Sort of Back

After a month of seemingly endless problems, there is a sort of return to service now, albeit a short lived one.

Heather is still out for the count and it may be some time before she returns to blogging form. It is possible she will undergo surgery on Friday followed by several weeks bedrest, but fingers crossed everything is on the mend.

I have had none of the problems Heather has undergone, and simply have been without internet connection. I now have an internet connection, but will be going away on a long family holiday at the weekend, where I will be without it once more. Typical really.

On the subject of internet connections, life is now officially impossible without one.  A few years ago, I made a passing reference to how our society has become dependent on the internet, and things have not improved. [this is the long bit if you want to stop reading here]

Having recently moved house, I needed to go through all the things we take for granted – setting up utilities, arranging council tax, registering to vote, changing bank details etc. However with very few exceptions all of these wanted internet access to actually do anything. Some had normal phone numbers or addresses but, ironically, the only place you could find these out was online… What barking madness. Fortunately, McDOnalds provides free WiFi, but sitting in a busy public place typing away on my laptop is not good for personal security, so this was difficult at best.

Obviously, I wanted an internet service – how else could I blog for example – and I had done a lot of research before I moved, so I knew the one I wanted. The problem is that Virgin Media couldn’t even begin to confirm if their service would be available until my phone line was connected – this happened the day we moved in – so I couldn’t pre-arrange the ISP service.

Anyway, we move in and I eventually get to a WiFi point to register with virgin.  The registration process was smooth enough, although oddly they send all service updates (such as the day you get connected) to your email account. How this is supposed to help you get connected is beyond me. Then after explaining that it would take 14 days to get the service up and running (no, I have no idea why either), and what equipment they would send out to me, the virgin account creation pages came up with a huge warning saying there was a problem with my account and could I call customer services. Obediently I called and hit the worlds worst automated system. It took best part of 20 minutes to get through to a human who had no idea why I was calling when I didnt have an account. I explained everything the error message said (which was limited, to be fair), and he was still none the wiser. After another 10 mins of this, he eventually found my records and said there were no problems and I would be up and running in 14 days. He then, very patronisingly, told me it was all in the emails I had been sent. He wasn’t able to tell me how to read the emails without internet access though.

About a week later, I was back in McDonalds using the WiFi and I checked into the Virgin webmail service. The promised emails were non-existent, there were a few initial ones, but the one saying when it would all be up and running was missing. When I went to the user control panel, there was a huge message saying “there has been a problem setting up your account please call customer services.” Again, I did so. I went through all the hoops and got another bemused operator who had no idea why I was calling but promised my service would be up and running within 14 days (yes, this was about 7 days into the original 14 days).

Bizarrely, on the 10th day I got a package explaining how to connect and telling me my router would be shipped in time to connect. Back in McDonalds I followed the instructions to see what the status of the equipment order was only to be faced with a barrage of error messages and failed webpages. Inspires confidence, thats for sure.

Having my own router (I am a closet geek), I tried to connect on Day 14 and magically the service was working. It was even surprisingly fast considering the location (and distance from exchange) and all the virgin account stuff was perfect. Oddly, on Day 15 of this fiasco, I got a letter saying my service had been activated the day before (and I would be billed from that date) and that my equipment would be shipped in time to use the connection. Unless they use TARDIS delivery, this seemed unlikely. The promised equipment finally arrived three days after the letter; while this was not important to me, if I had been relying on the virgin equipment, I would have paid for four days of service with no way to access the service. Minor issue, but on the scale of virgins customer base its pretty poor.

Anyhoo, ranting over now and I can carry on unboxing my belongings. Hopefully normal service will resume ASAP.

Campaign for Plainer Newspeak

Anyone who sits through meetings ticking off phrases like “leveraging” and “best practice” on a secret bingo card recognises how vile office language can be. All the same, the Local Government Association’s list of words that should be banned on Plain English grounds is a bit crazy.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton said: “The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases.”

I think there’s a minor Fail, right there. “The public sector” is not exactly Not-Jargon, is it? The BBC even had to help her out a bit by saying “national and local government” in the next sentence, so readers who are unfamiliar with official jargon would know what she meant. And, surely, many people wouldn’t understand the word “impenetrable”

I’m all for the principle of officials explaining what they mean. The actual list of banned words has some stinkers but there are many phrases there that would be hard to replace.

Banning some of these words would make entire branches of knowledge invisible. I have to assume that “downstream”, “lever”, “fulcrum”, “toolkit,” “seedbed”, “mechanism” are banned for metaphorical use only. Otherwise car maintenance, physics, geography and gardening are all in trouble.

Some of the other words seem to have no reasonable alternatives. They would have to be replaced by a couple of explanatory sentences, which surely wouldn’t help to make them clearer:
Ambassador. Welcome. Area based. Capacity. Customer. Client. Agencies. Flex. Vision.

I defy anyone to describe an ambassador without using the forbidden A word itself or some much more complicated and incomprehensible formulation that refers to vice-counsels and international relations. Without referring to “protocol”, because that’s on the list.

Welcome – argh. Depends on the context. I can’t really think of any way to say “Welcome to X Council” that isn’t either longer or less welcoming. If you have to greet an ambassador then you really are in Plain English trouble,.

Area based: Erm, erm…. Set in a place. (Am tying myself in mental knots to avoid saying geographical. “Set” is a rubbishy choice anyway, though, but I can’t say focussed. I think it’s on the list.)

Customer – erm, “person who buys things or gets some sort of service”. (Can’t cheat and say “client”. That’s on the list.)

Outcomes was so bad they named it twice. I’ll assume that was a typo, because it doesn’t seem like a major offender. “Results” is only one letter shorter and I’m sure that most people could guess that they mean roughly the same thing from the context.

And what about “sustainable” and “freedoms”? It usually takes 3,000 word undergraduate essays to start to explain these concepts. Are council workers going to have to precis them.

Cleopatra Was Egyptian – Shock News!

Wow, breaking news brought to us by the BBC reveals that Cleopatra was, wait for it, of african descent! It seems that the in-depth research of the 1963 blockbuster Cleopatra was wrong and the queen of Egypt was not actually a white caucasian but was native to Eqgypt. Amazing claims like this needs some fantastic research. Fortunately the headline news on the BBC rewards us:

Cleopatra, the last Egyptian Pharaoh, renowned for her beauty, was part African, says a BBC team which believes it has found her sister’s tomb.

Wow. Knock me down with a feather. It gets better:

But remains of the queen’s sister Princess Arsinoe, found in Ephesus, Turkey, indicate that her mother had an “African” skeleton.
Experts have described the results as “a real sensation.”

Amazing. An African skeleton… How could Liz Taylor have got it so wrong only 45 years ago. Do we need to re-cast and re-film an entire generation of epic movies? Next you will be telling me Jesus wasn’t a tall, blue eyed, blonde haired Caucasian.

Actually, I cant keep it up. This is mind numbingly insane.

First off: Who is actually surprised that Egypt is in Africa? Seriously, anyone? This is a news item that basically says “Egyptian Queen is part African.” Is it really that quiet a news day? (no). This is the Online BBC news that ignored seven hours of riots and petrol bombs in Lurgan, Northern Ireland (despite coverage being in the newspapers). This is the online BBC news that is regularly a day behind unfolding events. It is obviously wasting too much time writing copy for the department of the BLOODY OBVIOUS.

Secondly: No one is disputing Cleopatra’s lineage coming from Alexander’s generals and being predominantly Greek. However, the idea that this remained purely Greek (Macedonian?) after the first generation is simply batshit insane. Yes there was a huge amount of inbreeding, and most royal marriages were with Greek nobles, but over 250 years without allowing locals into the bloodline is unlikely. That would have been news worthy.

Thirdly: In my limited archaological knowledge, WTF does “african bones” mean? Is this 19th century casual racism where its thought that the darkies have a different genetic makeup to us “white people?”  What on Earth is there about the bones that make them “african” rather than Egyptian or Greek? Seriously, WTF!

There has been some reluctance of late for this blog to attack the blinding madness that the BBC is pushing out, mainly because it puts us in the same camp as the Daily Wail, but this is a step too far.

The BBC has seriously lost any sense of what is, or isnt, news. This is thinly veiled advertising for a BBC program of dubious merit. Shame on the BBC and I want them to refund what ever portion of my licence fee went towards this drivel.

