Another dubious milestone

From the Comments page on this blog’s dashboard:

Akismet has caught 30,138 spam for you since you first installed it.
You have no spam currently in the queue. Must be your lucky day. 🙂

This came after I’d bulk-deleted 265 comments, trackbacks and pingbacks which Akismet had identified as spam, pushing me over 30,000. I hit 20,000 back on June 25 last year, which means that since then the spam has been rolling in at over 45 comments a day.


Christian dentists?

WTF is going on in the UK? According to Terry Sanderson in CiF:

In an obscure little debate in the House of Lords last week, the Bishop of Carlisle, Graham Dow ((We’ve encountered him before, here and here. He’s clearly a lunatic, but that doesn’t prevent him from speaking in the House of Lords.)), let slip in passing a few of the things that are going on between the church and the government that maybe we ought to know about.
Dow revealed that the government had, for more than two years, “been in conversation with church leaders about the possibility of the church providing extensive welfare services, rather in the way that the church plays a major part in education”. Part of this, apparently, is a 20-year contract for “Christian groups bidding to deliver dentistry”.
Not only does the bishop envisage the church taking over welfare provision with the use of public money, he doesn’t want that provision to be regulated. “Church projects of course would be audited, but not controlled. My opinion is that, recently, we have been building a society that is very low on trust and very high on inspection and control,” said his reverence.


Exhausted, but in a good cause

I had forgotten how tiring it can be to drive. Back home in Seattle, it’s so rare for me to get behind the wheel of a car that each spell of driving (courtesy FlexCar) is over before I’ve had a chance to register any stress or discomfort. But on this visit to Massachusetts, I’ve been driving all the time ((Often at what I would refer to as an “ungodly hour” were it not for the fact that all hours are equally devoid of deities!)). My shoulders are remembering that odd posture where you keep your arms raised for hours at a time… it’s weird.
Anyway, all of this is in a very good cause: helping my daughter to recover from Tori’s birth four weeks ago, while getting Tommy to his day care, doctors’ appointments, and so forth. So here are two iPhone pics of Tommy and Tori from the last couple of days. As you can see, Tommy is prepared for next Sunday’s big game…
Tommy Tori


Obama, Hillary, and Bill: Josh nails it

Over at Talking Points Memo Josh deflects the kind of shrill anti-Clinton stuff we’ve been hearing from Andrew Sullivan et al, and gets the three points about the current Obama-Hillary contest.
First, it isn’t a question of the substance of what’s being said:

[T]here’s very little I’ve seen from the Clinton camp that would seem like anything but garden variety political hardball if it were coming from Hillary or other Clinton surrogates rather than Bill Clinton.
I hear from a lot of Obama supporters that […] Obama is about the ‘new politics’. But this is no different from what Bill Bradley was saying in 2000. And it was as bogus then as it is now. Beyond that there is an undeniable undercurrent in what you hear from Obama supporters that he is too precious a plant — a generational opportunity for a transformative presidency — to be submitted to this sort of knockabout political treatment. That strikes me as silly and arrogant, if for no other reason that the Republicans will not step aside for Obama’s transcendence either.

Second, Obama has to bear a lot of the blame for alienating the older members of the party. I’m not talking about his innocuous references to Reagan, but about…

…an air of arrogance in Obama’s talk of transcendence, reconciliation and unity. I think there are a lot of people who would say, I would have loved to have transcended back in 1995 or 1998 or 2002. But we were spending every ounce on the political battle lines trying to prevent the Republicans from destroying the country. It’s hard for folks like that to hear from someone new that they’re part of the problem, part of the ‘old politics’.

If Obama’s going to take that line, he must expect a backlash. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t do that: every candidate has to decide when to pander to base, and when to tack to the center and piss off the party faithful. ‘Twas ever thus. But let’s not pretend that Obama is “above this” kind of politics.
So if Hillary and Obama are engaging in a legitimate, hard-fought campaign, what’s the problem? It’s Bill. It really is. And the problem is that the person most likely to get hurt is Hillary. Josh again:

With the exception of a few days in early January I’ve gone on the assumption for many months that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But I think Bill’s actions have greatly diminished her. He has put her back under his shadow where she hasn’t been for years.
For the moment, I doubt either of them is losing much sleep over that. Get through today and then worry about tomorrow. But I think she looks much smaller now. He’s dominating the race. And that makes her look like a weaker figure — something that will not wear well in the general election. And this campaign really suggests this is going to be some sort of co-presidency. When Hillary’s getting knocked around by the folks on the Hill is Bill going to go Larry King to knock her enemies around? Will he be going off to foreign countries on his own little diplomatic missions?
I had assumed he’d remain a step in the background as he has through through most of this decade. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. If the constitution allowed it, I’d happily have Clinton back. I’d happily have Hillary in his place. But I don’t want them both.
The presidency is a singular job. It should stay that way.

I think Hillary realizes this now. Does her husband? Michael Tomansky wonders if they can “do humble”.



On the one hand:

UK astronomers will lose access to two of the world’s finest telescopes in February, as administrators look to plug an £80m hole in their finances.
Observation programmes on the 8.1m telescopes of the Gemini organisation will end abruptly because Britain is cancelling its subscription.

