Monday, May 28, 2007

PestTrap is both a trap and a pest...

More malicious spyware, also known as malware on t'Interwebs... I usually have McAfee full version installed for firewall protection of my static ADSL connection but failed to renew the license for a few days. Bingo! In the last couple of days my machine has been invaded by at least two serious trojans, one of them hitherto unknown to me, called PestTrap.

And boy, is this a pest or is it a pest! PestTrap's "demo" installs itself on your machine without invitation or permission and then presents itself as regular spyware. Except... it isn't. PestTrap generates numerous false positives from the status-bar and occasionally brings up a page-size popup, inviting you to buy the full version and "disinfect" your machine. To the right: a reduced screen shot of PestTrap's "console".

PestTrap looks and sounds convincing and many a computer layman will be tempted (coerced more like) into spending money on this piece of malware. G-d only knows what happens if you buy the full version...

PestTrap has a website of course: It suggests removing the software by means of the usual procedure (via Command Center > Add/Remove software) but malicious as this piece of vermin is, that is not possible. PestTrap keeps itself open all the time and an open application can not be uninstalled by the usual procedure. also has an email operated "help-line": needless to say, don't hand your email address to these criminals...

And so, after a frustrating (a euphemism in this case, trust me) couple of hours; I had no choice but to call for help by searching Google for PestTrap removal guidelines. There's a host of information on that subject and
I chose this page. I downloaded the demo of PC Tools Spy Doctor, ran the scan and eventually had no choice but to purchase the full license. It did the trick all right. One can't help thinking cui bono? Who benefits from these malwares?

Well, whoever it is, they are criminals. When will something be done about these thieves and saboteurs who cause millions to lose valuable time and money trying to get rid of the results of their criminal activity?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Coffee Can Foundry... (making bronze, part 2)

In this previous post I outlined a plan to make home-made bronze, using a so-called coffee can foundry. Here I'll show the first results of some aluminium and copper melting attempts.

I switched to barbecue briquettes instead of simple charcoal, more by accident than by design (wrong purchase!), but it worked out rather well. The briquettes are higher in density and pack more carbon (the fuel!) than ordinary charcoal per unit of volume. Broken up into roughly 1 cm pieces and used as previously, the burning rate and furnace heat seemed comparable but burning time appeared more than doubled.

Here's the furnace during firing:

The first aluminium mini-ingot:

Another aluminium ingot:

The top ingot weighs 6.5 g and was obtained from 14.2 g of aluminium take-away food trays.

While in the previous post I suggested cutting up the aluminium material into small pieces, on second thought this was really not the way to go. It's better to hammer the material into a tight and compact chunk, preferably one that fits the crucible snugly. This way heat will be transferred to the metal quickly (thereby saving time). Metals are excellent heat conductors (aluminium is almost "best in class" on that point) and the chunk will quickly heat throughout. Smaller pieces separated by air will take a little longer to heat through due to the insulation provided by the air. Higher surface area will also lead to more oxidation of the aluminium (see below), leading to more dross. The ingots above were both obtained from compact chunks of aluminium material. The molten aluminium was "cast" simply onto dry beach sand.

The bottom one (here compared to a 2 pence coin) weighed 22 g and came from 24 g of similar material.

The loss is mainly due to the formation of dross, in the case of "clean" (uncoated or unpainted) aluminium from passivation. The surface of the hot aluminium reacts with oxygen and forms aluminium oxide, which creates a skin on the melt, very similar to the skin often found on boiled milk. It makes casting rather difficult and can only be removed from larger melts by skimming the dross off. But casting metals isn't really my priority right now...

At the end of the melt and cast that yielded the second ingot, the furnace was still going strong and I added a few brass (97 w% of copper) coins (checked with a magnet: some "copper" coins are actually copper coated steel) and reinserted the crucible. The coins heated up to a dull red glow but didn't melt. Unfortunately they weren't given much time as the inevitable happened: the thin-walled steel can crucible finally burned through. Having withstood 5 or 6 intense onslaughts of heat and air, it's rather a surprise it lasted that long; the steel had been literally burning away slowly, forming iron oxide (better known as rust).

So, on whether the furnace reaches the required 1084 DC to melt copper, the jury is still out...


Based on the fact that the furnace burns about 90 g of carbon (3 charcoal briquettes) in 10 minutes, the power generated is about 5 kW (5,000 W), or five times the power of a high range domestic microwave oven. Not bad for such a dingy construction!

But that doesn't solve the copper melting problem. To better establish the temperature obtained in the crucible, I decided to try and melt some ordinary kitchen salt (chemically: sodium chloride) which has a melting point of 801 DC. I charged the (new) crucible with 30 g of salt and fired up the furnace. The salt melted but only just, see photo below:

A small chunk of salt remained solid (not molten), indicating the temperature inside the crucible must have been very close to the melting point of the salt. The salt proved uncastable as it re-solidified immediately after removing the crucible from the heat. I later prized the salt out of the crucible and it showed a clear imprint from the crucible bottom. A piece of re-solidified salt (blackened by the burning can-coating) can be seen on the right side of the picture below:

So, the good news is that my initial estimate (based on glow colour) of 800 DC was pretty accurate but the bad news is that that is about 200 DC short of the meting points of copper, brass and bronze! To increase the temperature as much as possible I will now try two approaches combined:

  1. Using a tightly fitting lid made of the proven Perlite/fire cement refractory material, to prevent heat loss through convection and radiation.

  2. Prolonged firing of the furnace by means of "in-flight refuelling". By adding about 1 1/2 briquette to the fire about every 5 minutes, it should be possible to fire the furnace almost continuously, thereby reaching a higher equilibrium temperature than obtained so far.

Although the object of these experiments isn't really to cast metals, I kind of got the taste of it and I like it. So I decided to make another ingot, somewhat larger and cast into an actual mould (an inverted corned beef tin), using the mixed aluminium material (45 g) shown in the middle of the picture above (left is some lead metal from car wheels, for a later melt).

Again, the dross played up and casting was difficult: the resulting ingot can be seen below. The dross simply dropped out of the crucible and onto the casting! It's clear that to melt aluminium waste (coated and painted) that generates considerable amounts of dross, it's necessary to have a bath of at least 100 - 150 g of "clean" aluminium melt, into which the waste can then be dropped. The waste should melt quickly (a bit like dropping ice cubes into hot water) and that removing the dross by skimming should then be easier. But for this continuous operation of the furnace is a must...

Here's the third instalment on work on the foundry

I'm a Scientific Atheist... apparently...

Here's another one of these little tests (these things are sent to try us - lol).

Apparently I scored a 100%. Nice one!

You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Apathetic Atheist




Angry Atheist


Spiritual Atheist


Militant Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
created with

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Coffee Can Foundry... (making bronze, part 1)

As a chemist I've always wondered how early humans, without any knowledge of modern Chemistry, managed to make metals as versatile as bronze and iron. Although these discoveries have been understood for quite a while now, it remains to me quite amazing that the earliest tin bronze has been dated back as far as the late 4th millennium BC!

And so I decided to go on a bit of an "amateur chemico-archaeological dig", to find out how hard or easy it is to make bronze, armed with sound knowledge of the chemistry involved but only equipped with a kitchen laboratory (much to my wife's perennial chagrin). This is the first instalment of this little (?) journey...

