This page has suddenly become more urgent, now that the London bombings have emphasised the sheer folly of separate religious education. But far from getting better, new fundamentalist schools are on the way, funded by you, the taxpayer [more here]DC religion RSS feed. (Click here for hints.)
Woodrow Wilson, asked in 1922 for his thoughts on evolution, replied that "of course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised". Quoted by Francis Wheen
Why academics make an unfit subject for management
Lucy Kellaway, Financial Times, 27 February, 2006
Clare College Cambridge makes student give “grovelling apology” to religious bullies
According to the Cambridge Evening News "A Cambridge University student who sparked a huge row when he published anti- Islamic material has issued a grovelling apology.". Like all information extracted under duress, I doubt whether it is worth much. This is the price of a bit of satire. There is something Orwellian about it.
I suppose one should be grateful that the College didn't fire him. But neither have the College authorities mounted any defence whatsoever of freedom of speech. Why, oh why, does it not occur to them that for many people the antics of religious people are offensive too? They certainly offend me.
I find the guilt-laden sado-masochism of christians at easter deeply offensive and disturbing. I find equally disturbing the second year engineering student at UCL who told me that when (not if) islam came to power in the UK, I would be executed for my views. And the attitude of some US christians to the Virginia tech shootings is grotesque.
What I do not do is to demand apologies every time I'm offended. The special privileges given to people who choose irrational beliefs over those who don't seem to me to be mediaeval. All one asks is symmetry. As so often. I'm with Voltaire.
What a pity religious people so rarely show such tolerance. And what a pity that Clare College failed abysmally to defend free speech.
Clare College Cambridge -pusillanimous dons give in to religious bullies
A Press Association item from the Guardian (10 Feb 2007)
The cartoon was published in an edition of the College Newspaper devoted to religious satire. There is nothing illegal about satire (even under New Labour) but instead of defending UK virtues of free speech the College notified police and are proposing to discipline the student. The dons are allowing one religious pressure group to take the law into their own hands. That is a shameful betrayal of UK law and values.
The Cambridge Evening News does not exactly rush to the defence of free speech either, unless their paragraph headed "liberal past of second oldest college" is an ironic reference to its illiberal present.
Update 11 March 2007. The Observer published a piece by Nick Cohen.
“Multi-faith schools planned to combat segregation”
Once again, you couldn't make it up if you tried. The Independent (6 Feb 2007) reports that the government has suddenly noticed that religiously-segregated schools encourage extremism and discourage integration. Wow, how smart of Mr Blair to notice that (but what took him so long?).
Of course, having noticed the problem, they aren't going to opt for the right solution. All they are proposing to do is create a few Academies that are sponsored by several faiths rather than one. If anyone is looking for a peerage, here's your chance.
The right solution would be to have no "faith schools" at all, just as we have no "faith universities". Religious segregation has been illegal in tertiary education ever since 1870 (Universities Test Act), but up to 2007 it has been the government's policy to encourage it in secondary schools.
Government interferes in University governanceOxford voted to reject proposals for governance that had been proposed by their vice-chancellor (Hood). That is for them to decide. But they have come under pressure from Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE). The Guardian reports
“The government has now called on Dr Hood to justify the rejection of his plans by academics and propose what he will do next. A letter sent to Dr Hood from the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, David Eastwood, expresses disappointment that the plans were abandoned.”David Eastwood is also on the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which seems to be something of a conservative think-tank. Last year Eastwood wrote
"But Research Councils UK and HEFCE, working in association with the Scottish and Welsh higher education funding councils and the Wellcome Trust, have concluded that there is still a significant gap in the way higher education connects with the public. This was most recently highlighted by a Royal Society survey which found that the research-driven culture in universities and colleges and pressure to publish, far outweigh public engagement work and media engagements."Yes, I'm all for public communication (that's why I spend time writing web pages). There might be a bit more time for it if HEFCE had not geared funding so tightly to the RAE scores. The fact that we are obsessed with RAE is the fault of HEFCE, (chairman D. Eastwood). It is they who are obsessed with phony numerical indices. And if Eastwood succeeds in pressurising VCs to run universities like corporations, with decisions made by big business, what room will be left for independent thought? These bureaucrats may be well intentioned (or may just be looking for knighthoods). Regardless of motives, they are killing original thought in universities. I can think of no single thing that has done more harm to research than the RAE.
Quotation of the week: the bible is just plain weird.
After discussing at length many of the wicked ideas advocated in tne bible, Richard Dawkins, comments thus.
Today programme from the Royal Society
The Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, has come out very strongly against the rise of creationism.
On their web site you can see, in streaming vidoo, Steve Jones superb lecture on Why creationism is wrong and evolution is right.
Similar themes occurred in the Anniversary Address of the president, Sir Martin Rees (Astronomer Royal).
On November 30th 2006, The Today Programme, Radio 4's flagship morning news programme, was broadcast live from the Royal Society. The inimitable John Humphrys inteviewed Martin Rees, And it was clear that many of those present were concerned about the rise in creationist ideas in the UK. [Listen to the interview, followed by remarks by Tim Jarvis and DC]. Longer exerpts can be heard here.
Has the tide turned against religion in the USA?
Suddenly there seems to be cause for hope. In today's New York Times (21 Nov 2006), George Johnson describes the new-found confidence of US atheists [download as pdf].
At the time of writing, Dawkins' latest, "The God Delusion", is number three on the US Amazon.com top sellers list. Who'd have thought that could happen? The UK Amazon site is sold out -I still haven't got a copy.
Blair doesn't care about creationism
On 1st November 2006, two days before his big speech on science policy, Tony Blair gave an interview for the New Scientist, published in full here.
This attitude won't do. Vast numbers of people take quack "remedies" and a recent survey found that even among students more than 30% say they believe in creationism and "intelligent design" (that being the lie used in an attempt to get religion into US schools). Such beliefs show only too clearly why "we seem to be moving further away from rational thought". But Mr Blair can't see it.
Dawkins is a best seller for ChristmasRichard Dawkins new book, The God Delusion, is a surprise best seller for Christmas, according to The Times religion correspondent. Ironic but encouraging.
The real cost of City Academies
The motive for starting this web page was the outrageous take-over of some schools by young earth creationists (see below, and here). Not just religion, but the lunatic fringe of religion. And to make matters worse these schools were supported by Tony Blair.
The city academy scheme is a direct analogue of George Bush's charter schools. We were told that for a contribution of 10% of the capital cost of the school, anyone, even barmy creationists, could not only dictate the policy of the school, but, it turned out, buy a peerage too, Quite a bargain for £2 million, the other £18 million (and all of the running costs) being paid by the taxpayer.
No it turns out that the bargain was even better than we thought. The cost of the Unity City Academy, Middlesbrough, - part funded by Sir Peter Vardy, the Christian evangelical car dealer, was not £20 million as we were told, but was actually £58.2 million. This was revealed in a Commons committee report (17 Oct 2006). So you, the taxpayer, have funded the teaching of his creationist beliefs to the extent of £56 million, plus, of course, all of the running costs.The Bexley Business Academy in south-east London also cost far more than we were originally told, £43.6 million. This is the school to which a small contribution was made by Sir David Garrard, who was in the news in connections with the cash for peerages scandal.
Gillard's diver in the classroom
Derek Gillard's excellent "Education in England" site had this beautiful piece. With his permission, I reproduce it here, before it vanishes.
See also Derek Gillard's essay "Creationism: bad science, bad religion, bad education"Return to top
Clare College yeilds to religious bullies
Govt: religious schools do harm!
Today programme from Royal Society
Blair on science and anti-science
Bishop wants to suppress evidence
Terrorism and religious schools
Young earth creationists in Liverpool
Archbishop against creationists
Creationism and UK universities
Blair, Goldwater and Charter schools
Laurie Taylor hits the mark -again
Pat Robertson: an evil christian
Catholic complicity with torture
Andrew Adonis: out of the shadows
Freedom of speech in universities
Christian right and Schiavo case
Kill evolution, kill liberalism
The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei
All religious symbols give me the creeps. I find deeply offensive the public advertisement of irrational beliefs, the results of brain washing (usually by elderly men). Oops, sorry, I was forgetting that it is only religious people who are allowed to be offended.
Until recently, I gave a lecture on general anaesthetics to medical and science students. I told them the story of James Simpson, the Scottish obstetrician who introduced chloroform to relieve the pain of childbith. I also told them of the opposition he encountered from the Church of Scotland. A Scottish minister wrote to Simpson arguing "that chloroform is a decoy of Satan. It appears to be a blessing, but it will harden society and rob God of the deepest cries for help."
“There was strong Christian opposition to the use of anesthesia up to the middle of the 19th century. It was Dr. Simpson himself who started the wall to crumble when he went to the bible and reminded the Christians that God had put Adam into a deep sleep before removing that famous rib.
Resistance to anesthesia weakened rapidly after 1853 when Queen Victoria demanded chloroform during the birth of her 8th child. It was about this time that a very charismatic clergyman by the name of Thomas Chalmers began preaching in favor of the use of anesthesia in the practice of medicine--and the sheep followed the shepherd.” [G.B. Whatley, 1998]
|So elderly men were telling young women must suffer because it was "god's will". In recent years I became ever more uncomfortable telling this story, because of the increasing number of female students sitting in front of me who were wearing the veil (though never the full niqab). Would I be offending their beliefs? Perhaps. But they were offending my beliefs too. I continued to tell the story (because it is true).||
Niqab veil- photo BBC
This debate is hard for liberals. The last thing I want is for the government to be telling people what to wear: that is what the Taleban and the Christian Right like to do. Nevertheless, Dutch MPs may vote to ban the wearing of the burqa in public. Read the rules in European countries here. The only exception to that is school uniforms. I certainly think that all religious symbols should be banned in schools, as should sectarian schools themselves. I like the French solution. Lyn Hurst puts it this way.
“This is not the state intruding into private life by outlawing the veil everywhere but in the home, so much as an attempt to end the intrusion of dogmas held by individuals, and groups into public places. It is important to remember Secularism has been a basic tenet of France's progressive thought since the 18th Century. French thinkers such as Diderot and Voltaire, regarded religion as divisive, benighted and intolerant. Many people want the Republic to uphold its Secular principles as firmly as it did against divine right monarchists in the past.”
But any form of regulation for adults would be unacceptable. We'll just have to rely on education to get rid of the oppression of women and the tyranny of religion. So far it has worked. It will just take a little while.Joan Smith: The veil is a feminist issue
Joan Smith Independent 8th October 2006
“Women don't wear the burqa in Afghanistan because they like it; they wear it because they are afraid of being killed if they don't. Women haven't suddenly gone back to wearing the veil in Iraq because they're pious; they do it because women who refuse have been murdered. I loathe the niqab and the burqa when I see them there. And I can't pretend I don't find them equally offensive on my local high street.”
Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, has supported universities that ban the niqab.
