The View from Number 80

 

 

 

Backwards Glances Index 2011 part 1

 

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.)

 

January 1st 2011  Media Melange

January 6th 2011  Is The Pope Catholic?

January 10th 2011  Alien Thinking

January 19th 2011  Bigotry Or Fear?

January 28th 2011  Rubbish Is Rubbish

January 29th 2010  Islamophobia

February 3rd 2011  Not Wholly Holy

February 8th 2011  Bad Example

February 13th 2011  Teachers Of Hate

February 22nd 2011  How To Talk To The Dead

February 27th 2011  The Empire Strikes Back

March 1st 2011  Dream On

March 8th 2011  The Aliens Haven't Landed

March 16th 2011  Question

March !9th 2011  Moving Mysteriously (And Violently)

March 22nd 2011  Pointless Display

 

 

January 1st 2011

Media Melange - a round-up of some of the stories seen over the last week or so. First off is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the celebration of 400 years of the King James Bible (KJV), justly admired for the beauty of its language (unlike Williams). That the majority of said language was taken from an earlier translation by William Tyndale did not merit much of a mention in the coverage. Interestingly "A complete analysis of the Authorised Version, known down the generations as "the AV" or "the King James" was made in 1998. It shows that Tyndale's words account for 84% of the New Testament and for 75.8% of the Old Testament books that he translated." His reward for such tremendous work was condemnation as a heretic and he "...was strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned". The Bish rather oddly said that the KJV would be of help in understanding David (call me Dave) Cameron's nebulous Big Society bullshit. More accurately, Williams also said the KJV "can still move and even shock us".

One such instance is from II Kings 18:27 "But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?" This is probably not quite what Williams had in mind for, like most of his co-religionists, he cherry picks. Maybe instead he was thinking of the uplifting story of Oholibah who "...  lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled."  (Ezekiel 23:11-21) Of course, 80 is also guilty of cherry picking but these verses deserve to be more widely known, as do the tales of David and the foreskins (I Sam. 18:27) and that of the Ark of the Covenant and the golden hemorrhoids (see Preparation YHWH). Perhaps if Williams quoted some of these stranger tales from the Old Testament he would have, and retain, a larger audience. At least he has fewer nutters within his own ranks to cope with these days as Ratzinger's efforts at bigot-rustling start to pay off.

Greta Christina, writer of the unremarkably named Greta Christina's Blog, is in 80's view always worth reading, but this piece is an impressive rant called Atheists and Anger. Atheists are often on the web and in the press accused of being angry (or even worse, shrill) when a lot of the time they are merely expressing perfectly understandable exasperation. Christina offers this by way of an introduction, "This has been a hard piece to write, and it may be a hard one to read. I'm not going to be as polite and good-tempered as I usually am in this blog; this piece is about anger, and for once I'm going to fucking well let myself be angry."  You may not agree with all of the examples she offers and some only apply in the US, but many of them had this unbeliever nodding in agreement. Also do take a moment to read Ophelia Benson's short review of the intensely irritating Karen Armstrong's latest outpouring, 12 Steps to a compassionate life. In six  paragraphs Benson shreds Armstrong's content and wishy-washy "spiritual" style of writing. As she puts it "Certain favoured sentimental words recur with maddening regularity, and feel like bossy little tugs on the sleeve – “see things this way”: “spiritual”, “deep”, “profound”, “mystery”, “transcendent” – one begins to loathe the sight of them." To get a flavor of Armstrong's maddeningly nebulous drivel see here her answer to the question Who or what is God?

Away from religion but still in la-la land the admirable group Sense About Science (SAS) has produced a survey called Celebrities and Science 2010 (PDF) which looks at the way some pretty stupid and unsupportable beliefs and dodgy product endorsements are given undeserved currency because they emanate from the famous (and not so famous). It is, one would think, ridiculous to assume because someone can sing or dance or act that their views on matters unrelated to their skills are worth a damn. In reality their opinions hold no greater weight than any "nobody" pulled off the street at random. Most examples are silly but some are downright dangerous, this, for example, from actress Julia Sawalha, "I don't get inoculations or take anti-malaria tablets when I go abroad, I take the homeopathic alternative, called 'nosodes', and I'm the only one who never goes down with anything." Jayne Lawrence, chief scientific advisor at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said Sawalha had been fortunate in not getting malaria, as there was no active ingredient in homeopathic treatments that would have protected her against the disease." 

Then there are those who endorse silly plastic "hologram" bracelets which, if they have any effect at all, is as a placebo.  David Beckham, Kate Middleton, Robert de Niro are apparently convinced otherwise. Update - the firm involved isn't doing so well down under in the truth in marketing stakes. They got busted. Good. Topping all these daft ideas, especially in the nausea department, is this health advice of cage fighter Alex Reid (no, 80 hadn't heard of him either). "It's actually very good for a man to have unprotected sex as long as he doesn't ejaculate. Because I believe that all that semen has a lot of nutrition. A tablespoon of semen has your equivalent of steak, eggs, lemons and oranges. I am reabsorbing it into my body and it makes me go raaaaahh." So if anybody wants to go raaaaahh you now know what to do. Anyone, cage fighter or not, recommending unprotected sex, whether they hang on to their semen or not, is criminally irresponsible. Whereas Jennifer Aniston, never a favorite of 80's (having once endured Along Came Polly) comes out of the review positively shining. "When reports emerged that she was apparently on a baby-food diet, Aniston told People magazine: "Sorry, but the last time I had baby food, I believe I was one. I've been on solids for about 40 years now."

Dogma (n) - a bitch.

Unintentional Laugh? - in reading an interesting piece on that much-maligned figure from history, Herod the Great, by revered scholar Geza Vermes 80 had to burst out laughing at the use in one paragraph of a figure of speech. "Gladly availing himself of the Mosaic privilege of extensive royal polygamy, Herod took altogether ten wives. Apart from Mariamme, who was both beautiful and princely, they were all chosen for their looks rather than their rank, according to Glaphyra, Herod's sharp-tongued daughter-in-law, herself daughter of the king of Cappadocia. Family prattle had it that Herod fancied Glaphyra. We learn from Josephus that Herod had at least one male lover, Karos, "a young man of unrivalled beauty", who later came to a sticky end."  One wonders if Vermes, like John H Watson MD, possesses a "certain unexpected vein of pawky  humour".

The Sky Is Falling - Concerns about loss of civil liberties in UK because of Control Orders - widespread. Number of those currently under Control Orders - 9. Not exactly a fascist state, is it?

From Faith-Based News - comes this charming story from the Washington Post "Enraptured by the Second Coming" in which we learn "From her Subaru, a car painted as white as the fourth horse of Revelation, Allison Warden proclaims that Jesus shall return May 21. So if May 22 rolls around and you're still here, wailing and gnashing your teeth, don't say nobody warned you. "It's a very jarring thing to be told you have five months on Earth," Warden, 29, said. "That may interrupt any earthly plan." But the jarring news is that Warden doesn't believe you can do much to prepare. She preaches "election," or predestination, which essentially means that God did His picking before any of us were born. You can cry out for mercy, she said, but it isn't guaranteed. Well-spoken and bespectacled, Warden isn't a wild-eyed soothsayer who stalks the sidewalks wearing a sandwich board screaming that the end is nigh." No she is worse. This woman is gleefully looking forward to the rapture of her and selected co-religionists up to heaven - but she is also gleefully looking forward to the majority of humankind being consigned to perpetual torment at the hands of her loving God. She is a smug and repulsive waste of space. (Faith-Based News is here)


January 6th 2011

Is The Pope Catholic? - most assuredly, but he is no physicist. Of course this has not stopped him from pontificating (what else?) on the supposed creation of the Universe which he claims was brought about by his deity. "God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said Thursday". Naturally he would claim that having more than a little invested in the idea of an omniscient creator god but he offered no proof. Someone should really bring the old boy up to date. Our "universe" is possibly one of many, each created by their own big bang triggered by a quantum fluctuation and which exist in some kind of eternal meta-universe - according to some current thinking. Many complain that such far out theories are incapable of being tested, being effectively proof-free - which is exactly the sort of territory in which Ratzinger likes to operate. (80 still thinks his name sounds like a fast food made from vermin) In fact the Pope might even prefer the meta-universe idea as his current one explains little. God may have made our wonderful and intricate Universe but who made God? Perhaps he haunts the meta-universe causing quantum fluctuations and creating showers of universes whenever he so much as scratches his arse. (Yes, God does have an arse because the Bible says so).

The Pope, having dealt with the Big Bang, offered more of his wisdom "Some atheists say science can prove that God does not exist, but Benedict said that some scientific theories were "mind limiting" because "...they only arrive at a certain point ... and do not manage to explain the ultimate sense of reality." Whereas a religionist can just make things up? A peddler of Roman Catholic dogma says some scientific theories are "mind limiting"? Whoa, 80's irony meter just broke. It is worth bearing in mind that scientists are fully aware of their ignorance and that all that can be achieved are yet ever closer approximations to reality - and even then everything is up for revision in the face of new evidence - it is religionists like Ratzinger that claim certainty. We are also informed "...that the Church now also accepts evolution as a scientific theory and sees no reason why God could not have used a natural evolutionary process in the forming of the human species." So at some stage in human evolution following the split from the common ancestor of us, the chimps and the bonobos God gave the humans a soul. One wonders if this all happened at once or was snuck in gradually. Was a child born with a soul to two soulless parents, little more than beasts? One wonders how they got on with each other. Did the ensouled humans mate with those without souls? Would this have been bestiality? Perhaps Ratzinger will let us know the next time he is talking ex recto.

A final, rather minor point. The writer of this piece should do some basic research - in the introduction he says Ratzinger spoke "...on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star." In the New Testament nativity fable of Matthew (the only gospel to mention these visitors) no kings are mentioned (except Herod and of course Jesus himself) let alone three of them. An indeterminate number of wise men from the East, yes. Their number is just a later guess as mention is made of three gifts - three gifts, three bearers - but there is no reason for the supposition beyond that. In fact the Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel written and a model or template for those that followed has no nativity tale at all, and neither does that of John.

Filthy Habit - "Hundreds of people might have been exposed to hepatitis A while receiving communion on Christmas Day, Long Island officials said Monday." according to this CNN report. Yuk, hundreds of people all swapping spit. The question is, why doesn't the magic Jesus juice kill germs? Or was He a carrier? See here for more on the risks of unprotected winebibbing. The health risks have been known for over a century. "Actual laboratory testing of the communion wine before, during, and after the administration of the Lord's Supper was performed in 1894 by Forbes, through which he discovered that unused communion wine was "practically sterile" whereas the wine remaining in the chalice at the end of the church service contained, among other things, bacteria, mucus, and epithelial cells."