Religious Ironies

Excommunication doesn’t seem much of a sanction to non-believers, granted, but it’s a bit rough for Catholics. It seems you can do just about anything and still remain a Catholic, from holocaust denial (you can apparently even be a bishop, in that case) to taking part in mass murder in Rwanda.

However, what you can’t do and remain incommunicated is arrange an abortion for a Brazilian nine-year-old who was pregnant with twins, after being raped by her stepfather.

In fact, having sane social views can also get you suspended as a priest in Brazil, if not completely excommunicated.

It appears that Father Couto landed in trouble with the Church authorities because of an interview that he gave to a local newspaper defending the use of condoms as a matter of public health. (from the BBC)

Unlike the more senior Brazilian Catholic church hierarchy…

…. He has received threats to his life in the past for his opposition to death squads that operate in the north east of Brazil.

So, it appears that being genuinely “pro-life” – in any sense of the word that doesn’t mean “supporting breeding, whatever the human cost” – can get you into trouble in the Catholic Church.

But death squads, AIDS deaths and raped children are just part of god’s unquestionable plan.

The second set of ironies come from yet another church shooting in the US.

A week ago, the Guardian’s Saturday magazine had an seemingly-interminable parade of born-again American christians talking about their firepower. (That “Turn the other cheek” stuff really must be too fragile to survive the rebirthing process.) The piece was clearly just there to make us English people feel smug.

I remembered an old post that I did here about Wingnut daily and its claim that going armed into church would just make worshippers safer.

This referred to a book called “Shooting Back” published by Worldnet Daily itself, the message of which seems to revolve around always having a revolver. Even – or indeed, especially – in church.

What would you do if armed terrorists broke into your church and starting attacking your friends with automatic weapons in the middle of a worship service?

Well. oddly, this seems to be a not-unheard of occurence, now. But, surprise, surprise, they aren’t organised “armed terrorists” but good old traditional yankee “lone gunman” figures. The very people who are claiming that it’s their inalienable human right to bear arms, no less.

It’s been a while since I underwent the reading-wingnut-daily experience. Scanning its ugly intro page, I spotted a link to a piece of nonsense in our old friend, the English Daily Mail.

Which was unsurprising, given that as soon as I looked at the worldnet daily site content, I saw the extreme wing of the Daily Mail’, with its trademark mix of political scare stories and crackpot health stories.

OK, worldnet daily doesn’t have the Mail’s prurient celeb stories with its daily fake concern about starlet x’s love life or singer y’s bulimia problems. But then, the Mail doesn’t have the insane nonsense about Obama’s being a secret muslim or not being a really American. So, on balance, I think this is – for once – a win for the Daily Mail and its acres of celebri-toss. If it didn’t have that, it could easily tip over into worldnettery and then the UK would be in serious trouble.

The perils of Ignorance

The Perils of Ignorance

The Perils of Ignorance

(hat tip: FSTDT, as always this is the ultimate source of both ignorance and witty responses to it)

Evolution of Christianity

(hat tip: FSTDT)

Occams Razor - The Evolution of Christianity

Occams Razor - The Evolution of Christianity

Although the pedants might whine, I found this pretty funny.

Darwin and the Tree of Life

Possibly the best “educational” program I have seen on television in as long as I can remember. Better than Michio Kaku, better than all the discovery channel shows, better than all the rest.

I am talking about a wonderful BBC1 program – Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life – which has just finished. If you missed it, I cant stress how much you really should watch this on iPlayer. It is a part-Open University funded education program, supported by an interesting BBC Darwin website, where you can catch a glimpse of the program if it isnt on the iPlayer yet.

In a nutshell, David Attenborough shows his fantastic qualities as a presenter and takes the viewer on a tour through the history of the theory of evolution. He is genuinely enthusiastic about the science and has a presentational style that is unmatched. I was actually saddened at one point in the program, when I realised that 30 years ago people were more accepting of evolution and our place in the world than they are today. Thanks to the idiocy of fundamentalist religion we really are going back in time.

Attenborough calmly and politely mocks the ideas that all species were created as they are with no change and gives a wonderful (if brief) example of how the eye is a good example of evolution at work. It is all well done and while the hardened scientist may object at some simplification, this is a program which explains evolution in an hour for the general public. To that end some abbreviation of the tree of life is understandable.

Sadly, the BBC website sort of undermines Attenborough’s fantastic work with this line:

David shares his personal view on Darwin’s controversial idea.

Now, while it was indeed controversial in the 1860’s it is now valid science with solid evidential backing. The controversy is not real. Implying it is still there plays into the hands of the idiots and anti-educationalists. Shame really.

This program shows that, despite its faults, the BBC really can pull it out of the bag when it comes to “important” programs.

About time…

At long last the United States of America has started back on the road to decency.

US President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as well as all overseas CIA detention centres for terror suspects.
Signing the orders, Mr Obama said the US would continue to fight terror, but maintain “our values and our ideals”.
He also ordered a review of military trials for terror suspects and a ban on harsh interrogation methods. [source: the BBC]

It really is about time, but still, well done President Obama. Soon the US may once again be able to hold its head up high on the world stage.

Banks continue to control us

Untouched by their reckless behaviour (and blatant lack of any real knowledge of the mystical “market forces”) the true leaders of the Western World continue to flex their muscles and show that the interests of ordinary people are, on the whole, irrelevant. They remain blind to contradiction in demanding huge public subsidies, then refusing any form of public control. They continue to assert, in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary, that “they know best” over the current financial crisis. They ignore the problem of begging money with one hand, and paying out huge bonuses to their own staff. They know they are so important that whatever they do we, the public, will continue to bow to their demands. It beggars belief how most banks haven’t been declared International Terrorist Organisations – they demand money and threaten global meltdown if we don’t comply, they have a non-democratic influence in governmental policy and are happy to crush small businesses; the only thing missing is they aren’t (on the whole) Islamic.

Anyway, enough of that rant. You could easily be excused for thinking that giving a bank your money (often paying for the privileged) would mean it stayed your money and the bank just looked after it (although they would use it to make more money for themselves). You would be excused for thinking that you should be able to get access to your money.  You would, however, be wrong.

Not content with charging customers £1.75 for cash withdrawals (except those customers well off enough to be able to get to the increasingly rare free cash machines [ATM], if they can find a working one), the banks are now unveiling measures to make it harder for you to use your cash/credit card. All in the name of security though… so that makes it ok…

A few years ago we heard how Chip and PIN was being brought in to prevent card fraud. Gone were the days in which your signature was enough to prove who you were, now all it took was a 4 digit PIN. This seemed like madness, and in fact creates the current situation where my wife can use my card without anyone noticing she is not a Mr, but the banks were adamant it would prevent fraud. They added to this the demand for every Cardholder Not Present (CNP) transaction to use the 3 digit verification number (CVV) on the back of the card (ironically where the pointless signature strip lives). It was claimed that this would reduce CNP fraud and the two measures would reduce fraud to such an extent that their costs would be negligible.

Except, it never worked out like that.

People buy things over the internet, and give out their CVV with alarming ease – every time you do an online transaction you are asked for it – so after a while it becomes impossible to use this as verification. You would like to think the people you are carrying out an online purchase from are PCI-DSS accredited, but do you check? Do you read through their audits to make sure your holy grail of card number and CVV are safe? Do you assume the credit card companies are doing that? The padlock icon is just to tell you that the data link between you and the shop is secure, it says nothing about the long term storage of your data. I have even seen companies that email out a receipt with the card number in full and the CVV code used – all in a plain text email… Far from secure.

Anyway, it seems that despite these new measures the banks are still suffering almost as much fraud as before (which begs the question…)  and have now unveiled new measures. Basically they will look at your transactions and if the bank thinks you are doing something unusual they will block your card. Its crucial to note here, that this happens if the bank thinks you are doing something odd. They will monitor your activity and then make a decision as to if your behaviour falls within their idea of what is normal. The BBC report on this is interesting:

A leading bank is introducing new technology that will mean every credit card transaction is scrutinised for fraud.
HSBC is introducing the programme, which will affect 10 million card accounts and millions of transactions.

Hmm. You have to wonder what other data the HSBC will be able to mine from this, but we will leave the big brother rant for another day.

The banking industry has warned that more legitimate transactions will be queried or cancelled as a result.

