The View from Number 80




Backwards Glances Index 2007 part 2


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.)


May 19th 2007  Hypocrites and Liars

May 24th 2007  Turnbull's Bull

May 31st 2007  Fear of the Unknown

June 6th 2007  Hobson's Hissy Fit

June 12th 2007  Without Honor

June 17th 2007  Dark Knight

June 22nd 2007  No Ring of Truth

July 1st 2007  Design Failure

July 7th 2007  TANSTAAFL

July 12th 2007  Defending is Enabling

July 25th 2007  The Fallible Feline of Fate

July 27th 2007  Common Sense

August 3rd 2007  Two Trick Pony

August 10th 2007  Mentally Ill?

August 13th 2007  Fallacious Phillips

August 15th 2007  Scrolls Scandal

August 20th 2007  Angry Archaeologists


May 19th 2007

Hypocrites and Liars - here are a couple of interesting items devoted to that oustanding example of wilful ignorance, creationism. First up is an op-ed by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss headlined "Museum of misinformation posing as science" in which he asks the question "How much money and glitz does it take to institutionalize a scientific lie?". The money answer is $27 million if you are talking about the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, (see Rally For Reason below) which paradoxically uses lots of science and technology (including animatronic dinosaurs) to promote a position that, if it described reality, would rule that such science and technology shouldn't even work. If you believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old you are rejecting all of physics and geology. You can't cherrypick. All the findings of science are interlinked so that if you, say, reject modern dating methods based on radioactive decay then you are effectively rejecting the whole edifice of modern physics. Your phone, TV and computer should be inert lumps rather than the useful devices they so obviously are - even when used by creationist idiots. Krauss highlights the sheer hypocrisy of the museum's builder Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, and makes no bones about what he thinks of the exercise, "Religious tolerance is important in modern society. But there should be little tolerance for religiously motivated fraud. Media, and government officials alike need to be clear that this project as misguided, as they would more easily do if the fraud was not religiously motivated. Parents should be ready to bring lawsuits for any school system that uses public funds to bring students to this museum of misinformation." (See here for No Answers in Genesis which rightly states "Creationism is not the alternative to Evolution - ignorance is." Another eSkeptic article on the museum, entitled Solomon's House, is well worth reading, especially for Ham's explanation of what carnivorous dinosaurs ate on Noah's ark. Also check out the American Museum of Natural History's exhibition on Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids - all far more believable than creationist claptrap, although they should have included gods in the menagerie - all of them.)

The second is a review in eSkeptic by Donald R. Prothero of a book called Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Easter Bunny, the authors of which (Barret Brown and Jon P Alston) are certainly not given to pussfooting around, as demonstrated here, "This will not be a polite book. Politeness is wasted on the dishonest, who always take advantage of any well-intentioned concession, and the leaders of the so-called “Intelligent Design” movement, as we shall see, are so incredibly dishonest that they could cause a veteran heroin addict to blush — not out of any moral objection on the part of the addict, but rather out of the embarrassment that anyone could be so darned bad at lying. And, as we shall see, the Intelligent Design folks are bad liars indeed". The book would seem to be exactly the sort of thing that appeals to 80, in that "Flock of Dodos pulls no punches, and makes no attempt to win friends and influence fundamentalists. It is not for the religiously sensitive, but for those who have been exposed to the creationist nonsense and want to see it get the lambasting it deserves." Ab absurdo indeed..

Rally For Reason - "People from all over the country are invited to join outside of the gates of “Answers in Genesis” (AiG) in Northern Kentucky to let the world know that many rational Americans do not share the primitive world view that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, and that humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time, as presented by the 27 million dollar plus “Creation Museum” opening Memorial Day, May 28, 2007. Various groups, representing both religious and secular orientations, will join together to protest this destructive world view." Details here.

Pig Ignorance - by all means if you have religious restrictions on your diet stick to them (apart from the cruel slaughter methods) but please don't pretend that there is any scientific justification for your superstitious beliefs. This Science and Technology (!) page from The Muslim Weekly attempts to do just that and ends up sounding irredeemably stupid. The unsigned article, called Oink Oink! - Why Islam forbids Pork is stuffed full of unsubstantiated nonsense such as "According to physicians and medical experts, pork is a harmful diet. Consumption of swine-flesh creates lowliness in character and destroys moral and spiritual faculties in a man." Quite which "physicians and medical experts" these are and where their research is published we are not told. Either they do not exist or they are as daft as the author of this piece who tries to link the eating of pork with loose morals. "Consumption of swine-flesh reduces the feeling of shame and as such the standard of modesty. Those nations, which consume pork habitually, have a low standard of morality with the result that virginity, chastity and bashfulness are becoming a thing of the past." So are stonings, "honor" killings, homophobia, misogyny and religious zealotry.

Furthermore "Reliable medical doctors and social scientists are able to realise how those food and drinks forbidden by Islam are harmful and destructive to the human spirit and morality as well as to the physique and moral fibre of man and to verify the benefits of Islamic legislations on the subjects." In this instance "reliable" seems to mean these "medical doctors and social scientists" can relied upon to repeat medieval fairytales as fact. The only two "authorities" that are cited hardly instil confidence - the first, Dr. E. Kazim M.D., is author of "Medical aspects of forbidden foods in Islam" which appeared in the July 1981 Muslim Journal, so we can, of course, be assured of no bias or foregone conclusions there. The other, Dr. Glen Shepherd, is quoted from a Washington Post article dated 31 May 1952 (!) - real cutting edge stuff that is in no way superceded by subsequent research over the intervening fifty-odd years. Instead of all the pseudoscientific pussy-footing about the subject the author of this piece should be honest about the basis for the dietary restriction on pork which is purely religious and historical and has no basis in science. The childish justifications offered read like some Islamic Just So story, "The pig is naturally lazy and indulgent in sex, it is dirty, greedy and gluttonous. It dislikes sunlight and lacks the spirit and will to "fight". It eats almost anything, be it human excreta or anything foul and unwholesome. Amongst all animal flesh, pork is the favoured cradle of harmful germs. Pork also serves as a carrier of diseases to mankind. It is for this reason that its flesh is not suitable for consumption." (For the record 80 does not eat meat, clean or unclean)

A Final Farewell - to the dead bigot Falwell in the form of a tearful sermon from Brother Harry Hardwick of the Landover Baptist Church, "Well, the Lord has worked in one of His now-famous “mysterious ways” yet again. At 10:45 this morning, the Lord killed Jerry Falwell, the godliest of men -- the man who did more than anyone to put religion back in government and replace the Constitution with the Book of Leviticus." Great stuff.

Quote - "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." Former President Jimmy Carter on Bush's foreign policy. And his opinion of Tony Blair's relationship with Bush? "Abominable. Loyal, blind, apparently subservient."


May 24th 2007

Turnbull's Bull - We are all going to hell. Well, 95% of us at any rate, according to one Richard Turnbull, the principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. And what gives this academic the intellectual clout to declare that large numbers of people, most of whom have led relatively blameless lives, will endure everlasting torment? Why, he is a tiller in the field of theology. Let's digress a moment. It has been said of astrobiology, the study of extraterrestrial life, that it is a discipline without a single living example and in a way this is true but not completely. It is also a melding of biology, astronomy and geology and as such acts within certain constraints, such as the laws of physics and chemistry. Recently a sort of subject matter has even been observed in the form of extremophiles, organisms that live in some of Earth's extreme environments, some of which approach the kind of conditions that may be found on other planets. (In fact the number of other solar systems detected by astronomers is on the rise and is set to continue - which bodes well for this new field of study.)

No, the real discipline that has no living example to study is Turnbull's speciality, theology, which is "widely understood to mean literally "the study of God."" As there is no evidence for God (or gods for that matter) what do people like Turnbull do all day? This may sound like a facetious question, but what exactly is theology good for, apart from giving a living to the Turnbull's of this world? In 80's view absolutely nothing, and yet this vacuous pastime apparently empowers this person to tell us we are are going to hell. Another definition of theology that harks back to the ancient Greeks is that it is a "discourse on gods and cosmology". Here is another case of the supernatural losing power as an explanation of anything - the cosmology side of things has escaped the myths and legends of the past and is now science. The same cannot be said for God/gods. God as an explanation for anything in the material universe, (save, perhaps, for Turnbull's salary) is totally unproductive - just look at the hokum called Intelligent Design. The areas which a god can operate, the gaps in our scientific knowledge, are shrinking, and soon there will be no room at all. Even religion's inaccurate claim to be the basis of morality is being eroded by current research. (see God of the Gaps) So Turnbull is condemning many of us to torture everlasting on the basis of his years of studying - nothing.

Turnbull has also attracted attention for more than threats of hellfire. It would appear his influence on Wycliffe Hall has been anything but benign. Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford notes in a Guardian piece that "The college head thinks 95% of us are going to burn in hell. His new deputy believes it's wrong for women to teach men. Insiders are complaining about an "openly homophobic" atmosphere." Whether it is a redneck fundamentalist moron or, to use Fraser's description, "a reactionary evangelist" theologian sounding off why is it that women and gays are invariably the target? It is not just a zealous Christian thing - look at the loopier strains of Islam or Judaism. Is it because the inadequates that are drawn to this sort of fanatical belief feel threatened by women and gays? The short answer is yes. These people can only feel good if they are oppressing others and women and gays have served that need over the centuries. Is it a sex thing? Probably, for God, or rather his followers, have always shown an unhealthy preoccupation with the sexual activities of others. Are these people really so afraid of women that they wish to relegate them to a second-class status? That's what it looks like to this observer.

As for the homophobia, methinks they doth protest too much - 80 has long thought that many of these uptight religionists would love a walk on the wild side - look at Ted Haggard for one. In fact, in 80's view, there is little to choose between the Oxford academic, the pulpit pounder and the mullah in that they all want to restrict the freedoms of others based upon nothing more than their totally unsupported supernatural beliefs. As for Turnbull telling us we are going to hell, prove it! Where's the evidence? Real evidence that is, not some recycled Iron Age tosh given an intellectual gloss. The abrahamic religions make a big thing of their god being "beyond science" in some way and yet they claim this same deity can effect changes in our material world (such as sending his son here to be murdered). If something has an effect on the material world that definitely makes a fit subject for scientific investigation. Yet no proof is forthcoming, only the same old meaningless appeals to authority. Even religion's unlikely claim to be the foundation of morality is being challenged by rational investigation. Turnbull should really put up or shut up.

Quote - "Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything." Robert A Heinlein

Pole Position - Jerry Falwell's corpulent corpse is barely cold but the banner he raised has been caught up by the spokesperson for children's rights in Poland, Ewa Sowinska. This clod has expressed worries that the Teletubbies character, Tinky Winky, and his chums are "promoting a homosexual lifestyle". That an official in the Polish government is wasting time on such nonsense shows how far Poland has regressed under the influence of its current rulers, the Potato Twins. Look out, SpongeBob, you're next. (See here for Falwell's arrival at the Pearly Gates)

Consequences? "One exhibit shows a pastor preaching it's OK not to believe in a literal Genesis. Then it depicts "the consequences" in one family: A young boy looks at porn on the Internet while his sister calls Planned Parenthood." From a Christian Science Monitor article on the Creation Museum. Just for those biblical literalists here is a collection of murders carried out by their god. If you still can't get enough of this violent, capricious deity take the Landover Baptist Church's Wrath of God Quiz - the objective being to "Correctly identify how many people God had brutally slaughtered in each of the following settings." Also see The Dark Bible which concentrates on all the bits you weren't taught in Sunday school, including the wonderfully weird episode of God and the hemorrhoids, which 80 winced at in Preparation YHWH.


