10,000 scientists for a start. Will it make any difference to an administration that is increasingly distanced from the "reality community"? No. In every area from atmospheric pollution, food safety standards, global climate change study, stem cell research to reproductive health Bush and pals have inflicted huge damage - damage that can hopefully be reversed, but not in every case. Check out this page from The Scientific Activist blog. Meanwhile Al Gore has weighed in albeit without specifically mentioning the Bush administration, saying to an American Geophysical Union meeting, "There is a greater temptation to ignore inconvenient truths, to set aside knowledge that might challenge a prevailing policy." Gore was greeted with a standing ovation.
About Bloody Time - finally comes the news that self-styled archbishop Gilbert "miracle babies" Deya has been arrested. This will start extradition proceedings to send Deya back to Kenya where he faces charges of child trafficking. Deya became notorious for his claims that, with God's help, he could make barren and post-menopausal women give birth. Let's stop and think about that for a moment. Either this guy can, with the help of his Sky Fairy, magic babies out of nowhere to be born to women that have no reproductive capability, or he is a liar and/or fantasist involved in the stealing of other people's children. Which of the two possibilities is the more likely? If there is a third 80 would be most interested to hear it. The Deya farce has been going on now for some time - 80 first wrote about it in August 2004 - and it is more than high time he was sent back to Kenya, where his wife was arrested last year, to answer the charges against him there. Deya's version of events can be seen on his web site in a long, rambling piece dated September 2005 and signed Archbishop Gilbert Deya, Servant of the Most High God. Here is a report from Kenya London News in which the writer, Topi Lyambila, like 80, asks why Deya's extradition has taken so long. (Also see Miracle Babies, Deya's Day of Reckoning, What, Still here? and That'll Be The Deya.)
Fat Chance - a report in the Guardian on the 3 year enquiry into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales is headlined Report May End Princess Di Conspiracies. What, like the Warren Commission squelched any further speculation over the assassination of President John F Kennedy?
DeLayed Abuse - pasty-faced disgraced ex-politician, sometime bug exterminator and devout Christian Tom DeLay has started his own blog. Dangerously for a (very) short while people were allowed to add comments for DeLay's perusal but that facility has now been turned off. Never mind, an enterprising individual has preserved the wit, wisdom and plain abuse that was offered to DeLay before the shutters were pulled down. The site is described as "A tribute to the 75-minute period where tom delay actually received feedback from America. The experiment has now ended, but, this blog has taken a snap-shot, just for you..." Enjoy. (According to this Washington Post report even DeLay's re-districting "legacy" in Texas has failed, following Ciro Rodriguez's victory in a House runoff election. Matt Angle, a former Democrat strategist is quoted as saying, "Before this election, DeLay was in the grave with dirt on top of him. This is a final repudiation of DeLay's arrogance and bullying ways.")
Graham's Grave - here is a piece about an unseemly squabble among the offspring of Billy Graham over where they will bury the old boy and his wife - when they die - which hasn't happened yet. This description, by novelist Patricia Cornwell, of the "memorial library" where Franklin Graham, who has taken over the bulk of dad's operation (he also runs Samaritan's Purse) would like the pair interred sounds unredeemably tacky - but then that's American evangelists for you! "The building, designed in part by consultants who used to work for the Walt Disney Co., is not a library, she says, but a large barn and silo -- a reminder of Billy Graham's early childhood on a dairy farm near Charlotte. Once it's completed in the spring, visitors will pass through a 40-foot-high glass entry cut in the shape of a cross and be greeted by a mechanical talking cow. They will follow a path of straw through rooms full of multimedia exhibits. At the end of the tour, they will be pointed toward a stone walk, also in the shape of a cross, that leads to a garden where the bodies of Billy and Ruth Graham could lie. Throughout the tour, there will be several opportunities for people to put their names on a mailing list." Dad's not even dead yet but Franklin is obviously quick to spot a good business opportunity.