P.S. Should this be read by the second year UCL undergraduate who told me I would be executed when (not if) the UK became an islamic republic, I hope that he postpones the sentence until I have finished my book.
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It strikes me as a good illustration of the ludicrous nature of religion. Thirty leading Roman Catholic theologians are meeting behind closed doors in the Vatican to discuss Limbo, a bizarre 13th century invention to account for what happens to babies who die before they are christened. And this is the 21st century. They are dead, stupid. Deceased, popped their clogs. They aren't anywhere.
The rumour is that these 30 silly men, after much serious discussion, will decide that limbo doesn't exist after all. So they have been misleading people for 700 years. Even longer than they misled their flock about Galileo. The funny thing about religion is that usually it eventually catches up with common sense. It just delays recognition of truth for a few centuries. but rarely manages to suppress it (as usual, the USA is an exception, having, temporarily one hopes, gone into reverse with its headlong rush into endarkenment.
Reports, for example, in the Guardian.
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The BBC Panorama programme, Sex Crimes and the Vatican, was shown on 1 October 2006. It concerns a secret document (read it here, in English translation). The document, Crimen Sollicitationis, was written in 1962 in Latin and given to Catholic bishops worldwide who are ordered to keep it locked away in the church safe. It imposes an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation and any witnesses. Breaking that oath means excommunication from the Catholic Church.Father Tom Doyle is a canon lawyer. He had a diplomatic career with the Vatican but was sacked after he criticised the church's handling of child abuse. He spoke thus.
“Crimen solicitationis is indicative of a worldwide policy of absolute secrecy and control of all cases of sexual abuse by the clergy.
But what you really have here is an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by the churchmen.
You've got a written policy that says that the Vatican will control these situations and you also have I think clear written evidence of the fact that all they are concerned about is containing and controlling the problem.
Nowhere in any of these documents does it say anything about helping the victims.
The only thing it does is say that they can impose fear on the victims and punish the victims for discussing or disclosing what happened to them.”
The Panorama reporter, Colm O'Gorman finds seven priests with child abuse allegations made against them living in and around the Vatican City.
Crimen Sollicitationis was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope.
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You can see his scholarly and funny views on crackpot medicine on the quack page. He is just as good on creationist junk.
Darwin's Audubon: Gerald Weissmann on the Art of Science.
Swift-boating Darwin: alternative or complementary science
The facts of evolution: fighting the Endarkenment.
The word 'endarkenment' sums up only too well much of what appears here.
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A report in The Observer provides yet another example of religion trying to suppress truth. Never mind the evidence, do what you're told.
”The world's most important collection of human fossils may soon be hidden from public view - if religious leaders get their way.
In a move that has stunned scientists, senior clergy have demanded that the bones and skulls currently exhibited in Nairobi's National Museum of Kenya be removed from display to prevent young Africans from being corrupted.
'It's creating a big weapon against Christians that's killing our faith,' said Bishop Boniface Adoyo, who is leading the hide-the-bones campaign. 'When children go to museums they'll start believing we evolved from these apes'. ”
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So far we have had one one successful bombing and two failed attempts to kill people. It seems that in all three cases the responsibility lies with young male muslims who were born in the UK.
Government ministers have appeared regularly to tell us that the radicalisation of these silly kids has nothing to do with the foreign policy of Tony Blair. The capacity of ministers for denying the obvious seems limitless, and it makes them look pretty foolish. It isn't even clever spin.
Of course it isn't only our foolish foreign policy. It is also foolish religion. These kids may be born in Britain, but if they are segregated in islamic schools they may rarely meet anyone from a different background. This isn't multi-culturism, it's apartheid. If some mad Imam promises them seventy virgins if they blow themselves up, there is nobody around to put a more sensible view.
After the last scare, even the government realised they might be doing something wrong. So they have established a Commission on Integration and Cohesion. It was launched today, 24 August 2006, by the Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary (and lately Minister of Education).
But, guess what, Ruth Kelly says the Commission must not look at whether faith schools are a good thing. How can anyone be quite so foolish?
It is hard to imagine anyone less suitable to investigate religious extremism than Ruth Kelly. She is a religious extremist herself, a member of the odious Opus Dei sect (see here, and here and The Opus Dei Awareness Network).
Ruth Kelly is in Opus Dei. from Independent, 26 August 2006.
For some sense, try Polly Toynbee's article
On the topic of religious extremism, try the Richard Dawkins article, written shortly after the twin towers came down.
We can't let God-blinded killers set our foreign policy
Muslims are right that Blair has fomented extremism, but wrong not to challenge the myth of a crusade against them.
A new Commission on Integration and Cohesion, launching this month, will be worthless unless its first recommendation is to end religious and ethnic segregation in schools. That means no Church of England or Catholic schools, no Muslim or Jewish schools. There must be no toleration either for lazy local school allocations that allow 90% of children to be Muslims in one state school while other schools nearby are mainly white.
Religion's misguided missiles
Promise a young man that death is not the end and he will willingly cause disaster
“Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? If only! Nobody is that stupid, but how about this - it's a long shot, but it just might work. Given that they are certainly going to die, couldn't we sucker them into believing that they are going to come to life again afterwards? Don't be daft! No, listen, it might work. Offer them a fast track to a Great Oasis in the Sky, cooled by everlasting fountains. Harps and wings wouldn't appeal to the sort of young men we need, so tell them there's a special martyr's reward of 72 virgin brides, guaranteed eager and exclusive.
Would they fall for it? Yes, testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next.
It's a tall story, but worth a try. You'd have to get them young, though. Feed them a complete and self-consistent background mythology to make the big lie sound plausible when it comes. Give them a holy book and make them learn it by heart. Do you know, I really think it might work. As luck would have it, we have just the thing to hand: a ready-made system of mind-control which has been honed over centuries, handed down through generations. Millions of people have been brought up in it. It is called religion and, for reasons which one day we may understand, most people fall for it (nowhere more so than America itself, though the irony passes unnoticed). Now all we need is to round up a few of these faith-heads and give them flying lessons.”
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Read this, then sign the petition .
"You can say what you like in the US, just as long as you don't ask awkward questions about America's role in the Middle East". This was the subtitle of a piece in the Observer (Sunday 13 Aug 2006).
“Douglas Giles . . . used to teach a class on world religions at Roosevelt University, Chicago, founded in memory of FDR and his liberal-inclined wife, Eleanor. Last year, Giles was ordered by his head of department, art historian Susan Weininger, not to allow students to ask questions about Palestine and Israel; in fact, nothing was to be mentioned in class, textbooks and examinations that could possibly open Judaism to criticism.”
The Indymedia report report says
“Roosevelt University has fired a philosophy and religion professor for allowing students in his class to ask questions about Judaism and Islam. The chair of the department, Susan Weininger, fired the professor, Douglas Giles, saying that students should not be allowed to ask whatever questions they want in class. Weininger ordered Giles to censor his curriculum, restrict his students' questions, and not respond to controversial questions or comments from students.
Weininger said that free discussion in a world religions course could "open up Judaism to criticism." Any such material, she said, was not permissible to be mentioned in class discussion, textbooks, or examinations. Further, she ordered Giles to forbid any and all discussion of the "Palestinian issue," any mention of Palestinian rights, the Muslim belief in the holiness of Jerusalem, and Zionism. When Professor Giles refused to censor his students, Weininger fired him.”
A statement by Professor Giles relates the incident thus.
“Roosevelt University's Chair of the Department of History, Art History and Philosophy, Susan Weininger is an art history professor who has never taught religion or philosophy. Other than the interview in which she hired me in December 2003, she and I had not spoken before a series of phone calls she placed to me at my home in September 2005. In these phone calls, she told me, as department chair, to change my World Religions curriculum to exclude certain opinions and facts:”"Students should not be allowed to ask whatever questions they want in class"
"Nothing should be mentioned in class, textbooks, or examinations that could possibly open up Judaism to criticism, especially any mention of Zionism "Nothing related to Palestinians or Islamic beliefs about Jerusalem should be mentioned * Discussion of Zionism or the Palestinian issue was "disrespectful to any Jews in the class"
I replied that those restrictions would lead to a biased class. She then made a series of disparaging comments about Palestinians concluding with the following:
W: "I hear you even allowed a Muslim to speak in class."
G: "Yes, of course, I allowed all students to speak, regardless of their religion!"
W: "You shouldn't! What disturbs me is that you act like the Palestinians have a side in this. They don't have a side! They are ANIMALS (emphasis hers)! They strap bombs to their bodies and blow up women and children! They are NOT CIVILIZED! (emphasis hers)"
She then ordered me to never bring up the conversation again to anyone and hung up. I did report the conversations to my union representative. Within a few days, I received a letter from Weininger saying I would no longer be teaching at Roosevelt.”
This atmosphere of paranoid intolerance and censorship has been encouraged by McCarthyite web sites like frontpagemag.com (" Coming to a Campus Near You: Terrorists, racists, and communists— you know them as The Professors"), and campuswatch.
Disgracefully, Roosevelt University has failed to defend Professor
Giles. Evidently Roosevelt is a mockery of what a university should be. His
colleagues have done much better.
You may want to sign a petition in his support, and in support of academic freedom.
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A survey of the opinions of 1000 British muslims was conducted for Channel 4's Dispatches programme, Read the results.
I don't know about you, but I find it a pretty scary. Why is it that irrational beliefs so often lead to extremism and undemocratic views? Just as any serious belief in christianity ss dying out in this country, one group swings to the opposite extreme, Here are a few results.
- Religion is important 93% (very important 78%), though oddly 48% never go to a mosque.
- 30% say they'd rather live under Sharia law than British law (34% if age 18-24 and under, and an astounding 42% in the south of England)
- 23% of those aged 18 – 24 say they would move to a country under Sharia law
- 23% say Britain sgould become an Islamic states (but 45% of those who prefer sharia law)
- 62% said that there should be no freedom of speech if it insulted religion
- 17% thought the holocaust was exaggerated, but almost half had never heard of it (23%) or had no opinion (24%)
- How much truth is there in the idea that Islam treats women as second class citizens? 56% said 'no truth at all. But 30% of women (but only 19% of men) said a 'great deal' or 'fair amount' of truth in this statement
- Wives should always obey husbands? 55% said yes (but 71% of those who prefer Sharia law).
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The recent visit to the UK by extreme Young Earth Creationist, John Mackay, provoked alarm among teachers, the churches and all thinking people. His visit to Millfield school was cancelled by the Head. But some interesting information emerged, indirectly, from his visit.
For a start, it elicited the first clear statement from the government that it thinks creationism should not be taught in schools
“UK schools minister, Jacqui Smith, has declared categorically that the government is against the teaching of creationism and so-called ‘intelligent design’ in science lessons in British schools.”
