Is swine flu non-kosher?

Compare the faith-fulness of these Orthodox rabbis with the prosaic Church of England recognition that holy water is not actually holy enough to stop the spread of swine flu.

According to beliefnet, a planeload of rabbis and mystics held an airborne prayer meeting to ask their god to spare Israel from swine flu.

Flying Rabbis Pray to Save Israel from Swine Flu
JERUSALEM – A planeload of Israeli rabbis and Jewish mystics held an airborne prayer meeting in the belief that it could help check the spread of swine flu in Israel, an Israeli newspaper reported Tuesday.
The Yediot Ahronot daily said a plane with 50 people on board circled over Israel on Monday, with the passengers chanting prayers and sounding the ritual ram’s horn. (From beliefnet)

A plane? Why did they have to get in a plane?

I can only assume it’s to get closer to Him Upstairs, in a touchingly childlike belief that their god actually lives in the sky.

In which case, I suggest that it might be easy to get funding for a few manned space missions, if the astronauts promise to pray fervently once they’re out of earth’s atmosphere.

Despite having fallen victim to the dread disease (for which I got free Tamiflu, courtesy of the NHS, :-p to US Republicans) I never realised that swine flu had a religious dimension. But the rabbis are not alone.

Here are a few swine flu magic stories, transmitted to me by the magical powers of Google Loki .

An Imam claimed that swine flu affirms the power of the Koran. He assumed muslims couldn’t get it because they don’t eat pork or work with pigs. :-) ( Bit of an epic science fail , there.)

I guess he’s had to reconsider the accuracy of Allah’s smiting strategy by now, given that even pilgrims returning from Mecca have come down with the virus.

The god of conservative Christians was busy smiting to put a stop to idol-worship rather than pig-eating. Republican faith Chat said:

SWINE FLU: GOD’S LATEST PUNISHMENT OF IDOL-WORSHIP
,,,but let’s face it: God doesn’t punish nonbelievers today to the same degree He did in the days of old. ….. And as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson aptly observed, 9/11 reflected God’s fury for our tolerance of abortionists and homos. But lately, the Lord’s slaughter has been limited to the occasional flood, tornado and plane crash which involve just handfuls of nonbelieving sinners. But no more! The Lord is back with a vengeance.
One of God’s favorite conduits for extinguishing evil is swine. Surely, we all remember the time that Jesus cast the devils possessing a nudist into a herd of swine which promptly drowned themselves. This time, the swine are staying alive and killing the devils, a/k/a Mexicans, a/k/a Catholics, a/k/a cultists, a/k/a idol-worshippers.”

(Ok, I admit it, this one must be a spoof site.)

Buddhist normally get off relatively unscathed in this column but this suggests there’s a publicity-hungry lunatic fringe in every religion.

Taiwan Buddhist master says swine flu is warning for mankind
A Taiwan Buddhist master said Thursday that swine flu is “the earth’s warning” to human beings to stop destroying the environment. Master Cheng Yen, 72, nicknamed Taiwan’s Mother Teresa for her charity work, gave the warning in her daily speech to her disciples around the world.
Choked with tears, Cheng Yen said it is not a coincidence that it was exactly this time six years ago that severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, broke out. (from Earth Times)

(I love the idea that “Taiwan’s Mother Teresa” is a nickname. You’d think it was much easier to say “Cheng Yen” )

Anyway, she thinks that everyone becoming vegetarian and looking after the environment would prevent swine flu.

Clothes as magical objects

Oh, ffs. How many spurs to blog ranting can a woman take before noon on a Sunday morning?

The Big Question on BBC is debating the question “Should Britain ban the burqa?” (The basis of the topic is French president Sarkozy’s burqa ban) The answer is so obviously “NO” that you wonder how small a question has to be to qualify as “big.”

There follows a fair bit of debate about the burqa and its religious and social significance. There’s a burqa-clad woman saying it’s a religious issue for her. Another one defending wearing a veil as a personal choice. A male muslim scholar saying that burqa-wearing is not an integral part of Islam, anyway: it’s purely a cultural, rather than religious, garment. Nobody really deals with the implications of a ban.

Fortunately, there are no overt BNP speakers, this week, but the show does bring on Peter Hitchens… (Mail on Sunday columnist. Paleoconservative, scourge of political correctness. Christopher Hitchens’ brother – could be seen as almost his Evil Twin.)

The discussion never focuses much on what the concept of a burqa ban really means.

You have to dismiss instantly the argument that banning burqas will somehow “liberate” muslim women. In Europe, there must be already be many avenues of recourse for women who feel that they are pressured into wearing islamic dress, without having to compel those women who want to wear it – for whatever reasons – to abandon it. (Just like the careworkers who feel their very being is threatened if they can’t wear crosses at work.)

It doesn’t matter if their choices are incomprehensible to the rest of us.
Dress or ornaments are forms of communication. If the things being communicated seem absurd or offensive, surely we can challenge them or – Toutatis forbid, on current showing – just live and let live.

If the state gets engaged in ruling about what communication is acceptable, it comes bang up against the concept of freedom of expression.

And Sarkozy as feminist spokesman, indeed. A man whose only interest to the non-French world is his trophy wife.

(A wife who seems to have blithely overlooked Sarkozy’s lack of physical or mental charms, on the basis that he was the French president, in a way that seems unlikely to have happened if he was a shop assistant. Which makes even his wife seem like an odd feminist, unless you can expand the meaning of “feminist” to imply – “does whatever it takes to get wealth and power for herself”.)

Even a Spectator columnist, Rod Liddle, pointed out that
“Saqrkozy’s burqa ban panders to racism not feminism.”

Spot on. A burqa ban is a symptom of racism, not secularism, nor feminism.

Indeed the whole idea could be designed to polarise French society and provide new recruits for muslim extremism – in the same way that the Xian fundies are using every worker who’s told to remove a cross or promise ring to recruit people to their mad groupings.

As if the world isn’t dangerous enough, without creating more and more intolerance. Ah, there’s finally a convincing explanation on NewsBiscuit

Terrorism in the 21st century

Go on home Osama Bin Laden, you are so last century in your, frankly pathetic, attempts to destroy western civilisation. For over five years now we have heard the mantra about how evil Islamic Terrorists want to destroy the decadent, freedom loving, west and how they will try to bomb us into submission.

Basically they are just impatient amateurs. If they wait long enough we do it to ourselves.

Lets look at the world of 2008:

In my job, I travel by air a lot (*) and as a result get constantly annoyed by the idiotic rules we suffer under the guise of “security.” I get monumentally annoyed by the fact that I have to check in hours before my flight, but should I want a drink during the inevitable two hour delay, I have to pay extortionate airport charges because 101mls of water is deadly (while 99mls isn’t). I get really annoyed at the obnoxious attitude most airport security staff have – although, in all fairness this is probably a reaction to suffering annoyed passengers day in, day out…

Outside work, I am a hobby photographer. I love taking pictures on my travels and feel that the cities and towns of my own country are on a par with anywhere else in the world. However in the new world of “Security” taking photos in public places of tourist landmarks results in a uniformed member of the public (**) coming up to me and asking me what I am doing. Thor forbid that a terrorist group be inexpert enough to need to overtly set up a large Digital SLR to take photographs rather than use a mobile phone or compact camera (the millions of people doing that get ignored…).

