The View from Number 80

 

 

 

Backwards Glances Index 2010 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.)

 

September 8th 2010  UK Science Cutbacks

September 15th 2010  Not Scaremongering

September 18th 2010  Protest The Pope

September 22nd 2010  Claptrap With Knobs On

September 25th 2010  Hypocrite

October 4th 2010  Netherlands On Trial

October 6th 2010  Intelligent Design Is Neither

October 09th 2010  Phone Scares

October 15th 2010  Dialogue Of The Deaf

October 17th 2010  Ecce Homer!

October 22nd 2010  It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

October 25th 2010  God Or Nothing

November 3rd 2010  Conversion By Buzz

November 5th 2010  Two Worlds

November 13th 2010  Déjà Vu?

November 17th 2010  Nazi Saucers Revisited

November 20th 2010  Reading And Viewing

November 23rd 2010  Human Rights Travesty

November 25th 2010  Burning Issues

November 27th 2010  Victimless Crime?

December 1st 2010  Prattling Prelate

December 6th 2010  Earn It

December 12th 2010  Godly Grudges

December 19th 2010  Quran Quandary

December 28th 2010  The Ethics Of Profit

 

 

September 8th 2010

UK Science Cutbacks - read here Evan Harris' analysis of Vince Cable's speech heralding cuts to the science budget. The news is not good. Cable wants scientists to abandon research that is "...neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding". How would this be decided, by politicians? The Treasury? A recent piece in the Independent illustrates the problem of politicians making judgements on the worth of scientific research. We learn "The only scientist in the House of Commons has called for all MPs to be required to take a crash course in basic scientific techniques. Julian Huppert, a research biochemist who became the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge at the last election, said he was alarmed at the lack of scientific knowledge among colleagues. He said it was a real concern that the Commons – which is full of career politicians, lawyers and economists – lacked scientific expertise. Dr Huppert, a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, argued that all MPs should be obliged to take a short science training course, covering areas such as how research is conducted, numeracy and the use of statistics."  To which should be added some tuition on critical thinking - for as Richard Feynman noted, the easiest person to fool is yourself.

Read that again - "The only scientist in the House of Commons"  That's out of a total of 650 members. 80 has often cited the following quote on scientific literacy from  Carl Sagan and will do so again, for it becomes more and more apposite with the passing of time. "We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster."

New Scientist's editorial for this week emphasizes the danger that slashing research budgets poses for the future of science in Britain. An accompanying article Zeros to heroes: 11 unlikely ideas that changed the world tells us "In an era when research funding is scarce, these 11 ideas serve as a timely reminder of the value of pure science not only in terms of satisfying our curiosity, but ultimately for its endless practical uses." The impending cuts are also discussed by Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox - see A Fine Pairing below. Also see Why it's irrational to ration science funding by Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. Meanwhile, beyond the light shed by science, the idiots are gibbering and receiving encouragement from the government to lie to children.

A Fine Pairing - the Guardian brightened 80's morning with a couple of interesting items, a conversation between Stephen Hawking and Brian Cox and another with David Attenborough and Richard Dawkins. What a pleasant change from coverage of some mustachioed loon who wants to burn a Muslim magic book or the latest Catholic child-rape horrors. The only jarring note is in the comments, where Dawkins attracts venomous ad hominem remarks from people who have obviously not heard him speak or read any of his excellent books. These lackwits obviously prefer insulting a strawman of their own invention than contributing anything meaningful to the discussion.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? - "The 100,000 Roman Catholics expected to attend the pope's open-air "great mass" in Glasgow have been urged by their cardinal to endure the "sacrifices" the event will involve. Tens of thousands of pilgrims in Glasgow will have to get to next Thursday's event at Bellahouston Park on public transport after their private coaches were cancelled. Umbrellas have been banned, there will be no seating provided, and pilgrims will have to stay in the park for at least five hours on security grounds." from a Guardian article. It sounds like purgatory fun. No umbrellas? That's OK as everyone knows it hardly ever rains in Scotland...

An Audience With The Pope - New Humanist asks "If you were invited to address Benedict XVI during his UK visit, what would you say to him? Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman, Claire Rayner, Ben Goldacre and many more take part in our Pope quiz." See their answers here.

Burn A Bible, Save A Kitten - is the latest syntax-mangling article from the inimitable Mark Morford in which he comments upon not only "...that .. amoral chunk of anti-spiritual razor wire named Terry Jones, a leathery little Florida pastor with his tiny flock of 50 whack-nut imbeciles who've decided to go forth with their T-shirt-ready "Burn a Quran" day on September 11th.." but also the Westboro Baptist Church run by Fred "God hates fags" Phelps and his weird family. He then compares the actions of those awful "militant" atheists "Perhaps you stop to ponder, as I occasionally do, the curious fact that you never read about, say, a die-hard Richard Dawkins fanatic going off hinge and orchestrating a marvelous "Burn A Bible, Save A Kitten" protest event."  Read on..

Free Exercise of Religion? No, Thanks - is Christopher Hitchens' latest piece for Slate, with an excellent subtitle "The taming and domestication of religious faith is one of the unceasing chores of civilization." Highly recommended.

Drunk On Religion - Pat Condell waxes wrathful on the subject of doorstep evangelists and the tedious circularity of their appeals to biblical authority. 80 no longer engages with such callers. A gentle smile and "No thanks, I'm not superstitious" generally suffices to send them on their irritating way.

 

 


September 15th 2010

Not Scaremongering - the Telegraph informs us "Society should be aware of the potentially harmful effects of the internet, networking sites and computer games on the brain, leading neuroscientist and peer Baroness Susan Greenfield has said. Lady Greenfield, one of Britain's most prominent female scientists, claimed the issue was "almost as important as climate change". "I think the quality of our existence is threatened,'' she said. ''We need discussions about this, we need debate, we need more of an effort put in." She was speaking at the British Festival of Science at Aston University in Birmingham. There appears to be no peer-reviewed paper published by Greenfield on the subject as yet although she insists she is not scaremongering. "We have anecdotal evidence from talking to parents," she said. "Every single parent I have spoken to so far is concerned. I have yet to find a parent who says, 'I am really pleased that my kid is spending so much time in front of the computer.' " Well that settles it then. Suspicious old 80 thought she had just pulled this out of her handbag but if she has anecdotes...

 

Terry Jones

Pastor Terry Jones

Just Books - it is incredible in all the recent fuss over the Quran burning nonsense that so many people from the president of the US down pleaded with the mustachioed loon Terry Jones not to offend Muslims - with the obvious implication that the reaction from the "religion of peace" would be violence. Even the Imam behind the "ground zero mosque" said "...the act could have provoked fresh terrorist attacks against the US." The Quran (and the Bible) are just books, they are not magic and it is preferable that a stack of the bloody things be burned than one human being should be hurt, let alone killed. What the pathetic story does show, as did  the so-called Mo-toons row, is that the Muslim world is stuffed full of barely-contained rage - who was it who said Christianity is the religion of guilt and Islam the religion of blame? As many Muslim countries have repressive governments a display of outrage over perceived insults to Islam is one of the few officially-sanctioned outlets available to an unrepresented and frustrated populace. Jones' grandstanding was certainly helped by the amount of press coverage and the reactions of Obama and others who shamefully pleaded with the nitwit. He could never have achieved that level of publicity for his crappy little church any other way. It is likely the real reason he has now stated he will not be burning any magic books is not any high level intervention but the unintended scrutiny Jones himself has attracted to his finances and business practices. (See here for the story of the Aussie lawyer who "...tore pages from the Koran and the Bible and smoked them on YouTube..." Naturally YouTube cravenly removed the original but it was still available here as part of another video when 80 last looked)

The Other Newman - in the run up to the wasteful papal jamboree Jack Valero, spokesman for Britain's Opus Dei weirdos, "...claimed most people knew more about Paul Newman, the Hollywood actor, than Cardinal John Henry Newman, the Victorian theologian who will be beatified by Benedict XVI next week." And what's wrong with that? 80 may well be ignorant of theological niceties but he is willing to bet that Paul did more good by supporting deserving charities than John Henry ever did. Not bad for an atheist... (Also see Is God scraping the barrel for miracles? Martin Robbins looks at the "miracle" that prompted Cardinal Newman's beatification)

You Can Tell A Lot About A Man - by the company he keeps. We learn that "A founding member of an organization run by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the driving force behind the planned mosque near Ground Zero, claims that the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job" and that Muslims have been made scapegoats. Faiz Khan -- who has preached at least twice at the former Burlington Coat Factory building, the site of the proposed mosque -- was for years Rauf's partner in the American Society for the Advancement of Muslims, which is dedicated to promoting a better understanding of Islam. Khan also serves on the advisory board of Muslims for 9/11 Truth and is a founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth, known as MUJCA." Why would Khan back the mosque, a supposedly conciliatory project, when he believes the 9/11 atrocity was an inside job? Meanwhile Rauf would seem to have other problems apart from the mosque business.

This Is A Spoof, Right? - "Galileo Was Wrong is a detailed and comprehensive treatment of the scientific evidence supporting Geocentrism, the academic belief that the Earth is immobile in the center of the universe. Garnering scientific information from physics, astrophysics, astronomy and other sciences, Galileo Was Wrong shows that the debate between Galileo and the Catholic Church was much more than a difference of opinion about the interpretation of Scripture."  They seem to have forgotten poor old Nicholas Copernicus....


September 18th 2010

Protest the Pope - March and Rally - Join the “Protest the Pope” Campaign in this large-scale march against the State Visit of Pope Ratzinger in the UK. This kicks off on 18th September 2010. The protest march will assemble from 1.30pm at the top of Piccadilly (Hyde Park Corner). It will then proceed through central London via Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall. At the arrival point, opposite Downing Street, on Richmond Terrace, there will be the final Rally with speeches. For more details see here.

Ignorant Little Man - the BBC tells us "The Pope has compared "atheist extremism" to the Nazi tyranny of WWII in a speech given in Edinburgh as he begins a four-day visit to the UK. The pontiff praised Britain's fight against the Nazis - who "wished to eradicate God" - before relating it to modern day "atheist extremism"."

Perhaps the Holy Father has not read this quote - “The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press — in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of Liberal excess during the past years.” — Adolph Hitler - Taken from The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1, Michael Hakeem, Ph.D. (London, Oxford University Press, 1942). 80 cannot really believe Ratzinger is unaware of The Great Scandal: Christianity's Role in the Rise of the Nazis or the Concordat between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. Here are some pictures as an aide-mémoire for the old boy.

British Establishment Gladly Dons The Papal Blinkers - "The Prime Minister, The Queen and the British press have now donned the blinkers that are necessary to allow them greet the Pope on the terms he wants to be greeted and not as a man who has many questions to answer about his participation in the cover up of heinous crimes against children. A huge wave of propaganda has engulfed us as the Pope’s every step is broadcast on TV, his every utterance slobbered over by fawning journalists and his critics called “hate-mongers”. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the Vatican’s crimes, we are expected to forget all about it for the four days that Ratzinger will be in this country and pretend that it has never happened. Let’s put from our memory the knowledge of all those tens of thousands of children who have been violated by Catholic priests, let’s not think about this present Pope’s efforts to silence them, humiliate them and to protect their violators from true justice in order to save the Church from scandal." Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society. Read the rest here.

Muslim Intellectual? - Tariq Ramadan has a new book out so naturally he has a column in the Guardian to plug it. He takes it as an opportunity to complain that the label of "Muslim intellectual" is restricting and not indicative of his true range. As he seems to have made a career banging on about Islam there seems to be little basis for his grievance. On the other hand there is a much better and more accurate label for him but 80 reckons he won't like it either - snake-tongued, dissembling Islamist front man. For more see The Ethical Islamist. For a review of Ramadan's latest tome see this from Kenan Malik who finds him a "shallow thinker" - now there's another label to piss him off.

Sex And Death Lie At The Poisoned Heart Of Religion - is an excellent piece by Polly Toynbee "Where once secularism and humanism were relics of a bygone religious age, its voice is important again. But pointing out the blindingly obvious need to keep faiths in their private sphere has united religious gunfire against secularists. All atheists now tend to be called "militant", yet we seek to silence none, to burn no books, to stop no masses or Friday prayers, impose no laws, asking only free choice over sex and death. Religion deserves its say, but only proportional to its numbers. No privileges, no special protection against feeling offended."


September 22nd 2010

Claptrap With Knobs On - "Third on was Roger Scruton, who noted that what the New Atheism is selling – freedom from religion – is naive. This is so because it's hard for human beings to live well without a sense of the transcendental ground of things, because only then do we have a keen sense of being subjects, not objects. That we live in a disenchanted and desacralised world – you only have to think of matters like sex or death, which were sacred for our ancestors – explains why we find it so hard to live well."  From a report by Mark Vernon on a "debate" staged by New Humanist entitled After New Atheism - where next for the God debate? Nowhere it would seem - what the hell is New Atheism? The term invites the creation of straw men galore (see Scruton above) and a lot of hot air. They should have defined "god" first. (This is great)

Mammon, Mammon - how I love you, my dear old Mammon. "The head of the Vatican bank has formally been placed under investigation in an inquiry into a suspected violation of Italy's money-laundering laws, judicial sources said today. At the same time, a judge in Rome ordered a freeze on €23m (£19.5m) held in an account opened by the Vatican bank, the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), at another financial institution in the Italian capital. It was thought to be the first time such action had been authorised against the IOR in Italy. It was not immediately clear whether there was any connection between this inquiry and another in which the Vatican bank has been named, which concerns suspect property dealings. The Vatican has a long history of withholding co-operation from Italian investigators seeking access to its bank's books. The IOR was involved in a major scandal in 1982 arising from the fraudulent bankruptcy of Banco Ambrosiano, then Italy's largest private bank." Source - Guardian.

