Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sorry, I'm a Christian

I like this poem, I like its honesty; I wonder if this guy is actually a Christian?

He seems to have nailed some of the negative traits of that religion, although most of these things can be said of religion in general, particularly the 3 desert dogma's.

Most Christians I know don't dwell on the topics raised in this poem, they prefer to focus on the good stuff, the charity, the community and the supposed ideals of their religion, that's fair enough but it's a shame reality is more like the poem.

Quote of the day..

To all those people who insist on giving you a running commentary of every thought that enters their mind and a full report on every tedious scintilla of experience in their lives.

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they must say something.." (Plato)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pope for England manager...

Everyone knows that when you're the boss and things go wrong you have to stand up and be counted, take it on the chin, the buck stops with you. If you don't, if you try and weasel your way out of the line of responsibility, divert attention or try to offload blame onto others then you deserve nothing but contempt.

For those of us who were (naively) optimistic about England's chances in their world cup match yesterday against Germany we understand how things can go wrong, horribly wrong, the team performance was poor, out gunned and out classed by a younger, fitter and more intelligent German side who made us look amateurish. All in all we had a terrible tournament, never looking like a cohesive team and only just scraping through to the knock-out stages. We should find out in the next day or two if our well paid Italian Manager Fabio Capello is a man or a weasel, apparently he has already said that he won't resign yet; it seems hard to see how he could get more out of the England team than he did on the biggest stage possible, and that was not much at all.

Another leader was responding to bad performance yesterday, although "bad" would be somewhat of an understatement when applied to the kind of wrong doing perpetrated by this particular "team". The leader in question is the Pope who called the recent raids by Belgian police on various Catholic owned properties "deplorable". This doesn't seem like the response of a good leader, rather than tackle the substance of the police investigation, i.e. the sexual abuse visited on children by Catholic priests in Belgium the "boss" of the Catholics is attempting to weasel his way out of responsibility, rather than condemning the crime he is complaining that the police are trying too hard to solve it, diverting attention by accusing them of a "secular conspiracy". Instead of offering full cooperation with a legal criminal investigation and giving access to all the *secret* files he's attempting to offload blame onto the very people trying to get to the bottom of the injustice, the people working for the victims.

According to the Pope (and as per usual) all of this is an anti-Catholic conspiracy perpetrated by secular governments and Dan Brown (WTF?), clearly the squirming commentary being excreted by the Vatican boss is embarrassingly inadequate and lacking in imagination, in fact, just like England's back four.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Horse play?

Love this, a man wearing a horses head has been spotted on street-view, what the heck would someone be doing in Aberdeen in the middle of the day wearing such a thing, have Google stumbled on the Scottish chapter of a secret equine fetishist club?

PS. What did the Google man shout out of the car window...? "Hey mate, why the long face"...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

France's unlucky pied de lapin...

I was feeling sorry for France, their football team has had a terrible world cup, bad performances, internal wrangles and players sent home in disgrace, however, I think I may have found the root of their problems. Looking at this story recently about their manager Raymond Domenech, we learn that he's a big fan of astrology, to the extent that he allows this childish woo woo to influence his team selection an admission he made in the build up to the competition, he's quoted as saying,

"All parameters have to be considered and I have added one by saying there is astrology involved,"

Robert Pires (a French player) who also played for Arsenal, being a Scorpio, was viewed with great suspicion by his manager and was subsequently left out and apparently Scorpios were not the only casualties of such a bizarre policy with Domenech making public his mistrust in Leo's also.

"When I have got a Leo in defence, I've always got my gun ready as I know he's going to want to show off at one moment or another and cost us."

There I was thinking that France was a bastion of rationality and here is the manager of the national football team using "magic" to pick the team, what an idiot, mind you, a typical Aquarius.

Having a whale of a time..