So, what they are basically saying is that because the banks are losing money, ordinary people will be inconvenienced even more than normal. Imagine the scene, you are on holiday in a foreign country (several time zones away), you go for a meal and pay with your card. Only to have your card rejected. What do you do? The banks don’t care. You have to do the running to get everything sorted and cant even claim back any costs incurred from the banks mistake. Outrageous. The standard banking advice is to tell your bank when you are going on holiday but this is crap. It rarely works. From the same BBC page:

When Sally Wiber went on holiday to Borneo, she followed industry advice and told her bank where she was going.
But her credit and debit cards were blocked when she tried to use them on her first day.
“I spent much of the first day trying to deal with my bank and getting internet access, and then had a rather frustrating phone call trying to make sure that I could use my cards for the rest of my holiday,” she said.

Wonderful eh? I can support this from personal experience. My employment has me travelling around Europe a lot. My bank know this. I have told them about my travel and they know my job. However, in France last year, despite my bank being told in writing about my travel, my card was blocked on the second day. I used it on the first day to withdraw cash and make purchases, but on the second day it was decided my activity was unusual. Apparently, as I was on a family holiday, I had been committing the heinous crime of buying presents… I had told the bank I was going on a family holiday. The first days purchases (to a greater value) were fine, but the second day triggered something. The biggest problem I faced here was being stuck, in France, with no phone and no bank account and no money. How do you resolve that?

Does the banking industry care? Again from the BBC:

But Mark Bowerman of the card issuers’ trade body APACS said it was something consumers would have to accept.

That is a “no” then. He continues:

“If we as customers expect banks to do something about this we have to expect that from time to time we’ll be in a shop and the transaction will be queried or card declined. These systems are designed to stop cards being used fraudulently, so if that’s the price we have to pay I think people should be prepared to pay that price,” he said.

Crikey, doesn’t that sound like the war on terror? It actually reads that because the banks want to put a stop to card fraud people have to pay the price. I love the glib way he says that from time to time we’ll have a transaction declined. Like it doesn’t mean anything. Like it doesn’t mean embarrassment and possible legal problems for you when it happens. Try paying for a meal, having your card declined and then explaining that’s just the price you have to pay. Please let me know how far it gets you.

The BBC continues:

Spending large amounts of money or using your card frequently can trigger the alarm at the user’s bank, and with so much fraud taking place abroad, the same goes for using a card outside the UK.

So, basically, using your card can trigger alarms. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was buying a new suit. I used a credit card that gives me loyalty points, and as I pay it off in full each month I was well within my credit. I spent a while buying an expensive new suit in the January sales, with a shop assistant fawning over me. When it came to pay, I hand my card over (knowing I had a credit limit more than £2000 over the cost of the suit and coat) only for it to be rejected. Shame is an understatement. Queue of people behind me and a shop assistant now convinced I am a petty thief. All because I tried to spend £300 in one transaction, rather than lots of £50 transactions.

There is a solution, and one which may shoot the credit card companies in the foot, but one I am heading towards more and more. Give up with the card. Credit cards are different, as it enables you to spend money you dont have, but you can live without your bank card. This is the travel advice from ABTA on the BBC, to try and get round the problem of having your card blocked at random:

Take a range of payment methods. Take cash for immediate expenses, take two cards, preferably from different banks and take travellers’ cheques as well for extra security if it goes disastrously wrong.

Why go to all this trouble. The only reason you would take the cards is to spend your money abroad. If you take cards with cash and traveller’s cheques as “backup” you are mad. The card is a back up for the other two, but now you cant trust it. If you have a backup you cant rely on, it is worthless, so don’t take the cards. Go abroad with a bit of cash and traveller’s cheques. You don’t need anything else.

Equally, given the disastrous savings rates, you could probably live your day to day life cash only. Wouldn’t that be weird?

Just to show how effective the banks previous anti-fraud measures have been:

Card fraud is rising – up 14% in the first half of 2008 – and fraud abroad now accounts for 40% of all card crime.

Not very effective then. What is the future for these new checks? Will they learn enough to allow people to go on holiday? Will they work?

What we have seen with chip and pin – it was successful for 18 months, two years – the fraudsters have worked a way round it, so we are now looking at more sophisticated means.

So then, in 18 months we will be encumbered with a system causing us problems, making sure we cant rely on our cards (defeating the purpose of them) and it wont be stopping fraud.

Wonderful.

When religion really is to blame

As anyone who reads FSTDT will know, Yahoo! Answers provides rich pickings when it comes to bizarre, crazy and downright wierd religious viewpoints. While idly browsing through it, I noticed a question asking “During the middle ages, how many were killed because they questioned the loving and kind Catholic Church?” (See original question thread)

Having a passing hobby interest in medieval history, this question appealed to me, so I read through some of the answers. A lot were standard Yahoo-fare, for example the “best answer” claims 150 million died, which seems a bit odd compared to the population of Europe in the middle-ages.  While sources are a bit made up, Wikipedia claims the population of medieval Europe peaked at about 100 million in the early part of the fourteenth century. This requires some interesting mental arithmetic to make the two sets of numbers add up, even if the 150 million deaths were spread out over 300 years.

However, the one that caught my interest the most was from Misty0408, and it makes quite a few points I would like to address here: [emphasis mine throughout quotes]

Crusades or Inquisition?

It’s easy in hindsight to judge a time and society we no longer experience or understand.

I agree with this to an extent as our ideas of what is “right” and “wrong” do change over time. This is not always a path from a “bad past” to a “good present/future” though, sometimes we take a few steps back. Crucially, there isn’t any real point to judging the past – we cant change it and we cant (for example) punish the Romans for keeping slaves.

I may have misread the question, and know nothing of the person who asked it, but I didn’t really think it was trying to judge the past. This made me think that Misty0408 might have a few axes to grind.

The Crusades were a series of defensive battles against Muslim attacks. They were not organized and run by the Church, but tended to be upstart groups of Catholics who took things into their own hands. Many non-believers joined in to reap the benefits of pillaging. There was no telephone, email, text messaging, etc. to get word out and tell people to stop. It took time for the Pope to know what was going on, and time for word to get back to those who had run amok.

Interesting. This also seems pretty much 180 degrees from the history lessons I remember. So much so that this cant be a simple lack of education, this is someone wilfully taught an incorrect sequence of events.

Pope Urban II instigated the crusades. This is the fairly famous quote he made in the call to arms:

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion!

All the crusades were blessed by the Papacy. This is a far cry from the idea that the pope was busy running around trying to put a stop to the brutality.

It strikes me as a bit dishonest to claim that the church was not the organiser of the Crusades – yes the Crusading nobles will have gone through the actual logistics, but the Pope ordered them to and offered forgiveness for all their sins if they went.

The Inquisitions were also driven, in part, by the society and times in which they happened. Civil law and Church law were linked. If you spoke heresy you were condemned by civil law to die…not by the Church. In fact, in many cases the Church worked to get people to recant their heretical statements to save them from death. Death sentences were carried out by the civil authorities.

Again, some reasonable truth mixed with weirdness. The inquisitions were indeed driven by the time and society – however this society was intrinsically Catholic. Civil and Church law were mixed, yes, but this didn’t mean secular rules got mixed in with the religious ones. It basically meant that the Church set the law. The idea that heretics were condemned to die by secular authorities and not the church is batshit insane. Yes the Church worked to get people to recant, but not to save them from death. If the Church hadn’t declared some statements heretical (and demanded death as the punishment) I would agree they were not complicit in the torture. How on Earth can heresy even be a crime by secular standards?

While death sentences were indeed carried out by the civil authorities, they were given the moral authority to do so by the Church. The Church can not wash its hands of the crimes because the pope did not burn each heretic personally.

Its true, that at that time, the Church thought that a good way to deal with heretics was to torture them, and force them to recant. The Church has since apologized for this.

That makes it OK then.

But again, we see this error in hindsight. The medieval times were violent times for the entire society. Most punishments for breaking the law involved sentences we consider barbaric today. People were hanged in public, drawn and quartered etc. This was the society.

So why did the church apologise? How does this sliding scale of moral values lie with an inerrant word of God being handed down to the heads of the Church?

If the Church felt it was in keeping with Scripture at the time, what has changed?