Quote - “There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere.” Pope Benedict XVI complained during the near-saturation, minute-by-minute coverage by the BBC, ITV, Sky and major newspapers of his trip.

Good Riddance - a few thoughts on Ratzinger's trip to England and Scotland. The old boy obviously thought he was visiting Cliché Land with his remarks about atheists and Nazis, the "threat" to Christmas and that dreadful plague of secularism. Without secularism his trip could have been a lot more exciting with all that hiding in priest-holes and being burned at the stake as a damned papist. It is secularity that guarantees the freedom to follow the religion of your choice - or none. The bit that sticks in Ratzinger's craw is that it provides a level playing field with all citizens treated equally without religious privilege - which means your particular prejudice or bigotry is not protected nor given the force of law. The Pope actually couched things like this, "Religious bodies — including institutions linked to the Catholic Church — need to be free to act in accordance with their own principles."  Not when those principles encroach upon the freedom of others they don't. It almost seems a sign of desperation when the war on Christmas is mentioned as no one with two brain cells to rub together believes this is really happening. Every year come late autumn (Ratzinger started the ball rolling early) the whining begins about Christmas and the same stories appear in the likes of the Daily Mail, stories which a moment's fact-checking would reveal to be nonsense. Christians of a certain stripe love the Christmas war crap as it feeds their (totally unjustified) sense of persecution. It is ironic that that early Christians merely took over pre-existing, pagan mid-winter festivals.

The Protest the Pope march made a welcome change from the widespread sycophantic coverage given by mainstream media. It would be nice if Ratzinger had heard the chants of "Keep your rosaries off our ovaries" but it is unlikely any of the protests broached his security bubble despite a good turnout of over 10,000 people from many different organisations and none. One quote from the Guardian was particularly idiotic "The thousands who traipsed through London chanting "he belongs in jail" may not see any connection between themselves and the anti-papist mobs of the past, but there is a failure to afford sincere faith the respect it is due." The overwhelming bulk of the protests were aimed at the Pope himself and were not anti-papist - a point made clear by the rally's organisers. As for affording "...sincere faith the respect it is due" the question has to be asked, why? Just because people hold beliefs in the supernatural doesn't automatically earn them respect - toleration, yes, and pity maybe, but not respect. Lord Patten of Barnes, the man in charge of the papal trip, made a supremely daft observation on the basis of no evidence whatsoever saying that the "...trip proved that religion is still relevant and made people think more about their responsibilities towards society." Even sillier was this comment from the Telegraph "His [Patten's] assessment of Benedict XVI's visit was backed up by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, which disclosed that it has already been contacted by dozens of members of the public keen to learn more about the faith." Gosh - dozens! Hardly a deluge and definitely not worth the colossal waste of money and police time.

And In Happy News - the Telegraph informs us "Pastor who threatened to burn Korans told to pay police bill. US pastor Terry Jones, who threatened to burn copies of the Koran, has been told he must pay $180,000 (£115,000) for security costs triggered by the controversy."  So the absurd story does have a silver lining...

Richard Dawkins' Speech - at the Protest the Pope rally, which was attended by more than 10,000 people, can be seen below. (no video? click here) A slide show of participants can be seen here. Other speeches by the likes of Maryam Namazie (One Law For All), Peter Tatchell, Terry Sanderson (NSS) and Andrew Copson (BHA) can be found here. The full text of Dawkins' speech is here. The speech as given was truncated owing to time constraints.

                                                         


September 25th 2010

Hypocrite - from the Telegraph "The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said followers should aim to make their faith more visible through simple gestures such as saying “God Bless You”, offering to pray for people and making the Sign of the Cross more regularly." One wonders if Nichols has read Matthew 6:5 in his holy book lately "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward."

The Point Being? - every now and again some scientist(s) with nothing better to do try and "explain" miracles in the Bible. The latest example is announced by a headline in the Telegraph Biblical parting of the Red Sea 'could have happened'. The effect is somewhat marred by a subsequent paragraph "The likely location of the ''miracle'' was not the Red Sea as such, but a nearby spot in the Nile Delta region."  so the headline should read "Biblical parting of a spot in the Nile Delta region could have happened". What is not explained is why the full panoply of modern science at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado was used to examine the possibility of an event for which there is absolutely zero evidence. Next will be an engineering research group's report on the likely tensile strength of Rapunzel's hair or the relationship between applied force, deformation of egg shells and fracture force in the tragic case of Humpty Dumpty.

These efforts to "explain" fairy tales are a questionable use of resources and reveal a strange need to explain things not worth explaining. Yes, maybe the Israelites' god manipulated winds and tides so as to bring about a "parting" of the sea but why didn't he just ordain it? Gods are not bound by the laws of physics - hence the miracle schtick. Other stories that have received this kind of attention are the Plagues of Egypt and Jesus' walking on water - see Skating On Thin Ice. These explanations are from "real" scientists - it is even worse when the pseudo-scientists join in. See from 2004 (hence some broken links) Aryan Covenant Lyer. (Here's a nice piece from Tom Chivers who has this to say "Further, if I were a religious man, I would find this all deeply underwhelming. As miracles go, God’s prophet parting the Red Sea, allowing His people to pass, is quite impressive. A strong wind creating a land bridge in a six-foot-deep lagoon while His people all struggle to stand upright is, frankly, less so."  A comment below from tilmeeth was as serious as the subject deserves "What is wrong with you people?? It is there in black and white, in a book! Not only that, but it was actually filmed... twice! Honestly, what more do you need? "

Bonfire Of Liberties - the BBC tells us "Six Tyneside men have been arrested after filming themselves apparently burning copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Police said the men, all from the Gateshead area, were detained after a video appeared on the internet. They were arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred and released on bail pending further inquiries." Racial hatred? Nonsense. Last time 80 checked Islam claimed to be a universal religion - so it can hardly be racial hatred. It can't even be hatred - a book is an inanimate object. Is it illegal to incite hatred of an inanimate object? It is unlikely these book-burning clods are Muslim so to them the Quran is just another book they are unable to read - there is no requirement for them to respect it - or is there? The disproportionate police response would say there is.

Hated By The Daily Mail - Stephen Fry is to be heartily congratulated for having reached this pinnacle of achievement. Well done, sir.

Samoan Clerics Finger Homosexuals Over Global Warming - headline of the week from The Register where we learn "Academics were apparently thrown off their consideration of "Arts in the Age of Global Warming" and "Ecology in Poetry / Poetry in Ecology" by reports of Church Ministers who maintained that climate change in Samoa are clearly attributable to to homosexuals."  Idiots.

Unbalanced - on the subject of climate change and idiots George Monbiot observes "I've often been struck by the way in which people who subscribe to one set of baseless beliefs are susceptible to others, in fields that are not obviously related." He comes up with some fine examples such as "Lord Monckton, whose lecture asserting that man-made climate change is nonsense has been watched by 4 million people, also maintains that he has invented a cure for Aids, multiple sclerosis, influenza and other incurable diseases." and "Peter Taylor, the Daily Express's favourite climate change denier, has claimed that a Masonic conspiracy has sent a "kook, a ninja freak, some throwback from past lives" to kill him, and insisted that plutonium may "possess healing powers, borne of Plutonic dimension, a preparation for rebirth, an awakener to higher consciousness". This may seem like shooting fish in a barrel but Monbiot's examples appear alarmingly often in the mainstream media. They are given a platform that is neither earned or deserved in pursuit of that modern journalistic obsession, balance.


October 4th 2010

Netherlands On Trial - Dutch politician Geert Wilders' trial has begun on charges of "...giving religious offence to Muslims and inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims and people of non-Western immigrant origin, particularly Moroccans." Surely the people that fly airplanes into buildings and bomb busses and trains are the ones inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims? Surely taking "religious offence" is part of the price of living in a free and open society? We are told Wilders "...risks up to a year in jail or a 7,600-euro (£6,600) fine for calling Islam "fascist" and likening the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf." Also prosecutors said he "...described Islam as "the sick ideology of Allah and Mohammed" and its holy book as "the Mein Kampf of a religion that seeks to eliminate others". So? None of these "crimes" justify taking him to court let alone convicting him. His (rather tedious) film Fitna depicts various atrocities carried out by Islamists with verses from the Quran superimposed inciting and justifying such violence. There is no suggestion these atrocities did not happen or that the Quran quotations are inaccurate so what is the problem? Does the Netherlands no longer support free speech? When the trial was announced back in February of this year Pat Condell made a video on The Crooked Judges Of Amsterdam - it is even more relevant now. (Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) came third in June 9 elections with 24 seats out of 150 in the Dutch lower house of parliament. The Guardian tells us that he  "...has emerged triumphant as the linchpin of a new rightwing minority government pledged to banning the burqa in the Netherlands, cracking down on immigration, strengthening the police and slashing public spending." ) Update - another European politician, Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded "... that Muslims living in Germany conform to "fundamental German values", saying there was no leeway on the issue."

                                                                     

Watery Memories - see here a lovely piece from the Irish Times on the dangers of hydromagnetic fields - which are of course "...made up of two components – dampness and homeopathy."

A real Druid

Of Druids and Doggers - the Telegraph's Religion section misinforms us "Druidry has been recognised as an official religion in Britain for the first time, thousands of years after its adherents first worshipped in the country." The problem with this being that there is zero connection between today's Druids and those of antiquity except the name. None, nada, zip, bugger all. Also in the Religion section looking somewhat out of place is this report "Dozens of car parks have been shut, lay-bys blocked and trees cut down around the country in attempts to deter the outdoor sex practice known as “dogging”". 80 didn't realize this odd practice had a religious dimension but is happy to acknowledge the Telegraph's expertise in this area.

Fool's Golb - some readers may perhaps remember 80's peripheral involvement in the Dead Sea Scrolls "sock puppet" saga. Now Raphael Golb, the lawyer son of scholar Norman Golb, has been found guilty "...of 30 counts against him, including identity theft, forgery and harassment." See The Man Who Wasn't There for more. Also see the reaction to the verdict from Dr Robert Cargill whose investigation originally exposed the Golb/Gadda/etc. deception.

Education Not Indoctrination - "I think religious instruction in a particular doctrine, in a particular faith, should not be carried out during the school day. I don't want my children to believe that there's only one religion that is the true religion, when it's not something their parents believe." Irish senator Ivana Bacik quoted in a BBC report about the Catholic church relinquishing some of its hold on primary schools in the country. This follows the horrendous revelations of the widespread rape of children by Catholic clergy and its subsequent concealment.

Secrets Of Scientology - A Panorama Special, BBC One, Tuesday, 28 September at 2100BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer. (Also no doubt on torrents or via proxy for those not in the UK) A return bout after the 2007 clash with BBC reporter John Sweeney and the sinister yet clownish cult. Oh, and litigious, fearfully litigious... (Scientology in a nutshell)

Ignorant Atheists - “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people. Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.” Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, quoted in a New York Times story about a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of religious knowledge. This showed "On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith. Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons." So much for affronted religionists and their claims that atheists cannot criticize religion because of their ignorance of the subject.


October 6th 2010

Intelligent Design Is Neither - 80 just had to laugh upon seeing the headline UK Centre for Intelligent Design claims it will focus on science, not religion. What utter codswallop. So-called Intelligent Design (ID) has rightly been called creationism in a lab coat and various attempts to prove otherwise have invariably failed, most notably in the Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District court case in the US. Those proceedings were the first direct challenge brought in the United States federal courts against a public school district that required the presentation of ID as an alternative to evolution. After the creationist/ID proponents gave it their best shot presiding Judge John E Jones had this to say in his decision (full text here as pdf)

* For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child.

* A significant aspect of the IDM [intelligent design movement] is that despite Defendants' protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity.

* The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.

* The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.


Dr Alastair Noble, director of the Centre for Intelligent Design in Glasgow, Scotland, and lay preacher has said "ID is consistently misrepresented as a religious position. The debate about ID is quite difficult to elevate to a civilised conversation. It's not about religion, it's about evidence." Hogwash. He has also said the center represents those "...dissatisfied with the pervading Darwinian explanation of origins and are attracted to the much more credible position of intelligent design" and criticise the "strident strain of science" that says the only acceptable explanations are those depending on "physical and materialistic processes"." Just what evidence does he have of non-physical or immaterial processes? Can they be shown to operate by experiment? Can they even be shown to exist? To claim the center will focus on science is disingenuous when Noble wants to include such "processes". It is a puzzle why the Guardian had this report on its science pages rather than in the belief section where it rightly belongs.

Two Quotes On Intelligent Design - "The overweening strategy of IDers, and their creationist forebears, is to say that everything that we do not understand is evidence of the existence of God. I can imagine IDers of two centuries ago claiming that God made the sun shine, because until 1938 we had no idea where all that energy came from. It was not until quantum mechanics arrived out of left field that the physicist Hans Bethe was able to surmise, correctly, that the sun is a giant fusion reactor, converting hydrogen atoms into helium and energy. Who knew?" Jerry Coyne (In 80's view IDers is not a suitable name and finds IDiots more satisfyingly descriptive)

"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?"  Rosemary Sceats. See Design Failure

Science Is Vital - or to put it another way Science: It beats living in caves. Do read Jennifer Rohn's piece on the threat to UK science funding and then please sign the petition at the Science Is Vital web site. Why? "Investing in research enriches society and helps drive the economy. It led to our preeminent position in the 20th century, and will be vital in meeting the challenges of the 21st – whether they be in energy, medicine, infrastructure, computing, or simply humanity’s primal desire for discovery. The UK has a proud history of excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We are world-leaders in many fields of research, producing over 10% of global scientific output with only 1% of the global population, and despite spending less on science per capita than most of our competitors." Just because the UK's scientists have become expert at doing more with less doesn't mean such a trend can or should continue. Remember the Brain drain? The resulting damage can last for years.