Travel around the UK and you will be recorded on CCTV along pretty much every urban street. Go into a shop and you will be recorded on CCTV. Drive along the road and you will be subjected to all manner of electronic surveillance – because, basically, you cant have any expectation of privacy in a public place (***). Despite the idea all people are innocent until proven guilty, the government have decided that Islamic Terrorists are different and the state should be able to imprison them for 42 days before it has to show enough evidence to make a charge, let alone convict. Thank the Lords this has been rejected (for now).

In the UK, religion has always been a minor part of public life and thank Odin, this is still pretty much the case. However, since the Evil Islamic Terrorists appeared, there has been a (so far minor) upsurge in people equating “Christian” with “British.” As such, an attack by Islam on Christianity is being sold as an attack on our fundamental “Britishness” to the point at which the tabloids and tacky local TV have people talking in all seriousness about how the United Kingdom is a “Christian nation” and “Britain was founded by Christians for Christians” – obviously these historically challenged dullards are watching too much American propaganda but that is another issue.

This is the non-religious, freedom loving, civilisation that is so threatened by Islamic terrorists. Hmm. Osama would love it here. Ironically, even our recent fear-inspired legislation wasn’t quite enough to smash western civilisation.

Trumping an army of Osama Bin Ladens, when it comes to smashing down western civilisation the real master is simple free market economics.

It is a sad state of affairs that we can pass laws regulating every aspect of your private life, but even in the face of an economic melt down the thought of regulating “The City” is beyond the pale. City traders can, effectively, lose millions of other peoples money with not even a hint of censure – still getting huge bonuses on the eve of begging the taxpayer for a fortune to cover their losses. The crazy irony of this sees us giving them money so they can give it back to us and tell us it is our own savings… Despite their monumental failings, and complete lack of anything resembling expertise, the banking sector still claims it “knows what it is doing” and should be allowed to function unregulated. Can you imagine catching a con-artist stealing your money, then giving them more money because they know how best to get your money back!!! Insane is an understatement.

The collapse of Iceland’s banks, and their governments apparent refusal to honour international agreements, has caused huge damage to the UK economy – on greater scale than any caused by terrorist attacks (if you ignore the cost of ensuing wars). If I deprived my next door neighbour of £100 I would expect to be arrested and probably jailed, however it seems if you add a few extra zeros everyone forgets about it. Iceland basically have held a gun to the governments head and taken our money. Wars have been fought over much, much less.

In an amazingly scary example of economic understanding, the Conservative shadow Chancellor said that the government should reimburse the councils that lost money to Iceland otherwise council tax would have to be increased to cover the loss. This seems sensible until you realise the effect would be to increase the tax burden on everyone to cover the mistakes made by a few. How would that be fair? Is this what we are to expect from a Conservative government?

I agree with the Government that the national banks and banking infrastructure is critical to the well being of the United Kingdom. I also accept the assertion that it is so important, spending £50,000,000,000 to shore up a system broken by greedy, selfish scumbags is in the public interest. I accept that this will mean other aspects of the national infrastructure will suffer and I accept that this is a necessary evil.

What I cant understand is:

  1. How can something so vital to the nation be outside complete government control? More importantly, how can something so vital be so heavily influenced by foreign nations which, when push comes to shove, have national self interest at stake? This really confuses me.
  2. Why is no one being punished for this? The bank failings are either malicious (in which case why don’t we invade a random country like we’ve done in the past) or negligent. Or both. The claim this is just the “market” is nonsense – the city traders claim to be financial wizards but abjectly failed to see this happening – either they are crap or they were played. Either way someone should be held accountable.
  3. Why the **** haven’t we enforced rock solid legislation to control such a critical asset? We’ve spent over £1000 per living person in the UK on them, why aren’t we having any say in them?
  4. How on Earth are the bankers getting away with claiming they “know best” on how to handle the current situation? (See 2) Blatantly they don’t or if they do, they are working against the national interest.
  5. Why are UK public bodies (Police and councils) allowed to invest money in foreign institutions? The quest for an extra percent of interest has meant public money is being sent to a foreign nation. Let me reword that – money paid by UK taxpayers has been given to a foreign country. Rather than invest in the UK economy dozens of UK public bodies chose to throw it down an Icelandic toilet and when they inevitable happened they cry to the government for more money….

I am going to have to stop here. The madness makes me want to scream. If anyone can explain this to me I would be very grateful.

* Apologies to environmentalists, but unless you are willing to pay me not to fly, my choices are limited.

** Sometimes referred to a “Police Community Support Officers” but that implies they are trained members of the law enforcement community, when in reality 75% of them are nothing more than jumped up busy bodies who get to wear a hat.

*** Well, this is true by definition. However there is a “spirit” of the law thing to consider. While you cant realisitically expect to be private walking down the street you can expect the state to not surveil your every movements. While it can be argued that the almost blanket CCTV coverage is not directed against you, the fact remains it is possible for someone to retrospectively search the databases and track your every movement. The fact the surveillance is directed against 65 million people doesn’t stop it being directed.

Rights fading away

If you hadn’t already noticed, I am a keen hobbyist photographer. I love going out with my family and taking pictures of everything around me. This is pretty harmless and it gives us nice pictures to hang on the walls or foist off on relatives in place of Christmas and Birthday presents. As a pastime, there could be much worse.

Being interested in photography, I always considered myself lucky that I was born in a democracy where people are basically free to indulge in their hobbies and predominantly interested in landscape photography where you dont have to ask someone to smile.

It seems, however, I was actually quite wrong and it is only my tendency for landscape shots that keeps me on the right side of the law. Despite our “evil freedoms” being abhorrent to the nutcases like Usama Bin Laden, we actually have a lot less than you would think. Actually, that isn’t true (yet) but I will come back to this.

Two news items from this weeks Amateur Photographer magazine give pause for thought about our “rights” and freedoms. The first is a worrying incident in the land of the free:

A TV crew filming a story about photographers being harassed at a US railway station were stopped by security and told to switch off their cameras. (…) Tom Fitzgerald, a reporter for Fox 5 television, was interviewing the chief spokesman for rail operator Amtrak when a security guard ordered the crew to stop filming. Ironically, the spokesman had apparently just confirmed to the reporter that photography was, in fact, allowed.

It continues to mention that this is not an isolated incident (flickr discussion) and the madness that “moves are afoot to introduce draft legislation designed to protect the rights of photographers to take pictures.”

It is doubly ironic that they tried to put paid to the film crew filming the company spokesman saying filming was allowed. What better example of corporate non-communication could there be?

The Amtrak Goons are insane, but are not alone. We have a similar problem in the UK:

Olympics 2012 bosses have apologised to photographers who complained about heavy-handed treatment by security guards at the East London construction site. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) came under fire after two amateur photographers complained following a confrontation outside the site on 3 May. Louis Berk and Steve Kessel say they were left feeling intimidated after guards demanded to see their identification. ODA spokeswoman Laura Voyle said the guards approached the photographers ‘to investigate a report that they had been seen within the Olympic Park boundary’. However, the pair insisted they had been on a ‘public pavement’ and had not ventured onto the Olympic site itself. (…) And [Olympics Security Manager] promised to conduct a ‘review of instructions on how they will deal with issues relating to photography’.  (…) However, [Louis Berk] does not feel reassured, telling us: ‘What concerns me is that I still don’t know if the ODA realises that suspicion of taking photographs of their property from a ‘public place’ is not a cause for intervention by the guard force.’

There is more madness around the 2012 London Olympics but this highlights the current problem.

In a nutshell, both instances were the result of private Security Guards not being aware of the rules regarding their location. This is down to poor education by their employer. In the UK you can photograph almost anything (some locations are exempt under the 1911 Official Secrets Act) from a public place. If you can see it, you can photograph it. Kind of makes sense really. It is different if you are on private property, but 90% of the time the property owner will give permission. Again, it makes sense. I can only assume the law is similar in America.

