Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tony Blair & God

There is an interesting article on the online Spectator by Rod Liddle entitled "God's role in politics - God’s role in politics is not to underwrite bad ideas"
The crux of the article is in these paragraphs:
The longer Blair remained in office, the more pronounced became the shift away from that first and crucial god — public opinion — and towards some other higher being. As that BBC documentary cleverly evinced, towards the end of his tenure Blair rarely expanded upon his reasons for doing some deeply questionable act beyond the look-I’m-an-honest-sorta-bloke shrug of the shoulders and the repeated mantra: ‘Well, I did it cos I thought it was the right thing to do.’ Over and over again Blair cited this as his sole reason for embarking upon one or another catastrophic course of action; he never said, ‘I thought it was the right thing to do, but sadly I was mistaken,’ and still less, ‘Look, I did it cos it was politically expedient and seemed attractive at the time.’

This seems to have been the gift which God bestowed upon his mate Tony Blair: not humility, an intimation of human frailty, an understanding that human knowledge and human abilities are most definitely finite, that given free will we are at liberty to make the wrong decisions as well as the right decisions, but instead a suffocating and deluding certitude. Blair’s favourite phrase — ‘I did it cos I thought it was the right thing to do’ — is an absolutist’s argument: it cannot be gainsaid. And of course the implication is that he thought it was the right thing to do because he was a man of faith and conviction — and so even if everything turned out badly, as in Iraq, his motive or judgment could not possibly be questioned. So it is a statement that requires no evidence, no explanation and still less anything in the way of an apology.

I always knew Blair was flakey, because of his mud rebirth ceremony with his harridan wife and her new-agey Kaballah bullshit, but I had no idea that he actually believed he had a one-on-one link with God, and felt that that justified his decisions. I always thought his support for America was historical and political rather than because of a shared fundamentalism with George Bush.
At least he had the good sense to be embarrased about it and keep it quiet while he was in office.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Get Voting

A note for non-French citizens living in France:

Only French citizens have the right to vote in the French national elections - ie: the ones they had this year to elect the President and representatives.

But, us foreigners can vote in Municipal elections and (if you are British) European elections.

The next municipal elections will take place on the 9th and 16th March 2008. If you want a say in how your commune is run, if you want to get more involved in the community then you should vote, or, even, satnd for the municipal council.

But. and it's a big but, you have to REGISTER yourself on the voter's roll. It is not automatic. You have to personally go to your Mairie, with your passport and fill in a form. AND . . . you only have until the 31st December to get it done.

So, get on your bikes, and get registered. I asked at the Mairie if there were many "English" people registered and it seems I am the only one. (In this part of France everyone from the British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc is "English")


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

French Atheists

I'm going to start collecting and research French Atheist sites and must explore the French Atheist and Humanist organisations.

My first stop is Athéisme - L'homme debout which on their English pages they translate as "Atheism - The capital man" but "debout" means "standing" and I think it translates much better as "Atheism - mankind standing tall"

They have a great page on the Scale of beliefs which I can't show because it's done in html tables, but I recommend you follow the link. They try and show the gradations from animism to atheism through religions as a progressions. It's quite thought provoking to see it laid out in this way.

It's an interesting site, with quotes and jokes (sometimes the humour gets lost in the translation!)

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Monday, December 10, 2007

The fertility chair

In saturday's edition of Charente Libre, our local paper was a story about a magic fertility chair in Naples.
For anglophones, this magnificent journal also has an English version. I can't link to the story itself as it is a subscription site. I found this one though, and here is the story at Reuters.
Now this post may ramble a bit because I'm posting immediately after haveing 3 demi pressions at the cafe with the old boys - pre lunch aperatifs.
First, lets get the Charente Libre out of the way. The newspaper's name translates as "Free Charente", but if you should decide to quip to the newsagent that the paper shouldn't cost 85 centimes since it is free, you will be rewarded with a blank look. Because in French there are a few words for "free", and "libre" has the sense of "freedom" or "liberty" as in free from oppression or slavery, and my guess is that the paper took its name shortly after liberation from the Nazis in 1945. "Free" as in "costs no money" is the word "gratuit" and "free" as in "available" is "disponible.