Silly Niqabitches - the Jerusalem Post informs us of a protest comprising of "A video featuring two French women walking the streets of Paris dressed in hotpants, showing bare legs and covering their heads and faces with a niqab was released on Saturday, as a tongue-in-cheek response the recently passed French Senate bill banning the burka-style Islamic veil on public streets and other places...." These self-styled "Niqabitches" seem totally unaware of the irony of their protest - let's see them try this little stunt in a Muslim country - they would be lucky to get away with a flogging. The women are quoted as saying "We were not looking to attack or degrade the image of Muslim fundamentalists – each to their own – but rather to question politicians who voted for this law that we consider clearly unconstitutional." Each to their own - but their own what? In the case of Muslim fundamentalists it is stoning, flogging, bombing, misogyny, homophobia and anti-semitism just for starters. (See here an opinion piece on the French "burqa ban" from the Washington Post)

Quote - "I am sitting here as a suspect because I have spoken... nothing but the truth" Dutch politician Geert Wilders in court. (The BBC has now obligingly posted some other, older quotes here)


October 9th 2010

Phone Scares - maybe the reason is some puritanical feeling that something so convenient and useful should carry a heavy price or that the avoidance of the possibility of being sued trumps science but yet again a cell phone scare story is going the rounds. This one from the Mail and faithfully recycled by the Telegraph quotes one Alasdair Philips, of Powerwatch, an electromagnetism scare group which sells radiation blockers (see this page from Bad Science for more, much more on Phillips and Powerwatch) and an American epidemiologist Dr Devra Davis, who coincidentally has a new book to sell "Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What The Industry Has Done To Hide It And How to Protect Your Family".

Meanwhile physicist Robert Park (who isn't selling anything) of the excellent (and free) weekly newsletter What's New says "Cancer agents act by creating mutant strands of DNA. In the case of electromagnetic radiation, there is a sharp threshold for this process at the extreme blue end of the visible spectrum. Albert Einstein explained this with the photoelectric effect in 1905, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1921. Cell phones operate at a frequency about 1 million times lower than the ultraviolet threshold and hence cannot be a cause of cancer. It's important to recognize that it's not the intensity of radiation that makes it a cancer agent, but the frequency." With well over 4 billion cell phone users globally no huge cancer epidemic has surfaced and large well-conducted research programs continue to find there is no problem but fear sells stuff and provides research grants. This is not to say all in the garden is lovely - the situation should be monitored but pumping out scare stories is helping no one - except those with a financial interest perhaps.. (See here for a benign aspect of cell phones - helping epidemiologists track disease outbreaks) Update - a Canadian school has banned wi-fi on the basis of no evidence of harm except some pupils claim to feel ill.

WHO Says? - the World Health Organization report Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones had this to say " Several large multinational epidemiological studies have been completed or are ongoing, including case-control studies and prospective cohort studies examining a number of health endpoints in adults. To date, results of epidemiological studies provide no consistent evidence of a causal relationship between radiofrequency exposure and any adverse health effect. Yet, these studies have too many limitations to completely rule out an association.

A retrospective case-control study on adults, INTERPHONE, coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), was designed to determine whether there are links between use of mobile phones and head and neck cancers in adults. The international pooled analysis of data gathered from 13 participating countries found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma with mobile phone use of more than 10 years. There are some indications of an increased risk of glioma for those who reported the highest 10% of cumulative hours of cell phone use, although there was no consistent trend of increasing risk with greater duration of use. Researchers concluded that biases and errors limit the strength of these conclusions and prevent a causal interpretation."

Cell Phones: The High Cost Of Scientific Ignorance - "An opportunity to explain one of the simplest and most powerful concepts of science to the public is slipping away. A month ago WHO released its long- awaited Interphone study of cell phones and brain cancer in 13 countries. The 10 year, $14 million, case-control study reports that "no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with the use of mobile phones." That's the right answer, so why am I pissed? We already knew that cell phones don't cause cancer. We've known it for years. From the media coverage you would think these guys just discovered it. Let's go to the next sentence: "There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at higher exposure levels, but biases and error prevented a causal interpretation." So is there a supernatural interpretation? That one sentence undoes everything in the study. Case-control requires human recollection; at their best case-control studies are to science as polls are to elections. They may come out the same, but you can't count on it."  From Robert Park's What's New. You can subscribe to this free weekly newsletter here. The What's New web site has a permanent link in the sidebar of this page.

Enablers Of Hate - see here a piece by Nick Cohen entitled How Radical Islam seduced the academics about speakers hosted by the Islamic Society of University College London and the accommodationism and fear this engenders. The title of the piece is inaccurate, there is no seduction as such (the Islamist ideas have no intellectual standing or merit) but there is a lot of misplaced liberal guilt which has resulted in providing a platform for those who promote the Islamist culture of blame and threats in which religion and politics are inextricably combined. It is quite dismaying that more than a few of the commentators on the piece seem incapable of realizing the nature of this threat - they are unfazed even by the misogyny, homophobia and anti-semitism spouted by the Islamists and seem to tolerate the kind of hate-filled drivel from them that they would not accept from any other quarter. Update - "The Quilliam Foundation’s latest briefing paper, Radicalisation on British University Campuses:  A case study, cites incidents at City University in London during the last academic year (September 09 – June 10) to show how a mainstream academic institution in the UK can become an incubator for extremist, intolerant and potentially violent forms of the political ideology of Islamism."

 

Science Cuts - there is a rally today organized by Science Is Vital opposing the idiotic and short-sighted cuts in science and technology funding the coalition dullards have in store. The venue is alongside HM Treasury, on King Charles Street, LONDON SW1A 2AH at 2pm today Saturday 9th October 2010. Among the many attending will be Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre. If you can't make it you can still sign the petition here protesting the cuts. Also see Science cuts: thousands set to protest outside Treasury and this open letter to Chancellor George Osborne on the damage the decrease in funding will inflict upon the country.

Move Along - nothing to see here. The Telegraph informs us that "Three flights to Baotou from Shanghai and Beijing were reportedly forced to circle the airport until the UFO disappeared. Two other flights were diverted away from Baotou and to the nearby cities of Ordos and Taiyuan. The airport was shut for around an hour "to guarantee safety" according to a spokesman." The Telegraph's library picture of a shiny alien spacecraft in no way resembles the darting dot of light against a jet black background shown in the Chinese video. It could be anything. Question - where was the Chinese air force while all this was going on? It seems very unlikely that the authorities would do nothing in the face of a UFO-triggered airport shutdown.


October 15th 2010

Dialogue Of The Deaf - this comment piece in the Guardian by Keith Kahn-Harris is proposing that atheists and agnostics join in the ongoing "interfaith dialogue". This would seem to be a strange and unworkable suggestion (even apart from the fact atheism is not a faith). It assumes that interfaith dialogue has actually proved useful. Kahn-Harris seems to take a rose-tinted view as in "The catastrophe of the holocaust has given particular impetus to attempts at Christian-Jewish reconciliation in the post-war period and these have had some notable successes, particularly in the warm relations achieved by Jewish leaders with Pope John Paul II. There are now serious attempts to develop dialogue between Islam and other faiths that, while they often appear to be a sisyphean task, have begun to engender improved relations between community leaders." The reconciliation (if any) between Judaism and the Roman Catholic church achieved by the previous pope has been scuppered by Ratzinger. As for the monotheistic religions coming to a rapprochement this is unlikely ever to happen given that they all claim exclusive access to the "truth" - and of course they can't all be right. The only time they agree is when talking about the threat of secularism and atheism and this is more of a circling of the wagons rather than any meaningful reconciliation.

Kahn-Harris observes that "Animosity between atheists and the religious appears to be growing." but doesn't understand why, saying "The proponents of the assertive atheism that has developed in the past few years often express themselves in highly uncivil language, Richard Dawkins being the most prominent example." Note that he supplies no quotes to back this up. Here he reveals his true colors as one of those people who like to whine about the rudeness of some atheists, ie the ones that actually speak out. He even trots out the oft-repeated charge "What is depressing though is that a movement that prides itself on rational enlightenment has, among its fiercer proponents, begun to develop exactly the kinds of high-minded incivility that is a hallmark of the religious fundamentalist." So one should obviously be nice and polite to people who are convinced that one is deservedly going to burn forever in Hell? As if to confirm his tenuous hold on reality Kahn-Harris even indulges in a little wishful (and wishy-washy) thinking when he sighs "If there were more established relations between prominent atheists and Catholic leaders, who knows how the papal visit might have gone?" This he caps with a further inanity "Maybe a Catholic church that didn't see itself as at war with atheism would be a Catholic church within which liberal forces could rise."  As the Roman Catholic church has a rigidly enforced top-down hierarchy how likely is that to happen? 

Kahn-Harris appears to think everything would be much nicer if atheists weren't so rude to those who claim an indisputable god-given right to devalue women, persecute gays and influence legislation so as to discriminate against those who don't share their supernatural beliefs. He would do well to remember this little gem from the pen of Mark Twain "You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, burning bushes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water, and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories, and you say that WE are the ones that need help?" Ooh, how rude! Kahn-Harris's request for atheists to join the interfaith dialogue is a non-starter. If the faiths have got nowhere with it adding atheists to the mix is hardly going to improve matters. His reference to the "vitriol of militant atheism" shows that he doesn't have a clue. Militant atheism does not exist - unless militant is given a definition other than "disposed to warfare" or "engaged in war". It wasn't a pair of atheists that launched the 2003 invasion of Iraq and it wasn't atheists that flew jet airliners into buildings in 2001. One can be as nice and polite as possible in attempting dialogue with religionists but it will go absolutely nowhere. Dialogue of this nature is not possible when one's interlocutor already knows all the answers and thinks that appeals to (supernatural) authority are acceptable as arguments. Respect and reconciliation with religion are unrealistic - the best atheists can manage will be containment and a degree of tolerance.

Quote - "Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion - several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight." Mark Twain.

Despicable - for anybody that hasn't noticed that Ken Livingstone is an unprincipled creep who consorts with Islamists try reading this story about him, his buddy Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Female Genital Mutilation. Qaradawi supports this vile and inexcusable abuse of young women and girls and Livingstone describes him as a progressive. Qaradawi does approve of equality for women - but only as suicide bombers. How far the British left have sunk to consort with such people. It would seem mutual hatred of the USA and Israel trumps any belief in human rights or decency - that and vote-chasing. Update - there are now demands the Labour Party rid itself of Livingstone - if it has the balls for it. Technically his actions should have already automatically triggered his expulsion.

Left Behind Pets - it's a real problem. Here you are waiting excitedly for the end of the world when you and the other biblical ignoramuses will fly through the air to greet the returning Jesus but there is a fly in the smug holy ointment. What happens to Rover? It's all very well being raptured but what happens to your beloved pets? Happily a bunch of caring atheists are offering a home to your four-footed friends after you are gone. Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA (The next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World) tells us "Our service is plain and simple; our fee structure is reasonable. For $110.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved. Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $15.00 fee. A small price to pay for your peace of mind and the health and safety of your four legged and feathered friends." Are these people for real? Read the FAQ page and see.

Find Your Ideal Alternative Therapy - check the chart to see which one is right for you. Hilarious (and accurate) stuff from Crispian Jago. (Thanks to the Bad Astronomer)

Quote - "Either it is true that a medicine works or it isn't. It cannot be false in the ordinary sense but true in some 'alternative' sense." Richard Dawkins

Not What You Thought - recently the media have been full of news of a test for autism which is claimed to have 90% accuracy. The test is far cheaper than existing ones and takes less time as well. What's not to like? Ask mathematician Ian Stewart of Warwick University, who shows that 90% claim to be far short of the truth.

Not An Item - despite all the money spent on propaganda research by the Templeton bunch science and religion are not compatible. When religion makes claims that are testable science tests them. This is not impiety, rudeness or an attack - it is just in the nature of science. And religion invariably loses. Do read Science and religion aren't friends by Jerry Coyne for an excellent primer on the subject. "Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible. They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth. And while they may have a dialogue, it's not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science." Hallelujah!


October 17th 2010

Ecce Homer! - the Vatican rag (no, not the one below) L'Osservatore Romano in its latest misguided and cackhanded attempt to reflect modern culture says that "Few people know it, and he does everything he can to hide it, but it is true: Homer J Simpson is a Catholic." Of course he is. When he says things like "But I'm not a missionary! I don't even believe in Jebus... save me Jebus!" and "I felt a surge of power, like god must feel -- when he's holding a gun." it all becomes so obvious. (More Homer "religious" quotes here) Update - the producers of the show have their say and the Simpsons are definitely not in the bells and smells brigade.

                                                                       
 

The Nightingale Collaboration - "A new skeptical campaign launched at TAM London by Simon Singh, Alan Henness and Maria MacLachlan aims to put the screws on alternative medicine. Misinformation about complementary and alternative therapies is rife on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines and on the high street and this misinformation misleads the public. It is particularly important that the public have accurate information about healthcare so they can make informed choices. This misleading information won't disappear by itself: it needs to be challenged." Excellent - for more on this campaign, its aims and methods and how to help see here. One good source for information about sCAM (so-called Complementary/Alternative Medicine) of all kinds is Quackwatch. Also highly recommended are the Respectful Insolence, Science-Based Medicine  and Bad Science blogs.

TAM London 2010 - here is a live blog by Martin Robbins from The Amazing Meeting featuring such luminaries as Richards Dawkins and Wiseman, Sue Blackmore, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin, Evan Harris, Simon Singh, D J Grothe, Ben Goldacre and many others. Oh, and The Amazing Randi of course. There is also video from the official TAM London site. 

Offensive Word? - the BBC informs us "The Catholic Church has responded to Peter Robinson's description of the NI education system as a "benign form of apartheid". In a speech on Friday, the First Minister said the current system, where Catholics and Protestants are usually educated separately, must change." It is likely the use of the word apartheid caused some upset. 80 is far more concerned at any form of faith sectarian schooling being described as benign. A majority of people in the UK, according to this survey from last year, are not in favor of sectarian schools, regarding them as divisive.