“Teaching unions, scientists, educationalists, the Archbishop of Canterbury, secularists, bishops and the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia are among those who have expressed concern that creationist dogma – which opposes evolutionary biology through a literalist interpretation of the Bible rejected by mainstream Christian scholars – could creep into Britain's classrooms.”
This quotation, note, comes from the Ekklesia web site. But what a shame that the government does not act in accord with its own minister's statement.
Another matter of interest was that the visit unveiled some young earth creationist teachers in unexpected places. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, mentioned that Nick Cowen, Head of Chemistry at the famous Bluecoat School in Liverpool, is young earth creationist, and that he encourages this view among his pupils, This seems odd in a school with such a good academic reputation, and it seems contrary to the declared aims of the school to allow indoctrination of its pupils with views that are opposed not only by humanists but also by all mainstream churches.
This revelation gave rise to some heated correspondence on the Blackshadow web site ("Beware the Black Shadow of Creationism"). In reply to an email, Nick Cowan said
"I have been alerted to your comments by one of an increasing army of "Young Earth Creationist" science teacher friends here in the north-west. (My wife, for example, is Head of Science at Liverpool's top independent girls' school.)"
It turns out that Mrs Cowan is Head of Science at the Belvedere School. I wonder who else belongs to the "increasing army"?
The lunatic fringe of religion seem to be well established in Liverpool.
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Matthew Taylor reports in The Guardian (May 30, 2006). Sir Peter Vardy's Emmanuel Schools Foundation runs three schools, two in the north-east, one of which was opened by Tony Blair, and the Trinity academy in Thorne, near Doncaster.
“A father claimed his son had been sent home for walking the wrong way down the corridor, another that his 16-year-old daughter was kicked out after getting a kiss from her boyfriend at the school gates. And underlying it all was a feeling that Trinity, the third state funded secondary to be run by an evangelical Christian and friend of Tony Blair, Sir Peter Vardy, was pushing an aggressive religious agenda. Cindy Denise, whose two children are both at Trinity, claimed pupils were disciplined if they did not carry the Bible on certain days and summed up the mood at the meeting, describing the school as "a complete joke". "They are kicking children out for nothing and won't listen to anyone who wants to know what is going on." ”
Tracey Morton, said that the religious nature of Vardy's schools was a real worry for many parents.
"These schools peddle a hardcore Christian message and parents don't have any choice about whether that is what they want for their children,"
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The head of the Church of England, Archbishop Rowan Williams, has shown more appreciation of what should be taught as science than either Tony Blair or the Education secretary, Ruth Kelly. A report in The Guardian runs thus.
Contrast this with (see below)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stepped into the controversy between religious fundamentalists and scientists by saying that he does not believe that creationism - the Bible-based account of the origins of the world - should be taught in schools.
Giving his first, wide-ranging, interview at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop was emphatic in his criticism of creationism being taught in the classroom, as is happening in two city academies founded by the evangelical Christian businessman Sir Peter Vardy and several other schools"I think creationism is ... a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories ... if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories I think there's just been a jarring of categories ... My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it,"
[Jenny Tonge, MP:] “Is the Prime Minister happy to allow the teaching of creationism alongside Darwin's theory of evolution in state schools?”
[Tony Blair]. “First I am very happy.” .
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The introduction of creationism in to the science syllabus by one of the UK examination boards comes as a bit of a shock. It is not yet clear if this is the thin end of a very nasty wedge, or just a bit of inept political correctness. [BBC]
The OCR board, needless to say, claims that creationism will not be taught as science. But the syllabus for OCR GCSE IN SCIENCE: DOUBLE AWARD C says
“Candidates compare theories of creationism, Lamarck and Darwin on the origin of species.”
That makes it sound as though "theories of creationism, Lamarck and Darwin" are theories of comparable type and status. The door has been opened for the loonies.
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This looks promising. "Rod Liddle examines the extreme beliefs held by some evangelical Christians that clash with Britain’s liberal values." Channel 4 TV, Monday 6 March, 8 pm
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A recent report says that the UK is beginning to go the same way as the USA, back to the dark ages. Aided, of course, by the Blair educational policies.
“A growing number of science students on British campuses and in sixth form colleges are challenging the theory of evolution and arguing that Darwin was wrong. Some are being failed in university exams because they quote sayings from the Bible or Qur'an as scientific fact and at one sixth form college in London most biology students are now thought to be creationists.”
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Nothing has illustrated so clearly the absurd intolerance of religious fundamentalists than the affair of the Danish cartoons.
Newspapers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy yesterday reprinted caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, as a demonstration of freedom of the press in those countries. No UK or US newspaper has had the guts to publish them. They originally appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (English version here). The editor of that paper says
“In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.
Since then a number of offensive drawings have circulated in The Middle East which have never been published in Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten and which we would never have published, had they been offered to us.”
Reporters Without Borders said the reaction in the Arab world "betrays a lack of understanding" of press freedom as "an essential accomplishment of democracy."
You can see the cartoons on the web site of Die Welt (Berlin). They are very mild indeed compared with what we are accustomed to seeing here.
One of these newspapers was France Soir. Disgracefully, the owner of that newspaper has sacked its editor. Their front page (right) has the headline "Yes, we have the right to caricature God". The front page cartoon shows four 'gods' on a cloud, one saying to Muhammad "Don't worry Muhammad, we've all been caricatures here" .
Their front page (1 Feb 2006) said “It is necessary to crush once again the infamous thing, as Voltaire liked to say. This religious intolerance that accepts no mockery, no satire, no ridicule.” “. . . but we have the right to caricature Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, Yahve and all forms of theism. It's called freedom of expression in a secular country.” For this, the editor was fired.
Picture CBS News 1 Feb 06
By February 4th, it became clear that the aftermath was far worse than anyone could have predicted. We have seen the Norwegian and Danish embassy in Damascus set on fire. And, of a demonstration in London,
“The 400 or so protesters, including a group of women in burqas, waved placards bearing slogans such as "Behead the one who insults the prophet" and "Free speech go to hell".”
The poster on the right says “Europe you will pay. Your 9/11 is on its way!!!”
My guess is that even more harm has been done to the reputation of Islam by these events than that done by 9/11 and 7/7.
Photo Telegraph 4 Feb 06 BBC 5 Feb
I don't believe that I have ever before quoted the Daily Telegraph, but I confess some sympathy with their comment this time.
““The right to offend within the law remains crucial to our free speech. Muslims who choose to live in the West must accept that we too have a right to our values, and to live according to them. . . Those Muslims who cannot tolerate the openness and robustness of intellectual debate in the West have perhaps chosen to live in the wrong culture.”
The Vatican doesn't understand the idea of freedom of thought either. They say the right to freedom of expression does not imply the right to offend religious beliefs [BBC News]. It does.
Monday 6th February. The demonstrations in London (pictures above) seem to have brought The Guardian and The Independent off their somwhat pusillanimous shelf. The Guardian now gives a direct link to the cartoons, and all, even the government, agree that the incitements to murder that were so apparent at the demonstration were illegal and should be prosecuted. What a pity that it was left to the Conservative Party to point out this obvious fact. The Guardian reports as follows.
One wonders just how bad things have to get before the government realizes the folly of encouraging schools that are segregated into religious ghettos.
Several Labour MPs also called for action. David Winnick, on the Commons home affairs committee, said those carrying banners threatening violence should be prosecuted and, where possible, deported. "Those who are temporarily in Britain, the sooner they are out of the country the better," he said. "Those who have been given permission to live here, insofar as it is possible in law, it would be better for this country and indeed for the Muslim community if that right was removed." The Labour MP Shahid Malik, also on the committee, wrote to Sir Ian Blair, head of the Metropolitan police, calling for prosecutions.
Sir Trevor Phillips (chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality), is reported thus, in The Times.
Muslims in Britain must accept that British values include a commitment to freedom of speech, even if that meant offending people. Speaking after the uproar over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, said that the right to offend was an "absolutely precious" part of British identity. He also suggested that Muslims who wanted Sharia should leave the country.
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It seems that the 'city academy' scheme, is not only open to purchase of influence over children by rich nutters, but also deeply corrupt. The Sunday Times (15 Jan 2008) got some interesting results by using an undercover reporter who posed as a potential donor.
Des Smith, a council member of the trust that helps recruit sponsors for academies, disclosed that if a donor gave sufficient money, he could be nominated for an OBE, CBE or even a knighthood.
He described what appeared to be a tariff system, in which a benefactor who gave to “one or two” academies might receive such an honour while a donor who gave to five would be “a certainty” for a peerage.
Smith is an adviser to Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) . . On Friday, Smith told a reporter posing as a donor’s PR assistant that “the prime minister’s office would recommend someone like (the donor) for an OBE, a CBE or a knighthood”.
“Really?” replied the reporter. “Just for getting involved with the academies?”
“Just for, yes, they call them ‘services to education’,” replied Smith. He went on: “I would say to Cyril’s office that we’ve now got to start writing to the prime minister’s office.” “You could go to the House of Lords and get a lord . . . become a lord,” he said.
“So, if you invested in five city academies over, say, a 10-year period, it would be . . .” said the reporter.
“A certainty,” said Smith.
Guess what? Both Taylor and Smith deny it.
[BBC News] “Des Smith, 60, had been held for questioning under the 1925 Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act.
In January, he had suggested sponsors for the government's flagship city academies programme would be given honours in exchange for funding.
Mr Smith later quit his post with the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.
The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust helps the government recruit education sponsors. Set up in September 2005, its president is Lord Levy, Tony Blair's chief political fundraiser and close friend.”
It seems that, as so often, that official denial was confirmation that it was true. In other words Taylor and Smith were lying (given what was said, that was pretty obvious anyway).
“Tony Blair has been dealt a humiliating blow by the honours watchdog which has launched a probe into three more millionaire party donors recommended for seats in the House of Lords.” [Independent] [Sunday Times]
On Sunday 5 March 2006 it was revealed that the Evangelist millionaire, Bob Edmiston was nominated by Tony Blair for a peerage. Presumably this was in return for his providing a small proportion of the cost of the 'Grace Academy' in the West Midlands. He also gave £27m to Christian Vision charity and in 2004 gave £250,000 to Conservatives.
Other nominees for peerages from 10 Downing Street include Chai Patel, who made his fortune from private nursing homes and clinics, Sir David Garrard, a property developer, and Barry Townsley, a stockbroker. All three have been embroiled in controversy over their business dealings.
Patel has been criticised over the treatment of patients at nursing homes which he used to run. At one, in Twickenham, southwest London, elderly residents were allegedly left in heavily soiled beds and there was a high rate of accidents. He was referred to the General Medical Council over the allegations but was cleared last year.
Garrard, who has also sponsored a city academy, was recently involved in a business deal involving Allders, the department store chain, which left the pension fund in tatters. He has given £200,000 to Labour and was previously a Conservative party donor.
Townsley, who has given Labour at least £16,000, has also backed a city academy. In the 1980s he was at the centre of a major share-dealing scandal and was found guilty by the stock exchange of “gross misconduct” and barred from the trading floor for six months.
