December 2006 Archives

December 24, 2006

A+ for originality

Charlie has received what looks like a very creative phishing scam:

From: Priory Of Sion Society <>
Date: 24 December 2006 13:03:34 GMT
Subject: Beneficiary Of 2006 Funds Grant By Priory Of Sion Society.....

Dear Beneficiary,

The Priory Of Sion Society of Edinburgh under the jurisdiction of the all Seeing Eye, Master Nick Cobb has after series of secret deliberations and random ballot as selected you to be a beneficiary of 2006 end of Year foundation laying grants and also an optional opening at the round table of the Priory Of Sion Society.

These grants are issued every end of year around the world in accordance with the objectives of the Priory Of Sion Society as stated by King Francis Aurthor I in 1815 which is to ensure the continuous freedom of man and to enhance mans living conditions.

We will also advice that these grant funds awarded to you which amount to $350,000.00 be used to better the lot of man through your own initiative and also we will go further to inform you that the open slot to become a Priory Of Sion is optional.

I hope you understood and do contact the Grant Claims Office Co-Secretary, Name: Barr. Richard Salter,,do send along your personal information’s (Names, Residential Address,Occupation,Tel/Fax Numbers,Sex,Age and Country) for more information's on what you are to do to make claims of your grant awarded to you.

Yours Sincerely,

Mrs. Judith Ernest.
Priory Of Sion Society of Palmerston Place Lane, Edinburgh

All grammar left as composed by the august 'Priory'. The currency mentioned is presumably some new Scottish dollars to be introduced after independence.

December 23, 2006

Superstition and HIV in Nigeria

Nigeria: A recent article looking at folk cures and protections against HIV among the prostitutes of Lagos included an example of the way predatory churches exploit the pandemic—by lying, of course:

Over the din of the giant generator and commercial motorbikes belching smoke into the hamathan haze, she managed to say: Please I want you to see this.

From her handbag she pulled out a crumpled newspaper publication. It was actually a page out of a newsletter published by a Pentecostal church in Lagos. The story was a good story, about a 26-year-old woman who had received miracle cure for AIDS. The woman in the photograph wore a happy smile. Her name was given as Christina Okpe. The story was a testimony of the same Christina detailing how she had lived with full-blown AIDS and how a bus preacher directed her to a healing camp where she received miracle.

Christina went on to say in the article that she had forsaken her sinful past and now lived under a glorious authority as a child of God protected from earthly afflictions. The faith healer was quoted as saying that Christina's case was yet another proof that for all those who believe in Him, they shall be healed of every sickness including blood diseases...

Getting a little impatient, the reporter looked up with a frown. Testimonies of faith healings were common in religious bulletins and newsletters. Until the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) put a stop to it, television screens were riddled with episode after episode of religious miracles. Many of the miracle receivers were believed to be phonies recruited to advertise the purported powers of the spiritual leader. It was possible Christina was just another but Esse cut short the puzzle by saying that the woman in the picture was dead. According to her, Christina died about four months after the testimony, of complications arising from AIDS.

But in a world where they have little power, and men insist on not using condoms, the women rely on other superstitions too:

Saturday Sun, discovered that among the male population of this community, it is common to possess a talisman called Iba-esu, said to protect the man from HIV/AIDS. The efficacy is only based on the belief that if the man's sex partner were HIV positive, he would receive an 'electric shock' the moment he touches any part of her body. Interestingly, the womenfolk have their own talisman, Iyo-esu, woven into fashionable waistbands. If the woman’s sex partner has HIV/AIDS or STDs like gonorrhea or syphilis, the Iyo-esu is believed to work by making the penis go limp.

Real or myth, the Iyo-esu is known to have caused serious problems for women who use them. Men with erectile dysfunction are known to have taken their frustrations out on the woman and if she is a prostitute, she is accused of using a corrupt Iyo-esu that allows her to accept money from clients but never gets to render any service.

Esse narrated that she and her colleagues tended to get the most problem from men who use Iba-esu. They are the ones who will never use the condom, no matter what you tell them.

Lime, lies and HIV/AIDSThe Saturday Sun, 23rd December 2006.

Bargain of the Day: USB voodoo doll

Windows crashed yet again? Infected with another virus? Well, a forthcoming product demonstrated recently at the Washington, D.C. chapter of Dorkbot might help, and it should be cheaper than a Macintosh:

USB voodoo doll in actionGareth described it as an electrified plushy that spits out nastygrams onto a computer screen whenever you stab it with a straight pin.

I suspect it'll be a rather popular device.

Voodoo Wordbookofjoe, 21st December 2006.

British public: religion is dangerous

United Kingdom: Religion is a force for harm, not good, and non-believers make up the majority of the population according to a poll published in today's Guardian.

The poll also reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. It paints a picture of a sceptical nation with massive doubts about the effect religion has on society: 82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree. The findings are at odds with attempts by some religious leaders to define the country as one made up of many faith communities.