January 10th 2011

Alien Thinking - "Evolution on alien worlds, he said, is likely to be Darwinian in nature. Morris argues that life anywhere else in the universe will therefore probably have important similarities with life on Earth – especially if it comes from Earth-like worlds that have similar biological molecules to ours. That means ET might resemble us, warts and all, with our tendencies towards violence and exploitation. "Why should we 'prepare for the worst'? First, if intelligent aliens exist, they will look just like us, and given our far from glorious history, this should give us pause for thought."  So says Simon Conway Morris, a professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at Cambridge University, quoted by the Telegraph. What does he mean by Darwinian? Evolution by means of natural selection? If so, say so, Darwinian, in the sense he uses it, is a nonsense word commonly used by creationists and IDiots and as such creates entirely the wrong impression. Why would ET resemble us "warts and all"? The fact that we are here on Earth owes as much to global catastrophes and the subsequent extinctions as it does to any other factor. No late Cretaceous widespread volcanism and asteroid strike could well have left the dinosaurs in charge. Whether they would have evolved to become similar to us seems pretty bloody unlikely and yet these were creatures from our own planet and distantly related to us. They were also extant for millions of years longer than hom. sap. and yet resemble us not at all. There is nothing inevitable about the evolution of intelligent, technology using bipeds. In fact we don't even know if intelligence is an evolutionary successful trait - especially looking at what has been done the ecosphere in the last century or so. Human-like aliens with a different multi-billion year evolutionary history replete with catastrophes is pushing things too far. It would imply that evolution has a direction of some kind which is nonsense. Morris is but one contributor to an extraterrestrial-themed edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. which, among other things, suggests the creation of a UN Department of Alien Affairs so as to be ready for such visitors.

Another contributor is Ted Peters, a professor of systematic theology at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in California. One wonders quite what relevance theology has for the study of possible E Ts. (Another off-topic question is why is Peters' institution named after a chronically constipated anti-Semite?) After discussing the shock that alien contact would have for human beings and our religiously inspired conceit that we are the pinnacle of creation Peters decides it would be back to business as usual. Well, he would say that wouldn't he? "Theologians will not find themselves out of a job. In fact, theologians might relish the new challenges to reformulate classical religious commitments in light of the new and wider vision of God's creation. Traditional theologians must then become astrotheologians ... What I forecast is this: contact with extraterrestrial intelligence will expand the existing religious vision that all of creation – including the 13.7bn-year history of the universe replete with all of God's creatures – is the gift of a loving and gracious God." Oddly enough even without the knowledge derived from contact with an advanced alien race it is already obvious that if there is a god, he/she/it, like the universe he/she/it created, is anything but loving and gracious. One wonders how the theologians would cope with an apparently all-powerful alien being that claimed it was God and would they be able to tell the difference? To quote Arthur C Clarke "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". If so, would any sufficiently advanced alien be indistinguishable from a deity?  One feels this exercise would have been improved if, in addition to Colin Pillinger and the godfather of the search for ET, Frank Drake, a few serious science fiction* writers had contributed. *a type of speculative fiction where the laws of physics, while they may well be bent, are not pissed on. Not "sci-fi" in other words.

Saudis Get The Bird - the best headline so far in a year that has hardly begun has to be "Saudi Arabia captures Israeli 'spy vulture'" Yes, it seems those Zionist monsters in Mossad are training avian spies. Surely the Saudis are not really this half-witted? Let's see "The large bird, which was carrying a GPS transmitter and a tag bearing the identification code R65 from Tel Aviv University, strayed into rural Saudi Arabian territory at some point last week, according to a report in the Israeli daily Ma'ariv. Residents and local reporters told Saudi Arabia's Al-Weeam newspaper that the matter seemed to be linked to a "Zionist plot" and swiftly alerted security services. The bird has since been placed under arrest." Oh, yes they are. What was the bird spying on, sand? At least the Saudis can claim their spy bird is a carnivore with a nasty great beak. The Iranians, back in October 2008, crapped themselves over a couple of pigeons - see below.

From 2008 - Stop That Pigeon! - this time it's not Dick Dastardly and Muttley but the Iranian security forces who want to get the bird. A piece in the Telegraph informs us of an intelligence breakthrough,"Iranian security forces have arrested two suspected 'spy pigeons'.." Apparently one pigeon was caught near a no doubt top secret "...rose water production plant in the city of Kashan in Isfahan province." The Iranian press report says "...some metal rings and "invisible" strings were attached to the bird, suggesting that it might have been somehow communicating what it had seen with the equipment it was carrying." (There is no mention of a little leather flying helmet and goggles.) A second bird, similarly equipped for espionage, was already in custody, "Early this month, a black pigeon was caught bearing a blue-coated metal ring, with invisible strings." This one wasn't after Iran's rose water manufacturing secrets for it was caught near the Natanz nuclear facility. Whether these are evil Zionist pigeons has not been vouchsafed us. What punishment the avian snoops will suffer has not been announced either but public hanging from a crane, a popular Iranian entertainment, is unlikely to be practical. 80 will pass over without comment the suggestion in the Telegraph that the pigeons may have been plotting a coo.

Quote - “They (the government) want more faith schools – ‘faith’ is the new euphemism for religion. Call me old fashioned but I think religion should come about as a result of a blinding light, a nervous breakdown or a prison sentence - it doesn’t belong on the blackboard”. Jeremy Hardy Sectarian schooling has always seemed to 80 to be a more accurate term. Faith is blind belief without evidence or, often, in the face of evidence to the contrary. It is absurd to come to a world view on such a basis. It is neither admirable nor rational.

Quote - Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey said street grooming* was "probably happening in most towns and cities" and was not confined to the Pakistani community. "I certainly don't think this is a Pakistani thing. My staff would say that there is an over-representation of people from minority ethnic groups – Afghans, people from Arabic nations – but it's not just one nation."  Maybe Narey's choice of examples was unfortunate. What on earth could these groups have in common? How about a religion that relegates women to second class? A religion that blames women for men's lack of self control? Could there be a connection? This may be a  a clue. Others see it differently. (Background story here) Update - see this by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in which she writes "The criminals feel they did no wrong. These girls to them are trash, asking to be wasted – unlike their own women, who must be kept from the disorderly world out there. The whore and the virgin are both feared and severely controlled and abused. A 2005 study in the Netherlands of Muslim males found the same bifurcation, and identified deep sexism as responsible for both."  *In this instance entrapping young girls into prostitution.


January 19th 2011

Bigotry Or Fear? - The UK media has been full of the claims made by lawyer, Tory politician and cabinet member Baroness Warsi that the British are Islamophobic and bigoted toward Muslims. This seems somewhat rich coming from an ennobled Muslim woman with a position in government. It also seems she is off-message as Downing Street has "...repeatedly refused to endorse the remarks of the Conservative chairman, which were criticised by some Tories." If there is anti-Muslim feeling in the country coming out with utter bollocks is not the way to combat it. Take Shahid Mursaleen of the Minhaj-ul-Quran charity who agreed with Warsi and is quoted in the Telegraph, “I agree Islam is misunderstood. Islam is a peaceful and tolerant faith and I agree there is a real need to educate the public and to promote the truth about Islam.” Peaceful and tolerant faith? There is little or no evidence of that - just ask the family of the late Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer. Some might say that's just Pakistan so let's look closer to home. Consider the recent instance where "A man threatened to kill his cousin and harm her family after she decided to stop wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf...Mohamed Al-Hakim, 29, allegedly phoned Alya Al-Safar to tell her she must die because of the ‘shame’ she had brought – leaving her too afraid to leave the house." (Looking at the picture of Al-Hakim in the Mail perhaps some kind of facial covering for men would be a good idea.) Stories like this demonstrate that Islam and British society make a poor match.

A few days later another court case tells how actress Afshan Azad  "...was punched, dragged around by her hair and strangled by her brother Ashraf Azad, 28, who threatened to kill her after he caught her talking on the phone to her Hindu boyfriend on May 21 last year..." Both cases show no attempt to assimilate whatsoever and are far from isolated (See here, here, here and here). In Britain today you cannot treat women like property, as being of lesser worth than men, beating them or worse - yet this attitude is enshrined in Islam. It is a religion of resentment, blame and violence and, as the Muslim population grows, cases like these will only become more widespread.

The situation where parts of the country are turning into Islamic enclaves is already here, according to this depressing and shocking story A Stranger in My Own Land. " I have just returned to London, where I have lived since I was 11. I have been away for four years, living as an ethnic minority in a monocultural part of the world, amassing a host of stories to tell to disbelieving friends. On the whole, I am glad to return. I shan't miss some locals' assumptions that, being a white woman, if I was outside after dark, as I occasionally was, usually to walk the few metres between my house and the church, I must be a prostitute eager to give them a blow job. I shan't miss the abuse my priest husband received: the daubing of "Dirty white dogs" in red paint on the church door, the barrage of stones thrown at him by children shouting "Satan"." The "monocultural part of the world" happens to be inner-city Birmingham, Britain's second largest city. This is the end result of the failed multicultural project - ghettoization, prejudice and violence.  The problem is not Muslims per se but Islam itself and its incompatibility with a modern European parliamentary democracy. Islam also acts as a recruiting sergeant for Britain's fascists, racists and bootboys like the so-called English Defence League and the British National Party. It is these things that Baroness Warsi should be addressing, not whining about Islamophobia. (See this for a less than rosy view of Warsi's speech from a Conservative point of view. Loose cannon, anyone? Also see this on Warsi's own bigotry and Libertyphile's Muslims in the news - a guest post at Heresy Corner - and this from the Heresiarch himself, Lady Warsi's problematic distinction) Update - Jesus and Mo, recent winners of 2011 Riffy Award for Best Comic also have something to say.

Quote - "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."  Charles Darwin

Abyssal Odyssey - "Think of the Earth as a puzzle. Only through scientific understanding and exploration can we begin to understand the shapes of the pieces and fit them together into a coherent view of the world." Andrew Bowen, director of the National Deep Submergence Facility at Woods Hole, quoted in an article about movie director James Cameron's plans to build a submersible and venture to the bottom of the Pacific's Mariana Trench, the lowest point on Earth. Cameron "...who has filmed on the wreck of the Titanic, has said he plans to use his new submersible to gather footage for a sequel to Avatar". Just so long as he doesn't recycle the plot of Dances With Wolves again. Or the (unacknowledged) artwork of Roger Dean for that matter. (Read here of the only trip to the bottom of the Trench so far by intrepid explorers Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh in the bathyscaphe Trieste in 1960)

Quote - "Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."  Napoleon Bonaparte. Try telling that to Gregor Mendel, Shorty.

Caligula's Tomb Found Still A Mystery - several newspapers have carried the news that following the bust of a "tomb raider" the location of all-time bad boy Roman emperor Caligula's final resting place has been revealed. The thief was apprehended near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, where Caligula had a villa and "Under questioning, the tomb raider led them to the site, where excavations will start today." What a thrilling story - at least it is until you read Mary Beard's piece called "This isn't Caligula's tomb" which shows things in a very different light. Breathless journalism versus knowledgeable analysis? Perhaps. This case may be an example of where, in T H Huxley's words, "... a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact."