The Spanish Inquistition was state ministry, not papal organization. Blaming Popes for deeds of Spanish Inquistition is incorrect. However kings of Spain used Dominicans (catholic order) as judges etc. because clergy (especially mentioned monks) were genarally far more educated than ordinal people.

Wow. An even bigger dose of madness wrapped around a kernel of truth. The Spanish inquisition was indeed instituted by the secular Monarchy.

First off, it was based on Papal Inquisitions (which were remarkably similar); secondly its purpose was to ensure people upheld the Catholic Church’s doctrine; Thirdly it was established by a Papal Bull from Pope Sixtus IV. Crucially, the Catholic Church could have stopped it, but chose not to.

Seems like the Catholic Church has to shoulder a fair amount of the blame for this.

The Church, even though the true Church of Christ, is not made of perfect people. She is protected from ever teaching heresy, but this protection does not give those in charge a crystal ball, or the power to know more than the current times in which they live.

Wow. Huge dose of irony there. The Catholic church can never teach heresy, but because there is no crystal ball its teachings may change and even contradict previous ones.

You’ve got to love the logic that belief grants you…

As far as the actual numbers of those killed, no one has a real count. But we do know that over the years the number has increased in direct proportion to the number of anti-Catholics. Those who claim in the “millions” are way off base. Not even close, more likely in the thousands. But just to give you an idea:
The Spanish Inquisition, assuredly the most vigorous and corrupt of the various inquisitorial bodies that existed in Europe, held 49,000 trials between 1560-1700 and executed between 3 and 5,000 people.

Again, it starts off well but then gets all conspiracy theory.

Worryingly, Misty0408 seems to be implying that because the numbers killed were “only” in the thousands this makes it OK. The idea that any people were tortured to death on the orders of a “loving” church is monstrous.

Bit of number crunching: I assume Misty0408 got the figures from Spiritus-Temprois.com, which doesn’t break down by year. If we assume each year was equal, that means there were 350 trials a year. Almost one a day. 350 people tortured each year. Just because these only resulted in between 21 – 35 executions each year doesn’t make it better. For most the period in question, Spain had a population in the region of between 5.4 and 7.5 million (source: The Population of Europe, Table 1.1, p8, by Massimo Livi Bacci, Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Carl Ipsen). This means that around 1 in 20,000 people were tortured by the inquistion – that is the equivalent of 3000 people a year in the modern UK, or 15191 people in the US – being put on trial for heresy each year.

This may seem trivial when compared with modern incarceration rates (which may be as high as 1 in 136 people in the US), but these people were in addition to all the “normal” criminals. Their only crime was not following the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy.

Yes, they may have been imprisoned under the orders of the Secular monarch, but it was done for, and with at least some blessing of, the Catholic Church.

Too often religion claims to be cause behind people doing good deeds, but then when bad things happen the nature of “Man” is blamed. This is a massive fallacy. The atrocities of the Crusades and Inqusition may not have been carried out (entirely) by uniformed members of the Catholic Church but it is fully to blame for them. Its doctrine lead to these acts. Its leadership endorsed them. Its priesthood encouraged them.

It really is to blame.

Proof Of God – Christian Voice

Who would have thought Christian Voice would have cracked under the pressure of the No God bus campaigns in London? OK, most people I suppose. Still it is entertaining that they are riled by a simple poster to the extent they are demanding the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency to rule on the proof of God.

From the BBC:

An atheist campaign claiming “There’s probably no God” has been reported to the advertising regulator.
Posters with the slogan appear on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground.
But organisation Christian Voice has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying they break rules on substantiation and truthfulness.

Pardon me for a moment while I fall off the chair laughing.

They are saying that the claim there is probably no god is insubstantiated and / or not truthful. How on Thor’s hammer do they intend to convince the ASA of this one wonders…

But Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: “There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.
“But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”

More laughter rings out around WhyDontYou Towers. Evidence for God exists in “personal experience” – surely this alone is a self defeating argument because if I do not have that experience the advertisement is accurate as stated. I do not have that personal experience, therefore (should the ASA be reading this) the banner is 100% correct. Thank you Christian Voice.

I assume Christian Voice have lodged similar complaints over any advertising that mentions non-Christian religions, so any posters for Mosques, Temples (etc) will have to come down. I would never suggest people be petty enough to go through Christian advertising with a fine tooth comb – each day on the way to work I see a huge poster telling me that I will die for my sins, where is the proof of that I wonder?

In a wonderful bit of understatement (and acting a lot more adult than Christian Voice…), Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said:

“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see what their decision is…

A review of 2008

(Hat tip: Miami Herald writer Dave Barry via Rebellious Scot on FSTDT Forums)

To save you having to go to the trouble of remembering the last 12 months, this is a summary of the important bits, from a US point of view at least:

Dave Barry Year in Review: Bailing out of 2008
BY DAVE BARRY

How weird a year was it?

Here’s how weird:

• O.J. actually got convicted of something.

• Gasoline hit $4 a gallon — and those were the good times.

• On several occasions, Saturday Night Live was funny.

• There were a few days there in October when you could not completely rule out the possibility that the next Treasury Secretary would be Joe the Plumber.

• Finally, and most weirdly, for the first time in history, the voters elected a president who — despite the skeptics who said such a thing would never happen in the United States — was neither a Bush NOR a Clinton.

Of course not all the events of 2008 were weird. Some were depressing. The only U.S. industries that had a good year were campaign consultants and foreclosure lawyers. Everybody else got financially whacked. Millions of people started out the year with enough money in their 401(k)’s to think about retiring on, and ended up with maybe enough for a medium Slurpee.

So we can be grateful that 2008 is almost over. But before we leave it behind, let’s take a few minutes to look back and see if we can find some small nuggets of amusement. Why not? We paid for it, starting with . . .

JANUARY

. . . which begins, as it does every four years, with presidential contenders swarming into Iowa and expressing sincerely feigned interest in corn. The Iowa caucuses produce two surprises:

• On the Republican side, the winner is Mike Huckabee, folksy former governor of Arkansas or possibly Oklahoma, who vows to remain in the race until he gets a commentator gig with Fox. His win deals a severe blow to Mitt Romney and his bid to become the first president of the android persuasion. Not competing in Iowa are Rudy Giuliani, whose strategy is to stay out of the race until he is mathematically eliminated, and John McCain, who entered the caucus date incorrectly into his 1996 Palm Pilot.

• On the Democratic side, the surprise winner is Barack Obama, who is running for president on a long and impressive record of running for president. A mesmerizing speaker, Obama electrifies voters with his exciting new ideas for change, although people have trouble remembering exactly what these ideas were because they were so darned mesmerized. Some people become so excited that they actually pass out. These are members of the press corps.

Obama’s victory comes at the expense of former front-runner Hillary Clinton, who fails to ignite voter passion despite a rip-snorter of a stump speech in which she recites, without notes, all 17 points of her plan to streamline tuition-loan applications.

The instant the caucuses are over the contenders drop Iowa like a rancid frankfurter and jet to other states to express concern about whatever people there care about.

Meanwhile George W. Bush, who is still technically the president, visits the Middle East and finds things over there just as confusing as ever.

In sports, LSU wins the national college football championship, easily defeating the Miami Dolphins.

Finally, in what some economists see as a troubling sign, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac invest $12.7 billion in Powerball tickets.

The worsening economy takes center stage in . . .

FEBRUARY

. . . when, amid much fanfare, Congress passes, and President Bush signs, an ”economic stimulus package” under which the federal government will give taxpayers back several hundred dollars apiece of their own money, the idea being that they will use this money to revive the U.S. economy by buying TV sets that were made in China. This will seem much more comical in the fall.

The battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton heats up as the two engage in a series of increasingly hostile debates, including one in which Secret Service agents have to tackle a large, angry, red-faced man who bursts from the audience shouting incoherently. This turns out to be Bill Clinton, who is swiftly dispatched by his wife’s campaign to work his magic on voters in the crucial Guam caucuses.

On the Republican side, John McCain emerges as the front-runner when Mitt Romney drops out of the race, citing “motherboard issues.”

Abroad, Fidel Castro steps down after 49 years as president of Cuba, explaining that he wants to spend more time decomposing. In selecting his successor, the Cuban National Assembly, after conducting an exhaustive nationwide search, selects Fidel’s brother, Raúl, who narrowly edges out Dennis Kucinich.