What is worrying is that both instances show people have a default setting of STOPPING photography. I will be charitable and say neither organisation put out instructions to annoy members of the public (including tax payers who paid for the bloody Olympic-farce) so the security guards must have assumed the camera was a security threat. Over the last few months there have been lots of occasions where over zealous guardians have taken offence at people trying to take photographs, even in (weirdly) popular tourist destinations like Trafalgar Square. I have read claims that people were questioned because they could be “terrorists doing reconnaissance” (with an overt camera and tripod – good job Johnny Foreigner isn’t clever enough to use a mobile phone camera…) or other equally spurious risks (there were children present etc..).

The problem is, these fears (and certainly this one in particular) are nonsense. Bruce Schneier, BT’s chief security technology officer, recently wrote an excellent article for the Guardian where he dismisses most of these fears. The article is really, really worth reading even if you aren’t a photographer – there are many more “freedoms” at risk from our apathetic approach to them and “terrorism.” Schneier has an interesting theory that this madness where we fear long-lens cameras is because it is a “Movie Plot Threat.” Also worth reading.

Sadly, it may well be too little, too late for our society. We fear that the evil Islamic terrorists will destroy our culture, so to “beat” them we destroy it ourselves. Well done us.

All atheists aren’t bright

If you’re smugly thinking that your being a bit less stupid than the next person is evidenced by your lack of religious belief, I have some unwelcome news. Then again, if you think the idea of all atheists banding together in a broad unchurch of unbelief is silly, you may feel vindicated. (Snakes and ladders.)

There’s a blog on the Atheist Blogroll called Al-Kafir Akbar Its site in the lower reaches of the mental gene pool became evident in a climate-change-denial post. This post has already been elegantly and eloquently savaged by Black Sun Journal.

I was pretty struck by today’s post. Mohammed protector of infidels. I already suspect this story of the Swedish artist is rather more complex than it is being reported in the international media, although, with any more reports, it will indeed become yet another crazy international incident.

There is a bizarre capacity of small groups in the Islamic world to stir up mass hysteria over “insults” known at 15th hand, and only through the deliberate agency of rabble-rousing Islamic leaders. There is also an evil twin Western response, which assumes that the entire Muslim world is made up of demented fundamentalist fanatics.

Most atheist blogs are well able to oppose any flavour of fundamentalist nonsense without degenerating into mania.

But let me refer you to Al-Kafir Akbar’s blog again. This doesn’t fit into that camp of rational discourse. He says

.. those neurotic, thin-skinned cry-babies will be rioting again – peacefully, of course….. Al-Kafir akbar, ragheads! :)

I find this unpleasant. As I do the “Disprortionate Response” button. “Mr Akbar’s” “Islam & the War” blogroll includes Soldier of Fortune blog and Western Resistance.com that has the sort of posts that include one saying “Moderate Islam: a Reductio ad Absurdum.”

I am trying to see this as a cultural Europe versus USA thing and be more tolerant. But something about that “ragheads” word chills me. Despite sounding completely unlike “gooks”, it somehow sounds exactly the same.

Feelings about Islam in the US can go way beyond denouncing anti-humanist religiously-influenced practices. Many Americans and more and more Europeans go beyond reason into demonising Muslims en masse. The ultimate direction of this way of thinking is genocide.

Endless global war over access to dwindling resources. Justified on all sides by appeals to increasingly polarised beliefs in nonsense.. Which takes us back to the environmental threats topic again….

Yes, terrorism is vile and terrifying. (The clue’s in the name.) However, Europe has lived in the face of terrorism for decades, barely paddling in the ocean of craven fear, bigotry and database-driven authoritarianism that the world seems to be now diving into. In most cases, the way to stop terrorism is to find out what it’s really about and to deal with that.

(Look more closely at the Swedish artist Lars for a good-natured and good-humoured response to bigotry. He tried to buy the Egyptian cartoons that insult him.)

Quick history lesson, the mention of which will probably annoy the hell out of many US readers. Read Wikipedia on the Stern gang. The founders of the state of Israel got it by carrying out a terrorist campaign against the UK, who held Palestine as a “protectorate”. To this end, they even supported Germany in World War II.

(Stern) differentiated between ‘enemies of the Jewish people’ (e.g., the British) and ‘Jew haters’ (e.g. the Nazis), believing that the former needed to be defeated and the latter manipulated. To this end, he initiated contact with Nazi authorities, in order to enlist their aid in establishing a totalitarian state on Nazi lines., open to Jewish refugees from Nazism, in exchange for collaborating with Germany against the British Empire in the Second World War. (from Wikipedia.)

An object lesson in why you shouldn’t give into terrorism. At the same time, this shows you why terrorism presents an attractive option to people who can’t get what they want by normal methods.

Don’t have nightmares

This is a link to a really good, if disturbing, video. It discusses parallels between extreme Islam (in the shape of a Muslim man with a Hitler moustache) and Christian fundamentalism and how this has given our rulers a pretext to build up our fears to achieve their ends.

h/t to paul canning whose blog reminded me about the video Charlie Brooker showed to da yout’ this week, and even provided a link.

Charlie Brooker’s sample of young people found it infinitely more interesting than the youth tv dross he also showed them.

Oddly, given that Charlie Brooker is a tv critic so brilliant that he can make you chortle out loud, (hence giving away the fact you are secretly reading his Guardian column in work) his own tv ventures are not usually crowned with glory. But, even so, it takes a superhuman effort of will to disagree with his conclusions on any programme. And, he’s right on this one.

Egyptian cartoon

Life before death refers to a sort of online argument between a Swedish and an Egyptian cartoonist.

This is a pretty wierd story all round. What is it about Scandinavians and cartoons about Islam? How is that the Islamic world seems to be poring over Northern European newspapers and art shows?

I live in only slightly-less-Northern Europe and I couldn’t get my hands on a Norwegian or Danish or Swedish newspaper without getting on a plane.

And if I could, I couldn’t understand a word without some very serious Babelfishing.

Oh, I guess I’d just have to look at the cartoons then.

Which may explain why the Islamic world is on a hair-trigger with regard to any Scandinavian artworks that involve men with beards. For Freya’s sake, they could just stop having the Nordic press delivered every day and there wouldn’t be a problem.

One completely irrelevant thing about this debate is that the Egyptian lad is a genius cartoonist. The Swedish lad is outclassed here. (Yes, I AM too lazy to check the names and I want to sound a bit like a football commentator on this one) So, in my too-sceptical way, I thought. “Maybe this cartoonist is playing with the blogosphere to get some well-deserved exposure for his work”

I mean, if you are a cartoonist in the Islamic world, it must be difficult to go about your daily work of cartooning without offending someone. Then you look at the vast international exposure that comes to cartoonists from small Nordic countries that you probably never heard of before for doing a few uninspired but religiously offensive funnies.

Wouldn’t you say “I want some of that sweet fame”? You can’t actually produce an offensive-religious cartoon yourself. (After all, Salman Rushdie’s still in hiding well over a decade after writing an “offensive” novel and he lives in the non-Muslim world and has lots of wealthy and powerful friends…) But you can produce a cartoon that is meant to offend a Scandinavian cartoonist.

OK, the international cultural impact is a bit diminished by the Swedish lad being bowled over by the gratuitously offensive genius of the Egyptian lad’s cartooning and wanting to buy the work.

