The View from Number 80

 

 

 

Backwards Glances Index 2011 part 4

 

A word of warning - owing to the Weekly Glance's attempted topicality some of the links below may be even more ephemeral than usual.

(Tip - a search for cached versions of missing sites is often productive using either Google or The Internet Archive Way Back Machine.)

 

September 1st 2011  The Missing Martyrs

September 5th 2011  That's No Moon

September 7th 2011  A Curse On Secularism

September 8th 2011  Race To The Bottom

September 20th 2011  Psychic Psally

September 26th 2011  Outrage Over Nothing

September 30th 2011  Burning Question

October 3rd 2011  No Flight For Mahmoud

October 6th 2011  Opportunist, Ignorant, Laughable

October 13th 2011  Testing Time For Sally?

October 17th 2011  On Bashing

October 21st 2011  Dude, Where's My Rapture?

October 30th 2011  Chuck Amuck

November 2nd 2011  Vive La France!

November 4th 2011  Dial-Twiddling Deity

November 11th 2011  Verse And Worse

November 15th 2011  Dowsing To Be Tested?

November 23rd 2011  A Proportionate Response

November 29th 2011  Sometimes It's Better To Keep Your Mouth Shut

December 6th 2011  No Crime To Be Gay

December 8th 2011  A Sartorial Signal?

December 12th 2011  Mulling Mullen

December 15th 2011  War On Christmas?

December 20th 2011  Laser Of The Lord?

December 29th 2011  Christmas Traditions

 

 

 

September 1st 2011

The Missing Martyrs - the good news from the UN is "A United Nations investigation has backed Israel's naval blockade of Gaza as legal..."  But, and there is always a but "...said its military assault on a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists last year, in which nine Turks were killed, was "excessive and unreasonable". Here's another "but" "The report notes that Israel has not satisfactorily explained how it is that most of the dead were shot multiple times, including in the back, and at close range. But it also said the organisers of the flotilla acted "recklessly" in attempting to breach the blockade." The UN team also said ""Although people are entitled to express their political views, the flotilla acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade. The majority of the flotilla participants had no violent intentions, but there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organisers."

Furthermore "Israeli Defence Forces personnel faced significant, organised and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded." Mistreated? Beaten with metal bars is more accurate. There were aboard several Turkish jihadis who had made "martyrdom" videos before joining the flotilla - it's funny that they are rarely mentioned. These men were clearly determined to die for their cause.

Here's another "but", "But the report said the Israeli force's response was excessively violent in killing nine of the passengers and wounding many more."  If you are surrounded by people screaming and beating you with metal pipes and waving knives and you have a gun, ask yourself, what would you do? You would shoot your assailants. Turkey's would-be Islamist government has now used the flotilla incident as an excuse for expelling the Israeli ambassador and is planning to sever military ties over Israel's failure to apologize for its soldiers defending themselves. Israel, especially Netanyahu's Israel, has many faults but they have nothing to apologize to Turkey for. Martyrs got martyred. If the IDF soldiers hadn't acted they would have attained the doubtful state of martyrdom themselves. (80 used the Guardian report, certainly no friend of Israel's for the above. The UN full report - is here in a fairly hefty PDF document, so expect a slow download if you don't have broadband. Also see Gaza Flotilla and Cropped Up

Quote - "Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principles that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument."  Ethan Allen (cited in Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World)


September 5th 2011

That's No Moon* - when a religion is so close its early medieval roots that it relies upon the sighting of astronomical phenomena to dictate the timing of sacred events what happens when the observers screw up? The Guardian tells us "It is a pivotal point in the Islamic calendar, the moment when a month of fasting and contemplation finally comes to an end. But the celebration of Eid this year has been marred by controversy after claims that Saudi religious officials announced the festival on the wrong day. Traditionally Ramadan comes to an end when the new moon is visible with the naked eye." Oops! Of course most of us couldn't give a rat's ass but to many millions of believers something like this shocking. It also demonstrates that far from being the universal religion it claims to be Islam is at heart is still very much an Arab religion.

We learn that "This year, officials in Saudi Arabia announced a sighting on Monday 29 August. Since then, however, astronomers have presented evidence to show that the moon was not visible at the time, and suggested that the Saudi officials may have actually been looking at Saturn." This story indicates that Islam, in this matter and so much else, is still stuck in the past. Interestingly,"The confusion has prompted some commentators to question whether the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims should follow rulings from Saudi clerics simply because the site of the holy pilgrimage, the Ka'aba, is located in the country." Perhaps next the necessity for reading the Quran in Arabic will be questioned - surely a universal god can be understood in any language? Anything that challenges the hegemony of Saudi Arabia and its austere and conservative strand of Islam can only be a good thing not only for Muslims but everybody else. *copyright Lucasfilm

You Will Adore God Or Else - or else what?  The Telegraph breaks the shocking news that "The majority of state schools in England are not holding traditional morning assemblies despite legislation making group worship a requirement..." Under the 1944 Education Act schools are required to provide broadly Christian worship. Yes, that's right worship. 80's dictionary has this under worship "A feeling of profound love and admiration". How on earth does one enforce such a thing? It's a complete nonsense. The teaching of comparative religion may well be useful but "worship" is irrelevant and demeaning and "enforced" worship is doubly so. How can one enforce adoration? You can't, as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore amply demonstrate in this excellent clip from Bedazzled. Update - from BBC news "The Comres survey for BBC local radio found 64% of the 500 parents questioned said their child did not attend daily acts of collective worship. But 60% of the 1,743 adults asked said the legislation should not be enforced."

 

Bluster Bus - The New Humanist blog alerts us to the fact that Islamic creationist tosser and Master look-alike has plastered his face and the message “Modern Science Demonstrates that God Exists” on the side of London double-decker busses. Naturally a plug for his childish and plagiaristic Atlas Of Creation is included. New Humanist have done a sterling job chronicling the bombastic oaf's past and current exploits including the excellent Sex, flies and videotape: the secret lives of Harun Yahya*. (The latter name being an alias of the great scholar) 80 last looked at Oktar in Master of Ignorance. *As in the song lyric "Harun Yahya, Harun Yahya, hey, hey, kiss him goodbye".

The Most Ridiculous Tea Party Protest Signs - A gallery of misspelled, illogical and moronic protest signs. Can something be hilarious and deeply depressing at the same time? Just take a look at this demonstration of the intellectual caliber of Tea Party types. (thanks to Jeremy)


September 7th 2011

A Curse On Secularism - when reading anything by Cristina Odone it is advisable to have a sickbag handy. In this article she darkly warns those MPs that don't follow the Christian line on abortion law amendments will lose their seats. As her example she cites Dr Evan Harris, a Lib Dem MP and an associate of the National Secular Society. She should have looked a little more carefully before commenting. She says "...a vote against the amendments may well cost you your post. The reason? Three little words: Dr Evan Harris. ... Dr Harris, who enjoyed a comfortable majority as Lib Dem MP in Oxford West and Abingdon (7683) had irked, with his secularist agenda, Christians in his constituency. During the election, Church groups lobbied against him. And they won: to the shock horror of the liberal establishment who revere Dr Harris for his right-on atheist fundamentalism, the good doctor bit the dust; Nicola Blackman, a young Tory, took the seat with a 17 majority."  Nothing to do with the country's distaste for Labour, Gordon Brown and chums, then?

Odone also fails to note that Harris was on the end of a particularly nasty and dirty campaign. This involved "About 10,000 leaflets ...distributed which make claims about Dr Harris’s stance on abortion and euthanasia and his views on religion." The leaflets claimed "Dr Harris promotes liberalising the law on abortion and embryo research and claims he is ‘one of the most out-spoken secularists in Parliament’. It also claimed "...he has been reported as having the nickname ‘Dr Death’ in Westminster." Harris's views are in fact not far removed from the majority of the British public. She accuses him of "right-on atheist fundamentalism". What on earth does she mean by that? Atheists don't believe in gods. 80's handy dictionary defines fundamentalism as "The interpretation of every word in the sacred texts as literal truth". It would seem to be an exclusively religious foible and not applicable to atheists. Of course her little phrase doesn't survive a moment's scrutiny - but then neither does the rest of her spiteful little diatribe.

It is obvious that Odone is flailing around in impotent rage because it would appear the amendment she favors is dead in the water - and her misuse of Evan Harris as an atheist bogieman is an act of desperation. Her final sentence on Harris's "downfall" sounds, perhaps not surprisingly, like a threat from a witch "That's quite a turnaround. And it should send a shiver of fear down every MP's spine today: you mess with people of conscience at your peril." Not once in the piece does she propose anything remotely resembling an argument and that last sentence is more of the same. By "people of conscience" she means Christians, thereby implying that those not of that faith have no conscience. If by "people of conscience" she means her fellow Catholics in particular she should ask herself and them what sort of conscience allows the widespread rape of children and concealment of the crime? The conscience of the men that run the church to which she belongs. Update - BBC news "MPs have rejected a bid to change the law on abortion counselling."

(courtesy of Jesus & Mo)


September 8th 2011

In dog we trust

Race To The Bottom - it seems to be accepted that Rick Perry came out on top in the latest debate between the Republican presidential hopefuls. Most of the action was between him and Mitt Romney with the other contenders reduced to being spectators, including Michelle Bachman. Without a trace of irony a report in New Republic said of the Texas governor “His total liberation from the constraints of reason give Perry a chance to represent the Republican id in a way Romney simply cannot match.”  It also compared him to George W Bush as though this was a good thing. What New Republic, the press in general, and the other debate participants may not know is Rick Perry's record on investments - in the porn industry. Politicususa.com tells us -

"Rick Perry, God’s Chosen to pray Texas into prosperity, invested as a private citizen in Movie Gallery corporation to the tune of between 5-10k according to his 1995 personal financial reports. Movie Gallery was, at that time, the largest distributor of porn in America, and able to sell and rent regular videos for much cheaper than the competition due to their heady porn profit. The ultra conservative American Family Association (AFA), a self-described “Christian organization promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on TV and other media” known for “(i)nitiating, encouraging Christian Activism,” ..."

The AFA must have a very short memory, as it recently was a partner in Perry's prayer rally. It's certainly a funny old world. But there's more -

"Rick Perry later passed laws to help companies like Movie Gallery avoid “frivolous” tort suits, after they were sued for allegedly violating the law by illegally distributing porn across state lines. This move was seen by some as a move to protect his investment in Movie Gallery, as he used the very word Movie Gallery used (“frivolous”) regarding the lawsuits they were fighting at the time."

It's a crying shame that the Republican race is a race to the bottom, one celebrating ignorance and prejudice. To accept that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are right in raising the alarm over global climate change, to accept evolution by means of natural selection instead of fairy tales, is the kiss of death in such a climate. This makes Jon Huntsman, who was pretty much sidelined along with Bachmann and the others, all the more remarkable for saying "I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012."

Perhaps it is unfair to say Huntsman was exactly sidelined for the LA Times tells us "...the former Massachusetts governor (Romney) was also repeatedly assailed by a feisty Jon Huntsman, who was trying to elbow his way into Romney’s political space. Huntsman also seemed to be making the moderate argument against Perry late in the debate when he made an appeal for rationality. “In order for the Republican Party to win, we can’t run from science. We can’t run from mainstream conservative philosophy,” Huntsman said. “By making comments that don’t reflect the reality of the situation, we turn people off.”" He is, of course, right but then he doesn't really have a chance in this wacky race. (Check out this debate Fact Check) Also see An Uneducated Fool

This picture is shown purely in the interest of balance and not to get a cheap laugh. Honest.

In Superstition We Trust - Pat Condell talks about the role of religion (read Christianity) in the politics of the USA.