Wilders Not Guilty On All Counts - "The public prosecution department on Friday afternoon stated that Geert Wilders is not guilty of discriminating against Muslims. Earlier on Friday it announced he should also be found not guilty of inciting hatred." It wasn't just Wilders on trial here but the Netherlands. Freedom of speech has prevailed - although the same cannot be said for Austria. Update - the Heresiarch tells us the trial is not over yet under the Dutch "justice" system. It seems Wilders guilt was assumed before he even entered court.

America's True History Of Religious Tolerance - "The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record". Sometimes history can be very inconvenient for those who would prefer comforting fables. An eye-opener from the Smithsonian magazine by Kenneth C Davis.


October 22nd 2010

It Ain't Over Til It's Over - 80 recently noted the news that in his trial Dutch politician Geert Wilders had been found not guilty on all counts, as reported by a Netherlands site. Then a piece by the Heresiarch showed that Wilders was still not out of the woods. Now we learn from the Telegraph "The trial of Geert Wilders on charges of inciting racial hatred against Muslims will have [to] begin all over again after the controversial Dutch anti-Islam politician won an appeal to have his judges sacked for bias."  Note the   idea that criticism of Islam is racist. This is utter nonsense. Islam has pretensions of being a universal religion open to all and therefore does not count as a race. Ideologies are not races and anyone saying otherwise is an idiot. This "racist" accusation has become a favorite of the so-called liberal left, and, like charges of Islamophobia, is often used in an attempt to stifle those who dare point out the threat to democracy and Western culture posed by Islam.

We learn "A Dutch court ruled in favour of a request by Mr Wilders' defence lawyer to have new trial judges installed after allegations of improper conduct by a member of a judicial appeals panel directly involved in the case." The improper conduct occurred at a dinner party when one of the judges, Tom Schalken, allegedly tried to convince Professor Dr. Hans Jansen, an expert on Islam and an expert witness, that his decision to try Wilders was justified. In Jansen's description "During "ill-manned and unprofessional" exchanges, Judge Schalken tried to "convince me of the correctness of his decision to take Wilders to court."

When Wilders' lawyer, Abraham Moszkowicz, tried to raise the matter in court, the court refused, prompting Moszkowicz to request dismissal. So now there will be new judges and a new trial. Wilders commented "This gives me a new chance of a new fair trial. I am confident that I can only be acquitted because I have broken no law, but spoken the truth."  Even after these events the president of the Amsterdam Higher Court, Leendert Verheij, has tried to play down and belittle what happened at the dinner party. This has prompted Moszkowicz to claim the president is interfering with the legal process and  Wilders has now filed a complaint against Judge Verheij for trying to influence a material witness. None of this reflects well on the Dutch justice system and the impartiality of its courts.

Bad UFOs - regular readers will know 80's less than charitable attitude to beliefs that UFOs  are alien spacecraft. Believe being the operative word here as there is zero evidence for this assertion. A name that crops up on these pages as a UFO debunker is Robert Sheaffer whose somewhat barebones site is a treasure trove of information. Now he has a new blog, Bad UFOs, which will no doubt become a regular port of call for those wishing to know about the latest sightings from a skeptical point of view - which is of course the only view to have when presented with outrageous claims. Here are some articles by Sheaffer from Skeptical Inquiry. (Thanks to JREF)

One Law for All is pleased to present an art exhibition in London during 20-27 November 2010 in which a group of international artists address the controversial subject of religion and human rights. The exhibition includes pieces on the veil, female genital mutilation, child ‘marriage’ and women’s oppression. The opening and exhibition will be held at UNIT 24 Gallery, 24 Great Guildford Street, London SE1 0FD. See here for more information.

Gagged...Not Quite - how strange. The Guardian had a story yesterday about a court decision in the United Arab Emirates that stated "A man has the right to discipline his wife and children provided he does not leave physical marks..."  according to Islamic law. This is of course no great surprise to those who find sharia so-called justice capricious, primitive, barbaric and misogynist. How manly, beating women and children. Now upon returning to the same page it says "Removed for legal reasons: Wife-beating allowed under sharia law, UAE court rules"  Yet if you go here, the web site of The National, based in the UAE, the story is available with no apparent restrictions. A quick web search shows plenty of news sites carrying the story including Britain's Daily Mail. Why is it just the Guardian that is gagged? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Multicultural Britain - is a new occasional feature about the joys of living in a multicultural society. So, to start off here is this heartening story from the Telegraph "A cafe owner was ordered to remove an extractor fan because the smell of her frying bacon offended passing Muslims. Planning officials acted against Beverley Akciecek, 49, after being told her next door neighbour's Muslim friends had felt ''physically sick'' due to the ''foul odour.'' To quote Stephen Fry "So, you're offended? So fucking what"  Update - it would appear that this story is hogwash and only ran because Muslims were involved. A case of some Daily Mail shit-stirring and 80 repeated the canard. Very sloppy. 

Dawkins and Life - "Matt Ridley interviews Richard Dawkins about what extraterrestrial life might be like, based on what we know about life here on Earth" A fascinating and amusing example of informed speculation on life, artificial life, Second Life and more - recommended. One complaint - the video is too short. More science videos from the Newton Channel are here.

Morals Without God - "Reverend Al Sharpton opined in a recent videotaped debate: “If there is no order to the universe, and therefore some being, some force that ordered it, then who determines what is right or wrong? There is nothing immoral if there’s nothing in charge.” Similarly, I have heard people echo Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov, exclaiming that “If there is no God, I am free to rape my neighbor!” Perhaps it is just me, but I am wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior."  Frans de Waal, writing in the New York Times on how studies of primates shed light on the origins of our sense of right and wrong.


October 25th 2010

God Or Nothing - is the latest video from Pat Condell, who tells us we got to believe in something. Enjoy.

 

Co-opted For Christ - there seems to be a trend for Christians to adopt popular cultural icons as being somehow representative of so-called Christian values. We had the recent, unsuccessful and cynical attempt of the Vatican to co-opt cartoon character Homer Simpson for Catholicism - this was slapped down pretty quickly by the producers of the Simpsons. To see these celibate old men try and claim Homer as one of their own made 80 cringe - it was like watching your parents trying to dance at your teenage party. (See Ecce Homer) Now we have theologian Rev Dr Stephen Holmes, Acting head of divinity at St Andrews University claiming "...Harry Potter should be seen as a "Christ-like" figure because he promotes Biblical values." Of course Holmes needs to select the right Biblical values - so no stoning of disrespectful children or adulterers, no zealotry and no mass murder.

Holmes said "What do you need to succeed at Hogwarts? Courage, self-sacrifice, careful logic and to be unselfish. It's almost a classical list of Christian values. The behaviour that is recommended in the Potter books is profoundly Christian."  Profoundly Christian? Utter bunkum. Courage, self-sacrifice and unselfishness are qualities universally admired and hardly unique to Christianity. One has to ask since when was careful logic used in believing that an itinerant Galilean preacher, of doubtful historicity, died and returned as some kind of cosmic zombie? Any belief in tales of miracles and demons requires that "careful logic" be tossed out of the window - faith is the very opposite of rational thinking. To cap it all, J K Rowling is on record, and quoted in the article, disavowing any religious backstory. "I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity. I wasn't trying to do what CS Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia) did. It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it's perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God." Still, at least the story managed to secure the Reverend Holmes a few column inches in a national newspaper even though he was talking "ex recto".

What Happens When A Nation Becomes Secular? - "According to polls, Norwegians define themselves (depending on how you interpret their definition) as up to 71% non-believers. What has secularism done to Norway? The Global Peace Index rates Norway the most peaceful country in the world. The Human Development Index, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living, has ranked Norway No. 1 every year for the last five years. Norway has the second highest GDP per capita in the world, an unemployment rate below 2 percent, and average hourly wages among the world's highest."  From the National Secular Society's free weekly email newsletter, Newsline. You can subscribe here.


November 3rd 2010

Conversion By Buzz - the UK newspapers recently have been full of exhibitionist, Hamas shill and employee of an Iranian propaganda news network Lauren Booth, and her conversion to Islam. The trigger for this was apparently a "... shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy" that hit her whilst sitting in an Iranian mosque (in the women's section, naturally). It seems a strange reason to make such a radical change as even she admits to having read only a 100 pages or so from the Quran - hardly exhaustive preparation. It is also incomprehensible to 80 why a women would effectively reject her own human rights. If she is sincere in her conversion, and she had better be as apostates to the religion of peace are at some risk of being murdered, she must surely accept sharia law which, as a matter of course, treats women as of lesser value than men.

The reports mention her conversion to Islam but not which Islam. (Strictly this should be her reversion as it is an Islamic conceit that we are all born Muslim) The religion is far from monolithic - it has many sects who hate each others' guts. As Booth got her religious morphine buzz in Iran one supposes she is now a Shia Muslim (Update - yes, Shia). One wonders if she approves of Iran's barbaric judicial murders of supposed adulterers, mainly women, and young gays. As she has been working for Iran's Press.tv maybe she does - one wonders how she sleeps at night. Meanwhile Booth pops up yet again in the pages of today's Guardian - she is certainly getting plenty of mileage out of this new religion thing. She whines "And so I now live in a reality that is not unlike that of Jim Carey's character in the Truman Show." And no doubt loving every exhibitionistic minute of it. Anyway, surely the point of that movie was that Truman Burbank was unaware that he was being filmed - he didn't invite it. (See this amusing piece by Julie Burchill on Islam's quiet, self-effacing and unassuming convert)

Quote - "Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? " Carl Sagan

Good Stuff - 80 as a rule steers clear of the Huffington Post as it is a hotbed of drivelish woo (for example see this from Respectful Insolence) but occasionally a little sense is featured. In this instance it is a piece by Victor Stenger called Why Religion Should Be Confronted - a subject dear to 80's heart. Any nonsensical, irrational claims should be challenged whether they originate from so-called alternative medicine, New Age nitwittery or religion - to do anything else is to acquiesce in the spreading of falsehoods. There has been a lot of nonsense spoken recently about "New Atheists" from both religionists and those who should know better about avoiding confrontation lest they cause offense and damage any possible consensus on, say, the compatibility of science and faith (they aren't compatible, by the way).

Stenger's forthright attitude is admirable when he says "It's time for secularists to stop sucking up to Christians -- and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and any others who claim they have some sacred right to decide what kind of society the rest of us must live in--what a human being can do with her own body." This is not to say that he rules out the less confrontational approach - it is just not for him. He counts himself as a rabble-rouser (his term) and issues this call "So, the time has come to rise up against the unthinking, immoral acts that are brought about by religious views -- to state the case for science, reason, and honest compassion."

For a good example of clarity of thinking take a look at What's offensive about a pregnant nun? by the Heresiarch on the way the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is trying to re-introduce the crime of blasphemy by the back door. In the particular case discussed a mere handful of complaints was enough to have an "offensive" advert banned. This tendency for the ASA to act as a watchdog for touchy and apparently unrepresentative religionists needs exposure as a first step to stop it in its tracks. See also Advertising watchdog invents a new blasphemy restriction from the National Secular Society.

Quote - "I have made it completely clear that there is no scientific basis for homeopathy beyond the placebo effect and that there are serious concerns about its efficacy. There is a danger that the public will think that there is real efficacy for some serious conditions and I believe we have to work on that and make clear that this is not correct." Sir John Beddington, the government's chief scientific adviser, addressing the Commons science and technology committee. Yet scarce National Health Service (NHS) cash still goes to fund this hokum. Being a scientific adviser to government must be a bloody thankless task. Just ask Professor David Nutt. (Nutt's blog is here) Also see this from the Quackometer on the NHS and homeopathy. Update - Nutt and colleagues writing in The Lancet say "...that if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine."  Don't expect classification changes anytime soon as this government, like its predecessors, does not have an evidence-based drugs policy.

Unwelcome Baggage - another victory for British multiculturalism. We learn from the Independent "Islamic extremists have started openly calling for the destruction of a controversial Muslim sect in a major escalation of sectarian conflict within British Islam.." Ahmadiyya is an Islamic sect created in the latter 19th century based upon the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who modestly claimed "...to have fulfilled the prophecies about the world reformer of the end times, who was to herald the Eschaton as predicted in the traditions of various world religions and bring about the final triumph of Islam as per Islamic prophecy." This does not go down too well as one of the tenets of Islam is that the final prophet was Mohammed - and final means final - there can be no subsequent revelation. In the eyes of Sunni fanatics Ahmadiyya Islam is abhorrent so, true to the nature of their religion they have made death threats in the form of leaflets and pronouncements on Islamic satellite TV.

The so-called Ummah channel in response to a viewer's query as to the legitimacy of Ahmadis was told "Since the time of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) the Sahiba [knowledgeable scholars] have confirmed that anyone who believes in a prophet after the Holy Prophet is a kafir [unbeliever], murtad [apostate] and Wajib-ul Qatal [liable for death]." Such channels are a largely unregulated hotbed of such hate speech. Britain has not only allowed the entry of large numbers of people with no interest in assimilation but also their murderous religious feuds. The Khatme Nubawwat Academy, a group with strong links with Pakistan, is, the Ahmadis claim, leading the opposition to their community. The group's web site describes Ahmadis as "...nothing but a gang of traitors, apostates and infidels". The meaning of this is effectively to call open season on the Ahmadis although when a spokesman was asked by the Independent about this the answer was predictably evasive. Atheists are often accused of religious hatred by religionists - a claim which even the most cursory examination shows to be hogwash. No, for real religious hatred complete with dehumanizing insults and death threats you have to look within religion itself - and one religion in particular is pre-eminent in this regard.