Some Festive Cheer - a Guardian/ICM poll today reveals that the British are a pretty sensible bunch. "More people in Britain think religion causes harm than believe it does good... It shows that an overwhelming majority see religion as a cause of division and tension - greatly outnumbering the smaller majority who also believe that it can be a force for good." What a breath of fresh air - and what a smack in the eye for stroppy religionists such the Archbishop of York, Saint Sentamu. Wait, there's more "The poll also reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. It paints a picture of a sceptical nation with massive doubts about the effect religion has on society: 82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people." Which of course makes one wonder why on earth are 26 bishops still sitting in the upper chamber of parliament? It also call into question the Blair government's promotion of taxpayer-funded sectarian schools. (Oddly the survey results seem to have passed The Times by. This leading article babbles on about how "Faith should instead be a force for cohesion — social, spiritual and ethical." Well it isn't and a majority in the UK thinks it isn't. Wishing won't make it so - neither will praying. And employing phrases such as "bleak materialism" is plain daft. Materialism is all we have - see Johann Hari below.)
Naturally a Church of England spokesman wriggled around attempting to put a spin on the findings but it was a sad effort, "You also have to bear in mind how society has changed. It is more difficult to go to church now than it was. Communities are displaced, people work longer hours - it's harder to fit it in." Surely if people believed that being a good Christian will keep them out of eternal torment they would make the effort and find time for God - but they don't, and the reason is that they don't believe. It's as simple as that and no amount of bleating about Christianity taking its place once more in the "public square" is going to make any difference.
Meanwhile Pope Ratzinger reveals how in touch he is with the modern world. The old boy is reported as saying that "If more people believed in God, lived according to his law and recognized each other as his children, the world would have greater peace and hope for the future." Now whose God would that be Ratzinger? Yours, of course. Which would put you, as his Vicar on Earth, in charge, eh Joseph? Attempting to outdo the Pontiff in battiness is a group of Polish members of parliament who "...have submitted a bill seeking to proclaim Jesus Christ king of their overwhelmingly Catholic country." Great - an imaginary king to match the imaginary queen - for the same BBC article tells us Polish King John Casimir made Mary, God's one night stand, the honorary queen 350 years ago. Quite what benefits have accrued since from such religious brown-nosing are hard to see - invasion by Nazi Germany or perhaps forced membership of the Warsaw Pact?
Quote - "Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense." Carl Sagan
- here are a few items that, in 80's view, are well
worth a few minutes of your time. First up Tony Youens looks at the
Ipswich, Suffolk murders and the
claims of psychic Diane Lazarus who seems to think her imaginary
powers will track down the culprit - as opposed to wasting police time
with her drivel. Since Tony wrote his piece a man has been arrested and
charged, but this in no way alters his assessment of Lazarus.
In the Guardian John Patterson tells us it has been a rotten year for Jesus in the movies and also manages to take a swipe at the execrable taste of American evangelists, describing the paintings that adorn disgraced Ted Haggard's mega-church as "...sub-heavy-metal album-cover art by way of some fascistically devout Aryan brotherhood prison tattoo parlour. All the paintings - of warriors for God in their ripped T-shirts, of chesty virgins bearing gourds of massage oil to soothe the toiler's aching bones - seem wildly, cluelessly homoerotic, no matter how many coyly half-exposed DD-cup breasts are depicted." (It makes the Billy Graham "library" sound almost refined)
Many towns (and individuals) have huge displays of seasonal lights which may look pretty but swamp the true beauty of the night sky. For some really awesome lights take a look the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) site - this is Massive Stars in Open Cluster Pismis 24 and here is V838 Mon: Echoes from the Edge. (Click on the image for a larger version) Every day APOD publishes images of the Universe and it has a wonderful archive of images, all described by professional astronomers.
