Big Question: Numbskull Party

Today’s BBC’s Big Question was discussing the premise that the Buggering Nutters Party had a right to be heard.

The aforementioned “big question” was effectively decided by the very format of the programme, given the fact that BNP people were central to the discussion, so they were obviously getting heard. There were some very good audience and panel responses to them, but still, it’s hard not to see this as a pretty generous BBC platform. Their representatives were able to showcase their policies throughout the whole programme.

I was briefly stunned to see a vicar, in full clerical dress.

The BNP are indeed becoming masters of manipulation. They have already annexed the Union Flag, thus leaving non-racist English people with the red on white cross, (which was previously associated only with another miniscule fascist party, called the League of St George.) Along with UKIP, they hijacked the image of Churchill in their election propoganda. (Trying to connect their fascist nature with an image that only has power because of a war against fascism…. Ironic, n’est ce pas?) As well as stealing this iconic Tory figure, they have stolen policies from old Labour – building a manufacturing base, expanding British mining, and so on – allowing them to build a base in the least politically-aware parts of the working class.

All in support of a racist project that they barely bother to conceal . Unsurprisingly, they don’t bother to hide it because it’s their basic USP.

And there they are, on the BBC, with a vicar – a failed BNP candidate – as if they are now trying to annex the Church of England. He’s wearing a dog-collar and what looks like a bishops top – except it’s green. The identifying subtitle – not available for ordinary audience members -calls him Reverend blah. (It lists his church as Baptist Beans or something.)

I momentarily suspect that Rowan Williams has really fallen asleep on the job.

Nah, Phew. It’s just a bit of subliminal political chicanery. It turns out the Racist Rev isn’t a CofE vicar. But you have to do a fair bit of searching to find that out.

From Seismic Shock:

Back in 2006, Reverend Robert West was suspended from the Tory Party for addressing a BNP meeting. He went on to set up the Christian Council of Britain, which although claiming to represent ‘Christian values,’ was little more than a front group for the racist policies of the BNP.
Since then, various Christian organisations have denounced the Christian Council of Britain, whilst the BNP’s religious tactics have been reported in the Christian press. Back in December 2008, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to ban clergy from joining the BNP.
Suffice to say, Rev West is none too happy.
This Sunday, Rev West addressed a congregation in the Baptist Chapel in Barton in the Beans, Leicestershire, deploring the General Synod’s decision. (from Seismic Shock)

He comically sought asylum from the BNP, when he got into trouble with the tories for giving aid and comfort to the BNP.

Rev’d West claimed his action was sparked by a desire to “seek “refuge from political correctness by applying for asylum with the British National Party – Britain’s finest and most decent party – in our country’s hour of need.”
Ironically Rev’d West taught political philosophy and equal opportunities law at the universities of Nottingham and East Anglia, was also a member of the Lincolnshire Council for Racial Equality. (My emphasis)
But, switching to the BNP, he claimed Cameron’s A-list, an attempt to boost numbers of women and black candidates, was “discrimination of the worst kind.”
(From antiracistnetwork)

I guess that having lost his election attempt, that makes him a “failed asylum seeker.” (Control orders – where are they when you need them?)

The Daily Mirror (“Fake vicar leads the bigots’ bid “) cast doubt on his vicar credentials, in its brief but informative list of the backgrounds of BNP candidates – which included the party leader’s own attempt to play the Christian card.

“The ex-National Front chairman said Jesus would vote BNP if alive today”

Well, maybe, if the BNP was standing for election in Palestine. Unless they mean, if Jesus was a racist UK voter.

It seems the BNP see a move into the knee-jerk Christian realm as step forward for them. According to Ekklesia:(BNP helping to establish church group based around racial ideology)

The confirmation followed speculation previously reported by Ekklesia, that members of the British National Party (BNP) were involved in setting up a ‘Christian front.’….
“The Christian Council of Britain is a group set up to represent Christian values and the Christian Heritage of the country” West told the programme. ..
Asked how many members his church had, West said; “at this stage there aren’t very many but that is always the way when you are beginning something. You have to believe what you are doing is right.”….
The presenter then asked him whether there was a link between his church and the BNP.
“There is a link in that the BNP has encouraged and facilitated the formation of the Christian Council of Britain. They are working as facilitators. They are supporting what we do” West said.
He denied however that he himself was a member of the BNP. But, he said, the church group “arose in connection with the Nick Griffin trial.”

It seems that the word “Christian” is a weapon in the would-be fascist arsenal. On the model of the US religious right, I assume. The US right have already been pretty successful in hijacking the term as a synonym for “wingnut.” It is depressing that the BBC has inadvertently been suckered into the process of redefinition.

The Wire on the BBC

How impressed am I? BBC2 is showing the Wire on Monday at 23:20.

Enough said.

Ask a silly Big Question

If you could save the solar system from being extinguished by setting fire to your only child, would you do it?