 

(Can't see the video? Click here)


September 20th 2011

Psychic Psally - so-called psychic mediums are either money-grabbing, heartless ghouls or deluded. There is no third option. Which category does Sally Morgan "Britain's best-loved psychic" fall into? Read Psychic Sally Morgan hears voices from the other side (via a hidden earpiece) by Chris French and learn how one true believer was disillusioned after a strange incident at one of Morgan's shows. 80 wrote about Morgan's debut back in 2007 and the drubbing she received from Tony Youens - see Star Dreck(Chris French is a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and heads the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit) Update - the Daily Mail (who else?) has a piece about Morgan insisting that she does not cheat. Well, she would say that, wouldn't she? To repeat, so-called psychic mediums are either money-grabbing, heartless ghouls or deluded. There is no third option.

Comments - now and again 80 leaves comments on news web sites. These are usually short and not really worth space here but will in future be linked under the unoriginal heading of Comments. This will give readers a chance to see the original article that prompted a response and allow them to wade into the discussion should they wish. The first such link is to a Guardian opinion piece by Kevin McKenna and is titled Why I'm proud to be a Christian and a socialist - with the subheading "The vilification of traditional religious beliefs is a besetting evil of modern life". 80's response can be found here.

Have They Learned Nothing? - apparently not. The New York Times tells us "The growing influence of Islamists in Libya raises hard questions about the ultimate character of the government and society that will rise in place of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s autocracy. The United States and Libya’s new leaders say the Islamists, a well-organized group in a mostly moderate country, are sending signals that they are dedicated to democratic pluralism. They say there is no reason to doubt the Islamists’ sincerity." Islamists? Sincerity? Have they forgotten taqiyya? These fanatics will lie to anyone and everyone to advance their cause. If the Islamists play the election game and win a majority that would be the last vote the electorate would be allowed. Once voted in they will never be voted out. This has happened with the jailers of Gaza, Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya - are all prey for the Brotherhood. The brave women who played their part in the uprisings will find themselves marginalized and demeaned. The secularists and other dissenting voices will be silenced. To be alarmed about all this is not paranoid or imperialist but merely prudent. The so-called Arab spring may well turn to a permanent Arab winter without even a glimpse of an intervening summer.

 

Mìchele de Notre-Dame

Did Nostradamus Really Predict the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks? - this is just the kind of headline that plays havoc with 80's blood pressure - but not this time. The accompanying article is by Benjamin Radford of Skeptical Inquirer and is about the original (and later faked) predictions by Nostradamus. Talking of Skeptical Inquirer, this excellent magazine is now putting a lot of recent content online for free. One such item is Nostradamus: A New Look at an Old Seer taken from the investigative files of Joe Nickell. Nickell looks in detail at some of the more famous quatrains and finds claims of their predictive accuracy to be utter moonshine. Nostradamus has a typically informative entry in the excellent Skeptic's Dictionary as well.  Perhaps the best book on the subject is by the grand old man of skepticism himself, James Randi, and is called The Mask of Nostradamus: The Prophecies of the World's Most Famous Seer. But will all this erudite debunking have any effect on the prophecy nuts? Don't hold your breath. Nostradamus has now been dragged into the 2012 "end of the world" humbuggery.

Quote - "One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike--and yet it is the most precious thing we have." Albert Einstein

Morality Begins At Home - we learn from the Telegraph "The Pope has blamed the recent riots on the erosion of moral values in Britain and warned the Coalition that more trouble was likely if it did not bring down unemployment and spread wealth more fairly." Just what Britain needs, preaching on morality from the head of an organization which conceals the rape of children, children that were raped by its own staff.

 

 

Quote - "Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly."  Isaac Asimov


September 26th 2011

Outrage Over Nothing - the Telegraph and the Daily Mail both have their readers frothing at the mouth over the BBC's latest instance of political correctness. It seems that the order has gone out from the Beeb's apparatchiks to drop the Anno Domini dating system for the generally accepted world standard of Common Era dating. Of course this is an attack on Christian values, culture, blah, blah, blah. It seems that those scribblers such as the oaf Boris Johnson who are so offended by this move have not actually bothered to verify the story. In fact the BBC style guide leaves it up to the writer as to which system to use, saying, "both are common, so use whichever you prefer." (See Martin Robbins on this). Will the spluttering outraged defenders of our Christian heritage retract their column inches of seething, spittle-flecked invective? Don't hold your breath.

Quote - “I used to think that the vicars that I played or the exaggerated sketches about clerics were unreasonable satires on well meaning individuals, but, actually, so many of the clerics that I’ve met, particularly the Church of England clerics, are people of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extraordinarily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society." Rowan Atkinson in the Telegraph

The Questions That The Catholic Church Wishes It Had Never Asked - On the anniversary of the Pope's visit to Britain, the Catholic Church has been trying to spin it as having been a grand success that brought Catholics flocking back to church and had a profound effect on the religious attitudes of the population at large. In short, we're a better and more moral country because of the pope's little outing.

Except that, according to an opinion poll commissioned by the Catholic Church itself, hardly anyone remembers that it actually happened. And 91% said it made no difference to their moral outlook at all. Strangely, the Church doesn't seem anxious to draw attention to the results of this poll, which was carried out by Opinion Research Business among 2,049 adults.

In fact, 29% of those who were questioned said they couldn't remember hearing or seeing anything about the visit. 6% of those who say they did recall that the visit happened say they can't remember a thing about it.

Of the individual events — meeting the Queen, speaking in Parliament, meeting the Prime Minister — typically only 1% — or less — of those who had any memory of the visit recalled them. (A few were up to 5%.)

The biggest proportion of those who recalled anything about the visit (albeit only 11%) remembered the NSS's campaign about the enormous cost of the jamboree to the taxpayer.

And as for the impact it had – 91% of respondents said the pope's visit made no difference whatsoever to their personal or spiritual values.

Asked for their opinion of the pope, 41% said that it was "unfavourable" or "very unfavourable"; only 25% said it was "favourable" or "very favourable".

The above is from Newsline, the free weekly email newsletter of the National Secular Society - you can subscribe here.

...and the questions the church completely forgot to ask but 80 hasn't - What moral authority has an organisation which conceals the rape of children by its staff? Or lies about the efficacy of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS? Or would let a mother die in order to save a fetus?

 

menorah stamped on lead tablet

Lead Astray - 80 wrote in May of this year about some lead codices (also described as tablets) which were claimed to be early Christian documents, and the man promoting them, David Elkington - see Keep Faking The Tablets. As is evident from that title the tablets stink to high heaven. Now the Bible and Interpretation web site has issued a brief update to the story -

"None of the codices that have been released thus far for the public have proven to be authentic (including those which Elkington has supported as authentic) and none have shown to be more than the products of workshops, skilled in peddling fakes to tourists at a hefty price. It is also true that the iconography and even some of the script has roots in actual artifacts but these qualities were repurposed, out of context, from items found in museums in Jordan."

You can download/view a PDF document of the full update article here. It is well worth reading. Long story short, the tablets are a criminal waste of some perfectly good lead.

Atheism "Cool" - it must be true, the Archbishop of Canterbury says so. "I'm not avoiding the point that the coolness of atheism is very much in evidence. The problem is it's become a bit of a vicious circle. Atheism is cool, so books about atheism are cool. They get a high profile, and books that say Richard Dawkins is wrong don't get the same kind of publicity because atheism is the new cool thing. It's difficult to break into that, but plenty of people are trying." the primate waffled. Atheism is merely disbelief in gods - all of 'em. It is not cool or uncool. Atheists certainly have a higher profile now - not like the good old days when they knew their place - tied to a stake with smoke in their nostrils. Can the Archbishop make Christianity cool? "The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree."  Probably not.

That'll Be The Deya - there is some rare good news in the Guardian. Britain is finally to be rid of the obnoxious con-man "archbishop" Gilbert Deya who claimed that he, with the help of the almighty, could miraculously cause barren and post-menopausal women to give birth. Strangely, the miracle only worked if the women first travelled to Kenya where, oddly enough, he is to extradited to face charges of baby-trafficking. 80 has followed this story since 2004 (see Miracle Babies and updates) and it is good to know Deya is at last to be sent packing, although we have been fooled before - see Good Riddance. Also see Gilbert Deya and a Pain In the Anus.

Turban Turbulence - 80 has not seen this point made elsewhere but it is unlikely to be original - is it not deeply ironic given the manufactured row over the Mohammed cartoons, in particular the one with a turban bomb, that a Muslim dignitary should be murdered by just such a device? An unfortunate case of life imitating art. On a related note the Telegraph tells us "A Swedish cartoonist who has received death threats for depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a dog was the target of a planned attack in Gothenburg earlier this month, according to reports." Given Muslims' insistence that, unlike the idolatrous Christians, they have not deified their prophet, it is odd they are still prepared to commit murder over perceived insults to the fellow.


September 30th 2011

burning man

Burning Question - a recent case from Ireland involved a 76 year-old man found dead with severe burns - the coroner, having examined the evidence, came to a very strange, if not bizarre, conclusion. Dr Kieran McLoughlin stated that the man had died of "spontaneous human combustion" (SHC). SHC is defined the Skeptic's Dictionary as "...is the alleged process of a human body catching fire as a result of heat generated by internal chemical or nuclear action." The Irish case, as in many others where the facts are available, involved someone insensible, lying not far from a source of ignition. The insensibility in this instance may well be the result of ill health but can often involve the excessive intake of alcohol.

Rather than blazing it would seem that the unfortunate victims burned relatively slowly though a mechanism known as the "wick effect". The Skeptic's Dictionary enlightens us "...The ignition point of human fat is low and to get the fire going would require an external source. Once ignited, however, a "wick effect" from the body's fat would burn hot enough in certain places to destroy even bones. To prove that a human being might burn like a candle, Dr. John de Haan of the California Criminalistic Institute wrapped a dead pig in a blanket, poured a small amount of gasoline on the blanket, and ignited it. Even the bones were destroyed after five hours of continuous burning. The fat content of a pig is very similar to the fat content of a human being. The damage to the pig, according to Dr. De Haan "is exactly the same as that from supposed spontaneous human combustion."

The Irish coroner is asking us to believe that a totally mysterious phenomenon is the culprit, rather than a grisly accident involving an unconscious victim and an open fire. The Irish Independent report states "...fire officers were satisfied that, after a thorough investigation, an open fire in Mr Faherty's fireplace was not the cause of the blaze which led to his death." Fire officers and forensics experts have erred before and in 80's view this is far more likely than people spontaneously bursting into flame. Joe Nickell, an investigator of strange and paranormal claims, here reviews a book called Ablaze! and re-examines the evidence cited therein for the existence of SHC. He finds it lacking. In this article he revisits the book and comes to the same conclusion.

The same result is reached in this article from UK Skeptics which examines the so-called "fire triangle", a list of requirements for combustion " An oxidising agent. There are many oxidising agents other than oxygen; however, with the case of domestic fires it is oxygen from the air that acts as the oxidiser. A fuel. The fuel is the substance that reacts with the oxidizing agent during combustion. A heat source. This could be a spark, a flame, or a hot item like a cigarette, burning coal, or the bar of an electric fire. This is what ignites the mixture of fuel and oxidizing agent." In all supposed SHC cases where sufficient evidence is available the components of the triangle are present. Many of the cases cited in the press and on the web are poorly reported and lack enough information for a conclusion to be reached. This does not stop wild speculation masquerading as fact - as in the aforementioned Ablaze! On the balance of probabilities it is far more likely that an unconscious person near a source of ignition caught fire and burned to death due to the well-documented wick effect than some totally unknown process at work which causes human beings to burst into flames. SHC does not survive one slash of Occam's razor. (Also see FBI Debunks Spontaneous Human Combustion Despite Investigation, Believers Still Cite the Supernatural and Spontaneous Human Combustion. Thoughts of a Forensic Biologist.)