Getting back to the story at hand. I read the article in the Charente Libre while on a night shift, Saturday. "That's blogworthy" I thought and tore it out and put it in my jacket pocket.
Today, Monday, in the cafe, one of the old boys sarts telling the story of this miraculous fertility chair, whereapon I reach into my pocket and bring out said article. Much to everyone's amazement at how switched on to current affairs the English are. We aren't, of course. The remark is an example of confirmation bias. And confirmation bias is the explaination behind the miracle fertility chair.
Either it's the alcohol, or my own confirmation bias but I'm delighted the way these threads are coming together.

Right. The story at hand. The magic fertility chair. At the end of the 18th Century, Anna Maria Rosa Nicoletta Gallo spent her life in a small flat "in chastity and mystical suffering until her death in 1791 at the age of 76." She was given the saint name of "Mary Frances of the Five Wounds of Jesus" which suggests she may have carried stigmata, but, given that at the shrine you can also see her hair shirts and whips, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the stigmata were self-inflicted.
What's involved is that women who are struggling to fall pregnant sit themselves in an armchair in the shrine. Then Sister Maria Giuliana, or Sister Elisa who belong to the order of nuns that guard the shrine will touch the supplicant's breast and belly with a box containing a vertebra and lock of hair of the saint. The efficacy of the treatment is proved by the birth announcements stuck to the walls and the testimonies in weblogs.
This is where the confirmation bias comes in.
Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one's beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one's beliefs. For example, if you believe that during a full moon there is an increase in admissions to the emergency room where you work, you will take notice of admissions during a full moon, but be inattentive to the moon when admissions occur during other nights of the month. A tendency to do this over time unjustifiably strengthens your belief in the relationship between the full moon and accidents and other lunar effects.
This tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support our beliefs than we do to contrary data is especially pernicious when our beliefs are little more than prejudices. If our beliefs are firmly established on solid evidence and valid confirmatory experiments, the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that fit with our beliefs should not lead us astray as a rule. Of course, if we become blinded to evidence truly refuting a favored hypothesis, we have crossed the line from reasonableness to closed-mindedness.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that people generally give an excessive amount of value to confirmatory information, that is, to positive or supportive data

All the hundreds and thousands of people who have sat in the chair and had no benefit do not get reported. All the hundreds and thousands of people who would have fallen pregnant regardless of whether they sat in the chair or not, cannot be assertained, as there is no double blind testing. Likewise, it is impossible to judge the effects on mood, moral, and mental attitude of the women who have sat in the chair and then attacked their conjugal efforts with renewed vigour.
(That last sentence is DEFINITELY the efffect of French beer)

In closing, I'd like to add how much I love catholicism for being the loony fringe of christianity. European and South American catholics are so into the voodoo zombie side of stuff, with saints and bones and weeping statues. It is such good value for money. That's your "old time religeon" right there.

Here we have a picture of a woman getting the saintly boner (sorry, "bones") applied to her: and below is a url for a video. Courtesy Reuters

video: Fertility Chair

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ignorance is Bliss

More than a quarter of adults do not know where Jesus was born.
From the Telegraph

A survey of 1,015 adults last month showed that 27 per cent of Britons aged 18 and over were unable to identify Bethlehem as Jesus's birth place. When questioning people aged between 18 and 24 over a third didn't know.

One in ten of those questioned thought the answer was Nazareth and a similar number said Jerusalem.

The poll also found that more than one in four people - 27 per cent - were unaware that an angel told Mary that she would give birth to a son, with some saying she was informed by the shepherds.

Most people surveyed believed that Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Nazareth rather than Egypt when they escaped from King Herod, and a few even said the holy family's destination was Rome.

The poll showed that the younger the questionee, the more ignorant they were of the Christmas story. Although the story is still part of the cultural mainstream people were becoming increasingly shaky on the details.

Personally I think that dropping standards in the teaching of proper history is to be appaled, but if the nation starts to let Christianity slip into the realms of Christian Anderson then well and good.

The poll results are likely to refuel the debate about the secularisation of Christmas.