Bloody stupid question. At best, it’s a thought experiment and even then it’s basically setting up an impossible scenario.

The BBC’s Sunday morning programme The Big Questions, which discusses moral issues, was talking about torture today.

One man made an intellectually dishonest pro-torture argument, which is basically as realistic a scenario as the “save the solar system” question I posed above. Paraphrased – because I am not going to watch the show and take notes – this argument is “What if you had to save the lives of thousands of people by torturing one man?”
This was discussed as if it was a real case to answer.

I am still in shock at finding myself in total agreement on this issue with Anne Atkins so I may not be too coherent.

This imaginary “save thousands by torturing one person” is meant to imply that those who oppose torture will happily sacrifice thousands to salve their own conscience. However, it is a complete crock.

As the token academic pointed out (sorry I didn’t catch his name), this scenario is from Hollywood, not real life. (24 is fiction, ffs.)

There are no conceivable circumstances in which you could know that the person in front of you was (a) the right person to torture to get the answers to your questions; (b) wouldn’t tell you lies which could endanger many more people and (c) would break under torture in such a way as to tell you the exact truth, rather than go mad.

So, there’s not even a need to bring in the standard arguments against torture to challenge this nonsense. The moral issue – although it is the basis of every decent human value – is actually irrelevant, here. The issue, of the practical consequences – the fact that using torture creates implacable enemies – is also irrelevant.

This argument leads us into the worst kind of moral morass. It softens us up for thinking that torture is bad but, just maybe, in really extreme circumstances… etc (As if the definition of which circumstances were extreme enough to justify it wouldn’t immediately be subject to an ongoing downhill standards creep.)

In fact, if a government’s knowledge is precise enough to confirm that they can save the lives of thousands on the basis of the evidence of one definitely-guilty person that they have captured, then they would already know enough to avert the imaginary catastrophe.

If they don’t have the exact right person, they are just torturing for nothing, which even the pro-torture-in-an-extreme-scenario voices on the show agreed was horrendous.

And just as a little topical torture aside, the Guardian website reported today that the supposedly threatening letter from the USA – that prevented the case of Binyan Mohamed being discussed in a UK court – was actually written at the request of the Foreign Office.

A former senior State Department official said that it was the Foreign Office that initiated the “cover-up” by asking the State Department to send the letter so that it could be introduced into the court proceedings.
The revelation sparked fresh claims that the government is trying to suppress torture evidence relating to Mohamed, who is expected to be released this week after four years and flown to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. (From the Guardian)

The horror….

fstdt is reliably hilarious. It’s like the old movie Being John Malkowitz – except that in the fstdt case, its a portal into the minds of people who are so barking mad that you wonder if there really are no mental health professionals in the USA.

As a side effect of indulging in giggling your way through a few quotes and following the links to the Rapture forums, the will to live can get vaporised.

It can make you despair for the whole human race. I start to wonder about the statistics. How many of these people are there per head of the global population? *shudder* Plus, you start adding in Islamic fundamentalists and Catholic fundamentalists, these numbers are looking pretty scary.

Well, don’t come out from behind the sofa yet. That’s just the religiously-inspired maniacs. There are plenty more non-religious lunatics where they came from.

Yes, I know about intersecting sets. I try to console myself with the thought that maybe all the conservapediacs and fundies and conspiracy nuts are the same people and that there’s only a limited pool* of them. (Wishful thinking. I think it’s called “denial” on Oprah.)

I came across one point at which the sets intersect in the rapture-ready thread entitled “Ever thought why we’re REALLY going to digital?” I saw the topic heading and tried to predict what the REAL reason for digital transmission would turn out to be. (I see you’re ahead of me here.) To usher in the end times, of course. I bet Jesus’s tv and radio sets were analog. It says so in the Bible, so it must be true.

But I was half-wrong. Although digital transmission is indeed Satan’s way to help bring about the end of the world, the main worry is that it lets the government listen in to all your conversations. (Spare a compassionate thought for the minor government employee paid to listen to the home lives of our own dear fundies, day in and day out. Death would be a blessed relief.) Through the speakers, which act as microphones….

Two words: Big Brother.
I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I heard if you plug a microphone into your speaker socket, you’ll hear sound coming out of it?
What do you all think about this? Is it true? It wouldn’t surprise me, but my question is “why”? I or my family never talk about anything interesting anyway. How do they keep track of millions of people? (from jaiu on rr)

Yeah, my friend tried it out and heard a strange static sound coming from the receiving end.
Also, get a loud speaker, plug it into the microphone socket, now speak into it, and it might record.
Why else would they be doing this?(from jaiu on rr)

Electrical devices do the electrical feedback things that they’ve always done – whether digital or not – and, just because a speaker can (sort of) act as a microphone, it must be part of a plan by some magically powerful “them” to eavesdrop on her family. …. Well, of course it must. What other conclusion could you draw?