Courtesy of Jesus and Mo

The Preying Doctor - as is often the case with stories like this the Christian GP that pushed his religion at a vulnerable patient is being portrayed as the victim of persecution for his faith - see this report in the Telegraph and this one in the Daily Mail. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to know the real situation don't bother with the story as pedalled by those two but check out Prescribing Jesus by Nelson Jones, writing in the New Statesman. Here we learn that the doctor at the center of the story, Richard Scott, far from being unfairly persecuted for sharing his beliefs, is a Christian fanatic out to save souls. Jones quotes from an article by Scott in the magazine of the Medical Christian Fellowship dated 2002. "Evangelism is a job for all Christians, at all times and in all places, and Christian GPs are in a unique position to reach the lost in their local area. Sharing the gospel with patients is not an abuse of trust because God himself gives us the authority and salvation is their greatest need." He goes on (and on and on) " People are dying for the lack of the gospel message; eternal separation from God in Hell is their future. We are in a position second to none to reach the lost in our local area. We certainly have a greater access to non-Christians in a congenial environment than most fulltime ministers....Our territory, our peculiar mission field, is our patients." The miracle is that this pushy, preachy, arrogant, bible-bashing zealot has not been up in front of the General Medical Council misconduct tribunal before. (For more on poor, persecuted Christians see this nonsense from Lord Carey, the Prattling Prelate)

Quote - "Allah did not create a disease for which he did not also create a cure." Then why did he create the disease in the first place? Boredom? Cruelty?

Islamic Healing - instead of importing some of the more admirable products of western culture such as sexual equality, human rights or free speech, Islam is embracing the dregs instead. We have already seen the rise of Islamic creationism in the person of the laughable Harun Yahya and now we have "Islamic healing". Yes, the religion of peace has its own system of medicine, involving herbs and exorcisms. We learn "...a growing number of Muslims in Southeast Asia turning away from Western medical care in favor of al-Tibb al-Nawabi, or Medicine of the Prophet, a loosely defined discipline based on the Quran and other Islamic texts and traditional remedies." Furthermore "The trend in Islamic treatments, cosmetics and toiletries is often associated with fundamentalists who charge that Western, chemically laced prescriptions aim to poison Muslims or defile them with insulin and other medicines made from pigs."

Of course the real motivation is in fact good old-fashioned profit, just as it is in western "alternative" or "complementary" medicine. For all the whining about the greed of "Big Pharma" the alt. med. quacks are just as keen to coin it in - the World Health Organization says "Herbal treatments are the most popular form of traditional medicine, and are highly lucrative in the international marketplace. Annual revenues in Western Europe reached US$ 5 billion in 2003-2004. In China sales of products totaled US$ 14 billion in 2005. Herbal medicine revenue in Brazil was US$ 160 million in 2007." Naturally the Islamic medicine practitioners want a piece of this and are prepared to use their religion to line their pockets.

Quite how much of this profit funds Islamist groups is unknown but it would appear to be a useful source of revenue for some of them, "Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida-linked militant network that is essentially banned in Indonesia, is believed to have links to some herbal manufacturers and operate many of the country's Islamic medicine clinics..." 80 can hear the ad jingle "buy an Islamic pill, kill a blasphemous infidel". In the real world the only medicine that works is that which is evidence-based and which has shown to be efficacious in properly mounted, double-blinded trials - the rest is bollocks, comforting bollocks maybe, but still bollocks. Yes, Big Pharma can be greedy and unscrupulous - but so can Big Quacka.


October 3rd 2011

No Flight For Mahmoud - Popular Science informs us Iran Indefinitely Suspends Plans to Launch a Monkey into Space meaning that the Poison Dwarf Ahmadinejad is off the hook. For the original story see Why Waste A Monkey? Update - it now seems that the reason the flight was cancelled is that Iran had already launched and failed.

Quote - "The rash assertion that 'God made man in His own image' is ticking like a time bomb at the foundation of many faiths, and as the hierarchy of the universe is disclosed to us, we may have to recognize this chilling truth: if there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods."  Arthur C Clarke

 

Headline Of The Week - has to be Did Jesus die for Klingons too? At a recent symposium organized by the 100 Year Starship Study program, "...an effort seeded by DARPA to develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible." was German theologian Christian Weidemann. In his lecture he speculated about the effect on Christianity of the discovery of intelligent alien life. He said, according to the Mail, that the "...death of Christ, some 2,000 years ago, was designed to save all creation. However, the whole of creation, as defined by scientists, includes 125billion (sic) galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars in each galaxy. That means that if intelligent life exists on other planets, then Jesus or God would have to have visited them too, and sacrificed himself equally for Martian-kind as well as mankind."

Surely this isn't too much of a stretch for a magical being that is omnipresent and omniscient? What Weidemann reveals, in asking such questions is what a fallibly human and parochial invention Christianity really is. There is no conception in the Christian bible of the sheer awe and majesty of the cosmos that modern science has revealed - and why should there be? The writers could only reflect the state of knowledge in their own times and places. To try and stretch the fabric of Christianity to match the scale of the observable universe merely draws attention to the many holes revealed as the threads snap apart. Two quotes from the late Carl Sagan are well worth remembering in this regard.

"If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us, that we are the reason there is a Universe, does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?....For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?" Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way." A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.” Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Contrast And Compare - with EU membership stalled, probably for good, and trouble brewing in Cyprus, Turkish prime minister and "moderate" Islamist Erdogan  is polishing his anti-Israel credentials by saber-rattling once more. His recent attempt to reach out to the nearby Arab states has been all but rebuffed by those who could detect a whiff of the Ottoman Empire about him and so a little Israel bashing can't but help. We learn from the Telegraph that Erdogan "...accused Benjamin Netanyahu's government of "state terrorism" for its military incursions into Gaza in the past five years. "Tens of thousands* of Palestinians have been killed from bombs that have rained down on them from Israel," he said during an official visit to South Africa. "You sleep at night peacefully and secure, yet Palestinians can't find a single trace of peace in Palestine."  (Even according to this site, which is hardly pro-Israel, Erdogan's figure is way over the top)

Meanwhile, on the Palestine News web site, Hamas, the Islamist gang that uses Gaza as a launch pad, is crowing about its activities. Read on, courtesy of Google Translate. "Statistics indicate that during the last year of the uprising resulted in the Qassam Brigades, killing two people and wounding more than (31 Zionist) in a number of jihadist operations. Were also launched more than (84) mortar rounds and more than (30) missile between Grad and Qassam, while the total number of martyrs from the al-Qassam fighters (1697) as a martyr to the number of Qassam Martyrs since its inception to the (1842) a martyr. With regard to operations heroic reached number (4,300) process, has shown battalions that among the operations (61) martyrdom operation, (24) the process of capturing and (230) gun battle and (33) the storm and (423) bombing and ( 90) and a sniper (146) ambushed and (25) raid on the goals of Zionism."
 There are never any winners in a game such as this. Not Turkey, not Israel and certainly not the ordinary Palestinians. 

Happy News - "The US is increasingly portrayed as a hotbed of religious fervour. Yet in the homeland of ostentatiously religious politicians such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, agnostics and atheists are actually part of one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US: the godless. Far from being in thrall to its religious leaders, the US is in fact becoming a more secular country, some experts say. "It has never been better to be a free-thinker or an agnostic in America," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF." Read on...

Observer Effect - it is well-known that in the responsible filming of wildlife for documentaries the camera operator must not interfere and become part of the action. To do so would mean that it is not the "truth" that is being recorded but a construct, a fiction. It is a common assumption when watching the news on TV or increasingly these days on the web that the cameraman or woman is a dispassionate observer recording reality in order to inform us, the viewers, of what is going on in the wider world. This assumption, which should never really survive a moment's scrutiny, has been completely blown apart by an Italian photographer named Ruben Salvadori. See his film Photojournalism Behind the Scenes for a very different view of something we see almost nightly on the TV news shows.


October 6th 2001

Opportunist, Ignorant and Laughable - the deluded morons of the Westboro Baptist Church have jumped on the news of Steve Jobs' death - posting their bile by means of an iPhone. One Rachel Hockenbarger, a church member, defended the use of iPhones by her fellow loons, "Steve Jobs didn’t do squat. Man did not create technology. God created technology. He gave it to us [as] a gift and tool to preach to the world... But Steve Jobs taught people to pursue their own interest, he did not tell people to use technology to spread the word of God." Apart from this nonsense Hockenbarger also takes the opportunity to reveal her ignorance of the Christian bible, as well as Apple's history. A Washington Post blog tells us "Hockenbarger also said that Jobs’s creation of the Apple icon was “idolatry,” because of its similarities to the apple of Adam and Eve." The logo was not designed by Jobs and furthermore the fruit plucked from the tree in the Adam and Eve garden fable is not specified. It may have been an apple but it could just as easily have been a kumquat. Hockenbarger demonstrates how religious fundamentalism is inseparable from deep ignorance. She should be told of the Dunning-Kruger effect - on second thoughts maybe not, as she would be incapable of understanding it.

Ask for evidence button

Ask For Evidence - is the latest campaign by Sense About Science (SAS). "If you are concerned about the risks or benefits that are being claimed on a website, product, advert, advice, publication or policy announcement, ask the people responsible to show you their evidence. You don’t need to be a scientist to ask for evidence. Remember, you set the standard of what will persuade you to try something, agree with a proposal or buy a product." Check out the Sense About Science campaign page for help and information. Instead of seeing an ad and just wondering how on earth do these people get away with this nonsense - actually do something about it. This includes outrageous medical claims, make-up products, energizing drinks and wrist bands, and, believe it or not, MRSA resistant pyjamas. Remember Ask For Evidence!

When the homeopathy quacks squeal about a "disinformation" campaign it can only mean one thing - they are feeling a pain in the wallet. Woo Central - otherwise known as the Huffington Post - has a piece about "Two of the leading antagonists to homeopathy are James Randi (U.S.) and Tracey Brown (UK)." Everyone knows Randi but who is Brown? Managing Director of Sense About Science, that's who. Read the whole story over at Respectful Insolence.

Ten Years Later - Calamities of Nature looks at the USA's expenditure priorities.

Pat Condell - comments on the anti-Semitism endemic to Islam and then commits the heinous crime of claiming that the Palestinians are not sainted advocates of human rights. As 80 has noted elsewhere, Muslims imbibe Jew-hatred along with their mother's milk - and this hatred long predates the founding of modern Israel. The doublethink of the anti-Israel leftists who find themselves marching side by side with those calling for the extermination of Jews is staggering. "My enemy's enemy is my friend" was always a remarkably stupid assumption. 

 


October 13th 2011

Testing Time For Sally? - "Britain's best-loved psychic" Sally Morgan was in the news recently when it was suggested she was receiving information not from the spirits but from accomplices armed with a radio (Psychic Psally). This would hardly be the first time such a trick has been perpetrated - see the story of Peter Popoff and James Randi from 1986. (It is depressing that Popoff is now back in business - a testament not only to human gullibility but also the vulnerability of the grief-stricken and the desperate) Morgan is so upset by such an allegation (not to mention the threat to her extremely lucrative shows) she says she will " ...commence libel action in relation to press allegations that she is a cheat". Simon Singh, no stranger to libel actions himself, points out that "Her solicitor is unwilling to say who is being sued for libel, but we can be sure that the law is unlikely to shed much light on whether or not Sally is genuinely psychic. English libel law tends to quash debate and scare off critics, and we are unlikely to ever see a trial in which Sally will be asked to prove her psychic powers."

Singh's suggestion is that Morgan could put an end to doubts about her powers by agreeing for them to be tested. He says "I hope Sally will be glad to hear that I am working with the Merseyside Skeptics Society and Professor Chris French at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London, to construct a suitable test that would offer a chance to demonstrate whether or not she has psychic powers." Morgan may or may not wish to partake - in America psychic Sylvia Browne agreed on live TV in 2001 to be tested - this has still yet to happen. Another ghoul medium, James Van Praagh, has recently been the recipient of an open letter from D.J. Grothe, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) bluntly asking him why he is afraid of putting his talent to the test. The JREF offers a million dollar prize for proof of psychic powers but no one in the years it has been offered has won it. The testing protocols for the JREF prize
are agreed beforehand as fair and acceptable to all parties involved. This would surely have to be the case for Sally Morgan. Let's hope Morgan has the courage of her convictions and is happy to confirm she possesses the powers from which, it is estimated, she has made millions. Update - JREF keep up the pressure on Van Praagh with a zombie infestation.

