Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fractal horror

Take a look at this. It's like a fractal of horror. The closer you look, the more you find.

It's an article about a catholic cardinal who defends his church's practice of covering up child abuse. It's hard to tell whether he really understands what he's saying or whether religion has so rotted his brain that he actually thinks he not a monster. He is:

BOGOTA -- A senior cardinal defended the Roman Catholic Church's practice of frequently not reporting sexual abusive priests to the police, saying Thursday it would have been like testifying against a family member at trial.

It's hard to imagine anyone having the slightest hesitation in testifying against a family member if they believed they had raped a child.

"The law in nations with a well-developed judiciary does not force anyone to testify against a child, a father, against other people close to the suspect," Castrillon told RCN radio. "Why would they ask that of the church? That's the injustice. It's not about defending a pedophile, it's about defending the dignity and the human rights of a person, even the worst of criminals."

First, the law might not force it, but again, why wouldn't someone do it anyway? Second, how does Castrillon make the leap from family to church? Why does the church deserve this special treatment? Why is it more like a family than any other organisation? Third, that is the injustice? Forcing someone to testify against someone who may have committed the most revolting of crimes is an injustice wheras allowing priests to continue enjoying their free pass to rape children is....what, exactly? Presumably Castrillon believes it is justified. Finally, the issue is not about whether anyone should be forced to testify, but the fact that the church and its members chose not to. It is not a matter of the priests' human rights, it's a matter of simple human decency and civic and humane responsibility.

While the church stands by "those who truly were victims (of sexual abuse)," he added, "John Paul II, that holy pope, was not wrong when he defended his priests so that they were not, due to economic reasons, treated like criminal pedophiles without due process."

Note the sneaky insertion of 'truly' in there, as if to indicate that the problem is not so widespread as it appears. Note also the 'stands by'. What does that mean, exactly? Notice that Castrillon is not saying that the church wants to help them or bring their abusers to justice or protect them or make sure it won't happen again. It seems to me that he's saying the victims are lucky they haven't been excommunicated as well.

But the main point here is the question of what reason Castrillon has to believe that the priests would not receive due process. Since when do organisations get to decide this and use it as justification for not reporting child abuse? And since when did some vague concern over a remote chance of lack of due process trump the protection of countless children? With every statement, Castrillon reenforces the inescapable conclusion that the catholic church really doesn't see the victims as a priority. It doesn't seem to think they matter at all and the uncovering of widespread and covered-up abuse is just an inconvenience, not a source of horror.

His comments came just days after the Vatican posted on its website guidelines telling bishops they should report abusive priests to police if civil laws require it. The Vatican has claimed that was long its policy, though it was never written before explicitly.

They just don't seem to get it, do they? Report abuse if civil laws require it? Not report it regardless of whether civil laws require it? And they are touting this as a good and appropriate policy? And why would any organisation need a policy on when to report child abuse? Under what circumstances would there ever be the slightest question about it? Can you imagine anyone belonging to any other organisation finding out about some alleged child abuse and going to look up the rules on what to do next? There might be procedures to follow (such as recording the evidence, informing certain people etc. but not about whether to report it.

The Vatican posted the guidelines as a response to mounting criticism that it mandated a culture of secrecy that instructed bishops to keep abuse quiet, letting it fester unchecked for decades.

Yep, that ought to do it. Not the most convincing thing you've ever read, is it?

A bishop in Brazil who oversaw three priests accused of sexual abuse acknowledged on Thursday the "shame and dishonor" brought upon the church.

And this is the attitude we get constantly from the catholic church. He didn't acknowledge the hurt that this had caused to the victims. It was the reputation of the church that seemed to be his major concern.

I'm guessing you're wondering why Castrillon hasn't blamed anyone who isn't them. Well, you'll be relieved to find that he did! His ravings continue:

The cardinal also accused unnamed insiders and enemies elsewhere of feeding the sex abuse scandals hurting the Catholic Church.

"Unfortunately there are ... useful idiots inside (the church) who lend themselves to this type of persecution," Castrillon told RCN, using a term for people duped into sympathizing with a foe of their interests. "But I'm not afraid to say that in some cases it's within the Masons, together with other enemies of the church."

The Masons! That's a new one, I think! We've had Jews, atheists, homosexuals, homosexual culture, the media and even Satan himself. It's anyone's guess who's next. The only thing we can be sure of is that they won't blame the catholic church.