But it still sort of works. Those of us who would never have seen the Egyptian lad’s drawings have all seen them. And (despite some vitriolic abuse on their quality in the comments on Life before Death) we can all see he’s a world-class artist.

Give him a job on a Swediish newspaper, please. That’s got to be the perfect way to distribute your cartoons throughout the Muslim world.

And the Swedish lad strikes a blow for the Nordic good-natured rationality that we all love. Win win, really.

Commenting on Comments

I was not planning to do a post on the nonsense being spouted by the comments on the John Humphrys article over on the Times Online (see previous post), but the idiocy and madness some of them presented couldn’t be ignored. Please forgive me, Zeus.

In no particular order we get this wonder from “Timothy” in Ross-on-Wye:

Christianity can be tested by whether the Resurrection occurred or not (1 Cor15). Secular and hostile sources such as Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, the Talmud and the Toledoth Jeshu testify of the crucifixion of Jesus and the empty tomb. That blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side indicates heart failure and we can be certain He was dead. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead where is His body? The disciples started proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem where the Priests could have produced the body if they knew where it was, ending Christianity. Why would the disciples steal Jesus’ body?

Blimey, where do I start. First off, shall we look at motivation? The disciples had a vested interest in Jesus’ body not being found, so there is motive for them to ensure the priests didn’t know where the body was.

More interestingly shall we look at the witnesses (Secular and Hostile sources)? For example, Tacitus was born in about AD56 (56CE for purists) and is unlikely to have travelled to the middle east until around AD76 (or 76CE if you prefer). Even allowing for some major errors on the date of Jesus’ birth, it is unlikely that Tacitus was around to see the event and if anything, he is repeating a secondary or tertiary source. Lucian is even more removed as it was around AD125 (125 CE) he was born. Josephus has potential, being born around AD37 (37 CE), but that is stretching things.

So basically this discounts the secular sources as evidence. The Toledoth Jeschu is equally flawed as it was written around the second century after Jesus was supposed to have been born – again this means it is the result of secondary or tertiary sources AT BEST. I will ignore the Talmud because I don’t know it well enough to comment on how it describes Jesus’ life.

From “D Walsh” in Skipton we get:

For the intellectually honest, atheism is also a matter of faith. It is difficult to prove a negative. There is no absolute proof of the non-existence of god(s), though the lack of proof for his/her/their existence is suggestive. Atheism is therefore a belief, rather than a lack of it.

This is a tired old argument. Lack of belief is not a belief unless you have the preconceived idea that the thing being believed about exists. For example, if I chose to believe the keyboard under my fingers right now didn’t exist, this would be an item of faith. While it is unprovable, I have met no (sane) adults who believes that Faeries do not swap children at night. Atheism is not a matter of faith. Ever.

“Virginia” in Australia writes:

The atheist are the stupid ones. They refused to believe that they will burn in hell for all eternity. There is really no point in trying to convince these people as they are the minority as God puts the belief in us when we were created. That is why there are very few geniune atheist if the truth were known. The physical body dies but the spirit lives forever. So everyone has eternal life, it is where you will spend it. Imagine a world full of atheist? There will be no accountability charity justice compassion purpose worth morals mercy regrets guilt sin compassion and hope. Who do think run orphanges, soup kitchens, red cross, Salvation army, life line, op shops, youth camps, and many other charitable organisations? The atheist? CERTAINLY NOT.!! The atheists think about no one except themselves and if the world is full of them, it would be like HELL. So dont be so proud to be one of them, we dont envy you, we feel sorry for you that your life is so worthless.

This is what I love about the loving, caring, compassionate theists… It is a good job that is only Atheists who can be frowned upon for speaking out. It is good job the world isn’t full of evil atheists, isn’t it… “Chie” in Tokyo continues the false reasoning argument about Atheism:

Agnosticism is the only logical position a thoughtful human being can adopt. Once understood properly, it ends the futile and barren debate about whether God exists or not. Atheists (if by this is meant people who believe that there is no God) are in just as a rationally untenable position as believers. This is why it has to be said that Dawkins, although interesting on religion, shows his intellectual limitations. It’s probably due to the influence of Western mind training, which tends to take a binary approach to everything.

Again, this is nonsense. No matter how much woo you try to wrap around the situation, nor how much patronising you do the situation remains the same. If Chie is trying to suggest God is in a quantum superposition along with Zeus, Hera, Thor, Hemidal, Loki, Monkey, Fox, Rabbit and every other god humanity has come up with over the aeons, then he is deluded. A similar argument is suggested by “Richard” in Bexhill, Essex, which proves the point about people from Essex being thick.

“Eugene” from Heildelberg, Germany (I strongly suspect he is an American serviceman, and he reminds me of one I worked with many years ago) writes a diatribe which finishes with the patronising:

If you are truly intelligent, you will come to this coclusion. GOD IS MORE PROBABLE THAN NOT.

Nonsense. He doesn’t even say which god he thinks is more probable than any of the others. It is nothing but an appeal to mystery in funny clothes.

“Warren Toles,” from Canada, goes a long way to prove that Theists really are stupid and opens his comment with:

It is interesting that there are so many brilliant people in this world that will believe Darwin’s THEORY of evolution and completely dismiss the the Biblical account of creation. This can only be accounted for by the fact that those taking this position have not studied either the Bible or Darwin’s life story including the fact that he dismissed his own theory of evolution prior to his death. And yet we continue to teach Darwin’s Theory of evolution in our schools and Universities as though it is pure fact without any doubt attached to it.

It is great isn’t it. First off it is painfully obvious that Warren has no idea what a “theory” of science actually means. I assume he wants alternate theories of gravitation, thermodynamics (etc) to be taught as well. Add in the nonsense about Darwin’s dismissal of evolution on his death bed and you can see why Atheists laugh at the way Theists believe things without questioning… Shame on you Warren, the internet is a great tool – you should use it to learn new things.

“John W” from Oldham lives in a bleak world and writes:

As soon as you say there is no god, you say that there is no such thing as life or as a person. You reduce everything down to its component parts. You say all our thoughts are self interested delusions, lacking any intrinsic value. You forever steal the smile from the babies face, remove the beauty from the sunset and kill all that is noble in the world.

Wow. My being an atheist seems to stop my children smiling… Oddly this is not the case. I find it worrying that some people really do think they only reason they can be happy in this life is because some invisible person has promised them something in an imaginary afterlife. If this wasn’t a world religion, these people would be in a lunatic asylum. I think the idea that people are only “noble” because of god is what really steals the nobility of their actions. It makes them a vessel for others and implies that without Big Brother watching them, they would really be stealing and raping. I find that a sad, sad world.

“CC” from Cardiff falsifies himself with this:

Having read Dawkins God Delusion out of interest, I am still not convinced about religion or atheism. There are strong arguments for atheism in the book, but there are also some weak arguments. Having a scientific background and a career in engineering, I like to see real evidence. Maths and statistics can be used to ‘prove’ anything academically. So what are the weak arguments for atheism:
1. There must be a planet of other beings out there STATISTICALLY. Ok, but then if those planets do exist then the laws of evolution would apply and we might expect that one of them might be more advanced than we are…so where are they?
2. Although we as humans have made fantastic progress is medicine, we are still only tinkering. Until we can CREATE life from the basic elements I remain unconvinced that we can ever do it.
3. The human state of consciousness, how a body gets life in it cannot be reproduced by humans ‘artificially’.
I feel that if I say I am an atheist then I it would be naive

Wow, he claims to have a scientific background but demonstrates no understanding of science or mathematics. Maybe it is true what they say about engineers… Statistically, in an infinite universe, there are an infinite number of planets out there with life. Basic principles state we (on Earth) are not in a unique position regarding time or place, so you must assume that there are, indeed, some alien civilisations who are more advanced than ours. However, and this is important, these basic principles also assume that the laws of physics hold equally at all points in the universe (keep this in mind). Now, we know that statistically, the chances of another planet near to Earth having an massively advanced alien civilisation is low so we can dismiss them, this means that the statistically probably aliens are going to be quite some distance from Earth, the nearest potentially habitable planet is 60 light years away. Why must all Alien civilisations be capable of Faster than Light travel along with a burning desire to visit Earth? The rest of his “reasoning” is even more dribble.