The rest of the thread contains a mixture of apparently sane people trying to explain a few basic facts (about electrical devices and the difference between digital and analog) and more people for whom this little bit of rationality is so far over their heads that the saner commenters might as well have been speaking in Basque. Some examples of the latter:

I’m pretty sure that their plan is to watch us through our tv and maybe even tell us what to do. With an RFID chip installed in our bodies required to buy and sell they can just turn it off. The ultimate form of slavery and control.
I think going digital is somehow related to end time events.
All this has me worried, I think I am going to talk all my T.V.’s to the trash.
I know nothing about technology, but I definately believe everything that’s happening now is end time related (lifted from various comments)

OK, this stuff is just ignorant, rather than evil, unlike the “Palestinian babies are better off dead” and “Obama is a secret muslim Antichrist” comments that turn up all around the rest of the site, like the leaking dog turds that always appear on a field of snow.

But it’s not just a few simple-minded RR posters who are promoting digital-analog fear. It seems to be a fascinating component of a really paranoid worldview, so perfectly illustrated by The Truth and Light Ministeries site that I assume the site must be a parody.

(And yes, that’s how they spell it. The US-version spellchecker here is redlining it, so it can’t even be correct for US spelling. The odd word subliminally suggests a tv mini-series to me.)

This site claims that there are 2 reasons for the switch to digital: Reason 1 is that digital images can easily be faked. (Yes, everything used to be true before digital)

Undisclosed sources, experts on reverse technology have informed that any television set manufacture after 1995 has the capability not only to receive a broadcast signal, but to also send one. That’s correct, any television manufactured after 1995 already has a built in feature to send a broadcast signal from your living room of live images of what’s happening in your home.

Yeah, right. So, we are getting a video recorder that’s capable of broadcasting free with our tvs? We must be getting well and truly ripped off when we pay for camcorders, then, because they cost more than tvs and they don’t even let us watch tv at the same time. (My heart goes out again to any low-grade government functionaries forced to spend a working day looking at footage of people staring at “How Fat is your Celebrity Ice-dancer”, pausing occasionally to get a drink and to argue about shopping.)

I follow the “logic” of this argument. Apparently, fibre optics makes it possible, that’s why “they” want us to go digital. It turns out that the New World Order is to blame. Blimey, that New World Order gets everywhere and it’s apparently omniscient and omnipotent. (Maybe it’s god.)

Either the writer has no sense of irony, or else this Truth and Light Ministeries really is a spoof site – maybe a tribute site to the Illuminatus Trilogy – which is subtly undercutting its content with this final bible quote.

And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie

I am pretty impressed by the comedic potential of the link they have to Google video “The Prophecy Club. ” There’s one of a “scientist” explaining about Technology and the Mark of the Beast. (He’s a “scientist” so it must all be true.) However, despite the exciting title, the video redefined the phrase “excruciatingly dull” so I haven’t put a link.

This one (Exposing the Illuminati from Within) sounded even better for a chortle, given the presenter’s impressive list of demonic credentials, but the actual video disappointed by being too boring even for me to watch.

Exposing the Illuminati from Within. Part 2. Bill Schnoebelen was a Satanic and Voodoo High Priest, 2nd degree Church of Satan, New Age guru, occultist, channeler, 90th degree Mason, Knight Templar, and a member of the Illuminati. Bill shows how the conspiracy works and how it uses the Lodge and the highest echelons of power and technology to form a new world government.

Given that every single one of these paranoids is using computers and the Internet to spread their views, I would really hate to have to tell them a single basic truth about computers. You know, that little thing about them being digital.

* The best insult I’ve heard for weeks is “He got into the gene pool when the lifeguard wasn’t looking” So many opportunities to apply it, so little time.

Generation Kill on FX on Sunday

TV guide brought to you by Odin’s new official enforcer. (It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.)

David Simon’s new war series Generation Kill starts in the UK on Sunday night. It’s another work of genius from the boy Simon, multi-layered, beautifully shot, meaningful on dozens of levels. Every interaction between characters explores machismo, racism, class, cultural misunderstanding, America’s international role, the nature of institutions, the nature of war, etc etc etc. (And I’m not even halfway through the list.) I’ll risk well-earned mockery for pseudery and say that it’s probably going to be the definitive 21st century war movie.

Which makes it embarrassing to say that – after watching the first episode, I don’t think I can watch any more. I’ll certainly need some recovery time before I try any more episodes. It’s so bleak and feels so genuine that it almost sucked out my will to live. I felt as if I had a mild case of post-traumatic stress syndrome after watching it.

Watch it if you can handle it.

Jeremy Whines

Radio presenter Jeremy Vine was given space by the Daily Mail to complain about how unfair the UK is to Christians. The headline says:

Why I won’t discuss my Christianity on air, by Radio 2 and Panorama host Jeremy Vine

Let me stop you, right there Jeremy. You host a lunch-time radio show. Your job probably involves introducing records and refereeing phone-in “debates” about nonsense. If you started discussing your religion in that context, people would be as interested as they would be if the local newsagent explained why she followed the Nicene creed. They would switch off. This applies even more to Panorama, which is supposed to be a serious current affairs programme.