That is the headline in the London Evening Standard (8th March, 2006).
Chai Patel has written to the appointments commission demanding to know why he has been blocked, He has declared gifts of at least £10,000 to the Labour party but is thought to have given substantially more. Subsequently it turned out that lent the Labour Party £1.5 million last year! [BBC].
Patel thus, inadvertantly, confirms the deep corruption in the sale of peerages used by Tony Blair. Apart from being corrupt, it also fills the Upper Chamber with undesirable people.
12th July 2006. “Tony Blair's chief fundraiser Lord Levy has been arrested in connection with the "cash-for-honours" inquiry by the Metropolitan Police.” [BBC News]
Christopher Evans, the rich owner of a biotechnology company, Merlin Biosciences, was the third person to be arrested, on 21 September 2006.
Getting closer to Tony. A senior Downing Street aide has been questioned under caution by detectives. Ruth Turner. No 10's director of government relations, was questioned about emails and documents relating to the inquiry.
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A good spoof.
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Well there is no shortage of bizarre religious cults, but Colonia Dignidad is as bizarre as they come. Its Nazi connections are reminiscent of the support of fascism by Josemaria Escriva. founder of Opus Dei.
Schaefer is former Nazi and Baptist preacher. He established a 13,000-hectare (32,000-acre) colony, Colonia Dignidad, in southern Chile in 1961, after fleeing Germany to escape child abuse charges. He is now in jail charged with child abuse and aiding secret police during the 1973-1990 military regime. BBC News (27 December 2005) reports that now
German doctor is in custody after allegedly admitting she tortured a number of children at Colonia Dignidad, a secretive religious colony in Chile. Gisela Seewald, 75, is said to have told a judge that she gave them electroshock treatment and sedatives. She was ordered to do so by the group's ex-leader, Paul Schaefer, who said they were possessed, she reportedly said.
If you are into bizarre cults, there is a lot of information at rickross.com, including a lot on Schaefer's cult.
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The Washington Times (an extreme right wing newspaper, not to be confused with the Washington Post), reported on 25th December 2005, thus.
“Overall, 82 percent of Americans believe in God, according to a recent Harris poll, which also revealed that 73 percent also believe in miracles, 70 percent in life after death, 70 percent in the existence of heaven, and 70 percent that Jesus is the Son of God. In addition, 68 percent believe in angels and 66 percent in the Resurrection of Christ.
Six out of 10 believe in the devil and the existence of hell. Republicans emerged as the most spiritual of all the respondents in the survey”
But the news is a bit better in the UK.
According to a poll by YouGov, just 44 per cent believe in God compared to 77 per cent in 1968. A majority - 81 per cent - also believe the country is becoming more secular, with fewer people going to places of worship. Only a third of the 1,981 people who took part in the online survey believe in heaven and even fewer believe in the devil.
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Eleven parents took the Dover school board to court to overturn their ruling that 'intelligent design' must be taught as though it were science. The voters later removed the creationist members of the Dover school board. And this time the parents won! [New York Times, 20 Dec 2005].
In the USA's first case to test the legal merits of intelligent design, a federal judge, John E. Jones III, ruled that a Pennsylvania school board's policy of teaching intelligent design in high school biology class is unconstitutional because intelligent design is clearly a religious idea that advances "a particular version of Christianity."
Download the whole text of this very important judgement here [PDF file, 311kb]
Page 137. “The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.”
Page 138. “To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID.”
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Tony Blair's plans for schools bear a remarkable similarity to the Charter schools in the USA. The charter schools are an icon of neoconservatives in the USA. Take for example, the Goldwater Institute.
“The Goldwater Institute was founded in 1988 by a small group of entrepreneurial Arizonans with the blessing of Sen. Barry Goldwater.”They say approvingly "Blair School Project: Charter Schools for Britain"
It seems that this is yet another case if Blair lining up with the extreme right in the USA. Many of his policies make Margaret Thatcher look like a left wing radical. The main objection to his plans is, of course, selection. He can protest until the cows come home that the government will legislate against selection, but any fool can see that such a law is not implementable. Parents, left to themselves, will always select (as long, of course, as they can ensure that their own children don't fall into the reject pile).
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No, I haven't seen this film, but I can't resist quoting the review of it by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian.
'Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion'
Children won't get the Christian subtext, but unbelievers should keep a sickbag handy during Disney's new epic, writes Polly Toynbee
“. . . Tolkien disliked Lewis's bully-pulpit. Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion . . .. He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials - has called Narnia "one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read".
Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right.”
“Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come.”
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University of Poppleton
Once again, it's time for some of the university's movers and shakers to select their Books of the Year.
There's not been much time for reading (or indeed thinking) in the past year.
I did, however, particularly enjoy a little book I picked up at the Bookshop sale. Its precise title escapes me, but it told the story of a middle-aged man who fails to recognise the benefits of the community in which he resides. Instead of identifying with its mission statement, he persists in pursuing a selfish, individualistic path and ends up having an illicit sexual relationship with a close organisational colleague.
Fortunately, there is a happy ending. Following an intervention from Human Resources and a slightly overdramatised episode involving large rats, he realises his mistakes and re-commits himself to the ongoing strategic plan.
Highly recommended for our less research-active colleagues!
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Ted Wragg (1938 - 2005)
Professor of Education, University of Exeter.
Ted Wragg was rather like the Laurie Taylor of secondary education, a voice of sanity in a world of burgeoning management-speak. Here is a taste of his writing (from the Guardian, 3rd December 2002).
“This free market has generated a whole new breed of employee, especially in further education, the Bid Writer. In education nowadays the pen can be mightier than the chalk. Bid Writers are a special breed who can weave together and launch back at policy wonks all their own buzzwords, with the deadly accuracy of a guided missile, sending them into the sort of sustained ecstasy that loosens both critical judgment and purse strings.
"This synoptic overview summarises the operational strategy for delivering the procedural and content objectives to a world-class standard, within the parameters delineated in Annex A of Initiative 374B, glob glob, oodle oodle, turge turge." Wonderful. Give that school a few hundred grand.
Worthwhile policies graft seamlessly on to schools and eventually become their own. An ephemeral policy is merely a headline grabber, a wheeze, demeaning to both begetter and recipient. Who needs a physics teacher, when among today's most highly esteemed pedagogues are wordsmiths who can deliver world-class meaningless bollocks to order?”
This sort of "bollocks" will all be entirely familiar to anyone who works in a university. We are indundated with it too. Awash with buzzwords and untested wheezes, apparently designed to making life uncomfortable for those who try to do the reserach and teaching on which the reputation of the university depends. Try this example, from a recent document.
" Research strengths which pervade the whole of UCL Biomedicine are identified together with enabling technologies and platforms that support these thematic activities"'
I presume that "enabling technologies" refers to shared expensive equipment. If anyone who knows what "platforms" means in the context, please email me. (Incidentally, the mysterious platforms were not identified.)
I have an idea. The university that manages to resist the temptation to waste the time of its academics on reams of stuff like this will have a big advantage over its rivals. Every creative academic in the country would want to work at such a place.
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The most unsurprising report of recent weeks was in The Independent (7th October 2005). See also (free) reports in The Guardian and BBC News.
Mr Bush revealed the extent of his religious fervour when he met a Palestinian delegation during the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egpytian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Picture from The Guardian
One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said:
"President Bush said to all of us: 'I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, 'George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did."
Mr Bush went on: "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it."
The White House denies that these remarks were ever made. Well, they would, wouldn't they?
The BBC's 'Any Questions?' programme on Saturday 8th October started with the question "Does the panel think we can sleep easier in our beds now that American foreign policy is apparently giuded by God".
Sarah Teather, Lib Dem MP for Brent East (and ex UCL student) replied,
“People who admit to hearing voices telling them to commit mass murder are generally sectioned.”
“There is a traditional British view on religion that, like sex, it should be done in your own home with the lights switched off ”
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Interesting reading. A paper by Gregory S. Paul (Baltimore, Maryland) was published the the Journal of Religion & Society (2005, 7, 1 - 17), 'Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies. A First Look'. The abstract concludes
“Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and antievolution America performs poorly.”
Some more quotations from this paper.
“Among the developing democracies absolute belief in God, attendance of religious services and Bible literalism vary over a dozenfold, atheists and agnostics five fold, prayer rates fourfold, and acceptance of evolution almost twofold. Japan, Scandinavia, and France are the most secular nations in the west, the United States is the only prosperous first world nation to retain rates of religiosity otherwise limited to the second and third worlds”
“The current House majority leader T. Daley contends that high crime rates and tragedies like the Columbine assault will continue as long schools teach children "that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized [sic] out of some primordial soup of mud" ”(DeLay and Dawson, 1999 Congressional Record 6/16, H4366.).
Yes, that is the same Tom Delay wno has just been indicted for criminal conspiracy by a grand jury in Texas. [BBC News]. (and the same Tom DeLay who said “A woman can take care of the family. It takes a man to provide structure, to provide stability”.)
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The Guardian reports the reult of a 'funniest religious joke' contest, held, believe it or not, on a christian web site, ShipofFools.com
"I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."Ho ho. Though not quite so funny in the light of the bloody real-life feuds between protestant and catholic or sunni and shia.
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
"Are you religious?"
He said: "Yes."
I said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"
He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.
“A message attributed to Zarqawi earlier this week accused the Shia of taking part in the US assault on the Sunni Muslim city of Falluja and described their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, as "Satan".” [BBC news]A message attributed to Zarqawi earlier this week accused the Shia of taking part in the US assault on the Sunni Muslim city of Falluja and described their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, as "Satan".
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For a classic bit of Richard Dawkins, go to Prospect Magazine. A few quotations give you the flavour.
“Gerin oil (or Geriniol to give it its scientific name) is a powerful drug which acts directly on the central nervous system to produce a range of characteristic symptoms, often of an antisocial or self- damaging nature. If administered chronically in childhood, Gerin oil can permanently modify the brain to produce adult disorders, including dangerous delusions which have proved very hard to treat. The four doomed flights of 11th September were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time. ”
“Gerin oil in strong doses can be hallucinogenic. Hardcore mainliners may hear voices in their heads, or see illusions which seem to the sufferers so real that they often succeed in persuading others of their reality. An individual who reports high-grade hallucinogenic experiences may be venerated, and even followed as some kind of leader, by others who regard themselves as less fortunate. Such following-pathology can long postdate the leader's death, and may expand into bizarre psychedelia such as the cannibalistic fantasy of "drinking the blood and eating the flesh" of the leader.”
“You might think that such a potentially dangerous and addictive drug would top the list of proscribed substances, with exemplary sentences handed out for trafficking in it. But no, it is readily obtainable anywhere in the world and you don't even need a prescription. Professional pushers are numerous, and organised in hierarchical cartels, openly trading on street corners and even in purpose-made buildings. Some of these cartels are adept at parting clients from their money. Their "godfathers" occupy influential positions in high places, and they have the ear of presidents and prime ministers. Governments don't just turn a blind eye to the trade, they grant it tax-exempt status. Worse, they subsidise schools with the specific intention of getting children hooked.”
