Monday, December 31, 2007

The Most Wonderful Election of the Year...

Whichever candidates the voters nominate, the choice before Americans in November 2008 will be stark indeed.

Michael Tomasky in Washington

The best news as 2008 dawns, of course, is that this most endless of presidential campaigns now finally reaches a point at which something actually happens. Finally the people will speak, starting Thursday in Iowa. So what will they say?

The races in both parties have developed along very unexpected lines, making this probably the most fascinating presidential election in decades. Let's start with the Republicans. Here we have the most unpopular sitting president since Richard Nixon. Significant majorities of his countrymen have long since concluded that they made a mistake in electing him; that he isn't up to the job; that he basically lied us into a war; that his domestic policies have been at best no great shakes; and that the conservative ideology to which he has been in thrall has not served the country well, to put it mildly.

And yet, by and large, the Republican candidates are running on exactly the same policies that Bush has pursued. Consider this list. All the major Republican candidates want to "stay the course" in Iraq, denouncing any discussion of withdrawal as evidence of pusillanimity. All see the fight against terrorism in more or less Bushian terms. All want to make the Bush tax cuts, now scheduled to sunset in 2010, permanent - even John McCain, who at the time voted against them. All have promised the leaders of the Christian right that they will appoint supreme court judges "in the mould of" Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

What this euphemistic language means is that whatever a candidate's previous positions on abortion and gay rights - Rudy Giuliani, for instance, has supported both - the leaders of the religious conservative movement have exacted commitments from all the Grand Old Party candidates to appoint the kind of judges they want, and that matters far more than past positions.

There's more. Healthcare is a priority in this election. But to hear these Republicans, you'd never know it. Their healthcare plans range from cynical to inadequate. Climate change? They barely acknowledge the problem and are particularly loath to acknowledge that human activity has contributed to it. They continue to insist, as Republicans since Ronald Reagan have, that the only real domestic enemy the American people face is the federal government, which they continue to want to starve.

It's pretty astonishing, really - we're at the tail end of a failed presidency, and the people running to succeed it are promising to continue its failed policies.

Now, many observers would say, well, they're just pandering to their party's rightwing base, and once one of them secures the nomination, he will tack to the centre. Undoubtedly, he will, for tactical reasons. But the real question is how the next Republican will govern should he happen to win. And the answer to that question is that there's every reason to assume that he will be just as a conservative as Bush for one simple reason: the interest groups that run the GOP will not brook much deviation from the standard line.

Those interest groups are three. The neocons run foreign policy - the Iraq disaster has not affected their influence in the GOP one whit. The theocons run social policy. And the radical anti-taxers run domestic policy. Until forces inside the GOP rise up to challenge these interests, any Republican administration will be roughly as conservative as Bush. The candidates have slightly different theories of stasis, they will tinker around this edge or that, but that's about all you can say.

On the Democratic side, there is far more divergence. Not so much on policy - they're all for universal or nearly universal healthcare, for getting out of Iraq, for doing more for unions, for bringing some equity and progressivity to our taxation system and so on. If you'd asked me a year ago what the major Democrats' positions on the leading issues would be, I would not have guessed that they'd be this uniformly liberal.

What they differ on is how they and the country will accomplish these things. The astute analyst and writer Mark Schmitt was the first to identify this phenomenon, naming the Democratic race the "theory of change" primary. John Edwards's theory of change is that the system is corrupt, spoiled by corporate greed, and so the way to get change is to wage a kind of class war against it. Barack Obama's theory of change is to ask independents and conservatives of good faith to work with him on encircling resistant forces and changing the system. Hillary Clinton's theory of change is that the system is failing Americans in certain particular respects and that it is best massaged by someone with years of experience working within it.

The Democratic caucus-goers of Iowa will tell us Thursday night which of these theories, retailed to them at close range for many months, they've embraced, although the outcome seems likely to be close, so the question won't yet be settled. Republican caucus-goers seem more likely to tell us that they like Mike Huckabee's version of stasis. But even that won't reveal much, because Iowa's GOP caucus-goers are heavily weighted toward religious conservatives like Huckabee.

Whichever theory of change Democratic voters nominate, and whichever theory of statis Republican voters select, the choice before Americans next November will be stark. In 2004, many Americans, particularly liberals fearful about a second Bush term, took to calling that election "the most important of my lifetime". And it was, for a while. Now this one is.

• Michael Tomasky is editor of Guardian America

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Cracker: Mystery Calculator Cards...

For once my Christmas cracker, cracked at a home party, contained something other than the usual useless Fabergé egg, so fashionable down our way. No, I got a pack of six cards, the so-called Mystery Calculator, which provides a neat little party trick for the non-initiated.

It goes like this. The six cards all have 32 numbers on them, all between 1 and 63 and arranged in a matrix of 4 rows and 8 columns per card. The unsuspecting participant is asked to randomly pick one card from the deck of 6 and to silently memorise one of the 32 numbers on that card. The card is then handed back to the magician and the participant is asked to select from the 5 remaining cards those that also have the memorised number on them.

The magician, based on the initially chosen card as well as the cards selected in the second step, is then able to divine which was the number the participant had silently chosen in the first place. With a bit typical magician's hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo, this neat little trick will draw some ooohs! and aaahs! from the party audience.

So what's the math behind the magic? All the magician has to do is to add the left hand corner numbers of the initial card and the other selected cards and this is always the number the participant had silently memorised!

It works like this. Although the numbers on the cards appear randomly selected numbers between 1 and 63, they're actually chosen specifically to appear on each card.

Each integral number can be broken down as a sum of powers of two, for example 15 can be written as 23 + 22 + 21 + 20 = 8 + 4 + 2 + 1. The binary form of the number 15 is thus 1111. Similarly, the binary code of 33 = 24 + 20 = 32 + 1. The binary code of 33 is thus 10001.