Show a bit of humility, Jeremy. A presenter is the linkman or linkwoman. The clue’s in the name. You are supposed to link items. People don’t watch Panorama to find out what religious beliefs the presenter holds. Just as they don’t care what you had for breakfast or how many stairs you have in your hallway.

He admitted that he avoided discussing the subject on air, saying it is now ‘almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God’. (from the Mail)

I would like to think that were true. But I suspect it’s only “socially unacceptable” in the way that traditional etiquette regards talking about religion or politics as unacceptable in polite society. Only true for that specific interpretation of “socially.” And discussing religion or politics is considered bad manners (not that that ever stopped me, but my manners are shite) because people start insulting each other and getting angry and “polite” society stops being “polite.”

If you are presenting a Panorama programme on the economy, it would be more than bad manners to say “… and by the way, I’m a Christian…” It would be like saying “Stop talking about boring things. Talk about ME.” Boosting your own sense of self-importance isn’t supposed to be in the job description.

His remarks follow a claim last month by Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor that Britain has become an ‘unfriendly’ place to the religious. (from the Mail)

Yeah, right. See the chart (Ok, it’s a US chart, admittedly. We are a bit more heathen in the UK and the kinds of non-christians are a bit different, but it’s just a graphic…)

A religion pie chart...

Religion...

“Has become”?… I don’t know whether Britain is any less religion-friendly than it’s ever been. I am pretty confident that shoving your religion in people’s faces, unsolicited, has never brought a friendly response.

The Jeremy Vine piece brought out the reliable harvest of Mail comment-nutters, many of whom seem to be suffering from fatwah-envy. This is one that could have come straight from the twat-o-tron without human intervention.

Mr. Vine’s situation is caused by PC run amok.
The world has a ‘Religion’ that is secular now.
It’s all about: group rights; gray-area standards; adjustable truths; climate change and radical ‘greeness’; and marginalising real faith as anachronistic and childish. (except for Islam ,of course. ) …

*snigger* (If I was playing Bigot-speak Bingo, I think this would give me a full house.)

That’s by someone from Texas, who would never get to suffer the effects if every UK daytime easy-listening radio-show-presenter started using his or her airtime to present his or her philosophy of life.

But 34 other people, who you assume haven’t thought through the consequences, have clicked to vote for this comment. (What am I saying? These are people who, almost by definition, can’t think through the consequences.)

Pretty consistently, the comments that are like that one get lots of pro-votes. The ones with the big-minus votes are the ones like this (minus 17):

I think Jeremy Vine is alone in feeling like this as most of the time it seems like every man and his dog insist on spouting out about their faith. Indeed several BBC radio shows have features dedicated to this.
Religion is reclaiming public ground, not only have the number of faith schools increased in the last few years but creationism is now going to be taught in science lessons!
It is interesting that some people of faith are now finding it uncomfortable to speak about their faith as this is how people of no faith have felt for decades…

Yes, there are well more than enough tv and radio shows that deal with religion. On purpose. People who want to hear about religion can choose to watch or listen to these. How hard is that to accept, Jeremy?

Let me explain. People who watch Top Gear want to watch a show about cars. If Jeremy Clarkson started discussing how to make feather-light shortcrust pastry, the viewers would get pissed off. Even if they really like cooking, they don’t expect cooking in a car show. They would use the remote control or the channel dial or the off switch.

(Ok, even if my radio had a broken off-switch, I wouldn’t listen to the Jeremy Vine show, but I think the point still stands.)

W00t. It seems that you can vote on Daily Mail comments without logging in. I will give it a try. I boost all the big red minus ones. This short and sweet one is still the lowest (at 34 minuses) even after my non-divine intervention :

Good, don’t discuss it as we don’t want to hear it. We hear enough rubbish from your religious leaders.

*smirk*

Wow, I just came up with a new hobby. Anyone can join in. Voting down all the bigotry-central Daily Mail comments and voting up the saner ones. If there were enough people willing to waste ten minutes a day, the Mail might even suspect it had misjudged the zeitgeist and rein in the tone of its more extreme pieces.

Stewart Lee, the Video

A reference on PhillyChief’s blog reminded me about Stewart Lee and Jerry Springer, the Opera.

Stewart Lee is a comedian who became an arch-hate figure for Christian Voice a couple of years ago, because he was one of the writers of Jerry Springer the Opera. This was a tv programme that Christian Voice considered so inherently blasphemous that they tried to sue the BBC for broadcasting it. They were crowing on a channel Four documentary last year that they’d bankrupted the producers of the show, although I’m not sure if this has any basis in fact.