Exactly. “Worse, they subsidise schools with the specific intention of getting children hooked.”
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“Residentially, some [UK] districts are on their way to becoming fully fledged ghettos - black holes into which no-one goes without fear and trepidation, and from which no-one ever escapes undamaged,”
“If we allow this to continue, we could end up in 2048, a hundred years on from the Windrush, living in a New Orleans-style Britain of passively co-existing ethnic and religious communities, eyeing each other uneasily over the fences of our differences.”
Communities were being left "marooned outside the mainstream". "steadily drift away from the rest of us evolving their own lifestyles, playing by their own rules and increasingly regarding the codes of behaviour, loyalty and respect that the rest of us take for granted as outdated behaviour that no longer applies to them".
And he warned that levels of racial segregation in Britain could create a "fertile breeding ground for extremists".
Mr Phillips told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that schools should be leading the way in terms of integration but research had shown they were in fact slightly more segregated than their wider neighbourhoods.
So that is why Mr Blair is determined to create more religious schools?
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The Daily Telegraph reports as follows.
One of the most wanted war criminals is being shielded by the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican hierarchy, the United Nations' chief prosecutor for former Yugoslavia said yesterday.
Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the UN international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said she believed that Gen Ante Gotovina was being sheltered in a Franciscan monastery in his native Croatia.
The Vatican could probably pinpoint exactly which of Croatia's 80 monasteries was sheltering him "in a few days", Mrs del Ponte told The Daily Telegraph at her offices in The Hague.
Instead, she had been "extremely disappointed" to encounter a wall of silence from the Vatican. Frustrated by months of secret but fruitless appeals to leading Vatican officials, including a direct appeal to Pope Benedict XVI, Mrs del Ponte has decided to make the matter public.
Apparently the Vatican feels it has no moral responsibilities when it comes to war crimes, as shown by the BBC News report.
Ms del Ponte said Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, responsible for the city-state's foreign relations, told her in July that the Vatican had no obligation to assist the UN's war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed that this was the case.
Unbelievable uh? Just read that again. “ . . the Vatican had no obligation to assist the UN's war crimes tribunal”. But then they have a track record (see above)
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An ICM poll, published in The Guardian on 23 August 2005 .
64% agreed that "the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind"
Yesterday Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education select committee, warned that religious schools posed a threat to the cohesion of multicultural communities.
"Do we want a ghettoised education system?" asked Mr Sheerman. "Schools play a crucial role in integrating different communities and the growth of faith schools poses a real threat to this. These things need to be thought through very carefully before they are implemented."
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Has Tony Blair been taking advice on educational policy from the US christian Taliban?
I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!
Rev. Jerry Falwell, America Can Be Saved, 1979 pp. 52-53, from Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom
It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening.
Jerry Falwell (attributed: source unknown)
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This must take some sort of record for evil by christians. Pat Robertson, the US televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition. On his TV show he said that the US should assassinate the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. [BBC], [Reuters]
“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,” Robertson said of Chavez in Monday's broadcast of The 700 Club.“We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.” “I don't think any oil shipments would stop.”
Here are some more words of neanderthal wisdom from Robertson.
feminism "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."
"If they look over the course of 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings," he said in May of this year in response to a question during an ABC interview about whether activist judges were more of a threat to the United States than terrorists.
Late in the 2004 presidential race, Robertson told CNN that during a meeting with Bush prior to the invasion of Iraq, the president told him he did not believe there would be casualties. The White House strongly denied the claim.
Robertson's "700 Club" reaches an average of 1 million American viewers daily, according to his Web site.
He ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1988.
Robertson also seemed to agree with that other fundamentalist fanatic, Jerry Falwell, when he blamed the atrocity on September 11th, 2001, on civil libertarians, feminists, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters.
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."
Rev. Jerry Falwell, quoted from John F. Harris, "God Gave U.S. 'What We Deserve,' Falwell Says," The Washington Post (September 14, 2001)
For an interesting history of earlier attempts by the USA to kill leaders of other countries, look at the Washington Post article by Lynne Duke (24 August 2005).
“The broad U.S. history of assassinations against foreign leaders is long, colorful and still controversial.”
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I confess that it took me a little while to persuade myself that the Presidential Prayer Team web site was not a spoof. But it appears to be deadly serious.
“Pray for President and Mrs. Bush as they continue a working vacation at Prairie Chapel Ranch, asking God to protect them both at home and as they travel.”
Through the efforts of Pray the Vote along with a number of other initiatives, the presidential elections of November 2004 may possibly have been the most prayed-for elections in our nation's history.
The obvious question is, with millions of citizens praying for him, why isn't the president doing better?
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An unusually big clinical trial (748 patients) of the efficay of prayer was published in The Lancet (July 2005). The same study tested also “music, imagery and touch” (MIT) therapy.
748 patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention or elective catheterisation in nine USA centres were assigned in a 2×2 factorial randomisation either off-site prayer by established congregations of various religions or no off-site prayer (double-blinded) and MIT therapy or none (unmasked). The primary endpoint was combined in-hospital major adverse cardiovascular events and 6-month readmission or death.
371 patients were assigned prayer and 377 no prayer; 374 were assigned MIT therapy and 374 no MIT therapy. The factorial distribution was: standard care only, 192; prayer only, 182; MIT therapy only, 185; and both prayer and MIT therapy, 189. No significant difference was found for the primary composite endpoint in any treatment comparison.
Neither masked prayer nor MIT therapy significantly improved clinical outcome after elective catheterisation or percutaneous coronary intervention.
Well, there's a surprise.
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The wonderful thing about believing the impossible, is that when you have braced yourself to do it once, there is no end to the weird and wonderful things you are willing to believe. And it's not surprising that there is no unanimity about what you should believe because it's all imaginary anyway. There is no strife like that between christians and muslims, and, at least as bad, between catholics and prostestants, and between their infinite internal subdivisions.
The Tablet has published a good row between a cardinal and the Vatican's astronomer, reported in the Independent for 5-Aug-05.
Recent comments by a cardinal close to the Pope that random evolution was incompatible with belief in "God the creator" are fiercely assailed in today's edition of The Tablet, Britain's Catholic weekly, by the Vatican astronomer.
In an article with explosive implications for the Church, Father George Coyne, an American Jesuit priest who is a distinguished astronomy professor, attacks head-on the views of Cardinal Christoph Shönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna and a long-standing associate of Joseph Ratzinger, the German cardinal who was elected as Pope Benedict XVI in April.
In an article entitled "Finding Design in Nature" in The New York Times last month, Cardinal Shönborn reignited the row between the Church and science by frankly denying that "neo-Darwinian dogma" was compatible with Christian faith.
Cardinal Shönborn is understood to have been urged to write the article, and to have been helped to place it in The New York Times, by Mark Ryland, a leading figure in the Discovery Institute, a conservative American Christian think-tank that promotes intelligent design.
I suppose, as an atheist, I should be quite pleased to see the catholic church shooting itself in the foot (again). After all they have barely got round to acknowledging that Galileo was right. But I can't even summon up much schadenfreude at this sorry spectacle. It is just sad to see people waste time arguing about the number of angels that will fit on the head of a pin when there are important things to be done. Ah well, no doubt Cardinal Shönborn will be popular with the redneck obscurantists of Texas.
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President Bush said Monday he believes schools should discuss "intelligent design" alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.
Intelligent design is, of course, nothing more nor less than a thoroughly dishonest attempt by right wing fundamentalists to disobey the US constitution which says that religion must not be taught in schools (not quite Tony Blair's belief, sadly). Since many people in the USA seem to believe this gobbledygook, perhaps there is a case for discussing it as part of social studies. But it has nothing to do with science or reason, so there can be no justification for teaching it "alongside" evolution. I don't know whether the teaching of homeopathy and crystal healing are yet compulsory in Kansas, but if so, perhaps that would be a suitable place to slot in another dishonest myth.
"It is, of course, further indication that a fundamentalist right has really taken over much of the Republican Party," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a leading liberal lawmaker. Noting Bush's Ivy League education, Frank said, "People might cite George Bush as proof that you can be totally impervious to the effects of Harvard and Yale education."
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Among the horrors of Argentina’s military rule that 'disappeared' up to 30,000 citizens from 1976-83, the complicity of senior figures in the Catholic hierarchy is becoming known thanks to the investigations of writer Horacio Verbitsky. openDemocracy publishes an exclusive extract from his new book, “The Silence”. The Catholic church’s complicity in torture and murder in Argentina should be no surprise; it had, after all, long precedents in extreme doctrines that came to Argentina (and elsewhere in Latin America) from the far right in France.[read it here]. Here is a short extract.
When the torture that French paratroopers used in Algeria during the bloody war of 1954-62 aroused protests and debate, French military chaplains calmed the officers’ troubled consciences. One of them, Louis Delarue, wrote a text that was distributed to all units:“If, in the general interest, the law allows a murderer to be killed, why should it be seen as monstrous to submit a delinquent who has been recognised as such and is therefore liable to be put to death, to an interrogation which might be painful, but whose only object is, thanks to the revelations he may make about his accomplices and leaders, to protect the innocent? Exceptional circumstances call for exceptional measures”.As success in the Algerian war gradually slipped away from the crusaders, Ousset decided to create branches of La Cité Catholique in other parts of the world. The first of these was in Buenos Aires in 1958. Its members had been part of the clandestine Organisation of a Secret Army (OAS), which brought terror to Paris itself and attempted to assassinate General Charles de Gaulle,
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This provocative piece by David Hayes can be read on the OpenDemocracy site (29 July 2005). I don't subscribe as completely as he does to the view that the "world has changed" after 11-Sept-2001, or 7-July-2005. But there is much that is interesting here. In particular I like his solution, radical secularism.
The first model might be called radical secularisation. It would respect and pursue the logic of the overwhelmingly likely social fact that religious ideology has inspired British citizens to acts and attempted acts of indiscriminate mass murder. It also draws on the less visible but potent and long-standing everyday reality that the promotion of religious faith in the public context – starting in the very early years of segregated education – creates the potential for permanent, destructive social schism.
The model would enforce a rigid separation between religion and public life, involving the following measures:
- disestablishment of the Church of England, and the complete "desacralisation" of the head of state and the political system it crowns
- closure of faith schools, and compulsory integration of schooling
- banishment of religious symbolism from public ceremonies and festivals
- redefinition of the entire state as a secular enterprise, including a coherent programme of induction for new arrivals and of re-education of those born, raised and domiciled here in the fundamentals of citizenship
- cultivation of a new public ethic of what it means to be a British citizen, its responsibilities, duties and rights.