Quote - "If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them."  Isaac Asimov

‘Enemies not Allies’ Seminar, 26 January 2011, 18.30 – 20.00 (Registration begins at 18.00), Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL (Holborn Tube)

Bigots and neo-Nazis feigning to campaign for rights... ‘anti-racist’ groups promoting fascism... ‘anti-war’ rallies run by supporters of terrorism and dictatorship… Enough!

The One Law for All campaign is holding a seminar to expose how important debates including on Sharia law have been hijacked by the far-Right to promote their racist agenda, and by anti-racist and anti-war groups to defend Islamism, both at the expense of people’s rights and lives. The seminar will focus on: The British National Party, the English Defence League, Stop Islamisation of Europe (also Stop Islamization of America), the Stop the War Coalition, the Respect Party, and Unite Against Fascism.

Speakers at the seminar are Adam Barnett (One Law for All), Rahila Gupta (Women’s Rights Campaigner), Marieme Helie Lucas (Secularism is a Women’s Issue), Ghaffar Hussain (Quilliam Foundation), Douglas Murray (Centre for Social Cohesion), Maryam Namazie (One Law for All), and Shiraz Maher (International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation), with John Adams (Emeritus Professor at the University of Hertfordshire) to chair. Entry fee: £5 individuals; £10 voluntary and statutory organisations. For booking form and speaker bios visit http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/26-january-2010-seminar-london/.

Quote"Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage."  Woody Allen

American Islamophobia - is the latest piece to camera by Pat Condell. Islamophobia - a nonsense word coined by the religion of blame and employed by the liars and hypocrites of CAIR.

   

(Can't see the video? Click here)

Unrepeatable - a bizarre feature of the ghastly story of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian women sentenced to death for blasphemy is that no one, apart from her immediate accusers, knows what it was she is alleged to have said. The reason being that the very act of repeating her supposed words would itself attract a charge of blasphemy. 80 is surely not the first to note that here is a case of life imitating art - the stoning scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. This is in no way belittling Bibi's predicament but it highlights the utter absurdity of Pakistan's blasphemy law which, it is widely acknowledged, is used to settle personal and political scores. The same is true in Iran and Egypt according to this piece by Nick Cohen, Only religious thugs love blasphemy laws. For a Pakistani reaction to the murder of Salmaan Taseer, whose crime was supporting Asia Bibi, a mother of four currently in solitary confinement and sentenced to hang, see Hardline Stance: Religious bloc condones murder and the often anguished comments below. Also this piece by Taseer's estranged eldest son, eldest son, Aatish. Update - read Christopher Hitchens' Reflections on Political Violence

Quote - "Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo."  H.G. Wells


January 28th 2011

Rubbish Is Rubbish - recently some astrologists have been offended by references in a couple of BBC astronomy shows to their discipline as rubbish (see Brian Cox here). They feel that this is unfair and that astrology deserves more than such a dismissal and have been asking the BBC for some kind of redress. In his Guardian blog Martin Robbins invited the commentators to confirm the view that astrology is, indeed, rubbish. This they did overwhelmingly. Now Robbins has a guest post from Dr Rebekah Higgitt, Curator of History of Science and Technology, National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, Greenwich and no believer herself, in which she effectively asks Should we debunk astrologers more respectfully? To which 80 can only reply, no. Astrology is unsubstantiated bollocks and if, as many astrologers claim, their version of it is a world away from your stars in the tabloids or that they need a working knowledge of such a phenomenon as precession for their forecasts, it matters not one jot. Even if it boasts the most immaculate ephemerides involving reams of calculation astrology is at odds with all that we have learned about the way the universe works and is therefore rubbish - or to use 80's preferred term, bollocks. (The Telegraph gushes on about Chinese astrology - which, incidentally, is also bollocks) Update - see from Universe Today The Real News about Ophiuchus: There’s a Runaway Star Plowing Through It - complete with an amazing image. Real stargazing stuff.

Headline Of The Week - Pope Benedict XVI praises social networks; cautions over replacing real friends with virtual ones - but what about purely imaginary ones? 80's irony meter just broke.

Not Science - the Telegraph science section has a report by Heidi Blake called "Alien life deemed impossible by analysis of 500 planets". We learn "There is no hope of finding alien life in space because conditions on all other planets are too hostile, a leading astronomer has claimed." Furthermore "Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at Harvard, made the claim that we are alone in the universe after an analysis of the 500 planets discovered so far showed all were hostile to life." So, with such a tiny sample Smith has already made up his mind. In fact he goes further when the subject of the hundreds of new planets likely to be found by NASA's Kepler planet-hunting satellite is raised "...Dr Smith dismissed the claims, insisting that other extrasolar planets differ starkly from our own and that even if they did support life, it would be impossible for humans to make contact."

This, at least to 80's ears, does not sound a very scientific observation. Perhaps Smith has other reasons for insisting that of all the possible planets Earth is the sole cradle of life - a life, perhaps, not created by the laws of physics. Looking at Smith's biography on Wikipedia a clue may be found, "He is a traditional, observant Jew, and has lectured on cosmology and Kabbalah for over twenty years." Kabbalah can, and has been described as "...a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal and mysterious Creator and the mortal and finite universe (His creation)." In fact Smith has written a book on the subject, Let There Be Light: Modern Cosmology and Kabbalah: A New Conversation Between Science and Religion. It looks like Blake's report belongs not in the science section of the Telegraph but in that dedicated to religion.

The Council Of Ex-Muslims of Britain - Their manifesto begins thus "We, non-believers, atheists, and ex-Muslims, are establishing or joining the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain to insist that no one be pigeonholed as Muslims with culturally relative rights nor deemed to be represented by regressive Islamic organisations and 'Muslim community leaders'. Those of us who have come forward with our names and photographs represent countless others who are unable or unwilling to do so because of the threats faced by those considered 'apostates' - punishable by death in countries under Islamic law. By doing so, we are breaking the taboo that comes with renouncing Islam but also taking a stand for reason, universal rights and values, and secularism. Whilst religion or the lack thereof is a private affair, the increasing intervention of and devastation caused by religion and particularly Islam in contemporary society has necessitated our public renunciation and declaration. We represent a majority in Europe and a vast secular and humanist protest movement in countries like Iran." These people have integrity and guts - and are doing an invaluable job - but what they lack right now is money. If you approve of their aims and would like to help you can donate here.

Quote - "The various quantum faiths undoubtedly contribute to our understanding of the world. Many believers will claim the same for their religion - but there is a difference. Though it is often joked that no one really understands quantum theory, it delivers a description of our cosmos that eclipses anything religion can provide."  From the editorial in the print version of New Scientist (22nd January) on the different interpretations of quantum theory. No experiment has, as yet, decided between them making adherence to any one in particular no more than a position of faith.


January 29th 2011

Islamophobia - this nonsense word has now become a part of modern discourse and yet it has no rigorous definition. The way it's used reminds one of the exchange between Alice and Humpty-Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass. "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."  Islamophobia is first and foremost a neologism, dating from the late 1980s - it is also a hybrid word combining the name of a religion, Islam (meaning submission) and phobia, which has been defined as "An anxiety disorder characterized by extreme and irrational fear of simple things or social situations". So strictly speaking it should mean something like "an anxiety disorder characterized by extreme and irrational fear of Islam" and yet, in the main, this is not how it is employed by the media and in conversation - that popular meaning is of prejudice against Muslims - with the implication that it is equal to, or at least comparable with, racism.

The inference of racism by some commentators is refuted by Islam itself, which lays claim to being a universal religion, not tied to any race - in fact it is even claimed that all people are born Muslims, as this is humanity's natural state. (In practice this is not true, as there is an undeniable Arab bias. The religion's holy book, the Quran, is in Arabic and it is frequently claimed its teachings can only be fully comprehended in that tongue.) This would mean the espousal of other faiths is a form of apostasy and converts to Islam are sometimes referred to as "reverts". (The colossal arrogance and ignorance displayed by this claim of Islamic primacy is obvious when one looks at the many religions that long predate Islam, which was invented in the 7/8th centuries - with extensive borrowing if not outright plagiarism of Judaism and Christianity.)

Why would the word Islamophobia need to be coined? What events called for its invention? It would seem to be linked with the rise of political Islam, or Islamism. This is often treated as a modern phenomenon but obviously any religion that obsessively regulates every tiny aspect of a follower's life must dominate that person's politics as well. What has changed is, in part, to do with how violent Islamists (is there any other kind?) have used the inventions of modern, technical civilization against it. Airliners, designed for speed and ease of travel, have opened up the world for business and leisure. They were also the symbol, the flag-carrier of a modern nation. As Frank Zappa put it "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." Naturally the beer bit doesn't include teetotal Muslim countries but the Islamists found another use for airliners as, in Richard Dawkins' memorable phrase, "Religions Misguided Missiles" which he coined in an essay following the Islamist mass murder of 9/11.

While abhorring the modern world and apparently yearning for a return to an idealized Middle Ages, Islamists are quite happy to use technology like the web, airliners, satellite phones and plastic explosives (often detonated by cellphone). In part, Islamophobia, in its fear guise, is down to the violent and murderous actions of Islamists themselves, and the widespread perception that moderate Muslims do not do enough to condemn their fellow religionists, effectively acquiescing if not openly approving. This view fails to take into account the vast numbers of Muslims who have been, and are being, murdered for belonging to the wrong type of Islam - or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something that gets forgotten in the media and in politics is that Islam is not a monolithic organization with a recognized command structure but is a number of mutually antagonistic sects (the two largest being Sunni and Shia) which expend time and energy discriminating against and murdering each other. (In any discussion of Islam violence is never far away.)

Is Islamophobia in the sense of fear, discrimination and intolerance of Muslims a reaction to modern, murderous Islamism alone? Not completely, there are other factors. The espousal of multiculturalism and ex-colonial guilt in many Western societies has led to a large influx of Muslims. Unlike many groups which wish to become a part of the society they have joined and yet retain pride in their own heritage the perception that Muslims are different in this regard is widely, and justifiably held. They have little wish to meld with the society of their new countries and tend to hold themselves apart. This is partly because their minds are shackled by the all pervasive nature of Islam and find many aspects of modern society shocking.

Another factor is a sort of self-ghettoization - where certain districts are virtually taken over by immigrants, creating a mirror of the societies they left behind (but with the added benefit of social security). This situation is partly enabled by the lower status of women in Islam where they are often poorly-educated and relegated, not necessarily willingly, to the role of baby-producers and homemakers. Recent events (see Bigotry Or Fear?) in Britain show what can happen if young Muslim women wish to adopt aspects of modern society in the way they dress, mix with the opposite sex and assert themselves - they are met with violence and threats of violence. (In any discussion of Islam violence is never far away.) Another factor is that, rather than assimilate many Muslims expect, or even demand that the host society alters itself to accommodate them. This can be in the form of sexual segregation in public swimming pools, the backdoor introduction of religious dietary practices, such as the slaughter of animals in ways that contravene anti-cruelty legislation, the refusal to transport seeing-eye/guide dogs of blind people in taxis, demands for special areas for prayer at work, insistence on women going masked in public places, advocating execution for homosexuals, and so on. Such things, combined with daily reports of violence around the world and at home perpetrated by Muslims (often on other Muslims) will contribute to a great distrust, wariness and resentment among the rest of the population. To call this Islamophobia is to give the impression that the fault lies with the rest of society and not Muslims - but this Islamophobia is to a large degree self-inflicted.