 

Top 5 Executions - courtesy of Yahoo news to mark World Day against the Death Penalty here is a list of the five countries that carried out the most executions last year.

1 China
2 Iran
3 North Korea
4 Yemen
5 USA

In the USA "Texas is, by far, the leader in executions, with 17 carried out in 2010. If Texas were its own country, it would have been tied for eighth in the world with Syria."  Good ol' Rick Perry doing his bit to keep the USA in such good company. "In June 2002, he vetoed a ban on the execution of mentally retarded inmates. As of August 10, 2011, Texas has carried out 234 executions since Rick Perry became governor." Source: Wikipedia.

duck

Quacks Cash In - 80 wrote below about the vile Westboro Baptist Church exploiting the death of Steve Jobs. It seems it is not just religious loons that view the late Apple founder's demise as an opportunity, only this time the motive is financial rather than religious. Read Orac's takedown of the quacks seeking to make a buck out of Jobs' death at Respectful Insolence. These people are really beneath contempt.

facefungus

Inbred Beardnappers - the Amish folk, a Christian sect that eschews 20th century technology and tries to live in the past, has been in the news recently concerning an internecine feud. The married men of the sect pride themselves on their luxuriant beards (mustaches, not so much) and so when some of the sect were assaulted and had their beards trimmed (allegedly by this bunch of Mullets) it was considered pretty serious stuff.  (Oh, some women had their hair cut too but they are of lesser importance) Of more interest to 80 than the shaving spat was this line from a BBC report "The feud is thought to involve 18 Amish families, most of whom are said to be related." This is in fact unremarkable given that "...almost all Amish descend from about 200 18th century founders..."

Furthermore "...genetic disorders from inbreeding exist in more isolated districts. Some of these disorders are quite rare, or unique, and are serious enough to increase the mortality rate among Amish children." In keeping with the rejection of modern science and technology "The majority of Amish accept these as "Gottes Wille" (God's will); they reject use of preventive genetic tests prior to marriage and genetic testing of unborn children to discover genetic disorders."  It is their God's will that children be born with genetic disorders? That's a pretty crappy kind of god - or is it the Amish just kicking the blame upstairs for their children's health problems? In 80's view this sounds like child abuse worthy of prosecution. This disgusting situation is hardly mitigated by the Amish readiness to help with studies of genetic disorders.

Wrong Word - we learn "The archbishop of Canterbury has condemned "godless" assaults on Anglicans by a breakaway faction of the Anglican Church led by an excommunicated bishop aligned with Zimbabwe's president. Thousands of people cheered Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, at a Harare stadium on Sunday."  Despicable dictator Robert Gabriel Mugabe is a Roman Catholic and his minions are an unorthodox type of Anglican - god-botherers all. So what's with the "godless", Rowan?


October 17th 2011

On Bashing - there is an interesting juxtaposition of articles in the online Telegraph religion section today. First is a piece by Cristina Odone on "Muslim-bashing" as allegedly perpetrated by writer Douglas Murray in which she accuses him of blurring "...the distinction between the worst extremists and your ordinary Muslim". She receives a drubbing from irate, spluttering readers, many of whom are pretty extreme themselves. Right next door is a piece by Murray Wardrop subheaded "More than 400 allegations of physical abuse against young people at British Islamic schools were made in the last three years, figures show." Who blew the whistle on this disgusting state of affairs? "Muslim campaigners have warned that insufficient regulation is leading to some madrassas "destroying the lives of young people" and urged the Government to take action against offending institutions."

Astoundingly, we learn "Corporal punishment is legal in part-time education settings in England, including in madrassas, if lessons are taught for fewer than 12.5 hours per week." Why the hell is beating children permissible anywhere? What does the length of tuition time have to do with it? The clue in this instance is that these madrassas are not real schools imparting knowledge but religious forcing houses drumming Islam into the children's brains - using violence if it is deemed necessary. This religious and cultural indoctrination is nothing to do with the National Curriculum, which is what is taught in real schools.

When children are given into the custody of religious loons abuse and violence will surely follow - something Eire is now painfully learning, although the lesson is still lost on the Vatican. Madrassas have no place in the educational system of the UK. They have been in the news before for inculcating contempt and hatred in pupils for non-Muslims and contemporary culture and serve to breed extremist views. Banning them would only drive them underground so legislation is needed - not just for madrassas but also the totally unacceptable child-beating loophole referred to above. Also see from 2009 Call for more checks on madrassas and from 2007 Child abuse rife in madrassas and mosques. It seems little has changed. Update - click here for the BBC File On Four radio show on madrassas and child abuse.

(Courtesy of Jesus and Mo)

Dignity In Dying - “I find it selfish. We have freedom of religion in this country, but with that does not go the opportunity, because you are a person of faith, to impose your beliefs on others who do not share them.”  The actor Patrick Stewart speaking for the Dignity In Dying campaign group, of which he is a patron.

He's A What? - The Mail tells us "A Michigan country club has nixed an appearance by outspoken religion critic Richard Dawkins after catching wind of the fact that he’s an atheist. Mr Dawkins was to speak at the Wyndgate Country Club tonight in an event sponsored by the Center for Inquiry, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting a secular society through education, advocacy and research, according to the group’s website. But when top brass at the club saw Mr Dawkins’ appearance on The O’Reilly Factor last week and learned that he was an atheist, the event was rejected." Darn, these people are quick on the uptake. Sharp as a beachball... but just imagine the fuss there'd be if he was banned for his race or sexual orientation?


October 21st 2011

Dude, Where's My Rapture? - why are we all still here? Has Harold Camping screwed up again? Oh, he only said "probably". That let's him off, does it? He certainly seems to be lying low. Not even the most diehard loons among his followers will believe anything he says from now on. On second thoughts, don't bet on it. Also see US radio evangelist: Apocalypse now....And publishes weekend listening schedule... Update - Camping finally admits it was all a load of bollocks.

Quote - "I really am beginning to think as I’ve restudied these matters that there’s going to be no big display of any kind,’ he said The end is going to come very, very quietly."  says Harold Camping, serial Rapture prophet. So quietly that no one noticed, eh, Harold?

Bad Faith Awards - your vote is needed at New Humanist's Bad Faith Awards 2011. They have managed to whittle down a packed field to just 6 options from the sublime ridiculous to the ridiculous. They are Anjem Choudary, the pudgy sharia freak, the blindingly ignorant Nadine Dorries and Michelle Bachmann, Rick "Executioner" Perry, Melanie "Mad Mel" Phillips and last and least, Tom MacMaster. (who he?) Update - it seems that Dorries is aware that she has been nominated for this, ahem, prestigious award. Her response justifies her position as the front-runner. Update - Nadine keeps digging.

Quote - “You may be aware that more than 28,000 people voted for me during the general election and therefore I would query the relevance of your Twitter poll single numbers story”. Nadine Dorries  in the Bedfordshire News. One has to wonder how many will vote for you next time, Nadine, now that we've all got to know a bit about you. Also see Nadine's Nadir.

"I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." George Bernard Shaw

Leave It - once again Richard Dawkins feels he has to explain why he won't debate with William Lane Craig. Who? You may well ask. Craig has been referred to as a theologian but he is just another biblical buffoon who believes that he can justify the Old Testament god indulging in genocide and infanticide. All he wants from a debate with Dawkins is the publicity it would attract. Dawkins, on the other hand needs no publicity. The problem is that even an article such as the current Guardian one does indeed give publicity to the buffoon. Dawkins would be better served by simply ignoring this moron. If you think calling Lane Craig a moron and a buffoon is cheap abuse, even after reading Dawkins' article, see this piece, Pig Wrestling, from May of this year. Someone who does regret engaging with Lane Craig is physicist Lawrence Krauss - find out why here. Update - 80 stopped reading this piece on Dawkins' refusal to debate Lane Craig when the writer, Daniel Came, described Lane Craig as "...an intellectually rigorous theist". There ain't no such animal. Also see Robert M. Price, By This Time He Stinketh, The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus.


October 30th 2011

Horrific genetic throwback

Chuck Amuck - talking of arrogant twats that think the rules don't apply to them, it appears an unelected millionaire with only a tenuous grip on reality has been allowed to interfere with British government legislation. Yes, it's none other than Charlie (The Man Who Won't Be King) Windsor. We learn "From the London Olympics and gambling to children's rights and shipwrecks, the list of draft bills scrutinised by the Prince of Wales and his officials reads like the busiest Whitehall portfolio imaginable. The 62-year-old prince isn't a minister, an MP or even a lord; in constitutional terms, he is a subject of the crown like any other. But it has emerged that he has a far more formal role in shaping our laws than many people – legislators and civil servants included – ever knew." The Guardian boils it down to basics "...in 2011 a private individual enjoys a veto on public legislation because he is responsible for, and enjoys the benefit of, a huge private estate."  This is a ridiculous state of affairs when an unelected, deeply ignorant, overprivileged individual can meddle with legislation. Also see Heir Head and Seven Pillars Of Windsor.

Quote - "Better live a crossing-sweeper than die and be made to talk twaddle by a ‘medium’ hired at a guinea a seance." Thomas Henry Huxley

Medium Mocked - nice to see so-called psychic medium Derek Acorah getting the kind of attention he so richly deserves from Marina Hyde. She looks at Acorah's Halloween predictions for the "world of showbiz" and most unfairly compares them to last year's crop. Suffice it to say he doesn't fare well. It's amazing he dare show his face in public but such brazenness goes with the job. For an amusing look at how Acorah's powers failed to alert him to a set up take a look at Most Haunted Live - failed asylum seekers? and subsequent articles (here and here) from Tony Youens, back in 2005. It is a sad monument to human gullibility that Acorah is still making money from the same old crap 6 years on. Anyone who derives a living from the bereaved and the desperate in this way is beneath contempt. (Also see Two-Timing Tart for more fun on Acorah. See Testing Time For Sally? for news about Britain's "Best-loved psychic" Sally Morgan)  Update - more on the proposed test of Morgan's claims. 80 is prepared to bet that her powers are just as real as Acorah's. (Marina Hyde seems to be on a roll this week - read her take on Occupy London and the clerics of St Pauls) Update - Shock! Britain's "best-loved psychic" will not be taking any test. 80 chooses to draw the conclusion that her decision shows she has nothing to test. Not nothing to prove, but definitely nothing whatsoever to test. Simon Singh publishes email correspondence he has had with Morgan's solicitor. It's priceless.

Orr, Landes And Steele - these two opinion pieces on the recent highly asymmetric prisoner exchange between Israel and the Palestinians provide an interesting contrast. First up is Deborah Orr, writing in the Guardian, who claims the extreme lopsidedness of the exchange is "... simply an indication of how inured the world has become to the obscene idea that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives." Orr's interpretation of this verges on the deranged. Surely it also suited Hamas to have so many fighters return, in a deal brokered by Egypt. Is she suggesting that these two are in favor of "the obscene idea"? Of course not. After all, she is writing in the Guardian.

The other op-ed is by Richard Landes, writing in the Telegraph, and he takes a different view "The trade of over a thousand Palestinians for one Israeli highlights the radical differences between the cultures. As Hizbullah’s Nasrullah put it after a prison exchange in 2004: “We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.” "

On a tangential note, but also betraying a typical Guardian slant on things, is this piece on the Tunisian elections from Jonathan Steele. The Islamists, An-Nahda won, or rather the "party of modern democratic Islam" won, as Steele puts it. That such a thing as modern democratic Islam exists has yet to be proved. A religion that brooks no dissent and has authority over every aspect of life, private and public and democracy, even the flawed democracy of Europe and the USA, are fundamentally incompatible. Time will tell if Tunisia can cope with this dichotomy.