November 5th 2010

Two Worlds - Mehdi Hasan writing in the New Statesman about Roshonara Choudhry, the woman who attempted to murder MP Stephen Timms, reveals the gulf that lies between the values of even "moderate" Muslims and Western culture. Choudhry, by all accounts, was influenced by watching Islamist videos on the internet and felt she was following teachings in the Quran. Hasan is quick to point out "In fact, there are no verses in the Quran which justify such brutal, vigilante attacks on innocent civilians. Suicide bombings for example, are un-Islamic." Apart from the widely differing ways this "holy" book can be and is interpreted it doesn't actually matter a toss what the Quran says or doesn't say - attempting to murder someone is just wrong. Wrong. What Choudhry did should be condemned as a crime unacceptable in any civilized society. It is likely that Hasan, who himself condemns the crime quite clearly, is not even aware that by first appealing to the Quran before addressing any of the other factors in the case he demonstrates the damaged thinking brought about by religious indoctrination. There will no true assimilation of Muslim immigrants if, as the first authority in serious criminal matters, they consult a medieval book or their local preacher.

This is true not only of Britain but also the US. In December of last year five young Americans were arrested in Pakistan in a house raid linked to a militant group. They had gone missing from their homes and one of them had left a "martyr style" video. Naturally this alarmed the families, so what did they do? "The families contacted their imams, who in turn contacted the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, which alerted the FBI that same day." At the time this was held up by a spokesman of the pressure group Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR as a good example of how "...the Muslim community took the lead in taking this to the law enforcement agencies..." But they did so only after going through the imams and CAIR. Mehdi Hasan, looking first to the Quran in the Choudhry case and the worried parents going first to their imams are both examples of a kind of thinking that is inimical to any true integration.

In Britain, perhaps less so in America, this apartness, this mental ghettoization is actively encouraged by politicians and law enforcement - how many times do we hear the term "the Muslim community" in speeches and outreach programs. If you only deal with people as a group and not as individuals, if you only talk to their religious leaders and those that claim to be the community's representatives (such as the Muslim Council of Britain), if you only identify people through their religion you are creating not citizens, but aliens who feel no part of and owe nothing to wider society. Apart from that it is also condescending and insulting to deal only with (often self-appointed) leaders and organizations. It smacks of colonialism. The faith sectarian school system in the UK also plays its part in this alienation, with the inexplicable and inexcusable collusion of the authorities - see We must stop Muslim schools teaching that integration is a sin and this worrying report about the whitewashing of hardline Islamic schools by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

Quote - “If we oppose the lifestyle of the West, then it does not seem sensible that the teachers and the system which represents that lifestyle should educate our children.”  Madani Girl's School web site. (After the Daily Telegraph quoted the above mission statement the school web site is now being "updated". Naturally one mustn't assume any connection between these two events)

Quote - “A whole generation is being brought up to at the very least suspect, and perhaps even despise, the society they will have to live in. This is deeply worrying for the future of community cohesion."  Ms Stuart, of the Centre for Social Cohesion, quoted in the Telegraph in an article on Islamic schools.

British Roswell? - the Telegraph has a short piece featuring a recording of US servicemen as they responded in a pretty disorganized and shambolic way to apparently mysterious lights that appeared in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, near a USAF base in 1980. We are told "The tapes are a vivid account of what they found." Vivid they may be but they actually found nothing, zip, nada. The paper goes in to say "It is clear that they thought they were witnessing some type of phenomena, with descriptions of "strange" lights in sky and odd damage to pine trees 15ft to 18ft off the ground." The key words here are "...thought they were witnessing..". For a detailed and balanced account of this so-called incident take a look at this page from Ian Ridpath, writer, editor, broadcaster, and lecturer on astronomy and space and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society about what some have called the "British Roswell". In fact the Rendlesham story does have one major factor in common with that of Roswell - they are both utter bollocks. Ridpath's UFO skeptic pages can be found here. Also see the late Philip Klass's Skeptic's UFO newsletter archive and this piece on Roswell by Kal Korff.

Lawfare - this handy little neologism is defined by Wikipedia thus "... a form of asymmetric warfare. Lawfare is waged via the use of domestic or international law with the intention of damaging an opponent. Examples include winning a public relations victory, financially crippling an opponent, or tying up the opponent's time so that they cannot pursue other ventures such as run for public office." Read here an informative piece from Harry's Place on how lawfare is regularly employed by Islamists in today's wonderful, multicultural Britain, aided and abetted by various useful idiots. In the recent instance reported it failed. Also see Andrew Gilligan's blog for more on Policy Exchange vs North London Mosque: case closed.

Bad Faith Awards - New Humanist has announced the shortlist for this year. Eight people who "...have made the most egregious contributions to irrationalism and superstition during the course of this year." Names include Pastor Terry Jones, Doris Karloff Ann Widdecombe and - oh what a surprise - the shy and retiring Lauren Booth.


November 13th 2010

http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/333/

Déjà Vu? - Ben Goldacre writes about what could be the the next Simon Singh style libel case. A firm, Rodial, makes a cream called Boob Job, which it claims when applied following the instructions can increase breast size by a remarkably specific 8.4%. Dr Dalia Nield, a plastic surgeon in an interview with the Daily Mail  said "...it was "highly unlikely" the cream would make your breasts bigger, and questioned the amount of information provided by Rodial. "The manufacturers are not giving us any information on tests they have carried out. They are not telling us the exact ingredients in the product and how they increase the size of the breast." This seems to be a not unreasonable observation to make. Nield also said the cream could be "...potentially dangerous … it may even harm the skin and the breasts – we need a full analysis" . Again, not unreasonable and yet Dr Nield has now been threatened with libel action by the manufacturer for making these observations. It all seems reminiscent of Simon Singh and the British Chiroquactic Association's (BCA) little dust-up. One has to wonder why the cosmetic company did not just supply the information needed to answer Nield's concerns instead of threatening legal action? After the effective humiliation of the BCA one would think any firm would wish to avoid a potential public relations débâcle.

Although Simon Singh won his case he had still to pay legal costs and he will never get back the two years of his life spent on his libel case - not to mention his loss of earnings in that period. This, potentially is what faces Dr Nield. See this press release from Sense About Science (SAS) about the affair. Following the publication of this release SAS has added this notice - "Further to the story above we have been contacted by Rodial Limited's solicitors, Hegarty LLP, requesting that we do not release this story. Having attempted to silence the criticism of the 'Boob Job' product by Dr Dalia Nield they are now attempting to silence publicity about that. We will not agree to this. We have taken legal advice throughout. Threats against scientific comment are worthy of public attention and we won't be silenced by a lawyer's letter."  Rodial does supply some information on its web site, described as "key ingredient clinicals" (PDF) but whether this meets the concerns of Dr Nield 80 is not qualified to judge. Perhaps it is only a very recent addition to the page. If it does supply the info Nield needs, surely drawing her attention to this document makes more sense than firing off a solicitor's letter? Update - Goldacre has seen the "key ingredient chemicals" and is not impressed, or as he puts it "Having scanned through this document, I think it’s fair to say their evidence is even more informatively ridiculous than I initially assumed it might be." The comments below his piece are well worth a look too.

Ticket To Ride - the Guardian informs us "The government will announce today that it will pay millions of pounds in compensation to former Guantánamo Bay detainees following weeks of negotiations between lawyers for the government and the former prisoners. Ministers appear to have decided on the advice of the security services that they could not afford to risk the exposure of thousands of documents in open court on how the US, with the co-operation of the UK, undertook illegal acts such as extraordinary rendition to interrogate terrorist suspects, including some alleged to have links with the Afghan Taliban." This seems reasonable enough - so long as they use this nice lump of taxpayer's dosh to emigrate. No doubt Amnesty could help with the travel arrangements. They say Yemen is nice this time of year...

Be Afraid - "U.S. Representative John Shimkus, possible future chairman of the Congressional committee that deals with energy and its attendant environmental concerns, believes that climate change should not concern us since God has already promised not to destroy the Earth." Shimkus, modestly describes himself as “...uniquely qualified among a group of talented contenders to lead the Energy and Commerce Committee.”  This may well be true if you accept "uniquely qualified" to mean that his mind is unhindered by pesky facts. No action over anthropogenic climate change without the participation of the United States is worth a damn. That this top job may actually go to a bible-bashing, pig-ignorant lackwit is deeply worrying. Shimkus goes on to assert “I do believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.” Which just goes to show that he can't have read his own magic book very thoroughly.

Free Speech In Europe - is an endangered animal according to Pat Condell, citing the farce of Geert Wilders' trial and the absurd Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff “hate speech” case in Austria. Here Condell fingers the culprits, and says enough is enough. (can't see the video? Click here)               

      

 

Spoilsport - Conspiracy theorists must be having a field day with reports of a mysterious missile launch from the sea off the coast of California. It was filmed from a television news helicopter and has been posted all over the web. The US army, navy and airforce say it wasn't them and no private rocket group has come forward. Perhaps it was a SPECTRE test launch from a submarine volcano or, more prosaically, an unusual contrail that just looks like a missile plume. Although this sounds like a Men In Black cover-up (swamp gas illuminated by the planet Venus etc) the contrail explanation is not absurd - it's just not very exciting. (In place of any solid information here is a page of speculation.) Update - "The Pentagon and Nasa experts have concluded that an airliner was likely to have caused a contrail off southern California, which resembled a missile plume illuminated by the sun."  Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Carl Sagan Day - the astronomer, author, science popularizer and visionary would have been 76 years old today. He is commemorated on the Carl Sagan Day site. Take a minute to see this video that puts humankind firmly in its place - on a Pale Blue Dot.

 

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."  Carl Sagan 1934 - 1996


November 17th 2010

nazi ufo

Nazi Saucers Revisited - the Telegraph has belatedly heard about a Finnish comedy movie called Iron Sky (see a teaser here) which is loosely based on the dreams of conspiracy nuts. The Nazis, by the end of the war, not only had perfected flying saucers in a secret base in the Antarctic but had established a stronghold on what the scientifically-challenged Telegraph hack calls the "dark side of the Moon". The report quotes a PM magazine as claiming "...that there is "strong evidence" that a Nazi UFO programme was well advanced."  References are made to various sightings of these saucer-shaped vehicles. We are told "The best known of the Nazi UFO projects was the Schriever-Habermohl scheme..." Best known? So these things are not so secret after all. Apparently "The PM report quotes eyewitnesses who believe they saw a flying saucer marked with the Iron Cross of the German military flying low over the Thames in 1944."

Evidence for Nazi UFOs, much like the regular kind, is either lacking or of such poor quality no conclusions can be drawn. Different from all this silly UFO waffle is a real German WWII secret aircraft, many years ahead of its time, the Horten Ho 229. A jet-powered flying wing with stealth attributes, its design is strongly reminiscent of today's Northrop B2 stealth bomber - see here. In 2008 Northrop engineers built and tested an accurate mock-up of the Horten and concluded it "...was found to give a radar cross section only 40% that of conventional aircraft". This implies the aircraft would have only become visible to British radars at a very short range and could well have been a devastating weapon. There were even plans for a scaled-up version to attack the east coast of the USA. Fortunately these machines arrived far too late to be of any benefit to the Third Reich but, unlike the flying saucers, at least these were real. (For more saucery see The Nazi UFO Mythos)

Peace and Goodwill - is not exactly evident for some Muslims during the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, according to Riazat Butt writing in the Guardian. The hajj has been described as "...the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to God". Solidarity? Islam is avowedly monotheist but not monolithic - and the separate sects hate each others' guts. Butt tells us in Saudi Arabia, home to a particularly austere form of Sunni Islam, the religious police have been disrupting the prayers and activities of Shias. When applying for a visa for Saudi Arabia pilgrims are obliged to say which sect they belong to - enabling the Shia to be identified and in many circumstances abused. Next time you hear politicians refer to the "Muslim community" - or you hear some bearded twat on social security banging on about restoration of the Caliphate - ask them of which sect does this community comprise or from which sect would the Caliph arise. Also see Unwelcome Baggage and Sunni Islam vs. Shia Islam: Islam Cannot be Criticized as a Monolithic Faith.

Trials Of A Coprophile - 80 is no fan of so-called reality TV and has never seen I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, a show in which various nonentities are put through trials of one kind of another in order to weed out the ones whose egos aren't swollen enough to cope with the humiliation. Watching paint dry holds more attraction but things may change. Why on earth would 80 choose to soil his ears and eyeballs with this dross? The chance of seeing exhibitionist, quack, "nutritionist" and poo-obsessed (she has launched a mail order stool-sampling service) gargoyle Gillian McKeith being put through hell at the behest of a sadistic viewing public. Just remember she is there voluntarily and must be one of those shrinking violets that think there is no such thing as bad publicity. For those who may not have heard of this creature before see this piece from 2004, You Are What You Eat. Also see this highly amusing piece on McKeith's performance on the show so far. Finally, if you think 80 exaggerates the fecal aspect of McKeith's career check out her online Stool Analysis and Poo Chart.

Porker Purloined - that magisterial organ The Sun tells us "Barmy shop bosses axed a tiny pig from a kids' toy farm set - in case it upset Muslim and Jewish parents. An angry mum complained to the Early Learning Centre when she found the pig missing and was told it had been removed for "religious reasons". There was an empty sty in the farm set she bought for her daughter's first birthday - and a button that made an oinking noise when pressed."  Talk about squealing before you're hit.


November 20th 2010

Reading and Viewing - here are a few items that are interesting and informative - in 80's view. First up is a piece by Theodore Dalrymple on the ghastly Lauren Booth's oh so public conversion to that most misogynist of religions, Islam. Dalrymple takes Booth's own reasons for conversion and subjects them to an analysis which does her no favors. He also manages to take a somewhat gratuitous and thoroughly enjoyable swipe at the Blairs while he is at it, referring to their "kleptocratic sanctimony".