Another factor contributing to the use of the word Islamophobia in its several flavors has been the way governments deal with the so-called Muslim community. For reasons of convenience or just sheer laziness those in power have often communicated with immigrant Muslim populations through largely self-appointed groups that claim to speak for them. These groups are often from the stricter observances of Islam and include the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). It suits these groups for immigrants to be estranged from the wider culture as it reinforces their own authority and importance as a conduit from government to Muslims. It also helps with funding in the form of grants from government and donations from Muslims to combat "persecution". Any effective assimilation would erode the powerbase of such groups and so they are often the first to cry Islamophobia - in its persecution guise. In fact in the USA gays and Jews are more likely to face violent persecution (hate crimes) than Muslims.

Islamophobia is a nonsense word but one that means different things to different people. It can be a fear, not so much of Muslims but of political Islam and its threats and violence. (In any discussion of Islam violence is never far away.) It can be the fear of a group that is perceived to hold itself apart from wider society - but is happy to claim benefits from that society. This is the form pushed by the British tabloids - and is not entirely lacking in evidence. It can be used as a (false) synonym for racism although Islam is not a race. "Racist" has quite rightly become a highly pejorative description and deliberately confusing this with Islamophobia is an easy way of labelling someone else's views as totally unacceptable without even examining them - this can shutdown a discussion in very short order. Any word that is so imprecise in its meaning as Islamophobia is effectively useless in rational discussion. Its use is guaranteed to bring more heat than light to any debate. (For links, analysis and further reading 80 highly recommends Libertyphile - This is Why - The Causes of "Islamophobia". Also see Multifaithism: the scourge of Multiculturalism and Islamophobia from Atheism UK and finally Are You An Islamophobe? :: Take the Test

In Pakistan? - an American embassy official in Lahore, Raymond Davis, shot dead two assailants in the street after one of them pulled a gun on him. The report in the Telegraph said "It was unclear why the consular official was himself armed.." The same point was raised in a subsequent report. Well now, let's see. In 2002 American Daniel Pearl was abducted in Pakistan and subsequently beheaded. Pakistan is one of the most violent countries on the planet and the majority of the inhabitants are fiercely anti-American. The country is currently on the verge of mob rule over attempts to overhaul its blasphemy laws. Wouldn't you be packing? It now transpires that although one of his assailants pulled a gun on him first Davis is now in custody, charged with two counts of murder. Remember this is a country  where a death sentence can be handed down to one of its own citizens on nothing more than hearsay. With a weak government anxious to distance itself from the US what chance is there of him receiving a fair trial? Update - "A Pakistani court today ordered the government not to release an American official arrested in the shooting dead of two Pakistanis, despite US insistence that he has diplomatic immunity and has been detained illegally." Meanwhile the usual instant crowd of rent-a-beards has appeared (don't these people have jobs?) burning the US flag, of which these clods seem to have an exhaustible supply. 80 has somewhat flippantly suggested before that the CIA should go after whoever is manufacturing these flags and stirring up anti-American sentiment all around the world in order to keep sales buoyant.

The Criminal Truth - Pat Condell returns to a screen near you. Yet again he is right on target.

 

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


February 3rd 2011

Not Wholly Holy - this news item tells us that "Traditionally it has been an all male domain but women have now earned equal rights to participate in Seville's famous Holy Week processions with a decree from the city's Archbishop." Nice of him to be so condescending. These cofradias or religious brotherhoods march through the streets some carrying candles and others bearing elaborate and heavy floats. Perhaps it is 80's rheumy old eyes or do the penitential "brothers" in the accompanying picture look like the Klan's Seville chapter? While most of these groups have allowed women's participation for some years, the more conservative ones have been holding out until the Archbishop's decree made it unavoidable. One member explained why they didn't want women joining in "It is not an environment suitable for women because of the close proximity of bodies beneath the floats. It gets hot and sweaty under there and the nature of the task means we rub up against each other." 80 believes such goings on are technically known as frottage or in less elevated circles, dry humping. So the next time you chance to see such a solemn religious procession just bear in mind what's going on under those floats.....and try not to snigger.

A Criminal Waste - "Nearly £2m of foreign aid money was used to fund Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to the UK, a Commons committee has found. MPs have asked ministers to explain how spending £1.85m of development money on the trip met aid rules. The transfer to the Foreign Office (FCO) was questioned following a detailed investigation of the annual accounts of the Department for International Development (DfID). Initial figures published in November put the cost to Whitehall departments of the four-day state visit in November at £10m. Malcolm Bruce, who chairs the international development select committee, said voters would struggle to understand why DfID money was involved." Struggle to understand? Never mind understanding - how about being bloody furious at the misuse of international aid money? Who went without food or medicine because of this? Subsidizing Ratzinger's junket is not a fit use for scarce funds - the Vatican should pay it back and whoever authorized this should be fired. Of course it won't happen - that would be assuming those involved are accountable and have consciences. 

Not Even Halfway There - there has been a spate of stories in the press about ingenious types that have taken high altitude pictures using balloons and digital cameras or cellphones. This report from the Telegraph is like many of its kind. The title "How to get into space for £350" like many others implies if these people can do this so cheaply why is NASA squandering billions? We learn "Sheffield University PhD students Alex Baker and Chris Rose have launched a video camera into space for less than the cost of a second-hand car. The pair recorded images of the earth's curved surface from the very edge of space using only a helium filled weather balloon attached to a parachute and a GPS tracking device." Wow! - "...the very edge of space" The figures appended to the piece tell a somewhat different story with "Estimated maximum altitude: 37km"  Wikipedia tells us "The Kármán line lies at an altitude of 100 kilometres (62 mi) above the Earth's sea level, and is commonly used to define the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space. This definition is accepted by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which is an international standard setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics." You can do the math. (Note the PhD students are not to blame for the Telegraph's hyperbole. Also see It’s time to pop the space balloon meme by Jeff Foust writing in The Space Review)

Missing Voice - Among all the speculation about the involvement, motives and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's revolution we have heard nothing from the Muslim Sisterhood. Oh wait...

God - proof at last! Faith is rendered unecessary.

What Muslims Want - a survey, conducted April 12th to May 7th 2010 by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project among the Muslim public is worth revisiting in  light of the ongoing situation in Egypt and Tunisia. "The survey ... finds that Muslim publics overwhelmingly welcome Islamic influence over their countries' politics. In Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan, majorities of Muslims who say Islam is playing a large role in politics see this as a good thing, while majorities of those who say Islam is playing only a small role say this is bad for their country." Furthermore "At least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion." Yet "When asked for their views about democracy, majorities in most of the Muslim communities surveyed say that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government." It would make for a very strange democracy if its legal system was based on the cruel, primitive, violent and capricious Sharia law - the two are fundamentally  incompatible. All in all things do not bode well for secular, democratic government in Egypt or any of the mid-eastern likely domino countries. The Islamists are waiting in the wings....one vote for them is likely to be the last vote you will cast.  (see Déjà Vu?) Update - "Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group calling for the establishment of a Muslim caliphate, had to protest along nearby South Audley St, after Egyptians refused to allow them to join their solidarity protest at the Egyptian embassy."

Quote - "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."  Winston Churchill who today would no doubt be labelled an Islamophobe.

Christian Role Model - well, here's a surprise. Fundamentalist nutjob Stephen "Birdshit" Green of Christian Voice is a wife-beater according to the woman who was married to him for 26 years. Caroline Green tells of his downward spiral into rabid religiosity and his violence "‘He told me he’d make a piece of wood into a sort of witch’s broom and hit me with it, which he did,’ she recalls, her voice tentative and quiet. ‘He hit me until I bled. I was terrified. I can still remember the pain. Stephen listed my misdemeanours: I was disrespectful and disobedient; I wasn’t loving or submissive enough and I was undermining him. He also said I wasn’t giving him his ­conjugal rights...." Behind every patriarchal religionist is a beaten and abused woman (or women in the case of our Muslim chums and polygamous Mormons). Also see here Study: Fundamentalist Christians more inclined toward domestic violence. Update - from The Lay Scientist on the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail which has given the idiot Green a platform for his homophobic and other bigoted views for years. In 80's view he is expecting too much from what is, after all, a sensationalist, muck-raking example of the gutter press.

Déjà Vu? - Let's hope not. "The leader of Tunisia's main Islamist movement has returned home after 22 years in exile following the ousting of President Ben Ali earlier this month. More than 1,000 people were at the main airport in Tunis to welcome Rachid Ghannounchi as he arrived from London."  Is this Tunisia's Iran moment? Will the popular revolt be hijacked by Islamists? Will Egypt go the same way? Do bears shit in the woods? No surprise this guy was hanging out in Londonistan. To quote John H Watson MD "...London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained." Little has changed since his day. No empire any more but London is much the same.

How Does Homeopathy Work? - click here for the truth about this controversial therapy. (Thanks to Pharyngula)


February 8th 2011

Bad Example - but is there a good one? For those that claim Islam is compatible with a multi-ethnic, multi-religion secular state Indonesia has often been held up as an example. Current news gives the lie to that claim. "Indonesia has been criticised by US groups and others after a murderous attack against supporters of the minority Ahmadiyyah Muslim sect. A mob attacked sect members, killing at least three, while police either fled or stood by watching." according to a BBC report. Not content with murdering what, to outside observers, look like fellow Muslims the Christians are targeted too "More than 1,000 Muslim protesters have stormed a courthouse and burned two churches in central Java, Indonesia. The attacks in Temanggung happened after a Christian man was sentenced to five years in jail for distributing leaflets deemed insulting to Islam. Indonesian police said the crowd considered the sentence too lenient and were demanding the death penalty." Where are the apologists for a tolerant Islam going to find an example now? (The Ahmadis are not even safe from attack in the UK - not from the EDL or BNP but from other Muslims - see Unwelcome Baggage)

"Call Me Dave" Gets It (Largely) Right - hot on the heels of  British PM David Cameron's mainly commendable speech (transcript) on Islamist terrorism and the failure of the multicultural project comes the whining from the usual suspects. The cries of Islamophobia, used as a code word for racism, have started and are intended to shame into silence those who question multiculturalism. (See here for 80's view of Islamophobia). The Muslim Council of Britain is obviously upset by Cameron's remarks as they watch the gravy train on which they have been intermittently riding disappear over the horizon. The counterpart to the Islamophobia jibe was to read something into the timing of the speech that coincided with a march by the racist thugs and bootboys of the English Defence League. This was the ploy of Labour's shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan who intemperately claimed Cameron was "writing propaganda material for the EDL"  Does it sound like it? "Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights, regardless of race, sex or sexuality." Cameron said these values should be actively promoted - what's racist or even right-wing about that? Anyone opposing the expression of those values should be viewed with deep suspicion. Let's hope Sadiq Khan never becomes a real justice secretary.