Meanwhile Steele is not so carried away with the Islamist victory that he can't spare the time to attack the party poopers, the "...several smaller secular parties (that) tried to manipulate Islamophobia..". How does Steele know that the secularists are not Muslims? The answer is that he doesn't. It would be surprising if such a veteran journalist as Steele doesn't know what secularism means - but then the alternative would imply he is taking an entirely gratuitous swipe at legitimate, electoral participants who happened not to be campaigning under Islam's banner. That he uses the phrase "secular fundamentalism" and the lazy nonsense word Islamophobia is far from encouraging.

That the Tunisian elections were free and fair is generally agreed and is undeniably an admirable achievement. The Islamists will be serving in a coalition government alongside secular parties. At the moment they are definitely talking the democracy talk but how much of that talk is dissimulation? See here a piece from the New York Times  in 1994 featuring a conversation with the founder of An-Nahda, Rachid Ghannouchi. Here he is on secularism "In Western societies, secularism is a sort of religion. The worship of the mind in France, for example, is a religion. In Islam there is no such option. It is not possible to separate the human being from his religion."  When (if) the next election is called it will be revealing to see which players are left to campaign for votes.


November 2nd 2011

Quote - "Let's be cautious. There's every reason to believe it's the work of fundamentalists but it could just as well be the work of two drunks."  Luz, a cartoonist from Charlie Hebdo.

Vive La France! - we learn from the Telegraph about French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo "In order fittingly to celebrate the Islamist Ennahda's win in Tunisia and the NTC (National Transitional Council) president's promise that sharia would be the main source of law in Libya, Charlie Hebdo asked Mohammed to be guest editor," said a statement. The weekly has been rebaptised Sharia Hebdo for the occasion, and will feature on its cover a picture of Mohammed saying: "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter!"  Hebdo has form in this area - see Just The Facts from 2007 and the truth about the entirely manufactured Motoons row.

Update - a BBC report tells us "The offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have been destroyed by a petrol bomb, French police say."  Islam, the religion of resentment and blame is inherently humorless and, it goes almost without saying, violent. It is fortunate no one was injured or killed. Naturally the Beeb repeats the line "Depiction of the Prophet is strictly prohibited in Islam."  This is not strictly true.

Update - according to this story "A French satirical weekly whose office was fire bombed after it printed a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad has reproduced the image with other caricatures in a special supplement distributed with one of the country's leading newspapers." So, the firebomb has perhaps increased exposure for Hebdo. At least that's what the circulation figures imply. (Hebdo, Liberation)  While we're here, what's with that capital 'P'. This shows up a lot these days. There have been truckloads of prophets - Arthur C Clarke, Alvin Toffler, or Zarquon for instance. They only rate a little 'p'. Perhaps it is an example of ingratiating capitalisation - how dhimm.

Useful Idiots For Palestine - is Pat Condell's latest piece to camera. This video will no doubt offend many people but others may well learn something.

(Can't see the video? Click here) 

The Nightingale Collaboration - has some welcome news. "Boots Pharmacies have been told to stop listing medical conditions in their in-store advertising of homeopathic products by the medicines regulator, following a complaint by Simon Perry. The point-of-sale advertising in Boots stores recommended homeopathic products as suitable treatments for a wide range of medical conditions including allergies, infections, insect bites, headaches and earaches. But homeopathic products contain only sugar — they have no active ingredients." Read on...

 

Horrific Fox/Weasel chimera

For Fox' Sake - the Guardian tells us that disgraced defence secretary Liam Fox "... hopes to return to government after taking "personal responsibility" for his mistakes." This is the irresponsible idiot that broke the ministerial code of conduct, allowed access to meetings by his chum Werrity, a man with no security clearance, and continued to do so despite being warned. As for taking personal responsibility, here is Fox setting a fine example "I accept that it was a mistake to allow the distinctions between government and private roles to become blurred, and I must take my share of the responsibility for this." Big of him to accept it was a mistake - although mistakes, plural, is the truth of it. There were multiple instances of him breaking the ministerial code. As for "taking his share" of responsibility he was entirely to blame - there is no need to share it, it's all his. He comes across as not so much a Fox, more like a weasel - and a bloody arrogant one at that.


November 4th 2011

Dial-Twiddling Deity - it is not just paranormal investigators that like to cloak their nonsense in science. The Register informs us "The Vatican hosted a conference of physicists and other boffins this week amid claims that its recent musings on the financial crisis constitute a call for the appointment of the long-awaited antichrist." To amplify "The Vatican called for a "global public authority" to overhaul the sputtering, chaotic global economy, which it said was putting democratic institutions at risk. However, US evangelical bloggers have seen through this apparent bit of clerical wishful thinking, exposing it as a veiled call for the antichrist to come forth." Great, let's see these nuts settle the issue by mud-wrestling - always more interesting than theology - but then watching paint dry is more interesting than theology. One of the evangelical bloggers with the evocative name of Chris Perver sounds quite the match for Catholic clerics, many of whom are no strangers to perving themselves. The Reg article does mention that one attendee at the conference at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Raphael Bousso, remarked upon the impression that the Universe seems fine-tuned for the development of living beings, something that many clerics think allows some room for their little God of the Gaps. According to Bousso "Naively it looks like somebody was playing with a lot of dials and turning them exactly to the right places to end up with this large, complex-rich set of phenomena that we see when we look out the window and that, from a scientist's point of view, is a very bizarre situation to be faced with." Note that he prefaced his remark with the word "naively". Life, or at least the bit we know about, would seem to exist only because of this dial-twiddling - at least that's the way the religiously inclined like to see it. The fact is that as life evolved within the Universe and adapted to survive in it would be bloody amazing if it didn't look "fine-tuned". Fine-tuned by natural selection, that is, no deity required.

Asking For It - for years many conspiracy theorists have claimed the US government is in touch with aliens. The genesis of this uninformed speculation was probably in the rumors and nonsense surrounding the highly-embroidered events at Roswell and it has become, along with a dose of alien-derived tech from Area 51, a modern day pop-cultural fixture, even being incorporated into the plots of Hollywood blockbusters such as Independence Day and Men In Black with little exposition required. Many intrepid UFO investigators have tried to prove that Uncle Sam is sitting on the secret of alien contact - 80 wrote in June 2001 about the Disclosure Project which is still going strong. Recently in an outreach program the US government set up a petition web site called, rather cutely, We The People. The Washington Post tells us "It allows anyone to create a petition, or sign an existing one. The site first said that if a petition reached 5,000 signatures within 30 days, it would be reviewed by policy officials in the administration." Unsurprisingly the threshold has now been raised to a more sensible 25,000 signatures. Before this happened some UFO investigators and conspiracy types hit upon a brilliant scheme to get the government to come clean on the whole alien thing. They decided to ask it. Sneaky, huh? Subsequently there appeared on We The People "...two separate, but similar petitions: “Immediately disclose the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings.” You can imagine the petition's authors rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the government's admission. What they actually got was what any sane person would expect "The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.” Perhaps next time the petitioners can ask about the lizards who really run the planet.

The Data So Far

The Data So Far

Why Sally Morgan was wise to duck the test

(image courtesy xkcd)

Quote - "I was appalled by the way we bailed out the bankers. Who then gave themselves bonuses! I found that appalling! Appalling… Where's your fucking shame?" Joanna Lumley, an actress in danger of becoming a national treasure, interviewed here.

And The Point? - here is an odd little article by Keith Ward who is, among other things a theologian. He writes about the compatibility or otherwise of science and religion. He seems to have a little trouble with distinguishing "statements of fact" and actual facts as in "Many religious statements are naturally construed as statements of fact – Jesus healed the sick, and rose from death, and these are factual claims." Naturally construed? By whom? These are claims only - there is no way any facts can be extracted from such claims. If anything, the life and deeds of Christ would seem to have been fabricated by the evangelists referring to what they assumed were prophecies about the messiah and producing a biography to match. (Something Terry Eagleton fails to understand, apparently) This, at least in their eyes, was not dishonest. Their aim was not history but the proclamation of the gospel. Religion, in this case Christianity, makes "factual claims" many of which are not amenable to scientific analysis but those claims that do intrude into the real, material world very definitely are. In such cases where there is conflict, science invariably wins - see god of the gaps. Ward compares religion to history, stating "Much history, like much religion, is evidence-based, but the evidence is not scientifically tractable." This makes little sense in that the modern tools of archaeology from radio-carbon dating to DNA analysis can provide us with facts about some historical events. Not all the time certainly, but history's record on this beats religion hands down. But then religion's score is zero. All Ward has achieved here is to confirm 80's opinion of the usefulness of theology.

Quote - "The essence of science is that it is always willing to abandon a given idea for a better one; the essence of theology is that it holds its truths to be eternal and immutable. To be sure, theology is always yielding a little to the progress of knowledge, and only a Holy Roller in the mountains of Tennessee would dare to preach today what the popes preached in the thirteenth century." H L Mencken


November 11th 2011

Verse And Worse - to celebrate the 400th anniversary of that fine repository of the English language, the King James Bible, a project called the People's Bible, a "...a national tour to produce an entirely handwritten Bible" has been launched. Celebrities have kicked things off by writing out their favorite verses and will be followed by us riff-raff as things proceed. The worthies that have contributed so far include David Cameron, Prime Minister, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Charlie Windsor, unemployed, and many others. The choices are all, so far, fairly predictable although the Guardian pretends otherwise in the case of Cameron. We are told he wrote his verses at Downing Street although the accompanying photo shows him sitting, looking pensive, at a garden table with a mug emblazoned with another mug, that of the Queen, artfully stationed at his elbow. When all the great and the good have contributed there will still be plenty of inspirational verses left from which to choose. Find below some suggestions which 80 would like to contribute, written in crayon...

Psalm 137.7-9 - "Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."

Jeremiah 46.10 - "This is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood."

1 Timothy 2.11-12 - "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

Facebook Of Numbers - Jesus Daily is "...the first ever religious-oriented Facebook page to gain over 10 million fans". That is certainly an impressive number but the same news item puts things into perspective "...the most popular page, in any category, on the social networking site is Zynga's ‘Texas HoldEm Poker' which has over 52 million fans."  A clear win for Mammon there, then. 80, being an old duffer, still struggles to understand the actual point of Facebook.

No, Thank You, I'm Not Superstitious - is 80's response to doorstep bible-bashers when time is short. If you do have some time be prepared and check out Austin Cline's handy little primer How to Tongue-Tie a Theist - Questions to Ask Theists To Prevent Preaching. A favorite entry here is one that 80 has deployed to good effect. If your caller mentions god (and they inevitably will) ask he or she to clearly define what they mean by that term. The results are often interesting. A variant of this is asking to which god do they refer, after all, humankind has dreamed up and discarded so many. Most of the time this will go nowhere as these people have come to preach at you and not talk with you. A friend has said to religious callers that she is busy right now but if they leave their address she will drop round to their home another time to talk about atheism. There have been no takers so far...

Plucked From The Interwebs - here's some of the low-hanging fruit that have caught 80's rheumy eye over the last few days. First up is John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and top man but one in the C of E. This loon thinks the cash-strapped National Health Service (NHS) should cough up for exorcists. Of course that's not quite how he couched it but the end result is the same. The Telegraph informs us "...during a debate on NHS reforms to illustrate his belief illnesses can be spiritual as well as physical and mental, and that the health authorities should cater for all of them" Sentamu supplied a weird little anecdote about an exorcism he performed, in which  "... he freed the spirit of a girl who feared she was going to be sacrificed by witches"  This he did by anointing her with oil and lighting a candle. The NHS already pisses good money away on chaplains as it is, without bringing in bloody exorcists. The Royal College of Nursing has published figures that show "The minimum starting salary for nurses is £20,710 pa and for chaplains it is £25,829, plus they also get extra for being called out, plus an additional amount as a national recruitment and retention payment of nearly £4,000. In all, a new-starter chaplain will probably earn around £32k pa." The NHS, according to the National Secular Society, "...employs around 1,000 full and part-time chaplains..."  Why can't the Church pay these people itself if they are so vital? The money then freed up could pay for nurses, cleaners and porters, who although they keep the whole show on the road, are paid far less than the god-botherers.