I will not bore my readers with much chemical jargon or chemical formulas. The relevant details can very easily be found on t'Interwebs anyway. It suffices to know and understand three rather simple notions:

  1. Traditional bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, in varying ratios, depending on desired properties of the alloy.

  2. Copper can be made by chemical reduction of its oxide (copper oxide) to the elemental copper metal, using carbon (charcoal or cokes) as a reducing agent. The carbon "burns" off as carbon dioxide, leaving the metal behind. This reaction requires considerable heat to get started.

  3. Tin can be made by chemical reduction of its oxide (tin dioxide) to the elemental tin metal, using carbon (charcoal or cokes) as a reducing agent. The carbon "burns" off as carbon dioxide, leaving the metal behind. This reaction requires considerable heat to get started.

The operative word here is definitely heat, read furnace. As the early bronze makers didn't have natural gas, propane or butane at their disposal, their furnaces would have been charcoal or wood-fired. And so the starting point of my journey became the design and construction of a small, simple and inexpensive charcoal-fired furnace.

After a bit of surfing I came across
a very simple but rather perishable design for a so-called Coffee Can Foundry, here and its more robust follow-up, CCF Mark II, here. I decided to go for design II, using a 2.5 l empty paint can.

Simply put, the construction involves casting a cheap refractory material which is essentially a composite of Perlite (volcanic ash and also a common gardening material) and common fire cement, into a home-made mould. I used my paint can as the outside and an empty squash bottle as the inside of the mould. The rest involved some drying and baking (while the wife wasn't in sight) in our kitchen oven. Here are some pictures of my creation, shortly after the first tests today:

Before attempting to reduce the metal oxides, I needed to run some tests and get a bit of experience with this primitive piece of kit. One good way of getting to know the Paint Can Foundry, is to attempt to melt aluminium. Aluminium is readily available in the form of empty beer or pop cans and has a melting point of 660 degrees centigrade (DC). So, basically, if your foundry can melt aluminium, then at it has least reached that temperature.

My first attempt at getting a fire going involved a hairdryer and ended up with... no fire and a hairdryer, battered, broken and in the bin. Needless to say, the ancient furnaces would probably have been fanned by means of bellows (possibly powered by water, wind, animals or slaves).

So instead I got myself a second hand Hoover, more or less dismantled it to get access to the airflow (previously to the now defunct bag) and started the first serious trials.

The vac now blows into a cardboard funnel at the end of the
tuyère (air inlet, in foundry jargon) and I can regulate the flow by increasing/decreasing the distance between the funnel and the (very strong) airflow from the vac.

It didn't seem to bode very well at first with having difficulty getting the charcoal to light, using methanol. But I kind of got the hang of it after a bit.

Eventually, after some mucking about, I got the fire to burn a bright amber-red (about 800 DC, at a guess). The first attempt at melting some aluminium can material failed because it turned out to be a steel can!

The second attempt also failed, using some aluminium from a coke can. Even the third attempt, using household aluminium foil, failed. Then I decided to try and put the lid of the paint can on the furnace and bingo, the foil melted alright! I added some coke can aluminium and that started to melt too but by then the charcoal had burnt out. So I definitely got past the 660 DC mark... Some more tests with smaller, cut up pieces of can material, rather than the quite large chunks I'd been using so far, were also successful but excessive dross from the paint and various can coatings didn't really yield anything castable, so no aluminium ingots today.

The main problem remains getting the airflow right. The other problem is that the charcoal really burns fast and the charge (about a good handful) burns out in about 5 minutes. Recharging is possible but doesn't really solve much because by the time I've got a good glow going again, the crucible (well, a fashioned steel can, actually...) has then cooled down almost completely. Propane, here I come, I guess. The foundry was actually designed with a propane burner (to be inserted through the tuyère) in mind, should later I want to experiment further.

I'll probably have to fool around a bit with the size of the charcoal chunks too...

Nonetheless, with some practice I feel it should be possible to run the copper oxide and tin dioxide reductions with charcoal without too many problems (famous last words!) The furnace might not reach the 1084 DC required to melt copper (or keep it molten) but the reaction enthalpy (heat released during the reaction) should help. Tin melts at 232 DC only, so no problem there.

The furnace itself held up very well though: no discernable cracks, just a little shrinkage, probably due to driving off some moisture.

Next time I'll try and cast some aluminium and melt some copper coins. Questions in the comment section, please...


Pictures of the operating furnace and the results of the first melts can be found in this post.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

CCTV Nation: Orwell in motion...

H/T Signal94, Source

AN increase in closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras risks turning Britain into an Orwellian society, a senior police officer said in an interview broadcast today.

The deputy chief constable of Hampshire Police, in south-east England, Ian Readhead, said he did not want to live in a country like that in author George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, with surveillance on every street corner.

"I'm really concerned about what happens to the product of these cameras and what comes next," he told BBC television, highlighting the fact that a village in his area had installed CCTV, despite crime rates being low.

"If it's in our villages, are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation with cameras on every street corner? I don't think it's the kind of country I want to live in."

He also called for a review of speed cameras and limits to the retention of DNA, which is taken from anyone arrested even if they are not charged. Britain's DNA database is the largest in the world, with 3.6 million samples.

There are an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain – one for every 14 people. Every person is caught on camera about 300 times each day. A new system of "talking" CCTV was unveiled earlier this year.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas last year warned that Britain was becoming a "surveillance society" where CCTV cameras, credit card analysis and travel movements are used to track people's lives minute by minute.

A study by human rights watchdog Privacy International last November ranked Britain bottom of the democratic Western world and alongside Russia for its record on protecting individual privacy.

Police and supporters of CCTV argue that the system plays a crucial role in deterring crime and catching criminals and that the innocent have nothing to fear.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Protocols of Zion and 9/11 conspiracy theory...

My Joooooish handler, Beacon Eating Atheist Jew from JudeophobeWatch has instructed me to assist him in spreading the lie that the manifesto "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is a lie (Master Bacon, it's getting near the end of the month, don't forget to send me a check for my humble work, lest my Goy kids die of starvation).

This here young Goyim gets the message:

No, seriously, it's disturbing that such an old anti-Semitic hoax like the Protocols of Zion is still being disseminated and read with gusto by retards like the narrator in the clip above. Disturbing but not surprising perhaps. Masterful forgeries like
"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" are easily sold to a world that still behaves much like a giant rumour-mill when it comes to notions of the World-wide Joooooish Conspiracy, Joooooish Control of the Media, the absurd allegation that the Mossad commissioned the atrocities of 9/11, perceived Joooooish superiority/inferiority and other assorted anti-Semitic nonsense.

It would even appear to me that this retard's version of the hoax has been carefully updated to appeal to modern anti-Semitic tastes. There is no lie that's easier to sell than the Big Lie. And "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is one of the biggest lies of modern times. And it continues to be believed, mainly by the brain-dead...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mormonism: A Racket Becomes a Religion

I didn't (and to some extent still don't) know much about the Mormon church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) until quite recently. What little I had read about them simply sounded about as fantastical as Scientology. A brief, debunking account mentioned lost tribes of Israel in... Missouri! The piece read and felt like an attempt at smearing and I didn't really think much more about it. Until I stumbled on this gem below...