It looks like the ongoing talks about the whaling industry have broken down for now, apparently the constituents at the IWC (international whaling committee) can't agree on even the major issues. It seems obvious to me we should have a *good* reason to engage in the wholesale slaughter of members of another sentient mammal species, essential food production is a good reason, medical research is another good reason but the only reason I have seen from the pro-whaling countries (like Japan and Norway) is "its our culture". In this politically correct, relativist society that we seem to have evolved it would appear that pretty much *anything* is allowable and unquestionable so long as you apply the tags "cultural" or "religious" to it, you only have to look at the way we pander to various discriminatory Christian and Muslim weirdness to see this in action.

Culture is a conceptual thing, it ebbs and flows over the generations as certain tribes prosper and others decline, if we are comparing it to survival then its purely a "nice to have", an emergent property. On the other hand if we look at this purely from a rational standpoint extinction is not a conceptual thing, it's exactly the opposite. People make a big thing about preserving their "culture" as if we have some unchanging absolute measure of it; like morality, people make cultures and cultures change, what "our culture" means is an abstract idea, it requires a human brain in order to exist, whales do not require a human brain to conceive of them in order to do the same.

So, until a more compelling circumstance emerges that necessitates we kill whales then I say to those who offer culture as a reason, "then, your culture stinks!".

Monday, June 21, 2010

Software is slippery stuff

Like most knowledge based industries the IT industry sometimes throws up wonderful scams that exploit the ignorant and extract cash from the unwary, remember the millennium bug? One such honey trap currently popular with marketing departments around the world is that of "SEO" or Search Engine Optimisation. The problem people want to solve is how do I make sure that my WEB site is listed on the first page (or as high as possible) in Google when people search for things that are relevant to what I sell?

There are two ways.

1. Pay Google
2. Fiddle around with the contents of your WEB page so that the Google page-rank algorithm (a piece of software that assigns a score to your page relative to other pages for certain keyword searches) automatically ranks your page highly for a desired set of relevant keywords.

The only problem is that the Google page-rank algorithm is secret and mysterious, the only certainty is that it's completely opaque to non-IT literate consumers. Consequently there's this whole industry that's built up around the idea that there are certain "things" that you need to do to structure your WEB pages so that Google thinks they are worthy of a high page-rank, this is of course true at a simplistic level, but the supposed "things" you need to do have long since entered the realm of mythology; the other problem is that Google change their algorithm from time to time supposedly to keep everyone on their toes.

The task of building a WEB site is complex, the task of building a WEB application even more so, however the number of variables that the GPRA (Google page-rank algorithm) has to work with is relatively small and hasn't changed much in 10 years. As is often the case common sense seems to provide the most reasonable guide to what is needed, the crucial thing to understand what Google is trying to achieve through their page-rank mechanism, this strategy is simple. Google needs to deliver pages that are most likely to be of interest to the provider of a search term. Why? because if consumers don't get useful content they don't use Google and if that happens then they don't read their "paid for" advertisements alongside that content which provides revenues to Google, not rocket science, its a "give to get" model.

So how do Google work out which pages will be most useful, clearly a number of parameters apply, first how many other people also find the content useful? If lots of people think a piece of content is good then chances are... it's good. So a prime feature of the ranking calculation is to look at how many in-bound links there are, i.e. if someone else links their page to your page then that's a good thing, if their page is also popular then even better. This was a fundamental part of the early page-rank scheme however just like in nature the "organism" that is Google page-rank is engaged in an evolutionary arms-race with the predators and parasites out there that wish to exploit it. Once people figured out that if you have a lot of inbound links to your content then you get a higher page rank then they simply set up link farms that proliferated bogus inbound links. Unsurprisingly Google now penalises sites that are obviously linked to via link farms. Similarly if a page mentions the search term that the consumer is looking for a lot of times then chances are that the page must absolutely definitely be about that subject, right? Wrong!, as soon as people discovered that loading pages up with keywords improved their ranking Google changed the rules so that only the "right" number of links in the "right" places (i.e. visible to the consumer) scored highly.