I will finish (for now) with this head ache inducing comment from “William J” in Oban, Scotland: (Dont you just love the case choice…)

The fact we can debate, discuss, and not only argue about belief,but even in extreme situations go to war over beliefs, in anyway detract from belief:
In fact, rather it proves that belief is Truth.
Richard Dawkins is in fact a Belief Meister He Believes in Non-belief. John Humpry is Still Seeking He Believes in Seeking.
I Believe in God.
The only problem occurs if any of us try to force our beliefs upon the other two. I recently read somewhere that Charles Darwin is indirectly responsible for The Horror of The Nazi Gas Chamber and The Second World War. I found this Idea Abhorrent yet then no sooner had this thought registered,when I remembered The French Revolution was a product of Militant Aitheism. Yet There Again , our “Glorious Revolution” The English Civil War was Based upon The Opposite Belief incidentally it Was The Scottish Covenanters who having handed King Charles The First over to The Parliamentary Army were so Horrified at The English Action, The Crowned Charles
2nd

Toutatis knows what he is trying to say here, but I will point to this as further evidence as to the IQ of theists and atheists. Read the comments, they are priceless. Atheists point out logical flaws and are accused of “hateful attacks.” Theists demonstrate ignorance (and more than a little hate towards atheists) and everyone gushes about how wonderful they are.

[tags]Religion, John Humphrys, In God We Doubt, Belief, Christiantiy, Islam, Judaism, Society, Culture, Darwin, Dawkins, Evolution, Creationism, Bible, Tacitus, Toutatis, Zeus, Hera, Loki, Times Online, Nonsense, Delusion, God, Logic, Logical Fallacy, Fallacies, Atheist, Agnosticism, Atheism, Theism, Woo, Lucian, Josephus, Toledoth Jeschu, Talmud, Flaws, Idiocy[/tags]

Missing the Point?

I was browsing through the Times blogs yesterday and I came across one by John Humphrys (which was actually an extract from “In God We Doubt” about to be published by Hodder & Stoughton) carrying the title “In God we doubt” with the following tagline:

He went looking for God and ended up an angry agnostic – unable to believe but enraged by the arrogance of militant atheists. It’s hard to see the purpose of the world, he says, but don’t blame its evils on religion

As you can see, there was no way I wasn’t going to read this!

Overall, this is a reasonably well written piece. While it isn’t good enough to make me interested in buying the book it may well appeal to some people with wavering faith and the writing style is certainly inoffensive on the whole. John Humphrys is basically explaining how he went from being brought up a good Christian to his faith wavering and finally he “deconverted” to agnosticism. I wont go into the nonsensical idea that “agnosticism” is anything other than a complete wet lettuce of a philosophical idea, which has at its root the basic assumption that God does exist but is insufficiently proven for worship, that is for another day.

There is one, possibly major, problem with the whole piece and (I suspect) the line of reasoning from which it flows. After a lengthy and introspective introduction, Mr Humphrys identifies what he sees as “the attitude of those militant atheists who seem to hold believers in contempt.” (It is interesting that he makes a list of seven points, but again this diversion can wait). His reflection on “militant atheists” produces the following list of characteristics, faults and problems: (These are opinions which “militant atheists” are supposed to hold to)

1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.

2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.

3. They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.

4. They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a “Christian child”, for instance – just a child whose parents have had her baptised.

5. They have been bullied into believing.

6. If we don’t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.

7. Trust me: I’m an atheist. I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with that little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.

After sharing his earth shattering wisdom the reader is further encouraged to discover each point in detail. It is here that I largely gave up on any hope for him. The explanations and rebuttals follow, now with my rebuttal of his rebuttal…

1. This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb.

In his first sentence he gets it spot on, but possibly not in the way he thinks and despite his scorn for this it is his first point and he goes to great lengths to try and dismiss it. The reality of the matter is no “militant atheist” I know really thinks all theists are dumb and I would be interested in seeing the published information to support this idea. There are very intelligent and well educated theists – this goes without saying – and equally there are retarded atheists. Here, Humphrys has created a strawman and then attacked it. He tried to demolish it with an appeal to ridicule but, come the crunch, he failed. Nothing in what he writes actually says anything relevant to the point he tries to address so I suspect this is actually proof some atheists are dumb.

The strawman used by Humphrys reads that atheists think theists are “mostly” dumb or not as clever as atheists. Nothing that he writes contradicts this idea, except the appeal to ridicule at the beginning – and if it really is so clearly untrue, why address it first and foremost? If he strongly thinks it is false, then why is he using phrases like “reduced to using a ‘study’” (with sneer quotes)? Strawmen are wonderful things, but they need to be used properly…

2. Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.

Here he continues the strawman and again says nothing. I am not sure what point he is trying to make here. Does he mean to imply that religious belief is “good” because some people need alcohol to get through the day? Is he saying that the Bible (or what ever religious belief) is nothing but a crutch for people with problems and then claiming it doesn’t prove the original (yet strawman) argument he presented? If so, he is sadly mistaken.

After what he must feel was a rapier-like strike with the first point, Mr Humphrys descends into meaningless, pointless sentences like point 2. I am sure, somewhere, it means something but reading it on the Times Blog is baffling. He has no means of dismissing the claimed idea, for example with point 2 he does not even attempt to explain why intelligent theists are not simply clinging to their belief like an alcoholic clings to their bottle, he just says (an intellectually lazy) “so what.” For example:

3. Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards.

Again, he has no point other than a strawman. He has no way of dismissing or even disagreeing with it and finally he trots out the old stalwart of the theist case – Atheists in Foxholes. Now, anyone who has read “God Is Not Great” will know that Christopher Hitchens is indeed someone who has been an atheist under fire, as have I and many, many other people I know. In all honesty, I know more people who have been an atheist in a foxhole than a theist.

But even if we assume the claim is correct, it leaves open the argument that the gods the theists are worshipping are somewhat neglectful. Surely they should be caring for their believers more than unbelievers, so why is it so many of the faithful are made to suffer…?

4. True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.

This leaves me with a massive “eh?” So what? He agrees with the militant atheist claim, so what is his point?

5. This is also true in many cases but you can’t actually bully someone into believing – just into pretending to believe.

Mr Humphrys is misrepresenting the “militant atheists” claim here so that he can simply add a rebuttal in the form of a twist. Obviously he is thinks it is ok for religions to bully people into observing their practices because, deep down, the person doesn’t believe in them. Madness.

6. Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we’ve survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation.

It seems his liberalised anglican upbringing is showing here. Fundamentalist Islam is, indeed, dangerous in the short term violence aspect but the reality is no amount of terrorist attacks can destroy civilised democracy. Yes, people may die but then people die every day. The destruction of civil liberties that is following the fear of Islam provides a more long-term worry. The destruction of education being forced upon the west by Fundamentalist Christianity is more likely to do long-term harm to our societies ability to exist than people with semtex strapped to their chests. (Even “liberal” Holland is suffering – for example). The “harm” caused by religion is not always exemplified by planes flying into towers – think of the oppression of homosexuals, the subjugation of women, caste systems, refusal of medical treatment for minors etc.