Excerpt from Christopher Hitchens' new book, God Is Not Great

If the followers of the prophet Muhammad hoped to put an end to any future "revelations" after the immaculate conception of the Koran, they reckoned without the founder of what is now one of the world's fastest-growing faiths. And they did not foresee (how could they, mammals as they were?) that the prophet of this ridiculous cult would model himself on theirs. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—hereafter known as the Mormons—was founded by a gifted opportunist who, despite couching his text in openly plagiarized Christian terms, announced that "I shall be to this generation a new Muhammad" and adopted as his fighting slogan the words, which he thought he had learned from Islam, "Either the Al-Koran or the sword." He was too ignorant to know that if you use the word al you do not need another definite article, but then he did resemble Muhammad in being able only to make a borrowing out of other people's bibles.

In March 1826 a court in Bainbridge, New York, convicted a twenty-one-year-old man of being "a disorderly person and an impostor." That ought to have been all we ever heard of Joseph Smith, who at trial admitted to defrauding citizens by organizing mad gold-digging expeditions and also to claiming to possess dark or "necromantic" powers. However, within four years he was back in the local newspapers (all of which one may still read) as the discoverer of the "Book of Mormon." He had two huge local advantages which most mountebanks and charlatans do not possess. First, he was operating in the same hectically pious district that gave us the Shakers and several other self-proclaimed American prophets. So notorious did this local tendency become that the region became known as the "Burned-Over District," in honor of the way in which it had surrendered to one religious craze after another. Second, he was operating in an area which, unlike large tracts of the newly opening North America, did possess the signs of an ancient history.

A vanished and vanquished Indian civilization had bequeathed a considerable number of burial mounds, which when randomly and amateurishly desecrated were found to contain not merely bones but also quite advanced artifacts of stone, copper, and beaten silver. There were eight of these sites within twelve miles of the underperforming farm which the Smith family called home. There were two equally stupid schools or factions who took a fascinated interest in such matters: the first were the gold-diggers and treasure-diviners who brought their magic sticks and crystals and stuffed toads to bear in the search for lucre, and the second those who hoped to find the resting place of a lost tribe of Israel. Smith's cleverness was to be a member of both groups, and to unite cupidity with half-baked anthropology.

The actual story of the imposture is almost embarrassing to read, and almost embarrassingly easy to uncover. (It has been best told by Dr. Fawn Brodie, whose 1945 book No Man Knows My History was a good-faith attempt by a professional historian to put the kindest possible interpretation on the relevant "events.") In brief, Joseph Smith announced that he had been visited (three times, as is customary) by an angel named Moroni. The said angel informed him of a book, "written upon gold plates," which explained the origins of those living on the North American continent as well as the truths of the gospel. There were, further, two magic stones, set in the twin breastplates Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament, that would enable Smith himself to translate the aforesaid book. After many wrestlings, he brought this buried apparatus home with him on September 21, 1827, about eighteen months after his conviction for fraud. He then set about producing a translation.

The resulting "books" turned out to be a record set down by ancient prophets, beginning with Nephi, son of Lephi, who had fled Jerusalem in approximately 600 BC and come to America. Many battles, curses, and afflictions accompanied their subsequent wanderings and those of their numerous progeny. How did the books turn out to be this way? Smith refused to show the golden plates to anybody, claiming that for other eyes to view them would mean death. But he encountered a problem that will be familiar to students of Islam. He was extremely glib and fluent as a debater and story-weaver, as many accounts attest. But he was illiterate, at least in the sense that while he could read a little, he could not write. A scribe was therefore necessary to take his inspired dictation. This scribe was at first his wife Emma and then, when more hands were necessary, a luckless neighbor named Martin Harris. Hearing Smith cite the words of Isaiah 29, verses 11–12, concerning the repeated injunction to "Read," Harris mortgaged his farm to help in the task and moved in with the Smiths. He sat on one side of a blanket hung across the kitchen, and Smith sat on the other with his translation stones, intoning through the blanket. As if to make this an even happier scene, Harris was warned that if he tried to glimpse the plates, or look at the prophet, he would be struck dead.

Mrs. Harris was having none of this, and was already furious with the fecklessness of her husband. She stole the first hundred and sixteen pages and challenged Smith to reproduce them, as presumably—given his power of revelation—he could. (Determined women like this appear far too seldom in the history of religion.) After a very bad few weeks, the ingenious Smith countered with another revelation. He could not replicate the original, which might be in the devil's hands by now and open to a "satanic verses" interpretation. But the all-foreseeing Lord had meanwhile furnished some smaller plates, indeed the very plates of Nephi, which told a fairly similar tale. With infinite labor, the translation was resumed, with new scriveners behind the blanket as occasion demanded, and when it was completed all the original golden plates were transported to heaven, where apparently they remain to this day.

Mormon partisans sometimes say, as do Muslims, that this cannot have been fraudulent because the work of deception would have been too much for one poor and illiterate man. They have on their side two useful points: if Muhammad was ever convicted in public of fraud and attempted necromancy we have no record of the fact, and Arabic is a language that is somewhat opaque even to the fairly fluent outsider. However, we know the Koran to be made up in part of earlier books and stories, and in the case of Smith it is likewise a simple if tedious task to discover that twenty-five thousand words of the Book of Mormon are taken directly from the Old Testament. These words can mainly be found in the chapters of Isaiah available in Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews: The Ten Tribes of Israel in America. This then popular work by a pious loony, claiming that the American Indians originated in the Middle East, seems to have started the other Smith on his gold-digging in the first place. A further two thousand words of the Book of Mormon are taken from the New Testament. Of the three hundred and fifty "names" in the book, more than one hundred come straight from the Bible and a hundred more are as near stolen as makes no difference. (The great Mark Twain famously referred to it as "chloroform in print," but I accuse him of hitting too soft a target, since the book does actually contain "The Book of Ether.") The words "and it came to pass" can be found at least two thousand times, which does admittedly have a soporific effect. Quite recent scholarship has exposed every single other Mormon "document" as at best a scrawny compromise and at worst a pitiful fake, as Dr. Brodie was obliged to notice when she reissued and updated her remarkable book in 1973.

Like Muhammad, Smith could produce divine revelations at short notice and often simply to suit himself (especially, and like Muhammad, when he wanted a new girl and wished to take her as another wife). As a result, he overreached himself and came to a violent end, having meanwhile excommunicated almost all the poor men who had been his first disciples and who had been browbeaten into taking his dictation. Still, this story raises some very absorbing questions, concerning what happens when a plain racket turns into a serious religion before our eyes.

It must be said for the "Latter-day Saints" (these conceited words were added to Smith's original "Church of Jesus Christ" in 1833) that they have squarely faced one of the great difficulties of revealed religion. This is the problem of what to do about those who were born before the exclusive "revelation," or who died without ever having the opportunity to share in its wonders. Christians used to resolve this problem by saying that Jesus descended into hell after his crucifixion, where it is thought that he saved or converted the dead. There is indeed a fine passage in Dante's Inferno where he comes to rescue the spirits of great men like Aristotle, who had presumably been boiling away for centuries until he got around to them. (In another less ecumenical scene from the same book, the Prophet Muhammad is found being disemboweled in revolting detail.) The Mormons have improved on this rather backdated solution with something very literal-minded. They have assembled a gigantic genealogical database at a huge repository in Utah, and are busy filling it with the names of all people whose births, marriages, and deaths have been tabulated since records began. This is very useful if you want to look up your own family tree, and as long as you do not object to having your ancestors becoming Mormons. Every week, at special ceremonies in Mormon temples, the congregations meet and are given a certain quota of names of the departed to "pray in" to their church. This retrospective baptism of the dead seems harmless enough to me, but the American Jewish Committee became incensed when it was discovered that the Mormons had acquired the records of the Nazi "final solution," and were industriously baptizing what for once could truly be called a "lost tribe": the murdered Jews of Europe. For all its touching inefficacy, this exercise seemed in poor taste. I sympathize with the American Jewish Committee, but I nonetheless think that the followers of Mr. Smith should be congratulated for hitting upon even the most simpleminded technological solution to a problem that has defied solution ever since man first invented religion.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Biased News and Views from the German Backwaters

From Roncesvalles blog, aka The Editrix, aka Nora, comes this priceless little U-turn [emphasis is mine]:
I was made aware that the fact that I am using English as my blogging language, which is not my mothertongue [sic], might be construed as pretensions of a cosmopolitanism I patently don't possess.