The numbers in the left hand corner of the six cards are 1 (20), 2 (21), 4 (22), 8 (23), 16 (24) and 32 (25). To determine which other 31 numbers between 1 and 63 have to appear on each card, arrange them all in a digital matrix as follows:

1 = 00001
2 = 00010
3 = 00011
4 = 00100
5 = 00101
15 = 01111
33 = 10001
34 = 10010
63 = 11111

The numbers which have to appear on the card with 1 in the left hand corner are the ones whose digital representation contains a 1 in the last column, i.e. (1,) 3, 5, 7,..., 63.

The numbers which have to appear on the card with 2 in the left hand corner are the ones whose digital representation contains a 1 in the one before last column, i.e. (2,) 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, ..., 63.

The numbers which have to appear on the card with 4 in the left hand corner are the ones whose digital representation contains a 1 in the column 2 places from the last column, i.e. (4,) 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, ..., 63.

And so forth. Try it, it works every time. Here are the cards and the explanation.

An alternative version of the trick consists in asking the participant to simply silently choose any number between 1 and 63 and memorise it. Then ask him to select from the magical cards those who contain the memorised number, do your hocus pocus (involve a 'beautiful assistant', if you've got one at hand), add up the left hand corner numbers of the selected cards and you've got the memorised number...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A tale of two cities

East Jerusalem is of no practical or religious use to Israel. Allowing it to become the Palestinian capital would benefit everyone.

Seth Freedman

Half way along the route from my house and the town centre, the bus approaches the walls of the Old City before swinging sharply to the left and heading up Jaffa Road. As it veers round the corner, the spot we call "the edge of the world" comes into view - the invisible divide between East and West Jerusalem, which effectively marks the city limits of the Jewish part of town. Barely any Jew has reason to venture beyond the junction, since - whatever the diehard nationalists claim - Jerusalem is a divided city already, in all but name.

Which is why there really is no good reason for Israel to continue to hold on to the Arab half of the city, especially given the mileage the government would gain from relinquishing their grasp. The political significance of acceding to Palestinian demands to hand over half of Jerusalem would mark a watershed moment in relations between the two peoples, and provide enough momentum to carry peace negotiations to previously uncharted waters.

Not that we should be motivated by political manoeuvring alone. As a friend of mine commented while we ate lunch near the Kotel (Western Wall): "We ought to be proud to give the Palestinians their half of the city, so that they can experience the same joy at gaining their spiritual capital that we did in '67." In his eyes, not only would we be "lifting a great weight from our own shoulders", but also bestowing on the Palestinians the same gift of pride and self-worth that so inspired the Israeli public when Jerusalem was conquered 40 years ago.

Anyone with a real desire to grant the Palestinians a viable, independent state is all too aware that East Jerusalem must be included in the package, if there is to be any chance of a successful resolution. Just as Israeli Jews didn't feel their country was complete until the Old City was captured in the six-day war, so too will the Palestinians feel eternally short-changed if they are expected to live in a state that doesn't have East Jerusalem as its capital.

However, even in what some describe as the post-Annapolis state of optimism, the issue of dividing Jerusalem is still an incredibly thorny one - to Israelis, at least. According to the November peace index published by Tel Aviv University, 39% of Israelis interviewed saw Jerusalem as the most difficult hurdle to overcome in the quest for peace between the two camps. Although this figure has declined considerably since 1999 (when it stood at 57%), there is no denying that decades of nationalist propagandising has left a significant impact on Israeli psyches when it comes to the prospect of carving up the holy city.

But, while many Israelis are happy to let their hearts rule their heads, the plain facts are that East Jerusalem is of no importance whatsoever in either practical or religious terms. As Ruth Meisels pointed out in Friday's Ha'aretz, "there is no commandment mandating Jewish political sovereignty in Jerusalem". Just because the orthodox have adopted Jerusalem as a symbol of Jewish independence and autonomy, does not mean that the rest of the country should be duped into believing the hype. Jerusalem is no more required to be under Jewish control than Herzliya or Tel Aviv, as far as the Bible is concerned.

Therefore, given the potential for reconciliation with our Palestinian neighbours by agreeing to share control of the city, it takes a particularly hard heart to demand that not one inch of Jerusalem is ceded in the interests of peace. Whether we like it or not, the only way forward in the search for true harmony is to treat the Palestinians as equals when it comes to negotiations, and that means acknowledging that their claims to Jerusalem are just as worthy as our own.

Consenting to such a deal doesn't have to mean that the we revert to the pre-1967 situation, when Jews were all but denied access to the Western Wall. As I wrote in June, the Kotel is the focal point of world Jewry, and consequently we can never allow it to become off-limits again to those who wish to pray there. But that stipulation doesn't preclude the possibility of turning the Old City into an international protectorate, where Jews and Muslims alike would be able to roam unimpeded.

If that were to happen, the rest of the puzzle would fall into place pretty easily. The area lying to the east of the Old City, which is all but entirely Palestinian, should be handed over to serve as capital of the new Palestinian entity, whilst all that lies to the west would remain under Jewish control. And then, in the conciliatory climate that would inevitably follow such a move, perhaps the world would finally recognise West Jerusalem as Israel's capital - something it has understandably refused to do until now.

Until the issue of Jerusalem is resolved fairly, there is little chance of any of the post-Annapolis green shoots thriving and producing any kind of worthwhile harvest. The Palestinians have said as much, and - along with the refugee dilemma - there is no way that any Palestinian leader can be expected to deliver peace without having brought his people an honourable resolution to the problem.