The only point where 80 parts company with the PM is when he said "We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing." Yes they are - they are two ends of a continuous spectrum. All moderate religion empowers the extremists to a degree by making it somehow rude, or in today's favorite buzzwords, "shrill and strident", to question the claims of religion. This is as true in say, Christianity, as it is in Islam. Both so-called holy books, the Bible and Quran, are full of the most vile exhortations to violence and cruelty from the deity and yet both books are embraced by moderates and extremists. It is only by judicious cherry picking can the moderates make these books acceptable to modern civilization - the exhortations to cruelty and violence are passed over - but they are not excised. They are still there to act as holy writ for the extremists. Let's hope that Cameron's speech will be acted upon and not watered down to homeopathic levels by the defenders of multiculturalism and the cries of Islamophobia. 80 posted this further down the page but it bears repeating - Are You An Islamophobe? :: Take the Test. There are no tricks, just straightforward questions - check it out, you may be surprised. Also see The invention of Islamophobia by Pascal Bruckner. Recommended - Nick Cohen's At last, Islam's appeasers may be on the run (80 now needs to go and have a little lie down for a while - agreeing with David Cameron on anything at all is quite a stressful experience)

Cheaper Than An Ad Campaign? - 80 learns "Bosses at a Surrey theme park have relocated one of its new rides after workers reported ghostly goings-on at the site. Staff building the water ride at Thorpe Park said they had encounted several strange phenomena, including what appeared to be a headless monk. There were reports of objects being moved, workers feeling like someone was watching over their shoulders and sudden cold feelings being experienced. A paranormal detection agency was called in by park bosses to carry out tests and found that an ancient burial ground or settlement could have been disturbed." Other, more sensitive observers, detected a hideous double apparition of gullibility and cheap publicity. An unnamed "paranormal detection agency" was called in and after unspecified "tests" involving the photographing of dust motes and a "ouija reactions" declared "...the only explanation could be that an ancient burial ground or settlement was being disturbed, prompting the extra paranormal activity."  Well, they would say that wouldn't they? Oh, and well done to Sky news for reporting this with a straight face, it can't have been easy.


February 13th 2011

The Teachers Of Hate - ‘You’re not like the non-Muslims out there,’ the teacher says, gesturing towards the window. ‘All that evil you see in the streets, people not wearing the hijab properly, people smoking . . . you should hate it, you should hate walking down that street.’  Nice - this must be a cultural cohesion lesson at Jihadi College Darul Uloom Islamic High School in Birmingham. The Daily Mail, in one of its rare moments of journalism, also arranged to have a hidden camera taken into one of the hate lessons at the Markazi Jamia madrassa being taught to British Muslim kids. There it recorded the violent discipline inflicted by a thug masquerading as a teacher. This freak needs prosecuting for abuse let alone for his "teaching". This highlights the problem with Cameron's avowed intent to crack down on militant Islam in the UK. While he is fulminating about the dangers of Muslims' non-integration his government, in the form of Michael Gove, is planning a massive extension of faith sectarian schools, including Islamic ones. Those of you that have access to British TV should see Dispatches: Lessons in Hate and Violence on Channel 4 Monday 14th February. Update - "Police have arrested a man concerning alleged assaults on children at a mosque after viewing a Channel 4 documentary screened on Monday." reports the Guardian.

                                       
Darwin Day 2011

Celebrations for Darwin, Science and Humanity: 2011

Why do our broadcasters keep giving a platform to a murderous homophobe? - asks Johann Hari over the use of Stephen "Birdshit" Green by various organs of the media for comment. The BBC were deservedly subject to widespread criticism for asking this atavistic weirdo his thoughts on Elton John's child. Green, far from representing mainstream Christianity, is the mouthpiece of a fundamentalist group with a limited following (and IQ). It is as though the US press had interviewed Fred "God hates fags" Phelps. Perhaps Green's ex-wife's allegations of brutality* will force the BBC, Channel 4 and the Daily Mail to reconsider asking this clearly deranged individual his opinions in future. Don't hold your breath though, as his advocacy of capital punishment for gays didn't deter them. (*exposed by the hypocritical Mail) Update - in a heartfelt piece on his blog reported by The Freethinker Green claims that he was the victim of his wife's harassment and defamatory journalism. Oh dear, how sad, never mind...

The Taste Of Multiculturalism - is Pat Condell's latest piece to camera. This could, or even should, have been titled It's all about Islam.

 

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

Multi-culti: Is Mr Cameron going to be like his predecessors – all mouth and no action? - is the question asked by Terry Sanderson in his editorial in Newsline the National Secular Society's free weekly email newsletter. He says "What are we to make of Mr Cameron's speech on the failure of "state multiculturalism"? Are we to cheer that, at last, a senior politician has had the courage to jump in feet first and open up the debate? Or are we to groan that here comes the next one who knows there's a problem but hasn't got the guts, or the will, to follow through with the radical solution that is needed? And if he does follow through – what would he actually do to tackle the problem of radical Islamism that has established itself in Muslim communities throughout Britain? I suggest that Mr Cameron starts by watching the Dispatches programme to be broadcast on Monday on Channel 4. He will see that within "Muslim schools" there is a widespread culture of separatism and an outright rejection of Western values, not to mention hate-mongering on an epic scale. In such places, the "muscular liberalism" that the Prime Minister espouses is easily overpowered by the unchecked steam roller of Islamism." Read the rest here. All the while Cameron's government pushes faith (actually sectarian) schools it is not tackling the nonsense of multiculturalism or the poison of militant Islam. (Nicolas Sarkozy of France has joined Angela Merkel and David Cameron in condemning multiculturalism as a failure.)

The Jailers Of Gaza - otherwise known as Hamas may soon feel the effects of the revolutionary wave running through Arab states. We learn "A Facebook group created by anonymous people is calling on Palestinians to take part in a mass protest against Hamas in the Gaza Strip tomorrow (Friday 11th). The page, titled Honour Revolution (Thauret al-Karama, in Arabic ), is urging Gazans to take to the street after Muslim Friday prayers to topple the de-facto government of the Islamist movement." This is naturally not without its dangers "Observers in Gaza and the West Bank said they were unsure whether the call would mobilize huge numbers of protesters, adding that Gazans were afraid of Hamas' security apparatus, which has acted harshly against critics and has allegedly beaten up arrestees badly. On Tuesday, the group Human Rights Watch said Hamas authorities in Gaza had quashed a solidarity demonstration with Egypt last week." The Facebook page asks Hamas not to use violence against demonstrators - although asking Islamists not to use violence is like asking them not to breathe, it is a natural reflex.

Slow News Day? - or just can't be bothered. The Telegraph is on form with this story Google Ocean: Has Atlantis been found off Africa? "A "grid of streets" on the seabed at one of the proposed locations of the lost city of Atlantis has been spotted on Google Ocean. The network of criss-cross lines is 620 miles off the coast of north west Africa near the Canary Islands on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The perfect rectangle – which is around the size of Wales – was noticed on the search giant's underwater exploration tool by an aeronautical engineer who claims it looks like an "aerial map" of a city." Of course it's crap - just as much as when the story was first aired back in February 2009. See this item from the Google blog wittily titled "Atlantis? No, it Atlant-isn't." (For more on Atlantis see here)

Randi's Challenge to Homeopathy Manufacturers and Retail Pharmacies  - the quacks that practise homeopathy have been shown up by Randi before. Now wait to hear the reasons they will offer for not taking Randi's Challenge. Let's face it, if you are already fleecing the marks selling them expensive sugar pills why ruin it just to win a million dollars? Also see the BBC Horizon test of homeopathy with Randi or read this summary.

 

(Can't see the video? Click here)

 


February 22nd 2011

How To Talk To The Dead - not that you are going to get a reply. Richard Wiseman's new book Paranormality - Why we see what isn't there has a nice plug in the Guardian. There you can read a short and amusing sample from the book on how to stage a séance, indulge in a little table-tipping - and, no doubt, freak out some of the participants. Richard Wiseman is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire although he started professional life as a magician. Magicians are particularly good at spotting tricks and hoaxes - as evidenced by James Randi. Richard Dawkins has said of Wiseman "Wiseman shows us a higher joy as he skewers the paranormal charlatans, blows away the psychic fog and lets in the clear light of reason"  Wiseman's web site is here. The paperback edition of Paranormality will be released on March 4th. Amazon UK will be selling it for a mere £6.49 which, in 80's view, is something of a bargain. The Amazon US edition not so much at $20.60. Another, fascinating extract asks Can dreams predict the future?  Update - courtesy of New Humanist here is Wiseman on Things that go bump in the night.

Tunisia's Hope - "About 15,000 demonstrators have protested in Tunis against the country’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish Catholic priest had been murdered by an extremist group. “We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans on Saturday including “Terrorism is not Tunisian” and “Religion is Personal”."  from Reuters

Smiling Face Of Science - the Telegraph has an interesting interview with physicist, musician and TV presenter Brian Cox of Wonders Of The Solar System fame. The man has a rare gift, one shared by the late Carl Sagan, in the way he can communicate his sense of wonder at the universe and his enthusiasm for uncovering its secrets employing science. It is fair to say he has almost singlehandedly revived TV science coverage in the UK. Cox has a new series in the pipeline, Wonders Of The Universe. He will also be giving The Ninth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture at The Royal Geographical Society in London on March 10th on 'The Universe and Why We Should Explore It'  This is sold out.

A Couple Of Quotes from Cox - "Science is too important not to be a part of popular culture."  and "Anyone who thinks the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the world is a twat."

(Can't see the video? Click here)

What's In A Word? - there are reports that the Egyptian Army has given permission for two Iranian warships to enter the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. This news has quite understandably perturbed the government of Israel. However this report puts it thus "In the wake of president Hosni Mubarak's ouster on February 11, Egypt gave permission on Friday for the warships to transit the canal into the Mediterranean, in what Iran's archfoe  Israel has described as a "provocation."" It is strange to see the phrase "...Iran's archfoe Israel". This would seem to imply that Israel threatens Iran's existence in some way when in fact the situation is the exact reverse. It is Iran's theocratic and deeply oppressive government along with its creature Ahmadinejad that has made existential threats* against Israel, not even recognizing it's statehood. The only existential threat to the regime of the ayatollahs - not Iran the country - is from the people of Iran themselves, and their desire for democracy and freedom. While the hypocritical Iranian regime praises the Egyptian uprising it is gunning its own citizens down in the street or arresting them and subjecting them to rape and other atrocities while in prison. It is Iran's despicable regime that should be the arch foe of everyone that believes in freedom, democracy and human rights. *Although some doubt they have the technology - yet

The Need for Intolerance - "Government Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington is stepping up the war on pseudoscience with a call to his fellow government scientists to be “grossly intolerant” if science is being misused by religious or political groups. In closing remarks to an annual conference of around 300 scientific civil servants on 3 February, in London, Beddington said that selective use of science ought to be treated in the same way as racism and homophobia. “We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality...We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method,” he said." Bravo! Read more. (thanks to Pharyngula)

News Flash: The Taliban Violate Human Rights - The human rights community finally notices the Taliban's war crimes. Christopher Hitchens writes about the hypocrisy of human rights groups that spent most of their time reporting abuses by NATO forces in Afghanistan rather than those of the Taliban. What happened for them to wake up to the fact that the Taliban are responsible for more than 75% of civilian casualties? A bomb in a supermarket killed one of their own, "well-known local campaigner named Hamida Barmaki, whose husband and four small children" also died along with at least ten others. Read on..