Next is an essay by David Solway which, while it has its faults, begins with a telling analogy between the house guests from hell and Muslim immigration into western-style democracies. "Let’s start with a simple thought experiment. You invite a guest into your house, give him a room, and make all your facilities available to him. You find him a job — it might be one that needs to be done, it might not — but if he runs into difficulties or loses his job you provide him with the wherewithal he requires. Eventually he brings his family over for an extended visit which turns out to be permanent and before you know it an entire part of your house has been sealed off or, as in some instances, has become a domestic no-go zone. Your new guests refuse to participate in your home life. They deplete your budget, may not even learn your language, install a V-chip in your computer to prevent the normal range of your communications, and in the course of time begin agitating to introduce a new set of house rules which you, the proprietor, are expected to abide by." As he says "Clearly, the allegory may not be exact in all its particulars, though it is on the whole a valid, if somewhat lurid, picture of what goes by the name of multiculturalism". He also makes clear the distinction between that trainwreck of a policy and true diversity. (Also see Islamists seek to build a parallel society in Canada says security report)

Still on the subject are a pair of pieces which apply psychology to a tactic employed by Islamists aimed at Jews and (Coptic) Christians - this being the projection of their own vile attitudes, behavior and prejudices onto those they consider enemies. Plenty of examples are given to support the writer, Raymond Ibrahim's theory. If those aren't enough take a look at this MEMRI video compilation of "...examples of anti-semitism in modern-day Arab media, including using original national socialist footage to justify Islamic resentment against Jews." The sheer rabidity and loathing on display is genuinely shocking. A lot of this  material is little known in the West, broadcast as it is in Arabic to audiences in Muslim states - but the subtitles here show in cold print just what is being said. Many politicians on the left and the liberal media take great pains to disavow the idea that there is a "clash of civilizations" and they are right - but for the wrong reason. These deranged, spittle-flecked, ranting, hate-filled Islamist clerics cannot be described as representing any kind of civilization. (Also see Islam channel to appeal against Ofcom censure)

There has been a trend over the last few years for enterprising and talented individuals to launch cameras and/or cellphones high in the atmosphere on balloons to obtain pictures, some of them of very good quality, of the horizon and the Earth far below. This is great fun and has now been done by groups of all ages. The problem comes from the media reporting of these exploits as pointed out by Jeff Foust in the Space Review. None, repeat none of these balloon jaunts have reached space and some have not even reached the stratosphere but they are reported as having done so - as evidenced by this absurd BBC headline "Paper plane launched into space captures Earth images". Foust points out this could be taken as just another example of sensationalist reporting but when such things are used as a stick with which to beat NASA the joke wears thin.

Foust quotes several examples, such as this from ABC “A typical space shuttle mission flies 200 miles above the earth’s surface and returns beautiful pictures on the way, but it involves 1,500 people, puts six or seven astronauts at risk and costs, depending on who’s doing the counting, close to half a billion dollars,” the article begins. Harrison, by contrast, “got some pretty good pictures too” but for only $750, as if the two feats were comparable in everything but cost." As he says "The danger is that coverage like this builds up a perception of a spendthrift agency that spends hundreds of millions to provide something that ingenious amateurs do on “beer money budgets”." Is Foust overreacting? Given the political success of those who proudly parade their ignorance as a virtue in the US right now, Tea Partiers and the like, that love to bang on about government waste such reporting could do some actual damage to the space program. A scientifically literate public could tell the difference between such amusing escapades and real space exploration - but we don't have a scientifically literate public. You may think this is a lot of fuss about nothing but Foust makes a compelling case.

On a lighter note, albeit tinged with darkness, is this short video of Richard Dawkins reading from the extensive hate mail sent him by devotees of a loving god. He makes light of it and perhaps ridicule is the best weapon in dealing with the wilfully ignorant and barely literate clods that send such screeds. One can't help laughing along until it sinks in just how despised this mild-mannered, urbane professor is to those who feel he threatens their comforting beliefs. Perhaps it is an indication of just how shaky those beliefs are if these people feel the need to bombard Dawkins with their indignation and sheer unvarnished hatred. Finally a friend sent this little gem to 80 - The Periodic Table Of Irrational Nonsense - check through it to see if your own particular ox has been gored.

No Prize Surprise - We learn from the BBC "Six countries have declined to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the ambassadors who were not going were from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco, and Iraq. Committee secretary Geir Lundestad said they had given no reason for declining." Perhaps, and this is sheer speculation, its because these bastions of liberty are either brown-nosing China for economic gain or constitutionally incapable of acknowledging the notion of free speech - often both. Xiaobo's heinous crime which attracted an 11-year sentence was to call for multi-party democracy and respect for human rights in China. Sixteen countries have yet to reply to the invitation. Update - the Peace price may not even be awarded. "Under Nobel rules, the award can only be collected by the laureate or close family. Liu cannot attend because he is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after co-authoring an appeal calling for reforms to China's one-party political system. His wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest and subject to police escort since the award was announced last month. Friends say all of Liu's closest family members are under tight police surveillance aimed at preventing them from attending the ceremony."

Probably Nothing - 80 was surprised to see an article in New Scientist (NS) that asked Is this evidence that we can see the future? It reported that psychologist Daryl Bem of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York had run a series of experiments using over a 1000 students which appeared to show evidence for precognition, which the invaluable Skeptic's Dictionary defines as "psychic knowledge of something in advance of its occurrence." If so, this would be an astounding discovery which, according to the Telegraph, "...suggests that people may have latent psychic powers which allow them to sense future events." However it does seem strange that no convincing evidence for such an ability has ever been found before, and why would such an evolutionarily advantageous ability be latent? It goes almost without saying that Bem's findings are meaningless without others being able to replicate them.

NS mentions one such test which failed to support Bem's results. This study used an online panel and so wasn't an accurate replication of the original experiment but the investigators now intend to run another series of experiments  adhering more closely to Bem's protocols. Another study, not mentioned by NS, which comes from Stockholm University reported "The results were not significantly above chance expectation for any of the hypotheses". Such attempts to replicate Bem's findings will multiply, as he told NS "...dozens of researchers have already contacted him requesting details of the work." When enough experiments have been run it is 80's own inexpert opinion they will show that Bem's results are either a statistical fluke or the result of flawed methodology. But it is always worth remembering the words of Richard Feynman, "If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar."

Bad Example - it is interesting (and more than a little depressing) to compare Barack Obama's praise for Indonesia with what has really been happening in that country. The White House blog tells us Obama's keynote "...speech in Jakarta, Indonesia was meaningful for a lot of reasons. It was a follow-up to his speech in Cairo last year attempting to soothe historic tensions between America and Muslim communities around the world; it was a look at a country that has led by example in forging through the often turbulent waters of democracy, despite prejudices that a predominantly Muslim country could not do so...." He went on to describe Indonesia as "an example to the world".

The Jakarta Globe shows this country is not an example worth following. We learn "Hundreds of Islamic hard-liners in Medan took to the streets on Tuesday evening, storming clubs and other establishments they deemed an affront to Muslims preparing to celebrate Idul Adha, the Day of Sacrifice. Members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) sent customers fleeing when they marched into cafes and bars in the predominantly Catholic North Sumatra capital." Another item from the same newspaper reports on the blasphemy trial of an American, Gregory Lloyd Luke, who "...was involved in an incident on Aug. 22 in which he is alleged to have stormed into a prayer room, or musholla, near his house in Kuta village, turned down the volume on its speakers and insulted Islam. The American was then attacked by a mob and his home ransacked. No one has been arrested for the attack on Luke or his house, which caused an estimated Rp 200 million ($22,500) in damages." Luke now faces "...three counts of blasphemy and disorderly conduct. If convicted on all three counts, he could face a maximum of five years in prison." It's a pity that Obama wasn't better informed about the true situation before making his speech. Multiculturalism doesn't work - especially where Islam is concerned.


November 23rd 2010

Human Rights Travesty - Pat Condell is back and in fine form commenting on the sick joke that is the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — or UN Women - which astoundingly has Saudi Arabia on the team. Yes, that's right, Saudi Arabia where "All women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian. Women cannot vote or be elected to high political positions. It is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The World Economic Forum 2009 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries for gender parity. It was the only country to score a zero in the category of political empowerment." It is obvious that Saudi Arabia bought its way in but to add insult to injury we also have Pakistan - a country with its own sad and disgusting history of violence against women. How can anyone take UN Women seriously with participants of this caliber involved? A tragic and idiotic waste of an opportunity and another nail in the coffin of the UN's relevance. Also see this piece by Mona Eltahawy.  Update - see here for another UN failure this time for gays. Look again for the baneful influence of Islam. The irrelevant superseded by the malevolent. Update - Islam's attack on free speech continues "A U.N. General Assembly committee once again voted to condemn the "vilification of religion" on Tuesday, but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes in the General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights"

 

(Can't see the video? Click here)
 

What Took So Bloody Long? - so Ratzinger has said the use of condoms is acceptable "in certain cases" to avoid infection. Big of him, isn't it? This should have been said by his predecessor Wojtyla. This comment from John Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, is enough to make the blood boil. "The pope is saying that if you can prevent disease, the use of condoms could be permissible. But this has been in the mix for a while, I think Benedict has been thinking this way since 2006, which is why he asked for the commission to look into it. The problem was not Benedict, it was others in the Vatican who argued that if you said using condoms was OK in certain situations, it would send out the message that they were approved. This was a PR problem." What a bunch of mealy-mouthed crap. How many people have caught HIV AIDS since 2006, how many have died, how many have been orphaned and how many have been born infected while this autocratic old man dithered? All this suffering because Ratzinger had a "PR problem". To say the problem was not Ratzinger but "others in the Vatican" is disingenuous in the extreme - he is the supreme head of the church and the buck stops with him. I suppose the most charitable thing that can be said about this change of policy is better late than never. (New Humanist finds out what Ratzinger actually said - and is less optimistic about a real policy change. However, this is not how many will treat the news - Ratzinger, by what looks to be a small concession, has opened the floodgates and may find it well nigh impossible to back pedal. See what the Heresiarch makes of the story in Has the pope really gone soft on condoms?

British Schools, Islamic Rules - For those of you that have access to BBC 1 or the iPlayer the current affairs show Panorama on Monday 22nd November at 20:30 features an "investigation which uncovers disturbing evidence that some Muslim children are being exposed to extremist preachers and fundamentalist Islamic groups. We also expose the part-time schools where hate is on the curriculum. The programme asks why school inspectors have missed the warning signs and examines the impact this could have on young Muslims' ability to integrate into mainstream British life." This kind of Islamist subversion needs dragging out into the light of day and stamping out. The Telegraph, in an opinion piece called We must stop Muslim schools teaching that integration is a sin, reveals how the schools inspectorate, Ofsted is failing to do its job. In Ofsted praises Islamic schools which oppose Western lifestyle  Andrew Gilligan looks at the worrying affiliations of some Ofsted inspectors and their whitewashing of these Schools For Subversion. The British taxpayer is funding establishments where the pupils are taught to despise them and their way of life and the public need to be made aware of this alarming situation. Meanwhile the National Secular Society warns that the government "...has indicated that it intends to give ‘faith schools’ a “central role” in Britain’s education system." (Other broadcast times for Panorama are here)

Sanctions - this is very definitely in the jaw-dropping category of news. The Guardian informs us "Britain is to further restrict exports to Iran after the government admitted there was a risk that specialist equipment currently approved for sale to the Middle Eastern country could help it develop its nuclear programme. Until this month the government had allowed British companies to export items such as nickel alloy pipes, vacuum pumps, radiation detectors, spectrometers, heat furnaces and specialised gaskets." Why is Britain trading with this bloody theocracy at all, let alone in such "dual use" materials? Is this government and its predecessor so reckless in the pursuit of profit or just plain stupid? A soon to be nuclear-armed religious dictatorship sworn to destroy Israel and Britain is still shipping this kind of material. The utter stupidity is breathtaking. It seems greed trumps sanctions despite all the posturing.

Quote - “Punitive British libel laws matter to science reporters anywhere. In recent years, foreign claimants have been bringing libel actions in English courts, often against defendants who are neither British citizens nor residents. This ‘libel tourism’ has been encouraged by the Internet, which means something published online that can be accessed from the U.K. could be considered ‘published’ there. So someone looking to squelch a scientific report it doesn’t like will sue them in a British court.”  Jean-Marc Fleury, World Federation of Science Journalists. See below.

Sense About Science - has published a guide that is sorely needed in the world of blogging. "The guide, entitled ‘So you’ve had a threatening letter. What can you do?’, is published by Sense About Science in association with Index on Censorship, English PEN, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the Association of British Science Writers and the World Federation of Science Journalists. The guide was prepared following Sense About Science’s recent survey of the impact of the libel laws on online discussion. To coincide with the guide’s publication, Sense About Science is making available a summary of the effects of the English libel laws on bloggers, drawn from cases that have come to attention since the start of the Libel Reform Campaign and from the recent survey of bloggers."  The guide can be downloaded here in pdf format.

Scrolls Sentence - "A lawyer was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail after being convicted of an ultramodern crime that was all about antiquity: using online aliases to harass people in an academic debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Raphael Golb was sentenced on identity theft and other charges in a rare criminal case centered on Internet impersonation — and a very rare trial that aired a bitter scholarly debate over which ancient Jews created the scrolls." Regular readers will remember that 80 was (very) peripherally involved in this peculiar business. See The Man Who Wasn't There and Who Is Charles Gadda?

Contrast and Compare- "Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding." Martin Luther, religious reformer, preacher and raving anti-Semite.