And, painful as it may be to admit, the Israelis know that if they are to ever do justice to their downtrodden neighbours, they will have to part with much of their beloved city. To not do so will mean prolonging the conflict for another half century and another two or three generations - and that would be far too heavy a price to pay just to protract the myth that Jerusalem is "united".

Friday, December 21, 2007

Emerson and Colmes

Self-proclaimed 'terrorism expert' Steve Emerson (or as Wiki describes him more accurately: an "[...] American investigative journalist specializing in national security, terrorism, and Islamic extremism" was over at Shammity and Colmes to try and pre-emptively convict the Holy Land defendants before their pending re-trial. Now I don't proclaim to know much about this case at all, apart from snippets I've caught on Fox yesterday and on a few prior occasions, the re-trial should shed more light on the alleged guilt of the defendants any time soon, so there's no real point in jumping the gun. But Emerson couldn't wait to wade in before that and clashed once again with Alan Colmes (this time co-hosting with Horn Shammity's stand-in, Mark Steyn). Any time soon now I'm expecting the volatile Emerson to completely lose his rag with Colmes, by calling him a 'self-loathing Jew' or similar ("Alan, we're doing this for a Good Cause, get with the program!"). The two clearly don't get on well.

Transcript by NewsHounds:
Then Alan Colmes stepped in. Their confrontation was something of a grudge match; their last several discussions have turned contentious. “You’re going to blame this on one juror,” Colmes asserted. “As Jonathan Turley has said, you know the famous law professor, this trial shows the government’s allegations in the first place were highly suspect and should probably never have brought them in the first place.”

Colmes correctly summarized Turley’s remarks, at least as far as they were reported in the LA Times. But Emerson dismissed them. “What are you talking about, Alan?” Emerson said derisively.

Colmes sarcastically quipped, “You want me to talk slower?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t talk,” Emerson said snidely. “Because Turley represents…”

Colmes continued, talking over the end of Emerson’s last sentence. “That the government shouldn’t have brought this case, that’s what the issue is… You get very insulting and you ought to stop doing that.”

Colmes went on to cite more of the LA Times article which included a statement from one other juror who felt the government’s case was weak.

Emerson dropped his pretense of impartiality. “They violated the law. They were providing money to Hamas! …You’re willing to defend the behavior of one juror who basically harassed, bullied, intimidated other jurors.”

Colmes cut him off. “No, Steve, I’m willing to defend the judicial system in this country. I’m willing to defend the process. And you don’t like the process when it doesn’t favor the result you want.”

“No, I’m not saying that at all,” Emerson contended. “I’m saying, let’s look at what the juror said. And the jurors, themselves, said that this one juror who sought out the limelight, he was the only one to speak (Emerson conveniently forgot about the second juror quoted in the LA Times as being critical of the government’s case), he fit in perfectly with the LA Times profile which is that it’s racial profiling. That’s absolutely not the case. It was a good case to bring (Emerson is not a lawyer) and we’ll see the re-match in April.”

Colmes said sarcastically, “Can’t wait.”

Video of the item below:

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British Crimbo Wars?

Sorry to disappoint, but it's nonsense to suggest we want to ban Christmas

The seasonal attack on secularists harbours a poisonous suggestion that 'our way of life' is threatened by foreigners

Polly Toynbee

My thanks to the kind reader who sent me the programme from this year's Christmas carol service at the Old Royal Naval College chapel in Greenwich. It was written by the Rev Jules Gomes, chaplain of the college, and of Trinity College of Music, and also of the University of Greenwich.

Here is the good chaplain's Christmas message: "More Christians have been martyred for their faith in the last century than in any other period of church history. Yesterday's Herod is today's Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee, seeking the total extermination of all forms of Christianity. The great irony is that the greatest opposition to Christ comes from so-called broad-minded people who seek to ban Christmas so that people of other faiths are not offended."

Yes, it is that time of year when secularists, atheists and humanists become the Grinches who stole Christmas. As an honorary associate of the National Secular Society and president of the British Humanist Association, here is my cue to offer you all a rattling good Christmas "Bah, humbug!". Except, of course, it's all utter nonsense. No one is out to ban Christmas or Christianity - not atheists nor other faiths. Yet every year the same urban myths are repeated about the banning of Christmas by some pantomime villain local authority suffering from "political correctness gone mad". King Rat Christmas wreckers are unearthed, and every year these turn out to be garbage stories, but they are stored in the attic for another airing next December.

I had at least five calls from broadcasters this year inviting me to say it would be a jolly good thing if Christmas were rebranded Winterval. That myth began years ago when Birmingham city council tried to spread the festive season across the long winter - though it never replaced Christmas, which came with official celebrations in the middle of it. But the Winterval myth lives on. This year it was joined by this: "God rest ye merry people all, Let nothing go to waste, So let us all this Decemberval, Recycle now with haste." Although written by a vicar for Warrington's Christmas recycling campaign, watch Decemberval enter anti-Christmas demonology.

Christmas opinion polls stir the same pot. Theos, the religious thinktank, found a quarter of adults and over a third of 18- to 24-year-olds couldn't say where Jesus was born. Over half didn't know John the Baptist was Jesus's cousin; over a quarter didn't know who told Mary she was pregnant; and 78% had no idea where Mary and Joseph fled to escape Herod. Even the faithful were ignorant: only 36% of regular churchgoers got all four answers right. I regard this as awful. The loss of classical mythology has made much poetry, art and literature incomprehensible to most people. The loss of Christian mythology would make most European history and painting impenetrable. Secularists do not welcome ignorance as a substitute for declining faith.

