Archive for the ‘news’ Category


Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

OK I haven’t posted in so very long. I could hardly remember my login. I watched Julie and Julia at the weekend, which was a rather syrupy movie but also fun, and watching one of the title characters (hint: not Julia Child) blog made me realize that I’ve missed blogging lately. Facebook updates have been happening, but it’s been ages since I’ve written anything lengthy. So I’m going to start by quoting someone else’s blog.

There’s been a lot of nonsense lately (non-sense) about a group planning to open an Islamic center near the former site of the World Trade Centers in New York City, and the center has ridiculously been dubbed the Ground Zero Mosque. Lots of people, from conservative politicians (who you’d think would want to uphold the Constitution, specifically about allowing freedom of religion, but we know perfectly well that all pols, and especially the right-wingers, only love the Constitution when it suits them. Like the Bible really) to even the Anti Defamation League renouncing the decision to have an Islamic center so close to the site of a terrorist act by some unhinged Muslims.

So to counter this, there has been a comedic movement to imagine what else offensive we could put next to the Islamic center. I saw a link to Chris Mohney’s blog, where he suggests the following:

Continuing the chain of imaginary offensiveness to stereotypes, I plan to open a Babies R Us next to the gay bar next to the mosque next to Ground Zero. Next to the Babies R Us I will open a pornographic bookstore, and next to that I will open a police station. Next to the police station I will open a hip-hop recording studio, and next to that I will open an Applebees. Next to the Applebees I will open a TGI Fridays (those guys HATE each other) and next to the TGI Fridays I will open a methadone clinic. Next to the methadone clinic I will open a crack house, and finally, next to that, I will open a Catholic church adjoining a daycare center for attractive boys, adjacent to which I will just blow up whatever’s there so I can erect a memorial, and next to that memorial I will open a community center dedicated to a locally inconvenient ethnicity that I hired to blow up the original structure on the memorial site. Next to that I’m just going to put up some condos.

repulsive posturing

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The poor might suffer, but hey, it’s worth it if it makes the gays miserable! From the Washington Post:

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Here’s the full and rather pathetic story.

UPDATE now I’ve had more time to think about it. It’s a bit like when the fundamentalist churches were complaining in the last few months that hate crimes legislation was a bad thing because it might curb their freedom of speech. Well, brothers and sisters if you are worried that your religious speech might be hateful then maybe you should be examining your speech and beliefs. But at least those churches didn’t go cutting off aid to the poor and needy.

And finally, here’s a very sweet video from Sesame Street where Grover talks with a kid about marriage. At no point do they say that it should be a man and a woman – it could be any type of marriage. It’s very cute and also kind of moving.

in news we trust

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

An interesting online poll from Time magazine on who the most trusted news broadcaster is:

Bear in mind it’s an online poll so not scientific or anything, but still, it shows the power of what Stewart has done, and the fact that he is seen to call people out when they’re clearly not telling the truth.

(Story from here)

squid news

Friday, July 17th, 2009

I haven’t posted any aquatic life news for some time, but around three years ago there was a flurry of piscine activity on this blog. Well now I’m moved to tell you the horror of giant squid attacking people near San Diego (in the ocean side, fortunately, so at least they’re not roaming the streets). You may note that all the people who are attacked are swimming or snorkeling – more proof that exercise is bad for you.

news from scotland

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Things have been all a-flurry at my mother’s church in Aberdeen, where they recently chose to select a new minister who happens to be openly gay. Although the church has been fine with being flexible with other biblical rules, such as allowing ministers to eat shellfish, wear clothes of mixed fabrics, and not having their wives have to shave their heads before attending services, apparently being open and honest about yourself was a stretch too far for some. But after a lot of deliberation the appointment went ahead.

The first service by Scott Rennie was this last weekend, and apparently it went very well with large attendance and lots of smiles. The biggest blot was that someone had nailed a sign to the front door of the church to greet my mother on Sunday morning. Here’s what she had to say about it

I got up to church at 8.45 this morning, the first person to arrive in the building because the beadle was late, to find a huge wooden notice nailed across the front doors. It was painted black with cut-out letters stuck on : THIS CHURCH IS NOW A DEN OF INIQUITY AND IS DAMNED!! I waited until a couple of other people had arrived, so at least there was someone else in the building, and then got out the tool box and prized the huge nails, over 20 of them, out of the wood (kept the nails cos they might come in useful if WE ever want to nail notice boards about the place!). There were also three candles underneath it which I removed, but sadly couldn’t keep to use again because they had burnt themselves to the bottom.

What she didn’t know is that she was photographed by the local paper removing the sign – here’s the article.

shaken to the core

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

There has been awful news coming from Ireland this week – the Commission into Child Abuse in Roman Catholic institutions was released after nine of years of study, and the results are completely shattering. In summary it reports that over a period of at least 60 years “sexual abuse was "endemic" in boys’ institutions. It also found physical and emotional abuse and neglect were features of institutions. Schools were run "in a severe, regimented manner that imposed unreasonable and oppressive discipline on children and even on staff".” About 35,000 children were placed in a network of reformatories, industrial schools and workhouses up to the 1980s. More than 2,000 told the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse they suffered physical and sexual abuse while there. And one of the worst things is that the Church leadership knew that this was going on and did little or nothing to stop it. Furthermore, the Christian Brothers have successfully sued to prevent the names of the criminals to be published, and to limit liability of their organization. I have no idea how they managed to pull that off, but it is cowardly and repulsive.