This is a program that the UK has already invested £70m in.
On the other hand…

Estimated cost of operations in 2007–08
11. The Winter Supplementary Estimate estimates the additional costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007–08 as £1,315 million in resources and £604 million in capital. These are the net additional costs incurred as a consequence of the operations, not including the costs which would have been incurred regardless, such as wages and salaries.

This is from the Costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan: Winter Supplementary Estimate 2007–08 ((Like the Bush Cheney admistration, HMG funds its wars through last-minute supplementary appropriations, rather than doing the honest thing and including the projected expenditures in the main Defence Budget.)) issued by the Commons Defence Committee in November.
In other words, in 2007-2008 the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) £80m shortfall will be just 4.2% of the military expenses for Blair’s ridiculous poodling, or roughly the same as the price tag for two Apache helicopters.


Tufte on the iPhone

Essential viewing.


The war on tourists continues

OK, here’s the situation. An English woman and her two teenage daughters visit New York on holiday. The woman is taken ill. What happens next? Full marks if you guessed that the girls were taken to an orphanage, separated, strip searched, given a medical examination, told that they couldn’t visit their mother in hospital, and locked up for the next 30 hours! (The Beeb has the story here, while the Guardian has more details.)
One more famous victory in the American war on tourists


Pre-rational filtering and foundational beliefs

Via Greta Christina, here’s a nice piece by the Chaplain entitled: What’s So Bad About Religion?. Here’s the central idea:

Even though the vast majority of believers apply rational thought processes in most areas of their lives, there is a corner of their minds, especially for religious conservatives, in which they refuse to shine the light of reason. Every scrap of information they process is run through religious filters. If it does not threaten to undermine the religious scaffold around which they’ve built their lives, then normal reasoning processes can be applied safely. If a bit of information contradicts the scaffold, then it must be rejected. Religious liberals, on the other hand, frequently bend the scaffold so that it will accommodate new information. Whatever process one applies, the fact remains that there are points at which reason and religion conflict. How one handles those conflicts determines the extent to which religious belief is harmful.

The Chaplain cites the case of a (presumed) schizophrenic who wound up killing his daughter; his fellow believers thoughts the voices and delusions that afflicted him were of divine origin, rather than the the result of deranged brain chemistry. But this kind of poisonous thinking is not restricted to small, inbred groups, as Johann Hari shows in his devastating piece on contemporary exorcism.
One blog that I read religiously(!) is Father Jake Stops The World. Today he had an interesting piece about a meeting with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church:

Bp. Katharine reminded us that there are two stories of creation in Genesis. One begins with the creative act of God, after which we are told that God looked upon creation and declared that “It is very good.” The other creation account focuses on the fall in the garden.
The divisions among Christians today can be seen to be loosely along the lines of which of these stories we choose to emphasize. Do we begin with recognizing that we were created “very good,” that the intention was always for us to be “God’s beloved,” or do we begin with the story of the fall, beginning our relationship with God with the idea “I am a miserable sinner.” Where we begin influences the nature of our conversations, not only among other Christians, but with the world, and with God.
Another way to sum up these differences among Christians today would be to suggest that there are those focused on “the depravity of man” and those who choose to focus on “the glory of God.”

Now obviously I don’t believe that either story is true. Nevertheless I think that any wise person – and certainly anyone who has had children! – will recognize the distinction between, and the consequences of, these two broad types of beliefs; between “I am loved” and “I am evil”. On the one hand, we have self-confidence and optimism; on the other, fear and self-doubt. It’s the fear that causes people to erect what the Chaplain calls “the scaffold”. ((Although to English ears, “scaffolding” would sound less… terminal!)) Fear of the world, fear based on their indoctrinated sense of weakness and worthlessness, and above all fear of being excluded.
All of this will be familiar territory to regular readers of this blog. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the idea that (dis)belief in God might be less significant than (dis)belief in eternal punishment. Almost four years ago I wondered.

why do Christians not cut out all of that blatantly un-Christian stuff from the Bible? Cue Thomas Jefferson…

And I guess I find it unfortunate that a kind, compassionate, thoughtful person like Jake still has to sign on to the Death Cult bits of Christianity. Fear and guilt make a lousy basis for a worldview.


Bush as horse-thief

Or perhaps bandit. It’s all in his favourite painting. As Paul Simon put it so succinctly, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”


The inherent contradiction in Libertarian thinking

Larry nails big-Ell Libertarians:

Libertarians tend to be upper-middle-class professionals. What these Libertard upper-middle-class professionals fail to realize is that their status and wealth is protected by un-Libertarian law and custom (i.e. requiring law degrees and bar examinations; why not let the market decide who should be a lawyer?)
The truly wealthy realize they don’t need a political philosophy to protect their wealth. Indeed, the very wealthy usually realize their wealth — just like the wealth of most of the middle-class — derives precisely from the non-Libertarian structure of society. Henry Ford couldn’t have become rich unless his workers were paid sufficiently above cost to afford to buy his automobiles.

The thing which I find infuriating about Libertarians is that they treat their damned philosophy as some kind of Revealed Truth, just like religious fundies. Things like property rights and markets are human inventions: fairly recent ones, and (if history is any guide) quite likely to be modified or replaced over the next few thousand years.