Pursuing their annual "atheists are stealing Christmas" riff, a Sunday Telegraph survey of 100 schools found only one in five had a traditional nativity play this year, which is odd considering over a third of primaries are Christian. The sad truth is that some did no play, but others did Scrooge, Arabian Nights, Hansel and Gretel, or the Snow Queen, all also cultural treasures.

British Christians yearn to be martyrs, but frankly atheists are a pretty toothless substitute for lions. In a daft parliamentary debate this month on something called Christianophobia, Mark Pritchard MP accused the politically correct of banning religion from Christmas cards and advent calendars: "Many shoppers find it increasingly difficult to purchase greetings cards that refer to Jesus." Alas, market forces are probably rather stronger than humanist plots: with only 7% of people in church of a Sunday these days, Santa and the Snowman trump the nativity.

Evangelicals started a new myth this year that postage stamps with the Madonna and child are only sold under the counter: you have to ask for them, for fear of offending Muslims and Jews. Stuff and nonsense, retorted the Post Office. But you can bet this one will run and run - along with last year's myth that 70% of offices banned Christmas decorations for multicultural reasons. Another year it was the Red Cross banning cribs.

All this would just be seasonal silliness if it were not cover for a more sinister drumbeat. The right has taken to flying the "Christian" flag in ways that suggest none too subtly that foreigners - Muslims - are stealing our culture and traditions. "They" are stopping "us" celebrating Christmas and teaching Christian stories to our children. When Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, appeared on GMTV this week, although as usual he denied any atheist plot against Christmas, the theme in about 3,000 emails afterwards was: "We are not Muslims, our culture must not be silenced to avoid offending them."

The BNP has been quick to cash in. In the Christianophobia debate in parliament, the reported case of a BNP Christmas card was raised, "which portrays the holy family on the cover and inside are the words 'Heritage, Tradition and Culture'". Pritchard warned television firms: "The fear of violence from a particular faith group should not be grounds for hand-selecting or targeting other faith groups who may choose to protest peacefully." Fear of Muslim violence is killing off peaceful Christianity, he implies. But blaming mythical secular political correctness is usually a cover for more sinister suggestions that "our way of life" is under threat from foreigners.

Hastening to defend themselves against the charge, Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, assembled imams, rabbis, Sikh and Hindu leaders to protest that they had no objection to Christmas, asserting that they sent Christmas cards, they liked cribs, and "it's a great holiday for everyone". Leave Christmas alone was the message, addressed again to the hypothetical politically correct secularists.

But we are innocent. It is the Christians who are stirring this dangerous pot, inventing non-stories, yearning for martyrdom - and worse, fermenting an outraged sense among the mainly secular population that they had better call themselves Christian because, as the BNP says, British "Heritage, Tradition and Culture" (read Kultur) are under threat from Muslims. While pretending to attack us, covertly these Christians stir resentment against immigrants.

As more faith trouble brews, it becomes ever more important not to ban religions, but to keep religion out of all functions of the state. It needs to be taught in schools, acted out in nativity plays, too, if they want - but without dangerously segregating children by their faith in sectarian religious institutions. And at last we have at least one political party leader brave enough to admit, like most people, that he doesn't believe in God.

As for secularists and humanists at Christmas, Dawkins himself told a disappointed BBC interviewer that he loves singing carols. And so do I. Not just Away in a Manger or Oh Little Town nostalgic childhood tunes, but all the enjoyably rich and strange theology of "Lo! He abhors not the Virgin's womb ... Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity", and other such quaint delights.

Is it hypocritical to sing songs with words whose literal truth you do not believe? Any such sad edict would leave most great love songs, hymns and arias unsung. If the royal family can trill, with solemn faces and gladsome minds, "What can I give him, poor as I am?" then anyone can.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Greatest American of All

... according to perennial nincompoop Horn Shammity is... Bill Cunningham! I've seen this talk radio host on Fixed News a couple of times and going by appearance and diction alone I'd say he was the prototype when someone came up with the term "talking head".

Yesterday Bill was back (yep, greeted again by Hannity as "the greatest American of all"). The item (or non-item if you ask me) was all about Time magazine's choice of Person of the Year, Vladimir Putin. Bill didn't get it of course. In Bill's Manichean Fire and Brimstone Cold War mind, these terrible Far Left types like Alan Colmes (a centrist liberal if I've ever seen one) had elected the devil himself (and not General Petreaus).

Cunningham's contribution reached a couple of comical climaxes:
“Look at Alan Colmes and those of his liberal persuasion. They would give us increased welfare, they’d give us abortion on demand, they would allow the killing of Russian dissidents in London. This is a terrible thing for the American people, Sean Hannity. I think I see a hammer and sickle floating behind Alan Colmes’ head right now.”
Needless to say, Bill was seeing things but that shouldn't come as a surprise.

And minutes later he found Lucifer too!! And it's (wait for it...): Putin!

Bill, honestly, we want to see more of you, you provide a breath of fresh air on Faux Noise...

Now watch the segment below:

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Swiss Guards confiscate Golden Compass

No, no, that didn't happen. But the Crimbo wars, fought so ferociously in the US, including on the silver screen, now have their own ridiculous miniature British equivalent over the kid's adventure movie The Golden Compass. This time it's l'Osservatore Romano (the Vatican's official mouthpiece) doing the bidding by branding the film as "un-Christian", although how many Hail Marys it costs if you go and see it anyway isn't mentioned (most unhelpful). The American Christian public has little to fear: they had already been warned on Faux Noise by Christian gamblin' man Ralph Reed that their broods would be subjected to un-Christian messages in this movie...

The Guardian briefly here...

UK cinemagoers flock to 'anti-Christmas' Compass

Despite being labelled "the most anti-Christmas film possible" by the Vatican, The Golden Compass consolidated its hold at the top of the UK box office this week. The big budget adaptation of the Philip Pullman fantasy saga earned £12m to comfortably hold off the challenge of new arrivals Enchanted and Bee Movie, which entered the chart in second and third place respectively.