May 31st 2007

Fear of the Unknown - can manifest itself in many ways. Here is a somewhat muddled comment piece from Inayat Bunglawala that serves to show his ignorance of the scientific method. Like many religionists he doesn't seem to realize is that science is an ongoing process of inquiry and that if scientific answers are not immediately available for the "big questions" he cites, such as "Why did the universe come into being?", "What is the meaning of human existence?" and "What will happen to us after we die?" it doesn't mean they never will be, although he might not like or accept the answers. Indeed some questions may have no answer. Physicist Richard Feynman put his finger on it when he said "I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong." This uncertainty can be frightening which is why some people reach for a religious security blanket. Like so many "faith-heads" Bunglawala seems to think that "God did it", dressed-up with a little anthropic gobbledegook, is useful as an explanation of how something came to be, when it is no such thing. As has been pointed out many times in these pages and elsewhere the areas of knowledge over which "God" holds sway are shrinking rapidly. There are two reactions to this - one is an understanding that the physical universe is all there is and we only have one precious lifetime in which to experience it, and the other is simply to deny the facts of the matter as the creationist nitwits continue to do and treat this life as a rehearsal for another, eternal one.

The anti-science attitude, whether it comes from religionists or left-wing cultural relativists is a very dangerous one to adopt. There are many challenges facing the population of this overcrowded planet and to retreat into fantasy is effectively committing suicide. People who deny that evolution occurs are going to have a problem dealing with antibiotic-resistant superbugs or rapidly mutating flu viruses, although one option that suits their medieval worldview would be to blame the Devil for such mischief. Bunglawala's quoting of scientist Frances Collins illustrates how, when a scientists steps outside his field he can be as ignorant as the next person. For example Collins says "Science's domain is to explore nature. God's domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul - and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms." Here Collins is making a huge assumption - that there is something somehow "outside" nature - a "spiritual world" of which he has no proof whatsoever. As to what he means by examining "with the heart, the mind, and the soul" is anyone's guess. By "heart" one assumes he means the emotions but what does he mean by soul? It is a concept with no basis in reality and has no power as an explanation of anything. It often suits religionists to claim that their God and his works are somehow beyond science. It is reminiscent of those who espouse homeopathy, telepathy and such other nonsense who seem to think that by saying their particular hobbyhorse cannot be examined using the methods of science, they have somehow ringfenced it from skeptical inquiry. One of the latest wheezes is to attempt to stifle the critical examination of religious claims with legislation. This has all the hallmarks of desperation and shows the true poverty of the religious worldview. (A poverty that is also all too obvious in this piece by Sam Brownback, US presidential contender, called What I think about evolution. If you change "think" into "feel" it more truthfully conveys the content. On his web site Brownback is proclaimed as "Principled. Conservative. Republican." Add "Ignorant" to that list.)

Quote - "It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so." Robert A Heinlein

Brown Study - here is an interesting piece from Johann Hari which examines the religious roots of Britain's next prime minister, Gordon Brown, and the positive egalitarian influence they have on his policies, as well as such drawbacks as his support for sectarian schooling. Hari also generously links to a "persuasive response" to his article on the Stumbling and Mumbling blog which expresses the view that "In an egalitarian polity, in which people should be persuaded rationally of policies, religion should have no place – even if it is true. Religion might motivate political beliefs, but it shouldn’t, and needn’t, be the public justification for them." Quite so. (A permanent link to Hari's archive is in the sidebar of this page)

It's The Oil, Stupid - do take a moment to read this speech to the House by Rep. Jim McDermott (who has his own troubles) on the background to the US invasion of Iraq. When 80 did so he had to pinch himself - is this really a politician speaking? Yes it damn well is, and he is a national treasure compared to his mealy-mouthed colleagues. "Invading Iraq was all about oil. And the new secret plot against Iran is all about oil. Oil is the only benchmark this president and vice president want, and they will keep American soldiers fighting and dying until an oil law is passed in Iraq that gives Western oil companies control of the spigot." (Also see Lost In Translation)


June 6th 2007

Hobson's Hissy Fit - My, we do seem to have our knickers in a twist! Poor Theo Hobson (what an appropriate forename) is getting himself all upset over those uppity atheists that dare to call into question not only his (nonsensical) beliefs but also the insistence that such beliefs should be somehow protected in some way from rational inquiry. His attitude is immediately obvious from the title of his latest offering in the Guardian's Comment Is Free section - "Atheism is pretentious and cowardly". This is from someone who considers the unfailingly polite and soft-spoken Richard Dawkins to be one of a group of "..angry ageing men, scowling at us indignantly, and competing with each other in tough-talking God knocking." He even has a gratuitous swipe at women with his next sentence, "How odd that they get such an easy press, that their (usually female) interviewers are so fawning." What exactly is he suggesting here - that atheism is a babe magnet - even for "angry ageing men"? Or is fawning something to which women journalists are particularly prone? He really should be a little clearer and not allow his bile to get the better of him. Anyway, fawning, attempting to win favour from influential people by flattery as one definition has it, is exactly what believers do when they worship their deity, is it not? (You can just hear BBC Radio 4 announcing "Morning Fawning" broadcast from the church of St. Sycophant the Oleaginous.)

Hobson's real targets are not just the aforementioned Dawkins, but also A C Grayling and Christopher Hitchens. This unholy trio are "..are in the grip of an ideology that is pretentious and muddled." Looking at the rest of Hobson's rambling diatribe the old saying about stone-throwing glasshouse dwellers springs to mind. It all comes down to Hobson fulminating at the temerity of those who question the benefits of religion - how dare they? They dare because if one starts from the premise that the physical universe is all there is, then religion - all religion - is a nonsense. They don't need a degree in theology, they don't need to know the subtle differences between different types of supernatural beings, they don't need to hear arguments that assume the very thing the believers should be trying to prove - the existence of god (or gods). If there is no god - and while non-existence cannot be proven the world can be understood pretty damn' well without recourse to supernaturalism - then the whole edifice of religion is a delusion. Comforting for some maybe, but a delusion nevertheless.

Hobson amply demonstrates his inability to understand this position in his last paragraph, "I consider the atheist's desire to generalise about religion to be a case of intellectual cowardice. The intellectual coward is one who chooses simplicity over complexity and difficulty. The militant atheist chooses to uphold a worldview of Animal Farm crudity: atheist good, believer bad." It is because there is no convincing evidence for anything supernatural that religion can be generalized about - the many different flavors and interpretations, the different nuances of god worship mean little when the object of that worship does not exist. For Hobson to claim that this is intellectual cowardice is laughable - the coward is the person who is afraid to face the universe, to quote Isaac Asimov, without "a security blanket, a thumb to suck on, a skirt to hold". Theo is tetchy because his security blanket is looking increasingly tatty - just look at the sales of recent books by his unholy trio. He feels threatened and has lashed out - only to strike empty air. (also see Hobson's Cult)

Quote - "The argument that all the benign god botherers who shuffle off to church each Sunday in their best hat can make up for the sheer fucking madness of all the wars, bitterness, oppression and violence that religion sponsors is insane. Religion is tribalism incarnate. We have evolved most of our social structures past the pitfalls of stabbing the odd uns in the village next door with sharpened sticks but religion keeps limping along like the weird annoying kid that used to trail after you and your friends at school, occasionally pulling some horrific stunt for your approbation." ladyhamilton, commenting on Theo Hobson's "Atheism is pretentious and cowardly" - see immediately above.

Quote - "If belief in heaven was private, like the tooth fairy, I’d say fine.  But tooth fairy supporters don’t come around to your house and try to convert you.  They don’t try to teach your children stultifying pseudo-science in school.  They don’t try to prevent access to contraception.  The religious won’t leave us alone.  These are not just private delusions, they’re ones they want to inflict on other people." Christopher Hitchens in an interview with Jon Wiener for Truthdig.

Parental Disapproval? - "The nuns at Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden were thanking God on Sunday that no one was hurt when a bolt of lightning shot out of the sky and struck their 33-foot statue of Jesus. The lightning bolt broke off one of Jesus' arms and a hand and damaged one of his feet, sending marble plummeting to the ground during a Saturday afternoon storm." A spokesnun didn't seem to think this was an "act of God", although, as He moves in Mysterious Ways, how could she tell?  Perhaps the Sky Fairy was enforcing his second commandment concerning graven images. Just suppose the lightning had struck, say, the Planned Parenthood headquarters or the American Atheists or the Council for Secular Humanism - faith-heads would be banging on about divine intervention for weeks, as happened some years ago in Britain. A Canon David Jenkins, notorious in some quarters for publically asserting "..that neither the Virgin birth nor the Resurrection need be taken too literally" was consecrated as Bishop of Durham in York Minster amid protests. "Less than three days later, in the early hours of the morning, lightning forked down on the wooden roof of the minster's 13th century south transept. By 2:30 a.m., flames were leaping from the medieval masterpiece that is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe." Plenty of religionists seemed convinced that there was a connection between the two - a logical fallacy known as "post hoc ergo propter hoc" - B occurred after A therefore A caused B (see the Fallacy Files). Other lightning strikes with a theological dimension have appeared on 80's pages in the past - see Let There Be Lightning and Quit Your Whining.

Quote - "A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth, but they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them." Reverend Billy Graham in conversation with Richard Milhous Nixon.

Billy and Richard - 80 was enthralled to see that no less than three American presidents (Clinton, Carter and daddy Bush) showed their tacit acceptance of anti-semitic bigotry by attending the dedication of the Billy Graham library. Graham you will remember was captured on tape by no less than another president, Nixon, as the two of them sounded off about those awful Jews. As this report puts it "Here is the most admired and influential religious leader in America complaining to the president of the United States about the Jews and their "stranglehold" on the media, and blaming them for "all the pornography."" Nice guy? Well he did apologize, so that makes it alright then, doesn't it? After all it was so heartfelt, "Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon some 30 years ago." He might not remember, after all the old boy is getting somewhat addled these days, but there is no "apparently" about it. Thanks to Nixon's paranoid recording habit he can always play the tape. Most of the coverage of the library event has been fawning beyond the point of nausea, but this article from the American Chronicle redresses the balance a little, "It almost makes me ashamed to be an American to see presidents rely on a preacher for guidance. The American presidents of today are no different from the Babylonian kings of old who depended on astrologers for guidance. The enlightened peoples of Europe must be laughing at the American obsession with fundamentalist religion. Can anyone imagine Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher getting together to honor a prelate from the Church of England, nevermind a backwoods evangelical preacher? In honoring Billy Graham, the ex-presidents brought shame to America." Just one comment - 80 can all too easily visualize Blair fawning over a prelate - but it would be a Roman Catholic one. (Also see Graham's Grave)

Broadband Beatitudes - with more and more folk enjoying the benefits of broadband a lot of good video content is now available on the web. One striking example (brought to 80's attention by NSS Newsline) is this page from Food for Thought Theater which links to three instalments of Jonathan Miller's BBC series, Atheism: A Rough History Of Disbelief, with more to follow. If you scroll waaay down this page (archiving is long overdue) you will find the excellent Freethunk cartoon courtesy of Swenson Funnies. There is much more on the Swenson web site including this short movie pastiche involving the Terminator and that other mythical character Jesus Christ - hilarious. On the subject of funny (and no doubt blasphemous) videos this is a perfect excuse to mention once more that hearfelt rendition of Gloria Gaynor's hit I Will Survive by, yes it's him again, Jesus. A classic.