I am shattered.

Therefore, I will change the description of my blog from "Biased News and Views from Dhimmified Germanistan" to "Biased News and Views from the German Backwaters".

I even considered briefly to dumb down my English -- everything to please the public -- but came to the conclusion that that might be too much of an effort for me. Awfully sorry to lose a couple of hits, but there you are... [blahdiblah...]

Well, changing the description might even have the beneficial side-effect that drooling morons, hell-bent on sniffing out terms like "Dhimmi" or quips like "Germanistan", will pass by my blog in the future.

Which "drooling morons" exactly are being referred to remains rather mysterious. Is Editrix referring to those who, neither helped nor hindered by any real knowledge of Europe or Germany, seek out blogs that proclaim Europe to be the fallen Continent (fallen to the hordes of Islam, perhaps not needless to say) or to those Europeans who live in the real world and who whilst accepting Radical Islam is a worldwide threat do not feel "Dhimmified" in any way, shape or form?

The lies disseminated by so many on the US Far Right and echoed by a mere handful of not-too-smart and often agenda-driven Europeans regarding the Fall of Europe (imminent or past) have indeed led to the use of stereotypical quips such as "Eurabia", "Europistan, "Londonistan", "Germanistan", "Dhimmi Europe" and a whole host of variants. Considering the amount of complete nonsense that is being bandied around regarding this non-topic, in particular on US satellite news networks, many non-Europeans must indeed toil under the impression that European Sharia law is about to be introduced or has already been passed. But this is simply completely untrue. We have of course our fair share of problems with Radical Islamists and some of their sympathisers but Europe isn't about to become Muslim dominated by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps Editrix is starting to realise that too?

Ask Pope Benedict, When Does Genocide Purify?


Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to Brazil seems to have done little to shore up the Catholic Church's declining power in its Latin American heartland. It went a long way, however, towards confirming Benedict's reputation as a reactionary bigot.

Benedict, of course, is the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Throughout the 1980s, he was Pope John Paul II's enforcer in the campaign to expunge the dangerously progressive ideals of Catholic "liberation theology" from Latin American soil. What could not be accomplished by state terrorists, who killed thousands of members of Christian "base communities" in the 1970s and '80s, Ratzinger and John Paul sought to engineer by installing conservative bishops who would stem the progressive tide. Fortunately, they seem to have failed. An account by Larry Rohter in the New York Times (May 7) notes that the movement which Ratzinger "once called 'a fundamental threat to the faith of the church' ... persists as an active, even defiant force in Latin America," with some 80,000 base communities operating in Brazil alone. It is fuelled, as it always has been, by the "social and economic ills" that pervade the region, and that have only "worsened" under the neoliberal prescriptions of the past two decades.

This time around, Ratzinger/Benedict's bile was directed not at liberation theology, but squarely at the historical memory of the serial genocides -- probably the most destructive in human history -- inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of the Americas. On the last day of his visit, in the city of Aparecida, the Pope "touch[ed] on a sensitive historical episode," in the blandly understated language of an Associated Press dispatch (May 13). In other words, he ripped the bandages off a still-suppurating wound. According to the official text of Benedict's comments on the Vatican website, the Pope declared that "the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean" were "silently longing" to receive Christ as their savior. He was "the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking, without realizing it ..." Colonization by Spain and Portugal was not a conquest, but rather an "adoption" of the Indians through baptism, making their cultures "fruitful" and "purifying" them. Accordingly, "the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture."

So there we have it. The invasion and conquest of the Americas, which caused the deaths of upwards of 90 percent of the indigenous population, was something the Indians had been pining for all along. They weren't just "asking for it," as sexist cranks depict women as complicit in their own rapes. They were actually "longing" for it, since salvation and "purification" came with it.

Actually, genocide came with it, as Raphael Lemkin knew. Lemkin is the Polish-Jewish jurist who, having fled the Nazi invasion of Poland for refuge in the U.S., coined the word "genocide" in 1943. He defined genocide as "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups." His framing became the foundation of the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948, and of the academic field of comparative genocide studies. Lemkin himself was keenly aware of the devastation of the indigenous people of the Americas, and considered it basic to his understanding of genocide, though most of his writings on the theme remain unpublished. (See the text of John Docker's excellent February 2004 talk at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Raphael Lemkin's History of Genocide and Colonialism".)

Benedict's astounding comments attracted barely a flicker of media attention in the West -- almost all of it on the wire services, and some of it problematic in itself. A May 13 Reuters dispatch noted blithely that, contrary to Benedict's claims, "many Indian groups believe the conquest brought them enslavement and genocide." This is rather like writing that "many Jewish groups believe that the Nazi Holocaust brought Jews enslavement and genocide." The reality exists independently of the belief. As blogger Stentor Danielson points out: "In the real world, it's a basic historical fact that the Indians were enslaved. It's a basic historical fact that entire tribes were wiped out. The reason [that] 'many Indian groups believe' these historical facts is because people like Reuters' craven reporters won't admit when there's a fact behind the claims."

Indian organizations and spokespeople expressed outrage at Benedict's statements, calling them "arrogant and disrespectful." Sandro Tuxa, leader of a coalition of Indian tribes in Brazil's impoverished northeast, declared: "We repudiate the Pope's comments. To say the cultural decimation of our people represents a purification is offensive, and frankly, frightening" (Reuters, May 14).

Frightening indeed. Genocide scholar Greg Stanton describes denial as the final stage of genocide: "The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses" (see Stanton's "
Eight Stages of Genocide" on the Genocide Watch website). Genocidal perpetrators, and those who inherit their mantle, also seek to "purify" historical memory -- as Turkish authorities unceasingly, but so far unsuccessfully, have sought to do in the case of the Armenian genocide.

Stanton also reminds us that denial is "among the surest indicators [that] further genocidal massacres" may lie ahead. That's a thought worth pondering, as the reinvigorated indigenous movement in Latin America confronts a renewed neo-colonial assault on its culture, health, and means of subsistence.

US government trying to seize new Michael Moore film, says producer

Harvey Weinstein fires latest shot in battle over healthcare documentary

Charlotte Higgins in Cannes

Cannes is smacking its lips in anticipation of filmmaker and provocateur Michael Moore's latest jeremiad against the US administration, which receives its premiere at the film festival today. Sicko, a documentary tackling the state of American healthcare, focuses on the pharmaceutical giants, and particularly on health insurers.
The film has already caused Moore - who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2004 with Fahrenheit 911 - to clash with the American authorities. Now, according to movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company is behind the film, the US government is attempting to impound the negative.