It is 10 years since Carl Sagan died and Fraser Cain of the Universe Today web site (which 80 highly recommends) has written a piece on Sagan's influence on his life. Like many others Cain was inspired by Sagan's work, and mentions three books in particular that led to the making of the UT site and also his own skeptical, reason-based world view. The books he mentions are Sagan's SF novel, Contact, (later filmed) Pale Blue Dot, a manifesto for nothing less than human expansion into the cosmos, and one of the best books written on rational thinking and skeptical inquiry, The Demon-Haunted World. If you have the time over the holiday and need a break from frenziedly celebrating the birthday of Mithras why not curl up somewhere quiet and read any or all 3 of these books? It is indeed sad to think that Sagan has been gone 10 years but he left behind a body of work that still inspires, entertains and informs. (See the Carl Sagan Foundation and the January/February issue of Skeptical Inquirer.)
Finally, 80 wishes all readers a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. One of the best ways to welcome the New Year is with a donation to the Save Darfur fund and sign a petition to the US President and the UN Secretary-General in 2007.
Clearwater's Murky Waters - there is something rotten, not in the state of Denmark, but in the town of Clearwater, Florida. Brought to 80's attention by this week's Swift, James Randi's weekly commentary, is this video detailing the overly cozy relationship between the sinister (and highly litigious) cult of Scientology and the powers that be in Clearwater. As Randi says, see this while you can before the creepy Thetans get it yanked. The degree of collusion between the cult and the local police force is absolutely shocking and says little for the rule of law in Clearwater. On the evidence in this video it appears that Scientology has successfully corrupted the police force of an American town and made at least some of the officers, who are shown and named, their creatures. Whenever 80 reads about Hubbard's offensive cult one name springs to mind - Lisa McPherson - it is a name you will hear often in the video. You will see how The Lisa McPherson Trust's personnel have been targeted and harrassed by the cult, aided by the police, but no matter how many cops they hire/suborn and glamorous movie stars they recruit the dirty truth will still come out. For the story of Scientology and the City of London Police see No Spoon Long Enough. Also see Operation Clambake. (Note - a lot of the material in the video is a few years old but Scientology, as evidenced by this report, appears to be still thriving in Clearwater)
Quote - "Far better to worship Mammon – and our friends, and family – than to waste our time worshipping a supernatural being for whom there is absolutely no evidence and a Holy Book littered with repellent ideas. At the end of 2006, a year in which the atheist fight-back against resurgent religion finally began, we should celebrate a nakedly materialist Christmas with glee, not guilt." from an excellent piece by Johann Hari.
Happy New Year -
before 80 surrenders to the sybaritic delights of the
New Year's festivities here is a collection of interesting items that have
appeared over the holiday. Hot on the heels of a survey that showed the
majority of Brits are unimpressed with the claims of religion (see
below) is one
from the US
which tells us "An Associated Press/AOL poll said 81 percent (of
Americans) think angels are for real." This "..cuts across all backgrounds
and religious convictions" and fits in with estimates of non-believers as
9 to 13 per cent of the population. There is no mention of whether these
winged, supernatural freaks are actually of use to anyone - apart perhaps
from a warm fuzzy feeling that has no basis in physical reality. Who cares
if they are real so long as you feel good? (also see
OK, You're Crazy)
As a welcome counter to such nonsense here is a short piece by Richard Dawkins in which he looks at a couple of British "scientists" who still cling to the old chestnut that evolution by means of natural selection violates the second law of thermodynamics. It seems the clods are confused over the properties of open and closed systems. Dawkins, with his accustomed pellucidness conveys the true magnitude of these creationist/ID proponents' errors. The amount of doublethink necessary must be colossal as one of these individuals is a Professor of Thermodynamics and the other the head of a Department of Mechanical Engineering. Go figure....