More Bull From Turnbull - the theologian attempts to answer criticism (see below) in I didn't say you'll all go to hell. It seems his statement about 95% of us are going to burn in hell was, in the form quoted by Giles Fraser (and others) missing a vital qualifying phrase at the end which Turnbull thinks makes a difference. The phrase is "..unless the message of the gospel is brought to them". 80 is at a loss to see how this improves or substantially alters the meaning of the preceding nonsense in any way whatsoever. That he knows "..of no homophobia or misogyny at Wycliffe. If there is any evidence then it must be produced." may mean that it exists although he is not aware of it, but his request for evidence is reasonable. Perhaps the misogyny of St Paul has something to do with it? "For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. 7: For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8: (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9: Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) 10: That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels." 1 Corinthians 11:6-10. Does Turnbull repudiate what looks, at least to 80, like rampant misogyny? Was Paul wrong and not to be followed in this matter? Can we cherrypick which part of Paul's prattlings should be followed? Or maybe in Turnbull's world this is not denigrating women at all but simply assigning them their proper, god-given place.


June 12th 2007

Without Honor - or compassion or love or humanity or any shred of decency. Once again we read about a so-called "honor killing" of a young woman by her own immediate relatives. The term "honor killing" as a euphemism for such a sordid murder is as accurate as "female circumcision" is for female genital mutilation (another disgusting and cruel religious/cultural practise). There is no honor of any kind for these revolting loonies so bound up with their primitive mores that they will kill their own children. This latest story is worse than some others (if that is possible) in that the victim, Banaz Mahmod, had told police of her fears of violence at the hands of her own family following an earlier assault from her father. According to this BBC report "her statement following the assault was allegedly not taken seriously enough by investigating officers." This is disgusting and the police officers involved should at the very least be severely disciplined. (80 wonders how the they manage to sleep at night.)  It seems that the incidence of this crime is on the increase in the UK and the police need training in the proper response to take - dismissing a terrified woman's fears is just not acceptable.

The majority of these honor murderers are Muslim although this report on the murder of a Turkish woman in Germany by her three brothers tells us "Muslim leaders in Berlin are at pains to stress that there is no basis for honour killings in the Koran" - the story also notes these same leaders have been accused of not speaking out enough against this vile practise. The treatment of women as chattels, as less than fully human is a feature of the abrahamic religions so while the holy books do not expressly condone such killings they certainly create an atmosphere conducive to such revolting behavior. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown writing in The Independent terms the violence and cruelty towards many Asian women from their relatives as "vile domestic terrorism".

The police are often told to tread carefully in immigrant communities and to respect different cultures - but when a culture is so primitive and revolting that it condones the murder of young women then this culture needs not understanding or "respect" but stamping out. The word "evil" is bandied about a lot these days, usually by politicians justifying their current crusade/jihad but the actions of these honor killers are truly deserving of that description. 80 almost wishes there was a hell so that these bastards could go there. (see here for the International Campaign Against Honour Killings and Gendercide Watch) Update - "Dedicated teams of senior prosecutors are to be deployed in the UK's honour killing hotspots in the wake of the failings exposed this week by the case of a young Kurdish woman murdered by her family." says the Guardian in a piece on familial murder. Furthermore "Plans to be published soon by the Association of Chief Police Officers will tell forces to follow new risk assessment models to ensure women are taken seriously if they complain of family violence." Too late for poor Banaz Mahmod.

Quote - "To do this to their own flesh and blood was unforgivable. Forgiveness isn't even a question. They don't deserve to be on this earth." Bekhal, Banaz Mahmod's 22 year-old sister, herself in hiding from her family.

Who Is John Jay Harper? - and why is he sending out unsolicited commercial email? Spam is irritating at any time but when it is peddling New Age idiocy in 80's view this compounds the offence. Harper doesn't even provide that figleaf of respectability - an unsubscribe link. Harper's new DVD which he is plugging, "Science of Soul: The End-Time Solar Cycle of Chaos in 2012 A.D" is typical woo-woo crap, little different from similar nonsense. Nothing would induce 80 to watch this drivel which appears to be on the same (non) intellectual level as What the Bleep Do we Know? which set a benchmark for silliness. Harper says "Many of you have heard me speak over the past year with Art Bell, Jeff Rense, Rob McConnell, Brad Walton, Regina Meredith and many, many other Talk Show Hosts on my predictions for catastrophic future world events in Solar Cycle 24 that will be triggered by our planet's alignment with the ORION constellation. There is now even more solid scientific tidbits of evidence emerging that absolutely confirms the thesis of my international bestseller book, Tranceformers: Shamans of the 21st Century. In fact, this month my insights have been featured in the peer-reviewed (?) Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies as well as numerous magazine articles declaring that we need to wake-up to the ancient visions of modern wisdom, as I put it." All 80 sees in the immediate future for Harper is referral to SpamCop and Googlemail. This is as near to a "review" of his work as 80 can manage.....

Quote - "I'd appreciate it immensely if you'd forward this DVD e-flyer above to your family, friends, and co-workers too. Thank you so much for that consideration my friend; the more we can inform people of the events to come the more chances we will all have now to survive them. We do not need panic; we need preparation. And as the sages say, the life you save may be your own! The person that you inform may be the one that buys that extra ration of life-preserving food, water, medicine, etc. and has enough to share in times of extreme earth changes with you ... and me!" J. J. Harper, Editor-in-Chief, Reality Press, California. (Reality Press - this must be according to a definition of reality that failed to make it into the dictionary. The "DVD e-flyer" is Harper's somewhat coy description of his unsolicited email. )

Cathedral Shootout - interesting item here from BBC News - it seems that "The Church of England (CoE) is considering legal action against entertainment firm Sony for featuring Manchester Cathedral in a violent computer game." The game, Resistance: Fall of Man, sounds somewhat biblical but the CoE is upset for it uses the nave of the cathedral for a shoot-out "in which hundreds of soldiers are killed" without permission. The church wants " apology and the removal of the game from shop shelves - otherwise legal action will be considered." Given how the CoE always likes to appear to be cash strapped despite its billions 80 is surprised it didn't just ask for a percentage of sales. The Dean of Manchester Cathedral, The Very Revd Rogers Govender said, "We are shocked to see a place of learning, prayer and heritage being presented to the youth market as a location where guns can be fired." Much better to get the gamers away from their consoles and into church and read to them the myriad stories of god-condoned (and perpetrated) violence and mass murder that take up so much space in the bible.

80 has a low opinion of shoot-em-up video games and has said so before - he also has a low opinion of churchmen who criticize others over violent games when their scriptures contain much that is worse. Perhaps if the CoE proceed with legal action Sony might like to bring a bible to court for a decision on which is worse - Resistance: Fall of Man or the Old Testament. Update - Keith Stuart writes of how little chance legal action by the CoE has - and also how silly the complaint was in the first place. Update -  Sony has apologized to the CoE but they still want the game withdrawn - and most importantly they still want money. Although it has apologized Sony seems puzzled by the fuss. It did not accept "that there is any connection between contemporary issues in 21st century Manchester and the work of science fiction in which a fictitious 1950s Britain is under attack by aliens."

Check Out - Pat Condell's page at You Tube - you won't regret it. And unlike him as mere viewers you won't get any death threats. Also see his web site which is now permanently linked in the sidebar of this page. Oh, this is his response to the question "What do you believe?".

Calling All Psychic Detectives - cut along to Tony Youens' Commentary and prove your claims are more than just ghoulish, self-serving bullshit.


June 17th 2007

Dark Knight - following the bestowal of a knighthood on British author Salman Rushdie there has been the inevitable outcry from bigots claiming to be offended by the award. First in line, predictably enough, are the Iranians, whose theocratic dictator Ayatollah Khomeini, back in 1989, called for Rushdie's murder over a work of fiction, a work that he was unlikely ever to have read. Now, according to a BBC report "Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the decision to praise the "apostate" showed Islamophobia among British officials." What utter rot - what does this clod mean by Islamophobia? Perhaps he means the feeling of disgust normal folk experience at religious zealots who condemn people to death over a perceived religious slight in a novel? If he does then count 80 in. Anyway, since when did the UK have to heed the whingeing of people who still think it is a pretty good idea to stone young women and gays to death?

Not wanting to be left out of the fun Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz-ul-Haq of Pakistan has now popped up with the most mendacious twaddle 80 has read in a while. Again according to a BBC report, this clod told parliament that "Britain's knighthood to the author Salman Rushdie contributes to insulting Islam and may lead to terrorism". Furthermore "Such actions are the root cause of terrorism..." Root cause? That's funny, 80 thought the root cause was violent religious zealots who are so arrogant that they think they know the deity's plan for all of us and are prepared to kill and maim innocent human beings, co-religionists as well as infidels, in furtherance of said plan.

Ul-Haq goes on to confirm 80's impression with this little gem "If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammad, his act is justified. If Britain doesn't withdraw the award, all Muslim countries should break off diplomatic relations." (It comes as no surprise to learn that ul-Haq is the son of the late General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, ex-dictator of Pakistan who consolidated his position after a bloodless coup with the judicial murder of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979.) Like the Iranian spokesman above, ul-Haq should try and sort out the many problems in his own deeply-troubled country and desist from making death threats against a British citizen.  What sort of signal does that sort of behavior send out to those less deranged than he is?  If anything is going to make Islamophobia a reality instead of a paranoid and silly neologism it is the intolerant and ignorant mouthings of men like ul-Haq and Hosseini. On a lighter note it is nice to see the Queen effigy salesmen getting some business - it must have been awfully quiet for them since the Danish flag boom. (see Faith-Based News for the malign effect of religion and other forms of irrationality all over this planet)

Read The Following Paragraph - and then decide whether Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is a hypocrite, a misogynist or just plain nasty - or all of the above. "A senior Vatican cardinal said yesterday that Catholics should stop donating to human rights group Amnesty International because of its new policy advocating abortion rights for women if they had been raped, were a victim of incest or faced health risks." So much for any kind of compassion from this 75 year-old celibate fantasist - for women at least. Last time this churchman made headlines he was emoting over the plight of Saddam Hussein. Yeah, that's right, the late torturing, gassing and murdering dictator of Iraq. Martino certainly knows where his sympathies lie. So this man can feel compassion toward a brutal dictator but not, say, a 15 year-old girl who has been brutally raped - Martino fully expects her to bear the child of her assailant. Yet another example of abrahamic religion's contemptuous attitude toward women. Does the cardinal have no mothers, sisters, aunts? Martino and those like him are beneath contempt.