There are some really funny anti-Christian-Voice-blasphemy-complaint spiels in other Stewart Lee videos but I’ll post links to them at another time. This link isn’t to one of those, but I had to post it because of the irresistible Richard Littlejohn bit at the end.

Whenever I hear the phrase “Political correctness gone mad” I should reach for this video.

Stewart lee on political correctness gone mad

Parental Advisory: contains some extravagant and well-justified cussing 🙂

This blog is bigger than god

In what must be one of the longest waits from confession to absolution on record, the Vatican has forgiven John Lennon for saying the Beatles were bigger than god (or more popular than Jesus, or something) according to the BBC.

This was a mildly jokey casual remark made in the early 1960s, by a man who’s been now dead for decades. Has the Catholic Church been fretting about it ever since?

The BBC has a 1960s clip that shows some of the aftermath of the Beatles’ bizarrely notorious jokes about their huge success in the USA.

In this clip, a reporter with an impeccable old-style “BBC” accent talks about US fundamentalist baptists with the barely disguised distaste of someone who’s spotted another guest eating a fly at a dinner party.

The implication is that the UK saw the extreme US responses to the Beatles’ remarks as symptomatic of a strange and backward American culture. Beatle atheism was more or less taken for granted in the UK. The tolerant attitude of UK religious believers is also taken for granted. The BBC reporter could clearly assume that even UK churchgoers would see US bonfires of Beatles merchandise as exotically bizarre.

This was 40 years ago.

You certainly can’t imagine science teachers thinking that Intelligent Design should have an equal billing with Evolution in the biology curriculum, forty years ago.

The world can’t be a sci-fi novel. If it were, the hero would surely have detected by now that time is running backwards.

Baltimore isnt just in Maryland

David Simon wrote in the Guardian today. I hate trying to write anything about the Wire. I can’t do it justice. I just end up gushing about its genius or calling it Dickensian, a phrase that was neatly satirised in Series 5.

I also hate the way that appreciating the Wire has become a shorthand for being “hip and sensitive” in the UK, as I noticed when a fair few people interviewed in the Guardian, a couple of months ago, claimed to “only have a TV to watch the Wire….” (I find the Guardian’s Wire discussion forum too irritating to read, even though I have to admit that it’s mainly because the people who contribute so lamely and pretentiously just make me aware how lame and pretentious I sound on the same subject.)

Anyway, there’s a bit in this excellent piece where I think David Simon misunderstands the European popularity of the Wire.

But at the same time, I’m acutely aware that our dystopian depiction of Baltimore has more appeal the farther one travels from America. The Wire is, of course, dissent of a kind and it is true that there are many of my countrymen who are in fundamental disagreement with the manner in which the nation is being governed and managed. But somehow, it sounds better to my ear when it’s my own people talking trash and calling our problems out……
…But the emotion in all of that sometimes leads the overseas commentary about Baltimore and The Wire toward something that I don’t recognise as accurate.
Baltimore is not the inner circle of hell. It is not entirely devoured by a drug economy that serves as its last viable industry. It is not a place in which gangsters routinely fire clip after clip, spraying the streets in daylight ambushes. It is not unlivable, or devoid of humanity, or a reservoir of unmitigated human despair.

It may be about Baltimore but it’s not just about Baltimore. The truth of the Wire isn’t that it describes Baltimore life accurately. It clearly doesn’t. It’s a TV series not a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Artistic licence, ffs. What is true in the Wire is the truth of art, i.e. what it says about being the human condition. You’d imagine the only people who would watch it and assume it’s all literally true would be those people who follow soap story-lines as if they are reportage.

I don’t know anything about Baltimore but it’s a pretty “true” depiction of my neighbourhood and my city. Parts of my neighbourhood and parts of the life of my city, granted. Not true all the time and not true of everybody, but there’s enough reality in there for me to recognise it:

Racism; violence; gang warfare; war on drugs; wars over drugs; corruption; soul-destroying education; hopeless kids; traditional industries destroyed; gentrification, and all.

That doesn’t make my city an inner circle of hell, either, although parts of it might qualify as outer circles. Baltimore doesn’t have a monopoly on that stuff. It could be almost any city in the former industrial centres. It’s also just as true of many cities in the emerging economies. What’s amazing about the Wire is not just its accurate sociology, though.

It’s the writing, it’s the characters, it’s the acting, it’s the attention to visual detail. It’s the fact that someone managed to make a series that is really great on a standard superficial TV-watching level and still cram in a social analysis at the same time.

More media stuff

The Guardian seems to have started a Wire discussion group. It would be churlish to suggest that the Guardian, as an entity, never took as much interest in the Wire before it centred round a newspaper office.

(Charlie Brooker and a couple of other Guardian tv reviewers were the honourable exceptions to this.)

I’m going to steal its intro warning to explain why I haven’t been indulging in my customary gushing over the genius of the Wire:

SPOILER ALERT: Usual rules: No giving the game away if you’ve gone further; don’t spoil it for yourself if you are further behind.