Most people have no personal faith, the poll shows, with only 33% of those questioned describing themselves as a religious person. A clear majority, 63%, say that they are not religious - including more than half of those who describe themselves as Christian.

The response from the Church of England has been to stick its fingers in its ears and cry Nyaah! Nyaah! Can't hear you!.

But a spokesman for the Church of England denied yesterday that mainstream religion was the source of tension. He also insisted that the impression of secularism in this country is overrated.

He went on to claim that 1 million people (1.6% of the population) attend CofE services each week. As Charles Stross points out, this is far fewer than watch SF and fantasy on TV:

Yeah, right. You speak for an organization that has an audience draw 40% that of a Terry Pratchett mini-series on Sky TV. Doctor Who has a 4:1 lead over the C of E in regular audience terms. Maybe we should give Russell T. Davis four seats in the House of Lords?

Religion does more harm than good - pollThe Guardian, 23rd December 2006.

Leading by example

Paedophile JesusMy Friend is was a Roman Catholic propaganda magazine aimed at children. So, does did their choice of image for their website's masthead fall foul of internet grooming laws?

Here's a screendump, in case they notice and change it.

December 19, 2006

Playing at science

New Scientist this week has a short article looking at creationists' latest tactics to convince lay people that their religion is really science. It mostly involves doing some work which is published in a peer-reviewed journal, and then (afterwards) claiming this is evidence in favour of a creator, even though all the results have shown nothing of the sort.

Fersht says he did not at first know about the Discovery Institute's support for ID. People do work in labs on external funding. Basically he [Axe] had a fellowship from what I thought was a bona fide research institute, he says. When another researcher in his lab pointed to the Discovery Institute's agenda and suggested that Axe be asked to leave, Fersht refused. I have always been fairly easy-going about people working in the lab. I said I was not going to throw him out. What he was doing was asking legitimate questions about how a protein folded.

In 2000 Axe published a paper about protein mutations (Journal of Molecular Biology, vol 301, p 585). The paper itself makes no mention of ID, but William Dembski, a philosopher and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, cites it as peer-reviewed evidence for ID

By 2002 it was becoming clear that Axe and Fersht were in dispute with each other over the implications of work going on in Fersht's lab. At the time Fersht was preparing to publish a retraction of a paper in which he and three colleagues had claimed to have caused one enzyme to evolve the functionality of another (Nature, vol 403, p 617). Axe interpreted the fact that problems had surfaced with the result as evidence that there were problems with the theory of evolution. I described to Alan preliminary results of mine that seemed to challenge the ability of spontaneous mutations to produce proteins with fundamentally new structures, and I suggested that the struggling projects under his direction might actually be pointing to the same conclusion, Axe told me in an email. Fersht disagreed with the suggestion. The problem result didn't show anything of the sort, he says. It showed there were inadequacies in our knowledge.

An editorial in the same issue compared the creationists' use of science with that of another industry:

In using science to this end, the movement would be following a tactic previously employed by the tobacco and oil industries.

Intelligent design: The God LabNew Scientist, 15th December 2006; Editorial: It's still about religionNew Scientist, 16th December 2006.

December 17, 2006

Demonstrating moral authority

England: The Leeds diocese of the Roman Catholic Church has been accused of covering up child sex abuse by a priest.

In 1987, Father David Crowley was permanently banned from working as a priest in the diocese and sent for counselling after he encouraged sexual activity among boys and gave them alcohol. The then Bishop of Leeds, Rt Rev David Konstant, did not report the incident to the police, and the story proceeded in the traditional manner:

Within a few months Konstant helped Crowley to find a new post in Devon. He was made to sign a contract to restrict his contact with young people, but went on to abuse in Torquay and Barnstaple. Even though concerns were raised about his continued contact with young boys in the south of England, he was allowed to return to Yorkshire - despite Konstant's earlier pledge that he would never again work as a priest in the diocese of Leeds - and entered into another period of sexual abuse.

Paul (not his real name) was among Crowley's victims when the priest returned to Yorkshire. He was raped by Crowley as a 10-year-old altar boy. Over four years from 1991, Paul was subject to frequent sexual abuse by the priest who got other boys to perform sex acts on him. 'He wouldn't care what was happening,' Paul said. 'Even if there was a funeral taking place or a wedding, he would wait for his opportunity. Sometimes he would be very aggressive, pushing me down on the floor and assaulting me.'

Paul says he was traumatised at the time and it took him till 2004 to report the abuse. By this time, Crowley was in prison, serving an nine-year sentence for a string of sexual assaults on boys, and he admitted raping Paul. This time, the police decided another trial would not be in the public interest, so Paul decided to sue the diocese. Despite the circumstances of Crowley's move from Devon back to Yorkshire, the church is claiming that they knew nothing at the time and that their actions were appropriate.

And it seems that this is not the first time the diocese has been involved in covering up sexual abuse:

This is not the first time the diocese has been involved in a sex abuse scandal. Earlier this year, The Observer reported how it had covered up the criminal past of paedophile priest, Neil Gallanagh, and gave him a job in a school for deaf children, where he went on to sexually assault vulnerable young boys.