According to Weinstein, the US Treasury's moves meant "we had to fly the movie to another country"- he would not say to where. "Let the secret service find that out - though this is the same country that thought there were weapons of mass destruction, so they'll never find it." He added that he feared that if the film were impounded, there might be attempts to cut some footage, in particular the last 20 minutes, which related to a trip to Cuba. This, said Weinstein, "would not be good."
In March, Moore travelled to the Caribbean island with a group of emergency workers from New York's Ground Zero to see whether they would receive better care under the Castro regime than they had under George Bush. He had applied for permission to travel in October 2006 and received no reply.

In a letter dated May 2, the treasury department notified Moore that it was investigating him for unlicensed travel to Cuba, or, as the missive put it, engaging in "travel-related transactions involving Cuba."

Now team Moore is hitting back. Weinstein has hired an attorney, David Boies, who has lodged a request under the US freedom of information act to find out what motivated the treasury to begin its investigation. "They have to tell us why they did it and what they did," said Weinstein. "And they are not too happy about it."

Weinstein believes the investigation has a political agenda. "We want to find out who motivated this. We suspect there may be interference from another office," he said. "Otherwise, I don't understand why this would have come about."

Weinstein named no suspects in this putative political interference, but referred to outspoken critics of Moore on the Republican right - who tend to accuse him of peddling propaganda rather than of undertaking serious journalism - including presidential hopeful Bob Thompson.

"Senator Thompson has come out with a tirade against Michael. Michael said he'd debate him, but Thompson turned him down," said Weinstein.

He also said that insurers and pharmaceutical companies had "already sent out letters advising employees how to react when the film comes out".

Weinstein appeared to be enjoying the brouhaha that the film is stirring up before it has even screened. "I've already told the Treasury that they are saving me money on advertising."

In Cannes, the Weinstein Company's offices are decorated with a mural of the rotund Moore sitting in a hospital waiting area flanked by a pair of skeletons, and Sicko sticking plasters are being given away as promotional gifts.

Moore's underlying thesis in Sicko relates to the structure of American society. "Others see themselves as a collective that sinks or swims together," he told Variety.

"It's important to have a safety net and free universal health care. In America, unfortunately, we're more focused on what's in it for me. It's every man for himself. If you're sick and have lost a job, it's not my problem. Don't bother me."

The insurance companies are a negative force, he believes. "They get in the way of taking care of those who are ill. They make it worse. We don't need them," he said.

The health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, may be surprised by Moore's ringing - if strictly speaking, factually inaccurate - endorsement for the NHS. "The poorest Brit is healthier and lives longer than the wealthiest American," he said.

Of his journalistic style, he said: "It's the op-ed page. You don't say that's not journalism. I present my opinion, my take on things, based on indisputable facts. They could be wrong. I think they're right." Moore's biggest hit to date has been Fahrenheit 911, which took $222m (£112m) worldwide. He made Bowling For Columbine, his acclaimed film about US gun culture, in 2002. The rightwing backlash has spawned a number of documentaries questioning his methods, including Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk's Manufacturing Dissent. Moore has hired Al Gore's former press secretary, Chris Lehane, to help him to deal with "the forces I'm up against".

Friday, May 18, 2007

Unbelievable, that's what religion is...

says Christopher Hitchens in his profoundly skeptical manifesto.
By Daniel C. Dennett May 13, 2007

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
By Christopher Hitchens
Twelve, 307 pp., $24.99

In earlier ages reliable information was rather hard to get, and in general people could be excused for taking the founding myths of their religions on faith. These were the "facts" that "everyone knew," and anybody who had a skeptical itch could check it out with the local priest or rabbi or imam, or other religious authority. Today, there is really no excuse for such ignorance. It may not be your fault if you don't know the facts about the history and tenets of your own religion, but it is somebody's fault. Or more charitably, perhaps we have all been victimized by an accumulation of tradition that strongly enjoins us to lapse into a polite lack of curiosity about these facts, for fear of causing offense. It is rude, after all, to point out somebody's ignorance or gullibility. Besides, if you start calling attention to the frankly incredible creeds and deeds of other religions, they may retaliate and expose some of the embarrassing signs of all-too-human tampering with the heroic tales and traditions of your own tribe.

So only atheists are in a comfortable position to cast the first stone, and Christopher Hitchens, in "God Is Not Great," relishes the role. He has the credentials, as both a combative journalist and a surprisingly erudite literary scholar, and he wants to break the diplomacy barrier and expose the preposterous presumptions and ignoble machinations that stain the history of all religions, bringing discredit that tends to get magnified over the years by a persistent pattern of coverup, veils of illusion , and denial of one design or another. These efforts at obfuscation are quite transparent under Hitchens' s merciless scrutiny, and the results are often quite comical. As Dana Carvey's Church Lady would say, "How convenient!" For instance, how many Christians know that " the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danaë as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother's flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. . . . Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. . . . For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the birth canal as a one-way street, and even the Koran treats the Virgin Mary with reverence ."

And how many Muslims know that Uthman, some years after Mohammed's death, not only arranged the standard Arabic edition of the Koran, declaring many rival texts apocryphal, but "ordered that all earlier and rival editions be destroyed"? How convenient! And then there is the Hadith, the compilations of the words and deeds of Mohammed. Bukhari, who scrupulously collected 300,000 attestations several centuries after Mohammed's death, culled all but 10,000 of the most credible of these, some of which are quite evidently borrowings from the Torah and the Gospels, ancient Persian maxims, and the like. Still, in the great Ijtihad period of Islamic reformation in the ninth century, the learned scholars categorized many of these presumably high-quality attestations as "lies told for material gain and lies told for ideological advantage." Like sausage-making and legislating, the process of assembling the inerrant word of God is not always a pretty sight.

Religions, Hitchens insists, are "man-made," and anybody who doesn't know this is either willfully ignorant or else a victim of fraud. In what sense, though, are religions man-made? Are the design innovations he detects always or even often the foresighted schemes of specific deceivers, or are they more plausibly explained as the result of a series of unconsciously adopted variations that happened to prove more effective than their adopters dreamt? Probably the more recent the invention, the more culpably knowing it is, and Hitchens is a master at exposing the elements of stagecraft.

Hitchens is an equal - opportunity embarrasser. "If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness?" He recounts the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a handy bit of recent (1851) "reverse-engineering" to deflect attention from some awkward conflicts in the Gospels' accounts of her life, and her Assumption as an even more recent bit of tinkering (finalized in 1951). The Mormons' Joseph Smith comes in for some uncomfortable exposure, but so do Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and even the Dalai Lama. Must we really be so mean as to pull these heroes from their pedestals? Why not let them continue to grow in mythic stature, as fine examples for us all? Because, Hitchens insists, religion poisons everything. Does it really? Hitchens makes no attempt to give an evenhanded survey of both the sins and the good deeds of religion. We have been told countless times about the goodness of religion; he gives the case for the prosecution.

At their best, his indictments are trenchant and witty, and the book is a treasure house of zingers worthy of Mark Twain or H. L. Mencken. At other times, his impatience with the smug denial of the self-righteous gets the better of him, and then he strikes glancing blows at best, and occasionally adopts a double standard, excusing his naturalist heroes for their few lapses into religious gullibility on the grounds that they couldn't have known any better at the time, while leaving no such wiggle room for the defenders of religion over the ages. But these excesses are themselves a valuable element of this wake-up call. They say to every complacent but ignorant churchgoer: look how angry this well-informed critic of religion is. Perhaps when you know what he has uncovered about the words and deeds of religions around the world you will share his sense of betrayal of what is best in humankind.