Fred Claus fell two spots to fourth position, while the toyshop spectacular Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium was another new entry at five.

The Golden Compass has generally received lukewarm reviews from the critics, although few were as stinging as an editorial in this week's issue of the official Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano, which looks unlikely to be one that the makers will be putting on the poster. It condemned the film as "un-Christian" and "the most anti-Christmas film possible" and added that it was "devoid of any particular emotion apart from a great chill".

The editorial took particular issue with Pullman's vision. "In Pullman's world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events," it said.

They should know: like most religions they've been trying to "control the situation and dominate events" for centuries. No let up from that as yet...

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Creationists plan British theme park

creationist_seeking_a_clue!Yes folks, evilutionism is to be dealt a decisive blow and the opening shot of this final battle is to be fired in Lancashire, Britain! According to Peter Jones, one of the theme park's trustees, it'll reduce binge drinking among the young as well... Is this the Peter Jones of Dragon's Den television fame? It's not clear at this point (although it would appear uncharacteristic for the Dragon to claim "Today all they [youngsters] do is binge drink").

The Observer

The latest salvo in creationism's increasingly ferocious battle with evolution is about to be fired in Lancashire. Not in a fiery sermon preached from the pulpit, but in the form of a giant Christian theme park that will champion the book of Genesis and make a multi-media case that God created the world in seven days.

The AH Trust, a charity set up last year by a group of businessmen alarmed by the direction in which they see society heading, has identified a number of potential sites in the north west of England to build the £3.5m Christian theme park.

The trust claims it already has a number of rich backers who are keen to invest in the project, which will boast two interactive cinemas, a cafeteria, six shops and a television recording studio, allowing it to produce its own Christian-themed films and documentaries.

The 5,000-capacity park will be the first of its kind in Britain, but not in the world. In Orlando, Florida, hundreds of thousands of visitors make pilgrimages to the Holy Land Experience, where they can see a bloodied Jesus forced to carry his cross by snarling Roman soldiers.

Peter Jones, one of the Lancashire theme park's trustees, said the emphasis would be on multimedia rather than the costume re-enactments of famous biblical scenes favoured at Holy Land. 'It will be a halfway house for youngsters,' Jones said. 'Today all they do is binge drink. We will be able to offer them an alternative.'

By producing its own films, the trust believes it will be able to provide an antidote to modern culture. It says on its website: 'On television today there is so much sex and violence, it is no wonder our youth are binge drinking ... This is a revolutionary scheme requiring innovative people with the vision to bring about change and a new direction.'

It declined to say who the backers were, but admitted it is talking to a number of businessmen who have invested in city academies, leading to speculation that it may have approached Sir Peter Vardy, who has given millions of pounds to advance the claims of creationism - the belief that God created the world and that Darwin's theory of evolution is wrong.

While the plans for the park are still in their infancy, the trust has big ambitions. A business plan available to prospective investors suggests the park could bring in £4.8m a year - apparently 10 times its estimated overhead costs.

The trust also says it plans to apply for government grants and European funding to help it realise its dream of turning the television studio into 'an international leader in promoting family-oriented Christian programmes'.

Although concerns about the direction of modern society are the trust's main motivation for building the theme park, it is also in response to what the trustees identify as a sense of drift within the Church of England.

'The church in this country is in crisis and many church leaders living in Australia, America and Canada have openly proclaimed that God has left the church in England,' the trust states on its website.

'Evolution has falsely become the foundation of our society and we need the television studio to advocate Genesis across this land in order to remove this falsehood, which presently is destroying the church foundation.'

The theme park's anti-evolution bias and its emphasis on Genesis has raised eyebrows among planning officials, according to Jones, who originally wanted to build the park at the site of an old B&Q store but was refused permission by the council.

'Wigan council slammed the door in our faces. You mention the C [Christian] word, and people don't want to know,' Jones said.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Policy Exchange on Newsnight

Newsnight_logoLast night's Newsnight program was one of the more memorable ones in a while. In this episode, Richard Watson, not usually known for his sympathy towards Islam, presented the reasons why earlier on in October Newsnight had decided not to run an exclusive item on the report of the independent think tank Policy Exchange on their claims that a quarter of the 100 mosques their researchers had visited were selling hate literature.

Instead Richard Watson, armed with some of Policy Exchange's receipts (part of the evidence of their claims regarding the sale of extremist materials at said mosques) and a good dollop of dogged determination to get to the truth, found that at least part of the evidence was highly questionable, to put it mildly. Here are some of Newsnight's findings with regards to the veracity of said receipts:
1. In all five cases the mosques involved said the receipts did not belong to them.

2. The expert analysis showed that all five had been printed on an inkjet printer - suggesting they were created on a PC.

3. The analysis found "strong evidence" that two of the receipts were written by the same person.

4. The analysis found that one of the receipts had been written out while resting on another receipt said to be from a mosque 40 miles away.

It's important to note that Watson didn't claim Policy Exchange's conclusions with regards to the sale of extremist literature at some British Mosques was wholly incorrect, but merely that in five out of twenty five cases the evidence underpinning there conclusions seems highly questionable and seriously calls into question Policy Exchange's methodology with regards to evidence gathering. That extremist literature is sold in some instances at British mosques wasn't really in doubt here.

Who is Policy Exchange? In their own words:
Policy Exchange is an independent think tank whose mission is to develop and promote new policy ideas which will foster a free society based on strong communities, personal freedom, limited government, national self-confidence and an enterprise culture.