In the end there is only really one guaranteed way to ensure that your pages are highly ranked and its the most obvious thing to say and yet one of the hardest to do, i.e. create good content that lots of people want to read! Any other "quick-fix" or "silver bullet" (no matter how much the SEO vendor is plugging their latest "voodoo") is at best temporary and at worst a waste of time and money.

Teaching what we know

I am quite worried by the apparent relish our current government (UK) has for "outsourcing" education; it seems to be a recipe for fragmentation, misinformation and prejudicial selection to me, or at the very least encouragement for  certain (religious) organisations to assume that anything goes so long as A-Level grade averages are maintained; nowhere it seems is this more true than in the teaching of the Biological sciences, specifically evolution and sex education.

I remember back to when I was at school (a "Christian" school), particularly in the early years and even up to what used to be called "O-Levels" (15-16 years old) we learned nothing of the details of evolution except its historical context, practically nothing about genes, DNA or even natural selection even though all of these critical things had long since been established as foundational to modern Biology. Sex education at our school simply didn't exist and the age old tradition of learning about the birds and the bees from playground rumour, clumsy bike-shed fumblings and smutty magazines prevailed.

Biology for us was two hours a week in a shaky old pre-fabricated classroom and seemed to be mainly concerned with drawing the contents of cells (by rote), talking about osmosis and dissecting hapless frogs. We were however forced to sit in church for an hour and a half every day and even longer on Sundays (about 40 whole days worth per year) where frankly we learnt nothing more than how to stare into the middle distance and conceal playing cards whilst engaging in games of black-jack, in all that time I honestly can't remember a single word that was ever said there. Additionally we had official "RE" lessons for about an hour a week. Harmless I suppose but wasted time I will never get back. Now you could argue that this was somehow "character building", or perhaps the supposed "moral" lessons of Christianity were absorbed subliminally without me realising it (although I couldn't tell you what they were), maybe, maybe not, what I can say with certainty though is that years of schooling left me with a critical gap in my Biology education.

In a recent letter to Michael Grove (the education secretary) 26 high profile scientists including 3 Nobel laureates have expressed concern that the teaching of evolution is not a compulsory part of the primary curriculum and that certain religiously inspired Christian and Muslim schools were able to simply air-brush out this foundational scientific theory since it doesn't correspond to their respective ancient creation myths.

The notion of compulsion and education almost sounds like some kind of oxymoron, in an ideal world education should be desirable and compelling on it own, a carrot without the need for a stick but I realise that sometimes you may need a stick to make up for a inequality, poor teaching, boring subjects or a lazy pupils, this was certainly true in my own educational experience (the last item in particular!). So if we are going to have compulsion in education then surly there should be a level playing field between all schools otherwise there is no point in having the compulsion at all. Why should religiously backed schools be allowed to disadvantage pupils (like me!) by mandating certain subjects (like the Anglican religion) and yet tinker around with others (like Biology), why the special case?

It seems to me that there are only two fair solutions to this, either have a 100% secular education system (i.e. take all racial, religious and cultural references out) or tolerate educational segregation but insist on a minimum fixed curriculum for all, i.e. a sub-set of content that cannot be tinkered with. This sub-set should contain all foundational subjects such as English and Maths as well as main-stream science and comparative religious studies. Teaching Biology without Darwin is like teaching physics without Newton, music without Mozart or Chemistry without Mendeleev, i.e. at best incomplete at worst utter nonsense, pupils who don't learn about evolution properly are disadvantaged.

I'm not particularly wedded to either approach, although on reflection this feels a bit like the choice between having a drink-drive limit or simply saying you can't drink and drive, one path potentially leads to confusion and the other perhaps more clarity.

Has segregation ever led to more fairness?

Louisiana gives up on oil spill...

In a depressingly unsurprising turn the good and the great of Louisiana have decided that since nothing they have tried has stopped the oil leak from the deep water horizon well they should now turn to imaginary magic men in the sky. Here we see the true function of religion, i.e. when all else fails, make woo woo. That way you can feel good about yourself even though you are doing nothing.

The good senator (Robert Adley) should pack up a picnic basket and head down to the coast with a teaspoon, picking up that much oil will achieve more than his pointless "day of prayer".