Fanning the flames in Gaza

The US is arming Fatah in the hope of defeating Hamas. Meanwhile, everyone suffers.

Laila El-Haddad in CiF

No ever seems quite sure how or why the spates of violence begin in Gaza, but a few days on, it becomes irrelevant anyway.

Firefights including heavy arms and mortors continue to rage all around Gaza city, all while Israeli gunships pounded east and north of the city, which has been transformed to a ghost town. Even the most foolhardy opted to stay indoors, and all but a lone convenience store closed. Masked Fatah and Hamas gunmen patrolled every street corner, and took positions on every major high-rise tower, keeping residents, schoolchildren, and university students penned indoors as battles swirled around them.

Fatah called for a general strike, and has taken to shooting into the air to scare people off the streets, stopping cars at self-imposed checkpoints, and detaining men with beards, in response to what they say was a deadly Hamas ambush of the presidential guard (Hamas has denied involvement saying their military forces were there re-enforcing their defenses on the border for fear of a possible Israeli attack, and hospital sources say the shrapnel is Israeli, not Palestinian, in origin). Israel has claimed responsiblity for the death of at least two of the Fatah guards. But by that point, it didn't matter anymore. The revenge machine was already in high-gear. In some locations, angry Palestinians reportedly pelted rocks at jeeps belonging to the presidential guard.

Many here are referring to the on-again-off-again battles as a new "Nakba", one that has coincided with the day Palestinians mark as their original "catastrophe"-when the state of Israel was declared on 78% of historic Palestine. Tuesday marked the 59th anniversary. "Our Nakba has become two Nakbas," young protestors chanted in unison on the city streets this morning.

Palestinians are not pleased about the ever-worsening violence which is threatening to unravel the recently negotiated unity government, but there is little they can do about it besides watching things unfold to their inescapably grim conclusion, they say.

But the news that really upset many here was word of the Israeli government briefly opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which it has shut down 50% of the year to average residents here, to allow US-funded, Jordanian-trained, Fatah reinforcements (450 members of the elite Badr Brigade) inside.

The fact is, Gaza is not combusting spontaneously.

To quote Alistair Crooke, "the US is not only not interested in dealing with Hamas, it is working to ensure its failure" - a policy promoted and openly acknowledged by the American deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams.

In his meetings with a group of Palestinian businessmen last January, Abrams said the US had to support Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government. And just over a week ago, a 16-page secret American document was leaked to a Jordanian newspaper outlining an action plan for undermining and replacing the Palestinian national-unity government. The document outlines steps for building up Abbas and his security forces, leading to the dissolution of the parliament, a strengthening of US allies in Fatah in the lead-up to new elections.

Events have unfolded according to plan, with not so much as a peep or word of protest from the major world governments.

It has become a city decaying, debilitated, and on the verge of implosion; its people exposed to the most violent form of subjugation, collectively sentenced to a life in prison by global power colluding to unwind the very fabric of their society, punishing them where no crime existed.

The US has allocated as much as $84 million to this end, directly funding president Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan and their security forces, which are often one and the same as the Fatah militias engaged in bitter battles with Hamas and even firing missiles at Israel.

That doesn't change the bitter resentment in the streets over what has unfolded, and the utter cynicism associated with it.

"I'm just saying, what are they fighting over - the trash burning in the streets?" remarked one shopkeeper, in reference to the piles of accumulated trash gathering as a result of a week-long municipality protest.

"We all know what's going to happen next," he continued. "Government officials will convene with the military commanders, and ask them to show restraint. The gunmen will withdraw from the streets. And for a few more weeks, things will be calm again. We're in a maelstrom and I can't really see a way out. Gaza is burning. And the world is watching."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In Memoriam Jerry Falwell...

In memory of Jerry Falwell, what to say? The good news is he hasn't gone to Heaven, the bad news is that he hasn't gone to Hell...

For a life in quotes, click here.

Guardian's CiF has this:

Jerry Falwell is dead. Maybe we shouldn't speak ill of him. But we should speak the truth.

"Just because someone is dead," said Bette Davis, when chided over her lack of respect for a recently deceased acquaintance, "doesn't mean they've changed." And of course, the nasty old cow was right. Although approaching death sometimes encourages sinners to mend their ways, bad people tend to stay bad. As a rule, you can't mend an arsehole.

[small snip]

"The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Saviour."

"I think Muhammad was a terrorist."

"I do question the sincerity and non-violent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Mr James Farmer, and others, who are known to have leftwing associations."

"I do not believe the homosexual community deserves minority status. One's misbehaviour does not qualify him or her for minority status. Blacks, Hispanics, women, etc are God-ordained minorities who do indeed deserve minority status."

"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."

On 9/11: "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 secularise America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'."

On Desmond Tutu: "I think he's a phoney, period, as far as representing the black people of South Africa."

On Tinky-Winky: "He is purple - the gay-pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle - the gay-pride symbol."

[small snip]

But once again, it's Bette Davis who speaks the uncomfortable truth from her own grave. Who will be the first to follow her example, when told of the demise of her greatest enemy? "You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good," she snarled. "Joan Crawford is dead. Good."

Update: Christopher Hitchens on Falwell

Hitchens in the hot seat at "Hannity's America":

We watch Faux Noise so you don't have too!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ted Haggard put the men in Ah men...

Glory, Glory, how he blew ya... (Roy Zimmerman)

Saturday, May 12, 2007


From Slate, H/T Richard Dawkins

Kirk Cameron Proves That God Exists (Just kidding)

By Troy Patterson

Wednesday's instalment of Nightline (ABC) marked the first "Nightline Face-Off," in which, according to a press release, "hot topics get discussed among prominent voices in their field." This inaugural segment also came billed as the first network-news debate about the existence of God. If He does exist and is just, it will be the last.

Representing the Supreme Being were evangelical minister Ray Comfort and actor Kirk Cameron—Mike Seaver on 123 episodes of the sitcom Growing Pains and, more recently, Buck Williams in three films adapted from the apocalyptic Left Behind novels. Together, Comfort and Cameron host The Way of the Master, a syndicated show most notable for discovering distasteful ways to combine street preaching and getting belligerent. Nightline dug up some footage of Comfort and Cameron trying to save the soul of an overtanned transvestite and merely ticking her off.

In the other corner were two representatives of the Rational Response Squad, one operating under the nom de guerre Brian Sapient, the other introduced as "his colleague, known as Kelly." (The two have received enough death threats from the lambs of Jesus that they find it wise to obscure their surnames.) The RRS is best known for its involvement with the Blasphemy Challenge, which merrily invites us to post YouTube clips denying the Holy Spirit. They're proselytizers in their own right, bent on recruiting the youth of a Christian nation to think for themselves. I don't know whether I'm more tickled by the way that Fox News digitally placed black bars over the eyes of the unfaithful in its report on the Blasphemy Challenge or by the fact that the RRS has advertised on the Web site of Tiger Beat.