Friday, December 07, 2007

Teddy Bears' Picnic

Just to wring the last drops from the stinky floor-rag that is the Mohamed teddy bear saga. I offer an update teddybears' picnic.
I can't vouch for the source, I found it in the comments section of a post in Barry Beelzebub's rude but excellent blog

If you go down to Khartoum today
You're in for a big surprise:
If you go down to Khartoum today
You'll never believe your eyes.
For every bear that ever there was
Was rounded up at gunpoint because
The rumour was that one had been named Mohammed.

It wasn't really a very bright
Idea to pick that name.
You might have thought it'd be alright,
But better to call him Wayne.
There's folk around who rather enjoy
Being offended by a stuffed toy.
The irony is mostly they're called Mohammed.

Fatwa time for teddy bears
The little teddy bears, the victims of nut-case bigotry.
They had better all beware:
A mullah hides up each and every tree.
They would like to gad about,
They'd like to play and shout
But none of them even dare.
At sunset all the elderly mullahs who disapprove of joy
Will take them home for their evening prayers.

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Friday's Favorite French Things

The Voiturette.
In our Department Charente(16) you can drive a little car without a driving license provided you are over 16 and the car is under 50c or 4kw and limited to 45 km/h.

This is a remarkable bit of legislation. Because which people are over 16 and need to drive, but have no license? Those who have lost their licenses because of infractions (normally drink-driving) and those who have had their licenses removed because they are no longer capable of driving due to old age and/or poor eyesight and those who are too unco-ordinated, maladroit and clumsy to pass a test.

So the rule is, when you see one of these nasty little putt-putt deisel things going along the road take great care because the driver is probably decrepit or pissed.

Now the latest models look quit flash. Like the picture below, but if you launch the video that follows you'll see a more typical example and you'll understand from the noise why they are called "toutoutou":

voiturette d'enfer - Jubii TV
voiturette d'enfer - Jubii TV

voiturette d'enfer - Jubii TV
voiturette tp bien avec un super bruit et tp belle peinture


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Is Religion good for something after all?

The academic superiority of faith schools was underlined today as they dominated top positions in new league tables for 11-year-olds.

An article in the Daily Telegraph (United Kingdom)

Two thirds of the 250 primaries in England achieving "perfect" test results were Church of England, Roman Catholic or Jewish schools.

Only one third of the schools are "faith" based yet in 2007 they held 66% of the top places.
I saw the headline and I thought they were interesting statistics, but is it because the teaching is religiously based or is it because these schools are more autonomous and thus free from the constricting burocracy and interferance of the state?
The schools themselves say that it is a result of good teaching and discipline.
Jan Ainsworth, the C of E's chief education officer, said the results were down to schools' "Christian character", which "helps embed strong discipline, a caring attitude, and a sense of purpose".

That's the money quote I was looking for, someone to state that discipline, caring, and a sense of purpose are uniquely christian traits.
Jan Ainsworth doesn't account for North Cheshire Jewish Primary School being 3rd in the league or how to account for schools like St Matthew's CofE Junior and Infant School at the bottom of the league with 0%. (CofE is abbreviation for Church of England)
I suppose that when a faith school does well it is because of the Christian principles they teach and when a faith school does badly it's because of the bloody kids.
The full league tables are here.
What a shame there are no declared atheist schools. Or that it is not possible, from a school's name to determine the actual beliefs of the head and the teachers. Or that the tables take no account for the fact that state schools have to pull pupils from the local community (that's their purpose) whereas faith schools have parents seeking them out. Middle class parents actively searching good schools that they can afford.
However, faith schools performed much less well in an alternative league table that took account of deprivation, special needs and children speaking English as a second language, taking just 30 of the top 200 places on the "contextual value-added" measure.

The value-added measures are explained and discussed in this pdf. Read the head teachers' commenst at the end of the report. They make interesting reading regarding the usefulness of league tables as applied to schools.
I can't find a source for the adjusted league tables. I did find this story about local successes and failure in schools. In Worcester there seems to be mixed results and the league tables don't seem to prove much either way.
Councillor Liz Eyre, Worcestershire County Council's cabinet member for children and young people, said "Any successes on the ground are down to a joint effort and are testament to the hard work of staff, parents, governors and pupils."


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ouch! Don't do it!

Screw through thong

A pile of painful-looking and embarrasing x-rays at

Remember, if you are going to shove someithing into one of your orifices, whether it be for pleasure or nutriment, make sure that there is a means of getting the thing out again.
Personally I would recommend attaching any probe to a broomstick . . .