As Crowley was sentenced to nine years imprisonment in 1997, he will be free by now, even if he served the full sentence. I wonder in which diocese he's working.

Catholic church in new sex abuse rowThe Observer, 17th December 2006.

December 11, 2006

Nailing colours to mast, etc

After seeing some interesting links in the referrer logs, I discovered the Prattle was listed on the Atheist Blogroll. I've now added it to the sidebar—at the very least, that makes it easier for me to browse through its contents.

December 9, 2006

Onion gravy is traditional, but cranberry sauce is nice

United States: Some schools have a system whereby non-profit organisations may give flyers to schoolchildren. A recent court ruling affirmed that, to avoid church and state issues, the system had to be made available to all non-profits, or none at all. The case was brought by an organisation run by preacher Jerry Falwell.

The dispute started last summer when Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski, twins who attend Hollymead Elementary School, sought permission to distribute fliers about their church's Vacation Bible School to their peers via backpack mail. Many public schools use special folders placed in student backpacks to distribute notices about schools events and sometimes extra-curricular activities to parents.

School officials originally denied the request from the twins' father, Ray Rakoski, citing a school policy barring distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes.

A Charlottesville weekly newspaper, The Hook, reports that Rakoski sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county, and the policy was soon revised to allow religious groups to use the backpack mail system. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal group founded by Mathew Staver and now affiliated with Falwell.

So, when a Unitarian Universalist congregation used the system to advertise an event about the pagan origins of Christmas, followed by a Yule celebration, who got all upset about it? Yep, Christians.

Suddenly not everyone was pleased by the open forum. Jeff Riddle, pastor of Jefferson Park Baptist Church in Charlottesville, wrote on his personal blog, If the school allows the Baptist or Methodist church to send home a note to its students about Vacation Bible School, it also has to allow the Unitarian Church to send home a note about its 'Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule'....This kind of note adds weight to the argument that it is high time for Christians to leave public schools for reasonable alternatives (homeschooling and private Christian schools).

Another conservative Christian blogger in the county complained about finding the flier in her child's folder. Apparently unaware of Falwell's role in bringing it about, the blogger who goes by the name Cathy, noted disclaimer language at the bottom of the flier noting that the event is not connected to the school and wrote, They [the school officials] aren't endorsing or sponsoring this? Then it shouldn't have been included in the Friday folders. The Friday folders have never been used for any thing other than school work and school board and/or County sanctioned/sponsored programs.

And the stushie soon came to the notice of the fundies at World Net Daily:

Amazing — government schools ban orthodox Christianity, but allow an openly pagan organization to proselytize six-year-olds! one observer who asked for anonymity told WND...

The banner also displays three symbols: a cross, a Star of David and a pentagram — a star enclosed in a circle — often associated with paganism, witches groups such as Wicca, and even Satanism.

At least the World Nut Daily can tell the difference between a pentacle and a pentagram, unlike most Neopagans these days.

Andrew Ian Dodge also pointed me towards a forum discussion of the issue, where one or two people were a little upset about it.

I'm shocked that people think this would hold up. What about local control? Aren't local standards used to define what is obscene?

I thank God for Christian schools!

Obviously, the obscenity in question must be the gruesome method of execution depicted on the flyer.

Falwell’s Flub: Jerry-Rigged Policy Opens Door For Pagan Proselytizing In Virginia Public SchoolThe Wall of Separation, 5th December 2006;Pagan Christmas ritual pressed on young kidsWorld Net Daily, 8th December 2006.

December 8, 2006

O Holy Shite

To get you in the mood for the festive season, here's a delightful rendition of 'O Holy Night'.

Grauniad miscelleny

The Guardian has published a number of stories of interest recently.

December 1, 2006

Little blue men

Scotland: Pictish symbol stones have been the subject of much debate over the years, with many hypotheses put forward to explain their unique iconography. Stan Hall has come up with possibly the most surprising one, suggesting that the Newton Stone in Aberdeenshire depicts a planetary catastrophe, and that something was around to witness it.

I recognised that on the Newton Stone it shows two planets breaking away from each other…The double disc and z-rod pictographs…record for posterity the actual birth of Jupiter from Saturn.

Hall believes that this break-up of Saturn — which must have been an extraordinary cosmic moment — has been recorded in the myths of all ancient people.

The Greeks talk of the night of the falling stars — all major civilisations have records of major interplanetary catastrophes. They're found in old nursery rhymes, which have found to be Sumerian, like 'Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle' which shows the planets rushing together.

But whilst Hall believes that our mytho-history records these turbulent disruptions, he is unsure whether humans would have been around to witness the events depicted. Which leads to Hall to question who first set down the information? Just who might have been around to see the birth of Jupiter?

If you are even slightly familiar with the contents of Chariots of the Gods, you can guess who.

Out of this world solution to a Scottish standing stoneThe Scotsman, 28th November 2006 (via Warren Ellis).

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