Castrillon added, chillingly, that he would not give further details of these mysterious entities trying to destroy the church:

"since I'm not stupid, I don't tell everything I know. Only drunks, children and idiots tell, and I'm not a child, nor a drunk, nor stupid."

That's not quite true. People with integrity also tell what they know, when it could aid in the protection of a child. You might not be a drunk, a child or an idiot, cardinal (and the jury's out on the latter), but you are a beast. What is it you're scared of, Castrillon? Why would it be stupid to report what you know? And how many children will be raped because you won't report it?

I'll say it again, cardinal. You're a beast.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I noticed that Martin Gardner was speaking at this year's TAM and I started thinking that he must be pretty old by now (95, as it happens) so I looked him up on Wikipedia. I knew he'd written a hella lot of books, but look at this. Just look at it.

Now I've had a pretty productive morning, but an output like this kind of puts it in perspective. I don't know whether I'm inspired or encouraged.

By the way, if you haven't read any of those books, I have this to say to you: YOU ARE A COMPLETE IDIOT. I've read a few and they were all marvelous.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who's guarding the henhouse?

Anti-virus company Symantec warn us how much malware there is out there and why we should be scared. I don't know how much malware there is, but I find it hard to take the sub-headline (or whatever those things are called) very seriously regardless of the source and I'm especially wary considering it:

Hi-tech criminals are racking up more than 100 attacks a second on the world's computers, a survey suggests.

My first thought was "It's *not* the world's's...*mine*....." I'm not at all possessive about anything in the world....except my various and many computers. The hardest thing I have ever done is allow my three years old nephew to play lotro on my beloved laptop, scrafton, without FREAKING ALL THE WAY OUT when he smeared his filthy fingers all over my lovely screen and mashed my keys like they were oh potatoes I suppose. Although it was ultimately worth it to witness his glee when he jumped up onto the table in Bag End. He laughed for at least three minutes. He's obviously always wanted to jump on the table (I know I have) and it's only a matter of time until I get a table (and possibly a medical) bill from my sister in law.

But my second and slightly more noble thought was "Why is the BBC publishing adverts for private companies?"

As much as I'd love it to be a conspiracy and for someone to be revealed to be taking a bung, it's probably just laziness. If you've got fifty stories to knock out in a morning and a pile of press releases in your in tray, what are you going to do? It would be nice if what you are going to do is CHECK.

My brother probably knows about how much malware is marauding about the place. If his workshy foppishness allows him to screw in his monocle and read this, an unbiased opinion would be a cool thing to know.

Monday, April 19, 2010

atheist anecdote

I was at a meeting on Saturday with these people. A couple of people mentioned that on some 'news' channel or other (sorry, I forget which) had a election news ticker which displayed something like the following:
"Gordon Brown is a member of the Church of Scotland.....David Cameron is a member of the Church of England....but Nick Clegg has been forced to admit he's an atheist....but his wife is Catholic."

This is at the same time hilarious and indicitive of the undeserved respect religion is handed in our society. Clegg has never tried to deny that he doesn't believe in any gods. He's been completely open about it and made no bones of it.

But it's reported as though he's making a terrible confession under duress. But it's OK because his wife is Catholic! He can't be *completely* bad after all!

I don't think I need to comment much on this. The bias is glaring and almost surreal. I've had the *ahem* good fortune to work with quite a lot of media types in the past and for the most part they were as staunch godless, irreverent blasphemers as I am myself. But when they come together in their unholy coterie, the result seems to be a strange deference or even preference for religion. Weird.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rolf Harris' cock

Disturbingly, this sculpture is exactly how I imagine Rolf Harris' cock. Before you ask, yeah, I imagine it sometimes. But needless to say my issue with this story is with a mayor suddenly deciding that a previously acceptable sculpture is now unacceptable because because an old man in a dress is being paid from public funds to be driven on a road that is quite close to it.

As far as I'm concerned, the only 'fitting' way to greet the pope is with an arrest and trial for deliberately covering up decades of child rape. Destroying works of art along the route - no matter how much they look like Rolf Harris' cock - can only be seen as advocacy of the catholic church's policy on child rape. Who would want this monster in their midst? Who would spend large amounts of public money to *ahem* make the place acceptable for this monster? And who would destroy something the public has funded and enjoyed so far for this reason?

It looks like a cock to me. I urge the town to paint it purple and have it flash on and fucking off when the pope visits.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The debbil *will* get you

I was quite appalled when a friend visited over Easter. You would be too, if you knew him ;)

But in particular, I was freaked ALL THE WAY OUT by the way he said the following to his 3 year old son as they were preparing to leave:

Come on, if we don't get back in time the devil will be there and he'll get us.