Also, I am not sure his history is up to speed either. While Judaism may have been around for 4000 years, it is certainly a lot shorter period of time in which monotheistic death cults have been dominant on a global scale – let alone people who get their orders from the voice in their head god having access to nuclear weapons.

7. Why? For those of us who are neither believers nor atheists it can be very difficult. Doubters are left in the deeply unsatisfactory position of finding the existence of God unprovable and implausible, and the comfort of faith unachievable. But at the same time we find the reality of belief undeniable.

Again, we have the illusion of a middle ground which is more reasoned, more acceptable, than the non-belief of Atheism. This middle ground has been largely created by theists who seek to undermine the idea that atheism can exist. It is not logical to have no opinion on the subject unless you have given it no thought. I am confused by the concept of finding the existence of god implausible but the reality of belief undeniable. Working through what passes for logic is giving me a head ache but I will try:

Mr Humphrys is asserting he is an agnostic because he finds the existence of god implausible but the reality that people “believe” in god is undeniable so he can’t think of himself as an atheist.

Did I get it right?

It has that wonderful ring of being “true” but it isn’t. Just because lots of other people “believe” something with all their hearts does not mean it is true. For centuries people believed that the Earth was the centre of the solar system, that the solar system was the universe, that stars were ancient warriors, that the gods sat on top of Mount Olympus and interfered with mankind and so on. Not one of these things were true and all the belief in the world will not overturn that.

It strikes me that, although Mr Humphrys describes himself as an “agnostic” and ridicules the idea that children are indoctrinated into religious beliefs, he is suffering from this indoctrination. He (I assume) will certainly agree that lightning is not the result of Zeus’ anger, that Neptune does not control the oceans and Loki is not spreading global mischief. He (again, I assume) will agree that there is a continent across the ocean from Europe, that the Chinese are not devils, that elves do not live in woods, dwarves do not mine gold in the Norse mountains, faeries do not steal Irish children and the tooth fairy is not responsible for the coin under the pillow.

All of these things have at some point been believed to be true by people over the world. All of them. They all have as much evidence for existing as the Christian God. If the existence of belief is proof of existence, then they exist. The existence of the things I mentioned is implausible and unlikely, but this seems not to matter to Mr Humphrys.

I find myself wondering if he really does doubt the existence of god.

On a final note, and getting back to the subject of this diatribe, Mr Humphrys closes with:

As for the fanatics – religious or secular – history suggests they succeed only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be defeated by our own irrational fear. For every fanatic there are countless ordinary, decent people who believe in their own version of a benevolent God and wish no harm to anyone. Many of them regard it as their duty to try to make the world a better place. It is too easy to blame the evils of the world on belief in God. In the end, if we make a mess of things, we shall have ourselves to blame – not religion and not God. After all, he doesn’t exist. Does he?

While I actually agree with the first part of this (and this is why I feel the “fear of Islam” is more worrying than the effects of actual terrorism), he finishes it up by missing the point completely. I know of no atheists who blame god for the world’s troubles. The blame has, at times, been placed on religion which, despite the assertion he closes with, is something he seems to be agreeing with. The people are making a mess of things. They are making a mess of it under the idea that they are working to a higher power and worldly suffering will be followed by a reward in the afterlife. This is the result of religion not secularism.

(I will leave looking at Giles Fraser to others for now but if you have spare time read the comments, they are priceless – even Fr Brian Storey pops up!)

[tags]John Humphrys, Humphrys, Religion, Belief, Christianity, Faith, Delusion, God, Bible, Logic, Fallacy, Strawman, Appeal To Ridicule, Philosophy, Society, Culture, Understanding, Times Online, Logical Fallacy, Confusion, Islam, Monotheism, History, Agnostic, Atheist, Militant Atheist, In God We Doubt, Book[/tags]

Childrens Pledges

I was reading an interesting article on No More Hornets about a city councillor in Exeter who refused to stand for a Christian prayer. Now, this never made big news in the UK, and you pretty much need to ferret into the regional sections which cover the south west of England. For those who don’t know, Exeter is one of the few “Cities” in the county of Devon – which is a strange place at the best of times. If you ever visit there, it is like going back in time to the 1940s. You expect to hear German bombers over head at any moment.

Anyway, as I was reading through the comments on the post (mainly about the US Pledge of Allegiance), I remembered a discussion in the UK last year (ish, I didn’t remember it that well) which got a fair bit of press coverage, about bringing in a “pledge” in UK schools — all in an effort to combat Islamist terrorism.  Fortunately this died a death and there are, currently, no signs of such a thing on the horizon.

This all got me thinking. What real value is there is making children take an oath of allegiance to anything? I am not saying this to offend any nations who have an oath, but out of genuine curiosity.

It strikes me, there is an implicit assumption that brainwashing Children is acceptable and that convincing generation after generation that they can be forced into a binding oath, without any options, is a reasonable behaviour. The real cynic in me, suspects the hand of the church in all this — as this is largely one of the practices by which people are indoctrinated into a particular belief system.

Religious issues aside, for an oath of allegiance to have any real value it has to be entered into willingly. If, as an adult, you choose to join the British Army, for example, you are required to take an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and the Royal Family. You take this oath because you have willingly joined the army. You are not forced to take this oath because you were randomly born into a particular nation. Children have no say over who their parents are…

An oath of allegiance carries with it certain obligations — obedience for example. How can some one who has no option but to take the oath be expected to be bound by it? A nine year old child cant say “well, actually, I disagree with [insert issue here] so strongly, I no longer feel able to keep my obligations under this oath and I would now like to leave.” Without the option for consent, what real value does the oath have?

I find it amusing that people can expect children too young to drink, too young to vote, too young for anything other being treated (effectively) as their parents chattels, to be bound by an oath. At least as an adult you can vote to influence the way the country is run. You are old enough to leave if you don’t like it (etc).

If, as I currently feel, there is no real value in making kids take an oath, why make them do it?

[tags]Society, Children, Culture, Oath, Honour, Philosophy, Allegiance, Exeter, Council, Terrorism, Islam, Nationality[/tags]

End of an Era – but has anything been learned?

It seems today is the end of an era which has lasted longer than I have been alive. At midnight tonight the British Army ends its operation in Northern Ireland after 38 years of anti-terrorist operations. (Belfast Telegraph or The Guardian)

Despite the recent media-led impression that terrorists are all Islamic, from west-Asia, and only started attacking the west in the last decade, the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland have a history of horrific atrocities that were committed by both Catholics and Protestants. For decades Policemen were shot in their living rooms in front of their families, suspected informers were made to “disapear”(The tale of Jean McConville can break the stoniest heart), joyriders were shot dead, teenagers were brutally beaten for having girl/boyfriends from the wrong side of the street etc. As well as this, “low level” terror, the mainland UK in the 1970s and 80s was continually subjected to IRA bomb attacks. The Houses of Parliament were mortared (1991), the Conservative party conference in Brighton was blown to pieces (1984), over 700 soldiers were killed (mostly off duty) and scores of civilians were killed and maimed. As a child in the 70s, I can acutely remember why we have no bins at train stations and why “suspect package” announcements are a regular occurrence.

Anyway, after 38 years, it seems that the worst is now over and the process of normalisation can begin. The soldiers are no longer going to patrol the streets (although I recall it has been a while since they did anyway) and the overt signs of military oppression have been dismantled (such as the observation post on the Divis tower and the watch towers in South Armagh).