Basically, it’s too difficult to remember which Wire events are OK to write about and which aren’t, in case I spoil someone’s enjoyment. Sadly, I’ve already spoilt it for myself by seeing it already. I know what’s going to happen in the wind-up part of the 5-series set, so I don’t want to watch it until I’ve forgotten enough detail to make it watchable again.

There’s an Iraq war short series from “the team who brought you the Wire.” I would be grateful if someone who’s seen it in the US will tell me if it’s good. I’ve decided to wait till it’s on television here, so as not to spoil it, in case it is good.

However, I’m so squeamish that I won’t want to watch it if it’s too distressing. Which, given that it’s about the Iraq war, is probably a certainty. So I’m in two minds about the whole thing and would welcome any guidance.

Otherwise completely unconnected to the above rambling, except for being also interesting in today’s Guardian, there’s an article by Hicham Yezza, the academic who’s waiting to be deported after downloading the al-qaeda manual for a colleague.

The UN’s committee on human rights has just published a report criticising Britain’s anti-terror laws and the resulting curbs on civil liberties. For many commentators the issues raised are mostly a matter of academic abstractions and speculative meanderings. For me, it is anything but. These laws have destroyed my life. (from Hicham Yezza in the Guardian.)

I had lazily assumed that this nonsense was all sorted out months ago. It appears not. Just because the media have lost interest doesn’t mean that this absurdity has been undone. In fact, some inexorable process – that Yezza characterises as Kafkaesque – seems have been set going.

Dawkins on Darwin, Part 3

Good programme. (Channel 4, UK. I should hope some socially conscious pirate has put it on You-tube by now. Or you could buy the DVD.) Dawkins and Dennet made a generally superb job of pointing out how the joys of the real natural universe piss all over the imaginary comforts of religion.

It was a difficult to decide which anti-evolutionist – the American woman or the British chemistry teacher – would be my first choice if I ever win a “Free kick the stupidest creationist who’s ever been on tv” competition. In the end, it has to be the British teacher. National pride requires it.

However, the American woman managed to combine a patronising manner with a studied and deliberate social “charm”. She smiled continuously – in what she must have been misinformed was a disarming way. She fixed Dawkins with steady (albeit slightly cross-eyed) eye contact and mouthed utter bullshit about “teaching the controversy.” So, it is with a heavy heart that I have to relegate her to second choice.

I was baffled by the English science teachers who declared themselves a bit scared about teaching evolution. Imagine a group of geography teachers worrying about teaching their subject, in case some student had a parent who was in the Flat Earth society. What’s the difference?

The Archbishop of Canterbury managed to tie himself in knots trying to square complete acceptance of the science with his concept of a god who set up evolution but kept out of it – while, at the same time, claiming to believe in the New Testament miracles. There was an entertaining moment where he more or less admitted his position was a fudge to deal with awkward questions.

Dawkins on Darwin

Richard Dawkins is presenting a short Channel 4 series on Darwin. It’s mostly pretty damn good. It’s clear and enthusiastic and really enjoyable. I was really pleased to see that Dawkins opposes the faux-evolutionary nonsense that is used to justify predatory capitalism.

However, I’ve got to put in a couple of gripes, just to stop this blog being suspected of mere sycophancy:

Why does he keep referring to Darwinism? There is no Darwinism. Dawkins must be getting too many trolls and, absent-mindedly, paying attention to them.

There is also some justice in Libby Purves’ argument that Dawkins has set up too simple a choice between believing in evolution and believing in god(s). In the first programme, he addressed a collection of school students who had been led to believe that accepting evolution ran counter to the religions they were brought up in. So, they didn’t believe in it. He showed them some clear evidence and some of them felt obliged to question their faith. Libby Purves argued that this was a bit of a false example, as there are huge numbers of god-believers who accept the evidence for evolution.

Dawkins’s response seems a bit lame to me.

She goes on to say, “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists.” I expect it’s true that the few believers Libby Purves meets over canapés are not creationists. But “most believers”? Most believers in Bradford? The Scottish Highlands? Pakistan? Indonesia? The Arab world? South America? Indeed, North America? Polls suggest that more than 40 per cent of the British population are creationists. For the subset who call themselves believers, the figure must be considerably more than 50 per cent. Please don’t say “most people”, when what you really mean is Islington and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Well, stop there Dawkins. “Polls suggest..” What polls? Please don’t say “polls suggest” when what you are really presenting sounds like made up numbers.

Most people know bugger all about evolution, let alone have views on it.

But, assuming that Libby Purves is talking about the UK, most people that I know who have any views on evolution take it for granted. In fact, I have never knowingly come across an outspoken creationist. And I certainly don’t live in Islington or Hampstead. Nor would I recognise a canape if it leaped off a silver salver and bit me on the nose. In fact, as a non-Islington-resident prole, I sort of resent the implication that proles are stupider than the rich.