Dog Gone - once again it is the Telegraph presenting the news that matters "A team of paranormal investigators have claimed they have made contact with the "spirit" of the dog owned by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the heroic pilot who led the Dambusters raids during the Second World War." At least the sub-editor had the decency to put scare quotes around the word spirit. We are told that stories grew up of sightings of this deceased mutt. These attracted what must be, along with theologians, quite some of the most pointless individuals on the planet, paranormal investigators. Aiding these sad types in their fantasies was the RAF who gave them access, and the BBC who filmed their ghosthunting activities. The report dutifully repeats the investigators' maunderings and tells us "...the specialist kit used by the paranormal team were infra-red lights, proximity sensors and video cameras." Oh, very specialist kit. These people are seeking a non-material entity using devices for detecting material entities - brilliant! Gibson, the claimed subject of their probings, didn't show - but then, if you read the whole story, neither did the dog. As the report has it the investigators "...have claimed that the spectre of the dog's spirit may have tried to speak to them as they have picked up activity on their electronic detection equipment." Did he bark or can ghost dogs speak English? The Telegraph also consulted a historian, who, although not a believer in the supernatural, vouchsafed "...I think anything that helps to keep the memory alive of the things those lads did in the Second World War is a good thing." The Dambuster crews do not need silly uncritical twaddle about ghost dogs to keep alive the memory of their bravery. Although maybe Sally Morgan could turn something up - perhaps some ghostly radio messages from a long dead wireless operator.


November 15th 2011

Dowsing To Be Tested? - at least that is the impression from the headline in the Guardian, Dowsing competition pits diehard believers against sceptics. Anyone who can be bothered to read the accompanying text will see it is really nothing of the sort. The dowsing in this instance is not out in the landscape with hazel wands or L-shaped metal rods but the armchair kind. Andy Burnham, of web site The Megalithic Portal, has devised "...a kind of prehistoric spot the ball, requiring nothing more arduous than printing out his maps. He has removed all identifying features, but the maps do show real places, and there are real objects concealed in them: a newly identified piece of rock art, not yet listed on any database, and a buried quartz boulder near an ancient site." This sounds like a guessing game rather than any test of dowsing abilities - the more folk who participate the more folk are likely score a hit. But then maybe this never was a serious test of dowsing but a way to up the visitor numbers of The Megalithic Portal by playing what is no more than a game - hence the spot the ball reference.

In fact this location method owes little to traditional dowsing but much more to so-called remote viewing (RV). The CIA threw away a substantial amount on money on this silliness whereby certain "gifted" individuals attempted to locate targets, say a Soviet missile site, from looking at maps. Some of those who participated in the Stargate Project are still trading on their CIA credentials although the whole thing was an abject failure. See What's In A Name to learn of the unholy alliance of pseudoarchaeology and RV. For information on traditional dowsing and its failure to perform as claimed in any properly conducted test the following links are useful. The Matter of Dowsing by the redoubtable James Randi is a very good place to start, followed by the entry in the excellent Skeptic's Dictionary which also looks at the modern and potentially lethal con of selling dowsing rods to detect concealed explosives. The Iraqi government purchased thousands of the things. The Skeptical Inquirer provides us with Testing Dowsing: The Failure of the Munich Experiments which goes into great detail about a German government funded investigation and the flawed conclusions that were drawn from the results. Update- the story has caught the attention of James Randi, see A Map-Dowsing Competition? We Can Do Better Than That.

Seeing Treble - the Telegraph reports "A poor farmer living in central China has become a celebrity after a visiting journalist noticed he bore a striking resemblance to Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister." And then there were three.....


 

In These Trying Times - we read "Britain's 'cheapest' lunchtime meal was unveiled by scientists on Wednesday - the toast sandwich. The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is reviving the mid-Victorian dish, which, unsurprisingly, consists of two slices of bread around a slice of toast. The society is so confident in the repast, it will offer £200 to anyone who can create a cheaper alternative."  Um, roadkill?

You Decide! - a load of old recycled pictures with minimally informative captions or an interesting slide show of alien and UFO sightings and famous hoaxes? See here.

A Nice Pair - of articles by Christopher Hitchens (linked below) on a distinctly unsavory pair of politicians in the form of Republican presidential nomination contenders, Texas governor Rick Perry and ex-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. Perry is quite happy to promote his nonsensical religious beliefs and employ them as part of his campaigning while Romney would be much happier if his own weird religious beliefs were not dragged into the spotlight. Even while battling serious illness Hitchens is still one of the best commentators around on the weird interface of religion and politics in a country where "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."  Rick Perry's God and Romney’s Mormon Problem are highly recommended reading for bemused observers of the bizarre world of American politics.

Toxic

(Thanks to jesusandmo.net)

Why Not? - P Z Myers takes on the old line from theologists, in this instance one Michael Voris, desperate to justify their profession "The fields of science can offer all kinds of information in answer to the question how… through the observance of the human intellect. But when asking the question why, man MUST turn to the divinity of the Creator." God as an answer makes as much sense as the testy parent's response to the why question from a persistent child, "Because I say so"


November 23rd 2011

A Proportionate Response - there is an increasingly popular type of pseudoscience that tries to reconcile real, evidence-based science with the witterings of the Quran. In fact the claim is made that all of modern science's discoveries were prefigured in the Muslim magic book. One person seemingly unaware of the fatuity of such claims is the Islamic creationist Harun Yahya aka Adnan Oktar. Now he is joined by one Hamza Andreas Tzortzis with a paper on embryology. Enter P Z Myers, professor of biology and prolific atheist blogger. A recent post of his, Islamic embryology: overblown balderdash, looks at the claims made in Tzortzis' paper and gives them just the sort of attention that they deserve. Here is the first paragraph, which quite made 80's morning. "I have read the entirety of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis’ paper, Embryology in the Qur’an: A scientific-linguistic analysis of chapter 23: With responses to historical, scientific & popular contentions, all 58 pages of it (although, admittedly, it does use very large print). It is quite possibly the most overwrought, absurdly contrived, pretentious expansion of feeble post hoc rationalizations I’ve ever read. As an exercise in agonizing data fitting, it’s a masterpiece."  Myers' blog, Pharyngula, is well worth making a regular port of call, his excellent posts elicit comments from his tentacled horde of followers that are often in turn witty, hilarious, erudite and profane. Also check out the other Freethought Blogs such as Ophelia Benson's Butterflies and Wheels.

"Some national cultures, the ones that have inherited certain ideas -- about freedom and democracy, the limits of the political claims of religion, the importance of tolerance and dissent -- are more humane than other civilizations, which reject those ideas."  David Brooks

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia - we learn "An American man has brought a wrongful dismissal suit over his former employer's attempt to make him wear the number of the beast - in the guise of a safety record sticker. Billy E Hyatt alleges that he was fired from the Pliant Corp plastics factory in northern Georgia for refusing to wear a sticker declaring the factory had been accident free for 666 days, Courthouse News reports." Hyatt joins other sufferers of hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan who had their house re-numbered. Now obviously this is all bollocks but it is even more bollocks than many people may realize.

Apparently,"A newly discovered fragment of the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament indicates that, as far as the Antichrist goes, theologians, scholars, heavy metal groups, and television evangelists have got the wrong number. Instead of 666, it’s actually the far less ominous 616. Professor David Parker, Professor of New Testament Textual Criticism and Paleography at the University of Birmingham, thinks that 616, although less memorable than 666, is the original. He said: “This is an example of gematria, where numbers are based on the numerical values of letters in people’s names. Early Christians would use numbers to hide the identity of people who they were attacking: 616 refers to the Emperor Caligula.”  At least Caligulaphobia is easier to spell and pronounce.

Beastly Numbers - 666 Biblical Number of the Beast, 665 Number of the Beast's Older Brother, 0.666 Number of the Millibeast, 25.8069758... Square Root of the Beast, WD-666 Spray Lubricant of the Beast. Right, that's quite enough.

John Neville - the actor, who has just died, won a place in 80's affections for his masterly portrayal of the title role in Terry Gilliam's excellent The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. If you've not seen it give yourself a treat and do so.

Quote - “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”  Christopher Hitchens

In God They Trust - is the latest article by Christopher Hitchens on "How the conservative belief in American exceptionalism has become a matter of faith." An archive of Hitchens' recent pieces for Slate can be found here

iRabbi Speaks - in a recent speech bemoaning what he sees as our selfish consumer culture, the UK's chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks said “The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTunes, i, I, I,. When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about 'I’, you don’t do terribly well.”

Before addressing the audience he should have checked what the "i" prefix means in Apple product names - surprise, surprise it doesn't mean "me". Sacks is likely right about our consumer culture, but he distracts us from his point by the silly and inaccurate Apple/Jobs jibe. Oh, and he's wrong on the god thing as well. “What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have." 80 is not thanking god for his shiny new Android tablet, but advances in technology, a birthday and a very generous friend. Update - paradoxically, this is the same selfish culture that has just contributed over £26,300,000 to Children In Need. Update - Sacks backpedals

What Would Jesus Do? - Lock and load. We learn that "The man charged with attempting to assassinate President Barack Obama described himself as "a modern day Jesus" in a rambling video tape sent to the Oprah Winfrey channel." He said "It's not just a coincidence that I look like Jesus. I'm the modern day Jesus Christ that you have all been waiting for." Police later found in the suspect's car "A high-powered rifle with a scope and several magazines of ammunition ... along with an aluminium baseball bat and a set of brass knuckles." That clinches it. These are just the things Jesus would be packing in modern day USA. A savior for our times. In the right hands even a crown of thorns can become a ninja-style death star.

Duty Calls

(Thanks to xkcd)


November 29th 2011

Sometimes It's Better To Keep Your Mouth Shut - It's funny that in today's connected world some folks are still unaware of the Streisand Effect. One recent example is the Vatican, which by complaining about an ad that showed the Pope kissing an Egyptian imam, gave priceless coverage  to clothing firm Benetton. The other instance of own foot-shooting is someone called Marc Stephens, who has been sending a British blogger, Andy Lewis, quasi-legal threats by email, for writing about a cancer quack. This has backfired as the subsequent row has renewed interest in the medical claims of the man Stephens claims to represent, Stanislaw Burzynski. He will not be pleased that he now has a new paragraph added to his Wikipedia entry just to cover Stephens' spittle-flecked threats. See The Burzynski Clinic Threatens My Family and Respectful Insolence. Here is one of the many entries for Burzynski at Quackwatch. Update - the Streisand Effect strikes. The Guardian has an article The schoolboy blogger who took on a US clinic which informs us "The Burszynski (sic) clinic has since suggested Stephens is a web marketing contractor..."  A web marketing contractor moonlighting as a pretend lawyer who is given to issuing threats in order to stifle critics of quackery. Charming. Update - more unwelcome scrutiny for Burzynski in this article by Rhys Morgan, The Burzynski Clinic is using libel laws to silence critics of its cancer treatment. Check out the comments and play Spot the Troll. Update - there is now a campaign to urge the FDA to follow up on a warning letter to the Burzynski from 2009. It only takes a minute to send an email. Here's a petition as well. Update - who does Marc Stephens think he is? This interweb thingy is jolly good, isn't it?

keep libel laws out of science

"It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand." Mark Twain

Biblical Truth - the National Secular Society brings what at first sight seems to be bad news. "...the Prime Minister is planning to send a King James Bible to every school in the country, complete with a foreword by Michael Gove, the Education Minister." In 80's view this could be a good thing but only if the pupils have to read the whole Bible, not just the bits selected for them. By doing so they will see that lot of this collection of ancient writings is applicable only to the time when it was written. They will also see the collection is replete with violence, racism, cruelty and bigotry (Numbers 25 is a very good example). Many have claimed that reading the Bible, again not just the bits chosen by the church, led them to atheism. Those that come to read the Bible either in church or Bible Study are not reading the whole thing, not by any means. They are fed the bits that suit the church, a bowdlerized version, never looking at the rest. The more children that actually read the whole Bible the more of them will reject it. Also see The Freethinker on this subject.

"Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions." Pew Research Center, U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, 2010."