After last night's Newsnight episode and Dean Godson's (of Policy Exchange) performance when grilled by the inimitable Jeremy Paxman, it's impossible to believe any longer in the think tank's independent status. Dean Godson came across as an extremely partisan person who dodged Paxman's questions, went on to deflect and minimise, created straw man arguments and on the whole seemed to think attack was the best form of defense when faced with flaws in his organisation's evidence gathering methodology. At one point he could be seen waving a copy of "Women who deserve to go to hell" (a book found in several mosques) which appeared to Godson to vindicate the entire report. He also claimed to "stand[s] by his report 100 %", an absurd claim when one considers about 20 % of its evidentiary basis had just been sunk. Clearly Mr Godson wants badly to believe in the perfidy of the mosque booksellers, no matter what. Dodson is a partisan person when it comes to Islam (and I stand by that 100 %) and for that reason alone cannot be considered independent or objective.

On several counts he also attacked Peter Barron (of Newsnight), accusing him at one point of "bottling it" with regards to publishing Newsnight's report on Policy Exchange's findings. Here's Peter Barron's response (note: it contains video links to the actual program, as well as photos of some of the dodgy receipts):
Last night on Newsnight, Dean Godson of the think tank Policy Exchange accused me personally (watch it here) of making a "disastrous editorial misjudgement" and of "appalling stewardship of Newsnight". I think I should respond to that.

Mr Godson was responding to Richard Watson's investigation (watch it here) into Policy Exchange's recent report - entitled "The Hijacking of British Islam" - which accused several leading mosques of selling extremist literature.

In October Newsnight had been due to run an exclusive report on the findings and Policy Exchange had given us the receipts to corroborate their claim that a quarter of the 100 mosques their researchers had visited were selling hate literature.

On the planned day of broadcast our reporter Richard Watson came to me and said he had a problem. He had put the claim and shown a receipt to one of the mosques mentioned in the report - The Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in London. They had immediately denied selling the book and said the receipt was not theirs.

We decided to look at the rest of the receipts and quickly identified five of the 25 which looked suspicious. They appeared to have been created on a home computer, rather than printed professionally as you would expect. The printed names and addresses of some of the mosques contained simple errors and two of the receipts purportedly from different mosques appeared to have been written by the same hand.

I spoke to Policy Exchange to try to clear up these discrepancies but in the end I decided not to run the report. This is not because I "bottled" it as Mr Godson suggests, but because I did not have the necessary level of confidence in the evidence presented.

In the days that followed we focused further on the five receipts about which we had concerns and eventually asked a forensic scientist to analyse them. This is what we found.

1. In all five cases the mosques involved said the receipts did not belong to them.

2. The expert analysis showed that all five had been printed on an inkjet printer - suggesting they were created on a PC.

3. The analysis found "strong evidence" that two of the receipts were written by the same person.

4. The analysis found that one of the receipts had been written out while resting on another receipt said to be from a mosque 40 miles away.

Mr Godson says he stands by his report 100%. I also stand by our report 100%. I don't think we can both be right. [my emphasis]

But Watson and Barron aren't the only ones questioning Policy Exchange's standards of research. Here is Gabriele Marranci, an anthropologist specialising in the study of Muslim communities, in his piece on Policy Exchange's report: the blog post is called Policy Exchange Hijacks Professional Research.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The It's Its There Their They're Quiz

Yep, it's another viral quiz thingy. I scored an A and would have been mortally embarrassed at a lesser result, it's just a tad too easy over there. So dont fell to pruod if u get a good scores...

You Scored an A

You got 10/10 questions correct.

It's pretty obvious that you don't make basic grammatical errors.
If anything, you're annoyed when people make simple mistakes on their blogs.
As far as people with bad grammar go, you know they're only human.
And it's humanity and its current condition that truly disturb you sometimes.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Gospel of Evolution

Michael Dowd in another one of those relatively rare American Christians that accepts the now undisputed facts regarding the true age of the Earth and Evolutionary Biology. On the downside, it appears Dowd also believes that science somehow proves God's existence, something the vast majority of scientists, including many religious ones, would strongly dispute: God's existence or non-existence is almost certainly unknowable and the question is firmly outside of science's remit because God (assuming for argument's sake he does exist) is outside of the realm of the observable. Dowd's interpretation is a theistic reading of science and hence rather self-serving and in itself quite unscientific.

Nevertheless, the man clearly embraces the "birds and the bees" of modern Cosmology and Evolutionary Biology, a position that won't get him many "Thank you!" cards from certain more entrenched evangelical quarters. And the man has a sense of humour too. Michael: go forth and multiply plentifully. Here he is at work:

Michael Dowd's blog.

And here's an interview in

Hat tip to Bacon Eating Atheist Jew.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Windscale remembered...

Windscale front loading The worst nuclear accident in British history (and the first serious one in all of Mankind's history) was remembered on BBC 1's Monday late night documentary: "Windscale: Britain's Biggest Nuclear Disaster". It happened 50 years ago, on the night of 10 October 1957, when Pile 1, a graphite moderated and air cooled nuclear reactor for the production of military nuclear materials at the Windscale (now Sellafield) facility overheated and caught fire (see photos of both piles and schematic of these reactors here). Only 50 years after the facts is it now becoming clear that there was a rather major cover-up by the Macmillan government to absolve itself from responsibility and lay the blame at the door of the plant's operators.

The accident, which caused an estimated 240 cancers but which could have had a far, far worse outcome, has to be understood against the backdrop of the Cold War and Britain's bid to gain ascendancy at the top nuclear table. Not content with having achieved A bomb status, Britain feverishly sought partnership with the US for its H bomb project. And an upcoming ban on nuclear tests, to which Britain was about to subscribe, would mean it would soon become impossible to develop a testable (H) weapon and convince the US that Britain would be a suitable partner to share its H bomb technology secrets with.