With this call to withdraw funding, Martino is apparently deaf to Amnesty's Italian chairman Paolo Pobbiati's protests "This has nothing to do with legitimising abortion as part of a campaign for human rights, it is to do with combating violence against women. It was partly inspired by our experience in Africa where soldiers rape women in communities they attack to force them to have their children. We also believe women who have had abortions should benefit from medical care regardless of the reason for the abortion. Moreover we aim to promote education and contraception to reduce abortion rates." The withdrawal of funding goes far beyond the abortion question and is a very blunt instrument, affecting many other of Amnesty's activities as Pobbiati details, "We mount joint campaigns with organisations like Caritas and the Community of Sant'Egidio against the death penalty and child soldiers and in favour of arms control. We sincerely hope Catholics will not share Martino's views on funding." Let's hope the Catholic "rank and file" possess more common humanity and kindness than the cruel old men in the Vatican - which shouldn't be too difficult.

...And On a Lighter Note - it seems that the guy chosen by the Creation Museum to play Adam in one its bizarre little tableaux has other interests. According to this story 27 year-old Eric Linden "owns a pornographic web site called "Bedroom Acrobat."" It's a fair bet that fig leaves are not featured heavily there. And from Nearing Zero (an archive of largely satisfactory cartoon freeware) comes the spectacle of Radioactive Isopopes!

June 22nd 2007

No Ring of Truth - a recent story in the UK concerned a schoolgirl and her chums who had apparently transgressed their school's dress code by wearing "abstinence rings". These are supposed to signify a "religiously-inspired commitment to sexual abstinence before marriage" according to a Guardian report. The girl, Lydia Playfoot, has now taken her opposition to the school rules to the High Court, claiming her human rights have been breached. This is pretty much how the press have covered the story, but in doing so they have completely missed what a complete set-up job the whole thing is. The school and the court  have been duped into taking part in a cynical self-promotion by the outfit behind the rings, Silver Ring Thing. And which hardbitten professional investigative reporter from the big daily newspapers dug up the truth of the matter? Err, none. For an example of excellent, well-researched and corroborated journalism go to The Ministry of Truth and read Silver Bling Thing to learn what is really going on. It is to be hoped that the judge presiding over the case is made aware of the facts and throws this  case out. Whether Silver Ring Thing  has carried out this charade for religious reasons (which can of course justify any deception in the name of the Lord) or good old-fashioned greed, The Ministry of Truth has revealed what a manipulative bunch they are. Oh, and their precious abstinence is a failure according to this report. Far better to teach kids about safe sex and contraception than useless fairy stories no matter how much profit can be made selling them rings. (Here's more good stuff from Unity at the Ministry of Truth on What abstinence-only sex education really means…)

Drawing a Bead - on Dick Cheney. Last November following the mid-term elections 80 noted it was perhaps time to go after the secretive éminence grise of the Bush administration. Obviously this is better than going for impeachment of the buffoon Bush - no one in their right mind would want a President Cheney, no matter for how short a period. Now the Washington Post has produced a four part examination of the veep, Angler, The Cheney Vice Presidency, by Jo Becker and Barton Gellman, that paints a far from attractive picture. Not too difficult to do that you might say, but this investigation is coming not from some liberal blogger but part of mainstream media. Also from the Washington Post stable is the bluntly titled Impeach Cheney in Slate, with the subheader The Vice President Has Run Utterly Amok Must Be Stopped. Not an overly subtle observation but one with which many people will agree. Reaching a wider, or at least a younger audience, is the faux news Daily Show which has a great sequence revealing Cheney as the liar he is, claiming to be part of either the executive branch or the legislative branch of government, depending on whatever scam he is trying to put over or oversight he is trying to dodge at the time. Anyone who has been following Cheney's lies and evasions will not be surprised by any of this but the point is that the time seems right to declare open season on the vice president. Revenge of the quail, anyone? (also see Don't Misunderestimate Dick Cheney)

Dawkins and Hitchens - click here for a video clip of Richard Dawkins reading the new preface to the paperback edition of The God Delusion, in which he takes the opportunity to demolish some of the dafter points made by critics of the hardback. It is sufficient recommendation to say the Dawkins is on his usual excellent form. Also available to view online is a much longer video featuring (after an overlong introduction) Christopher Hitchens talking about his new book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. A mixture of erudition and scathing comment this is well worth checking out. 80 has a great deal of trouble understanding Hitchens' stance on the occupation of Iraq but on religion we are, as they say, singing from the same hymn sheet.

Quote - "The British monarch lives under this illusion that Britain is still a 19th century superpower and that bestowing titles is something still deemed important." Mohammad Reza Bahonar, first deputy speaker of Iran's parliament, fulminating at Salman Rushdie's knighthood, apparently blissfully unaware of quite how idiotic he sounds. If the importance of titles is an illusion, Mr Bahonar, why are you and your fellow fanatics acting like so many petulant children?

Quote - "I don't think 'incitement to religious hatred' means the same thing as 'provoking the wrath of religious maniacs'" Jesus and Mo


July 1st 2007

Design Failure - here are a couple of reviews of Michael Behe's latest tome, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. Behe is one of the foremost proponents of "creationism in a lab coat" or Intelligent Design (ID). In this latest book it seems that he is running out of room for maneuver so overwhelming is the evidence for evolution by means of natural selection. In fact he does so poorly that one review, by Richard Dawkins, opens almost sympathetically with "I had expected to be as irritated by Michael Behe’s second book as by his first. I had not expected to feel sorry for him. The first — “Darwin’s Black Box” (1996), which purported to make the scientific case for “intelligent design” — was enlivened by a spark of conviction, however misguided. The second is the book of a man who has given up. Trapped along a false path of his own rather unintelligent design, Behe has left himself no escape." Any pity for Behe's plight soon runs out as Dawkins takes him to task " my point is that Behe, as is normal at the grotesquely ill-named Discovery Institute (a tax-free charity, would you believe?), where he is a senior fellow, has bypassed the peer-review procedure altogether, gone over the heads of the scientists he once aspired to number among his peers, and appealed directly to a public that — as he and his publisher know — is not qualified to rumble him." So in Dawkins' view Behe's book, and the ID "theory" it pushes, is little more than a scam and certainly not recognizable as any way of doing real science. But don't take Dawkins' word for it, see the review given by Jerry Coyne, writing in The New Republic.

He too finds Behe struggling with his beliefs in the face of real scientific evidence, "For a start, let us be clear about what Behe now accepts about evolutionary theory. He has no problem with a 4.5-billion-year-old Earth, nor with evolutionary change over time, nor apparently with its ample documentation through the fossil record -- the geographical distribution of organisms, the existence of vestigial traits testifying to ancient ancestry, and the finding of fossil "missing links" that show common ancestry among major groups of organisms. Behe admits that most evolution is caused by natural selection, and that all species share common ancestors. He even accepts the one fact that most other IDers would rather die than admit: that humans shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees and other apes. Why does Behe come clean about all this? The reason is plain. There is simply too much evidence for any scientist to deny these facts without losing all credibility. "Intelligent design" is desperate for scientific respectability, and you do not get that by fighting facts about which everybody agrees." So Behe, in a move reminiscent of the "god of the gaps" is reduced to nitpicking on the subject of "random mutations", with the implication that there had to be a Designer's hand/tentacle/noodley appendage steering things in the "right" direction.

Coyne neatly nails the whole ID problem with this paragraph, "The overweening strategy of IDers, and their creationist forebears, is to say that everything that we do not understand is evidence of the existence of God. I can imagine IDers of two centuries ago claiming that God made the sun shine, because until 1938 we had no idea where all that energy came from. It was not until quantum mechanics arrived out of left field that the physicist Hans Bethe was able to surmise, correctly, that the sun is a giant fusion reactor, converting hydrogen atoms into helium and energy. Who knew?"

A great and commonsense argument against ID that 80 has mentioned before, and makes no excuse for mentioning again, is this from Rosemary Sceats on the Victorian Skeptics web site, "No woman who has ever menstruated, had menstrual difficulties e.g. bleeding fibroids or endometriosis, been pregnant, given birth, with or without complications, suffered from repeated thrush and/or cystitis infections, and especially no woman to whom all of the above applies, could find the theory of so-called "intelligent design" anything but absurd. The female plumbing system provides gilt-edged evidence of the complete absence of design, intelligent or otherwise! And as for the male plumbing system, what sort of designer would put a sewer pipe right through the middle of a playground?"


July 7th 2007

TANSTAAFL* - as 80 has said before, somewhat unoriginally, the Laws of Thermodynamics can be crudely summarized as "You can't win, you can't break even and you can't get out of the game." This may be frustrating to those folk who like to peddle so-called "free energy" or "over unity" contraptions but there is no way round it, no matter how many rotating doohickeys and magnets they assemble. No one has ever succeeded in demonstrating such a device - if they even had just a crude prototype up and running ( and running as advertized) James Randi has a million dollars for them. The latest in a long line of free energy outfits is Steorn (some background here) which seems to be going the same route as many inventors of these magical devices - you advertize a demo, get a few "scientists" on board (see Ben Goldacre on this) and look for investors/dupes. The trick is never to actually do the demo - announce it and then repeatedly cancel for "technical reasons" (and avoid the Randi prize like the plague).

Anyone who has spent a little time looking at free energy/over unity devices soon learns that the technical reasons for the delay are actually the laws of physics. 80 is prepared to predict that Steorn and others like them will never successfully demonstrate such a machine under proper controlled conditions - although they will keep announcing they are on the verge of doing so. For more on these impossible devices see these items from James Randi's Swift - in this latest issue he comments on Steorn's recent non-demo. Here you can find Eric's History of Perpetual Motion and Free Energy Machines to see just how much time and effort has been expended on what is, to use Tony Youens' term, a CLOOB. Also by Eric Krieg is this 1997 article from Skeptical Inquirer on the claims of one Dennis Lee, who for years has claimed to have invented a free energy machine (in his case with God's help). What he has really invented and employed is the permanently receding working demonstration the better to drum up investment from the unwary and untutored. Even this is far from original, dodgy alchemists have used it for centuries with their base metal into gold claptrap. For more history of the subject drop in to The Museum of Unworkable Devices which houses "..diverse examples of the perverse genius of inventors who refused to let their thinking be intimidated by the laws of nature.."    Also see Engadget's take on the demo that wasn't in Steorn's CEO states the obvious: "we screwed up" - scroll down for the reader's comments.

*(There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch)

The Power of Mockery - is not to be underestimated. If the malcontents and loonies (and their handlers) that tried to set off bombs in London and Glasgow want to know the British reaction to their "campaign of terror" they should go here and click "listen to the latest edition". One of the greatest weapons against po-faced jihadis (and any other religious nutters for that matter) is humor and The Now Show on BBC Radio 4 this week unleashed a torrent of scathing yet hilarious ridicule on the heads of these would-be murderers. Great stuff. As is this piece, Most Druids are crazy, so why don't they attack us? by Mark Steel, writing in The Independent. Update - Don't flatter terrorists with po-faced hush. Mock them by Marina Hyde writing in the Guardian.