February 27th 2011

The Empire Strikes Back - a short while ago the Church of England announced a campaign to combat the so-called new atheists and secularity. The Telegraph informed us "Clergy are to be urged to be more vocal in countering the arguments put forward by a more hard-line group of atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who have campaigned for a less tolerant attitude towards religion." This plays up to Christian paranoia about persecution, ie when they are asked to abide by equality laws that apply to the rest of society. The report is the usual Telegraph stuff, partial and inaccurate. "In recent years, a number of Christians have taken legal action against local councils and hospital trusts after being disciplined for expressing their faith by wearing crosses or refusing to act against their orthodox beliefs." The paper fails to note none of these actions have been successful. As for these "new atheists" having a less tolerant attitude towards religion all that is happening is that the old idea that religionists merit special treatment is being challenged. No one's superstitious beliefs should privilege them in matters of legislation or any other public activity. We are told "The Church is keen to address the rise of new atheism, which has grown over recent years with the publication of bestselling books arguing against religion." The Church should ask itself why those books are bestsellers - because there is a large number of people beginning to realise for a fair society to work it must be a secular one. Religious apologists cannot seem to understand that such a society is a safeguard against persecution for all faiths and beliefs. This is real persecution, such as that suffered by Christians in Pakistan as opposed to the cases where Christians are fined for homophobic bigotry, for example. That these people dare to call being made to comply with laws that affect everyone equally "persecution" is little short of obscene.

Now that the Church has decreed a fight back against secularity and "new atheists" what is the first move? It turns out to be devastating and will surely have its opponents reeling from the onslaught. The Guardian reports "Church leaders have secured a small victory in their fight against secularism and the marginalisation of Christianity after major supermarkets agreed to stock the UK's first and only Fairtrade charity Easter egg to mention Jesus on the box. Morrisons, Waitrose, Co-op and Booths are to stock a limited supply of the Real Easter Egg, while some independent shops and cathedrals are also selling it." Take that, Dawkins. Hold on there, not so fast,  these stores are only stocking a "limited supply" of what is fatuously called the "Real Easter Egg"? Furthermore  "... the Christian-themed eggs will not be found in the aisles of Britain's three biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda – which have a combined market share of just over 63%." Not quite market saturation, then. Apparently the tweely named "... Meaningful Chocolate Company says it developed the product with the help of bishops, schools and parents." That must have been some brainstorming session - as the product label shows, "Easter is all about cute bunnies, fluffy chicks and eating too much chocolate, right? Well, not quite. We happen to think it's a bit more meaningful than that. That's because billions of people all over the world believe that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, then rose again three days later … on Easter Sunday. Actually, many believe that chocolate eggs represent the boulder that sealed his tomb." 80 has always been puzzled by that three days claim - Friday evening to Sunday morning is not three days. Just try working for that length of time and then billing your boss for three days work. As for that last desperate attempt at relevance saying that the egg represents the boulder sealing the tomb, the analogy is flawed. Surely the egg represents the tomb which, when opened, is empty? A boulder would be solid chocolate. Perhaps they're saving that idea for next year.

Evidence Needed - "The prime minister said Britain and other western countries cannot impose any democratic model on the Arab world, but stressed: "That's not an excuse, as some would argue, to claim that Arabs or Muslims can't do democracy – the so-called Arab exception. For me, that's a prejudice that borders on racism. It's offensive and wrong and it's simply not true."" So says David Cameron speaking on a tour of Arab states - although he offered no evidence for his assertion. His message is somewhat dulled by the fact he has a gaggle of arms salesmen in his entourage. Their *products, now on show at an arms fair in Abu Dhabi, can be very useful for crowd control. What Britain sold last month to dictators and tyrants will now be sold to their successors. Meanwhile Tunisia (see below) is a source of guarded optimism.

*"Analysis by the Guardian of export licence records held by the Department for Business shows that the UK government issued 20 licences between July and September last year for export to Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman of riot control weapons including teargas, smoke and stun grenades. It also granted or amended licences worth up to £182m to sell products to Libya, including "crowd control ammunition", "teargas/irritant ammunition" and training in teargas/irritant ammunition."


March 1st 2011

Dream On... - the Guardian has published a response to Richard Wiseman's piece on precognitive dreaming in which he showed that there is no reason to believe that such a phenomenon exists. Robert McLuhan does not agree but damages his case, such as it is, in the very first paragraph. "It's fair for Professor Richard Wiseman to propose psychological explanations for the mystery of prophetic dreams. However, for all its fantastical nature, many parapsychologists argue that precognition is a real phenomenon – along with telepathy, clairvoyance and some other paranormal phenomena." The first problem is that appealing to parapsychologists' findings carries little or no weight - the results of their inquiries are obviously born of either confirmation bias and/or poor experimental protocols. There exists no proper peer-reviewed study that provides unassailable evidence of so-called paranormal phenomena. The second is that parapsychologists who have spent years chasing these phenomena are unlikely to admit that there is nothing there. (An honorable exception being Susan Blackmore). McLuhan himself says "However, 20 years spent studying psychic research has convinced me that the parapsychologists are right." In those twenty years has he obtained incontrovertible evidence of the existence of the paranormal? It would appear not - he certainly doesn't offer it here. The third problem is his use of the term "paranormal phenomena" in that opening paragraph - he is assuming the existence of that which he is trying to prove - an error that is properly known as begging the question. The rest of the piece appeals to an anecdote from a book published in 1927 and a flawed study from the 1960's. McLuhan's article may well be a response to Wiseman but it is very far from being anything approaching a refutation. (See below for extracts from Richard Wiseman's latest book)

Our Absurd Obsession With Israel Is Laid Bare - is an excellent piece by Nick Cohen "The Arab revolution is consigning skip-loads of articles, books and speeches about the Middle East to the dustbin of history. In a few months, readers will go through libraries or newspaper archives and wonder how so many who claimed expert knowledge could have turned their eyes from tyranny and its consequences. To a generation of politically active if not morally consistent campaigners, the Middle East has meant Israel and only Israel. In theory, they should have been able to stick by universal principles and support a just settlement for the Palestinians while opposing the dictators who kept Arabs subjugated. Few, however, have been able to oppose oppression in all its forms consistently." Read on...

Olympic Protocols - we learn from the Guardian "Iran has threatened to boycott the London Olympics unless the organisers replace the official logo, which Tehran claims spells out the word "Zion"." Given that the logo was launched in 2007 the Iranian Olympic Committee are not exactly quick off the mark - much like their athletes - but then you try running a steeplechase in a chador. Even the "Zion" thing is not new"Amid the popular uproar that accompanied the unveiling of the logo in 2007, there were some claims, particularly on conspiracy-oriented websites, that its constituent shapes could be rearranged to make the world "Zion" and some animations were posted on YouTube showing how to do it." In fact, since its release, the logo has been identified with many things "...from a swastika to a sexual act.." Surely the Iranians would approve of the swastika? From the committee's complaint it sounds like these lackwits have been taken in by the aforementioned conspiracy sites "As internet documents have proved, using the word Zion in the logo of the 2012 Olympic Games is a disgracing action and against the Olympics' valuable mottos." These documents are not identified. Looking at the medals won by Iran in past games they seem dominated by sports in which sweaty men grapple with each other - make of that what you will. Will the Olympics be harmed by the non-participation of a country that hangs children and stones women? Hardly. But then again, given current events, a free and democratic Iran may well appear from the wreckage of the theocracy by July 2012 and contest the games - now that would be a good result.

Mocking The Afflicted - Pat Condell's latest video for your delectation, in which he returns to a subject he has covered before.

 

(Can't see the video? Click here)

One Law For All - "...have organised an International Conference on Women’s Rights, Sharia Law and Secularism on 12 March at the University of London Union from 10.00-19.00. The one-day conference marking International Women’s Day will discuss religion’s impact on women’s rights; religion and secularism and religion and the law. Speakers include Philosopher A.C. Grayling, Honorary Speaker of the Belgian Senate Anne-Marie Lizin; National Secular Society Vice President Elizabeth O'Casey; and women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman..."  You can find registration details here. You can help support One Law For All with a donation - see here.

One Law For All last week condemned another instance of creeping Sharia law in which a Lancashire firm of solicitors "...introducing the new service for Muslim clients who want advice on matters such as divorce or child custody according to both UK civil law and Sharia Law."  Maryam Namazie of One Law For All commented, "It is scandalous that lawyers meant to defend rights are now set on violating them by recognising and pandering to sharia law decisions on women.

Under Sharia, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, men can unilaterally divorce by uttering a certain phrase thrice whilst it is often difficult for women to secure divorces. Marital rape is not considered a crime and violence against a disobedient wife a husband’s prerogative. With regard to child custody – under UK civil law, the welfare of the child is paramount, whilst under sharia child custody goes to the father at a preset age irrespective of the child’s welfare. Sharia law and UK civil law (however imperfect) are antithetical to each other so how can both be applied? In an ideal world, lawyers applying Sharia law would be disbarred. After all, the same would happen to doctors who hurt rather than helped their patients.” 
Also see Muslim Women Lose Human Rights .

Short Version - an article by Amanda Marcotte takes over 8 paragraphs to answer the question Who is the Tea Party really? The answer is billionaire conservatives and their dupes, the Christian right. Next question..

Keeping It In House - "The Catholic Church in Rome made the extraordinary admission yesterday that it is aware priests from at least 23 countries have been sexually abusing nuns. The Catholic Church in Rome made the extraordinary admission yesterday that it is aware priests from at least 23 countries have been sexually abusing nuns. Most of the abuse has occurred in Africa, where priests vowed to celibacy, who previously sought out prostitutes, have preyed on nuns to avoid contracting the Aids virus. Confidential Vatican reports obtained by the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly magazine in the US, have revealed that members of the Catholic clergy have been exploiting their financial and spiritual authority to gain sexual favours from nuns, particularly those from the Third World who are more likely to be culturally conditioned to be subservient to men." This revelation has not received the publicity and condemnation it so richly merits. The Catholic clergy - abusing trust and the vulnerable in a church near you.