Daft Old Muggle - from the Telegraph, contrast and compare "Father Gabriele Amorth, who for years was the Vatican’s chief exorcist and claims to have cleansed hundreds of people of evil spirits, said yoga is Satanic because it leads to a worship of Hinduism and “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”. Reading JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books is no less dangerous, said the 86-year-old priest, who is the honorary president for life of the International Association of Exorcists, which he founded in 1990, and whose favourite film is the 1973 horror classic, The Exorcist. Yet this silly old bugger "...has previously said that people who are possessed by Satan vomit shards of glass and pieces of iron and have such superhuman strength that even children have to be held down by up to four people. He has also claimed that the sex abuse scandals which have engulfed the Catholic Church in the US, Ireland, Germany and other countries was proof that the Anti-Christ is waging a war against the Holy See."  It is obviously way past time Father Amorth retired to join his fellow loons in a nice rest home like the one below.

 


December 6th 2011

No Crime To Be Gay - “I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes. They can and they do. Just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable. But it should never be a crime to be gay.”  Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, in a speech announcing that the Obama  administration will actively combat efforts by other nations that criminalize homosexual conduct, abuse gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered people, or ignore abuse against them. Clinton also said “Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same.” 

Countries affected include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and many African sub-Saharan states. A recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report found "Black lesbians in South Africa endure ridicule and abuse in schools, workplaces and churches, sometimes being accused of witchcraft..." They also find themselves subjected to so-called corrective rape. "Raping a lesbian, HRW researchers found, can make a man a township hero. Attackers boast publicly of their crimes..." This happens despite South Africa's relatively liberal laws with which the culture has yet to catch up. This list of countries' laws affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people courtesy of Wikipedia shows there is a long way to go. As with women's rights the enemy of progress is religion. No surprises there. Update - Malawi is to review laws banning homosexuality in response to public opinion, according to reports.

Sorry, Sort Of... The Observer has printed an unrepentant editorial in reply to storm of criticism it has received for appearing to promote a quack cancer clinic. It seems it didn't bother to check what others, like Cancer Research UK, had to say about about the Burzynski Clinic. Didn't check? ...and it calls itself a bloody newspaper.

Islam, Charles Darwin And The Denial Of Science - is an article by Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, in which he asks the question "...why train to become a biologist, or a doctor, when you deny the very foundations of your subject? For a biology student to refuse to accept the fact of evolution is equivalent to choosing to do a degree in English without believing in grammar, or in physics with a rooted objection to gravity: it makes no sense at all. The same is true for doctors. How can you put a body right with no idea as to why it is liable to go wrong?"

Are These Christian Extremists At Last Being Found Out For What They Are? - "It seems that the fantasy world that has been created by the Christian Legal Centre and its rather scary head Andrea Minichiello Williams, has at last come under a bit of critical scrutiny from fellow Christians. We've been saying all along that the cases of supposed religious discrimination that the CLC keeps bringing to court are a lot of hooey. The courts have, so far, agreed with us and all of these claims – but all of them – have been dismissed by a sometimes outraged judiciary that doesn't take kindly to such mendacity in their courtrooms. This week, the CLC came up with another example of how Christians are allegedly being kicked out of their jobs left right and centre because they stand up for their faith. The Daily Mail headlined its version of the story "Christian Mother 'forced out of Heathrow job after hate campaign by Muslim fundamentalists' ". It's a good thing they put the CLC's claim in quotes because it wasn't long before holes started appearing in the story." Read the rest of Terry Sanderson's editorial in the National Secular Society's free weekly email newsletter, Newsline.

Telling Sharia From Shinola - Those who support democracy must welcome the rise of political Islam. Utter bollocks. Nowhere in the article by Wadah Khanfar, ex-boss of al Jazeera, is the word sharia mentioned which is a little odd, to say the least. For him to say "First, we must define our terms. "Islamist" is used in the Muslim world to describe Muslims who participate in the public sphere, using Islam as a basis. It is understood that this participation is not at odds with democracy." is nonsense. Understood by whom? How can one write about the new governments of the so-called Arab Spring and not mention that they will use sharia as the basis of law? Did Khanfar just let it slip his mind or is he being disingenuous? Does he think the phrase "using Islam as a basis" was enough without mentioning the "s" word?  The answer is obvious. The idea that Islam is in any way compatible with the generally accepted idea of democracy is balderdash.

How does the Mohammedan religion and sharia law co-exist with "...a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination."  An elected Islamist party running a country according to the principles of sharia cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a democracy. Any ideology that treats half of the population as second class, of lower legal status, by reason of gender is not democratic in any way shape or form. The Islamists may use the language and the outer forms of a democracy but this is a sham, a whited sepulchre that should fool no one.

 

8 December 2011, Debate: Sharia Law Negates Human Rights, UCL

Specious Spectator - the Guardian has a good piece by George Monbiot on the Spectator magazine's ignorant embracing of the nonsensical  claims of global warming denier Nils-Axel Mörner - to the point of dedicating its front cover to his addled article rebutting the well-documented rise in global sea level. While Monbiot's piece is enjoyable it is the comment section below that serves as an illustration of the poverty of the denier's arguments. Selective use of data, quotes offered out of context, dark hints of a scientific conspiracy, all the usual guff is there. The emotion with which these individuals imbue their postings seems to be in inverse proportion to any scientific content. Also see Damning Evidence of Fraud by Nils Axel Mörner and Sea Level Rising Despite Faux Science Claims. Also read James Randi on Mörner's claimed dowsing abilities

"I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated." Poul Anderson


December 8th 2011

A Sartorial Signal? - compare the jackets of homophobic clod Rick Perry and the late Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. For Perry's anti-gay campaign video, Strong, see Desperate, Dumb. Well spotted by Americablog.

Finger Buffet - the season of peace and goodwill is with us once more but not everybody gets the message. We learn "A father had his finger bitten off in a brawl with another parent as they waited for their kids' nativity play to begin. An anonymous bystander said, ’The two men started to fight in front of all the mums and dads. One bit the finger off the other and spat the blood out like an animal.’’ Which unpleasant news sits well with the result of a survey that found in a nativity play, "....most adults, were they to star in a production today, would rather be cast as the evil king Herod or the inhospitable innkeeper." Of course Herod is a great villain in the Christmas fable - for the so-called Massacre of the Innocents which is only mentioned by Matthew and of which there's no evidence. It is just the standard fairy tale element common to many stories. Herod was no worse than his contemporaries - unless you were related to him - then your life was not worth a fig. Also see Herod the Great

Headline Of The Week - Kaiser Wilhelm's urinal found at bottom of Baltic

Desperate, Dumb - Rick Perry is flailing as his bid for the Republican candidacy disappears. "Things must be looking grim for candidate Rick Perry, if he's assuring voters with a new ad swearing he'll "end Obama's war on religion." What war, you ask? Why the war that's exemplified, in Perry's words, by fact that "gays can serve openly in the military, while our kids can't celebrate Christmas openly." Just what planet is he on? 80 will not soil this page with Perry's video but click here to watch the buffoon. Oh, the video is called Strong. This describes either the smell of his campaign decomposing or what your stomach needs to be to watch.

Hormonal Help - "Nuns should be given the contraceptive pill to reduce the high death rates from breast, ovarian and uterine cancer that result from their childlessness, say scientists. Not having children is a risk factor for cancer because pregnancy, as well as breastfeeding a baby, reduces the number of ovulatory cycles a woman has in her lifetime." according to the Guardian. "In the first half of the 20th century, scientists who studied nearly 32,000 Catholic nuns in the US established that their death rates from breast, ovarian and uterine cancer were higher than for other women of their age." Why should the church bother? They're only women, it's not as though they are fetuses.

"An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means."  Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted ...and if the mother had other children at home that would have been orphaned? In the case commented on by Olmsted the life saved was that of a 27-year-old mother of four - the fetus was 11 weeks old. To repeat, the mother had four children waiting for her to come home but the good bishop would rather she died for the sake of an 11 week-old fetus. The man is just stuffed full of compassion.

Olmsted excommunicated the person who took part in the the lifesaving decision, Sister of Mercy Margaret McBride, who had worked in healthcare for 34 years and holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of San Francisco. This is not news, it happened in 2010, but illustrates the Catholic hierarchy's attitude to women. Will the nuns be allowed the pill? They would hardly be taking it for contraceptive purposes.   (A poll taken in May, 2011, showed the majority of Catholics surveyed disagreed with Olmsted's decision and felt he had misused his power.)

Arab Spring? - more like business as usual. We learn "Egypt's ruling generals have put themselves on a collision course with the country's new parliament after declaring that MPs will not have the final say over the drafting of a fresh constitution." This is obviously a type of democracy of which 80 was previously, and blissfully, unaware. But then there never was a chance for real democracy in the first place, with a majority of Egyptians in favor of sharia, that religious travesty of a justice system.


December 12th 2011

Mulling Mullen - quite why the Telegraph publishes the scribblings of Rev Dr Peter Mullen is a mystery. He brings heat but no light to the discussion and manages to do little but draw attention to his own ineptitude. His latest outburst is poor even by the abysmally low standards of Christian apologetics. It is also lazy, as the target of his ire is Richard Dawkins and Dawkins' apparent ignorance of theology. To bring up this hoary old argument is neither original or productive. The excuse for this drivel is an open letter from Dawkins to the Prime Minister David Cameron in which he claims that Cameron is not really a Christian. That's as maybe, but here we are looking at Mullen's reaction as an example of what to avoid in an argument. Mullen starts by saying "...Dawkins is not a proper atheist – that is an intelligent atheist – from his own puerile writing and pathetic attempts at philosophical theology." Perhaps Mullen should see how many copies of of Dawkins' books have sold compared with his own efforts before flinging around words such as puerile. No, Dawkins is not one for philosophical theology - but then if you find evidence for the existence of God lacking why waste your time with theology? To quote Robert Heinlein "Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there." To indulge in theology is begging the question - one is assuming there is something to study in the first place. No God, no point.

Mullen is particularly upset with Dawkins' statement “Either God exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question. The existence of God is a scientific question, like any other.” The cleric responds "This is idiotic. Science investigates material phenomena, observable entities in the universe. No competent theologians or philosophers – not even the atheist ones – have ever declared that God (if he exists) is an object in his own universe." Again Mullen begs the question by assuming the existence of non-material phenomena, of which there is not a scrap of evidence. The word universe by definition means "all there is". To postulate something "outside" the universe is itself idiotic*. As Douglas Adams wrote, "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" Mullen then returns to his assumption that you need to know "...something about philosophical reasoning and how theology works. In other words you have to know what it is about and what it is not about. When he discusses religious belief, Dawkins does not know what he is talking about. And to fire off ignorant opinions is only the first mark of a fool."  Mullen should know. Along with begging the question, he does not shy away from ad hominem attacks. That such attacks reflect badly on the assailant and merely sound peevish and petulant seems to have escaped him.

He then tries for an analogy but again merely demonstrates that he really doesn't get it. "It is as if I should presume to lecture the zoologist Dawkins on his own subject: as if I should idiotically declare that all the subtleties of modern biological science could be summed up in a book entitled Janet and John Look at Frogs." This doesn't work in that the evidence for amphibians is irrefutable and the world is full of Janets and Johns - whereas the main subject of theology is entirely lacking in evidence. All the way through the piece he implicitly assumes the existence of a non-material, effectively magical complex being but has nothing to back it up - apart from his own feelings.

Mullen then demonstrates he can have read little of Dawkins' output nor heard the man speak. He falls into the trap of implying Dawkins possesses "...an irrational, inhumane, roaring opposition to men of faith." His use of the word irrational is particularly silly - Mullen certainly appears irrational himself here and elsewhere. (See The Stock Exchange Has A WHAT?) If Dawkins wrote about a subject other than Mullen's cherished belief there would be little outrage. People whose religious ox is gored by Dawkins tend to call him strident, hectoring and intolerant. His manner is in fact unfailingly polite - these critics, although they would not admit it, are in fact reacting to their own inability to counter his arguments. For some reason questions and criticisms that can be addressed to other  ideologies become strident, shrill etc. when the subject is religion. As 80 has written elsewhere "To describe the soft-spoken and highly articulate Dawkins as "shrill" proves the point - he is invading religion's hallowed space, the nasty man. Religion is, of course, merely another human-made ideology but to some sensitive souls it is beyond criticism."