J'accuse - Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown channels Ed Murrow in this astonishing, articulate and vehement attack on the Bush administration. Starting with a quotation from John Wayne, of all people, Olbermann displays barely suppressed anger towards those who have damaged and hijacked the government of the USA in a powerful and passionate 10 minute diatribe. For those who confuse the gang in the White House with the USA proper listen to Olbermann and learn the difference. (A transcript is available here. Also see Terry Jones' piece A President Transformed)

Quote - "History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it." Robert A Heinlein

Blathering Bishops - if you ever doubted that bishops are a waste of space read the latest piece of tosh from these fantasists as reported in the Daily Telegraph. "The floods that have devastated swathes of the country are God's judgment on the immorality and greed of modern society, according to senior Church of England bishops" Have these anachronistic twits nothing better to do with their time? Apparently not. Do these clods really think that their Sky Fairy/Bogeyman is flooding the UK out of pique? It seems so. If this is their idea of a caring God 80 is glad that he doesn't exist - he sounds like a very nasty piece of work - as are his bishops who are so arrogant they hold that their narrow, superstition-based morality is superior to any other and claim the authority of the creator of the universe for their own prejudices and sexual hang-ups. Of course cynics might say the whole exercise is just a spot of headline-grabbing - after all why should angry Muslims dominate the news all the time - equal time for religious outrage is only fair after all. Whatever the truth of the matter these bishops are still a deeply sad bunch of men in dresses.........

Rage Boy - two interesting reflections here on the Salman Rushdie knighthood affair - the first was brought to 80's attention by the excellent Butterfies and Wheels site and is from Malaysia Today. Much ado about Rushdie, by Farish A. Noor takes a rational look at the fuss over Rushdie's award and questions claims made that "a billion" Muslims were outraged. As the writer notes "...what we have seen thus far are isolated cases of calculated public anger and collective anxiety being whipped up by specific religio-political groups that have used Islam as the basis of their respective political projects and agendas. The demonstrations against Rushdie that have taken place all over Pakistan, for instance, were organised at the behest of the MMA alliance of Islamist parties that bring together the country’s loose assembly of Islamist parties and movements such as the Jama’at-e Islami, the Jamiat’ul Ulema-e Islam (JUI), the Jamiat’ul Ulema-e Pakistan (JUP) et al. These were not spontaneous acts of public outrage but rather planned and orchestrated demonstrations calculated to have maximum mediatic effect."

Which brings us to the second piece, Look Forward to Anger by Christopher Hitchens on the futility of attempting to appease religious fanatics and the artificiality of the "spontaneous demonstrations" against Rushdie. In most of the countries where these riots and flag-burnings happen, as with the Danish cartoon riots, any such noisy public assembly could not take place without the sanction/connivance of the authorities - obviously it is far better to channel your citizen's anger towards an evil apostate and his western masters rather than toward the corruption and repression within your own regime. Which brings us to Rage Boy. In his piece Hitchens links to a page that indicates the "rent-a-riot" nature of many of these protests with multiple pictures of the same crazed individual screaming his anger. Now this guy has the kind of face that only a mother could love but he is photogenic enough if your aim is some good old-fashioned shit-stirring. Sadly more demonstrations are inevitable, but from now on 80 will be scanning the press and TV for that tell-tale of a put-up job, Rage Boy. 80 will not be alone as spotting this character is fast turning into a new internet craze. Beware of fakes (or should that be fake fakes?) though, as the bearded screamer's image is getting the Photoshop treatment, including an appearance on the cover of Time and elsewhere.


July 12th 2007

Defending is Enabling - 80 has been irked before by Madeleine Bunting (see Cry Baby Bunting and and Bye Bye Bunting) and her ill thought-out and unconvincing defense of religion and faith - with particular reference to allowing such superstition undue prominence in the public square. A typical example of this is her joy (if not glee) at the resurgence of god-botherers of various kinds as when she wrote, in what 80 hoped was her farewell piece, "For the first time in a generation, religion is part of the national conversation; people want to talk and read about it.". No Ms Bunting, there is no "want" about it, people have been forced to "talk and read about it" because violent and politicized zealots are trying to kill them. Most of her assertions do not survive much more than a moment's scrutiny so consequently 80 tends to move on to another page when her name appears. Because of this her latest effort in the Guardian slipped under the radar until now. In it one point that she discusses is the apparent need for the "Muslim community", steeped in (and suffocated by) religion as it is, to have some kind of special dispensation to live in Britain's despicable free and open society. "Dr Zaki Badawi said it was unacceptable to designate the UK as dar al-harb (the land of unbelief, of war), and declared a third category, the land of contract - dar al-sulh - where Muslims have entered a contract to obey the law in exchange for protection and freedom." The question that arises is why does this particular group need such approval? Everyone else in the country does pretty well without such. The condecension implicit in these labels is annoying and betrays a mind set so warped by religion that it cannot view anything except through its distorting lens.

To Bunting this religious labelling is taken to be a hopeful sign, and indicative of a wish to engage with the rest of the country's inhabitants, rather than an example of thought processes utterly in thrall to religion. This is no improvement at all but merely more of the same. Her mention of "Egyptian theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi" describing him as "that hate figure of the neocons" with the implication that the neocons (no friends of 80's) are wrong, is ridiculous. Yusuf al-Qaradawi is despicable. This is the man who excuses suicide bombings on theological grounds and is happy to see Israeli women murdered because "Israeli women are not like women in our society because Israeli women are militarised." (Read a transcript here of an interview replete with such gems from this repellent fanatic). Those who did read Bunting's piece when it was published and have taken the time to demolish her assertions include Martin Bright, in a piece called (with a nod to Monty Python) Silly Bunt and this blog entry by Dave T at Harry's Place. Both are well worth reading - so much so they have even stirred la Bunting into an attempted rebuttal here, in which she claims her arguments have been misinterpreted. Far from it, both commentators have understood her perfectly well. The rebuttal doesn't do the job because Bunting is on a mission to defend the indefensible This country needs no apologists for intolerant religionists, for they are effectively giving cover, however unintentionally, to extremists and murderers. (Here Bunting meets Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar. One comment in particular therein is notable for its weasonableness* "Within the context of Arabic Islam, he has been remarkable in arguing in favour of female education and employment; he has even declared they can be judges and has called for more women to become Islamic jurists." The first six words in that sentence are the ones that count. Another apologist for religion and Islam in particular is Karen Armstrong who doesn't fare too well under close examination. See Islam’s Hagiographer by David Thompson from the excellent Butterflies and Wheels)

Quote - "The second law of thermodynamics holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the Universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations - then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation - well, those experimentalists do bungle things up sometimes. but if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing to do but to collapse in deepest humiliation." Sir Arthur Eddington  The Nature of the Physical World.

July 25th 2007

The Fallible Feline of Fate - or just more cat crap? Here is a story about a cat that is supposed to be able to predict deaths at a nursing home. A Dr. David Dosa reports in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that the cat, Oscar, is drawn to those about to die. Dosa says "He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die." Yeah, right. Back in July 2004 80 wrote about the Psychic Cat of Doom which also seemed to be a harbinger of death - with very little evidence. Given the advanced age and poor health of residents in a nursing home they are more likely to die in a given period of time than most other groups which obviously increases the chances of the cat being present when someone dies. It also needs to be ascertained whether the cat sat with many people who did not die (at least not right away) - these times would not be as memorable and, as with "psychic" cold reading, where folk tend to forget or ignore incorrect results and selectively remember the "hits" the same may well be true of Oscar. Note Dosa says "He doesn't make too many mistakes". How many? Obviously a headline that says "Cat sits with elderly infirm people some of whom died" is not going to pull in readers. Another question that could be asked is did these people die while the cat was with them or soon after? If so how soon after? What is the cut off point? An hour? A day? 20 minutes? Just because death and the cat appear to happen simultaneously there is no reason to assume they are connected in any way. To do so would be an example of fallacious reasoning (post hoc ergo propter hoc) In the Guardian report a "Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University" and who has read Dosa's paper asks the obvious question ".. the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying." So it appears Dosa wrote, and the NEJM published, a report in which this most elementary of checks was not carried out. Even though this is an "opinion" piece what on earth what was the NEJM thinking? This story, like its predecessor, is more of the standard of a credulous tabloid than a medical journal.

The World's Stupidest Fatwas - a worrying, ludicrous and sadly, far from complete list of pronouncements by loopy Islamic clerics.

More Potter Prattle - it is not just fundie nutjobs (see Satanic Potter below) that are bothered by J K Rowling's stories. Take for example Lev Grossman, writing in Time "Rowling's work is so familiar that we've forgotten how radical it really is. Look at her literary forebears. In The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien fused his ardent Catholicism with a deep, nostalgic love for the unspoiled English landscape. C.S. Lewis was a devout Anglican whose Chronicles of Narnia forms an extended argument for Christian faith. Now look at Rowling's books. What's missing? If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God". Why on earth should a kid's fantasy feature God? If we are talking about Philip Pullman's excellent His Dark Materials trilogy then God and his minions are an integral part of the story - but they would be very out of place in Hogwarts.

Grossman's reference to Rowling's "literary forbears" is a nonsense - the Potter books owe nothing to C S Lewis or J R R Tolkien whatsoever apart from using some of the same stock mythological and folkloric creatures such as elves, dwarves and dragons that countless other fantasies feature. While it is true that the former's Narnia stories are indeed a Christian allegory this is certainly not the case with Tolkien's Middle Earth. There are wizards and evil beings such as Sauron but no gods are mentioned anywhere - and there is certainly no sign of Tolkien's "ardent Catholicism". As for Grossman's declaration that "..Potter lives in a world free of any religion or spirituality of any kind." this reveals his view that religious belief is somehow different from any other superstition or supernatural belief. It isn't and wizards and dragons are just as real as any resurrected Jewish godman, or his dad - in other words, not at all.

Satanic Potter - we are very lucky to have the Landover Baptist Church taking up the cudgels against J K Rowling's satanic creation Harry Potter. But it is also worth bearing in mind that despite Landover's parody there are, in what passes for real life, plenty of clods that are genuinely frightened by these books and their huge popularity. From past book burnings in New Mexico and condemnation by the Vatican the signs are that Potter continues to rattle the cages of religious nutjobs.

Quote - "I am certainly not going back to being a student. The faithful can't any longer understand us in Italian, let alone Latin." Non-Latin speaker Father Maurizio Fileni commenting on Pope Ratzinger's decision to bring back the Latin Tridentine Mass.

Where's My Star Drive? - nice piece here from Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI project, on the 60th anniversary of the so-called flying saucer crash in Roswell, New Mexico. He is not too gentle with the UFO nuts and conspiracy theorists, who despite the whole story having been thoroughly debunked still cling to their fantasies. Instead of going back to the original story Shostak looks at the later claims that the US has been secretly reverse engineering alien technologies. (These of course would the alien technologies that have made Iraq such a cakewalk.) Unsurprisingly there is no evidence whatsoever for any alien high tech devices in the 60 years since the crash - the only people who have benefited from the story are the trinket sellers and hucksters in Roswell and the UFO enthusiasts who write books on the subject and unscrupulous makers of   TV shows. As Shostak neatly puts it "..the saucer smashup 70 miles outside of town has become a "crash cow".