Such changes can sound draconian. But they would make sense (or indeed be made possible) only if the foundation of this new “British commonwealth” was the conscious, willed choice of free citizens who decided that the benefits of moving in this direction outweighed the handicaps of living under the existing dispensation. In effect, if people affirmed: this is the kind of country we want to live in.
Thus, a final element, the essential ground and precondition for this model, is a redefined contract between state and citizen, involving a written democratic constitution, the product of a constitutional convention. The model would be impelled by the idea of defining in as fair, accountable and democratic a manner as possible the idea of the state as accountable to the citizen.
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[more on the politics page]
Just as in Northern Ireland, it is not easy to separate religion and politics in the world of fundamentalist Islam, or in the world of the far right evangelicals in the USA. At a minimum, in both cases, it seems pretty clear that, even if religion is not the prime cause of the conflict, at least it is a convenient way for political interests to drive a wedge between peoples who should be living together. The wildest of Middle Easter fundamentalists seem to go further. They seem to want to conquer the world, using whatever violence is necessary, for their own mediaeval religious beliefs. Either way, religion adds to the harm done.
Now, more than ever before, we see the folly of separate religious schools. They breed intolerance and segregation (apart, from my point of view, the little detail of teaching things that are not true). But, needless to say, Tony Blair still does not get the point. "Abolishing faith schools is not the way to create harmony between different communities in the wake of the London attacks, Tony Blair has said." [BBC].
Neither christians nor muslims seem to have the slightest difficulty in using their religions to justify violence and mayhem. Here are a couple of examples. As usual, nothing is so vicious as the internecine warfare between different sects of the same religion.
A 'muslim'. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is suspected of direct involvement in the kidnap and beheading of several foreigners in Iraq - even of wielding the knife himself. Before the elections in Iraq he was quoted as follows.
"We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," It attacked democracy as a springboard for "un-Islamic" practices, claiming that its emphasis on majority rule violated the principle that all laws must come from a divine source. The Shia were poised to spread "their insidious beliefs" to Baghdad and Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq. "Candidates in elections are seeking to become demi-gods, while those who vote for them are infidels,"
A message attributed to Zarqawi earlier this week accused the Shia of taking part in the US assault on the Sunni Muslim city of Falluja and described their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, as "Satan".
A 'christian'. Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen is sawmill operator, a member of the Klu Klux Klan, and a Baptist preacher. He was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter on June 21, 2005, the forty-first anniversary of the crime. He had conspired to kill several civil rights activists in 1964.
And the poster below manages to be simultaneously militaristic, sexist and, uh, christian? The occasion turned out to be a military recruitment exercise (you know, like they are said to have in mosques). The invitation sent out by the church to this military event is memorable -it starts with gunfire.
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Universities, where people are meant to think, are always targets for extreme right wing regimes. Here are a few examples from the USA.
"Students planning to study abroad must agree to adhere to strict 'Conditions of Participation.' The Office of International Programs states in these conditions that any student found guilty of 'participation in political activities' -marching in an anti-war protest, for instance -while abroad is subject to discipline 'including but not limited to immediate dismissal from an overseas program and/or sanctions by the GU Office of Student Conduct.' This is the same punishment that is meted out for sexual harassment and 'criminal conduct of any kind'."
Oddly enough, I have come across some very dubious behaviour from Georgetown University before. When a very obviously fraudulant paper was referred to their ethics committee, they found nothing wrong! See my quack page for the details of this disgraceful episode.
How very odd that this behaviour comes from a university that boasts of its Catholic and Jesuit identity.
A disturbing report in Nature describes the introduction, in several US states, of "Academic Bills of Rights" [pdf file]
"Along with introducing protection from discrimination based on political or religious convictions, a bill being proposed in Florida calls on faculty members to refrain from introducing "controversial matter" unrelated to the course subject. It also requires them to present 'serious scholarly viewpoints' other than their own."
"On 22 March, Dennis Baxley (Republican, Ocala), who is backing the bill, said that it would make sure that alternatives to evolution are not shut out of universities."" 'This effort is part of a larger pressure on higher education to politicize the agenda,' says Ruth Flower, the AAUP’s director of public policy".
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The Woodcraft Folk is a children's organisation set up in 1925 by Labour Party supporters who found Baden-Powell's Boy Scouts too militaristic and too religious (christian, of course) -see review of 'Scouting for Boys'. Its stated aim is to "create a world built on equality, friendship, peace and co-operation" .
The Folk continued to get its tiny grant throughout the Thatcher years, so why has it now been turned down? Wait for it.
They did not have "sufficiently robust outcome indicators" and did not represent "good value for money".
What on earth is that bit of vacuous 'management gobbledegook' meant to mean? Think about it. Do the 'managers' want a numerical indicator of the value of providing "an experience of the outside world and the countryside for children who often do not know where their milk comes from" (the in the words of their deputy General Secretary, Chris Pyke). That sounds like the same sort of mentality as the Teaching quality assessment imposed on universities. I'm all for teaching quality, but the idea that you can encapsulate it in a single number is plain daft, especially when that number ignores the quality of what is being taught. But that is for another blog.
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The death of the pope has squeezed everything important out of the news. The pope did some good things. He played a role in ending the tyranny of communist rule (only to replace it with another religion). He was against the Iraq war (though you would not have guessed that from the reactions of Bush and Blair to his death). He was also responsible for many -perhaps millions -of deaths from AIDS, because of his implacable opposition to the use of condoms. He was also the man who opposed abortion, even for women who were pregnant as a result of rape. How can a man have simultaneously such humanity and such inhumanity? I guess that when talking about religious beliefs, reason does not come into it. In the words of the great American journalist, H. L. Mencken "The curse of man, and cause of nearly all of his woes, is his stupendous capacity for believing the incredible." (In Defense of Women, 1918).
Thomas Cahill, writing in The New York Times comments
"But John Paul II's most lasting legacy to Catholicism will come from the episcopal appointments he made. In order to have been named a bishop, a priest must have been seen to be absolutely opposed to masturbation, premarital sex, birth control (including condoms used to prevent the spread of AIDS), abortion, divorce, homosexual relations, married priests, female priests and any hint of Marxism. It is nearly impossible to find men who subscribe wholeheartedly to this entire catalogue of certitudes; as a result the ranks of the episcopate are filled with mindless sycophants and intellectual incompetents."
Cardinal Bernard Law was forced to resign as archbishop of Boston in 2002 after nearly 20 years in the post. He resigned in disgrace after it emerged he had turn a blind eye to child abuse for many years, simply transferring abusive priests to new parishes where their past was not known. Some were later convicted of serial abuse.
After he resigned (i.e. wa fired) he was appointed, astonishingly, by the pope to a prestigious church post in Rome - archpriest of St Mary Major Basilica. See 'Rome Post for Disgraced Cardinal' [BBC].
In February 2004, a report commissioned by the Church said more than 4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had faced sexual abuse allegations in the previous 50 years, in cases involving more than 10,000 children - mostly boys. See timeline of events.
A support group for sexual abuse victims has condemned a decision by the Vatican to choose Cardinal Bernard Law to lead a Mass for Pope John Paul II. David Clohessy, national director of the survivors' network, said: "It's an unbelievably insensitive move that simply rubs salt into the very deep wounds of thousands of abuse victims and American Catholics.".
Two leaders of a victims' support group were escorted from St Peter's Square as they tried to hand out leaflets, during Law's mass on Monday, 11th April, 2005. [BBC]
Cardinal Law is also eligible to vote for the new pope.
So much for "morality".
Traditionally, the fundamentalist protestant wing of the church has been thought of as being at the opposite extreme of the church to the Roman Catholic wing. Just look at Ireland, or Glasgow, to see the harm that particular internecine rift has done for mankind. But now the far right US baptists and have found common cause with Catholics over abortion, homosexuality etc. The hysteria that accompanied the death of the pope seems, it occurs to me, may have resulted from this unholy alliance.
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Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. She had been kept alive, but in a persistent vegetative state, for the last 15 years. Her husband, Michael, and her parents fought in court about whether she should be allowed to die.
The case was ruthlessly exploited by right wing christian groups who said she should not be allowed to die (though the courts, and 80% of Americans thought she should). These groups, are, of course, the same people who are so keen on the death penalty, and so enthusiatic about killing 20000 Iraqis (and 1300 Americans).
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), under fire from Democrats for what they consider threatening remarks about federal judges, plans to ask the Judiciary Committee to undertake a broad review of the courts' handling of the Terri Schiavo case, his office said yesterday.
DeLay issued a statement asserting that "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." He later said in front of television cameras that he wants to "look at an arrogant, out-of-control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president."
Democrats continued to criticize DeLay yesterday, with Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) charging that the Republican might have broken a federal statute against threatening U.S. judges.
"Threats against specific federal judges are not only a serious crime, but also beneath a Member of Congress," Lautenberg wrote. "Your attempt to intimidate judges in America not only threatens our courts, but our fundamental democracy as well."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Thursday that "at a time when emotions are running high, Mr. DeLay needs to make clear that he is not advocating violence against anyone."
Richard Alan Meywes of Fairview is accused of sending an e-mail putting a $250,000 bounty on Schiavo's head and another $50,000 to elimate a circuit court judge in Florida.
According to court records, the e-mail read as follows:
"Hey everyone, you need to pass this on to as many friends as possible. A bounty with a price tag of $250,000 has been taken out on the head of Michael Schiavo. It is my understanding that whoever eliminates Michael Schiavo from the planet while inflicting as much pain and suffering that hecan bear stands to be paid this reward in cash ... It is also my understanding that an additional $50,000 has been offered for the elimination of the judge who ruled against Terry [sic] in Florida."
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" WICHITA. Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution."
"Southern Baptist minister Terry Fox "most people in Kansas don't think we came from monkeys."
To fundamentalist Christians, Fox said, the fight to teach God's role in creation is becoming the essential front in America's culture war. The issue is on the agenda at every meeting of pastors he attends. If evolution's boosters can be forced to back down, he said, the Christian right's agenda will advance.
"If you can cause enough doubt on evolution, liberalism will die." "
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"For every populist moron such as William Jennings Bryan there is always at least one Clarence Darrow. After the Kansas vote in 1999, while the presidential wannabes were havering, the Washington Post struck a Menckenesque note by publishing this spoof memo from God to the Kansas board of education:"
'Thank you for your support. Much obliged. Now, go forth and multiply. Beget many children. And yea, your children shall beget children. And their children shall beget children, and their children's children after them. And in time the genes that made you such pinheads will be eliminated through natural selection. Because that is how it works.'