In sports, the undefeated New England Patriots lose the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in a stunning upset that confounds the experts, not to mention Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which had $38 billion on the Pats to win.

Speaking of losers, in . . .

MARCH

. . . New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer becomes embroiled in an embarrassing scandal when a criminal investigation reveals that he looks like a large suit-wearing rodent. Also he has been seeing a high-class prostitute known as ”Kristen” in a Washington, D.C., hotel. Spitzer resigns in disgrace; ”Kristen,” hounded by the press and no longer able to pursue her profession, receives a $23 billion bailout from the federal government.

In politics, Barack Obama addresses the issue of why, in his 20 years of membership in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, he failed to notice that the pastor, Jeremiah Wright, is a racist lunatic. In a major televised address widely hailed for its brilliance, Obama explains that . . . OK, nobody really remembers what the actual explanation was. But everybody agrees it was mesmerizing.

Obama’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, gets into a controversy of her own when she claims that, as first lady, she landed in Bosnia ”under sniper fire.” News outlets quickly locate archive video showing that she was in fact greeted with a welcoming ceremony featuring an 8-year-old girl reading a poem. Clinton’s campaign releases a statement pointing out that it was “a pretty long poem.”

On the Republican side, John McCain wraps up the nomination and embarks on a series of strategic naps.

On Wall Street, J.P. Morgan buys Bear Stearns; nobody really understands what this means, but it is clearly bad. Abroad, the dollar declines to the point where currency traders are using it solely for wiping up spills. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac apply to be contestants on Deal Or No Deal.

In environmental news, Earth Hour is observed on March 29, when cities around the world display their commitment to conserving energy by turning out their lights for one hour. When the lights come back on, Detroit is missing.

In sports, the troubled Olympic torch becomes embroiled in a protest riot in Athens; witnesses claim the torch ”reeked of alcohol.” In football, beloved Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre retires and embarks on a series of emotional farewell events, several of which are still going on when he signs to play for the Jets.

Speaking of emotional, in . . .

APRIL

. . . tensions run high in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, which all the experts agree is extremely crucial. Barack Obama gets into trouble with rural voters for saying that rural Americans are ”bitter” and ”cling to guns or religion.” Responding to charges that this statement is elitist, Obama responds: “You are getting sleepy. Very sleepy.”

Seeking to capitalize on Obama’s gaffe, Hillary Clinton starts channeling Annie Oakley, tossing down shots of whiskey and talking about her love of guns and hunting. After one particularly long day on the trail, she grabs a Secret Service agent’s pistol and attempts to shoot a deer; instead she wounds a reporter, thereby sealing her victory in the Pennsylvania primary, which turns out to not actually be all that crucial because the Democratic race keeps right on going with no sign of ending in the current decade.

On the Republican side, John McCain gets wind of something called the ”Internet” and orders his staff to give him a summary of it on index cards.

In economic news, the price of gasoline tops $4 a gallon, meaning the cost of filling up an average car is now $50, or, for Hummer owners, $17,500. Congress, responding to the financial pain of the American people, goes into partisan gridlock faster than ever before, with Republicans demanding that the oil companies immediately start drilling everywhere, including cemeteries, and Democrats calling for a massive effort to develop alternative energy sources such as wind, the sun, tides, comets, Al Gore and dragon breath, using technology expected to be perfected sometime this millennium. It soon becomes clear that Congress will not actually do anything, so Americans start buying less gasoline.

The economic news is also gloomy for the U.S. automotive industry, where General Motors, in a legally questionable move aimed at boosting its sagging car sales, comes out with a new model called “The Chevrolet Toyota.”

In sports, the troubled Olympic torch punches a photographer while entering a San Francisco hotel at 3 a.m. with Lindsay Lohan.

Speaking of trouble, in . . .

MAY

. . . the International Atomic Energy Agency releases a report stating that Iran is actively developing nuclear warheads. In response, Iran issues a statement asserting that (1) it absolutely is not developing nuclear warheads, and (2) these are peaceful warheads. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China convene an emergency meeting, during which they manage, in heated negotiations, to talk France out of surrendering.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac invest $17 billion in an Herbalife franchise.

In presidential politics, the increasingly bitter fight for the Democratic nomination intensifies when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton hold a televised debate, moderated by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, that consists entirely of spitting.

On the Republican side, John McCain, preparing for the fall campaign, purchases a new necktie.

The big spring Hollywood hit is the film version of Sex and the City, which draws millions of movie-goers, including an estimated three men, two of whom thought they were in the theater for the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones Experiences Frequent Nighttime Urination. The riveting plot of Sex and the City, which runs for nearly two-and-a-half hours, involves the efforts of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte to plan Carrie’s wedding — Finally! — to ”Mr. Big,” only to have things go awry when mutant vampire moles bore up through the church floor and suck the blood out of the wedding party through their feet.

In sports, both the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 are won by Usain Bolt.

Speaking of victory, in . . .

JUNE

. . . Barack Obama finally claims the bitterly contested Democratic nomination when Hillary Clinton, behind on delegates and in debt to the tune of $25 million, including $9 million for hairspray alone, suspends her campaign and declares that she has ”no hard feelings” and will do ”whatever it takes” to help Obama get elected ”even though he is scum.” Bill Clinton, at his wife’s side, nods vigorously, but is unable to speak because of the restraining device. A gracious John McCain tells the press that he ”looks forward to a spirited debate with Sen. Mondale.” Before he can take questions he is informed by his aides that he has an important meeting.

In other campaign-related news, Chicago developer Tony Rezko, a former Obama associate and fundraiser, is convicted on corruption charges, but the press realizes that this is not an issue after Obama explains that it is not an issue.

President George W. Bush takes one last official trip to Europe to meet with European leaders. Unfortunately they are not home.

In economic news, Chrysler announces a plan to lay off workers who have not been born yet. The lone economic bright spot is the iPhone, which is selling like crazy thanks to the release of a new model enhanced with the capability of sucking pieces of your brain out through your ear until all you want to do is play with your iPhone.

Speaking of vegetables, the big scare in June comes from the Food and Drug Administration, which announces that tomatoes are killing people. A wave of fear grips the nation as supermarket shoppers stampede from the produce section, causing several fatal shopping-cart mishaps. At the height of the panic, with the tomato industry reeling, the FDA declares that, oops, the killer might NOT be tomatoes, but some other vegetable, possibly jalapeño peppers, but nobody knows for sure. Eventually everyone calms down, but not before a bank in Cleveland is held up by a man wielding only a stalk of asparagus.

The scientific community is elated by NASA’s announcement that the Phoenix lander has detected ice on Mars. The elation turns to concern when, several hours later, the lander detects a Zamboni machine.

Tiger Woods, in an epic performance, wins the U.S. Open playing on an injured and very painful knee, thereby proving, beyond all doubt, that golf is not a real sport.

Speaking of epic performances, in . . .

JULY

. . . Barack Obama, having secured North and South America, flies to Germany without using an airplane and gives a major speech — speaking English and German simultaneously — to 200,000 mesmerized Germans, who immediately elect him chancellor, prompting France to surrender.

Meanwhile John McCain, at a strategy session at a golf resort, tells his top aides to prepare a list of potential running mates, stressing that he wants somebody ”who is completely, brutally honest.” Unfortunately, because of noise from a lawn mower, the aides think McCain said he wants somebody ”who has competed in a beauty contest.” This will lead to trouble down the road.

Speaking of trouble, the economic news continues to worsen with the discovery that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have sent $87 billion to a Nigerian businessman with a compelling e-mail story.

Also troubling is the news from Iran, which test-fires some long-range missiles, although Iranian President Wackjob Lunatic insists that Iran intends to use these missiles “for stump removal.”

In sports, the government of China, in an effort to improve air quality for the Beijing Olympics, bans flatulence.

Speaking of Olympian, in . . .

AUGUST

. . . Barack Obama, continuing to shake up the establishment, selects as his running mate Joe Biden, a tireless fighter for change since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1849. The Democratic Party gathers in Denver to formally nominate Obama, who descends from his Fortress of Solitude to mesmerize the adoring crowd with an acceptance speech objectively described by The New York Times as “comparable to the Gettysburg Address, only way better.”