And so a race against time began, which involved stepping up the production of Tritium (a vital component of hydrogen bombs) by a factor of 500 % to meet the demands for bomb development. An early British H bomb test that failed to reach the 1 megaton threshold didn't really help the situation much either.

Britain thus found herself steaming ahead to meet unrealistic Tritium production quota with two reactors that by today's standards would be considered ramshackle, to say the least.

The exact cause of the accident remains, predictably perhaps, the subject of some controversy. For those who are interested in the technical details, I would say that going by the BBC documentary, Wikipedia's account of events, from detection of the fire to final extinguishing, appears a fairly accurate portrayal. At the time of the enquiry, blame was laid at the operators' door for initiating repeated so-called "Wigner releases" (although in an attempt to compromise, inadequate plant instrumentation was also blamed). But today's version of events acknowledges that the Macmillan government's initial blame game was more inspired by the fear that if American Congress had learnt that the fire was essentially the result of a reckless attempt to build the H bomb in record time, they would possibly have vetoed Eisenhower and Macmillan's plans for nuclear cooperation.

The story of those heady days when a disaster was averted from becoming a true catastrophe is well worth remembering, if only to avoid a future repeat. It's also to be noted that the mostly successful containment of the extremely dangerous radio nuclides (reaction by-products) was largely due to the incorporation of a particular design feature, the chimney filters, which almost didn't make it into the final design...

TV Dinners: How to make Gordon Ramsay

Gordon RamsayAh yes, Gordon Ramsay, what to say? The guy who made swearing and throwing tantrums in a TV studio kitchen into his USP (but no cussin' on Hell's Kitchen USA - he's not stupid). The guy who once claimed not to be a celebrity chef, yet is hardly ever found where he's supposed to be: in the kitchens of his internationally renowned restaurant empire - too busy prancing about on international telly. The guy who got paid for endorsing the lovely Bramley cooking apples, then publicly (yupper - on telly...) declared that "these fucking apples taste of nothing!" The guy, in short, you love to hate. Too successful to ignore, too much of a great chef (he is - honestly), too preoccupied with winning everything he gets involved in (he usually does), too adversarial to be a reasonable person, too OTT...

Here's Jim Shelley's recipe to be a Gordon Ramsay in your own domestic kitchen...

1. Stand in front of the shiniest surface in your kitchen. Tuft up hair and apply blond highlights in the style of a pin-up from the 1980s. Footballer Frank McAvennie for example. Or Limahl.

2. Next, carve face with crevices so deep you usually only see them on programmes about the volcanic wastes of Iceland (not the supermarket). Gauge grooves into your forehead, cheeks and, most weirdly, chin, until you resemble a very worried, more muscular version of Engie Benji.

3. For no reason that is apparent, take your top off.

4. Bounce up and down outside the back door bristling with all the energy and eagerness of a dog with two dicks. Rub hands together even though it's not cold.

5. Re-enter kitchen shouting: "Fuuuuuuuck me!" and "Fucking hell!" as if you are so wounded you may be about to start crying. Scrape traces of yesterday's Sunday roast out of oven and threaten to shut down those responsible (your other half) because of the threat of food poisoning, MRSA and bubonic plague.

6. Start talking in short. Sharp. Commands. And end every sentence with the word "yes?".

7. Shout: "Come on, big boy!" and "Where's your bollocks?" to any male (or female) unfortunate enough to wander into the kitchen for a sandwich. Tell anyone who disagrees with you to go back to France -- even if they're not French.

8. Declare that from now on the kitchen will only be serving cheap, simple food (soup, salmon, cheese on toast), using only local produce bought from local farms -- even if you live in Croydon. Yes?

"Watch" last night kitchen nightmare with live commentary here...

Which Historical Lunatic Are You?

Yep, it's another one of those viral test thingies which I have difficulty resisting. Take the test and find out (not) which historical madman you're supposed to be. Or as they call it: get looned up!

I'm Charles the Mad. Sclooop.
Which Historical Lunatic Are You?
From the fecund loins of Rum and Monkey.

H/T Simply Jews.

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Goodbye to HearOIsrael...

Fellow blogger and personal Tinkerwebs friend Eitan/Greg has packed in his blog, which up to today featured on my blogroll. Eitan fairly recently made Aliya, yet decided to return to the US for some time. He doesn't feel that from his new location, his blog (which used to be parked at makes sense anymore.

So, with some sadness, I'm adjusting my template accordingly. Eitan/Greg, don't forget to stop by every now and again...

Newt Gingrich's newsletter ads

As a non-US liberal I subscribe to Newt Gingrich's newsletter (and Ann Coulter's - I'm a glutton for punishment), mainly out of curiosity. Now, it's normal practice for successful, high readership newsletters to run paid advertising, a nice little revenue stream on the side as it were. In the case of Newt's political messaging, you wonder though whether the ads in his letter don't somewhat detract (to put it very mildly) from the political stumping, especially considering the strange nature of the newsletter's advertising content.

Fresh from the press this Wednesday, let's see, first and high up, an ad linking to this page (excerpt):


Discover why one M.D. says


And why you don't have to gulp it down by the gallon either.

Sure, drinking tons of water is great if you want to raise your stroke risk, bring on kidney failure, and encourage early Alzheimer's.