I wonder what this pelican would prefer his human overlords to do?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The pots accuse the kettles..

Did anyone else think that the grilling of BP CEO Tony Hayward by a bunch of smug, sanctimonious American senators yesterday was spectacularly pointless, unless of course the aim was to polarise opinion even further and celebrate the births of a multitude of straw men to feed a public desperate for (real) leadership, assurances and answers. I found it particularly dissonant that these people were on the one hand criticising an oil company for taking unnecessary risks and on the other taking no steps in their own back-yard to reduce their dependence on the very same energy source that the risks are being taken to obtain. If they were truly concerned about drilling procedures in the oil business they would actually do something other than paying lip-service to serious attempts at conserving oil reserves and limiting their own consumption in a country which  uses 80% of the energy resources of the planet. Another thought I had whilst listening to the proceedings was that I couldn't recall the CEO of Union Carbide being interrogated in this pointless macho manner after Bhopal? (half a million people were exposed to noxious chemicals and many thousands died as a result of that little incident...)

The whole sorry affair is a disaster and certainly BP should not get off the hook, financially or legally, but at this precise moment in time what is needed is for the well to be capped, the time for scapegoats will come later. We should not forget however that although BP are prime contractors for this particular incident, the chain of responsibility extends a lot further than just this one oil company, for example,

- The US public for refusing to face up to their ongoing excesses of fossil fuel use.
- The US Government for licensing the platform and sanctioning deep-water drilling in the first place.
- The myriad of sub-contractors who supplied equipment and management to the rig
- The fabricators of the BPV which failed (there are supposed to be triple fail-safe systems in those things!)
- The systems and management of BP itself

The chain will be long and the story will be complex, they always are, it seems to me that what is critical right now is that money is made available to mobilise the best resources possible to cap the well and minimise the environmental and social impact of the spill. With a fighting fund of $20 billion, for now, BP seem to be stepping up to that plate.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The bigger they are...

Thanks to regular commenter Lisa here is a prophetic story about the dangers of idolatry.

In Ohio (USA) a six story high statue of Jesus holding his hands up like he just scored a goal against Brazil in the world cup was struck by lightening and raised to the ground (there is even a youtube of it!) Here is a picture of the statue (before the strike) all I can say is, what an eye-sore, or as our tree hugging Prince Charles would probably say "its a monstrous carbuncle"

Locals called it "touchdown Jesus" because of the position of its arms, I would be less charitable, but as always in these kinds of situations the hand of reality is more powerful than the hand of God, here is the "after" shot once those satanic electrons and exothermic chemical reactions had taken their natural course..

Maybe the builders of this statue should have spent a little more time listening in science class (especially the bit about electricity and lightening conductors) and a little less time dreaming about anthropomorphising ancient mythology. I could make a joke at this point about Americans insisting on frying everything, but I won't, that would be tacky, just like this foam and plaster idol!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hollywood to makeover the England-USA match..

For those interested in football and the England team here is a piece of news that might be of interest, apparently Stephen Spielberg, is shortly to begin filming the Hollywood remake of the game.

Provisionally titled ‘5-2: An American Soccer Odyssey’, the comedy-drama will explore how a group of plucky American college kids overcome the might of the British empire, despite being sabotaged by the villainous Irish-born coach, Fab O’Capello, who is to be played by Jeremy Irons.

Can't wait for that one, I wonder if it's going to be in 3-D?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Genetically modified news

I was interested to read a little story on the BBC this morning about two recent reports on "synthetic biology", these reports are particularly relevant following the recent creation of a living bacteria cell by Craig Venter. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), embarked on a public dialogue in late 2009 and have just published the results of their findings.

The main thrust of the commentary is that people are generally OK with genetic engineering so long as suitable legal controls are in place, an entirely reasonable position, however I found some of the commentary quite nonsensical, for example,

"The resulting report concluded that people wanted scientists who worked with the bits and pieces of life to do so with humility and respect for the material they were working with."