They toy car thing is a direct result of Jackass - The Movie.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fossils are the Devil's handiwork

Comedian Lewis Black on evolution, creation and stuff.

"Evolution is a major thread in the larger tapestry that I like to call REALITY!"

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Taking the Infidel Challenge

Oh alright then
Thrawn has a challenge for us infidels: create a horribly drawn image of Islam’s prophet Mohammad, and display it in a public area. Yes, the Internet counts.

Here’s my entry:

See also nullifidian
Unaorthodox Atheism

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Pigeon Plucker

I had let the last batch of young pigeons grow for about 4 months. Now that winter is almost on us, the mating pairs are unlikely to lay any more eggs until spring, and it wouldn't make economic sense to be feeding birds all thru winter for no reason, so it was time for a cull.
The last batch of birds I had tagged with red rings so they were easy to spot. There were five of them for the chop, and so I caught them with the big net, and popped them in the box.
The axe that helps split the kindling does the job of beheading the birds, and now that I'm used to it, it is very quick and efficient. Below is the work to be done before the pigeons find their way to the deep freeze:

unplucked pigeons

First stage is to plunge the bird in boiling water to help loosen the feathers. Not too long because we don't want any cooking to take place, not too short or there will be no effect.
plunge the pigeon in hot water

Plucking is a tedious task and I'm not very quick. Fiona can do two birds to my one. The brest feathers come out easy, but the skin is thin and delicate so you have to take care not to tear it. The big wing and tail feathers come out easy too, but the hardest of all are the tiny feathers along the leading edge of the wing.
plucking pigeons

Below are the birds plucked and ready for gutting. Gutting pigeosn is actually quite easy and, with a bit of practice, not messy. First you cut around the vent with a pair of scissors. (most birds only have one external opening, called the vent, and the internal chamber, or cloaca, that is used for urination, defecation and reproduction. With a bit of care you cut all the way around, through the skin, fat and muscle until you find that the digestive tube is freed (but still attached to the vent) There is now enough room in the cut hole to get a finger in and gently hook all the innards out. Carefully done, nothing breaks or bursts, there is little blood and no smell. Higher up the body chamber will be the liver, heart and lungs.
It is at this point that our two cats start to go crazy because they know they are going to get these treats. They scoff them down faster that I can get them out, and the cats also go all wild and feral, growling and hiding under the table with their booty.
pigeons ready for gutting

Last step is to get any grain and seeds out of the crop, trim of the feet and a final rince and pat dry.
Below are five young, tender tasty pigeons ready for any recipe.
pigeons gutted and trimmed

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

You say tomato . . .

You say "immoral", I say "win-win situation"

A prostitute in Chile has auctioned 27 hours of sex to raise money for a disabled children's charity.
"Maria Carolina has made headlines and appeared on talk shows since she announced her donation to the televised Teleton, Chile's largest fundraising event that will run for 27 hours this weekend.
I am going to contribute with my work to a purpose that touches me deeply," said the brunette.
To dispel any doubts, she promised to post a picture of the bank deposit slip on the website where she advertises her services.
Miss Carolina, who charges $300 for a 90-minute session, estimated that she would raise more than $4000.
"I've already auctioned off the 27 hours," the prostitute said. "One of my clients already paid. It seemed like a good deed to him."
Mario Kreutzberger, the Teleton organiser, was reluctant to accept her pledge.
"Everyone can do what they want," the television presenter said. "But if someone tells me that they'll do something immoral ... I'm not going to encourage it."

I may be wrong, but it's very probable that this woman is entirely in control of her life and her earnings. She offers a service. Willing clients pay and get the services as advertised. No-one is hurt. She decides to put aside her earnings for a charity.
And it is considered "immoral"? Perhaps it is against the law in Chile but we all know that law, justice and morality don't always intersect.
I'm all for charity. I think this story is timley given some of the talk in the atheisphere regarding atheism and charity. I can't afford the $300 for a 90 minute session (90 minutes - bloody hell, if she can ball me for 90 minutes that's good value!!) but on a dollar per minute rate I could probably spring for 10 minutes worth. I can just imagine what my wife's remark will be when she reads this post.

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