Quote - "Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is often ignored, marginalized or simply buried. The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds. Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology, [and] preconceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect." Former US surgeon general Richard H. Carmona quoted in the Washington Post on his time with the Bush/Cheney administration. A Bush appointee, he served from 2002 to 2006. How come he stuck it so long?

A Slight Disconnect - "It's not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God, Islamic theologians and jurisprudents have debated this issue. Referring to it as a form of jihad, under the title of jeopardising the life of the mujahideen. It is allowed to jeopardise your soul and cross the path of the enemy and be killed." Yusef al-Qaradawi on suicide bombing. "I think people will it find that very strange he is seen as an extremist. He is well-known for his moderate and balanced views. Many times he has condemned terrorism. In Europe, he is known to promote integration and positive participation in society." Yusra Khreegi on Yusef al-Qaradawi. (Yusra Khreegi has a comment piece in the Guardian on Muslims United. To fully appreciate this and her sincerity scroll down to the reader's comments including this one which supplies details about the author the Guardian somehow failed to provide.)

July 27th 2007

Common Sense - some people reckon that the radiation from cell/mobile phones, antenna masts, laptops and other wireless modern gadgets affect their health. They claim to have varied symptoms and just know that it is the "radiation" affecting them because the symptoms appear when near such offending objects. The condition even has its own name, "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" (EHS). Finally it was decided to apply the sort of common sense approach reminiscent of one that tested the  claim that some people can detect auras emanating from those about them. A good few years ago in a TV show in the UK James Randi tested an Irish gentleman, James Garvey, who claimed that he not only detected auras but could do so through intervening walls and even over the phone. Randi had a simple procedure to which Garvey agreed in advance - subjects were placed behind a screen in labelled positions, A, B, C, D etc. All he had to do was match the auras to the people to the position they occupied - obviously a cinch as he could see their auras! Out of 5 subjects Garvey matched 2 correctly - in other words no better than guesswork. (More details are in James Randi - Psychic Investigator - now out of print but available through Abe Books. Garvey, by the way is still peddling his crap)

The EHS test (carried out by the University of Essex) as reported in New Scientist "revealed only two of the 44 EHS sufferers (4.5%) could reliably tell whether the signal was switched on or off. A near-identical proportion of the other volunteers (five of 114, or 4.4%) did the same. The team say that this is the proportion you would expect based on chance alone." It is noteworthy that "During all the experiments – whether there was a signal or not – the EHS sufferers consistently reported more anxiety, fatigue and discomfort, and had higher blood pressure and heart rate than the control participants. There was only a correlation between their symptoms and the signal when they knew the mast was switched on. In the "double-blind" conditions, where neither the subject nor the researchers knew whether the mast was on or off, the effect disappeared." Well, what a surprise! Will this simple and effective test be accepted by those who wrap their heads in tinfoil? You have to be joking - within a week of the New Scientist report Alternet ran a piece that came to a very different conclusion - we are told "For years, opponents of cell towers and wireless technology have voiced concerns about potential health effects of electromagnetic fields. Once ridiculed as crackpots and Luddites, they're starting to get backup from the scientific community." And the evidence offered? Not a double-blind test as run by University of Essex but a string of anecdotes and poorly substantiated claims.

Would that more of these claims, little more than urban legends, be put to such a simple test. Can someone under properly controlled conditions reliably tell when an aura/electromagnetic field (EMF) is present? Unless the EMF is many times stronger than safety limits already allow in say, the US and UK, the answer is no - simple as that and no amount of anecdotery makes any difference. Sadly but inevitably the amount of drivel that is talked about EHS continues unabated but wait, 80 has another theory - the whole health threat story was in fact started by the unscrupulous tin foil manufacturers to boost sales - try and prove me wrong. (For a similar test of another variant of the aura nonsense read this Journal of the American Medical Association report on Therapeutic Touch (TT) and learn how over 10 tears ago Emily Rosa's fourth-grade science fair entry led to the debunking of this nonsense. Yet despite damning evidence against it the TT nutters are, like Mr Garvey, still peddling crap.)

A Nice Pair - of new(ish) videos from the excellent Pat Condell are available here entitled Politics and Religion and Why Does Faith Deserve Respect? Nothing contentious there then... Highly Recommended.

What's a Metaphor For? - here is a nice piece from P Z Myers in his excellent Pharyngula blog which examines the tendency of the more "intellectual" Christians to claim that many of the the nonsensical ideas in the Bible are in fact metaphors and not to be taken literally. In response to accusations of "atheistic bigotry" Myers examines and then skewers the claims of such "metaphorists". Here is a taster "I have to wonder, too…if this god is a metaphor, why are people always building real monuments and cathedrals to him, and donating real money and effort to his worship? Why not just stay home on Sundays, watch football, and say you're metaphorically being religious? There's a real disconnect here: the institution of religion is not committed to a metaphor." Good stuff and full of useful ammunition....

Fear and Loathing - on the high seas as Johann Hari ships out with a bunch of American neo-con fantasists and listens to their delusions. There is a temptation to think that Hari is exaggerating in his portrait of these ghastly people like the woman who "..gets on her knees every day to "thank God for Fox News" and Robert Bork, one time Reagan Supreme Court nominee, whose view of the Iraq debacle owes nothing to reality "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them." The whole piece is pretty depressing but some comic relief is provided when Hari acts as an agent provocateur to draw out the true looniness of his shipmates, as when he suggests to a woman petrified of Muslims and stem cell research "Couldn't they just do experiments on Muslim stem-cells?" to be answered with " Hey – that's a great idea!" How the hell did he keep a straight face? (There is a permanent link to Hari's archive on the sidebar of this page.)

August 3rd 2007

Two Trick Pony - is how James Randi describes Uri Geller in this video clip. In 80's opinion Randi is too generous. By way of an introduction to yet another tedious spoon-bending demo Randi points out the the things to look for in Geller's amateurish performance on a TV show. The "mystery" of Geller is not his so-called psychic powers but his sheer chutzpah in trotting out the same lame old stuff for the last 30 years or so. Another mystery is how anyone could still be taken in by his poorly executed legerdemain. See Randi's latest Swift newsletter here and also check out the archive. The sidebar of this page contains a permanent link to the current edition of Swift, a welcome weekly dose of sanity. For more of Randi on You Tube see here.

80 Has Been Renewing - an acquaintance with the wit and wisdom of H L Mencken and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Below are a few observations by the "Sage of Baltimore" that are, if anything, more apposite today than when they were first made. For more on the man see here and here. Also see The Mencken Society Home Page

On Fundamentalists - "...The only really respectable Protestants are the Fundamentalists. Unfortunately, they are also palpable idiots..."

On Having The Answer - "The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake."

On Religion and Science - "The scientist who yields anything to theology, however slight, is yielding to ignorance and false pretenses, and as certainly as if he granted that a horse-hair put into a bottle of water will turn into a snake."

On Religion and Morality - "I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind - that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking."

On the War on Terror - "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

On Respect for Religious Beliefs - "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart"

Do Not Miss - Marcus Brigstocke on the Now Show voicing his contempt for the big three so-called Abrahamic religions. Not only does he go for the obvious targets such as fundamentalists but also takes a swipe at moderate religionists as enablers of their loonier brethren by giving belief in heaven and hell and other supernatural codswallop a fig leaf of respectability. Click here for the BBC Radio 7 Listen Again page and scroll down to 22:00 - the whole show is good but if you want to fast forward to 18 minutes that will take you straight into Brigstocke's piece. With people around like him and Pat Condell secularism has some doughty defenders. Fierce and funny... (Update - Brigstocke's piece is now available here - and likely to be available for longer than the above - mentioned Listen Again link. It is also rather easier to access.)

August 10th 2007

Mentally Ill? - David Shayler, the portly (no longer - see the video below) ex-junior spy and whistleblower has a new calling. It seems he told More 4 News that ".. he had visited a psychic who he believes channelled the spirit of Mary Magdalene and anointed him as the Messiah." Wow, that doesn't happen every day. He also claimed his "... new powers included the ability to change the weather and that he had helped prevent the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow in June through meditation." According to this report Shayler does not believe he has "lost it" stating "Do I look mentally ill? Do I sound mentally ill?... I'm absolutely convinced, as convinced as I can be, that the universe is changing shape, that humanity has to change, that I'm here to help teach people." Those two initial questions may have been intended as rhetorical but on the evidence so far the answer is a definite yes. (Also see the Register's take on the man they've dubbed the "chav messiah" and here is the More4 news report on YouTube - thanks Tony)

Do You Have a Permit For That?
- the Chinese communist bureaucracy has decided to crack down on a practice that doesn't even exist - but who said anything had to be real before the desk jockeys want a piece? There are plenty of places that license nonsensical crap such as fortune telling so why shouldn't Beijing's finest regulate reincarnation? According to this report "Tibetan living Buddhas are no longer allowed to be reincarnated without permission from the atheist Chinese government.." Hardly very atheist if they are really going along with born again gobbledegook but then this is less about Tibetan superstition and more about exerting ever more control of that country. China is desperate to expunge the old Tibet which it took over in 1951 and turn it into a compliant province. If this means going along with Tibetan religious beliefs in order to tighten the Chinese grip then so be it. China is desperate to put on a good face to the world for the upcoming Olympics but Stalinist nonsense like this keeps ripping the rice paper curtain revealing the truly oppressive regime that holds the levers of power. Anyone supporting, attending or competing in the 2008 games should ask themselves what good they are doing giving the rulers of China even a shred of credibility. It was particularly disgusting to watch the closely orchestrated displays in Tiananmen Square celebrating the year's countdown to the Olympics - the same square that hosted a very different and murderous display in 1989 where thousands of unarmed democracy supporters were gunned down in a massacre the authorities have yet to acknowledge. It is deeply ironic that Tiananmen means "Gate of Heavenly Peace". Read here about the Human Rights Olympic Torch Relay and see Amnesty International's The Olympics countdown – one year left to fulfil human rights promises.

Religion and Morality - according to Jesus and Mo. Check out the archive, nearly every one's a winner.

Quote - "Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia of Alexandria, teacher and mathematician, famously murdered by a Christian mob in 415 CE.

Is it extreme to defend free speech? - is the question asked by Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon) in this piece published on the National Secular Society web site. He goes on to say "I organised the Parliamentary campaign that last year voted down – by a margin of one – a Government plan to outlaw the incitement of religious hatred. Recent outbursts (on the Rushdie knighthood) by the likes of Mr Bukhari (chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee) make that vote all the more crucial for freedom of expression. Those who argue for such laws say that one should separate the person from the ideology: hate the sin but love the sinners. But I don’t just hate Nazism, for instance. I hate Nazis. We should all hate Nazis. It is not just their ideology which is loathsome, they are loathsome people.