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In the USA and Canada, this book is called Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense, and you can buy it here
The dimming of the Enlightenment A longer synposis by Wheen
Click here for a synopsis, Francis Wheen's Top 10 Delusions . I'll reproduce only the first.1. "God is on our side"
George W Bush thinks so, as do Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden and an alarmingly high percentage of other important figures in today's world. After September 11 2001 Blair claimed that religion was the solution not the problem, since "Jews, Muslims and Christians are all children of Abraham" - unaware that the example of Abraham was also cited by Mohammed Atta, hijacker of the one of the planes that shattered the New York skyline. RH Tawney wrote in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism that "modern social theory, like modern political theory, developed only when society was given a naturalistic instead of a religious explanation". In which case modern social and political theory would now seem to be dead.2. The market is rational
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The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's best-selling book, is a work of fiction. As such, it has no obligation to be true or to be historically accurate. In fact its popularity no doubts depends to some extent on its delusional version of history. The amusing bit is the reaction of the Catholic church, and especially of Opus Dei, to the book.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, spoke to the newspaper, Il Giornale, as follows. [BBC News]
"It astonishes and worries me that so many people believe these lies."
"The book is everywhere. There is a very real risk that many people who read it will believe that the fables it contains are true."
There is something deeply ironical about a Cardinal accusing others of spreading lies and fables. There is a very real risk that people will believe what the fables spread by the Cardinal. At least Dan Brown's fiction is labelled as such.
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Immediately after his re-election, Tony Blair said that he would listen to his critics. Any hope that this might actually happen was instantly dispelled as soon as he named his new cabinet.
Andrew Adonis, was one of the 80 or so unelected 'advisors' who seem to run the government. Tony Blair alone has 29 'advisors'. Straight after the election, Adonis was given a peerage, and made an unelected minister.
Because Andrew Adonis has never been elected, much of what he has done, and advocated, has been shrouded in secrecy, in a way that is only too familiar in the Blair government. I had not even heard of him until the row about the teaching of creationism hit the headlines. For example, the Daily Telegraph reported, on 31 March, 2002,
“Andrew Adonis, the head of the Number 10 policy unit, has been called in to negotiate with Sir Peter Vardy, the car dealer who helps fund the school at the centre of the dispute, Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead.
Mr Adonis is expected to reassure Sir Peter, who put £2 million into the school and has offered to fund five more, that the Government will not intervene to prevent it teaching creationism”.
So it seems he may have no objection to children being taught that the earth was created 6000 years ago. As usual, we have not been told.
It is thought that Adonis was first nominated to be a Minister of State, but after opposition from Ruth Kelly he was given the lower rank of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. The Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, is described by The Observer as "less than thrilled" over his elevation at whatever rank. Its is also widely rumoured that his interference from the shadowas contributed to the resignation of a former minister of education, Estelle Morris.
Adonis's book, 'A Class Act', calls for selection in schools. He wants the top universities to be allowed to charge extra fees and has openly encouraged their vice-chancellors to press for them.
Adonis was the architect of the "Fresh Start" policy, where "failing schools" were closed and reopened with new names and new staff. In 2000, when the experiment began to fail dramatically with the resignation of the three "super-heads" in five days, he resigned from the governing body of the Islington Arts and Media School (see here).
Adonis is widely believed to be the chief architect of the 'city academies' policy. All of these things have made much of the Labour Party very suspicious of him (not to mention the Liberal democrats). But he has been elevated anyway.City academies are private schools, which are allowed to select pupils, but they are paid for almost entirely by the taxpayer. Francis Beckett has written an account of some of the problems.
“The only test for entry into the elite club of millionaires who are going to control Britain's best-funded state schools is possession of £2m.”
“For that £2m, or less than 10 per cent of the capital cost, the sponsor controls the school, the teachers, the curriculum, the admissions and exclusions policies, the design of the buildings, and pretty well everything else. The sponsor owns the land. No one seems quite clear what the legal position would be if a sponsor decides that he can do without a playing field in the corner of the school, and remembers that it's prime development land.”
And even the paltry £2m does not need to be paid straight away. Francis Beckett comments
“For example, Sir Peter Vardy, sponsor of the King's Academy in Middlesbrough and a favourite of Tony Blair, has arranged that organisations connected to him bill the academy for £290,214. This includes a truly remarkable financial arrangement.” “Sir Peter is an evangelical Christian and a creationist, as is his brother David Vardy, a representative of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. David Vardy is "project director" at the King's Academy and, for his time, the school--that is to say, the taxpayer--pays out [pounds sterling]14,039 to Billy Graham's organisation.”
“For marketing and advertising, the school uses Vardy Marketing, a division of Sir Peter's company, Reg Vardy plc. Did the work go out to tender? Not exactly. Sir Peter's spokeswoman says: "We have been unable to find keener prices or more creative and appropriate ideas than can be provided in-house." ”
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Opus Dei is a controversial right-wing Roman Catholic group. It was founded by Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (whom the Pope recently canonised). Escriva is widely believed to have supported Franco's fascist regime and went into hiding when the Spanish civil war broke out in 1936.
Extracts from article by Ruth Gledhill and Tony Halpin The Times, Dec 22, 2004
"Ruth Kelly is a member of Opus Dei, a Roman Catholic organisation that follows a strict Vatican line on contraception, embryo research, cloning and abortion."
"Ms Kelly, who has responsibility for a £1 billion research budget, opposed motions on embryo research in Parliament and is reported to have told Tony Blair that she could never support stem-cell research."
"The DfES refused to comment on Ms Kelly’s affiliation with Opus Dei. A spokeswoman said: “I am not going to discuss Ruth Kelly’s faith." But sources within the organisation confirmed that she attended meetings of the Roman Catholic organisation Opus Dei at Oxford with her brother Ronan Kelly. Dr Kelly, a hospital doctor currently doing research into herbal medicine in Singapore, is a 'supernumerary' in Opus Dei, which makes him one of 500 British members and 84,000 members worldwide. "
"It has been controversial in the past due to its conservatism, secrecy and the practice of “mortification” where some members do penance by wearing a cilice or spiked bracelet around the top of the thigh, or by whipping themselves with a cat o’nine tails."
Rumours that this appointment was influenced by the Catholic beliefs of Tony or Cherie Blair are entirely unsubstantiated. But is one step closer to theocracy.
Learn more about Opus Dei
Opus Dei Awareness Network
Derek Gillard's pages
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An article by John Burn & Nigel McQuoid; (ex-head, and head, of Emmanuel School) stated:
"There are those that argue that Science and Christianity can be harmoniously reconciled . . . We cannot subscribe to this view"
This appeared on the web site of the Christian Institute, and that site is well worth a look. Apart from promoting 'young-earth creationism', it has two other obsessions, the evilness of homosexuality and the desirability of corporal punishment of small boys. It is truly bizarre. Well, at least Mr McQuoid's job is not to teach science, but the head of science in his school, Steven Layfield, said in a speech published on the same web site (in 2000)
"...if the Bible really is the Word of God - and the internal evidence is overwhelming - true Science will always agree with it."
Science teachers should... "Note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm (millions or billions of years) is explicitly mentioned or implied by a text-book, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement and, wherever possible, give the alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data".
He is free to express that view, but it disqualifies him from teaching science. The speech from which this is quoted, incidentally, disappeared form the web site of christian.org as soon as the row became public -one does wonder why, but don't worry you can still ready it at the quaintly named site http://www.darwinwars.com/lunatic/liars/layfield.html However offensive it may be that such extremism is subsidised by taxpayers money, however offensive it may be that no full inspection of his school has been carried out since he came to power, and however offensive it may be that the prime minister supported his views, it is an irrelevant issue for the purposes of serious discussion. The pope does not believe that the earth was created 6000 years ago, the Anglican church does not believe that the earth was created 6000 years ago, hardly anyone but Mr. McQuoid thinks that the earth was created 6000 years ago (except in some parts of the south USA). The number of people who have that capacity to deny the obvious will never be more than handful, and to that extent we need not bother any further about them, and we can get on with the real issue of religious schools. As the Bishop of Oxford (The Rt. Revd. Richard Harries) said (2002)
"Then there is science. Science is a God-given activity. Scientists are using their God-given minds and God-given creativity to explore and utilise God-given nature. Sadly, biblical literalism brings not only the bible but Christianity itself into disrepute."
Now to the real question...
What is wrong with allowing parents to choose a school for their child that teaches the parents' religious belief? At first sight this sounds quite innocent, apart from the fact that it is the parents' religious belief, not the child's. In any case there are not many parents in the country who have religious (well Christian) beliefs. No more than 7.5% now go to church regularly, and recently, for the first time, the proportion who profess even a nominal attachment to the church fell below half (as did the proportion of parents who have children baptised). Why, then, are religious schools quite popular? The reason appears to be that they are selective. The rules say that selection must be on religious grounds only, but it simply does not work out like that. It is bad enough that children's access to education should depend on their parents' religious views (or, not infrequently, on their parents' skill at lying about their religious views). But of course, selection of some implies exclusion of others, and, it turns out, not only because of their religion. Religious selection leads inevitably to racial selection too. In Oldham, scene of the recent race riots, the christian schools are almost exclusively white. Selection by wealth occurs too. In Accrington a C of E school has 12.5% of special needs pupils, while its neighbouring non-religious school has 69.8%; eligibility for free school meals is and 5% in the C of E school and 33% in its neighbour (on average the factor is almost 2).
How could such a disgraceful state of affairs come about? I believe that, as so often, a look at history might help, so let's go back to see how the world looked in 1820.
Apart from 9 years I have spent all my working life at University College London. The relevance of that will be obvious if we recall that in 1820, there were only two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge (though 3 in Scotland). Both Oxford and Cambridge restricted entry to members of the Church of England - not only did they exclude Jews, atheists and muslims, but they also excluded many christians -catholics, protestants and dissenters. They would, no doubt, have excluded Mr McQuoid from getting higher education. It was in this context that liberals and dissenters in London founded the University of London, soon to become known as University College London, with the specific aim of admitting good students regardless of their religious beliefs, and with providing them with non-sectarian education in science as well as humanities (there was little science in Oxford and Cambridge at that time). Despite prolonged opposition from Oxford and Cambridge, UCL opened its doors in 1828.
At that time the fiercely conservative Duke of Wellington had just, albeit reluctantly, made the transition from general to prime minister. Even his government passed measures to increase the rights of catholics and dissenters, but his implacable opposition to electoral reform led to his resignation two years later, to be replaced by the Whig administration of Earl Grey. The country was in ferment and change was rapid -in 1830 the Liverpool-Manchester railway opened and Faraday's work on electricity was well-developed. But the electoral system was still mediaeval. The 'rotten borough' of Old Sarum (an iron age fort and 7 inhabitants) had two MPs while Manchester, already busy with the cotton trade, had none at all. In 1831 three attempts at electoral reform failed in parliament, but Earl Grey had told William IV "it is the spirit of the age which is triumphing and that to resist it is certain destruction". The next year, in 1832, Lord John Russell (grandfather of Bertrand Russell) successfully got parliament to pass the (first) Reform Act and the modern age of democracy had begun.