He also accuses Dawkins of wanting "...to obliterate Christianity from the public realm." At last Mullen gets something right - no religion, not just Mullen's Christianity, has a right to be in the public realm. Religion should be a private matter, kept well away from government. This is not banning religion but keeping it in its place. Mullen's final shot once again demonstrates his own ignorance when, after referring approvingly to atheist philosopher David Hume's friendship with Samuel Johnson, a Christian he says "This is called a decent tolerance and liberality – instincts which are alien to the secular bigot Dawkins." This is rich from a man who believes that those that do share his belief in God are going to suffer eternal torment in hell. It is secularity that is in fact going to save Mullen's Christianity and any other religion from persecution - and by this real persecution is meant - not merely asking people to abide by equality laws. A secular state is where religion has no place in government but is protected by law, one where no religion is considered dominant, ie established. To see what can happen otherwise see how well Islam co-exists with other religions in majority Muslim countries. Mullen in his attack on Dawkins has done himself no favors whatsoever but sadly this is something he is  incapable of seeing.

*Unless referring to the Many Worlds hypothesis. We can be pretty sure this is not what Mullen means.

"One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision" Bertrand Russell.

 

Escher Bracelet

courtesy of xkcd


December 15th 2011

War On Christmas? - no, just the Telegraph putting a dishonest spin on a minor news story. The headline reads Santa Monica atheists declare war on Christmas with the sub reading "Atheists have declared Santa Monica a warzone on Christmas after hijacking the seaside city’s traditional nativity displays." Note the use of the word "hijack" which implies something underhand, little different from theft. "Warzone" is even more hyperbolic. The truth lies further down the page. "Councillors were forced to pool requests for the spaces in a lottery this year after atheist groups objected to the traditional use of the displays. By a quirk of fate, the atheists won 18 of the 21 available display areas. A Jewish group won the other spots." A "quirk of fate" - in other words, luck.

Nothing has been hijacked. There is no warzone. The same story appeared nearly a week ago in the LA Times with no mention of war, just plenty of whining from Christians over the result of a fairly-won lottery. It looks like the Telegraph sub-editor is making up his/her own news, as the report itself by Amy Willis says nothing about a "war". The best comment on the whole storm in a teacup is from Bobbie Kirkhart, of Atheists United, "For many years, atheists were excluded from city-subsidised displays...Now, finally, atheists have an equal chance. Christians who believe their god is concerned about such things might take note of the extraordinary luck the atheist lottery winners have enjoyed."

"I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian - on the left and on the right. The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy - the one that's absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do." Christopher Hitchens in New Statesman - see below.

On Science - "On the human timescale, the adoption of the scientific method - making rational decisions based on evidence - that's the important thing. Look at public policy, health policy, economics: there's a reluctance to be humble." Brian Cox, physicist, interviewed in the New Statesman along with co-author Jeff Forshaw, another physicist. Their book is called The Quantum Universe - Everything that can happen does happen.

Also of interest, the Christmas issue of New Statesman is guest edited by Richard Dawkins. It includes an essay by him "The tyranny of the discontinuous mind". He also interviews Christopher Hitchens - here is a preview. Another item of interest available is an article on the ghoul Sally Morgan, Britain's best-loved psychic, and libel litigation.

Bigot's Tattoo - "It is time that religious believers began to recommend ... discouragements of homosexual practices after the style of warnings on cigarette packets. Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS."  Rev Doctor Peter Mullen, Rector of St Michael, Cornhill and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London. displaying his tolerance and liberality. He also seems to think sodomy and fellatio are exclusively gay activities. Perhaps in his experience they are.


December 20th 2011

Laser Of The Lord? - the headline in the Independent says it all Scientists say Turin Shroud is supernatural. What do they mean by supernatural and how do they know? We are told "After years of work trying to replicate the colouring on the shroud, a similar image has been created by the scientists. However, they only managed the effect by scorching equivalent linen material with high-intensity ultra violet lasers... Such technology... was far beyond the capability of medieval forgers, whom most experts have credited with making the famous relic." They do have a point, medieval forgers are unlikely to have possessed laser technology and the concomitant familiarity with quantum theory. However, rather than saying this is supernatural therefore Jesus it is better to find out what the forgers did actually use. Here's a key sentence from the Daily Mail report "Intense beams of UV light were fired at a piece of cloth but when they were unable to recreate the marks on the shroud they concluded that 'some form of electromagnetic energy (such as a flash of light at short wavelength)' must have created the image." They couldn't reproduce the marks but still reached a conclusion - what you might call a leap of faith.

Perhaps they should have compared notes with Luigi Garlaschelli, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia. 80 noted back in 2009 (Shroud Knockoff) that he was in the news for claiming to have reproduced Shroud-style markings. A claim moreover that remains unchallenged as far as 80 is aware. The Independent at least sought his opinion "The implications are... that the image was formed by a burst of UV energy so intense it could only have been supernatural. But I don't think they've done anything of the sort." Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro, one of the team that carried out this latest investigation rather shows his true colors with this remark, "We hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate but we will leave the conclusions to the experts, and ultimately to the conscience of individuals." This gives the impression that he and his colleagues have done all that science can do which is obviously not true.

Quite what philosophers and theologians can offer is a mystery, unless they have scientific qualifications as well. As for the "conscience of individuals" Di Lazzaro has left the world of rational investigation way behind. The two real mysteries for 80 are firstly why, as mentioned above, no one asked Garlaschelli how he produced his results and secondly, why is this news released at Christmas time, the time for baby Jesus and sentimental Nativity tales? Surely Easter is the proper time for the fable of a tortured and crucified godman? For an account of the Shroud of Turin and the various claims and counter claims and investigations see The Skeptic's Dictionary. Also for some background on Prof. Garlaschelli see this 2005 article from the Washington Post. Finally, 80 views the whole Shroud thing as nonsense - the historicity of Jesus himself has yet to be convincingly established, let alone what he was wearing in his tomb. On that question see Historicity Of Jesus FAQ and, above all, The Jesus Puzzle.

Update - Here is something the Italian supernaturalists should take a moment to read  Verification of the Nature and Causes of the Photo-negative Images on the Shroud of Lirey-Chambéry-Turin by Nicholas P L Allen. "A comparison between the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) data concerning the qualities of image formation on the Shroud of Turin and the inferences of the author's recent investigation into shroud-like image formation techniques employing technology readily available to medieval cultures as far back as the eleventh century strongly suggests that the negative image as found on the Shroud of Turin was the product of a form of primitive photography employing either silver nitrate or silver sulphate as a light sensitive agent."  It is certainly a more likely mechanism than Jesus' Magic Laser®  (Thanks, Deborah)

Christopher Hitchens 1949–2011 - has died. We have lost one of the good guys. Read Hitch Is Not In Heaven by P Z Myers and Ophelia Benson has posted some tributes to The Hitch. Hitchens had friends of the caliber of Salman Rushdie, Richard Dawkins and Martin Amis so who does the BBC interview on his death? Tariq Ali. Go figure. Update - Here is a good piece by Nick Cohen in which he gives the BBC a well-merited slap for its coverage of Hitchens' death. He also addresses those of the left, the left that Hitchens spurned, "He remained a friend of and inspiration to many leftish writers, but for the "anti-imperialist left" that embraced life-denying, women-hating, gay-killing Islamists, he had nothing but contempt. Its indulgence of religious reaction had ruined it beyond redemption." It's amusing that this appears in the Guardian, a rag given to fawning on Islamists.

The God... Particle And The Theologian - the Higgs boson, the particle sought by the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, has supplied the opportunity for Alister McGrath, Professor of Theology at King’s College London, and President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics to come up with some Thought For The Day style platitudinous claptrap. No surprises there, given his job, but he should have tried a little research before putting quill to parchment. He tells us "In 1994, Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman came up with a nickname for the Higgs boson – the mysterious particle proposed by physicist Peter Higgs back in the 1960s to explain the origin of mass. Journalists loved the name – "the God particle"..." 

According to an interview with Higgs himself "Its theistic nickname was coined by Nobel-prize winning physicist Leon Lederman, but Higgs himself is no fan of the label. "I find it embarrassing because, though I'm not a believer myself, I think it is the kind of misuse of terminology which I think might offend some people." It wasn't even Lederman's choice. "He wanted to refer to it as that 'goddamn particle' and his editor wouldn't let him," says Higgs."  Looks like McGrath chose the wrong peg on which to hang his tedious apologetics.


December 29th 2011

Christmas Traditions - how familiar they are, the tree, the decorations, the presents, the carol service, peace and goodwill, the Bethlehem Brawl. The Daily Mail, in a copiously illustrated report complete with film clip, tells us "The annual cleaning of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem descended into a battle between the rival Christian denominations that share it. Brooms, fists and vicious insults flew in all directions between 100 priests and monks dressed in their traditional robes." If these clods genuinely believe that they are in the birthplace of their Prince of Peace you'd think they would dial it back a bit. But perhaps they know better. The sacred sites of Christian Gospel tales are in fact arbitrary. No one knows where the Nativity happened - or even if it happened at all. The earliest references from the Gospels are obviously miraculous virgin birth stories, little different from their pagan equivalents which appeared to serve as a source of inspiration.

By the time the Emperor Constantine's mother Helena toured the "Holy Land" around 326-328CE no one knew the locations of the events in the Jesus fables - to even talk about the locations assumes Jesus was a real historical figure - an assumption almost completely without evidence. Helena began to identify the sites not on the basis of history, there wasn't any, but upon her own mystical inspiration. While she was at it she also "found" Jesus' tunic, his cross, and the nails that pinned him up. The fact that the Romans had sacked Jerusalem twice (in 70CE and 135CE) following Jewish uprisings and then rebuilt it, made any other method of location impossible anyway.

As for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem we learn "The Church Father Jerome, who died in Bethlehem in 420, reports in addition that the holy cave was at one point consecrated by the heathen to the worship of Adonis, and a pleasant sacred grove planted before it, to wipe out the memory of Jesus. Modern mythologists, however, reverse the supposition, insisting that the cult of Adonis-Tammuz originated the shrine and that it was the Christians who took it over, substituting the worship of their own God." Perhaps, heartily sick of the Jesus-come-lately Christians and their chants and their prayers and their sin, the god Adonis-Tammuz, no stranger to resurrection himself, stirred up the robed, broom-wielding minions to beat the holy crap out of each other.

Be Specific - the Telegraph informs us "In a message for the 2012 World Peace Day of January 1, Pope Benedict said that neither peace nor justice was obtainable if the objective norms of morality expressed in the Ten Commandments continue to be rejected." One supposes Ratzinger means the Ten Commandments of his own sect but there are others. The Roman Catholic set should, like the amplifier controls in Spinal Tap, go to eleven, adding "Thou shalt not conceal the rape of children".

Fatwa Fatuity - this being the time for the media to assemble lists from the year just gone here is a collection of the daftest fatwas put out by Muslim clerics and scholars. Among this assemblage of blinkered, religious, legalistic stupidity the necrophilia pronouncement is probably the weirdest and creepiest of the lot. "In Morocco, the head of the Moroccan Association for Jurisprudence Research stirred both outrage and controversy when he issued a fatwa allowing Muslim men to have sex with their just-deceased wives under the pretext that nothing in Islam prohibits sex with corpses." At least until the body temperature drops....

 

(courtesy xkcd)

 

The Intolerance Of Diversity - a Christmas message from Pat Condell.

 

Partying With Baby Jesus - a double dose of Pat Condell. Here he is dispensing Christmas goodwill and mockery back in 2007. (These days he can afford higher definition video)

 

 

(courtesy Jesus and Mo)

 

 

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