The Real Cost Of Ratzinger's Junket - is still not known but the figures released by the government are a cause for grave concern. In these straitened times when all Britons are, as the coalition so eloquently reminds them, all in it together, why is the Catholic church receiving interest-free loans from taxpayers, who are also unknowingly funding religious rituals? A report from the National Secular Society Pope visit figures just don’t add up quotes NSS president Terry Sanderson, “These Government figures are very revealing. What on earth is the state doing using £1,673,000 of scarce taxpayers’ money to stage a “beatification ceremony”? Or £327,000 on a “prayer vigil”? Or £264,000 on a mass? What business is it of the state to provide such events? Surely these religious services should have been the entire responsibility of the Catholic Church? And why is no interest being charged on the £6.3 million loan to the Church? UK Citizens would receive no such mercy from HM Revenue and Customs if they were even slightly late with their tax payments.”


March 8th 2011

The Aliens Haven't Landed - is the title of an article by Philip Ball looking at Richard Hoover's claim that he has found bacteria-like fossils in a meteorite. There are a few good reasons why the world of science is unimpressed - one being the journal in which the claim first saw the light of day, the Journal of Cosmology (JoC) which is viewed by some as being not of academic standard, fringe even, especially where the panspermia hypothesis is concerned. Another factor is that the meteorite involved has been kicking around since 1864 and contamination cannot be ruled out, a point made here by Carl Pilcher, director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute. Also there is this astounding statement on the JoC site which seems to be a very odd way to describe perfectly natural scepticism about Hoover's claim. There is a smell of crank in the air... 

"Have the Terrorist Won? Only a few crackpots and charlatans have denounced the Hoover study. NASA's chief scientist was charged with unprofessional conduct for lying publicly about the Journal of Cosmology and the Hoover paper. The same crackpots, self-promoters, liars, and failures, are quoted repeatedly in the media. However, where is the evidence the Hoover study is not accurate?

Few legitimate scientists have come forward to contest Hoover's findings. Why is that? Because the evidence is solid.

But why have so few scientists come forward to attest to the validity? The answer is: They are afraid. They are terrified. And for good reason.
The status quo and their "hand puppets" will stop at nothing to crush debate about important scientific issues, and this includes slander, defamation, trade libel... they will ruin you. Three hundred years ago, they would burn you for questioning orthodoxy. Has anything changed?

The scientific community must march according to the tune whistled by those who control the funding. If you don't do as you are told, if you dare to ask the wrong questions, they will destroy you..."


This paranoid rant seems out of place in what claims to be a scientific journal - in fact it sounds reminiscent of the Face on Mars nuts. Here is a link to P Z Myer's take on the story (the link may not work as the science blogs site is down at the time of writing) and New Scientist appears to enjoying the vitriol in Alien-life claims spark monster mud-slinging. Apparently Hoover has made such a claim twice before according to NS, which describes them as "nearly identical". 80 believes it is quite likely we may find life in our solar system but this isn't it.

Census Campaign Censored - the Census Campaign is an attempt to get people to accurately identify their religious affiliation when filling in the form. The British in the main are not demonstrative about their beliefs and tend, for cultural reasons, to check the Church of England (CofE) option as the default. In the last census the country appeared to be 72 percent CofE - a figure not borne out by other, more detailed surveys. You might think what is all the fuss about? It is a fact that the CofE has used the last census as evidence of widespread adherence to its faith which it then parlays into unwarranted interference in politics and a reason for perpetuating religious privilege. Accurate Census figures would stop this strategy. 

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has produced a series of posters and images like the one above to get people who are not religious to say so. Already this campaign has attracted the whiners of the "I am offended" brigade. We learn that "Three posters appealing to people who are not religious to declare themselves as such in this year's census have been banned from appearing in railway stations. The posters, bearing the slogan "If you're not religious, for God's sake say so", have been refused by the companies that own the advertising space, which say they are likely to cause offence." It seems "The ban followed advice from the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) committee of advertising practice that the advert had the potential to cause widespread and serious offence." Note that no one has complained and the concern is about the poster's "potential" for serious offence. This is called squealing before you're hit and reveals the ASA committee to be a particularly spineless bunch. Stephen Fry's remark springs to mind "So you’re offended. So fucking what?" The BHA campaign page is here. Update - Caspar Melville argues that We are not yet in a country which has to protect religious sensitivities at all costs.

New Study Of Chaplains - shows little benefit to clinical outcomes. "A study of NHS trusts in England has shown that £29m of healthcare money was used to pay for hospital chaplains in 2009/10. The study revealed that many of the country’s best hospitals spent the lowest proportion of their expenditure on chaplaincy services and concluded that the NHS wastes millions every year on services that have no clinical benefit.

Statistical analysis showed that there was no relationship or positive correlation between how much hospitals spent on chaplaincy services and the overall quality of their patient care.

English NHS Trusts were asked how much they spent on hospital chaplaincy services using the Freedom of Information Act. The proportion that trusts spent on chaplaincy was compared to how well it performed on national quality ratings. The results showed huge variations in the proportions that similar hospitals spend, and that if all NHS Trusts brought their spending into line with the best trusts, savings of £18.5m a year would be made. £18.5m p.a. could pay for 1,000 nursing assistants or a brand new community hospital every year."
  Read more from the National Secular Society. Despite loud howls from churches the NSS doesn't not want to ban hospital chaplains - just stop them being paid for out of our taxes. (The above item is taken from the NSS free weekly email newsletter, Newsline. You can subscribe here)

Lifestyle Choice - The couple who recently lost a court case over the right to foster children because of their bigoted views on homosexuality are feted in the Telegraph in a quite nauseating fashion "Eunice Johns greets me, a total stranger, with an embrace. “I like to hug,” she says. A minute later, when I am looking for a tissue to blow my nose, she hands me half her packet. These are the actions of a true Christian." So, a true Christian is someone who will give you a hug and a snotrag when you need one. In the report a remark by Eunice Johns, the true Christian, caught 80's eye. When it was suggested that she should have fudged her answers (lied in other words) about her attitude to gays she protests “But, our Christianity isn’t something we can just take on and off. It is our lifestyle.” My, what an unfortunate choice of words - many of her fellow Christians claim that is just what homosexuality is - a lifestyle. This goes along with the implication that gays have no one to blame but themselves when they are beaten up or murdered - after all, they chose to be gay. Research has shown otherwise but it is also the idea behind the programs run by some Christians to "cure" gays. This couple have no right to whine about having to comply with equality legislation - after all, they chose to be Christians. As for the husband saying the ruling is “the first stage of persecution” perhaps he should move to Pakistan - the Christians there are suffering real persecution. For him to use the word for his and his wife's footling little problem cheapens it and insults the Christians in Muslim countries who are in fear of their lives. He badly needs to get some perspective. Update - here is a good piece by Alan Wilson called Homosexuality, Christianity and child welfare which brings some much-needed sense to bear on this story. Wilson, by the way, is the Bishop of Buckingham.

Wrong - "The core liberal values – freedom of speech and worship, democracy, the rule of law, and equal rights regardless of sex, race and sexuality – are as compatible with Islam as with any other religion." Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, in a recent speech demonstrating that he just doesn't get it.


March 16th 2011

Question - when are Libyan freedom fighters like Iraqi Marsh Arabs? Answer - when they are hung out to dry. Even the Organisation of the Islamic Conference wants a no-fly zone in Libya and yet Europe (with the exception of France and the UK) and the USA are twiddling their thumbs. What do the politicians think is going to happen when that mad bastard Ghaddafi regains control of the country? Failure to act is to be complicit in the horrors to come. It is hardly surprising that out of the UN security council Russia and China will oppose a no-fly zone, for it could set a precedent for intervention in such situations and  would therefore hamper their own possible future attempts to silence dissent with mass murder. Somehow I thought the USA and Europe would not, could not, stand by while the people of Libya are crushed and then punished by Ghaddafi. How stupidly naive of me. Update - at last the right decision - although Germany, to its shame, chose the company of Russia and China by abstaining.

  

Japanese Tsunami - Non-Believers Giving Aid and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science are once more partnering with the International Committee of the Red Cross to bring much needed help to people whose lives have been torn apart by natural disaster. Every cent and penny of money donated via Non-Believers Giving Aid will be forwarded to the International Red Cross – and if you are in the UK and you complete the Gift Aid Declaration along with your donation, we will pass that on in its entirety too. Click the image above to contribute.

Moronic Mail - meanwhile the Daily Mail plumbs the depths with a piece from its "science" section. "The powerful tsunami that today slammed into Japan's eastern coast comes just two days after warnings that the movement of the moon could trigger unpredictable events on Earth. Astrologers predicted that on March 19 - a week tomorrow - the so-called 'supermoon' will be closer to Earth than at any time since 1992, just 221,567 miles away, and that its gravitational pull will bring chaos to Earth. Others on the Internet have predicted it will cause further catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes". Although further down the page scientists give their opinion of this drivel the headline and first paragraphs trivialize a horrific disaster. Ben Goldacre has more to say on this here.

One Law For All - "...have organised an International Conference on Women’s Rights, Sharia Law and Secularism on 12 March at the University of London Union from 10.00-19.00. The one-day conference marking International Women’s Day will discuss religion’s impact on women’s rights; religion and secularism and religion and the law. Speakers include Philosopher A.C. Grayling, Honorary Speaker of the Belgian Senate Anne-Marie Lizin; National Secular Society Vice President Elizabeth O'Casey; and women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman..."  You can find registration details here. You can help support One Law For All with a donation - see here

 

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." H G Wells

Fact-Free Science - is the name of an article in the New York Times on the anti-science attitude of many Republican politicians, especially where Global Climate Change is concerned. "Fred Upton, the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said outright that he does not believe that global warming is man-made. John Shimkus of Illinois, who also sits on the committee — as well as on the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment — has said that the government doesn’t need to make a priority of regulating greenhouse-gas emissions, because as he put it late last year, “God said the earth would not be destroyed by a flood.”  One commenter has noted that "Opposing the belief that global warming is human-caused has become systematic, like opposition to abortion. It’s seen as another way for government to control people’s lives. It’s become a cultural issue.”

The Republican party has got so far into bed with the Christian Right and the Tea Party that an anti-science posture is now perceived as a vote winner. Without the US on board any international attempts to mitigate the effects of anthropic climate change will be severely hampered, if not ineffectual. These idiots are not only damaging the USA by their vote-chasing, know-nothing stance but also every other country on the planet. That anti-science thinking is extremely dangerous should be a no-brainer. It is powered by ignorance and hatred and financed by big business.  The USA owes its position of pre-eminence in the world to science and technology but the fools are rejecting these proven engines of prosperity. Once again 80 turns to a quote from the late Carl Sagan which should be prominently on display in Congress and the House of Representatives and in every governor's mansion. Hell, every anti-science politician should have it tattooed on their forehead...

"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."


March 19th 2011

Moving Mysteriously (And Violently) - in the wake of dreadful natural disasters, or "Acts of God", such as those that devastated New Zealand and now Japan many people have trouble reconciling their belief in a loving omniscient, omnipotent deity with the horror and suffering before their eyes. This has been called the "problem of evil" which  was taken on by the Greek philosopher Epicurus and summarized by a later writer thus "God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak - and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful - which is equally foreign to god's nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful, and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?"