To be fair, the kid didn't noticably react, so perhaps I'm stupidly over sensitive, but it quite upset me. When I was a kid, my parents told me that the devil was real. We had a book with a really scary picture of the devil and I can still remember how frightened I was that the devil would get me.

Let me put that in perspective. I don't think I ever really believed in the devil or in god or father christmas or any such thing. Even at age 3 or 4 I remember a vague understanding of some kind of contract between me and my parents where we pretended these things were true and I recognised somehow that this was a different kind of pretending than when we were playing games. My parents are sincerely religious but I could always tell that when they were talking about god stuff. There was just a different air about them when they talked about it. They seemed to hold themselves to different standards and speak and move in a different way when they spoke about god. I knew there was a rabbit away somewhere, but I wasn't old enough to understand it. I did what any kid would do, which is quickly learn to play the game. Since I mentioned father christmas, let's extend the analogy a little. I pretended to believe in father christmas because if I didn't, I thought I'd get no presents. My logic was not impeccable, but I was 3. Or 4. I accept my limitations as a toddler.

I accepted christianity for the same reason. I'm not sure I ever really believed in these beings but (and there's your child abuse argument right there) I was desperate to play along and pretend they were really real so I could get the presents. See what I did there?

Anyway, my point is that even though I didn't really completely believe in the devil, I was frightened of him. Really, genuinely frightened of him. We lived in an old house miles away from a streetlight which was in the process of slowly falling down, so made some interesting noises. Damn fucking right I was frightened of the devil I didn't really believe in.

To this day I can remember that fear. I can almost taste it. The fear was *very* real, even though the belief wasn't. Nearly forty years later, I can still remember that fear as though it were yesterday, even though I never really believed in the devil in the first place.

Is that anything to do to a child?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


I can hardly not post this,17201/

Madeleine Bunting is at it again

Madeleine Bunting is up to her old trick of complaining about 'new' atheists.

It's all very tedious and confused as usual so I'll leave it mostly alone. I couldn't ignore this part, however:

The great mistake the atheists made is to claim that religion started out as a clumsy stab at science – trying to explain how the world worked – and is now clearly redundant. That misses the point entirely: religion is not about explaining how an earthquake or flood happens; rather it offers meanings for such events. When someone is killed in a car accident, western rationality is good at analysing how the brakes failed and the road curved, but has nothing to say about why, on that particular day, the brakes failed when it was you in the car: the sequence of random events that kill. This search for meaning is part of what drives the religious spirit.

Bunting seems to jump back and forth between what 'science' and 'religion' were in the olden days and where they are now in order to make her point. But it's pure sleight of hand. When we didn't know anything about earthquakes, for example, 'how' and 'why' they happened seemed like the same question and it's hardly surprising that people speculated they might have a single answer: a god could provide both means and motive.

Now that, thanks to science, we know a lot more about the world, 'how' and 'why' no longer seem like the same questions. 'Why' (in the sense Bunting means: "Why is this happening to *me*, specifically?" as opposed to "What forces caused the plate to slip at just that moment?") is a question that most scientists feel doesn't really need answering. Less so as we learn more about the world. At some point we have to conclude that shit just happens and things like earthquakes and car crashes don't have meanings.

It's the religious who tend to attach undue importance to the 'why' question: most (non-religious) scientists tend to think of it as meaningless (again in the sense Bunting means it). Scientists are like toddlers who continuously ask "why?" whenever you answer their last "why?" question. The religious are like the adults who tire of this and answer "Just because" or "Because I said so".

I for one am proud to be a toddler. I know there's always another why question and that "because I said so" is no answer at all.

It is from this modern perspective that Bunting tries to argue that religion was always that way. Personally, I think the proto-science argument for the origins of religion is perfectly plausible. For one thing, it explains how god has been moved into ever smaller gaps as we've learned more about the world.

But I don't much care whether it's the right explanation for religion's origins or not. It doesn't have the slightest bearing on whether or not religion is true. It isn't essential to an atheist view and it doesn't even necessarily invalidate any particular view of god or religion. It's just a hypothesis about the history of religion.

And yet Bunting claims that this is the atheists' "great mistake" without ever explaining why. I assume she is asserting that there's more to life that materialistic atheists just don't get. Since she is just flat out asserting this anyway, why does she bother with the smoke and mirrors about the hypothesised history of religion?