Last night, ABC did its damnedest to slap together suspenseful buildup and cheap hype. Here was Cameron bearing his carry-ons onto the plane to New York. Here was an intimate, makeup-chair moment with Comfort, who applauded his partner's bravery in continuing to risk his Hollywood career for the sake of his beliefs, which suggested that Comfort had let his Variety subscription lapse 15 years ago. Here were the deniers lugging their garment bags into a Manhattan church. Brian ultimately wore a dark dress shirt unbuttoned to the navel to reveal an anti-God logo on a T-shirt. The neckline of Kelly's red halter dress did not quite make it to the belly button, but it had tried, and she completed the look with gleaming high heels. She had chosen to play the vamp, achieving an effective balance between the not-unladylike and the piss-off-your-parents.

In Cameron's introductory remarks at the debate—which can be seen at something like its full and numbing length at—he coolly claimed that "the existence of God can be proven 100 percent, absolutely without the use of faith." First, I grew excited at this promise, then began to wonder why no theologian, philosopher, or sitcom star in recorded history had done it before—Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Tina Yothers, whoever—and realized I was in for a letdown. Comfort's cadences were not even those of a preacher but of an infomercial host, and the God Squad had but three arguments on behalf of the big guy: All things have makers; the human conscience is evidence of a higher moral power; if you read the Gospel, then Christ will be revealed to you. For reasons too stupid to type, this was not an airtight case, and the atheists made quick work of it in tones of juvenile sarcasm.

We all could have used this time better, especially we English majors who call ourselves agnostic but harbor a fondness for the story about Wallace Stevens' deathbed conversion to Catholicism. If Nightline wanted to host an enlightening discussion about religion, it would have invited some intelligent believers to mount a defense of faith and to talk about why faith and proof of it are mutually exclusive. Instead, the show served up Cameron goofing on Charles Darwin, apparently the preferred target of dimwitted theists. At one point, Cameron, mocking the theory of evolution, held up a photo-illustration of a duck with the head of crocodile. Seeing this, Brian, stunned, could not help but mutter, "Oh. My. God." See a picture of Kirk and his "Canard a la Croque".

But never mind that croc of shit, enter the Giant Head known as Bill-O, goofball Supreme, poster man-child for ultra conservative satellite noise (emphasis on LITE) and Master of his own Stupiverse, who also gave Kirky a platform to perform his comical antics on:

Among much more nincompoopery, Kirky also paraded that other old canard: "Einstein believed in God too!" This falsehood stems from a completely misinterpreted Einstein quote regarding the Uncertainty Principle about which he (in)famously said: "God doesn't play dice with the Universe!" (the actual quote is actually much longer and Einstein's original stance on Quantum Mechanics was hopelessly wrong anyway). But Einstein wasn't a theist, he wasn't a believer at all and he used the term God quite metaphorically in the above quote.

For those "righteous" people who believe lying is immoral, people like Kirk "Duckbrain" Cameron don't half lie a lot...

It's also interesting to note how Billy boy confesses to being a complete airhead: he's doesn't accept evolution and the Big Bang is "just one of these crazy things these people say". Billy boy claims that his faith is based on reason ("just like yours, Kirk") but that's plain nonsense: Bill-O's faith is based on a mixture of idiocy, cowardice, herd-mentality, "traditionalism" and patriotism, in more or less equal amounts. Reason doesn't come into it at all.

It's a staggering thought that an otherwise so enlightened country harbours such an inordinate amount of quacks, reality-deniers, snake-oil merchants and assorted airheads like Bill O'Reilly and Kirk Cameron...

Let's all sing the ballad of the Giant Head, all together now...

Archaeological debunking of the Old Testament...

The Bible Unearthed...

New archaeological evidence, mainly found in modern day Israel, is providing ample evidence that the Biblical story may have almost no verifiable basis whatsoever. The historicity of figures like Abraham and Moses was always seriously in doubt but the new evidence puts things even more in the balance. Needless to say, this new research is sparking another heated controversy and much of the evidence unearthed by these scientists will be dismissed by the believers as atheist agitprop. Thank the Laawd that the blasphemy laws have been repealed or are no longer enforced in most Western countries or we might all be in for a good spanking or worse besides that.

But the research isn't atheist agitprop in any way, shape or form. Rather it attempts, quite successfully in my opinion, to separate religious tradition and thinking contained in the Bible from actual historical fact. Many, in particular Biblical literalists, will nonetheless see it at an attempt at undermining their faith. But that the Biblical story is largely a narrative that's only based on historical events (many irrecoverably lost in the sands of time) in the loosest sense of the term, is something only the most fanatical believer will deny.

A documentary, aptly titled "The Bible Unearthed", has now been made about this effort aimed at finding the historical truth regarding the Old Testament. It's first 10 minute YouTube instalment can be viewed here:

The other parts can be found here.

It's a must see for believers and non-believers alike. Comments are welcome.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

French breathe sigh of relief: Bill O'Reilly lifts boycott!

Sarkozy's popularity has just gotten a firm boost. The French economy, suffocated by Bill-O's bumper sticker campaign calling for a boycott of France, can breathe again, as American French wine aficionados, snail guzzlers and other lovers of French haute cuisine can now indulge again without feeling unpatriotic, un-American or even feel like traitors. These and other French imports have just restarted to flow liberally to France's renewed ally once again. Vive la France!

Word on the streets of Paris had it that by last week Segolene Royale was wetting her knickers, that out of sheer necessity torn jeans had become le nouveau chic, that the French couldn't afford their daily ballon de vin de table anymore and that they had been reduced to eating garlic soup only (cheap AND nutritious!) And all thanks to the pivotal efforts of goofball Billy Oh Really! Sarkozy did the right thing and buckled under the pressure, naturellement. The alliance is saved and Bill-O is a heroe...

Billy boy was quite correct in calling his calling-off of the boycott [ahem!], "the most ridiculous item of the day":
O'REILLY: Time now for the "Most Ridiculous Item of the Day."

The Factor is lifting the boycott of France. However, "Boycott France" bumper stickers do remain available on for nostalgia purposes. And you never know: We may have to reimpose it.

France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy -- we believe he will be much more fair when dealing with the USA, helping out NATO, and fighting the war on terror. The fact that thugs took to the streets after Sarkozy won tells you what you need to know about the election.

If these animals don't like Sarkozy, then he must be doing something right. Anyway, many on the Factor staff are very pleased the boycott is lifted so they can eat their little truffles and escargot and drink their overpriced wine.

For me, I like visiting France, but I'm going to wait and see what happens before checking into some chi-chi farmhouse in Provence. To not do so would be ridiculous. Boycott on France lifted.

On a more serious note, read about Billy's attempts at self-aggrandising by overstating and plainly distorting the results of his one-man crusade against France.

Bill, I don't even always disagree with you but you're a bit of nutter, aren't you?

Dear Americans, by the way, if you've been watching Bill-O and consorts, take my advice: take Bill's "analysis" (cough!) of France's riots with a big bag of salt, as a pinch wouldn't cover it...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Peres biography: Israel, France had secret pact to produce nuclear weapons

This story isn't really anything new but it does highlight one aspect of Mid Eastern geopolitics that isn't so well known: US support for Israel started in earnest rather late into the Cold War. The 1956 Suez Crisis also illustrates that, as it is American pressure that stopped the Anglo-French-Israeli collusion and invasion of Egypt. And in the sixties, the US wasn't keen on Israel obtaining the Bomb. It's a misconception that US support for Israel was unwavering right from Israel's birth as an independent nation state.

By Reuters, via

Israel and France once made a secret deal to produce a nuclear bomb together, according to a new biography of Vice Premier Shimon Peres.