The political ferment was paralleled by scientific ferment -people were no longer constrained by dogma and authority and new ideas came into medicine and biology too.
After another 40 years, Oxford and Cambridge caught up, when the Universities Test Act of 1870 eliminated religious criteria for university entrance. After 1870 it became quite unthinkable that a selection for higher education should be dependent on what a person believed, or did not believe in their private lives about religion. That was 1870. Now it is 2002.. Can you imagine Oxford reintroducing religious selection of undergraduates now? Yet my friends opposite, and the government, are supporting a view of education that started to vanish in 1828 with the foundation of UCL, and finally died in 1870 with the Test Acts. They are trying to set back progress not by 10 or 20 years but by 175 years. What next? Bring back rotten boroughs?
© David Colquhoun 2002
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Until recently, the idea that the earth was created 6000 years ago was largely restricted to right wing religious fundamentalists in the USA. Now we have a government in the UK which seems to be happy that such "fruit-cake" nonsense should be taught at the taxpayers' expense.
The following article, Good God Almighty, was commissioned by Punch magazine, which folded before it could be published.
It refers to the fuss that followed the discovery that a state-funded school was being run by extreme 'young earth' creationists. If you want to see just how extreme, look at the speech made by Steven Layfield, the head of science at Emmanuel School. The views expressed are so extreme that the speech was actually deleted from the web site of the Christian Institute as soon as the fuss blew up. Luckily, thanks to the Google cache, this did not work and you can still read it here
This piece, together with a talk on the same topic that I gave at the Oxford Union, now appear on the web site of the British Humanist Association
OK class, settle down. Here is your quiz. Compare and contrast the following.
(1) ” . . if the Bible really is the Word of God - and the internal evidence is overwhelming - true Science will always agree with it.” Science teachers should “Note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm (millions or billions of years) is explicitly mentioned or implied by a text-book, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement and, wherever possible, give the alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data”. [Steven Layfield, Head of Science at Emmanuel School Gateshead, 2000]
(2) “There are those that argue that Science and Christianity can be harmoniously reconciled . . . We cannot subscribe to this view” [John Burn & Nigel McQuoid; ex-head, and head, of Emmanuel School Gateshead, 2002]
(3) “Then there is science. Science is a God-given activity. Scientists are using their God-given minds and God-given creativity to explore and utilise God-given nature. Sadly, biblical literalism brings not only the bible but Christianity itself into disrepute.” [The Bishop of Oxford. The Rt. Revd. Richard Harries, 2002]
(4) “God created the world and everything in it.” "It is about 6000 years old" [Kate and Simon, pupils of Emmanuel School, Gateshead, interviewed by Mike Thomson, BBC]
(5) [Jenny Tonge, MP:] “Is the Prime Minister happy to allow the teaching of creationism alongside Darwin's theory of evolution in state schools?”
[Tony Blair]. First I am very happy.” “Secondly, I know that the honourable lady is referring to a school in the north-east, and I think that certain reports about what it has been teaching have been somewhat exaggerated”.
The prime minister is right. Something has been exaggerated: the idea that teachers realise that the scientific method involves not declaring the outcome in advance. Clearly, the head of science at Emmanuel doesn't. To proclaim, before looking, that one view (the literal interpretation of the bible) is “always better” might be expected of an itinerant preacher in the deepest bible belt, but that is the view of the man in charge of educating children at a state-funded English school. It is a view that offends the Bishop of Oxford, and it is contrary to the views expressed by Pope John Paul II. But don't worry, our leader is “very happy” with it. To give equal time to a simple assertion (that the earth was created 6000 years ago), and to the wealth of hard-won reasons for thinking it to be untrue, is deeply offensive to every scientist who is trying to fumble towards the best approximation to the truth that can be found. Rarely can a couple of teachers and one prime minister have managed to offend so many people, everyone from bishops to professors, at a single sweep.
Of course neither the prime minister nor anybody else knows exactly what Emmanuel School has been teaching (though the reports from the children themselves give us a good idea). The glowing report from OFSTED was actually the result of a “short inspection” which does not look at such details. The school has not been given a full inspection since 1994, before the serious zealots took control. Views such as those in the first two quotations are so obviously relevant to the quality of science teaching that you may well ask how OFSTED managed not to notice that the views of the head of science were at the very extreme edge of fundamentalism.
Consider also the following amazing coincidence. The team of inspectors who found no fault with the unusual science (biblical is always best) teaching at Emmanuel was almost the same as the team that inspected the Huntington School, York. At that school they said that there was not enough teaching of religion (in the narrow sense, as opposed to spiritual values in general). The Huntington head teacher Chris Bridge lodged a complaint against that report, and it was partially upheld by OFSTED.
Does all this mean that extreme fundamentalism has infiltrated OFSTED, or does it simply mean that the inspectors did not do their homework?
The latter is the more charitable interpretation, but the inspectors are not going to get the chance to 'try harder next time'. Instead Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, wrote a letter to the chairman of the governors, asking for “clarification”. Unlike most schools, the Emmanuel School does not publish the names of its governors in the school prospectus, and neither OFSTED, nor the Department of Education, knows who they are. OFSTED does give the name of the chairman as “Dr `Peter Vardy” (as does the school if you phone). It turns out that the learned Dr Vardy is one and the same person as Sir Peter Vardy, the man who gave the government two million pounds to pay for the school. Don't worry about the “Dr” bit though –it is perfectly genuine. The University of Sunderland was generous enough to give him an honorary doctorate in business administration (after he generously gave the University £1 million). The Chief Inspector (by then changed) recieved a suitably emollient letter from Sir Peter, but did no investigation whatsoever. Ofsted gives the firm impression of having born yesterday.
It is hard to appreciate the manic fervour of Mr Layfield's notorious speech from only two quotations. It used to be on the web site of the Christian Institute (www.Christian.org.uk), and that site is still worth a visit. Mr McQuoid is a major contributor (see quotation no 2), but other bits are well worth reading too, like the vigorous defence of beating children (don't get me wrong –I know there are lots of sites that deal with that sort of thing, but this is different; it is holy beating). Mr Layfield's speech suddenly vanished from this web site shortly after Tania Brannigan (of the Guardian) told us what was going on. Luckily, though, some kind folks thought it was such an outstanding piece of work that should still be available to everyone (just go to http://www.darwinwars.com/lunatic/liars/layfield.html).
Time's up folks. Put down your pens and now go out and vote.
© David Colquhoun 2002
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The Universe was created from nothing by God;"
Oddly enough the question of evolution, is not even mentioned.
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Far from learning from experience, and a barrage of criticism, the government is about to allow yet more schools to be run by extreme evangelical groups. Incredibly, on of the people involved is another used car dealer. Bob Edmiston. The sceptic may well think that this has something to do with the reputation of used car-dealers for beinf economical with the truth.
The Observer (7th Aug 05) reports as follows (but remember that it is not true to describe these schools as "privately funded". 92% of the building costs, and 100% of the running costs, come from the taxpayer).
Almost half the Government's planned new flagship city schools are sponsored by religious organisations, prompting fears that the programme could become a 'Trojan horse' for radical evangelicals.
The next wave of privately-funded City Academies includes at least one school planning to teach children creationism - the doctrine that the earth was created by God and that the Darwinian model accepted by scientists is therefore wrong.
The popularity of the nationwide academy scheme with other faith-based organisations has alarmed Labour MPs, who fear they may exacerbate religious divides and help evangelicals to target the next generation.
Barry Sheerman, chair of the Commons education select committee, said it was time for a fundamental review of faith in education, particularly the potential role of Muslim-led schools.
'If we are going to not have divided, ghettoised communities we have to be very careful of this enthusiasm that some in the Department for Education have for faith schools,' he said. 'And we have got to be very careful about the growth of very religious minorities getting a hold on academies.'
Among the forthcoming projects is the Grace Academy, due to open in Solihull this year with another to come in Coventry: its sponsor is the car dealer and born-again Christian Bob Edmiston, founder of the evangelical broadcasting organisation Christian Vision.
He has reportedly dismissed evolution as a theory that 'came from one guy called Darwin', and project spokesman Steve Chase has said the Coventry school will teach creationism
Mary Bousted, head of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says (Financial Times)
"I don’t think our members understand why rightwing Christian fundamentalists can pay £2m [$3.5m, €3m] of £20m [school] start-up costs and have control of a curriculum that posits creationism"
"By becoming an academy sponsor you have an opportunity to promulgate a narrow, fundamentalist and . . . repressive religious standpoint."
He is a 58-year-old multimillionare and Pentecostal Christian. His fortune comes from car dealing and (IM Group) and IM Properties (one of the largest privately held portfolios of property in Britain, with assets of £375 million and a further £200 million under management. He funds a 'charity' called Christian Vision, which broadcasts fundamentalist evangelist propaganda throughout the world -including South America, Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, India, East Timor, China and Australia. These activies have caused disquiet in Australia, as documented by the InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
SYDNEY, Jun 23 (IPS) - The Howard government has come under renewed attacks by critics after it agreed to sell a government-owned radio transmitter to a Christian fundamentalist group to broadcast propaganda programmes to Asia.
Earlier this month, the government of conservative Prime Minister John Howard announced that the powerful Radio Australia shortwave transmitter in the northern Australian city of Darwin will be leased for 10 years to the British-based Christian Vision.
Edmiston has made it clear that he will be using the former Radio Australia transmitter to broadcast programmes to Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China. All these countries are currently facing a high degree of religious tension that has already led to violence. Especially in Indonesia and India, for instance, there is deep resentment against Christians who are seen to be supported by outside forces, especially western.
Australia's relationship with Indonesia is currently on a knife edge, with deep resentments across the archipelago about Australian interference in its domestic affairs, after Canberra's intervention in East Timor last year.
“Perhaps the crucial question is the right of a government that is constitutionally banned from establishing any religion, to be facilitating Christian evangelism in a region where we need to tread softly, says James Murray, the religious affairs editor of 'The Australian'
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Petition Go here to sign a new petition against religious schools
British Humanist AssociationCreationism "Beware the black shadow of creationism. One dark age was enough"
Opus Dei Awareness Network
The National Secular SocietyLearning together . . . Resources for the campaign against faith-based schools
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
The world of Richard Dawkins
The James Randi Educational Foundation
UK Skeptics' forum. A new UK forum
Skeptico Critical thinking for an irrational world
CrankDotNet: cranks, crackpots, kooks and loons on the net
The skeptic's dictionary
The skeptics' society
The skeptics annotated bible
Brights (international) Bright (noun) a person whose worldview is naturalistic -- free of supernatural and mystical elements.
Brights UK news portal..
Derek Gillard's pages
AU site Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Francis Wheen's Top 10 Delusions
REASON Rationalists, Empiricists And Skeptics Of Nebraska
Open democracy “Free thinking for the World”
The Rick A. Ross Institute for the study of destructive cults.
Darwin on-line. All Darwin's work will eventually be posted here, free for all to read.
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