Quite one of the silliest things to come to 80's attention of late is a piece called The Atheist Wager by Cal Thomas in which he retreads the same daft misconceptions which have seen print far too often. For example, "I know some atheists who are pro-life (though they have an inadequate base for being so). That’s because if God is not the Author of life, then we are evolutionary accidents who may treat each other as we please." Note the implication of "as we please" - in Thomas's world we are given the impression this can only be a bad thing. In other words, the only thing keeping Thomas on the straight and narrow is his fear of the Sky Fairy - without such a restraint there would presumably be nothing stopping him from raping, murdering, stealing, you name it. How little faith he has in real human beings compared to the faith he has in his supernatural bogeyman. Thomas may be a "veteran of broadcast and print journalism." but he is capable of breathtaking inanity. Such as this gem "It takes more faith not to believe in God than to believe in Him. It is also intellectually lazy." A very sad little man.
Happily Joshua Holland, writing in
Alternet takes Thomas
to task, employing language fit for the purpose. In answer to Thomas's
"I wonder about the question. Why is it "in vogue" to disbelieve in a
Creator of the universe, who loves us and wants to have a relationship
with us and not "in vogue" to believe?" Holland offers the answer "Um,
because you're completely full of shit?" 80 as a rule avoids scatalogical
language but in this instance Holland has hit the nail on the head. He
also quotes one commentator on Thomas's piece from The Washington Post
that bears repeating. "It is better to live your life as if there are no
gods, and try to make the world a better place for your being in it. If
there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by
those you left behind. If there is a benevolent god, he will judge you on
your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him."
80 has written before of that most strange of Christian relics, the Holy Prepuce, in other words Jesus' foreskin, apparently the only physical remnant on Earth after he beamed up to heaven. Telling a story that Dan Brown may well borrow for his next blockbuster, is this article in Slate - it seems the aforementioned wrinkled relic has disappeared from the Italian town of Calcata, where the local priest kept it in a shoebox in a cupboard (?). And who is behind this theft? The Vatican of course (do keep up) in order to quell discussion of the Savior's penis. Whether the missing foreskin is the "real" one nobody knows - at one time several places claimed to have custody - they couldn't all be authentic could they? If so, they would cover a large area - hence the saying "hung like a messiah". On a more serious note (but still with foreskins) is this article by Christopher Hitchens, in which children's lives take second place to a rather revolting tradition. During some Orthodox Jewish circumcision rituals the man (the mohel) doing the cutting sucks on the child's bleeding penis - 80 is not making this up - there is even a word for this practice, metzitzah b'peh. The idea is that sucking the blood cleans the wound - only in several cases the little boys have contracted Type 1 herpes. So obviously the practice will be banned ? No, is the short answer. According to Rabbi David Niederman, quoted by Hitchens, "The Orthodox Jewish community will continue the practice that has been practiced for over 5,000 years. We do not change. And we will not change." One child has died so far and there may be many more, but what is a child's life compared to these ancient superstitions?
Ban Faith Schools - for those in the UK concerned about the divisive effects of sectarian schooling, here is a link to a petition which states "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Abolish all faith schools and prohibit the teaching of creationism and other religious mythology in all UK schools" For more information check out Nicola Holt's web site called, simply enough, Ban Faith Schools. One would think that the example of sectarian schooling in Northern Ireland would be warning enough, but Blair and his fellow religionists seem determined to proceed. Blair's legacy, apart from the obscenity that is Iraq, will be a school system, paid for by your taxes that will poison children's minds for generations to come.
Atheism, Some Facts - courtesy of the LA Times here are 10 myths and 10 truths about atheism by Sam Harris. Interestingly, this is the Times' most viewed page over the holiday. Meanwhile, űberhypocrite Pope Ratzinger devoted his Christmas homily to "..saying...that the image of the baby Jesus born in a manger should remind everyone of the plight of poor, abused and neglected children." 80 wonders if this includes HIV/AIDS orphans, victims of the Catholic church's lies about condom effectiveness - or the children around the world abused by priests. This quote, also from the LA Times, says it all, "The pope, wearing resplendent gold and white vestments, again spoke out against the materialism that he has said several times has been allowed to dominate Christmas." A little festive irony for you all........
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