Meanwhile John McCain, still searching for the perfect running mate, tells his top aides in a conference call that he wants ”someone who is capable of filling my shoes.” Unfortunately, he is speaking into the wrong end of his cellular phone, and his aides think he said ”someone who is capable of killing a moose.” Shortly thereafter McCain stuns the world, and possibly himself, by selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a no-nonsense hockey mom with roughly 114 children named after random nouns such as “Hamper.”

In yet another troubling economic indicator, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rob a liquor store.

Internationally, the big story is the Olympic games, which begin under a cloud of controversy when journalists in Beijing, who were promised unfettered Internet access by the Chinese government, discover that no matter what address they enter into their browsers, they wind up on Chairman Mao’s Facebook page (he has 1.3 billion friends). But even the critics are blown away by the spectacular opening ceremony, which features the entire population of Asia performing the Electric Slide.

The games themselves are dominated by swimmer Michael Phelps, who wins eight gold medals, thus putting himself on a sounder financial footing than the U.S. Treasury. China wins the gold-medal count, although critics charge that some of China’s 11-year-old female gymnasts are under the minimum age of 16. Chinese officials refute this charge by noting, correctly, that they have tanks.

Elsewhere abroad, war breaks out between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, serving as a stark reminder that, in an increasingly uncertain world, we, as Americans, have no idea where these places are.

Speaking of uncertainty, in . . .

SEPTEMBER

. . . the Republican convention gets off to a tentative start in St. Paul when President Bush and Vice President Cheney are unable to attend, partly because of Hurricane Gustav, and partly because the organizers told them that the convention was in Atlanta. The mood improves when Sarah Palin dazzles the delegates with her winning smile, detailed knowledge of what is on the teleprompter, and spot-on imitation of Tina Fey. The next night, John McCain, formally accepting the nomination, pledges to run ”a totally incoherent campaign.” None of this is reported in the media because the entire press corps is in Wasilla, Alaska, investigating rumors that Palin once dated a yeti.

But the presidential campaign is soon overshadowed by the troubled economy. The federal government is finally forced to take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after they are caught selling crack at a middle school. But that is not enough, as major financial institutions, having lost hundreds of billions of dollars thanks to years of engaging in practices ranging from questionable to moronic, begin failing, which gives the federal government an idea: Why not give these institutions MORE hundreds of billions of dollars, generously provided by taxpayers?

This plan is discussed and debated in urgent meetings in Washington attended by the president, the cabinet, congressional leaders, Sen. Obama, Sen. McCain and all other concerned parties except the actual taxpayers, who are not invited because they are, with all due respect, way too stupid to understand high finance. The taxpayers are repeatedly assured, however, that unless they fork over $700 billion, the economy will go right down the toilet. And so it comes to pass that in . . .

OCTOBER

. . . Congress passes, and Technically Still President Bush signs, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, and everyone heaves a sigh of relief as the economy stabilizes for approximately 2.7 seconds, after which it resumes going down the toilet. As world financial markets collapse like fraternity pledges at a keg party and banks fail around the world, the International Monetary Fund implements an emergency program under which anybody who opens a checking account anywhere on earth gets a free developing nation. But it is not enough; the financial system is in utter chaos. At one point a teenage girl in Worcester, Mass., attempts to withdraw $25 from an ATM and winds up acquiring Wells Fargo.

As the crisis worsens, an angry Congress, determined to get some answers, holds hearings and determines that whoever is responsible for this mess, it is definitely not Congress. Meanwhile all the cable-TV financial experts agree that since they totally failed to predict this disaster, they will stop pretending they have a clue what the markets are going to do and henceforth confine themselves to topics they can discuss knowledgeably, such as what time it is.

Just kidding! They’d get that wrong, too.

The economy dominates the presidential campaign, with the focal point being ”Joe the Plumber,” an Ohio resident who asks Barack Obama a mildly confrontational question about tax policy and within hours is more famous than the Dalai Lama. He draws intense scrutiny from the news media, which, using investigative reporters borrowed from the Palin-yeti beat, determine that ”Joe the Plumber” is in fact (1) not named Joe, (2) not a plumber, (3) a citizen of Belgium, and (4) biologically, a woman.

In the presidential debates, John McCain, looking and sounding increasingly like the late Walter Brennan, cites Joe the Plumber a record 847 times while charging that Obama’s tax policies amount to socialism. Obama, ahead of McCain by double digits in the polls and several hundred million dollars in money, skips the debates so he can work on his inaugural address. The New York Times declares his performance “masterful.”

In non-economic news, a Las Vegas jury convicts O.J. Simpson on 12 counts of being an unbelievable idiot. He faces more than 60 years in jail, which could end his relentless quest to find the killer of the people he stabbed to death in 1994.

In sports, the entire nation rejoices as the World Series is won, yet again, by a team other than the New York Yankees.

Speaking of winning, in . . .

NOVEMBER

. . . Barack Obama, in a historic triumph, becomes the nation’s first black president since the second season of 24, setting off an ecstatically joyful and boisterous all-night celebration that at times threatens to spill out of The New York Times newsroom. Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy league schools and then worked in the Clinton administration.

But the hopeful mood is dampened by grim economic news. The stock market plummets farther as investors realize that the only thing that had been keeping the economy afloat was the millions of dollars spent daily on TV commercials for presidential candidates explaining how they would fix the economy. As it becomes increasingly clear that the federal government’s plan of giving hundreds of billions of dollars to dysfunctional companies has not fixed the problem, the government comes up with a bold new plan: give more hundreds of billions of dollars to dysfunctional companies. Soon the government is in a bailout frenzy, handing out money left and right, at one point accidentally giving $14 billion to a man delivering a Domino’s pizza to the Treasury building.

More and more companies seek federal help, among them the troubled ”big three” auto makers, whose chief executives fly to Washington in three separate corporate jets to ask Congress for $25 billion, explaining that if they don’t get the money, they will be unable to continue making cars that Americans are not buying.

In space, NASA’s woes continue when an astronaut attempting to repair the troubled multibillion-dollar international space station accidentally lets go of a special $100,000 space tool bag, which drifts away, taking with it the special $17,000 space washer needed to fix the station’s special, but troubled, space toilet. NASA announces that it will now have to send up a special space plumber, who charges $38 million an hour.

In sports, New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress shoots himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub, using a gun he carried to protect himself from bad things that might happen to him, such as getting shot.

Speaking of bad things, in . . .

DECEMBER

. . . the National Bureau of Declaring Things That Make You Go ”Duh” declares that the nation has been in a recession since December of 2007. The bureau also points out that, according to its statistical analysis, “for some time now, bears apparently have been going to the bathroom in the woods.”

The CEOs of the Increasingly Small Three auto makers return to Washington to resume pleading for a bailout, this time telling Congress that if they can reach an agreement that day, they will throw in the undercoating, the satellite-radio package AND a set of floor mats. ”We’re actually LOSING MONEY on this deal!” they assure Congress. Finally they reach a $13.4 billion agreement under which the car companies will continue to provide jobs, medical insurance and pension benefits, but will cease producing actual cars. The agreement will be overseen by the federal government, using its legendary ability to keep things on budget.

President-elect Obama, continuing to bring change in the form of fresh-faced Washington outsiders, announces that his secretary of state will be Hillary Clinton. The position of secretary of defense, currently held by Bush appointee Robert Gates, will be filled by Bush appointee Robert Gates. Responding to rumors that he also plans to retain Dick Cheney, Obama insists that he has tried to ask the vice president to leave, “but nobody knows where he is.”

In other political news, federal authorities arrest Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod ”Rod” Blagojevich after wiretaps reveal that he was . . . OK, that he was being the governor of Illinois. Everybody is very, very shocked. Meanwhile the recount in the extremely tight Minnesota Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is thrown into disarray with the discovery that more than 13,000 of the ballots were cast by residents of Palm Beach County, Fla.

But the economy remains the dominant issue, with retailers reporting weak holiday sales as many shoppers pass up pricier gifts such as jewelry and big-screen TVs in favor of toilet paper and jerky. As the year draws to a close, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers warns that the current recession ”could spiral downward into a full-blown depression,” leaving the U.S. with “no viable economic option but to declare war on Japan.”

In another troubling note, U.S. intelligence sources report that Iran is developing “a gigantic rocket-powered shoe.”