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." Christopher Hitchens


November 25th 2010

Burning Issues - just what is going on here? We learn that "A 15-year-old girl has been arrested in the West Midlands on suspicion of inciting religious hatred after allegedly burning an English-language version of the Qur'an – and then posting video footage of the act on Facebook." So a kid, and in 80's world at 15 you are still a kid, burned a book - so what? Just because a section of the population regard the book as magical in some way is no reason to give a kid a criminal record. This overreaction to what is, after all, a minor incident shows how the authorities are running scared of Islam and that religion's reputation for violence. The Guardian tells us "Catherine Heseltine, chief executive officer of the Muslim public affairs committee, said burning the Qur'an was one of the most offensive acts to Muslims she could imagine." Which merely shows us what a pathetic, stunted imagination this woman has. How about the detonation of bombs in a mosque killing the worshippers within? Or the mass murders of Shia in Iraq by Sunni fanatics? Isn't that more offensive? Or maybe as that is Muslim on Muslim sectarian violence it doesn't count. This kid burned a book - she hasn't killed anyone, set off bombs or beheaded anyone. That it was an English translation also has a bearing, for according to this page "...an English translation of the Qur'an is an interpretation of the Qur'an, and does not have the perfect status as the Qur'an in its original Arabic form." So it wasn't even the real deal. Heseltine badly needs to get a sense of proportion. 

The kid burned a book - big deal. There is also something else going on here. Apparently "It is understood that the group who published the version of the Qur'an that was set alight has visited the school to talk to pupils." Oddly this group isn't named* and we aren't told what was different about their ".. version of the Quran.." apart from being in English. This local report partially makes up for the Guardian's deficiency by telling us the book was in fact a "booklet".  It seems likely it was left (with others) at the school by the nameless group mentioned above. So, a kid burned a booklet which was apparently a shortened English translation of the Quran - big deal. One thing this stupid  episode demonstrates is that multicultural Britain is not a vibrant, happy place but a place where the police swoop on schoolchildren for burning a book and accuse them of religious hatred.  Furthermore the Guardian's report also shows a regrettable tendency to stray from objectivity - there is no need to call the book in question "holy" - it isn't to the majority of the population. This is on a par with news reports that refer to the founder of Islam as "the prophet Mohammed". He is only a prophet to Muslims - no one else. *(Could it have been Heseltine's organization, the name of which the Guardian fails to initialize in capitals? This is the Muslim Public Affairs Committee or MPACUK.)

...And In Happy News - "A jury in the US state of Texas has convicted former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on charges of illegally funnelling corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002. Jurors deliberated for 19 hours before returning a guilty verdict. DeLay, who was once one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, now faces up to life in prison."  BBC News

Quote - "And the British wonder why they are facing an extremist threat, why does the British government let in these anti western clerics who do nothing for the country and are only there for themselves. And why do all these so called religious leaders want to go to the west which they despise so much? all of them jump at a chance to go but tell everyone else what kafirs and corrupt people the west is full of, but are the first in line for a visa." Muhammed Hussain commenting on a story about an Islamist zealot, Jamiat Ulamae Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and a request to the British Home Secretary to ban him from entering the country. The story doesn't seem to have reached UK media as yet. This was another interesting reaction from Mohammed Abbasi "I agree – here in the UK we at The Association of British Muslims have enough fitna producing extremist mullahs to deal with, rather than importing yet more from Pakistan – especially the Taliban Terrorist supporting JUI-F" Also see this article, commenting on the Christian women accused of blasphemy Asia Bibi Is Our Sister and check out the comments below.

Weasel Words - in response to the BBC Panorama program British Schools, Islamic Rules which reveals Muslim kids are being taught how to chop off thieves’ hands and that Jews are plotting to take over the world, the Saudi ambassador said it was “dangerously deceptive and misleading” to discuss some of the texts outside of context. The documents actually show in diagrams the approved method for severing limbs, in just what sort of context would this be acceptable? Perhaps he can enlighten us? These schools are spreading poisonous Wahabi propaganda - that is the context - and they need closing.


November 27th 2010

Victimless Crime? - here is a report that is of a piece with story below about a booklet-burning school kid. The thugs of the English Defence League (EDL) are repugnant to 80, that hardly needs saying, but in Leicester a multicultural farce was played out with an EDL supporter in the starring role. We learn that "A man has been fined for making offensive comments about Allah during the English Defence League protest in Leicester." We are not told just what Lee Whitby said about the Arabian deity, but a local magistrate fined him for "...chanting "threatening, abusive or insulting" words that were likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress.""  Whitby pleaded not guilty although he admitted making the comments. His defence was to claim that "...he did not believe they would have been heard by anyone other than police officers or fellow EDL supporters." The magistrate Rick Moore, possibly stumped by this, flailed around and came up with this drivel. He "...ruled that officers were likely to have been alarmed by the defendant's words."

This sounds more like desperation on Moore's part than anything else. Big British coppers alarmed by offensive comments? 80 is prepared to bet any one of them has heard far worse things than "offensive comments about Allah". Whitby's real crime appears to be not making offensive remarks about Allah but making offensive remarks about Allah in Leicester. Moore makes that quite plain "A clear message needs to be sent out about using such behaviour in a multicultural city." Which implies that such comments are acceptable elsewhere. If people of different cultures and religions live together in the same city or town they will have to learn about tolerance and freedom of speech - and develop thicker skins. What they don't need is an overzealous magistrate like Moore being offended on their behalf. Once again multiculturism produces not a vibrant and diverse society but one of offense-seeking and paranoia. Perhaps in time enough verdicts from officials such as Moore will bring this multicultural experiment, foisted on the populace by politicians and an army of do-gooders, to a well-deserved extinction. In fact the only victim of this ridiculous episode was multiculturalism itself - unless the deity in question would like to make a complaint.

Quote - "Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well. I'll repeat that. Created sick, and then ordered to be well. And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent, greedy for uncritical phrase from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original sin with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place. However, let no one say there's no cure, salvation is offered, redemption, indeed, is promised, at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties." Christopher Hitchens

Was It Ever In Doubt? - "Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world" was the motion put forward. On the one hand Tony Blair and on the other Christopher Hitchens. Result? The Smirking One lost. Even when seriously ill Hitchens is more than a match for Roman Catholicism's latest celebrity catch. A transcript is here and a report from New Humanist by attendee Matthew Adam. Update - reading the Telegraph's piece Tony Blair defends religious faith subheaded "Tony Blair has defended religious faith as a force for good in the world during a televised debate with atheist and columnist Christopher Hitchens" you could be forgiven for wondering just who won. Here's a clue - it wasn't Lauren Booth's step-brother-in-law.


December 1st 2010

Prattling Prelate - here is an early entry in the tedious and stupid annual "War On Christmas" from a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey. He claims that Christianity is being "airbrushed" out of the picture in the run-up to Christmas. He was announcing the launch of "national “Not-Ashamed Day” today (Weds 1 Dec), under which Christians are encouraged to wear crucifixes and demonstrate their pride in their religious beliefs." In a leaflet Carey said "...the “rich legacy” of Christianity in Britain was “under attack”. " The old boy would appear to be utterly oblivious of the irony in that he announced this campaign from the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the government where he holds an unelected seat, that he is a member of the officially established church, and that the story was immediately covered in the national press and the BBC. Not exactly being airbrushed, is it? Carey would do well to stop his bleating about poor Christians in the UK, who are doing fine, and turn his attention to the plight of his co-religionists in Iraq and Egypt who are reeling under a real persecution. Never mind his Not Ashamed Day - he should be ashamed for whining when elsewhere in the world Christians are being beaten and murdered - not "airbrushed" but murdered. (Here is what the NSS had to say)

Contrast and Compare Carey's "...national “Not-Ashamed Day” ... under which Christians are encouraged to wear crucifixes and demonstrate their pride in their religious beliefs." with "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; .. when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men... and when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men..." Matthew 6:1-18. Does 80 detect a certain dissonance here?
 

Moonshine - back in July this year 80 mentioned the hilarious video by Mitchell and Webb in which they ran a Homeopathic Accident and Emergency clinic. Naturally the patient they were treating didn't survive the (non) treatment and so the pair head to the pub for a consoling pint of homeopathic lager. Now the next time they lose a patient they can drink something considerably stronger - homeopathic vodka. As a public service the 10.23 group have produced a video that shows, following homeopathic methods, how to make your own vodka. Be careful if you try this yourself - that's some powerful stuff you're messing with. 10.23 you may recall were the bunch that last January organized a mass homeopathic overdose - with just the results one would expect. This is not to say that homeopathy is not dangerous. If used instead of evidence-based, i.e. real medical treatment it can be very dangerous indeed - see here about homeopathic advice to prevent malaria. Also see Homeopathy; what's the harm? by Simon Singh and Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake by Stephen Barrett, M.D. (Psst - is this homeopathy's dirty little secret?)

 

Wikileaks: Berlusconi Useless, Pope Catholic - The Register takes on the current big news story and adds a few leaks of its own. Here is a New Scientist blog entry that asks just what is the aim of these disclosures and refers to the "...strange spill-all-the-beans utopian vision this loosely-coupled/distributed organisation has...".

Quote - "It is a fact you were with others chanting and police were within hearing distance but there is no evidence of non-police officers within hearing distance. It is likely that a police officer or officers hearing the words would be likely to be alarmed and for that reason we find you guilty of this offence."  Rick Moore, Magistrate and multicultural watchdog. See below.


December 6th 2010

Earn It - "About half of Muslims surveyed worldwide believe the West does not respect them, according to a new Gallup report, and many say that refraining from desecrating the Quran and portraying more "accurate" Muslim movie characters could improve a strained relationship." This is according to a Gallup report on "Measuring the State of Muslim-West Relations" and reflects the way Muslims feel they are perceived. It also reflects the image of Islam as a religion of resentment and blame. "Nearly three-quarters of Muslims polled said increased respect for the Quran and other religious symbols would be helpful." The Quran is a book containing many incitements to violence and blatant anti-Semitism - what is there to respect? It is only by cherry-picking that one can find acceptable material. ( It is much the same for the Christian Bible, few Christians today condone the murder of disrespectful children, or blasphemers.) By acceptable material one means not misogynist, homophobic, racist or violent. Islam has a very long way to go in this regard. All human beings, regardless of race or religion have certain rights but respecting their religion and its associated paraphernalia is not one of them. Tolerance, yes (up to a point), respect, no. (See the Skeptic's Annotated Bible and the Skeptic's Annotated Koran)

Speaking Ex Recto - “Terrorism and political violence against Muslims is our deliberate and considered choice of description for a range of serious threats faced by Muslim communities in the UK… Threats of political violence from a diverse extremist nationalist milieu are every bit as credible as those that fall under an al-Qaeda umbrella… the government should treat both terrorist threats with equal importance and in the same way…. Violent extremist nationalists in the UK have a present capacity to inflict death and destruction on a scale that is broadly comparable to their UK counterparts who are inspired instead by al-Qaeda.” No, this is not a spoof - it is from a report on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK case studies 2010 by Robert Lambert and Jonathan Githens-Mazer. (PDF) Do download the report to form your own opinion - but also check what Andrew Gilligan makes of it in Islamic extremism: is this the year's most embarrassing academic report? More from Gilligan can be found here. Also see the piece below from the National Secular Society.

Hate Crime Figures - Latest Home Office figures report that there were 2,083 hate crimes motivated by religion last year, although there is little or no detail on what these crimes amounted to and who committed them. It would be easy to assume that they were the work of right-wing extremists but, in fact, we suspect that most of them are carried out by religious people themselves on other religious people. The NSS (National Secular Society) is trying to persuade the Government to record more information about the perpetrators of these crimes as well as the victims and the nature of the offences.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, said: "We hear many reports of attacks on the Jewish community. We have been trying to uncover information about the identity of alleged perpetrators for five years. The authorities have gone to great lengths to make sure that the extent to which such attacks are by neo-Nazi groups or, Muslims, or in the unlikely event it turns out to be the case, atheists. There are also inter-religious disputes and crimes against women perpetrated on religious grounds – and there have been suggestions that Sunni-Shia* violence is not unknown. We need to know the details of these incidents so that we can have a true picture of why they are happening and who is committing them. There is too much tip-toeing around in order not to upset people, which means action against perpetrators is unfocussed, and even more victims suffer needlessly." From Newsline, the National Secular Society's free weekly newsletter. * Also see Unwanted Baggage on attacks against the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect in the UK.

Pariah Or Prophet?  - although it is of course possible to be both. A speech given by Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders in Tel Aviv has gone largely unreported in the mainstream media. It reminded 80 of John Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech expressing solidarity with the people of that city, which was, at that time surrounded by the forces of communism. Whether one agrees with Wilders or not, his speech is worth reading. In his references to the area now known as the West Bank he demonstrates his knowledge of the tortuous history of that piece of land. 80 is less comfortable with his references to "Judeo-Christian civilization". Using such a religious label is out of date, inaccurate and reminiscent of bible-bashers. Especially when the Christians have spent a large part of the last 2000 years persecuting Jews - an activity which the Islamists, their followers and an array of useful idiots, mainly on the left, are now pursuing.

As Wikipedia has it "The name "West Bank" was proposed by the Jordanian authorities to describe the area west of Jordan River. The 1949 Armistice Agreements defined its interim boundary. From 1948 until 1967, the area was under Jordanian rule, and Jordan did not officially relinquish its claim to the area until 1988, ceding its territorial claims to the PLO and eventually stripping West Bank Palestinians of Jordanian citizenship.[3][4] Jordan's claim was never formally recognized by the international community, with the exception of the United Kingdom."  So the Palestinians of the West Bank are in fact citizens of Jordan - or were until Jordan washed its hands of them. It is worth bearing this history in mind when looking at current press reports.

Quote - "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. This acerbic prophecy gained a new lease of life when Bush Jnr entered the White House and now with talk of a Palin or Huckabee run at the presidency it has been dusted off and is doing the rounds once more.