Anglicans and Catholics don’t have any problem with the theory of evolution, for a start. So the mainstream UK religions aren’t encouraging people to doubt it. South America? Big place. Mostly Catholic, so I assume that evolution is generally accepted there.

What’s left? Basically North America and Islam. I don’t know enough about the many shades of Islam to judge on this one, although I am pretty confident that most muslims are as unknowing and uninterested in evlutionary theory as most other people. I do think I know that North America is bursting with people who don’t understand accept evolution.

I have to agree with Libby Purves when she said “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters.” I completely agree with Dawkins that there more than enough of these idiots and that they have to be opposed. But, I don’t think it’s always wise to help them talk up their anti-science madness by presenting a false dichotomy between accepting science and believing in deities. It’s accepting the terms of reference of the creationists, their idea that there is a “debate” between ID and evolution.

This “debate” can only benefit the nutters. Scientists don’t have to accommodate the creation myths of the vikings or the yoruba by constantly “debating” whether evolution or the mixture of fire and ice or the formation of dry land from water is true. (In fact, these myths seem far more logical and metaphorically “true” than the middle eastern creation myths.) Why waste too much time and effort challenging the myths that come from the middle east?

Still, whines over. Bloody good tv overall, to be honest.

Cross factor

Reality TV show producers are getting really desperate for topics. On the face of it, this would seem unlikely, given that reality is infinitely interesting, but to run out of ideas you have to redefine “reality” in a novel way. You have to take the word “reality” to mean “Start from an absurd premise. Gather a few people with moderate to severe psychological problems. Put them under pressure until they break.”

Granted this sounds like the actions you’d expect from a cult. So, it’s appropriate that a new UK Channel 4 “reality” show is called Make me a Christian. A crack team of four types of Christian try to change a comically diverse set of subjects.

Charlie Brooker’s introduction to this series in Saturday’s Guardian said more or less all you ‘d want to know about it.

In true oversimplified TV-conflict tradition, it’s a clash of absurd extremities. The Christians, for instance, consist of an evangelical preacher, a lady vicar, a Catholic priest and – very much heading up the pack – the Reverend George Hargreaves, founder of Operation Christian Vote, and the Christian Party, and the Scottish Christian Party, and the Welsh Christian Party. If it’s Christian and a Party, chances are George is its figurehead. He scatters Christian joy like a muckspreader flings shit: indiscriminately and everywhere.
Said Christians are pitted against a group of volunteers containing the following widely representative social types: a lesbian schoolteacher, a tattooed militant atheist biker, a white Muslim convert, a boozing fannyhound who claims to have slept with over 150 women, and a lapdancing witch. Nice work, C4. I’m sure we can all learn from this. Let battle commence.

The atheist (militant, tattooed, biker, yada, yada) complained about brainwashing. He refused to even go into York Minster, on the grounds that it was built just to keep the peasants down and had nothing to do with the “love” that this programme is supposed to be about. Well, this may have been pretty a statement of fact, but his attitide didn’t exactly endear him the other volunteers. The others hated him for his strident opposition, seemingly becoming more responsive to the evangelical message just to prove that their manners were better.

While the evangelists were cleaning out the suspiciously generic items of decor in the lesbian’s and lapdancer’s homes, the Catholic priest was bringing fresh kitsch to the home of the 17-year-old lapsed catholic father-to-be. A terrifying picture of the Pope, for instance. Some icons. You know the sort of thing. The participant’s girlfriend drew the line at one item of sculpture. “I don’t think that a dead man hanging on a cross is a nice thing to have hanging up in your house.”

When I say that the decor was “suspicious,” I mean this in the sense that the mansions of minor rock stars are suspcious on MTV Cribs. Just as the owners of many Cribs don’t seem to have ever walked through the front door before the start of filming, these people’s homes seem to have been madeover in special “reality” mode. They didn’t seem to have a book or a photograph that didn’t fit into their TV programme persona. You didn’t see the random trash that turns up in real people’s rooms. The witch’s books seemed to have been bought by the yard from the New Age section of Waterstone’s. It looked as if none had ever been opened.

She didn’t really seem like a great reader. For a start, she’s a lapdancer and would-be glamour model who has had her chest and nose cosmetically enhanced and who owns thousands of pounds worth of hideous and expensive shoes. Call me a godawful snob, but there is nothing in that list that you would usually associate with the profile of a deeply philosophical thinker.

She was a great crier, though. She was sobbing at the first suggestion from her selected christianiser that her lifestyle may not be ideal. Well, he put it much more forcefully. He said she was chasing the false idols of materialism and demonic powers and was on a trajectory to hell.

Her achievements to date don’t suggest philiosophical depths, but they do suggest a pretty low level of respect for herself and an excessive willingness to please. So, she seemed to me to be fair game for a conversion.