These children were subject to emotional, spiritual, physical and sexual abuse over years, treated like criminals and slaves and denied the most basic of human comforts and legal rights.

Another aspect of this which is truly repulsive has been some of the reaction of Church leadership. There have been some who have spoken about their sorrow, but they are rather feeble-looking compared to the following.

Consider, for example, what retired U.S. Catholic Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, who has himself been accused of child abuse, had to say: “We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature. [I] Accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it’.”

Or this quote – it’s from 2002 in response to the Boston abuse scandal, but it has been quoted in response to this case too. Fr. Roger J. Landry said “No matter how sinful a priest is, provided that he has the intention to do what the Church does — at Mass, for example, to change bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, or in confession, no matter how sinful he is personally, to forgive the penitent’s sins — Christ himself acts through that minister in the sacraments.” So it’s about intention, not about actions? Maybe there’s a theological case for that, but when the actions are systematic abuse, you may be on shaky ground.

The president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, had this to say:

Reuters is reporting that “Irish Priests Beat, Raped Children,” yet the report does not justify this wild and irresponsible claim. Four types of abuse are noted: physical, sexual, neglect and emotional. Physical abuse includes “being kicked”; neglect includes “inadequate heating”; and emotional abuse includes “lack of attachment and affection.” Not nice, to be sure, but hardly draconian, especially given the time line: fully 82 percent of the incidents took place before 1970. As the New York Times noted, “many of them [are] now more than 70 years old.” And quite frankly, corporal punishment was not exactly unknown in many homes during these times, and this is doubly true when dealing with miscreants.

Regarding sexual abuse, “kissing,” and “non-contact including voyeurism” (e.g., what it labels as “inappropriate sexual talk”) make the grade as constituting sexual abuse. Moreover, one-third of the cases involved “inappropriate fondling and contact.” None of this is defensible, but none of it qualifies as rape. Rape, on the other hand, constituted 12 percent of the cases. As for the charge that “Irish Priests” were responsible, some of the abuse was carried out by lay persons, much of it was done by Brothers, and about 12 percent of the abusers were priests (most of whom were not rapists).

The Irish report suffers from conflating minor instances of abuse with serious ones, thus demeaning the latter. When most people hear of the term abuse, they do not think about being slapped, being chilly, being ignored or, for that matter, having someone stare at you in the shower. They think about rape.

By cheapening rape, the report demeans the big victims. But, of course, there is a huge market for such distortions, especially when the accused is the Catholic Church.

I think that’s worth examining, while you lift your jaw from the floor at the hubris and insensitivity. Firstly “hardly draconian”, and using when they happened. Bear in mind that this wasn’t happening to kids in school who could go back to their parents and complain (although that would be bad enough). This was happening to children in institutions run by the people who were abusing them. There was no escape. The fact that there was lack of attachment and affection makes it even worse. These children had no families apart from the people in authority who treated them like dirt.

He seems to defend the fact that only 12% of the abuses were actually rapes, rather than the other deeply inappropriate conduct. Considering how many children were abused – a few thousand – I think that’s an insanely high amount. One commenter I read today said it was like the line in Father Ted: "We’re not all like that. Say if there’s two hundred million priests in the world, and 5% of them are pedophiles– that’s still only ten million!" I don’t know what Donahue is trying to get at here, but it’s not pretty.

Then there’s the comment by outgoing Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor: “He said, rather controversially perhaps, that a lack of faith is ‘the greatest of evils.’ He blamed atheism for war and destruction, and implied it was a greater evil even than sin itself.”

And another evil apparently is being gay and wanting to get married – the Catholic Church in Maine is being investigated by the US Inland Revenue Service because they are accused of violating tax rules by helping a referendum campaign aimed at repealing the state’s new same-sex marriage law. So at least we’ve got our priorities straight. Let’s also not forget the little girl in South America who was excommunicated a few months ago because her father had raped her and her mother arranged for her to have an abortion because her life was in danger because of the pregnancy.

Anyway. I apologize for ranting at you, reader, but I sort of needed to get it off my chest. I knew that there were many shady things going on in the Church, following the abuse scandals here in America, but this somehow takes things to a different level. It just seems so much worse. And I have to wonder, where was God in all this. I would imagine that at least some of these poor little kids prayed for help, prayed for release from their nightmares. I’m aware that it was actual humans committing the abuses, not God, but they were part of God’s Church and you would think they were lead by scripture, and assume that they prayed too. But the help didn’t come, and clearly many faith leaders are continuing to demean the victims.

victory for anti-bigotry

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Yes it’s been ages since I’ve posted, so to make up for it here are two heart-warming tales of young, decent people standing up against madcap bigotry – in both these cases, against the nastiness that is the Westboro Baptist Church, fronted by Fred Phelps. He has a history of really nasty anti-gay protesting, often outside funerals of US Army victims of war, because apparently America is a hotbed of gayness, and therefore the soldiers deserved it.

Victory number one: The Phelps people were planning to protest outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, because apparently Walt Whitman might have been gay or something. But the school had other ideas:

At the 2:10 p.m. dismissal, 500 students issued forth from the campus and lined up, several students deep, along the police tape, across Whittier Boulevard from the congregants. They alternately chanted the school name and “Go home!” — drowning out voices from across the street.

Faculty had spun the event into an interdisciplinary lesson. English teachers spent the day on Whitman’s verse. Social studies teachers led a unit on tolerance. Math teachers fanned through the crowd, attempting a head count.

It was the first taste of protest for many Whitman students, and perhaps the first time they had paid much mind to their namesake.

“This is my school, and this is where I live, and that makes it personal to me,” said Maddie Oliver, 18, a senior. Along with others, she wore a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Whitman passage “Let your soul stand cool and composed.” Principal Alan Goodwin helped choose the slogan, hoping students would see its wisdom, he said.

Rebekah Phelps-Davis, daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps, said it was “the duty of the servants of God to go where the message needs to be heard.”

Susan Russell, 17, a junior, said she hoped the publicity would “highlight how ridiculous they are. I mean, that sign — ‘You will eat your babies’ — that doesn’t even mean anything.”

Victory number two: the Phelps people protested outside a school in California, where a production of “Rent” was to be staged. Once again, both teachers and students had more enlightened and, frankly, beautiful ideas:

A handful of members of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which is known for its anti-gay protests, vowed to come to the campus to demonstrate against what it saw as the godless enablers of homosexuality. By midday Friday, the protesters had arrived. There were three of them, carrying signs that said, “[Gays] Are Beasts,” among others.

As they gathered on the sidewalk, several students came together in counter-protest on the other side of the street. Within minutes, more than 200 — some wearing rainbow tie-dye shirts and holding peace signs — stood sentry in front of the campus, clutching signs that said, “Support Love,” “God Hates No One” and “Love Is Not a Sin.”

The students turned the protest into a mini-celebration, singing songs from the musical and breaking into the school’s own fight song. A couple ran through the crowd in swim trunks, with the words “God Loves Gays” written across their chests. One was wrapped in a rainbow-colored cloth. Another wore a handmade shirt that read, “Love Is Equal.”

At one point, several students ran across the street to stand near the protesters. They shouted, “God loves gays and lesbians too,” and waved their signs at passing cars. Minutes later, Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, and his supporters walked away, taking their signs with them.

not much hope

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

The news from Israel and Gaza about the ongoing violence is pretty nasty at the moment, to say the least. There’s so much history and antagonism from both sides, and I just wish that the human reflex to try to resolve everything through violence wasn’t so pervasive. Apparently, according to this guy, it’s also a godly reflex too (and I’m sure there are plenty of people on the other side who could sound equally objectionable). Sheesh.


Friday, November 28th, 2008

Over the last couple of days we’ve been hearing and reading about the terrible news from India – the terror and hostage attacks on various locations in Mumbai. It’s not pleasant to read about, and seems quite immediate, especially considering that the first time I went to India I stayed in the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, so I can picture the locations where at least some of this is happening.

challenge your assumptions

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Here’s a great story on why the answers may not always be as obvious as you think. There’s quite a movement in the US and the UK (and presumably other countries) based on the assumption that we import so much food now that this can’t be good for the environment. Sounds intuitive, right? Shipping something like tulips to the UK from Africa seems very wasteful compared with growing them in Holland and a short ride across the sea to Britain.

However a recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon disputes this fact – their reasoning being that the transport costs are such a small part of the environmental cost of growing food, and in fact it may be more environmentally friendly to grow food in certain locations and ship it to where it’s needed. Here’s a paragraph from a summary:

The line, then, is that the prudent environmentalist will eat local in order to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Intuitively, that makes a lot of sense. Bananas shipped from Brazil can’t be good for the environment. But two Carnegie Mellon researchers recently broke down the carbon footprint of foods, and their findings were a bit surprising. 83 percent of emissions came from the growth and production of the food itself. Only 11 percent came from transportation, and even then, only 4 percent came from the transportation between grower and seller (which is the part that eating local helps cut). Additionally, food shipped from far off may be better for the environment than food shipped within the country — ocean travel is much more efficient than trucking.

A further example I heard recently was that buying apples grown in New Zealand can usually be a more environmentally choice than locally grown, because the conditions in New Zealand are so conducive to growing apples that they need very little extra help, such as fertilizers, irrigation etc, all of which are a greater environmental drain than the transportation.

The moral of this: always be ready to challenge your assumptions. The answers are often counter-intuitive or more complex than you would think.