This sounds like religiously inspired obfuscation to me, what the heck are "bits and pieces of life" and how would you show respect for an adenine molecule? The fear about the future of this branch of Biology is understandable, the general ignorance of science is the real problem. Most people I have spoken to about this really don't grasp what it's about, some seem to still be living in what Carl Sagan used to call a "The demon-haunted world" a world of spirits and souls, life processes that are unknown, impenetrable and mysterious. Venter and crew are showing that reality is somewhat different. What most people fail to realise is that humans have been doing genetic engineering for thousands of years, we simply call it artificial selection. Take a look at this bovine, its called a "Belgian Blue" and has been breed specifically over hundreds of years for it's meat yield, is this what we mean by "natural"?

I don't know anyone who resists the need for legal controls around this work, and indeed pretty much everything that we do in the biological sciences, but then again who speaks for the potential beneficiaries of the products of this research?

New ideas are always resisted because new ideas alter the balance of power within Human relationships.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Exotic visitors

I was working away in my study the other evening when a human voice outside the window caught my ear, people sometimes walk down our road so nothing too unusual about that but then I heard another, and another, there seemed to be an impromptu union meeting suddenly going on right outside my house! I carefully prised open the blinds at the window and sheepishly peeked outside into the twilight. There was indeed a small group of about five people standing there, all of them chattering excitedly to each other and pointing up at my roof!

In a flood a dozen thoughts rushed through my head, trees, roof tiles, chimneys, UFO's, buildings insurance policies, religious lynch mobs.... eventually I opened the window and stuck my head out, good evening, I said, can I help you? One of the people at the front of the group dropped their gaze and said, oh, sorry, is that your peacock? Peacock? for a second I thought this must be some kind of joke, but then I heard a loud fluttering noise from above, I closed the window and went outside. Sure enough there was a large peacock shuffling around on my roof! Actually to be more accurate it was a peahen, a female example of the species but never the less it looked decidedly unstable in the gusty conditions and in the failing light, huge!

We all stood there for a while, wondering how this bird had arrived on my roof when I had the rare presence of mind to run indoors to fetch my camera, I snapped a couple of pictures before the bird glided down and into the field across the way from my house disappearing into the gloom. The crowd wondered off in different directions and I settled back down to my work, puzzled, but thankful for an interesting little diversion to an otherwise dull evening.

Here's the snap I made of my exotic visitor, how strange, I wonder where she came from and where she went?

Friday, June 11, 2010


Here is a cool picture, it's not an artistic impression nor a CGI mock-up it's real, an actual exoplanet orbiting a star 63 light years from Earth. It was taken recently from the European Southern Observatory facility on a mountain top in Chile, it is the first direct observation of an exoplanet orbiting a star (other than our own Sun), this is exciting for a number of reasons, firstly it's a fantastic feat of science and secondly it helps to confirm the idea that planets like our own are two-a-penny in the universe, i.e. very common. The implication of planets being common is that life might also be common, even if the conditions for life occur on only one in a million planets there would still be a healthy surplus of billions of planets where it actually could evolve.

Our only challenge is that even if this planet has intelligent life living on it that has figured out how to detect electromagnetic radiation, they will only just be receiving our earliest radio broadcasts (i.e. made > 63 years ago), so they might be listening  to one of the first episodes of "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral" from the BBC, they'll probably think it's a jolly spiffy parlour game :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Long live the Queen...

If you knew me you would know that it takes a lot of wincing and gnashing of teeth for me to say "long live the Queen".

Being a staunch anti-royalist, the whole concept of monarchy seems parasitic, primitive and unfair to me. Why should our society perpetuate and celebrate the opulence of the descendants of the biggest and most successful bandits in history. Not wishing to leave any doubt on the matter, my view is that the French had the right idea, they are relics and long overdue for the chop. The reason I am wishing the Queen a long life is not so that the position of the throne of England is preserved for longer but so that her slobbering imbecile of a son doesn't get on it and simply embarrass everyone, the man is a liability.