She says "This search for meaning is part of what drives the religious spirit." and perhaps she's right. But it's a search for meaning that - as far as we can tell - doesn't exist.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter at the BBC

It being Easter, the BBC newsteams seem to think it is appropriate to litter their reports with random, mawkish and bizarre religious images. For example, on Friday there was a story vaguely disapproving that people continue to find Easter less relevant. They couldn't go as far as to say this was a bad thing (after all, that might have offended people of other religions - I doubt they cared about offending atheists). But they did have little old ladies bemoaning people not going to church enough and not knowing the 'true meaning' of Easter. To illustrate this, they had some young chap on who was vaguely aware Easter (as celebrated by Christians) was something to do with religion, but he knew no more than that. I am half cheered by this (I'm pleased that there's a generation being raised not subservient to an imaginary being and his predatory minions) but I also think there's some value in understanding religions for two reasons. First, Christianity is an important part of this country's past and its culture. It's hard to find ignorance of this a good thing. Second, I think understanding the silliness of religion can help innoculate us against it. It's how I cured myself of religion and I know lots of other people who can say the same.

Then today, there was an article about zebras being rounded up in Kenya to distribute among national parks, which are running out. This interesting article finished by describing the activity as 'the biggest translocation of animals since Noah's Ark'. The narrator didn't even have his tounge in his cheek.

Let's be clear, I'm not complaining particularly about religious talk on the news. It's not to my taste and I'd rather it wasn't there, but I don't care all that much. I care more about the fact that the BBC is funded by public money and secularism ought to be a priority in public bodies. It is a stark reminder that Britain isn't a secular state, even if much of the time we tend to pretend it is.

What bothers me more is the silliness and thoughtlessness of this kind of thing. The casual assumption that religion - and specifically Christianity in these cases - is necessarily part of our lives and that we should be vaguely ashamed of ourselves if it isn't. At least, at Easter. And Christmas. The rest of the time we don't need to worry ourselves about it, phew! It is exactly that vague guilt that religion plays on to continue to demand special treatment in a world where it's no longer relevant, if indeed it ever was. It's this that allows priests to rape children for decades; for their establishment to cover up not only past abuse, but continued abuse, which they enabled, knew about but did not care about; and for those responsible to remain beyond justice. It's the attitude that supports the religious discriminating against homosexuals and women, when we wouldn't tolerate it from any other organisation or on any other grounds than professed belief in an imaginary being. Shame on the BBC for perpetuating this attitude so thoughlessly and carelessly.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


This is inspirational. The most sickening side of cultural relativism is when people defend horrific acts in the name of culture. In this instance, Melanie Butler wrote a master's thesis where she claimed that women campaining for women's rights in Afghanistan were forcing their views on others. She seems to have become so caught up in the idea of cultural relativism that she believes that institutionalised rape; a life of servitude; assaults and murders for the 'crime' of showing an inch of flesh or walking down the street unaccompanied; barring to education and more assaults and murders of women who would like to go to school; are all excused or justified by culture. They are not. It is exactly culture that's the problem here.

In this article, 13 year-old Alaina Podmorow explains why she has been campaigning for women's rights in Afghanistan since she was 9 and why she's not about to stop now:

No one will ever tell me that Muslim women or any women think it’s ok to not be allowed to get educated or to have their daughters sold off at 8 years old or traded off at 4 years old because of cultural beliefs. No one will tell me that women in Afghanistan think it is ok for their daughters to have acid thrown in their faces. It makes me ill to think a 4 year old girl must sleep in a barn and get raped daily by old men. It’s sick and wrong and I don’t care who calls me an Orientalist or whatever I will keep raising money to educate girls and women in Afghanistan and I will keep writing letters and sending them in the back pack of my friend Lauryn Oates as she works so bravely on the ground helping women and girls learn what it is to exercise their rights. I believe in human rights so I believe everyone has the right their own opinion, I just wish that the energy that was used to write that story, that is just not true, could have been used to educate a girl in Afghanistan. That’s what the girls truly want. That’s what the Women in Afghanistan truly want. I have a drawer full of letters from them that says just that.

Well quite. The emancipation of women in countries like Afghanistan is a moral emergency. Abuse like this is something we cannot allow to continue, particularly if the objection to stopping it is concern over offending the very people who are carrying out and perpetuating that abuse. How dare we allow half a country's population to live in brutal oppression and how dare people like Melanie Butler tell me that respecting a brutal, oppressive culture is more important than protecting half the members of that culture from horrific, sustained and institutional abuse.

Donate to Alaina's campaign here: