Friday, 21 December 2007

Number Ten

Just listened to this: Anthony Sher plays the Prime Minister, Haydn Gwynne is Polly, his policy adviser, Stephen Mangan is Steve, Polly's sidekick, Elizabeth McGovern the Prince's American aide.
A really  good radio 4 series, Number Ten shows how intentions are not straightforward in politics. Vested interests, personal problems, conflicts of interest, clashes with other power groups (e.g. the unions), media sabotage, all make this a compelling series that exposes the kind of pressure (and crisis living) that political leaders today face.
More please!!!
for details.

Myerson and Hyman say they hope Number 10, like The West Wing, will move political drama beyond the satire of programmes like Yes, Minister and the 'one-issue' polemic of recent docudramas on David Blunkett, John Prescott and Tony Blair. 'The West Wing was about people who, however fallible, were trying to do good,' said Myerson. It is a quality that politicians of all parties share, he added.

The aim of Number 10, he said, is to show politicians as human beings, real people who grapple with the 'dilemmas of decision-making, the pain of surrendering principle to pragmatism and the joy of achievement in the face of the pessimists'.

Good News Day

As the Prime Minister prepares to announce an amnesty for all immigrants working illegally in the UK, a serious tube crash threatens to jeopardise his plans.

And Raise Them To Eternal Life

The party promised to eliminate Britain's carbon footprint, but poll ratings are plummeting and the unions are cutting up rough. Even the PM's stepson is protesting.

Who Won The Election?

As the government prepares for a major cancer screening initiative with a private American company, a leaked letter between the Prince and the Prime Minister appears to advocate legalising cannabis.

Rule Of Law

The PM is launching a new organisation intended to integrate Muslims into British society and prevent radicalisation. But first he has to decide whether to back Turkey's application for EU membership.

Home And Away

Crises loom on two fronts as the Prime Minister faces a backbench rebellion while British troops are being held hostage overseas.


Thursday, 20 December 2007

Karen Armstrong on Prayer

Extremely well put!

Prayer Helps Us Chip Away Our Egotism

I always had difficulty with prayer. If God knows everything and is, as the Qur'an says, closer to me than my jugular vein, why did he need to hear my requests?

I disliked the idea of a God who demands endless praise -- he reminded me of a tyrant who demands constant, obsequious abasement from his subjects. Surely God did not need to be reminded that he had created the world and that we are all miserable sinners, as we say so frequently in our liturgy.

And I had great problems with petition. Why should God answer my prayers, when he so clearly fails to heed the prayers of many hopeless people throughout the world? I also did not really believe in a God who would intervene in history and change the natural order: Why should he avert a storm from the location where I am planning a picnic and send the storm onto some other unfortunate folk?

But then I came to understand that prayer is really for us. It is selfishness and egotism that hold us back from God and our best selves. We use language to build a protective carapace around ourselves, to ward off attack and to bolster our self-esteem. How rare it is to really apologize; and how frequently the person who does apologize points out that you too are somewhat to blame

Prayer Helps Us Chip Away Our Egotism

I always had difficulty with prayer. If God knows everything and is, as the Qur'an says, closer to me than my jugular vein, why did he need to hear my requests?

I disliked the idea of a God who demands endless praise -- he reminded me of a tyrant who demands constant, obsequious abasement from his subjects. Surely God did not need to be reminded that he had created the world and that we are all miserable sinners, as we say so frequently in our liturgy.

And I had great problems with petition. Why should God answer my prayers, when he so clearly fails to heed the prayers of many hopeless people throughout the world? I also did not really believe in a God who would intervene in history and change the natural order: Why should he avert a storm from the location where I am planning a picnic and send the storm onto some other unfortunate folk?

But then I came to understand that prayer is really for us. It is selfishness and egotism that hold us back from God and our best selves. We use language to build a protective carapace around ourselves, to ward off attack and to bolster our self-esteem. How rare it is to really apologize; and how frequently the person who does apologize points out that you too are somewhat to blame for what has occurred.

How rare it is really to praise. There is a nasty little part of us that feels impaired by somebody else's success or good fortune. I recall a friend once saying to me: "Oh Karen! Congratulations on your marvelous reviews!" And then, almost immediately: "Have you put on weight recently?" People are often reluctant truly to thank somebody from the bottom of their heart or to express need: It is a tough world and you have to seem in control.

But prayer teaches us to use language in a different way: To thank, praise, and beg pardon wholeheartedly, without holding anything back. And as we do that, we chip away at our egotism. And that, in turn, will make us a force for good to the people around us and make the world a better place--without asking God to perform a miracle. for what has occurred.

How rare it is really to praise. There is a nasty little part of us that feels impaired by somebody else's success or good fortune. I recall a friend once saying to me: "Oh Karen! Congratulations on your marvelous reviews!" And then, almost immediately: "Have you put on weight recently?" People are often reluctant truly to thank somebody from the bottom of their heart or to express need: It is a tough world and you have to seem in control.

But prayer teaches us to use language in a different way: To thank, praise, and beg pardon wholeheartedly, without holding anything back. And as we do that, we chip away at our egotism. And that, in turn, will make us a force for good to the people around us and make the world a better place--without asking God to perform a miracle.


Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Experience of Poverty

 It really is a little disappointing that I must say the vast majority of my colleagues in the States of Jersey who have such a breadth of knowledge and experience and business acumen, have very, very little experience on a personal level of what it is like to try to retain one's pride in a very costly community.  Broadening the tax base and implementing support systems and broadening the welfare mechanisms in our society and taxing food is going to make retaining one's pride in this community a little more challenging for those people that attempt to on a daily basis.  It is unless you have lived a life of absolute getting-by that you will understand this. 
Deputy P.V.F. Le Claire:

Another Statistical Blunder

"Average salaries approximately £31,000 in the Islands.Therefore there will be an awful lot of people earning more than that in the Island, including accountants" says Deputy John Le Fondre in the States of Jersey.

Please note that this is by no means close to the median wage, which is (on the basis of pretty well every other country in the world) likely to be considerably less. Jersey still refuses to go to the extra trouble of ensuring that it reports median salaries, and until it does so any use of "average salaries" is hopelessly misleading. Wages are skewed distributions, not normal onces, and in fact there will be all awful lot of people (more than 50%, probably up to 70% or higher) earning less not more than the average salary.

The States Statistics department always issue these figures without much explanation, and the JEP usually makes matters worse. A course in elementary statistics for all States members should be compulsory!

A Political Commitment

Some good stuff in a States Speech the other day. It shows some Jersey politicians really care.

We are dealing with a single-parent family, one child, part-time work, fairly good income for that part-time work, and it is well worth Members studying this letter because from a monthly net income of £1,650, with all the outgoing standing orders listed and the weekly expenses of petrol, parking charges and food, this lady has a disposable income of £327 per month, that is £76.30 per week.  From that income she must pay for clothes, she must pay for replacement breakages, the sort of things that we all have, the washing machine goes wrong, the need for a new toaster, other activities such as birthday parties and presents.  She says: "Eating out is a rare occurrence; cinema is a luxury."  Now, I think this is very important because this... I am happy that vulnerable people in the current welfare system are going to be protected.  This side of the vulnerable community is outside the net at the moment: no income tax, no income support.  I believe that when I was elected Constable of St. Martin, I took on a commitment.  My commitment is simple.  It is to offer the care and protection of the very old, the very young, the poor, the sick and the people who could not look after their own affairs.
We are building a society, which is going to be better for the population of this Island.  On the idea that we should be working together through the departments of the States, I would like to bring you one little anecdote.  Not an anecdote because it happened last night in my Parish surgery.  One of my clients came in and said: "I am in trouble boss."  "What is the problem?"  "Well, I have actually had my social security cheque and incapacity benefit halved this month."  "Oh, why is that?"  "Well," he says: "I have a medical board to go to on 3rd December.  Here is the letter."  Sure enough, a medical board to attend on 3rd December to see if he is still incapacitated and fit to receive his incapacity benefit.  In the other hand, he showed me 2 other letters; one was for an appointment for an X-ray for his condition and the other one was an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon for 5th December; medical board 3rd December, orthopaedic surgeon 5th December.  He is going to have an operation, a major operation.  Now, for goodness sake, when we get this thing going, can we get the computers to talk to each other?  The net result was he was on half of his incapacity benefit and he had his rent to pay on 1st December.  Now, to him, that was a big problem, a very big problem, because he just did not have the money.  To me it was simple because I could say: "Right, we will give you a temporary loan to tide you over until your incapacity benefit goes back up to the full value, which apparently is going to take 2 weeks after his medical board.  I think this is just plain administrative stupidity.  I mean, why can the departments not talk to each other?  I would please address that to the departments. 
Connétable S.A. Yates of St. Martin

Friday, 14 December 2007

Parent Power

I think the days when parents had a lot of power are long gone, in my house
anyway. To get my teenage son to do anything is a mixture of argument,
persuasion, bribery, and when all else fails, increasing the level of
decibels. Sometimes threats ("I'll pull the plug on the PC if you don't come
and help with the dishes now").

How do you communicate with someone semi-permanently plugged in to an MP3
player, a mobile phone, who grunts at you anyway? I think the diplomatic
core at the Foreign Office probably had an easier time negotiating about the
Teddy Bear teacher.

I think the positive parenting manuals are probably written by the same
people who made those baby-grows that never fitted because they were
designed to fit on an immobile doll rather than a real baby. "One size fits
all" usually means won't fit anything, whether in baby clothes or in
considering children, who are all very different, despite the "grunt" stage.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Death of TF Torrance

TF Torrance has died. I still remember as a young student writing to him about some aspects of "unconditional grace" which I was unclear about an interview in a student Christian magazine. I did not expect much in the way of reply, but back came 5 sheets of hand-typed paper, duling signed by him.
Of all his works, "Space Time and Incarnation" is perhaps the most interesting, although I found "Space Time and resurrection" to be equally interesting, if perhaps slightly rougher around the edges. "God and Rationality", a book collection of various essays was also accessible, but his masterpiece is probably "Theological Science".
Eulogy by George Hunsinger

Thomas Forsyth Torrance (1913-2007), who died peaceably in Edinburgh on December 2nd, was arguably the greatest Reformed theologian since Karl Barth, with whom he studied, and an eminent 20th century ecumenist. Having served for 27 years as Professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1976; and in 1978, he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion for his contributions to the emerging field of theology and science.

In theology he generally placed himself somewhere between Calvin and Barth, though also moving well beyond them. An accomplished patristics scholar, he devoted himself to Eastern Orthodox–Reformed dialogue, being highly esteemed among the Orthodox for his ecumenical spirit and his grasp of primary sources in the original languages. He once surprised me by saying that his favorite theologian was Athanasius, whom he placed in illuminating relationship with Barth. An icon of the great Alexandrian appears as the frontispiece to his The Trinitarian Faith (1988), an exposition of the Nicene Creed which remains perhaps the most accessible of his numerous learned works.

Besides the theologian, the ecumenist, and the church leader, there were at least three other Torrances: the translator, the interdisciplinary theologian, and the historian of doctrine. English-speaking theology stands greatly in his debt for his monumental efforts in editing and translating not only Calvin's New Testament commentaries but also Barth's voluminous dogmatics. His interest in Einstein and modern physics from the standpoint of Nicene Christianity has yet to be adequately assessed. Least well known, perhaps, is his work as an intellectual historian. Scattered throughout many journals is a series of essays on virtually every major figure in the history of doctrine, though alongside Athanasius he had a special fondness for Gregory Nazianzen and Hilary of Poitiers.

In breadth of learning, depth of scholarship, quality of output, ecumenical conviction, and devotion to the Nicene faith, theology and church will not soon see another like him.

Friday, 23 November 2007

A Victory for the Ideologically Mad

BBC News has reported on the following:
States push through tax on food
Food, books, newspapers and magazines in Jersey will all be subject to the proposed 3% goods and services tax (GST) from next year.

States Members rejected plans to exempt food from the tax by 28 votes to 21 and by 33 to 16 in favour of taxing books, newspapers and magazines on Thursday.

Plans to exclude children's clothes from GST were rejected on Wednesday.

Senator Ben Shenton said he would bring the proposition back to the States after the next election.

That they voted to bring it in on food, neglecting the plight of the poor, can only go down in local history as a vote for infamy by those who have never known what it is like to scrape by month after month, on the most meagre of incomes. Now more of these people will have to apply for income support, with all the bureaucratic humiliation that involves. I notice that States Members do not have any kind of means testing on their income!
A victory for the ideologically mad, who seem determined to pursue policies through with all the finesse and compassion of Oliver Cromwell in Ireland!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

God is not so bad, after all

In this his book, God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens discusses a hypothetical question he was asked by Dennis Prager: If he were alone in a unfamiliar city at night, and a group of men he didn't know approached him, would he feel safer, or less safe, if he knew these men had just come from a prayer meeting? Hitchens answers by specifying some "unfamiliar cities" where he may indeed feel threatened. Sticking just "within the letter B" he lists Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. He claims "absolutely" that he can find reasons why, if walking in any such city and meeting a group of men coming from a religious observance, he would "feel immediately threatened."
But is it just an intersection of extremism and place? Is religion really the core element here? If he was alone alone in a unfamiliar city at night, and a group of men he didn't know approached him, would he feel safer, or less safe, if he knew these men had just come from a political meeting where they were discussing profound (and fervent) matters of political ideology? Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Pol Pots Cambodia and in today's world Burma, China, North Korea, Zimbabwe...
The chapter is called "religion kills". Should there be one called "politics kills"? Hitchens seems to assume that if he can show religion kills, it must be a bad thing. By the logic of that argument, politics is also a bad thing. Shoddy logic, methinks.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Fw: Clocks change, energy save

Every so often some bright spark over here in Jersey suggests that not having British Summer Time would mean we would be a more interesting tourist destination!
I seem to remember one year we did without it, as did the UK.
Moving the clocks forward (remember the default position is the October to March one) saves electricity. As a California website notes (remember Daylight Saving Time there is our British Summer Time here):
One of the biggest reasons we change our clocks to Daylight Saving Time (DST) is that it saves energy. Energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting our homes is directly connected to when we go to bed and when we get up. Bedtime for most of us is late evening through the year. When we go to bed, we turn off the lights and TV.
In the average home, 25 percent of all the electricity we use is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs, VCRs and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day.
Studies done in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent EACH DAY with Daylight Saving Time.
Daylight Saving Time "makes" the sun "set" one hour later and therefore reduces the period between sunset and bedtime by one hour. This means that less electricity would be used for lighting and appliances late in the day. We also use less electricity because we are home fewer hours during the "longer" days of spring and summer. Most people plan outdoor activities in the extra daylight hours. When we are not at home, we don't turn on the appliances and lights. A poll done by the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that Americans liked Daylight Saving Time because "there is more light in the evenings / can do more in the evenings." While the amounts of energy saved per household are small...added up they can be very large.
The site also contains a link to an assessment of how other patterns would effect energy use.
So clocks forward and back is actually a very "green" thing to do!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Against the Passive Voice

An interesting quote by Chesterton, taking up the "passive voice" in which events are reported. I don't think he is quite right; I don;t think it is a specially atheistical style, but a more common degredation of language (as Orwell noted in his Politics and the English Language). It is notable, however, that - as Mary Midgeley points out - Richard Dawkins in particular seems to avoid all talk of motivation. But Dawkins is not alone, all kinds of psychological explanations of people's actions have long tried to remove talk of motivation, and replace it with passive voice metaphorical constructs; these are slipped in as "scientific" because of the borrowing of the kind of terminology found in science.

The mark of the atheistic style is that it instinctively chooses the word which suggests that things are dead things; that things have no souls. Thus they will not speak of waging war, which means willing it; they speak of the "outbreak of war," as if all the guns blew up without the men touching them. Instead of saying that employers pay less wages, which might pin the employers to some moral responsibility, they insist on talking about the "rise and fall" of wages. They will not speak of reform, but of development. The atheist style in letters always avoids talking of love or lust, which are things alive, and calls marriage or concubinage "the relations of the sexes"; as if a man and a woman were two wooden objects standing in a certain angle and attitude to each other, like a table and a chair.("The Flying Authority" Eugenics and Other Evils)

The Irony of Atheism

A good post by Patrick Poole on the subject of Dawkin's silence on atheism! A lovely ironic tone! Here are a few of the highlights.
Of course, secular humanism has been such an advancement to humanity over monotheism, hasn't it? What with the Reign of Terror and its goddess of Reason, Napoleonic total war, Prussian militarism, Marxist revolutions, Darwinian eugenics and racism, Bolshevik communism, Stalin's collectivization of the kulaks, Italian fascism, German Nazism and the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Stalin's purges, Third World "liberation" movements, Nasser's Arab socialism, Soviet gulags, the brutal crackdown on the Prague Spring, Pol Pot's killing fields, Mao's Great Leap Forward, the Baathist regimes of Syria and Iraq, Sandinista death squads, Nicolae Ceausescu's Securitate, and those atheistic paradises on earth, Enver Hoxha's Albania and Kim Il-Sung's North Korea, it is amazing that religion exists at all these days and that atheism hasn't been universally embraced for the empowering and humanizing idea that it is.

Then again, the estimated 100 million people murdered in the name of atheism in the 20th Century alone so far surpass the collective abuses and persecutions launched in the name of Christianity over the past two millennia that the two are entirely incomparable – not really a record of the joys of secularism that Dawkins or Weinberg are really interested in revisiting.
Atheists have long ago worn out their welcome to flog the rest of us on the matter of religion, particularly those of the rabidly bigoted variety represented well by Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg (among many others). In their malicious handling of Christianity and its history we find that they are not intellectually honest; this should be no surprise to us, however, as they don't have any reason to believe in honesty.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Dawkins sloppy language again

The Huffington Post had a good article re Dawkins' sloppy logic.

Richard Dawkins' Jewish Question by David Berreby

Posted October 16, 2007 12:58 PM (EST)

"A scientist looking at nonscientific problems,'' said the great physicist Richard Feynman, "is just as dumb as the next guy.'' That's not necessarily anyone else's concern -- unless the scientist in question is claiming to speak, with scientific authority, for the rest of us.

A fresh case in point is this analysis by Oxford's Richard Dawkins, from an interview published earlier this month in Britain's Guardian (see the sixth paragraph). As part of his ongoing campaign to get "downtrodden,'' apologetic atheists stand up for themselves, Dawkins suggests that we secular humanists emulate other minorities. For instance, the Jews:

"When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told -- religious Jews anyway -- than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolize American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place."

The historian David H. Fischer identified this kind of rhetoric as "the fallacy of equivocation.'' That's where, he wrote, "a term is used in two or more senses within a single argument, so that a conclusion appears to follow when in fact it does not.'' Dawkins starts with the "Jewish lobby'' (by which one presumes he means the pro-Israel lobby, from his later reference to foreign policy). Then he says "they'' are less numerous than atheists (so now the referent is not an office-full of people, but rather, American Jews). Then he qualifies the term to mean "religious Jews.'' We've gone from (1) AIPAC to (2) "the Jews'' to (3) Jews who believe in God and (4) Jews who follow traditional practice. (The term "religious Jews'' could describe both types of person, and there is no reason to think that everyone in category 4 is also in category 3.)

In short, quite a muddle. I cannot tell who we secularists should be trying to copy -- lobbyists, ethnically Jewish Americans, believers in a deity or people who hold to traditional practice without reflecting on ultimate questions. Only one thing is clear: By casually echoing the rhetoric of anti-Semites, Dawkins has made a fool of himself and, by extension, those of us for whom he claims to speak.

The interesting question is: Why? How could Dawkins, the holder of Oxford's Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, miss the differences among the kinds of people he lumps together, both in the Guardian interview and on the website? Those distinctions are well-documented. Pro-Israel lobbyists get plenty of support in the US from non-Jews (importantly including conservative evangelical Christians). Meanwhile, plenty of Jews, in Israel and throughout the world, do not support the goals of this lobby. Take a look here for an example. Then too, there are religious Jews who most emphatically do not support the State of Israel or its goals. Have a look here (, for instance.

As it happens, the potency of pro-Israel lobbyists has been much in the news lately, since John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt just published a long-germinating book that analyzes the effect of the lobby in the U.S. (You can read a shorter version of their arguments here. Briefly, they say lobbyists for Israel have been highly successful in influencing government policy -- as have the National Rifle Association or the AARP. Perhaps the controversy over their book inspired Dawkins' remark.

But they don't say what Dawkins is saying. In fact, Mearsheimer, offered a chance to say precisely what Dawkins claimed, instead explained that this picture is not supported by his and Walt's study. You can see him saying it here (

Anyone can get his facts wrong and later correct himself. But Dawkins' confusion suggests a deeper problem -- a conceptual misunderstanding about identity. That mistake may stem from his casting himself as a leader of downtrodden atheists. In any event, it explains why his movement is doomed.

The problem, briefly, is just this: Identity-based behavior is not a unitary phenomenon. It comes in many forms. And what people do in one mode does not predict what they will do in another. The forms overlap (you can be at the same time a Dawkinsian secular humanist and a Jewish person and an activist for Palestinian rights). We often use the same language for the different types. All that makes the fallacy of equivocation easy to commit. But it's still an error.

Dawkins' statement, for example, invokes at least three different modes of identity. First, there is identity based on a consciously chosen belief. (You've thought about U.S. policy in the Middle East and come to a conclusion about what you want the Government to do.) Second, there is identity based on habit and upbringing. Maybe you don't believe in God or approve of West Bank settlements, but you go to seder at your grandparents (it's family, it's childhood, it's what "we'' do). Third is identity based on a trait that is perceived to be involuntary, and often thought to be inherited. You can decide to support Palestinian rights or choose to go to the movies on Yom Kippur, but somehow, you feel, you can't change where you come from.

Identities of the second type, like knowing yourself to be Irish or Catholic or a Yankees fan or a hunter, come to you through early experiences, where you're taken through the rites and patterns of life that teach you "what we do'' and "who we are.'' Such identities are learned by the body, in sights, smells, sounds and movements that arrive before reason. The mode was well described by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, when he wrote:

We acquire habits of conduct, not by constructing a way of living upon rules or precepts learned by heart and subsequently practiced, but by living with people who habitually behave in a certain manner: we acquire habits of conduct in the same way as we acquire our native language.

This sort of identity is rather impervious to rational thought and official declarations, and a good thing too. I, for one, am glad that my sense of being American -- my sense that home is home -- does not depend on the policies of the federal government.

Identities of the third type are imposed. They arise out of the encounters you have with the rest of the world; encounters you cannot refuse to see and cannot wish away. You can decide how to deal with such an identity -- whether, for example, you want to be an out and proud member of the GLBT community or a total closet case. But you cannot decide to leave such an identity behind you. The rest of the world won't allow it.

Now, atheism is an identity of the first type, the conscious, thought- out sort. That is the point Dawkins makes when he says we should not refer to a "Catholic child'' or a "Muslim child,'' because a child can't decide what s/he thinks about the existence of God.
The problem, though, is that identities based on opinions feel ephemeral, because opinions change all the time. With an identity based only on opinion, you have two unattractive choices: (1) Admit that tomorrow you could no longer belong to the tribe, because you might change your mind; or (2) admit that in order to preserve tribal feeling, you will have to behave as if your opinion is much more certain and consistent than a normal thought.

This second choice is what Dawkins advocated, I think, when he wrote this on his web site:

I admit, I sympathize with those skeptics on this site who fear that we are engendering a quasi-religious conformity of our own. Whether we like it or not, I'm afraid we have to swallow this small amount of pride if we are to have an influence on the real world, otherwise we'll never overcome the 'herding cats' problem.

But the problem with atheist solidarity (and the reason atheist groups are comically riven by orthodoxies, inquisitions, purges and schisms) is not that all members are nuanced, independent thinkers. It is that atheism, unlike sexual orientation or religious upbringing or beloved cultural tradition, is an easily-changed conviction, and everyone knows it. Dawkins can't admit this because he wants to lead his people into the Promised Land, and to do that he needs to have a people. He thinks atheists just need to go slumming, and pretend for a bit to believe the same thing. But identities that matter are not based on belief at all.

Most everyone knows this, and so very few people can take atheism seriously as a basis for understanding "what kind of person I am.'' Instead, the identities that make people glad, mad, and weepy are those about which people feel they have no choice: The identities they learn at their parents' knees, the experiences imposed on them by the beliefs of the neighbors. Not coincidentally, it is those identities that make people cough up money to support effective lobbyists in Washington. Identities like "hunter'' (National Rifle Association) and "gay person'' (Human Rights Campaign) and "old person'' (American Association of Retired Persons).
Could atheism be made then into such an identity? For example, by atheist parents who raise atheist children with explicitly atheist annual rituals and beloved cultural icons? (The standard American Christmas is fairly secular but it pretends not to be, so it wouldn't count.) Well, sure. You can make a convincing identity out of anything, if you put generations of effort into it. And perhaps, with his t-shirts, buttons, instructions for holding meetings, this is what Richard Dawkins is aiming at. In the meantime, though, he is fooling himself and making the rest of us secularists look like idiots.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Romani in England and Wales

'Anglo-Romani' is a term used to describe usage of words of Romani origin within English conversation. Romani was spoken in England until the late 19th century; perhaps a generation longer in Wales. It was replaced by English as the everyday and family language of British Romanies but this does not mean the language disappeared entirely. Words of Romani origin were still used as part of a family-language. Words which are occasionally inserted into English conversation are referred to in linguistic literature on Romani as 'Para-Romani': the selective retention of some Romani-derived vocabulary following the disappearance of Romani as an everyday language of conversation.

Anglo-Romani is thus more a vocabulary, than a 'language' in the strict sense. It is used within the framework of English conversation, English sentences, and English grammar and pronunciation, thus: The mush was jalling down the drom with his gry. means 'The man was walking down the road with his horse.
There is a good linguistic analysis by Ian Hancock at
Anglo-Romani is peculiar in that it shares some traits with Romani, but not enough to be a separate language, hence its often characterised as a "creolized language". In fact, some native users call it "Rumnis" or "Broken Romani"; Hancock thinks the correct term is probably that of an "ethnolect of the community". He notes its linguistic history:
"In summary, there are sufficient references from the 16th and early 17th centuries to a contact language used between Romanies and non-Romanies for it to be possible that Angloromani became distinct from Romani during that period. That there are no texts from that time is not remarkable in view of the secret nature of the language; in fact only one verified text in inflected Romani itself is known to us from that date.   It is clear that English—and hence Angloromani—had already become the dominant language of much of the Romani population in Britain at this early date, since the phonological changes accompanying the shift from Early Modern to Late Modern English) also affected the Romani words it contained."
"Angloromani cannot be regarded as a pidginized language in the light of e.g. Taylor's 15 criteria (1971:295); it retains a fair degree of productive morphology, albeit deriving almost entirely from English, and it lacks many of the linguistic features generally associated with pidgins. It did, however, originate from a contact situation, and does conform to Hymes' requirements, quoted above. And in particular, it exhibits very extensive internally generated innovative lexicon, perhaps far more extensive than that found in actual pidgins and creoles; and to a lesser degree, morphological devices originating in the source language (Romani) have been readapted, and continue to be productive in ways not paralleled in either English or Romani. "
Some of the ways in which it has lost or "broken" apart from Romani in favour of English forms are as follows:
  • All distinctions of gender and case have been lost in Angloromani
  • Inflected Romani has both prepositions and postpositions. The former e.g, əprey "up", təley "down", pâwdəl "across", &c.), have been retained in Angloromani, while the latter have been replaced by English prepositions, with the possible exception of -sa "with", which may, according to Smart & Crofton (1875:133) and Borrow (1874:58) function prenominally.
  • As well as losing postpositions, Angloromani has also lost the reflexive possessive third person singular and plural pronouns which in inflected British (i.e. Welsh) Romani are pesk- "his/her own' and peŋ- "their own", as opposed to lesk- "his", lak- "her", leŋ- "their".
  • Romani verbs belong to four classes, and are inflected for person, tense and number. In Angloromani the morphology is English, the native stem often corresponding to the third person singular present indicative in the inflected language.  There is historically no infinitive in Romani, but in the Central and Northern dialects the third person singular has come to assume this function, cf. Czech Romani kamav te džal "I want to go", kamav jov te džal "I want him to go."

Welsh Romani

Welsh Romani is a variety of the Romani language which was spoken fluently in Wales until at least the 1950s. It was spoken by the Kale group of the Roma people who arrived in Britain during the 15th century. The first record of Gypsies in Wales comes from the 16th century.
The majority of the vocabulary is of Indo-Aryan origin but there are a number of loanwords from Welsh such as melanō ("yellow", from melyn), grīga ("heather", from grug) and kraŋka ("crab", from cranc). There are also English loanwords such as vlija ("village"), spīdra ("spider") and bråmla ("bramble").
The book in the Jersey library is the major study of it: John Sampson (1926) The dialect of the Gypsies of Wales, being the older form of British Romani preserved in the speech of the clan of Abram Wood, Oxford University Press, London
Wesh Romani retained all the features of Romani as a language in its own right that are lacking in Anglo-Romani. Unfortunately there are no longer any speakers of this language still alive:

"Nowadays no English Romany that I know of can still speak or even understand the old Romany language that I described earlier in the book. The last three Welsh Romanies to speak the language perfectly without mixing any English or Welsh into it were Manfri, Howell and Jim Wood of Bala, Merioneth. They are all dead now. There are still a number of quite good Welsh Romany speakers around even today, but they all mix a certain amount of English and Welsh into their Romany, and their grammar is not as pure any more as that of the three people I have mentioned. To get an idea of what Romany was like at the time when it was still a language in its own right in this country, one has to study John Sampson's book, The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales; and to get an idea of the right intonation of the language on can listen to a recording of a Welsh Romany conversation between Manfri and Howell Wood at Bala - recorded by Peter Kennedy, and available for students at the Sound Library, Cecil Sharp House, Regent's Park Road, London NW1. "


Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Inside a Sharia Court

Just watched this program, which I recorded and just caught up with seeing. A rare glimpse of what is going on in Nigeria, which has a dual legal system. I was reminded of CS Lewis words on theocracy:
"A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt"
Sharia admits no doubt, no questioning, as was very clear in the program. Whatever its benefits - and the program fairly showed that it had a number of benefits - the cost of losing freedom is I think too great, and the dangers - seen by Lewis, and clearly visible in other countries with Sharia (like Iran) - are all too apparent. 
Inside a Sharia Court
This World's Ruhi Hamid gains a rare glimpse inside a Sharia court in the state of Zamfara in northern Nigeria.

"You say you are a Muslim - so why aren't you wearing a veil?"

Wait a minute, I thought, I am the one who is supposed to be asking the questions.

My interrogator was Judge Isah, a compelling, wiry, figure at the centre of a hive of activity.

He works in the New Market Upper Sharia Court - a grand name for a somewhat careworn, faded avocado municipal building in Gusau, the capital of northern Nigeria's Zamfara province.

New breed

Sharia law - which is an Islamic system of law based on the ancient verses of the Koran - was introduced to the mainly Muslim state of Zamfara by Governor Ahmed Sani, after the defeat of the military dictatorship in 1999.

It was the first state in Nigeria to introduce Sharia. Ferocious fighting broke out and previously integrated communities were split along religious lines, leaving many dead and thousands displaced.

Initially hundreds of clerics had to be fast-tracked into presiding over these new Sharia courts as judges. However Isah Hamza Ismaillah Moriki is one of a new breed of judges in northern Nigeria who have completed a university law degree in both the Common law and Sharia law.

A devout Muslim, Judge Isah explains that Sharia is "a path which leads to Almighty Allah, so you cannot separate Sharia from Islam and Islam from Sharia".

Over the weeks I spent at his court, I witnessed the man's passion, his conviction, his wry humour, and the speed with which he administered his justice. And I was astonished by the extraordinary variety of cases he sees each week.

Land and matrimonial disputes

The occasional prison van brings prisoners to court on criminal offences such as mobile phone theft, burglaries or violence. But 90% of cases the Sharia court deals with are land, matrimonial or inheritance disputes. They are often argued with great intensity.

In one case, Sa'adiyya Ibrahim claimed that since her separation from her husband, he had refused to perform his Islamic duty of providing for her. He insisted he had.

In the end, the judge decided in her favour because she swore it was true on a copy of the Koran. Judge Isah - which literally means Jesus - was convinced the plaintiff would not risk divine condemnation by making a false oath. He ordered the husband to pay up, which he did without protest.

Westerners often assume that Islamic justice always discriminates against women. But many women in Nigeria turn to Sharia courts for help.

Judge Isah seems to be respected by all who visit the court.

His court works more like a community centre, where every morning he sees people in his chambers. His aim is to mediate and avoid unnecessary expensive court cases that clog up the system.

This plays an important role in more way than one. Sharia is attractive to local people because anyone can bring a case to court and represent themselves.

"In our Sharia law, we can summon anyone to appear provided there is an allegation to defend. No exceptions," explained Judge Isah.

Public floggings

Sharia is often perceived as oppressive and brutal by Westerners, because of punishments like stoning to death for adultery and amputations for theft.

One hot, dusty afternoon, I followed three young men being taken from the courtroom to the market square. They were convicted of alcoholism - strictly frowned upon in Muslim society - and received 80 lashes in front of a gathered crowd.

Judge Isah explained that public humiliation was part of the punishment. It also served to deter others who were tempted to indulge in vice.

"By stopping people from drinking alcohol, society will be in harmony and sanity," he said. "More over the sentence of 80 lashes is in the Koran so no one can question it".

Floggings may still be fairly common in Sharia law, but amputations are rare. According to the governor of Zamfara, they are meant to act as a deterrent.

"The objective of the law was clearly stated, the objective is not to punish but to deter people from committing offences," he said.

In Zamfara, there are only two recorded cases of people who have had their hands amputated for stealing. According to official records both of them refused their right of appeal and insisted the punishment be carried out.

I found one amputee, Lawalli Isah, still languishing in the local prison, but when questioned about the severity of the punishment, he simply said: "It is in my religion, I accept it".


Today a thief in Judge Isah's court is more likely to be punished by imprisonment or lashings.

One defendant, Kabiru Bello, was accused of stealing a bag of biscuits. He insisted that it had fallen off the back of a lorry. He says he was attacked by a mob for stealing and taken to the police station who arrested him and allegedly beat him until he admitted guilt.

When it came to court, the prosecution failed to provide evidence, witnesses or a complainant to the crime. But what was most surprising was that Judge Isah didn't question what Kabiru said was a forced statement or the alleged physical beatings by the police. He took the statement as fact and was not perturbed by the possible mishandling of the case by the police.

The judge found the defendant only guilty of keeping the property for his own needs. The punishment for theft is amputation, but because there was no break and entry, Judge Isah gave Kabiru the lesser sentence of 10 lashes or a year in jail. Not surprisingly he chose the 10 lashes, which were immediately carried out in the court's courtyard.

Treatment of women

It is Sharia's treatment of sexual offences that has caused the greatest international controversy. In Islamic law, both adultery and rape require four witnesses to be present at the "act". A woman's evidence is still only worth half of a man's, and in adultery cases she cannot be a witness at all.

Soon after the introduction of Sharia to the northern states of Nigeria, two women were condemned to death by stoning for adultery. But, with the help of human rights activists their convictions were overturned on appeal to the federal Nigerian courts.

Most of the people that I met in Zamfara said they welcomed Sharia. It has cut down drinking and violence, and the court is no longer an intimidating place of wigs and gowns, doing business in a language that they do not understand.

After six weeks in Zamfara, I can see how Judge Isah's court functions well as a small claims court for this rural Islamic society. But my reservations about Sharia remain the same. For me, the sticking points are still the floggings and the amputations, and the undeniably unfair treatment of women in rape and adultery cases.

This World: Inside a Sharia Court was broadcast on Monday 1 October 2007 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.


Friday, 5 October 2007

The Tea Bag at Wycliffe Hall

Wonderfully phrased!

I think this is one of the times that the solution will not come from within. The cup has been emptied of all but those who like the tea bag.

The tea bag needs to be thrown out by a bigger hand...


Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Authoritarian Groups?

Came across this snippet re authoritarian tendencies in RC.

As formulated at the World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities, November l989, Orlando, Florida USA.

  1. Attacks on any member, leader, or policy are not attempts at correcting mistakes, but rather dramatizations of distress. These are not acceptable behaviors within the RC Community.

    These are dramatizations of distress patterns, and while an underlying motivation may be to attract attention and ask for counseling help with the distress, this is not a workable procedure and is not acceptable behavior.

  2. It is the job of all members of the RC Community to interrupt such attacks: this includes the interruption of gossip. In preparation, it is every member's job to counsel on whatever fears obstruct his or her ability to do so.
  3. Counseling resource should be offered to those participating in such attacks only on the condition of first ceasing the attacks and apologizing for having participated in the attacks.
Consider this with:
Doctrine Over Person: If one questions the beliefs of the group or the leaders of the group, one is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to even question -- it is always "turned around" on them and the questioner/criticizer is questioned rather than the questions answered directly the underlying assumption is that doctrine/ideology is ultimately more valid, true and real than any aspect of actual human character or human experience and one must subject one's experience to that "truth" the experience of contradiction can be immediately associated with guilt; one is made to feel that doubts are reflections of one's own evil when doubt arises, conflicts become intense.


Monday, 1 October 2007

The Absense of Atheists

Came across this on a blog. Interesting!
The role of the Salvation Army as lead provider of disaster relief in the hurricane-hit USA has led a former deputy leader of the Labour party to admit the crucial place of faith in works of charity. Writing in The Guardian, Roy Hattersley notes that a general appeal for 40,000 volunteers by the Red Cross was "virtually ignored" but "almost all" the groups who responded to the disaster "have a religious origin". "Free thinkers' clubs and atheists' associations" who often regard faith "as a positive force for evil" were "notable by their absence", he writes. Although liberals and atheists like himself have no disapproval for the likes of drug addicts and prostitutes, whose lives lead them into distress, he notes examples of Christians who actually respond to their anguish. Free-thinking "has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army"

Dating Halloween

Dating Halloween
As we are in October, a few notes on Halloween.
We date Halloween as at 31st October, but a moments thought will show that (as one of Noel Porter's characters says in "Anything Goes") "somethings wrong 'ere".
What is wrong?
Part of the problem is that 31st October is a calendar date, and one from the revised Roman calendar (usually called the Gregorian) at that. Yet Samhain is a Celtic day which predates the Romans historically, and therefore the Celts would not have had use of a Roman calendar to set the date. What is more, our calendar has been revised in 1752 in England, with eleven days removed from September, so that if anyone had been using 31 October before that, Samhain would then fall on 20 October, or alternatively, in order to fall on 31 October, it would have to have been previously celebrated on 10 November. No records indicate that is the case.
So what is going on? As usual, it is a bit of a fudge. The ancient Celtic calendar was, of course, based on the stars, rather than - like the Roman one - on a count of days in the year, so we have the well know astronomical dates:
Winter Solstice: Christmas, Yuletide, Saturnalia
Vernal Equinox: Easter, Passover, Eoestre (Saxon)
Summer Solstice: Midsummer (viz. A Midsummer Night's Dream), St. John's Eve
Autumnal Equinox: Mabon (Celtic/Welsh), Michaelmas (Feast of St. Michael the Archangel
Besides these are what are known as cross-quarter days. These occur at the mid-way points between the Solstices and Equinoxes (they are sometimes called the "Mid-Quarter Days"). These are again astronomical in derivation:
First Cross-Quarter Day (Feb 2-6): Imbolc (Celtic: "in milk"), St. Brigit's Day,
Candelmas, Groundhog Day, Setsubun (Japan)
Second Cross-Quarter Day (May 4-7): Beltane (Celtic: "fire of Bel", coming of summer), May Day, Walpurgisnacht, Feast of the Conception of Mary
Third Cross-Quarter Day (Aug 5-8): Lughnasa (Celtic: "games of Lugh"), Lammas (loaf mass), Lughnasadh (Celtic: "games of Lugh"), Feasts of St. Oswald and St. Justus of Lyon.
Fourth Cross-Quarter Day (Nov 5-8): Samhain (Celtic: "summer's end"), Halloween, Feast of All Saints, Feast of All Souls.
(Note: Halloween preceeds All Saints in the same way Walpurgis Night preceeds May Day in the Spring).
What has happened, as with May day being the 1st of May, is that in the Medieval period these celebrations latched onto a notable monthly transition, and that is why they became fixed rather than movable days, and why Samhain/Halloween is celebrated on the 31 October, and not between November 5 to 8, as would have been the case with the ancient Celts.
So when you read in newspapers, the usual run of stories saying that Halloween has "from pre-Christian" times, been celebrated on 31 October, it is not in fact true. It is interesting that Bonfire night, traditionally the 5th of November, is actually closer to this date than our Halloween, which would in Celtic practice may well have been a fire festival.
All Souls day, also held around this time, also has a chequered history. By the mid-fourth century Christians in the Mediterranean world were keeping a feast in honour of all those who had been martyred under the pagan emperors. This was the feast of All Saints, and was held on 13 May, and was kept on that date. In Ireland, however, following the Orthodox traditions, or in alignment with them, the feast of All Saints fell upon 20 April instead. The situation in England and Germany was different, and by 800 churches in both countries, which were in touch with each other, were celebrating a festival dedicated to All Saints upon 1 November instead. The Orthodox church still holds All Saints on the Saturday after Pentecost. All Souls came later, originally in February, but was moved to 2nd November simply to link it to the previous festival.

What can we conclude from this?

First, the idea that the Christians "stole" Halloween (often quoted by newspapers again!) is historically incorrect. The different feast days (13th May, 20th April) demonstrate that.

Second, the idea that the move to November was to do with appropriating halloween from the Celtic calendar is also incorrect. The move to change came from Germany and England. In Ireland, where the Celtic influence would have been in place, and there would have been a feast day, it was 20th April.

So why did the Germans have November as the days for All Saints and All Souls?  The move to November 1st took place under pressure from the Church in Germany, to create a festival for the gloomy days of autumn and early winter. The autumn Christian festival was invented and popularised by Einhard, Charlemagne's archbishop. Whether the new date coincided at the time with an established Pagan feast, later known to the Vikings as Winter Nights, is unclear. But the new German date shows, I think, the very human need for some kind of "light into darkness" celebration as the days draw in, get colder and bleaker, to remind us that darkness is not, after all, the final word.


Telling Time at:
The Gregorian Calendar at
The Astronomy of Halloween

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Tony Benn on Religion - Some Quotes

These come from a fuller interview (see link at end) which Tony Benn gave to ABC Television. One of the things I find most interesting is the second commandment - "thou shalt have no other gods but me", the one against idolatry. Time and again, in secular and idological as well as religious ways, when god - a god who stands against all human attempts to tame him - is displaced, in comes idolatry, in this case, as Benn sees well, a worship of money, of the economy.

My roots come from the dissenting tradition in religion, that's to say what my Mother used to call 'the priesthood of all
believers'; you do not need a Bishop to help you. Everybody has a hotline to the Almighty and that of course was a tremendously revolutionary idea because out of that sort of Methodist, Congregationalist tradition, came the idea that we had the right to build our own world, to meet our own needs and not just wait to be patted on the head by a Bishop and told by the Bishop, 'If you do what I tell you to do, you'll go to heaven; if you don't you'll go to hell'.

You know, it's a very, very different and very important and very radical idea. My Great-grandfather was a Congregational Minister and my Mother was a Bible scholar, and I was brought up on the Bible, that the story of the Bible was conflict between the kings who had power, and the prophets who preached righteousness. And I was taught to believe in the prophets, got me into a lot of trouble. And my Dad said to me when I was young, 'Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone, Dare to have a purpose firm, Dare to let it (be) known.' Now these are very, very powerful influences. It wasn't mixing with the Webbs and Wells, and Lloyd George and all that, they were very much of a different sort of intellectual tradition which is not really me at all.

Well you see if you go right back, and I'm not a proper historian, but if you go back to the old texts in 1381, there was a man called the Reverend John Ball, and he was preaching in support of the peasants and their revolt. And he said 'This will not go well in England till all property is held in common.' And he was hanged, drawn and quartered, which was the punishment they had in the old days for dissenters. And there's been a tremendously strong radical tradition linked to belief in God, but not exclusively linked.

I mean there were humanists who said that in the English Revolution in the 17th century there were people who said that we were created by reason, and we therefore had a capacity to think things out for ourselves. But these ideas go back a very, very long way, and intellectual socialists who did play some role in the early part of the last century, they were not necessarily a part of that tradition. They sort of thought it all out in a rather academic way and the passion of the dissenting tradition is something which escaped them and which fortunately keeps a fire alive in my belly.

The worship of religion you see, is the most powerful religion in the world. The worship of religion is more powerful than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and the Business News we hear on the hour on the television, I'm sure you hear it in Australia, is the worship of money. We're told what's happened to the FTSI and the Dow Jones and the dollar and the pound, as if it was a sort of guide to the success of our society, and the management consultants come in, and lay people off. And I find this new religion is the one that's gripped us.
We should either choose to worship God or Mammon. We quite obviously worship Mammon. And this for example on the News every hour, instead of telling you what's happened to the FTSI and the Dow Jones, they told you the up-to-date figures for unemployment, how many people have died of asbestosis, how many people unemployed, how many people homeless and so on, people would say, Oh Gosh, well now we know what we ought to be doing. But I do think we worship money, and if I had any musical talent I would compose a hymn in which the words of the Business News would be incorporated. 'And the Dow Jones has fallen 3 points tonight', you know what I mean, because this is a total Capitalist control of our mind, and yet it doesn't conform to what it is we want. After all, people don't want much, they want a decent home, education, good health care, dignity when they're old, and peace. I mean it's not an awful lot to ask in a world where the technology available is in such a scale, you could solve, not all, but many of the problems of poverty if you diverted it from Stealth bombers and Star Wars and bunker-busting nuclear weapons, and moved it into the issues raised by the Johannesburg Summit.

Wycliffe Transcript

in the ongoing information gradually coming out regarding the departure of Elaine, Andrew and Lis from Wycliffe Hall, one of the previous departing staff has given an interview last Sunday on Radio 4, it can be listened to here (move forward to about 30minutes), but there has also been much debate here regarding what it is Eeva has actually said, so just for complete clarity, I have transcribed the interview:
Presenter: 'I asked her why she had left....

Eeva: 'well, I think it was really a culmination of events over the past two years and their consequences that very sadly forced me to the conclusion that I could no longer have confidence in, or respect for, the leadership of the Principal or the whole council of Wycliffe Hall.'

Presenter: 'and why couldn't you have that confidence?'

Eeva: 'I guess I feel that there was an unacceptable mismatch between the way that change was managed and the Christian values of the Hall. I perfectly accept that a new leader inevitably brings change to an organisation, and that's to be welcomed as part of the dynamic of a healthy growing community or institution like Wycliffe, but I would expect such change to build on the strengths of the past and to harness the experience, skills and insights of the staff team, but sadly the leadership failed to engage with and respect the views of the staff, leaving staff gradually feeling devalued and disenfranchised and, as ultimately the turnover figures show....'

Presenter: 'can I ask you about some of those people who're also leaving for one reason or another, do you wonder...what is your understanding of the circumstances in which Elaine Storkey is leaving? Is it your understanding that she has been dismissed?'

Eeva: 'Yes it is, I know that she had absolutely no intention of leaving, she had in fact been preparing teaching material for the coming academic year.'

Presenter: 'and so she knew she was in some sort of dispute, but she didn't think that the process had finished?'

Eeva: 'that's correct, she had had…there was a….she was under a disciplinary process and she herself had filed a grievance procedure against the Principal and that was ongoing.'

Presenter: 'now do you know what she's planning, presumably in these situations, the usual thing is your offered some money if you don't say anything...the alternative is to go to an industrial tribunal. Do you know what she's planning to do?'

Eeva: 'I wouldn't want to discuss that.'

Presenter: 'but you would agree that's the choice?'

Eeva: 'I would agree that that's the choice.'

Presenter: 'but you see the trouble is we also hear from other sources that there's been an extensive listening process in the college which took some admissions from, I think 18 members of staff, so that sounds as if there is widespread consultation.'

Eeva: 'what actually happened was that over a period of 6 to 8 months, a group of staff appealed repeatedly to the Hall council to help us resolve our issues, possibly with the help of outside mediation, with face to face meetings with the Hall council. These pleas were ignored, and there was indeed a listening process but it involved individuals having access for 30 minutes with two members of council, not a meeting of staff and council. And indeed the council did respond but very briefly and didn't actually respond to any of the substantive issues that had been raised by members of staff.'

Presenter: 'now we understand that bishop James Jones did attend a meeting of the full college to answer some of the concerns, did that not reassure people?'

Eeva: 'James Jones did come to the college, and he gave an address to the whole community, staff and students, the address actually touched…did not touch at all on any of the issues that were, as it were 'live' in the community. When he finished his address a number of…he…we were given 10 minutes or so for questions and I would say 5 or 6 people were able to ask questions which they did about the various conflicts that there were in the community.'

Presenter: 'and finally how damaging do you think this is for the church of England? There are only as I understand it, 6 such colleges like Wycliffe Hall, so if one of them is having this sort of dispute….so do you think it reflects well on the church of England?'

Eeva: 'no, it is extremely sad, I would say that it is tragic that this kind of misunderstanding and lack of communication happens in a Christian institution like Wycliffe, and that it is described….really misrepresented, inevitably, in the press as theological, different management styles and so on. And that's probably one of the reasons that I've decided as it were, to talk to you, because there hasn't been an insiders view so far in the press.'

Presenter: 'and what about you? What's your future?'

Eeva: 'I resigned very much on the grounds of principle and so I didn't have another job to go to and so for the moment I'm actually pursuing some further study until things become clearer for me.

Presenter: 'Eeva John. We invited bishop James Jones, the chairman of Wycliffe's council, and Richard Turnbull, the Principal, to appear on this program, but they declined. However, they did issue the following statement:

Wycliffe Hall has started the new academic year with a full complement of teaching and support staff and with the maximum number of ordinands permitted. The Hall has undergone changes in structure, courses and staffing in the last year, as the recommendations of the inspectors and moderators, together with the agreed vision of the council have been implemented. Not all staff have been content with the process, the Principal and the council have engaged with extensive processes of consultation. The outcomes are incorporated in the Hall's strategic plan being laid before the council this week. We are unable to comment on the circumstances of individuals.'


Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Dawkins' Deflecting Technicques

Some interesting stuff by Andrew Rilstone on Dawkins' deflecting technicques.
Dawkins has elected to treat a criticism of his book as if it had been an ad hominem attack on himself. What Stanford has called into question is the credibility of the arguments which Dawkins puts forward in support of his opinion. Dawkins has responded by defending his right to hold such opinions in the first place.

It's an astonishing maneuver. It's rather as if you had said "I'm not going to give much credence to your critique of the Iraq War, since you appear to think Iraq is in South America" and you had responded "Oh, I suppose you have to have A Level Geography in order to be a pacifist nowadays, do you? " Or if I had said "I'm not sure how much attention we should pay to this debunking of cryptozoology since the author appears to think that Loch Ness is a salt-water lake" and you had said "I don't need to read learned books on marine biology in order to know that there's no such thing as sea-serpents."

A stock response to Dawkins' stock response to what he claims is a stock criticism would be "No: but if you are going to charge people twenty quid for 150,000 word demolition-job on leprechology, you probably ought to get your facts straight first."

If you limit yourself to saying "I refuse to consider any question about What Christians Think because there is no God" then theological ignorance may be quite forgivable. Once you start to say "One of the reasons for thinking that there is no God is that What Christians Think is absurd / contradictory / hairsplitty / immoral / child-molesty" you need to have quite a good grasp of What Christians Do In Fact Think. Not a degree in the academic study of the History of What Christians Do In Fact Think: not specialist knowledge of every writer who has ever written a technical tome on What Christians Think, but some general grasp of how St. Paul thinks that Old Testament is related to the New; or some appreciation that, even among evangelicals, Penal Substitution is not the only game in town.


Jersey and GST

Part of the problem with the introduction of GST, and why the "protest vote" in petitions etc seems to great is I think because of the attitude of the States.
When GST came up, various amendments were made calling for exceptions to the law. The States members (mostly) voted these all down (apart from medical care). This surely sent out a very firm message to the voters - we are not prepared to make any compromises on the GST model as we perceive it - which came over as very arrogant and Nanny State - we know what is best, and we don't make mistakes.
Had the States considered these exceptions from the point of view of political expedience and shown willing to give some ground, then the protest movement would have been severely hampered; they could not argue that the States had not listened.
To say that politicans who are clearly listening, and raising the matter by drawing public opinion to the matter, is mischievous, just shows how badly the States handled the issue, and continue to do so.
Terry Le Sueur is not particurly clear with his pronouncements as a recent letter in the JEP demonstrated (see below), as he appears to have ignored the issue on overheads with his comments on end user only paying where companies are registered for GST, and ignoring that they cannot claim on indirect costs.
As far as internet and mail order sales go, the whole enterprise is a complete botch, and as I stated years ago when the idea of GST was first mooted, it would have been more sensible to have an Isle of Man model with reciprocal arrangements with the UK so that (a) the same items would be covered (b) because of that, UK retailers - as with the Isle of Man - would not have to do much to allow for GST to apply to goods sold to Jersey (c) internet and mail order could be caught too - by the reciprocal arrangement (which would have legal force for goods sold to Jersey from the UK).
Jersey, as usual, decided to go its own way, and make its own (and probably costly) mistakes, and reinvent what looks more and more like a square wheel.


States should at least be honest with us

From David Rotherham.


IT was kind of Senator Le Sueur to offer us his reassurance about the effects of GST (JEP, 19 September). However, there is an unsatisfactory lack of clarity in his letter, for which I can think of at least three plausible alternative explanations.

The reason that I hope is correct, is that the Treasury have successfully debugged the GST proposal, but, having taken criticism about government spin to heart, no longer have the skilled PR consultants to present their remedies effectively.

Other possibilities, that it would be unkind to dwell on, are that the Senator hopes that we do not understand what he is doing, so that he thinks that he can get away with disingenuous evasions, or even that the poor man does not understand what he is doing himself. Obviously, I would not claim that the last one is the truth, only that it is capable of accounting for his plans and comments.

Anyway, my unanswered anxiety is that the distinction between exemption and zero-rating is very poorly understood in Jersey, by taxmen and businessmen alike.

Firstly, it has not been made clear that all GST will be recoverable on the sale of an untaxed item, or how it could be. Senator Le Sueur's own estimate is that three-quarters of local businesses will be unregistered, so they will not be claiming back any, for a start, but will be having to defend their margins by passing it on. For the other quarter, they will be paying GST not only on costs that can be clearly assigned to specific sales and duly claimed against, but also on overheads, where they are effectively the end consumer, and can only cover them from general revenue, without any direct link to actual transactions.

Secondly, the Treasury Minister lumps exemptions and zero-rated items together as untaxed. The crucial difference is that tax paid on the direct costs of a zero-rated sale can be reclaimed, with only the time and effort of doing so spent. Exempt means out of the system and unable to claim a penny. Trade organisations and the Treasury should both be spelling this out, because at present a lot of people who need to know the difference don't, and at least one who ought to know the difference is disregarding it.

Maybe it won't put 5% on prices, but nor will the effect be as minimal as Senator Le Sueur wishes us to believe. Rescindment remains the best thing to do with GST, but if the States are hell-bent on going through with it, they could at least give us honest warnings of what we shall be facing.


Three more staff to leave Wycliffe

Even more depressing news about Wycliffe. Three of the most highly respected members leaving, who are also members of Fulcrum.
Three more staff to leave Wycliffe
Friday, 21st September 2007. 12:16pm

By: Ed Beavan.

THREE senior members of academic staff are leaving an under-fire Oxford theological College, The Church of England Newspaper learned today.

In the latest blow to Wycliffe College, which has come under mounting criticism in recent months for adopting a more conservative evangelical stance, its Principal the Rev Dr Richard Turnbull confirmed that three staff members are to leave, following another five academics who have left the institution in recent months.

The doctrinal change has coincided with the appointment of the new Principal, whose management style also been criticised. In May one anonymous staff member claimed the College had become 'openly homophobic' and 'hostile to women priests' since his appointment.

The three staff members are Dr Elaine Storkey, formerly senior research fellow in social philosophy, the Rev Dr Andrew Goddard, tutor in Christian Ethics, and his wife, the Rev Lis Goddard, who was tutor in Ministerial Formation. Dr Turnbull told The Church of England Newspaper the changes had been agreed by the College Council, which concluded they were 'in the best interests of the college'. He said: "Andrew and Lis Goddard are still employees at the College but we are negotiating severance terms with them.

"Elaine Storkey is no longer employed here and we are also seeking agreement on terms of severance with her. "We've just started the new year and we're fully staffed. "We have already filled a quarter of our places for next year and the number of women students has increased this year." Dr Storkey confirmed to The Church of England Newspaper she had parted company with Wycliffe but was unable to comment further.

Meanwhile Eeva John, the former director of the Diploma of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wycliffe, who resigned last term because she no longer had 'respect or confidence' in the leadership of the new Principal and the College Council, said she was saddened to hear of the news. She said: "I can't see any reason for losing these staff and they represent a huge loss. "What's happened is a symptom of the kind of leadership there that I couldn't respect, that saw the unnecessary loss of highly qualified and valuable members of staff which seems inexplicable. "I would never deny that in any institution change has to occur and I'm sure the time was right for change, but the way it has been managed is not compatible with the Christian values at Wycliffe Hall."

She added that the recent high turnover of staff had led to very low staff morale, but she hoped the college might be able to return to its open evangelical ethos.

Earlier this week Wycliffe, a permanent private hall of the University of Oxford, was criticised in an independent report into the seven permanent halls which said they did not offer a rounded-enough education experience in line with the University's liberal ethos.