I read with dismay today that Charles blames "science" for the "ills of the world", yes that's right, it's all the fault of that Italian johnny, what was his name, oh yes, Galileo the foreign chappy with the telescope. Let's take a look at some of the things he said,

"He said he found it "baffling" that so many scientists professed a faith in God yet this had little bearing on the "damaging" way science was used to exploit the natural world."

Oh my!, pot calling the kettle black or what, one wonders how many Bangladeshi's it would take to equal YOUR carbon foot print, how many Aston Martins does one need old chap? Another self assured moron criticizing the enlightenment from the comfort of enlightenment institutions; perhaps Charlie-boy might like to consider how he is personally using science to exploit nature next time he flies his private jet to Zurich and helicopters into Gstaad for a long weekend skiing with his posse of sycophants.

He goes on,

"As a result, Nature has been completely objectified — 'She' has become an 'it' — and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo's scheme." The Prince said that he believed "green technology" alone could not resolve the world's environmental problems. Instead, the West must do something about its "deep, inner crisis of the soul"

If only we could re-feminise the planet (whatever the hell that means?) and all start believing in ghosts then all our environmental problems would be solved; unfortunately Charles is a bit scarce on the detail of his theory, how exactly would pretending that the lump of rock and iron that is planet Earth is a "lady" solve Global warming? I'm no climatologist, but I reckon what would certainly help would be if slobbering dauphins of Prince's stopped chartering the entire first class section of Jumbo Jets in order to fly an entourage of people over to New York to pick up an "environmental award", producing roughly 24 tonnes of CO2 or perhaps using their private Jet's to fly to "climate talks".

Clearly the Prince is keen on a regression back to a more religious and fundamentalist implementation of the "sacred traditions", so let's see what the guide book for these "faiths" i.e. the Bible has to say on this,

"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth..."


"One" wonders where the whole historical edifice that is the UK monarchy would be if we removed all the cash from it that was generated from activities that involved the products of "science" over the years? For example, agriculture, weapons, war, finance, food production, drugs, civil engineering, chemicals, tourism and so on, I would wager it would be substantial, probably nearly as much as they made from extortion and theft from their God fearing subjects sacrificed on the blades of their God fearing enemies.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Doing their bit...

Whilst armies of volunteers labour to clean beaches and skim oil from the surface of the sea and clean animals tarred with sludge, while mothers and children mourn the loss of loved ones and while engineers work around the clock to cap a leaking well-head under a mile of crushing water in the pitch black, some Christian residents of the Gulf coast have decided to contribute in a rather different way, by standing around, holding hands and mumbling at the clouds.

Some might argue that these people are sincere and actually believe this will achieve something (a puzzling belief since it never has in the history of the world so far!), others might say that it's simply an opportunity to parade their piety on the 10:00 news, for me its hard to decide. What would be most helpful in a crisis like this, a non-existent deity or a bunch of sky-whisperers?

Something for theologians to mull over for the next few centuries perhaps...

A conundrum

What does a homoeopathic patient take if they're suffering from de-hydration?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

They don't like it up em...

It's with some mischievous amusement that I read various apologists for the Catholic church are getting hot under the collar about a forthcoming channel 4 program on the impact that the current Pope and his church have had on the Western world since the 30s. The program is aiming to correspond with the Summer visit by the Pope to the UK however it's not the timing of the program that's the target of the pious wrath it's the presenter. Channel 4 have asked Peter Tatchell a prominent  gay rights campaigner to make the 60 minute program.

Anne Widdecombe an ex-'B' list politician who famously converted to Catholicism and occasionally debates it in public (poorly) was quoted as saying "Mr Tatchell certainly won’t be sympathetic to his subject, so what’s the point of doing it?" - this is a fascinating comment, i.e. there's no point in exploring a subject if you aren't sympathetic to it already, can she really mean this?