Some people faced with this trilemma fall back on the old non-argument that God moves in mysterious ways and it is not for mere mortals to divine his intentions. All this does is shut down discussion with a big, impassable question mark. George Carlin dealt with the idea of a divine plan and the power of prayer in his usual uncompromising and hilarious fashion and found an answer in transferring his prayers to Joe Pesci. Carlin in fact makes more sense than a whole blather of theologians. Others have lost their belief in the face of this conundrum. A C Grayling addresses the subject in God and Disaster and finds the perennial puzzle to be how can people retain their faith in the face of such huge dissonance between the facts on the ground and the concept of a loving, caring God? Update - Jesus and Mo add to the debate on the problem of evil.

Christianity - An Irreverent History - "There is an omnipotent, omniscient God who has always existed. How do I know this, you ask? Well, I just do. Your mommy and daddy probably told you this; who are you to doubt them? Of course, the notion of omnipotence is a bit strange. Where did we get the idea of a God with infinite power? Why not just a God with great power, or one with quite a bit more power than we can imagine? I get the impression that theologians aren't very smart when it comes to infinity. It's probably better if you don't think too hard about it."  A thoughtful and amusing essay by Tim DeLaney Read on...

Honesty: The Muslim World’s Scarcest Resource? - is the title of a piece by Sam Harris in which he pillories politicians like Tony Blair and, in this instance Representative Keith Ellison, who claim that the exhortations toward violence and cruelty in the Quran are taken "out of context". Harris also acknowledges the Bible is also violent in places but makes the case that such exhortations "...convey the central message of the Qur’an—and of Islam at nearly every moment in its history."  This assertion is backed up by extensive quotations from the Muslim holy book taken from Harris's The End Of Faith. His main point is that the Quran, unlike the piecemeal Bible "...is a unified message of triumphalism, otherworldliness, and religious hatred that has become a problem for the entire world. And the world still waits for moderate Muslims to speak honestly about it." These divine commands to commit violence upon non-Muslims, redolent with bigotry and racism, cannot be dismissed, as they so often are, as out of context - they are the context. (For more on the Quran see the Skeptic's Annotated Quran. Also of interest Cosmology and the Koran: A Response to Muslim Fundamentalists by Robert Carrier and Qur'an: A Work of Multiple Hands? by Denis Giron. Both of these essays are courtesy of the Internet Infidels

Big Majority Of Britons Think Religion Should Stay Out Of Politics - As the census form plopped onto the doormats of most households this week, a major new piece of research has shown that only 54% of people in this country define themselves as Christian. More importantly, over two-thirds of respondents said they did not approve of religion and politics being mixed, or religion dictating policy-making. The survey (pdf) has been published by the Searchlight Educational Trust and was carried out by Populus. There were 5,054 respondents (much larger than the usual opinion poll, which usually questions around 1,000 people).

The poll also shows that as well as the 54% of people defining themselves as Christian, 35% say they had no religion and 7% were from other religions. The survey runs to some 395 pages and the following detail was extracted from a summary compiled by the British Religion in Numbers website. 23% said that religion was important to them, with 55% disagreeing and 22% neutral.

Just 7% said religion was the most important element in their personal identity. This compared with 35% for nationality, 24% for country of birth, 16% for the city, town or village in which they lived, 7% for ethnicity, 6% for their immediate neighbourhood, and 5% for the country of residence, where different from that of birth. Religion was the second most important influence on identity for 8% and the third most important for 10%.

55% never attended a place of worship in their local community. 8% claimed to go at least once a week, 5% at least once a fortnight, 6% at least once a month, and 26% less than once a month. The official figures for church attendance, however, which are based on counting the number of people actually in the pews, indicates that respondents to opinion polls overstate their religious observance quite substantially. (A rough calculation by our Executive Director suggests the numbers claiming to be in Church on an average Sunday equates to around 14% – which is double the actual number as counted by the churches themselves.)

Only 23% thought that, by and large, religion is a force for good in the UK. 42% disagreed and 35% expressed no opinion. A large majority of people in Britain are secularists, with 68% agreed that religion should not influence laws and policies in Britain, with 16% disagreeing and 16% neutral.

On a scale of 1 (= do not trust at all) to 5 (= trust fully), the mean respect score for local religious leaders was 2.95. This was lower than for the respondent's general practitioner (3.98), the local headteacher (3.44), women's institute (3.43), the local scout/girl guide leader (3.41) and the local branch of service organizations (3.31). 62% considered religious abuse to be as serious as racial abuse, but 38% viewed the latter as more serious.

60% believed that people should be able to say what they wanted about religion, however critical or offensive it might be. 40% thought there should be restrictions on what individuals could say about religion, and that they should be prosecuted if necessary. Significantly more, 58%, were in favour of limitations on freedom of speech when it came to race. 44% regarded Muslims as completely different to themselves in terms of habits, customs and values. Just 5% said the same about Christians, 19% about Jews, 28% about Hindus, and 29% about Sikhs.

42% said that they interacted with Sikhs less than monthly or never, 39% with Jews, 36% with Hindus, 28% with Muslims, and 5% with Christians. There were a lot of don't knows for this question. 59% did not know any Sikhs well as friends and family members, work colleagues, children's friends or neighbours. 55% said the same about Jews, 53% about Hindus, 41% about Muslims, and 8% about Christians.

32% argued that Muslims created a lot of problems in the UK. Far fewer said this about other faith groups: 7% about Hindus, 6% about Sikhs, 5% about Christians, and 3% about Jews. 49% contended that Muslims created a lot of problems in the world. Again, this was much less often said about other faith communities: 15% about Jews, 12% about Christians, 10% about Hindus, and 9% about Sikhs (tables 102–107).

25% viewed Islam as a dangerous religion which incites violence. 21% considered that violence or terrorism on the part of some Muslims is unsurprising given the actions of the West in the Muslim world and the hostility towards Muslims in Britain. 49% thought that such violence or terrorism was unsurprising on account of the activities and statements of a few Muslim extremists. 6% dismissed accusations of violence or terrorism by Muslims as something got up by the media (table 126).

On hearing reports of violent clashes between English nationalist extremists and Muslim extremists, 26% would sympathize with the former who were standing up for their country and 6% for the Muslims who were standing up for their faith. 68% would view both groups as bad as each other. 43% indicated that they would support a campaign to stop the building of a new mosque in their locality, against 19% who would oppose such a campaign, with 38% neutral.

In the event of such a campaign turning violent or threatening to do so, by the action of either of the disputing parties, 81% would condemn such violence but 19% would continue to support one side or the other. Interviewees were asked to react to the possibility of a new political party which would defend the English, create an English Parliament, control immigration, challenge Islamic extremism, restrict the construction of mosques, and make it compulsory for all public buildings to fly the St George's flag or Union Jack. 21% said that they would definitely support such a party and a further 27% that they would consider backing it. (The above originally appeared in Newsline, the National Secular Society's free weekly email newsletter which can be read online here. For other informative survey results consult Libertyphile - a mine of information)


March 22nd 2011

Pointless Display - although many secularists will be up in arms over the European Court of Human Rights' decision to allow the display of crucifixes in state school classrooms it is, despite the crowing from the Vatican, a pyrrhic victory for the religionists. The judge makes this point quite clearly when talking of crucifixes, "...describing them as an "essentially passive symbol" with no obvious religious influence". In other words the only reason they are allowed is that they are ineffectual. In fact "...the court found that while the crucifix was "above all a religious symbol" there was no evidence that its display on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils."  Nothing there to comfort Christians who wish to pervert young minds with their illogical death cult. So its retention on religious grounds is a hollow victory - now it needs someone to ask is it right that children should be exposed to representations of a human being nailed to a piece of wood. It is only the familiarity of the symbol that masks its gruesomeness. If instead of a cross it was a comparable form of barbaric punishment such as, say, impalement, you would soon hear complaints about exposing innocent children to such a horrific act. Still, it is now official - crucifixes have no influence on schoolkids - good. A tip - if you see a crucifix either on a classroom wall, or dangling from a devotee's neck, point at the figure on the cross and innocently inquire, " That's nice, who is it, Spartacus or Brian?"

Revelation - "Those not afraid to exercise their minds in more rational directions, who have not surrendered to a fear of the uncertain, have come to realize that the path of religion and revelation has been a colossal mistake, detrimental to the human spirit and potential, and with many injurious side effects: superstition, divisiveness from the individual to the international scale leading to wars and persecution, a stultifying of knowledge and education and the development of human rights."  Earl Doherty

Secularist Of The Year 2011 - Each year the National Secular Society makes a presentation of the Irwin Prize for £5,000 to a person who has contributed significantly to the secular cause over the previous year. The prize will be awarded at an awards ceremony in London on Saturday 19 March. Past winners have included Professor Steve Jones for his work on promoting evolution and resisting creationist claims; Maryam Namazie for her work in opposing the oppression of women in Iran; Evan Harris MP and Lord Avebury for their work in abolishing the blasphemy law, and in 2010 the title was awarded to the Southall Black Sisters for their work providing a secular space where women fleeing violence or injustice — often resulting from religious attitudes — can find a safe haven. This year among the nominations are a couple of somewhat unusual contenders. Sarah Palin, "...nominated because “she has done more for the cause globally to ensure Church and State should be kept apart than any other public figure.” and Pope Benedict (aka Rat Zinger) because “...he has turned more people against the Catholic Church this year than any paid-up secularist.” For a full list of nominees and details of the event see Secularist Of The Year. One nominee, European parliamentarian Sophie in 't Veld, has an article in the Guardian, The rise of Europe's religious right, a worrying look at religion's malign influence in the EU. Also see Concordat Watch

Fars Farce - the Daily Mail passes on an announcement from the Iranian Fars News Agency that the country which hangs children and stones women to death has invented a "flying saucer". The image accompanying the agency's news is "...a photo of a flying saucer, akin to one appearing in a 1950s Hollywood B-movie, hovering over an unidentified wooded landscape. The reports gave no indication of the spaceship’s size. But they indicated it was small by claiming, somewhat bizarrely, that it can also fly indoors." The truth of the story is contained in that last sentence - another Iranian news agency has revealed that the machine, far from being a flying saucer, is a small, helicopter-like surveillance drone. Perhaps it will come in handy to deal with those pesky Mossad pigeons.

We Love Number80.co.uk! - it is not often (never, until now) that 80 receives an unsolicited email with such a heartwarming title. One Candace Vaughan gushes "I started compiling some of my favorite resources for Christians after I was assigned a research project on that topic. From that research, I ended up publishing a great article here: http://www.onlinecollegedegrees.net/theology. I also came across your site and thought I might pass this link on to you as a thank you for you (sic) wonderful resources. I know this article would be a great addition to your information, and I'm sure that it could help many of your users. Let me know what you think!" 80 is far too well-mannered to do any such thing but would like to offer Candace this observation on the usefulness of theology - No God, No Point.

 

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