SURPRISED? But that's just one example of how MASS MEDIA MEDICINE is ruining our health. Next time anyone nags you to sweat, starve or give up your pleasures, turn the tables on them and ask:

* IS YOUR CHOLESTEROL HIGH ENOUGH to avoid heart attacks and strokes?
* ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH SUN to prevent the world's most dreaded cancers?
* ARE YOU EXERCISING SO HARD that it's hardening your arteries?
* ARE YOU EATING ENOUGH SALT to prevent high blood pressure?
* ARE YOU EATING ENOUGH EGGS & BACON to ward off macular degeneration?
* GOT ARTHRITIS? GUESS WHAT! This animal fat reverses the damage in 24 hours!


Learn how right now from medicine's most acclaimed myth-buster, William Campbell Douglass II, MD. Plus, find out why more than 100,000 doctors and health-savvy Individuals have joined his 'take back your life' crusade.

If you'd rather enjoy a beer than force down 8 glasses of water...

If you can't start the day without caffeine...

If you crave a good steak and can't stomach 10 vegetables a day...

GUESS WHAT? YOU'RE RIGHT and they're full of tofu...

I guess it's another case of the "liberal medjuh" peddling their constant pernicious lies, eh? As the trailer to the ad said "STOP DRINKING WATER NOW!"

Hell, Newt, I's switchin' to pitchers of the ole' cold ale right now, no Alzies fur me!

The next big ad goes like this:
"Novice Crew to 'Rob' Banks Legally...
... With an Inside Job!"

Are You Ready for a Quick Heist on The World's
'Hidden' Money-Mountain?
Great! The get-away car's about to leave!...


Please forgive the 'cloak and dagger', but I'm going out on a limb by telling you this...

I don't know how 'they' have done it... How do 'they' 'hide' access to the biggest pile of money in the world? How do 'they' manage to fill their fat coffers from it, day after day, while going relatively unnoticed? 'They' have profited for long enough... now it's YOUR turn...

How do I know all this? Who are 'they'?

'They' are the Wall Street fat-cats. And I used to work for them.

The next few minutes will expose you to highly sensitive information...

... If you're NOT interested in retiring from work
within a year (like I did), you should NOT read any further.

Needless to say, the truly endless sales pitch eventually leads you to an order page where you can order the life-saving CD for the princely sum of $1977.00 (plus postage of $14.95! - you'd have thought that at this price adding less than 1 % for P&P wouldn't be necessary but what do I know?)

Can't wait for Newt's next Wednesday glossy! I mean, what could be next? An ad for the most massive boob job of all womankind?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sudan Teddy Teacher freed...

Having been of the opinion that the Muhammad teddy flap was essentially a political spat between the Sudanese and British governments in which Islam played only a minor part as a kind of Tonkin incident I believe the evidence is now there for all to see: Gillian Gibbons is about to be flown home in the next few hours and has already been handed over to the British Embassy. Of course, all this elegant analysing takes nothing away from the fact that legally convicting a teacher for naming a soft toy after a prophet, upon the somewhat endearing request of the children in her class, is the height of absurdity. But all's well that ends well...

From The Guardian the PM on this case:
"I was delighted and relieved to hear the news that Gillian Gibbons is to be freed," Brown said in a statement. "She will be released into the care of our embassy in Khartoum after what must have been a difficult ordeal."

He added: "Through the course of Ms Gibbons's detention I was glad to see Muslim groups across the UK express strong support for her case.

"I applaud the particular efforts of Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi in securing her freedom. I am also grateful to our officials for all their work behind the scenes."

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, praised Gibbons's fortitude and described the successful campaign to free her as a "team effort".

Miliband, who spoke to the 54-year-old mother-of-two this afternoon, told reporters: "She has shown very good British grit in very difficult circumstances but I know that the most important thing for her is to get home as soon as possible and return to her family."

In a statement, Gibbons said she was "fine" and thanked those who had worked to win her release.

The teddy should be available on eBay shortly with the proceeds going to charity, I would hope...

Redacted... belatedly

Somewhat belatedly, here's my quick take on Brian De Palma's movie Redacted. First off, I haven't seen it and by the time I'll get to see it it'll definitely be old news: this is not the sort of feel-good fluff that usually gets shown in the one horse town I call home. Most likely I'll have to wait for the video release. Am I really that bothered to watch it? Not really. I believe it probably wouldn't really "teach" me all that much: war is a messy business and "bad shit happens" (sadly, we become somewhat immune to that). Which makes it all the more irritating that birdbrains like Bill O'Lielly feel the need to mount an assault on freedom of speech over it, including much hyperbole about how "this is going to hurt our troops" and with the rest of the gallery chirping the usual claptrap about "traitors" and "communists". Here's the Giant Head's "I'm coming after you, Mark Cuban" kerfuffle again (YouTube). I've gotta say Bill, that someone like me, and I bet I'm not the only one, became rather drawn to the movie like a bull to a red rag after watching your ridiculous antics with regards to what is essentially a piece of film making that's apparently based on true facts.

Here's the trailer (from the official Redacted site):

Here's the "criminal" (Brian De Palma) interviewed by Salon.

And this is Redacted's media toolkit, including the code for embedding the trailer into your blog or website.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Bin Laden's Latest Vid

Find the subtitled video here. In it, he calls for stopping European support for the US in Afghanistan. Is this a prelude to further attacks on European participants?

Osama still alive!

From the Cook Shack this one "for the weekend":

After numerous rounds of "We don't even know if Osama is still alive", Osama himself decided to send George Bush a letter in his own handwriting to let him know he was still in the game. Bush opened the letter and it contained a single line of coded message:


Bush was baffled, so he e-mailed it to Condoleezza Rice. Condi and her aides didn't have a clue either, so they sent it to the FBI.

No one could solve it at the FBI so it went to the CIA, then to Australian Intelligence (ASIO) and Mossad.

Eventually they asked MI6 for help.

Within a minute MI6 emailed the White House with this reply:
"Tell the President he's holding the message upside down."