So I believe I should be entitled to incite hatred of Nazis, short of inciting violence. My words ought not to be intimidating to any Nazi of fragile disposition. But the language I used could well – I hope - be insulting to any self-respecting Nazi. And in the same way, I should also have the freedom to advise others to hate jihadism or homophobic bigotry. I should not be criminalised for promoting hatred of Islamic jihadists or fundamentalist Christian homophobic bigots. After all, they have the freedom to promote hatred of free-speech loving, gay- rights campaigning, non-God-fearing Liberals like me." When world-weary friends tell me all politicians are self-serving power seekers Evan Harris and the few others like him provide an example of what a politician should be. Another thought - can you imagine any politician in the US speaking out like this? Thought not... (Having read Harris' piece see this comment on it and wonder, as did 80, whether the poster had actually read the same article)

Rare Good News - much of current television programming in the UK is, not to put too fine a point on it, crap. Flagship science shows such as Horizon get the dumbing down treatment, quacks such as Gillian McKeith are given a platform to sell their nostrums and parade their scientific ignorance and intelligence-insulting tosh such as the dire Most Haunted pander to the ignorant, the gullible and the stupid. And the good news? Richard Dawkins has a new TV series starting on Channel 4 on August 13th entitled The Enemies Of Reason in which he takes aim at all manner of irrational (and often highly lucrative) beliefs and activities. These include, this Times article tells us "..astrologers, spirit mediums, faith healers and homeopathic medicine."

The same Times article, by Peter Millar, has this lovely exchange which 80 makes no excuse for quoting in full "When Dawkins consulted a medium who has appeared on daytime television and charges £50 for instant phone readings she said she could hear or see his father “on the other side”. He did his best not to look surprised as she continued: “I’m aware of your father stood right behind you. “On a spiritual level he wasn’t the most openest man with his thoughts and his feelings. Ummm, I kind of want to say that I do love you and I do care – but that wouldn’t have been his character.” (Or that of many middle-class father figures of his generation, a sceptic might have said.)

But Dawkins let her continue. “I’m aware that you don’t have you dad’s photograph out” – it was true, he didn’t – “so I’m a little bit concerned why. So I’m going to ask you: why don’t you have it out?” Dawkins had a bombshell ready: “Well, he might be aware that I don’t have it out because he comes to the house about once a week.” “Oh, he’s still here,” she said, adding after a few seconds: “I don’t feel it’s working.” “Is that because you thought my father is dead and discovered that he’s still alive?” “No, nothing to do with that. I don’t know.” She commented later: “As a clairvoyant you’re only as good as the client.”  Priceless. Also see Richard and The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

What is the Out Campaign?

August 13th 2007

Fallacious Phillips - sometimes one reads something that is so crass and ignorant that one is struck dumb - but in 80's case not for long. Launching a preemptive strike on Richard Dawkins' new yet-to-be-aired TV series The Enemies of Reason Melanie Phillips manages to cram more nonsense into a few paragraphs than 80 had thought possible. Her thesis is that the collapse of religious faith is responsible for the popularity of what she terms "ludicrous therapies and gurus, including faith healers, psychic mediums, 'angel therapists', 'aura photographers', astrologers and others." Here she is guilty of the assumption that religious faith, an irrational belief unsupported by evidence, is any different from any other evidence-free irrational beliefs, whether it be shapeshifting lizards or astrology. To buttress her argument, such as it is, she drags out a tired old quote from G K Chesterton "..when people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing - they believe in anything." This is complete nonsense uttered by someone who apparently cannot conceive of coping with life without some form of comforter, a psychic crutch, a skirt to hold, a thumb to suck.* This kind of argument is somewhat reminiscent of the argument from incredulity - "I can't figure this out therefore there must be a supernatural explanation" as it assumes the need for something other than physical reality. It is, in fact, not an argument at all but a sad admission of inadequacy.

Reality or the agreed meanings of words are not enough to restrain Phillips from making statements oustanding for their fatuousness. For example "The big mistake is to see religion and reason as polar opposites. They are not. In fact, reason is intrinsic to the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Bible provides a picture of a rational Creator and an orderly universe - which, accordingly, provided the template for the exercise of reason and the development of science." This rational Creator in the bible, is that the one that incites, approves and commits all manner of violence, the same one that drowned the population of the Earth as an indiscriminate punishment for wickedness? As for an orderly universe, how could this be when the Creator, on the evidence of the bible, is capricious, capable of halting the sun in the sky, suspending the laws of physics so as to allow more hours of gleeful killing by his creatures? Rational? Orderly? What the hell is Phillips thinking?

Phillips is not content to trot out recycled tosh, she likes to be creative too, as in this sentence "The most conspicuous example of this is provided by Dawkins himself, who breaks the rules of scientific evidence by seeking to claim that Darwin's theory of evolution - which sought to explain how complex organisms evolved through random natural selection - also accounts for the origin of life itself." Note that no reference is given, or can be given, as this is a falsehood. Darwin's theory of evolution is just that, a theory of evolution - it says nothing of ultimate origins (but biochemists and others are on that particular case). Unlike say, religion which claims to know all manner of things with absolute certainty but gives no proof whatsoever. By setting up a clumsy straw man in this way Phillips merely calls to attention the poverty of her argument.

She even appears to view creationism, albeit dressed up in a lab coat and calling itself Intelligent Design (ID), favorably. She says "While this theory is, of course, open to vigorous counter-argument, people such as Prof Dawkins and others have gone to great lengths to stop it being advanced at all, on the grounds that it denies scientific evidence such as the fossil record and is therefore worthless." The ID "theory" falls at the first hurdle in that it is not scientific in the first place, offers no testable hypotheses and makes no claims beyond yet another argument from ignorance - if we don't yet understand /insert biological mechanism here/ then God must have done it. Yet another poor  strategy is the ad hominem attack. It is (almost) always a bad thing to stoop to that level but, 80 would just like to say that, judging from her previous output, and in particular this latest ill-thought out, cliched, lazy nonsense masquerading as an argument Phillips gives every impression of being a fool, and a dismayingly ignorant one at that. (For a refreshing change read Charlie Brooker in the Guardian on The Enemies Of Reason)

Quote - "Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What have we to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!" Isaac Asimov

Holy Homunculi - here are some biblical action figures, or more correctly "Spirit Warriors", aimed at young kids as an alternative to the likes of Action Man. It is amusing to note that in the description of the Samson figure, a sort of semitic Heracles, the prospective owners of these lumps of articulated plastic are shielded from biblical truth. "The secret to Samson’s strength was his hair! God had blessed him with this incredible gift, but it was all based on one condition: he could not cut his hair. So, Samson did all that he could to protect his secret. One day, Samson’s enemies discovered his secret and they cut his hair. Samson’s strength left and his enemies captured him." What, no Delilah beguiling him with her sexy Philistine ways? No Samson, in thrall to lust, telling his big secret in order to get his leg over? At least a mention would have been nice. If the peddlers of these toys can crow about how Samson "... killed 30 men in one night without any weapons; and he even used the jawbone of a donkey to single-handedly defeat one thousand men!" surely they can take a leaf out of Hollywood's book and leaven the violence with a little sex? (80 has looked at biblical action figures before. Other, equally weird, items of Christian Commerce were covered here and here)

Show Me a Sign
- a few websites feature pictures of church sign boards bearing messages that are often anything but sacred. 80 had assumed some clever software trickery in the guise of Photoshop lay behind these but the truth is anyone can make their own after a visit to The Church Sign Generator and have some blasphemous fun. (Thanks to God Hates Shrimp for the link to the generator.)

August 15th 2007

Scrolls Scandal - in the USA, a country half-choked by its own religiosity, a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit has been doing the rounds (currently at the San Diego Natural History Museum) oddly promoting an old and largely discredited theory about the origin of the scrolls and their authors. This theory for a long time was the "official" version and those who did not agree had great trouble accessing the scrolls material for research, thereby allowing the clique which did have access to call all the shots. Happily, after the release of photographs of the scrolls by a third party, this scholarly monopoly, which should never have existed in the first place, was broken. Archaeologists returned to the site at Qumran near which the scrolls were found and failed to find any trace of the proto-monastic community which had been claimed as the origin point of the scrolls. Meanwhile the provenance of the documents themselves was being independently questioned on textual and paleographic grounds. Far from being produced by a monastic sect in a desert "monastery" they are more likely to have been produced in Jerusalem and later hidden in the desert on the eve of war with the Romans. But is this new and compelling evidence mentioned in the current exhibit? No, the same old fairy story is still going the rounds. (Here is a fairly typical example of the old, discredited "consensus" view of Qumran the "monastery", with its "inkwells" and "writing benches".)

Charles Gadda, writing in NowPublic, began to investigate and found behind the exhibit in San Diego there is a web of Christian fundamentalist "universities" and "scholars". The quotation marks are necessary for, as you read the piece, you will learn many of the participants in this story claim qualifications for which there is little evidence and which were often awarded by universities that they or their colleagues founded in the first place. (To say diploma mill might be going to far, but not very.) Gadda has taken the time and considerable effort to dig away at the connections between these Christian fundamentalist "bible scholars" and the far from accurate presentation of the scrolls and their story that is going on right now in San Diego. He tells how celebrities, including Steven Spielberg, have contributed considerable sums of money to fund the exhibit and its associated "scholars", most likely unaware that they were aiding in the dissemination of pseudo-archaeology and an unjustified and partisan interpretation of the evidence both textual and archaeological. Bush's administration has famously not been kind to science and any findings that don't fit a particular (often fundamentalist Christian) world view, but Gadda by his excellent work shows that good old private enterprise is more than capable of the same kind of deceit. Gadda is to be commended for his excellent work in demonstrating the lengths to which people and organizations can go to protect cherished beliefs in the face of conflicting evidence. (For good background on the discovery of the scrolls, archaeology at Qumran and the various theories about the site and its inhabitants this Wikipedia article is fairly comprehensive.) Update - here is an interesting overview of the controversy surrounding the scrolls. Charles Gadda's scathingly sarcastic comments on developments since his NowPublic piece can be read here. Great stuff. More from Gadda here. Further Update - more good work from Gadda on these so-called "bible scholars".

80's paragraphs above are mentioned on a site called LAVoice thus "I was amused to learn that the San Diego Natural History Museum's media campaign for its Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit appears to be encountering a rather skeptical reception, particularly with the usual anti-American commentators living abroad. Today I read the following on the British View from 80 blog.." Surely that "anti-American commentator" remark doesn't refer to these pages? To be sharply skeptical of the claims of religion and the doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes does not automatically make one anti-American. UPDATE -See this important update to the story of "Charles Gadda" and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

God Tube - With the huge range of uncensored (and ungodly) material of all kinds on the web and the likes of Pat Condell and Marcus Brigstocke putting material on YouTube the religionists have decided to strike back, according to the inimitable Mark Morford. Here is his description of the maelstrom of wickedness you can access from your computer "Hell, as any good Christian will tell you, the Net is packed like a perky Vegas whorehouse with godless heathens, too: perverts and nonbelievers and hyper-intelligent Buddhists and smart-ass Wiccans, yoga lovers and kinky reformed Catholics and delightful "spiritual cowgirls" who would no more kneel at the altar of wholesome Christian values than they'd eat a stack of greasy McDonald's Filet-O-Fishes and eight pounds of deep-fried Snickers bars and move to Alabama and get diabetes and call themselves a patriot." Whew!