Her evangelist clearly felt the same. He said “She is a broken lady … but it’s a good place to be to welcome Jesus into your life.”

How transparent is that? The more fucked up the person, the more likely that the Christian can get them to accept Jesus into their lives, yada yada. What was it the biker chap said about brainwashing, again?

The religious converters have been recruited as a spiritual makeover team. The equivalent of those TV presenters who tell receptive morons how overweight they are, how filthy their houses are or how badly they are dressed.

It’s exactly in tune with standard reality tv – a messed-up person is encouraged to fall to bits on camera for the entertainment of the masses. In return they get access to the magic of fame and, if they are really lucky, a couple of years in which they are mildly interesting to the readers of Heat and can earn good money for nothing.

I tried to come up with good arguments for why the existence of a religious makeover show is even more disgusting. But I’m not going to bother. It just somehow seems even more repellent when religion comes into it.

The Church’s One Foundation

Conservative Anglicans have carried out a strange coup to form a church within a church. On first consideration, non-believers might welcome the increasing disintegration of a major world religion. But, in fact, the impact seems to be far from good, with fundamentalists seeking to snatch control of the Anglicans’ global organisation and moral authority.

The group said it would stay inside the Anglican Communion, but with its own statement of theology and council of archbishops. ….
The move underlines the alliance’s independence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and makes clear that it will no longer recognise Dr Williams’ traditional role as the leader of the world’s Anglicans.(from the BBC)

The BBC has a few soundbites about the issues that divide liberal and fundamentalist Anglicans. These basically come down to views on gays and women.

The BBC’s “debate” between Paul Eddy, from the UK Conservative Anglican network, and Californian Bishop Marc Andrus shows the staggering gap in intelligence and goodwill between the two camps. Andrus so outclasses Eddy as to make him look like a simple-minded fool. (OK, I guess that is no great feat.)

Ironically, Paul Eddy said that the Anglican communion must be paramount, with everybody holding to the same doctrine, which seems to conflict with the GAFCON plan to set up its own international power network within the church.

And how about this from Paul Eddy on “THE NEED TO CONVERT PEOPLE OF OTHER FAITHS”?

The Great Commission [Jesus’s instruction to the disciples to spread his teaching] remains as relevant in 2008, whatever the political and religious tensions, as it did 2,000 years ago. The Church in Africa is experiencing huge growth – in Muslim countries among others. It is a Biblical mandate which orthodox churches believe in.

A Biblical mandate to convert? To convert Muslims, even? Argh!

Sunny Hundal had some things to say about Eddy, when he discussed an article, in a new rightwing magazine, Standpoint, by Bishop Nazir-Ali. This bishop is the most senior UK churchman on the conservative side, in the battle for the soul of the Anglican communion.

In fact, the type of society Nazir-Ali wants isn’t far from the utopia that conservative Muslims want to develop, except it’s a different religion.

Hundal said that Nazir-Ali, disappointed that Rowan Williams was chosen as Archbishop rather than himself, is launching a power play, gathering a posse of supporters and gaining media attention through the manipulation of fears of Muslims.

.. for example, he backed a motion by the Church of England’s General Synod member Paul Eddy on evangelising other faiths (but focusing on Muslims to guarantee headlines). Paul Eddy just happens to be a PR consultant who has worked with the purity ring campaign and Christian Concern for our Nation. Remember CCFON from the Channel 4 documentary on Christian fundamentalists?

Well, yes, I certainly do remember it. Here’s the Youtube link to the Channel 4 programmes about the fundy response to the HFEA Bill.

Converting Muslims is a bit of a theme with Paul Eddy. In March, according to Anglican Mainstream

A traditionalist Anglican has said he will continue with a campaign for the Church of England to work explicitly to convert Muslims to Christianity.
Paul Eddy, a lay member of the General Synod, has come under intense pressure from bishops to withdraw his plan.

Apparently this contentious motion is to be put to the Synod on 4-6th July, over the objections of almost all senior church figures..

You might understand the Church of England being unable to successfully face off an aggressive PR consultant, them being so unworldly and all. You can understand the right-wing press being happy to jump on any conservative bandwagon, that’s their social role.

But, I am a bit miffed that the BBC is happy to treat this guy as a handy rent-a-speech chap. The BBC is surely no stranger to the wiles of PR consultants. OK, there’s a dull issue that’s got to be aired on TV or the website in a couple of hours.. They’ve got his phone number…. Lazy.

So I really hope that that Channel 4 documentary becomes required viewing for any members of the General Synod.

And now for something completely different

This is really interesting. It’s a programme from teacher’s tv about brain research. (Yes, Teacher’s TV. I kid you not. It’s not all Key stage 3 in Geography.)

It really makes you think. The savant skills are amazing. There’s an experiment that seems to show that turning off a bit of the brain makes people better at seeing what’s really there. There’s loads about the nature of creative thought.