It would be nice to think that lessons have been learned, and the mistakes made (of which there were many) would not be repeated again. The government have comissionned studies into the troubles for this very purpose.

Sadly, it seems that, as always, the memory retention of the public is short and politicians are fickle enough to go where ever public opinion drives them.

Countless (certainly more than I intend to link to here) studies show that some of the government’s actions provided massive amounts of support (and volunteers) to the IRA cause. The most cited example was the horrendous internment policy. The CAIN study group has an excellent summary of internment, and pretty much all the research supports the idea that prior to this heavy handed tactic, PIRA were a “smalltime” organisation, playing second fiddle to the “Official” IRA who were much more disposed to peace talks and power sharing. By interning people (on both sides of the sectarian divide) without trial for indeterminate periods of time, the government provided the ammunition for the more militant wings (PIRA and the UVF) to overwhelm the objections of the more peaceful groups and increased the violence on a massive scale. As can be easily imagined, the increased violence lead to an increased security response, which in turn continued to alienate the communities and provided the impetus for more violence. The circle continued for three decades.

Now, hindsight is always 20:20 and I know enough of history to know that trying to second guess “what ifs” is something best left to fiction authors. However, it remains a strong possibility that, had the government allowed the moderates to dominate the thugs (rather than giving credence to the violence is the only option routine), the troubles would have been over 2o or more years ago.

Before any rightwingers get confused here, I am not suggesting a cowardly capitulation. In the late 1960s, the Catholics wanted better representation in government and they wanted the police to stop oppressing them. After 38 years of violence they now have better representation in government and the police are mixed. While I don’t for one second think either side could be described as “having won,” the fact remains that the Catholics in Northern Ireland now have what the Official IRA were calling for in 1968.

Despite this, it seems the recent peace on the mainland primed the public for another terrorist group to cause outrage. Despite the “lessons” from the troubles it seems that the public are crying out for a repeat of all the mistakes made in the 1970s and the government / police are more than happy to repeat them. Every “debate” about the extended detention without charge laws seems to begin with “we are not talking about a return to internment” but I cant for the life of me work out what is different. Can any one explain it to me?

Detention of a specific class of prisoner, who will almost certainly share a cultural and religious background with a significant (yet minority) portion of the UK population will do nothing to engender that population with a trust of the “state” and a feeling of “Britishness.” In reality, people who have family members detained for two months without charge are almost certain to become alienated and distrustful — providing a fertile recruiting ground for the jihad-calling headcases. When you factor in the risks inherent of police detention (injuries from other prisoners, accidents and stress related conditions) it is probable that when the first detainee dies in custody (of purely innocent and natural causes) the conspiracy theorists will have a field day and the terrorist cells will have a recruiting bonanza. We saw recently how the police can be poor at controlling evidence (Dr Haneef for example), so why should anyone assume that the intelligence required to trigger a “terrorist detention” would be any better?

Worryingly, hidden amongst the joys of the end of the troubles, there are some sneaky powers being rolled out. For example, from the Belfast Telegraph:

But at the same time, legislation goes into effect giving soldiers here the power to stop and question anyone about their movements – and hold them indefinitely until they answer.

People refusing to identify themselves or answer questions about their movements could be subject to a £5,000 fine.

The PSNI is also granted the power tonight – even though the Cabinet rejected them as unacceptable for police in the rest of the UK.

The Government acknowledged last night that the role of the Army will be ” slightly different to that in the rest of the UK”.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said the special powers are necessary because the Army could still be called up to support the PSNI.

Despite what some people tend to believe, Northern Ireland is part of the UK. Is this a sign of the future for the mainland? [tags]Law, Civil Rights, Society, Culture, Terror, Fear, Legislation, Civil Liberties, Northern Ireland, Troubles, Anti-Terror Legislation, Catholics, Protestants, Islam, Government, Media, IRA, UVF[/tags]

Victims not Experts

Refusing to register with the BBC to leave a comment, I will vent my frustrations here (although I doubt the BBC care about a backlink from this blog!).

It is common in the real world, and the mainstream media’s representation of it, to succumb to the false authority fallacy. The BBC has another “news” item which does this in a dramatic manner. Seriously, today has convinced me that 24 hour news will be the end of the world.

In a piece titled “Longer detention ‘may save lives’” the BBC begin with:

As the debate rages over the length of time terror suspects can be detained without charge, three people whose lives were changed forever in 2005 by the 7 July London bombings explain why they are backing an extension.

Now, what is “newsworthy” about this completely eludes me, but even the most cursory reading shows the problem with attributing authority falsely. The three people the BBC have dragged out are victims of a terrible terrorist attack, they are not experts on the law or social policy. They have no greater insight to the event, or its repercussions than anyone else. The BBC may as well have dragged three random people off the street and asked them for all the weight the opinions should carry.

And here lies the problem. The opinions of the victims carries more weight because we, as a society, are now used to the false authority. We listen to ageing pop stars when they talk about global economics, we listen to Christian clergy when they talk about housing and so on. We have been force fed the false authority to such a degree it is almost assumed. Modern victims seem to feel they have a right to tell people how to sort problems out based solely on the experience which made them a victim. It is madness. It is scary madness because this drives public policy. Very scary madness.

As I have made this into a post rather than a comment, I feel I should highlight some of the bits I have big issues with. As an example, when talking about the proposals to increase the time an innocent person (well, I suppose they are guilty of looking Islamic in a western nation) can be detained without charge to 56 days, they have this to say:

“If it’s going to help prevent another 7/7, then I have to support it.” [ROB WEBB - BROTHER OF VICTIM, LAURA]

“We believed 90 days was right so I would certainly be in favour of 56 days,” [JUNE TAYLOR - MOTHER OF VICTIM, CARRIE]

He wants the law changed to allow terror suspects to be held for as long as is necessary, so long as detention is dealt with responsibly and is under judicial review. [MICHAEL HENNING - BOMB SURVIVOR]

Great comments, really. They show why laws should not be written by people who are traumatised by loss.

Rob Webb hits the nail on the head, “if” is the critical part of it though. The changes to the law would not have prevented the 7 July bombings. They would not have prevented the recent London and Glasgow attempts.

Worryingly, they are quite likely to further alienate the segment of the population in which the terrorists move and recruit. This will, in the words of the Treason laws, have the effect of providing support and succour to the enemy. Is that really what these people want?

All three say largely the same things about how detaining people for up to 90 days is OK as it may save lives – with references to the tabloid favourite about the courts putting the suspects human rights before those of innocent people. This is complete tosh. It really is nonsense. The rights of the suspect are the exact same as the rights of the innocent person. If you take away the rights of the suspect (remembering they are innocent at this time, over three quarters of terrorism suspects have been released without charge…), you are taking them away from everyone. White or black. Christian or Muslim (or atheist).

Rob Webb also states (and this is another tabloid ranting point):

“In the balance of fairness, I would rather be completely unfair to them, than for a completely innocent person to be murdered on the public transport network.”

(In this context I think “them” means terrorist suspects rather than Asians in general)

This really does show why victims are not experts. I wonder what peoples reactions would be if the people who were most in danger from this new legislation were not a minority group? Would Mr Webb be happy to do 56 days in detention (Interment by another name) and then released without charge? That is effectively what this legislation calls for — just because at the moment “we” don’t feel that it will target us does not make that the case.