But now there is an answer to this tidal wave of sin - (motto "Broadcast Him"). The creators of the site have obviously missed the irony of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being needing his minions to post videos of abysmal quality in his name. Is it worth taking at all seriously? After all, the Conservapedia, a response to the "biased" Wikipedia is a sad joke (see Organized Stupidity). Are such religious conservative "backlashes" anything that should be taken with more than a pinch of salt? Morford weighs the alternatives, on the one hand "They appear to wish to, quite simply, restrict understanding. Limit knowledge. Prevent exploration." but on the other "...maybe it's just a cute, silly collection of nutball preachers, bad Christian rock and rabid Christian youth and lots of little kids blindly reciting Bible verse." As a wishy-washy liberal 80 thinks there is an element of truth in both descriptions, but read Morford's whole piece and wonder at his sentences with no end, full of dependent clauses, that somehow, in a fashion that defies logic, seem to make at least some kind of sense just before the end.

Quote - "The end result is possibly the most important broadcast of the year so far; important because it presents a passionate argument we really all ought to be having right now, if we want to prevent a great slide backwards into mud-eating barbarism. And if you think that's hyperbole, I suggest you pick up a newspaper and see how many of the world's problems are currently being caused or exacerbated by the rejection of rational thought. From fundamentalist death cults to arrogant invasions: a startling lack of logic unites them all." Charlie Brooker commenting on Richard Dawkins' The Enemies Of Reason starting tonight (Monday) Channel 4 8:00 pm for those in the UK. Part 2 is next week.

"Amnesty International's position is not for abortion as a right but for women's human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations. Amnesty International stands alongside the victims and survivors of human rights violations. Our policy reflects our obligation of solidarity as a human rights movement with, for example, the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left pregnant as a result of the enemy, is further ostracised by her community. Ours is a movement dedicated to upholding human rights, not specific theologies. Our purpose invokes the law and the state, not God." Kate Gilmore, deputy general secretary, Amnesty International, quoted in the Independent.

We Don't Give a Shit About You - is the clear message  on abortion sent to women the world over by those who run the Roman Catholic Church. Even victims of repeated gang rape, a weapon of choice in the Darfur horror show, are expected to give birth to the children of their tormentors and torturers. The Vatican hierarchy from Ratzinger down are cold and cruel men without a discernable trace of empathy for the women who have been raped or are carrying a severely deformed child. This callous attitude has come to a head in the row between Amnesty International and the Catholic church on the subject, with the "men of God" threatening to "call upon Catholics worldwide to boycott the organisation" because of its compassionate stance on the necessity in some circumstances of abortion. There is at least on ray of hope in this ghastly business and that is as much as Ratzinger and pals may fulminate on the subject and take other retrograde steps many ordinary follow thier own conscience and not the vatican's diktats. In fact the Vatican's lurch toward the dark ages, and its increasingly strident tone, most noticeable since Ratzinger got poped, are a sure sign that they are losing the battle worldwide. It is just so dreadfully sad that so many people will suffer and made to feel needlessly guilty before the church, or what's left of it, develops some humanity and kindness.

August 20th 2007

Angry Archaeologists - there are many areas where the current craze for unreason, wishful thinking and wilful ignorance are having an adverse effect - the so-called complementary/alternative medicine (sCAM) field is one that springs immediately to mind. Another is archaeology - not the sort of thing you see in, say Time Team, where the evidence is all and interpretations of a site can change completely to fit what is uncovered, but cult/alternate or pseudo-archaeology. There is a world of difference between building hypotheses based on actual evidence recovered from the soil and writing a glossy, poorly researched fantasy about lost civilizations. Cult or pseudo-archaeology, as in many other woo-woo pursuits, usually involves someone coming up with an idea and then selecting or distorting the evidence (if any) to fit the idea. Or, if in the likely event that the facts flatly contradict the precious idea/theory, they are ignored. Just go into your local bookshop and see the large number of volumes filed under archaeology or history when they are nothing of the sort. Works by people such as Graham Hancock (see Don't Mention Atlantis) are typical of this sort of unscientific nonsense. (The inappropriate placement of such books can be corrected, albeit temporarily, by a little guerilla librarianship, a harmless, indeed benevolent  practice in which 80 has indulged for many years. Books by say, Erich von Daniken or Immanuel Velikovsky, have no place on the history/archaeology shelves of a store and should be quietly moved to that convenient dumping ground for crap, the "Mind, Body and Spirit" section. Such redistribution 80 views as a public service). Two good archaeology sites, among others, 80 has mentioned before are Doug's Archaeology Site and Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews' pages on "fringe" archaeology (Sites For Sore Eyes). Both sites contain much real archaeology and history with separate sections devoted to the loonier side of things.

Now Fitzpatrick-Matthews and James Doeser have established a new site that deals with the nonsense head-on. Bad Archaeology looks set to do the same for archaeology that Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy and Ben Goldacre's Bad Science are doing in their fields. That the pair describe themselves as "Angry Archaeologists" is indicative of the stance taken, one of which 80 heartily approves. There is a danger that given the number of books churned out by the pseudo-archaeologists and the uncritical and childish crap shown on TV, particularly in the US concerning "biblical archaeology", many people will mistake this drivel for the real thing. Bad Archaeology aims to redress the balance. The cheapening and dumbing down of science is what Richard Dawkins refers to here, "Scientific truth is too beautiful to be sacrificed for the sake of light entertainment or money. Astrology is an aesthetic affront. It cheapens astronomy, like using Beethoven for commercial jingles." Or saying the pyramids were built by aliens..... To ignore, distort or wilfully misinterpret the hard-won results of generations of work in the field is an intellectual crime. Another apposite Dawkins' quote destroys the excuse made by publishers and broadcasters that they have to give equal time to all sides of a debate in pursuit of their conception of fairness, "...when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong." It was telling (and more than a little amusing) to see that when, in a BBC Horizon documentary, Graham Hancock was challenged on a claimed alignment between a certain constellation and the Great Pyramid he responded with petulance, not facts or reasoned refutation.

Bad Archaeology has only recently been launched but on the evidence so far it will be a regular port of call for 80 - well laid-out and easily navigable, the site already has plenty of good articles (see the site map to appreciate the range of subject matter) with more to follow, calling for a permanent place in the sidebar of this page. Next time someone tells you the pyramids were built by aliens or that all early human civilizations owe a debt to an Atlantean precursor from which they derived their knowledge, or that Noah's Ark has been found in satellite images, tell them to go to Bad Archaeology and learn what real archaeology is, as opposed to these childish (but oh so lucrative) fantasies.

Real Archaeology - "Archaeology is extraordinarily diverse. From the field technicians knee deep in mud in a Hebridean winter to the Classical specialist examining frescoes on a wall at Pompeii, from the geneticist tracing ancient bovine DNA to the linguist refining our understanding of Maya inscriptions, the range of specialisms and viewpoints is enormous. Nevertheless, there are commonalities of approach and boundaries to that diversity, united by what may be termed ‘the scientific method’.

These boundaries are best explained by showing what archaeology is not. Someone who uses explanations that involve unknown civilisations, extraterrestrial contact, the inerrancy of religious texts or the operation of paranormal powers, belongs to a very different intellectual tradition from mainstream archaeology. The orthodoxy – itself a mass of contradictory, competing and often abstruse arguments – generally relegates these other investigators to a ‘fringe’ or ‘cult’ status, as a result their claims go unchallenged. The aim of this site is to explore the main strands of thought within the ‘fringe’, to explain how and why they are different from orthodox archaeology..." To read the rest see the home page of Bad Archaeology.

President Bush - reveals that his grip on reality is as strong as ever. "Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principle. ...After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position and I accept his decision. It's sad that ... his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.'' was Dubya's comment on the resignation of  his  obliging shyster and amnesiac accomplice Alberto Gonzales.

Islam In Europe - is the latest broadside from Pat Condell. There are now over 20 short videos by him on You Tube - see this index page. Highly recommended.

Familiar? - “Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship…Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” Hermann Goering, at the Nuremberg Trials from Gustave Gilbert's book Nuremburg Diary.

The Enemies of Reason - the first part (for Part 2 see Update below) of Richard Dawkins' new TV series is now available to watch online here. By the way, if anyone was foolish enough to think that a prestigious broadsheet newspaper's in-house astrologer would make any more sense than any old end of the pier fortune teller see this piece of nonsense from Neil Spencer, in which he attempts to make amends for his poor showing in the first part of Enemies of Reason. Does he succeed? No. Before penning his twaddle he should have taken the time to read Unweaving the Rainbow by the man he so wittily dubs the Dawk. If he had done so he might have learned that scientific knowledge enhances the wonder and beauty of the universe, it does not detract. In his near- rant Spencer achieves little more than demonstrating that he is one of those who cannot, dare not, face the universe as it is and craves some sort of cosmic narrative - one that will flatter his intuition and emotions with deep significance, one that holds out the spurious promise of " metaphysical and spiritual truth." Either that or he is a charlatan anxious to defend the source of his income. One wonders how well he would fare if he had a proper job instead of making a living based upon the the gullibility of his readers. (Do take a look at what James Randi has to say about Spencer's piece) Update - Part 2 of The Enemies of Reason can be seen here.

A Bigger Picture - than any astrologer's.  "Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination - stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one - million - year - old light. A vast pattern - of which I am a part... What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent? "  Richard Feynman, Footnote in The Feynman Lectures on Physics

God's Still Dead - is the word from Christopher Hitchens writing in Slate about Mark Lilla's book "The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West".

Faith, Hope and DNA - here is an interesting piece by David P. Barash, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, entitled The DNA of Religious Faith which begins thus "In his 2004 book, The End of Faith, Sam Harris pointed out that alone of all human assertions, those qualifying as "religious," almost by definition, automatically demand and typically receive immense respect, even veneration. Claim that the earth is flat, or that the tooth fairy exists, and you will be deservedly laughed at. But maintain that according to your religion, a seventh-century desert tribal leader ascended to heaven on a winged horse, or that a predecessor had done so, without such a conveyance, roughly 600 years earlier, and you are immediately entitled to deference. It has long been, let us say, an article of faith that at least in polite company, religious faith — belief without evidence — should go unchallenged. No longer. If recent books — many of them by prominent biologists — are any indication, the era of deference to religious belief is ending as faith is subjected to gimlet-eyed scrutiny." There, that should be more than enough to whet your appetite. 80's attention was drawn to Barash's piece by the National Secular Society's Newsline, a free weekly email newsletter. Sign up for it here.

Delving Into Deceit - good investigative journalism is no longer the sole preserve of the mainstream press, whether the medium is TV or newspapers. In fact some would say that the best stuff is being done elsewhere. This is certainly true of the tabloid press in the UK, which is often more interested in the doings of the nonentities that pass for "celebrities" than real journalism. A lot of hard work goes into researching a story thoroughly and ensuring that one's assertions are grounded in verifiable fact. Even then the reaction to a investigative journalism can be surprising, to say the least, just see the strange story of the recent UK Channel 4 documentary Undercover Mosque that attracted the unwelcome attentions of the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which seemed to be more than bending over backwards to accommodate Islamist claims of misrepresentation. Another story in the UK recently was that of the girl who took legal action over her school banning the wearing of jewelry, in this instance a silver "abstinence" ring. At first glance this just looked like more bloody religionists playing the persecution game - it took an investigative reporter, not from any big paper or TV channel, but from a blog called Ministry of Truth to reveal the motives behind the whole silly business were more commercial than devotional. (see No Ring of Truth).




©Copyright  2001 - 2007   Ross W Sargent  All rights reserved