The deal was later cancelled, but the disclosure in the book by historian Michael Bar-Zohar sheds new light on the depth of France's involvement in Israel's nuclear program.

Bar-Zohar told Reuters his information came from recently released documents from Israeli and French government archives relating to the key role Peres, now 83, played in launching Israel's nuclear project more than half a century ago.

The book divulges new details of how Peres served as a behind-the-scenes architect of Israel's military might, securing weapons secretly and buying an atomic reactor from France.

The French embassy in Tel Aviv did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment.

Experts believe Israel has used the Dimona reactor it built with French help in the 1960s to produce as many as 200 nuclear warheads. Israel neither confirms nor denies it has atomic weapons, saying only it will not be the first country to introduce them to the Middle East.

The 500-page "Shimon Peres - The Biography", an English language edition of a Hebrew original which was recently released by Random House, recounts some new details of Peres' secret talks with Paris to seal the reactor deal.

The most significant, experts say, is a secret agreement Peres signed in 1957 with then French Prime Minister Maurice Bourges-Maunoury in Paris, several months after the deal for the reactor was concluded.

"It stated in so many words that the two nations would cooperate in research and production of nuclear weapons," the book says.

France ultimately scrapped that agreement several years later under the weight of enormous United States diplomatic pressure for it to cease its nuclear cooperation with Israel.

Still, experts find some historical significance in the mere fact the pact was made.

"That they [the French] were ready to cooperate [with Israel] in the development of nuclear weapons is something very, very intimate in a political, diplomatic sense," said Avner Cohen, author of a 1998 book on the birth of Israel's nuclear program.

"They were very deeply involved," he said. "The irony is of course that France in those days did what it did, and France of today is trying to prevent Iran from obtaining it [a nuclear potential]."

The book goes on to discuss how Peres persevered against Israeli leaders such as Golda Meir who objected to launching a nuclear program, fearing the wrath of the West at a time when most refused to sell Israel weapons.

France, which sold Israel its first jet warplanes, was closer to Israel than most of the West. Some French officials identified with Israel's conflict with the Arabs at that time, as France was battling an armed revolt against its rule in Algeria.

A veteran writer and former lawmaker for the left-leaning Labor party once headed by Peres, Bar-Zohar said Peres had asked him to write the biography, and agreed to its publication without being shown an advance copy. Peres has praised the book and its author.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Evolution is a Fact and a Theory

by Laurence Moran
Copyright © 1993-2002
[Last Update: January 22, 1993]

When non-biologists talk about biological evolution they often confuse two different aspects of the definition. On the one hand there is the question of whether or not modern organisms have evolved from older ancestral organisms or whether modern species are continuing to change over time. On the other hand there are questions about the mechanism of the observed changes... how did evolution occur? Biologists consider the existence of biological evolution to be a fact. It can be demonstrated today and the historical evidence for its occurrence in the past is overwhelming. However, biologists readily admit that they are less certain of the exact mechanism of evolution; there are several theories of the mechanism of evolution. Stephen J. Gould has put this as well as anyone else:
In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"--part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the creationist argument: evolution is "only" a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science--that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."
Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

Evolutionists have been very clear about this distinction of fact and theory from the very beginning, if only because we have always acknowledged how far we are from completely understanding the mechanisms (theory) by which evolution (fact) occurred. Darwin continually emphasized the difference between his two great and separate accomplishments: establishing the fact of evolution, and proposing a theory--natural selection--to explain the mechanism of evolution.

Stephen J. Gould, " Evolution as Fact and Theory"; Discover, May 1981

Read the full essay

Friday, May 04, 2007

Pat Robertson's students...

Bill Maher:


Now that liberals have taken back the word "liberal", they also have to take back the word, "elite." By now you have heard the constant rightwing attacks on the elite media and the liberal elite, who may or may not be part of the Washington elite, a subset of the East Coast elite, which is overly influenced by the Hollywood elite. So basically unless you are a shit-kicker from Kansas you are with the terrorists. You know if you played a drinking game where you did a shot for everytime that Rush Limbaugh attacked someone for being elite, you'd almost be as wasted as Rush Limbaugh.

I don't get it. In other fields outside of government, elite is a good thing, like an elite fighting force. Tiger Woods is an elite golfer. If I need brain surgery, I would like an elite doctor. But in politics, elite is bad. The elite aren't down to earth and accessible like you and me and President shit for brains. Which is fine except for whenever there is a Bush administration scandal, it always traces back to some incompetent, political hack appointment and you think to yourself - "Where are they getting these screw-ups from?" Well, now we know, from Pat Robertson. I'm not kidding.

Take Monica Goodling who before she resigned last week because she is smack in the middle of the US attorney scandal, was a third ranking official in the Justice Department of the United States. She's 33 years old and though she never worked as a prosecutor, she was tasked at overseeing the job performance of all 93 US attorneys. How do you get to the top that fast? Harvard? Princeton? No, Goodling did her undergraduate work at Messiah College. You know Messiah, the home of the fighting Christies and then went on to attend Pat Robertson's Law School. Yes, Pat Robertson, the man who said that the presence of gay people at Disneyworld would cause earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor - has a Law School. And what kid wouldn't want to attend? It's three years and you only have to read one book. US News and World Reports which does the definitive ranking of colleges lists Regent's as a tier four school which is the lowest score it gives. It's not a hard school to get into. You have to renounce Satan and draw a pirate on a matchbook. This is for people who couldn't get into the University of Phoenix.

Now, would you care to guess how many graduates of this televangelist diploma bill work in the Bush Administration? One hundred and fifty! And you wonder why things are so messed up? We are talking about a top justice department official who went to a college funded by a TV host. Would you send your daughter to Maury Povich U? And if you did, would you expect her to get a job at the Whitehouse? In 200 years we have gone from "We the people" to "up with people", from the "best and the brightest" to "dumb and dumber" and where better to find people who are dumb enough to believe in George Bush than Pat Robertson's Law School. The problem here in America, isn't that the country is being run by elites, it's that it is being run by a bunch of hayseeds. And by the way, the lawyer Monica Goodling just hired to keep her ass out of jail - went to a real law school.

H/T (again!) to
Beep, beep, it's me (Beepx2, we've gotta stop meeting like this...)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A History of Disbelief by Jonathan Miller

H/T to Beep Beep, it's me.

In this first ever television history of disbelief, Jonathan Miller goes on a journey exploring the origins of his own lack of belief and uncovering the hidden story of atheism.

Jonathan Miller visits the absent Twin Towers to consider the religious implications of 9/11 and meets Arthur Miller and the philosopher Colin McGinn. He searches for evidence of the first 'unbelievers' in Ancient Greece and examines some of the modern theories around why people have always tended to believe in mythology and magic.

With the domination of Christianity from 500 AD, Jonathan Miller wonders how disbelief began to re-emerge in the 15th and 16th centuries. He discovers that division within the Church played a more powerful role than the scientific discoveries of the period. He also visits Paris, the home of the 18th century atheist, Baron D'Holbach, and shows how politically dangerous it was to undermine the religious faith of the masses.

The history of disbelief continues with the ideas of self-taught philosopher Thomas Paine, the revolutionary studies of geology and the evolutionary theories of Darwin. Jonathan Miller looks at the Freudian view that religion is a 'thought disorder'. He also examines his motivation behind making the series touching on the issues of death and the religious fanaticism of the 21st century.

Part 2. You'll find the other parts (all approx. 10 mins long) under the Related tab of the latter page.