[tags]Comment Week, BBC, False Authority, Law, Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Fallacy, Society, Culture, Logic, Reason, Sane, Traumatic, Loss, Revenge, Minorities, Islam, Christianity, UK[/tags]

Terrorism and Fear vs Rights

Sadly, the annoyingly named, pot smoking, Jacqui Smith has been sounding off about the need to detain innocent people for longer periods of time.

As always, the BBC remains an excellent source of the worrying statements made by politicians, reporting:

“The time is now right” to reconsider extending detention without charge beyond the current 28 days limit, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said.

The article continues to discuss how she feels that the complexity of modern terrorist plots means the police need longer than 28 days to detain and question a suspect before they charge him or her. Worryingly, this seems to be garnering general public support and it has all the hall marks of the “reasonable” sounding claims I detest with a passion.

On the face of it, detaining terrorists for indefinite periods of time seems like a good idea – it is one of those things which make it difficult for people to argue against, I mean who wants to support terrorists? The same argument is used over a variety of crimes and it is almost always false.

Basically, the problem is that these are innocent people. The bedrock of western laws is that a person’s liberty can only be taken away from them under certain situations. Most of the time, the only way for this to happen is after a court of law finds the person guilty of certain offences. The primary exception to this is people who are charged with a grave offence and may prove to be a flight risk or a continued threat to the public, at which point they may be refused bail.

The current terror legislation (in that it is a law based on terror, rather than the principles of law or good governance) allows some one to be detained by the police for 28 days without any form of charge, nor is a formal charge required when the 28 day period runs out. It is unique in this respect, I can not for one second imagine someone being detained for 28 days while they were being investigated for vandalism…

In a nutshell, this means that someone without being charged of any crime can have their liberty taken away from them for a month. I am sure the police forces of the UK are (currently) professional enough to have some standard of evidence required before they enact this detention, but the fact remains this is something wide open to abuse. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see how this can be misused – especially as there is no censure, nor public oversight, over the police actions. They are not punished if they detain some one wrongly (accidentally or deliberately) and the innocent person wrongly imprisoned receives no restitution for their suffering.

Is this the way people envisage a western democracy treating its citizens?

The terrorists, who want to destroy what they see as a decadent society, seem to be winning and we are slowly becoming a police state in the manner of the Middle Eastern dictatorships we used to condemn.

As always, the irrational fear of terrorists seems to cloud people’s reasoning when it comes to detaining them – the old refrain about the public’s “right to life” being more important than the suspect’s “right to liberty” is the most common. It is also complete nonsense and draws an ad absurdum over itself like a cloak. The fear of a terrorist killing lots of people is used as the argument behind excessive pre-charge detention, however Harold Shipman killed more people than any terrorist in the UK and we do not detain Doctors for 28 days without charge on the off-chance they may be mass murderers.

Sadly, the main victims of this legislation are minority groups so the will of the masses overwhelms any complaints they may make. Oddly (although not odd for anyone who has thought about this rationally), the main effect of this legislation will be to further alienate and isolate a vulnerable group of people. The extremist rabble-rousers must be overjoyed at the thought of disgruntled Islamic youths who feel like the state is oppressing them unjustly.

As well as the potential deaths a terrorist could cause, another “reason” often cited for excessive detention is “the complexity” of a terrorist investigation. This is reasonable and actually has my full support, although I think that if the Home Secretary agrees that complex investigations should allow the police to detain suspects for long periods before charge, this should be applied across the board.

Complex criminal investigations are widespread in the modern society we live in. With the exception of terrorism the suspect remain free until a charge can be made though – some recent examples are footballers suspected of fraud, the Members of Parliament suspected in the “Cash for Honours” fiasco, companies suspected of financial crimes and the like. In not one of these cases was a suspect detained (without charge) for more than 24 hours – even though the investigations lasted months or years. Obviously the police are more than able to investigate people who are not sitting in the cells – even very rich people (all of the above) who are a real flight risk.

Ah, I hear the right wing cry out that these are “fraud” cases where no one will die as a result. Ok, that seems reasonable – although if someone loses their lives savings thanks to financial fraud and is left penniless at the age of 60, I suspect they will die a lot sooner than if they had their money. What about complex cases involving health and safety legislation or corporate manslaughter? What about the cases of human traffickers (or any organised crime)? There is a multitude of incredibly complex cases, in which the investigations last years, where the police are not allowed to detain a suspect without charge for 28 days (or more).

What makes a terrorism suspect any different from a CEO who’s corporate negligence has allowed 50 people to die?

As a parting shot, I will return to the BBC’s article and Miss Smith’s comments:

In recent operations … six people were held for 27-28 days and three of those were charged.

A fifty percent success rate does not fill me with confidence.

[tags]Terror, Terrorism, Law, Legislation, Jacqui Smith, UK, Civil Rights, News, Fear, Civil Liberties, Society, Culture, Police, Arrests, Islam, Minorities, Crime, Home Secretary, BBC, Corporate Crime, Logical Fallacy, Ad Absurdum, Reductio Ad Absurdum, Logical Fallacies[/tags]

Cartoon capers

It beggars belief that the population of London, let alone Islamabad, is reading Danish cartoons as a matter of course. I bet the Danish speaking population of London can be numbered in the hundreds and, in Pakistan, I’d be surprised if there are more than a handful of speakers of Danish as a second language. So, the whole furore was blatantly manufactured.

All the same, to be honest, I am a bit ambivalent about this. Today, four people were jailed for 6 years each for their parts in an anti-Danish-cartoon demo. The serious response strikes me as a little like the cartoon fury in the first place.

I would never possibly condone mad anti-infidel ranting. I find the content of what teh men said deeply disturbing and even sufficient to drive me to rage. All the same, people often shout rubbish on demonstrations, carried away by the atmosphere and the pleasure of getting their rhetoric listened to. (Or you can probably replace “often” by “always”.) Who is listening except the other demonstrators? Continue reading

Disconnected from society

I will keep it short for now because it is late and I am tired having covered what feels like the entire length of the United Kingdom today (in a traffic jam).

The BBC have reported, in a news item titled “‘Islamic duty’ to help UK police” that:

Muslims have been told it is their “Islamic duty” to co-operate with the police to ensure Britain’s safety.

This blog has previously been accused of concentrating its attacks on Christianity, and often Atheism in general is accused of being “anti-Christian” rather than “anti-Deity” largely because it concentrates on the dominant religions in the English speaking world. There is no reason, however, why Islam should get off lightly and this brings to mind a startling example of what is really, really wrong with both the religion and how its adherents see themselves within the UK. (I can only assume this is valid elsewhere).

Basically, this statement (is it an edict?) from the Muslim Council of Britain (*) admits that “Muslims” within the United Kingdom see themselves as separate from society. The MCB are basically saying that unless told to do so by authority figures within Islam, Muslims living here will not function as members of the “British” society.

For centuries the “British” (OK, mainly the English) have been worried about Catholics coming to power here, as it was assumed they would place the authority of Rome over the needs, wants and laws of the People of Britain. While this is still a real concern (try to become king if you are Catholic for example), it seems no where near as much of a problem as this portrayal of Islam.

It is sad that a large segment of people born and bred in the United Kingdom feel patriotic towards another nation and will only behave as citizens of their homeland when ordered to do so by their Church. I am constantly amazed that so many people who dislike the lifestyles and behaviours of this (or any country) continue to live here, maybe they are some variation on the flagellants… :-)

Isn’t the 21st century wonderful.

(*) Does Northern Ireland have its own? Do people forget that the UK is not just Britain? Does the MCB not like Northern Ireland – you could hardly blame them… :-) (and it would explain the B rather than MCUK…)