Adding to the year-end gloom is a congressionally appointed bipartisan commission on terrorism, which releases a troubling report asserting that there is an 80 percent chance that within the next two years, a major U.S. city will be struck, with devastating consequences, by “an 18,000 mile-per-hour tool bag from space.”

The point is, if you have any money left, you should spend it soon.

And happy New Year.

Funny. Very funny.

Happy New Year to everyone.

The abortion debate

One of Heather’s recent posts (Lies make the baby Jesus cry) has attracted a few comments. This is odd because most of our readers rarely comment (shame on you) but in some respects unsurprising because the post was on the constantly emotive topic of abortion. In a nutshell, Heather expressed some doubt on the “testimony” presented by an anti-abortion website which described very late term and post-birth “abortions” (murder to normal people) as if they were regularly carried out.

The source had a statement which read: “Generally the practice at the time….and up until 2002 was to end the life of an abortion survivor by strangulation, suffocation, leaving the baby to die, or throwing the baby away.” Heather quite rightly (IMHO) pointed out that this was most certainly nonsense. Strangling a baby after birth is not an abortion.

Anyway, one of the commenters (Lee) has brought up a few points that I felt needed to be elevated beyond the comment thread and given a post all of their own:

Aren’t you talking about an old issue? The girl in the video was born in the 70’s…

Got to answer this yes and no. This is an old issue in that people have argued (and lied) about abortion facts and figures for a long time. The website Heather addressed stated this practice continued until 2002 (old only in internet time). The post itself was made on 17 December 2008, that isn’t even old in Internet time.

The woman in the video was born in 1977 (still not “old”) and yes, US Abortion law has changed between then and now. The “landmark” Roe vs Wade was in 1973 and allowed for an abortion to take place up to three months into the pregnancy. This is not final term and is not post-partum.

Killing a baby after it has been born is now, and was then, murder. In 1977 it was illegal to terminate a baby who was about to be born naturally, unless a doctor stated the mother’s health was at risk (Doe vs Bolton). You can argue that “corrupt” doctors would sign off on anything being a risk to allow a late term abortion but that is a whole different discussion – and can never be prevented unless you rate the mothers life as subordinate to the unborn child.

Maybe I misunderstood the point of your post.

It seems likely, but I actually think you got the point.

It seemed to me you were implying that the girl in the video is lying about the circumstances of her birth.

Yep. If Heather wasn’t implying this, she should have been.

Now it gets fun:

I watched the video (thanks again for the link), it seemed interesting, she didn’t seem to be lying…

Ok. You watched it and thought she was telling the truth. I watched it and thought she was lying. Where do we go from there?

People lie for all kinds of reasons and people will also present a lie as the truth once they have become conditioned to believe it. If the woman in the video was brought up to think they were the circumstances around her birth, she will believe it with all her heart and can easily pass a polygraph. It doesn’t make it the truth though.

I did some research.

So did I. This is why I think there is a healthy dose of lying for jesus going on here.

Not extensive…

Maybe you should try to do some more extensive research. False modesty is not a virtue.

I’m just a blog reader, but it was pretty easy to find information that proved what the girl in the video claims.

I can search the internet and find proof the Earth orbits the Sun. I can find proof the Apollo moon landings were a hoax and proof that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is false. Doesn’t make any of them true. What she describes is illegal, and was illegal in 1977. Who was prosecuted following this? Where are the court records of the trial?

I suppose lots of other people would have proved her birth certificate (signed by the abortionist) and her medical records wrong by now if she was lying.

How? Show me her medical records detailing her birth. Her birth certificate would have been signed by a doctor just like everyone else, it wont have “Abortionist” in big letters after his or her name. Equally, claims like this – which hit the emotional triggers of lots of people who want it to be true, rarely get subjected to scrutiny.

Crucially, read / listen to what is actually said. The woman claims she was born alive before the “abortionist” arrived and was transferred to a hospital. Her records will begin there. She (and her parents) can make any claims they want about the precursor events.

The claims are unverifiable. They are improbable based on law at the time. They are unlikely based on human nature. What conclusion do you draw from that?

Are you saying that these kinds of failed abortions didn’t happen, or don’t happen? (now there is a law against letting infants die if they survive an abortion…so hopefully they don’t happen anymore).

“Failed abortion” is a wide-reaching phrase. Abortions are carried out in the first trimester (and were in 1977) so it is monumentally unlikely a natural, live and viable birth could take place while in the abortion clinic waiting room. I would be surprised if you honestly thought that US hospitals in the 1970s left babies to die.

The US congress took it seriously:
Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2001 [Linked to http://www.nrlc.org/federal/Born_Alive_Infants/BAIPA_%202001_HJC_report.pdf]

The link to the Right to Life website speaks volumes as to the selected choices of information sources. The fact that Congress were convinced to “take it seriously” in 2001 doesn’t lend much support. The blog Heather referenced said this was still going on in 2002 and, there is a tendency to pass legislation on things that are already prohibited if there is enough political pressure to do so. With abortion there is certainly the political pressure.

It does raise one big set of questions though. Prior to the legalisation, and regulisation, of abortions how many babies were left to die, how many were born then strangled, how many mothers died due to complications, how many women died in back street abortions? (etc). Anti-abortionists are not “Pro-lifers” if the mother’s health is sacrificed for the baby. Banning abortion does not make it go away.

If you really want to reduce abortions, without going down the dreaded road of contracption, then plough all your funds into making society better for the parents. Improve healthcare, improve education, improve social supports – just be ready for when a certain section of society realise they get paid for having kids and breed like rabbits. Despite what the anti-abortionist propoganda claims, 99% of abortions are not “lifestyle choices” made by people who feel a child will cramp their demon-worshipping activities.

Darwin is not the atheist god.

In today’s Guardian, Madeleine Bunting has obviously run out of things to write about and pulled a bit of a weird post about atheists and Darwin to try and stir things up (and she has succeeded here at least 🙂 ).

With a peice titled “Darwin shouldn’t be hijacked by New Atheists – he is an ethical inspiration” she generates all manner of fallacies and incorrect statements. Interestingly, she achieves this without actually saying much at all. What a wonderful example of how you can fill four columns in a national daily newspaper with, effectively, nothing. She is writing about 2009 being the “Year of Darwin” (as well as Gallileo, but that is another story) and begins with what a “brilliant scientist” Darwin was, leading to this:

He is, Newton apart, the greatest British scientist ever, so it makes good sense for the British Council, among others, to use this as an opportunity to flag up the prestigious history of British science.

Now, I am sure there are many British scientists (living and dead) who would take offence at this. Darwin’s work (and Newtons) was indeed brilliant, but there have been many other examples of equal brilliance albeit in different fields. Lawrence Krauss, in New Scientist, states that “anyone who was looking could have seen that humans were animals” which is certainly true – Darwin’s brilliance was to have been looking…

Further on, Madeleine identifies one of the biggest worries about the state of British education (and possibly a reason behind the Year of Darwin):

What drives this anniversary is a missionary zeal to persuade and convince the public of the truth of Darwin’s great discoveries, because, astoundingly – despite the mountain of scientific evidence – there is still considerable scepticism and even hostility to this great Victorian. A poll for the BBC in 2006 found that less than half the British population accepted the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life.

Less than half. In a “largely” secular nation. Sad, isn’t it. I have some doubts of the figures, because I know of no-one personally who would say Evolution is false. For 30+ million people in the UK to think this, the chances of me never having met even one is pretty remote. While I personally feel the figures are somewhat inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. One person thinking the Sky Pixie shook magic dust out and life appeared is one too many.

From this point on, however, it goes downhill. Madeleine falls into the trap of thinking Darwin is the Atheist equivalent of Jesus. She seems to think that atheists require a historical icon to have been an atheist to support the cause. She seems to imply that Darwin has become the Old Testament Prophet of the New Atheism.

Utter nonsense but first some quotes:

In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century.

Where has this come from? Creationists initiated the battle against Darwin, invoking their god to strike down evolution. Religious people of almost all persuasions are happy to accept evolution as valid science. The catholic church has embraced the work of Darwin. How in the name of Wotan is Darwin the “standard bearer” for Atheism?

I actually think Madeleine has mistaken Darwin for Dawkins. Easily done, but a mistake none the less.

Yet bizarrely, the whole 19th-century collapse of faith is now pinned on Darwin.