We shouldn't be too surprised, Ms Widdecombe has a track record of saying things that expose an apparent surplus of arrogance underpinned by an obvious  ignorance of the subject she is pontificating on, for example in 2009 she joined the ranks of right wing climate change deniers by claiming that "There is no climate change, hasn’t anybody looked out of their window recently?" - apparently she thinks that climate change can be measured by the minute, a staggering lack of awareness for a supposedly educated person.

For those of us who are used to more skeptical working environments where our ideas survive or die based upon their merits and correspondence with evidence rather than tradition and authority, the attitude of the Ms Widdecombe's of this world seem utterly foolhardy; however she is simply following in the censorial tradition of apologists the world over. If your entire world-view is centred around a constantly reinforced belief that you can simply close your eyes and receive "truth" which, of course, more often than not corresponds with your own self-interest then over the years this has to have a detrimental effect on reasoning capacity, "use it or lose it" as my old Maths teacher used to say.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Studying the unknowable...

I was watching the BBC news yesterday morning whilst munching my cereal when a little story popped up about religious education. Ofsted (our schools watchdog) inspectors have determined that religious education in the UK is "inadequate"; according to a survey of students there seemed to be a great deal of confusion regarding the "purpose" of RE and uncertainty about what it was supposed to achieve.In my view Ofsted have reached the wrong conclusion, RE is not inadequate, but misguided.

Religious education should focus on discovering what different religions are about and what people use them for, but from a rational perspective. For example, an early attempt at science, ethics and philosophy, power and control, comfort, true, false, subversive, a force for evil, a force for good and so on. RE should not become "religious instruction" as some religious figures are suggesting it should and so it shouldn't have any specific bias toward Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any other faith. It should be comparative and neutral, aiming to inform students about the historical and cultural dimensions of all the main religions and their evolutionary paths. The underlying ethos should be one of accuracy, tolerance and balance i.e. discussing the darker aspects of organised religion and not just selective relativist sophistry. Humanism and Atheism should also be thrown into the mix even though these world views are not religions per se, it is hard to see how a history and nature of religion can be contemplated fully in their absence.

If all this is too hard, as I suspect it will be because of the dogmatic nature of most religious viewpoints (i.e. consensus will be impossible), then the subject should be dropped altogether, cover religion as part of history and replace the one hour per week with a strictly secular (i.e. unbiased) exploration of morality and ethics.

Interestingly the BBC interview I saw featured a representative from the NSS (National Secular Society) who took the view that religion is in decline anyway therefore RE should become optional. Whilst the statistics were on his side I disagreed with his conclusions. I believe that comparative religion is an important (albeit intractable) subject. I would argue that it is difficult to understand where we are as a culture unless we understand something about how we got here. The presenter got slightly bent out of shape by the NSS line because he felt that RE was the only way children could be taught about morality and ethics; a stunning example of religious "indoctrination" and therefore a lack of religious "education" i.e. the reporter was simply aping the religious meme that religion and morality are somehow the same thing, clearly the educational value of RE for him as a child was as poor then as Ofsted say it is now!

Here's an idea, how about we only allow atheists to teach RE... :)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Who pays for the Pope?

The row about the funding of the upcoming visit to the UK from the current Pope is bubbling up again (see here & here) The basic argument from non-religious, non-Catholic people is why should the general public pay for a visit from a religious leader of this kind so that he can proselytise and parade in a way that is of little interest or merit to the majority of people here. Clearly in addition to the shear waste of money this represents there is the added complication of the apparently vast and immoral sexual abuse/institutional cover-up scandals surrounding this organisation over the last few decades. I'm sure even Catholics themselves cannot be entirely happy celebrating this visit with such an unresolved cloud hanging over their collective.

The solution seems obvious to me, the estimated cost for the visit is standing at roughly £15M, there are 5M Catholics in Britain, a paltry £3 each?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Everything fell into the kitchen sink (hole)

And I was thinking the frost damage to the roads around Reading (UK) were unacceptable and I saw this; a sink hole several hundred feet deep and the size of a large office block opened up in the centre of Guatemala City.

I'll think twice before complaining about my local roads too vociferously again.