En Passant - two Telegraph sub headlines that are dumber than usual. "A museum has removed a video portrait of a crucifix covered with ants from an exhibition after a group of Catholics said it was offensive." Whereas a the depiction of a man who has been scourged, nailed to a cross and stabbed isn't? "German president becomes honorary godfather to neo-Nazi baby" Does the kid have a little toothbrush mustache or something? Neo-Nazi baby indeed. Idiots.


December 12th 2010

Godly Grudges - there is little doubt that Pakistan's blasphemy law is less about protecting the dignity of an apparently ineffectual god and more for grudges and point-scoring. The recent story of a doctor who has been arrested after his denouncement by a medical representative is a case in point. The doctor threw the rep's business card into the trash - which sounds like the outcome of a failed sales pitch - and the rep then complained to the authorities on the dubious grounds that his name, Mohammed, is the same as the inventor of Islam hence throwing the card away was a blasphemous act. On this stupid and flimsy pretext the doctor was arrested. One wonders how many times a day newspapers containing the name are trashed and pulped - likely millions - given how common that name is. Will refuse collectors be accused next?

One fact that doesn't appear in many reports of this story is that the doctor, Naushad Valiyani, is "...a member of Pakistan's Ismaili community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam...". It seems Valiyani "...apologised but local religious leaders intervened and pressed for action." It is likely that Valiyani offended the sales rep by not purchasing from him so the salesman denounced him. Whether he knew Valiyani belonged to a minority sect is unknown but it is likely the "local religious leaders" did. Pakistan is fiercely intolerant of such sects and other religions - as is evidenced by the death sentence passed on a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, for blasphemy. This was based upon a petty grudge when she was "...accused of blasphemy by a Muslim woman who took offense at being served water by a Christian."

Two observations here - firstly if you are not of the religious majority in Pakistan keep your mouth shut and go out of your way not to attract the attention of bigots. Secondly any god that needs blasphemy laws or thugs to protect its dignity isn't much of a god . Lest the reports in the Western press lead people to think that all Pakistanis are grudge-ridden bigots take a look at the comments from readers here. One says "My towel is manufactured by Mohammed textile mills. I dry myself after a shower with it. Is that blasphemy?" Another quips "If we are ever to come out of this …. we have to send all these mullahs for hajj and torpedo the ship on the way ….. these mullahs have hijacked our country". The idiocy of the affair is nicely summed up by P Z Myers, "If mere business cards with a holy name written on them must be treated with reverence and respect, well, I'm just going to have to get my favorite body parts tattooed with the names of gods and prophets."

Evidence Of... Copying - "Nearly every civilization living in southern Mesopotamia has told some form of the flood myth. While the names might change, the content and structure are consistent from 2,500 B.C. to the Genesis account to the Qur'anic version." So says Jeffrey Rose, an archaeologist at the University of Birmingham, U.K. who believes, quite plausibly, that the floor of the Persian Gulf was once home to human beings 75,000 to 100,000 years ago. His archaeology may be impeccable but he should be wary of claiming the consistency of flood legends as any kind of evidence. It is overwhelmingly likely that all these stories, their "content and structure" were all copied from a Mesopotamian original and as such provide no independent corroboration of an historical event. That said, 80 will be interested in following the attempts to find artifacts on the floor of the Gulf to confirm Rose's theory. Such retrievals have already been made from the North Sea - see Doggerland.

Cruel Heartless Bastards - "Iranian television aired a documentary on Saturday in which a woman whose stoning sentence caused global outrage staged a graphic reconstruction of her husband's murder for which she faces possible hanging." We are told "Iran says international media have manipulated the story to demonize the Islamic Republic." No, the Iranian authorities are making a perfectly good job of that without any outside assistance. Update - the Guardian informs us "Iran lashed out today at the "harsh" policing of UK student protests at hikes in tuition fees, summoning the British ambassador to express its criticism." Although, unlike in Iran, those protesters who were arrested in London are unlikely to be beaten or gang-raped while in custody or have their relatives and lawyers arrested as well. Update - the real sharia "Iran's supreme court has upheld a sentence of blinding with acid for a man who blinded his lover's husband, under the Islamic "eye-for-an-eye" justice code, a government daily said."  Update - Iran has a warped and sick society where police watch but don't intervene in street murders yet are prepared to kill unarmed protestors. "Supporters of Sharia law have long argued that the Islamic law of retribution is intended to serve as a deterrent to potential criminals. Public hangings have become relatively common. The execution of Shahla Jahed, the mistress of a prominent footballer for the murder of his wife last week was reported to have been the 146th in Iran this year. However, some opponents believe that such punishments have desensitised Iranian society to violence."

Queen Of Heaven Inc. - here is a piece about a town whose claim to fame is its football team apparitions of the Virgin Mary. These visions have now received the imprimatur of the Roman Catholic church, in the shape of "...three Marian experts". It seems the church has concluded that Mary was seen in the town of Green Bay three times in 1859 by Adele Brise, a Belgian nun. A shrine, The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, was the result. How did Brise know that this was the Virgin Mary, a figure whose historicity is in doubt? There are no photos of god's one night stand so what clinched the identification? According to Brise "...a lady in shining white clothes had appeared to her and, on the third occasion, she identified herself as "...the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners". Well then, the case is made, not quite on a level with say, DNA profiling, but good enough for the church it seems. No doubt local traders, restaurateurs and hoteliers, whether they believe this tosh or not, are rubbing their hands in anticipation, for we are told "The shrine, which is already well visited, is now expected to become a destination for thousands of pilgrims around the world." Score one for Mammon and the profit motive. After all Lourdes, Guadalupe and the rest make a good living from the marks devout, so why not Green Bay?


December 19th 2010

Quran Quandary - just about everybody on the planet has been made aware of the regard Muslims have for the Quran. For a religion that eschews idolatry and is strictly monotheistic, such fervent, even maniacal devotion to the book and to the founder of Islam seems, to an outside observer, somewhat confusing. From the story of the bookburning idiot preacher Terry Jones to that of a 15 year-old schoolgirl in the north of England recent news stories have emphasized how sacred that collection of admonitions and incitements to violence and racism* is to millions - so much so that in the latter case a child was arrested by police keen to maintain that sacred goal of multiculturalism, "community cohesion". This reverence for the Quran now presents a devilish dilemma for the Iraqi authorities as to what to do with a unique edition now in their hands. We learn "Decorated with intricate designs, the delicate Arabic script of the Koran seemed to have been written in red ink. In fact, a skilled artist copied the 605 pages of the holy book using Saddam Hussein's blood. The Iraqi dictator donated three pints over two years and this, mixed with chemicals, was used for every verse." So they have a holy book the inviolability of which has been defended by violence and murder, and yet is written in the blood of a dictator that they hanged for crimes against humanity. Mmmm, tricky. *(Much like the Torah and the Christian bible, both of which it appears to have plagiarized)

80 is reminded of a piece from The Onion in 1999 which described the predicament of Roman Catholic authorities "Concerned handlers for Pope John Paul II announced Monday that, in recent weeks, the 78-year-old Catholic leader has "just been blessing everything in sight". The pope's blessing rampage also necessitated the construction a 40,000-square-foot reliquary for the storage of thousands of now-holy items. Housed in the structure are such hallowed objects as the Blessed Vacuum Cleaner Of St. Matthew, the Consecrated Ball Of Crumpled-Up Paper, and the Sacred Zagnut Bar Of Christ, which the pope discovered and blessed during his recent U.S. visit. "That which the Vicar of Christ has sanctified becomes a holy object and must be used for no other purpose," Clementi said. "Therefore, it is unthinkable to commit the mortal sin of sacrilege by, for instance, either restraining the pope from the consecration of his strained beets or emptying the bedpans once he has filled and blessed them."

No Demand - the Telegraph is doing its bit about the non-existent "War On Christmas" moaning that "Christmas cards with religious images have all but disappeared from shop shelves. Nativity scenes or references to the bible story feature on fewer than one in 25 cards, according to a survey by The Sunday Telegraph. Christian groups said the findings were "disappointing" and blamed the situation on "political correctness"." 80 knows exactly what they mean having fruitlessly searched high and low for any Mithras or Sol Invictus cards - the situation here is even worse than it is for the johnny-come-lately Christians. Sadly 80's feelings of sympathy were dashed as the Telegraph, obviously scraping the bottom of a very deep barrel, even asked Stephen "Birdshit" Green for his opinion. Any one that turns to this loon has got to be desperate. Another Christian when asked about the lack of religious Christmas cards seems to hit the nail on the head, "In our experience, even when cards with a religious message are available they are often unattractive and there seems to be a lack of creativity in coming up with a design that people want to buy that also conveys the message of Christmas." The card shop owners are in business to make money so obviously they will not stock items for which there is little or no demand - couple that with the unattractiveness and lack of creativity mentioned above it is little wonder the cards are absent.

Bad Science - Ben Goldacre looks back at 2010 - "It's been a marvellous year for bullshit and pseudoscience". Recommended.

Unsafe Hands? - is Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, daft or just currying favor? At a time when the corporation is under increasing threat from the Tories allied with Rupert Murdoch, Thompson, according to the Guardian "...said British broadcasters should be free to launch an equivalent to Fox News in the UK because existing rules to guarantee impartiality in television were becoming outdated in the era of the internet." He was speaking at a Whitehall seminar on impartiality in broadcasting. Thompson seems to think because the web is full of partisan reporting equally opinionated stuff should should be broadcast on TV. (It's funny that a couple of months ago he said ". . . we are becoming increasingly tough-minded about the concept of impartiality. In a sense, we are becoming more explicit . . . That is a post-Hutton change in the organisation. Impartiality is going up and up the agenda.") What an example he chooses, Fox News. It was only earlier this week we learned "...another study has been released proving that watching Fox News is detrimental to your intelligence. World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, conducted a survey of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources. What’s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation." Perhaps Thompson missed that little gem. Is the BBC safe in Thompson's hands? It doesn't look like it. Update - David Attenborough seems to agree with Thompson, saying “I think that the multiplicity of channels makes a quite totally fundamental difference to the sort of television I went into which was a monopoly. If you are a monopoly, you have to be unbiased. But if you have 50 channels then maybe there should be areas where people should say, not exactly what they like, but at least be biased.”  Just please don't use Fox News as a role model. Update - the LA Times takes aim at Fox News for bias and what amounts to censorship in its coverage of global climate change.

Your faith is a joke - Pat Condell is back talking about a subject 80 has touched on more than once - why should I be expected to respect the religious beliefs of others? (Condell has another video up called Goodbye Sweden which, if accurate, is very alarming indeed. However if the list of links below the video (click the chevron on the right to show the list) are meant to stand as references this is one video of Condell's 80 cannot fully recommend)

                

(Can't see the video? Then click here)


December 28th 2010

The Ethics Of Profit - An article in the Wall Street Journal reminded 80 of an old rhyme - "I know a man, What man? A man with the power, The power of what?, The power of hoodoo, Who do? I do, You do what? I know a man...." This old bit of nonsense makes rather more sense than this piece by one Cameron McWhirter about the business opportunities in peddling "Spider Dust, Spells for Good Fortune, Mojo Powders" and other hoodoo crap to the gullible. One example offered is "Ms. Yronwode.... Her site, which she runs from her farm in northern California, offers hundreds of spells and potions, including "attraction powder" to draw a loved one, and "goofer" dust, made with dead spiders, to make an enemy sick—or worse. She sells packets of graveyard dirt. People from as far away as Sweden have graduated from her hoodoo correspondence course, she says, learning the history of the practice and how to make concoctions from roots and herbs." In the whole piece on how to make a living from selling such trash do we hear one skeptical word from the WSJ's McWhirter? Any speculation about the ethics of running such a business perhaps, when many customers can ill-afford such hokum? Not one damn' word.

 

NOT WANTED

Warning: the above sinister figure has been seen masquerading as an envoy of peace and goodwill when he is anything but. If you see this ersatz Santa or hear him on the BBC don't be fooled - the anagram of Santa is Satan and this is what we are confronted with here. He is wanted for various crimes against humanity - in particular women and children - and should not be approached. For details see The BBC has disgraced itself with Pope’s Thought for the Day and A shameful Thought for the Day.

Tom Lehrer - A Christmas Carol in which he manages to capture the essence of this special time of year.

 

(Can't see the video? Click here)

Godless Christmas - Pat Condell is here with a jolly Christmas message and some no doubt well-intentioned tips on personal grooming for those of us with untidy straggly beards.

 

(Can't see the video? Click here)

A Real War On Christmas - this has to be one of the stranger "War on Christmas" stories and, unlike most, has the added virtue of being true. The Telegraph tells us "South Korea has lit a massive steel Christmas tree that overlooks the world's most heavily armed border and is within sight of North Korea, prompting threats of attack from the communist state." The paranoid runts that run N Korea "...warned that lighting the tree would constitute a "dangerous, rash act" with the potential to trigger a war." Armed troops circled the tree during the lighting ceremony in case the whiny brat that is N Korea should decide to spoil the show - fortunately this did not happen. The S Koreans had every reason to be vigilant as it is only a matter of weeks since two soldiers and two civilians were killed in an unprovoked artillery barrage from the North. (Read Christopher Hitchens on North Korea in A Nation of Racist Dwarfs) Update - how can an avowedly atheist state threaten sacred war? While we are looking at the War on Christmas Jihadwatch has this charming little piece on an Islamic response - "Every Muslim has a responsibility to protect his family from the misguidance of Christmas, because its observance will lead to hellfire (a punishment which is seventy times hotter than the fires of this world." Islam once again showing how uncertain a faith it is - always with the threats. Joyless sods. Update - Christmas is Evil!! To repeat, joyless sods.

Buffoon Of The Week - has to be fur-faced Islamist Christmas-hater Anjem Choudary who will be making a spectacle of himself (not exactly difficult for such an exhibitionist) in London's Oxford Street. The Star has the story. And he used to be so normal...

 

 

 

 

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