Only by Creationists. Again, she is using the arguments of creationists against atheists. Madness. There have been atheists as long as there have been humans. We are born atheists and some are converted into theists. The Royal Society was full of non-theists who had nothing to do with Darwin. This is just nonsense you would expect to see on Rapture Ready or CARM.

The fear is that the anniversary will be hijacked by the New Atheism as the perfect battleground for another round of jousting over the absurdity of belief (a position that Darwin pointedly never took up).

The fear by creationists. What is this “New Atheism” thing anyway? What does it mean? Does it imply people have found a new way of not believing? Does it actually have any meaning or is it an underhanded way of taking a shot at Atheists? Is it an example of how some atheists hate their own lack of belief so much they feel the need to distance themselves from others? (This leads to a point excellently expressed on The Atheist Ethicist Blog)

Agnosticism is not a valid belief structure. You either believe there is a god, or you dont. There is no new way to not believe, just in the modern world people are less frightened of stating they don’t believe. It is not “militant atheism” any more than Songs of Praise is militant Christianity.

Next we have a sleight of words trick:

Many of the prominent voices in the New Atheism are lined up to reassert that it is simply impossible to believe in God and accept Darwin’s theory of evolution; Richard Dawkins and the US philosopher Daniel Dennett are among those due to appear in Darwin200 events.

Wow, this is good. There are two points here and she writes to imply they are heavily linked. She first tells us that people are lined up to assert that it is impossible to believe in a Deity (any deity) and accept Evolution and then mentions Dawkins. The implication is clear, Dawkin will be one of these people. This appeals on some levels, because Dawkins is an outspoken atheist (damn his eyes for having the temeretity to speak out….) but it is clearly written by someone who knows nothing of what Dawkins has said.

It is possible to believe in the Christian God and accept evolution. Evolution makes no claims on the origin of life. The Catholic church is happy that God planted the seeds and life evolved. See, it is easy. Evolution disproves a literal interpretation of the bible, but outside the more fundamentalist minds this is rarely found anyway. It is, largely, only devout creationists who feel that Evolution alone challenges God.

Science as a whole challenges belief. In the God Delusion, and during his TV shows and talks, Dawkins uses a vast array of scientific fields to challenge the existence of any deity. I can not think of a scientific disciple which does not provide information to show there is no [Wotan|Odin|Thor|Set|Dievas|Allah|Krishna| etc]. Astronomy and Geology rubbish any idea of a literal interpretation of the biblical creation theory. Evolution is but one strand. No one would say “hey, ignore everything else in science, the only thing that disproves the bible is the genetic similarity between humans and chimps” (or what ever variation you want).

However.

There is a group of people who do think Evolution is the only means by which God can be disproven. These people are convinced that the rest of the scientific stable supports the existence of god, and provides a framework for him to exist. These people also think Dawkins is the evil spokesman of “Darwinism” and these people use the term “New Atheism” to put down those uppity non-believers who have the cheek to speak out in public.

Creationists.

Madeleine Bunting’s article has been so heavily influenced by creationist thinking you could almost read it on CARM, Uncommon Descent or the like. Almost but not quite. The terms are creationis terms. The arguments are creationist-inspired. But the general tone is one of a non-believer. I suspect there is some element of lazy journalism here, or a creationist researcher, or both. Possibly, Madeleine Bunting is an “Old Atheist” – the sort who kept quiet, went to church, paid a tithe etc but didn’t have faith – or perhaps she is an “Agnostic” – an atheist who wont admit it – but either way, she is wrong about Atheism needing, wanting or having a standard bearer in the form of Charles Darwin.

UK Culture Secretary Fails Internet

In a terrible indictment on the UK government, Andy Burnham (Culture Secretary) demonstrates some fundamental gaps in his knowledge of both the mystical internet and what freedom of speech means.

From the BBC:

Film-style age ratings could be applied to websites to protect children from harmful and offensive material, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said.
Mr Burnham told the Daily Telegraph the government was looking at a number of possible new internet safeguards.
He said some content, such as clips of beheadings, was unacceptable and new standards of decency were needed.

Briefly defending him, Mr Burnham has only suggested it as an option. But that is as far as my charity will go.

First things first. Film style age ratings do not “protect” anyone from anything. Browser based implementations (such as blocking your browser from viewing certain ratings) would prevent people from seeing “offensive” material but that is a different matter. Film style age ratings are far from 100% successful in stopping people seeing offensive films (have you seen Mama Mia?) and they are only moderately sucessful in stopping people seeing age-inappropriate content. Why would they work on the internet?

Despite being culture secretary, Mr Burnham appears unaware that the internet is global in nature. This website is written by British people, hosted on a German server and has 60% of its traffic from the USA. Who gets to say what is, or isnt, appropriate here? Harmful content is very culture-specific and by its nature, the internet skips over these boundaries. Do we censor information that the Iranians find offensive? Or the North Koreans? Or southern-US Baptists? Who gets to choose what is harmful? What gives that person the right to say to me what is harmful for my children?

There are some common standards that could be applied, but I suspect there are less of these than Mr Burnham thinks there are. Some cultures think it is acceptable for people to watch criminals being executed, others don’t. Supporters of capital punishment talk about the death of the criminal serving as a deterrent to others. This only works if others know of the death, which is why most executions of this nature are public. Is it harmful (in this context) for people to see the punishment carried out? It is “harmful” in the eyes of a culture that does not condone the death penalty, but why should that culture control the internet?

One thing that screamed out at me was the idea that a video clip of a beheading was unacceptable, rather than the beheading itself… But, in my charitable mood that might have just been a turn of phrase.

The madness continues:

[Mr Burnham] also plans to negotiate with the US on drawing up international rules for English language websites.

Wow. So the UK and US will make a pact that dictates the rules for Australian websites? That sounds fair. What about Iranian websites translated into English? This is mind-numbing madness. Hopefully the US government is technologically literate enough to tell Mr Burnham to boil his head for a few hours. Equally, most video clips showing beheadings are on foreign language websites. What control does the US have over them (short of invading, although admittedly the US rarely stops short of that…).

“Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do,” he told the Telegraph.

Another bit of madness. The internet is not a parent. It is not even a child minder. Parents need to be able to educate and assist their children, not rely on badly-thought out “ratings schemes.” Parents need to sit with their child as they surf the internet. Its like anything children do – if you abandon your child to do it, you have no control over what they do. You may think you have some say, but you dont. Take the ratings scheme: most children who are able to surf un-assisted will be able to change web-browers to one that ignores the ratings. Or better still, will be able to enter a URL without a .uk or .com ending where the UK/US RULE is ignored. Technologically backward parents will not be able to implement a control to prevent the child switching to [Lynx|Amaya|Chrome|Opera|FireFox|Mozilla|Safari|Etc]. Does Mr Burnham think every browser coder will be willing to implement a strong age-ratings control without new ones spawning up? Is he that foolish?

The final bit of oddness is: [Emphasis mine]

He went on to say it was time to review the accessibility of certain content on the internet and insisted he was not trying to curb free speech.
His plans are likely to anger those who advocate the freedom of the worldwide web.
You can still view content on the internet which I would say is unacceptable. You can view a beheading,” he said.
“This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it, it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people.”

For a culture secretary, Mr Burnham is woefully ignorant of what “freedom of speech” means. Personally I am opposed to beheading people. I find the death penalty for any crime offensive. Not everyone shares my opinion and, as a result, there are websites where you can read about executions. There are even websites that support the death penalty. I would say they were unacceptable. Does that mean they should be blocked from your browser? No, it means I shouldn’t view them. If I find something offensive, then I shouldn’t look at it. With my children, I sit with them to educate them about what they see. Should I accept your view of what is acceptable for them?

Despite what Mr Burnham says, freedom of speech is not about being free to say things that he (or anyone else) finds acceptable. I find political diatribes offensive and I find religious websites offensive. Will Mr Burnham have them removed? Or would that be a violation of the concept of Freedom of Speech? (I suspect the answer is yes)

The world is full of things which people will find offensive. I find children dying of hunger in Africa unacceptable. Does that mean we ban video clips of it (there go those Oxfam adverts) or does it mean we try to prevent it happening in the first place?

Mr Burnham is right to be offended by the video clips of beheadings. So why dont we prevent the beheadings?

I am sorry, Mr Burnham. As culture secretary you fail.