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Newspaper Hack Goes on Emotional Response to Accuse Assisted Suicide Supporters of Emotional Response

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 3 February 2013)
Kevin McKenna relies on hyperbole, smears and cheap shots at MSP’s Parkinson’s Disease in response to the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.

Margo MacDonald MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) is one of the senior statespersons of Scottish politics. A lifelong supporter of Scottish independence, Margo, standing as the Scottish National Party (SNP)candidate, won the Glasgow Govan by-election of 1973. She was deputy leader of the SNP from 1974 to 1979 but with the party still having rightward leanings, she left the party in 1982 as a member of the controversial and left-leaning “79 Group”. She returned to the party in the 1990s and was elected to the then new devolved Scottish parliament as a list MSP for the Lothians. She then had a dispute over party policy which saw her sidelined by the leadership, and stood for election as an independent candidate, for which action the SNP expelled her. Nonetheless she won her seat, just as she has been successfully elected as an independent MSP in every Scottish parliamentary election ever since.

A straight talker, a woman of courage and compassion from strong working class roots, Margo is much-loved in Scotland and is seen as a “people’s politician”. She has constantly stood up for the rights of the underprivileged and has long championed controversial issues. In the late 1990s Margo campaigned for safe zones for sex workers in Leith, but was unsuccessful, largely due to ignorance and the intransigence of the then Labour Party administration in the Scottish parliament. In 2002 Margo was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive degenerative condition with no cure. This led her to introduce her first Bill on Assisted Suicide before the Scottish parliament in 2010, which was defeated by 85 votes. On 13 November 2013, Margo introduced the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through the first reading stage of the parliament.

Assisted dying is always a controversial issue, which can evoke many emotions and provoke many heated debates. It is an issue which none should shy away from but which deserves to be discussed in a sober, thoughtful and informed manner. One would imagine that newspapers who pride themselves on journalistic integrity would cover the objectively and with level headed arguments and mature discussion. Sadly, this was not the case on 2 February 2014, when Kevin McKenna, writing in an angry tone in The Observer, “Scotland’s assisted suicide bill is an offence to our human dignity”, embarked upon character assassination of and cheap shots at Margo MacDonald, lambasted another MSP, anyone else who supports Margo’s Bill, and atheists in general, while at the same time coming out with spurious and ill-informed arguments against assisted dying. It is my intention to pull Mr McKenna’s entire piece to bits here and thereby show him up for the odious excuse for a human being he truly is.

Right from the start, in his opening paragraph, McKenna sets the tone for the rest of his article;

“Margo MacDonald’s campaign to establish a culture of death in Scotland is growing increasingly bizarre and more chilling. She appears hellbent on becoming Scotland’s very own Angel of Death.”

Notice the emotive language used here; “culture of death”, “chilling”, “hellbent”, “Angel of Death”. Immediately Kevin McKenna is psyching up his readership, by using language intended to smear Margo MacDonald as if she is some mad professor from an old Hammer horror movie.

McKenna continues, “In the death of her own political career”. This is frankly laughable. As I stated above, Margo MacDonald has been elected in every Scottish parliamentary election, and is loved and respected by all sides in Scottish politics. Let us look then at Mr McKenna’s political affiliations. A quick trawl for him online states that he comes from a staunchly Labour family. So if Mr McKenna’s views swing towards the Labour Party, he may wish to consider the result of the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election. The Scottish Parliament was set up with proportional representation, in a way which it was claimed that no one party could ever gain a majority government. In the 2011 election the SNP swept the board, overturning a great many “safe” Labour seats and did indeed form a majority in Holyrood. McKenna is also however former Executive Editor of the Scottish(?) Daily Mail, a newspaper well known for Conservative gutter journalism. If he swings towards the Tories, then he may need to be reminded that Scotland has only one Conservative Member of Parliament – pandas outnumber Tories in Scotland by 100%. The only safe Tory seat in Scotland is a lavatory seat – and don’t even be sure about that. What then was that about dying political careers Kevin?

Not content with talking nonsense about Margo MacDonald, Kevin McKenna then goes onto to launch a wholly unjustified attack upon Patrick Harvie MSP, of the Scottish Green Party; “she is being assisted by Patrick Harvie, who leads the Green party in his spare time when he is not trying to eradicate all vestiges of Christianity from Scottish public life.” Patrick Harvie is indeed a committed secularist (as am I), but he has never, not once, stated that he wants all Christianity (or any other faith) completely eradicated from public life in Scotland. No doubt Mr Harvie will take this slur upon the chin and laugh it off. Which is probably fortuitous for Mr McKenna, for if I were Patrick Harvie, I would be in touch with my legal team immediately.

It is after this that Kevin McKenna sinks to a new low, by attacking both Patrick Harvie and Margo MacDonald, and making a snide and underhand reference to the latter’s medical condition; “Harvie is rather like a barnacle here, clinging on to the hide of a rusting and once magnificent ocean-going liner.” That was a cheap shot by anyone’s standards. I do hope the good Christian Kevin McKenna is proud of himself, although I doubt even his friends (assuming he has any) will want to speak to him after that. As to The Observer, shame upon you for allowing such filth to be published.

McKenna then embarks on a diatribe about the defeated 2010 Bill, accuses Margo MacDonald of trying to “hoodwink those who voted against it the last time” and, without offering one shred of evidence to back up his claim, states that safeguards built into the new Bill are “bewildering and meaningless”. He then returns to the emotive language by making a fatuous smear that the Bill has “contempt for the sanctity of all human life”. Help! Michty me, we’ll a’ be murderit in oor beds by the communists.

Commenting on the new Bill “will ensure that only terminally ill people or those suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions can seek to kill themselves”, McKenna a sad attempt at moralising when he says “The twisted morality underpinning the new death bill is that these conditions make life intolerable for the sufferers.” As one who watched a loved one wither away over a period of six years, before dying in terrible pain, which continuous palliative care did little to nothing to alleviate, I would counter that to allow human beings to suffer and die in such a way is not only immoral, it is completely void of any morality, and thereby actually amoral.

But then, McKenna contradicts himself by stating that the Bill covers “only terminally ill people or those suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions”, and then goes off on a rant about people with depression committing suicide. In fact, the Bill does not at any point within it mention depression (which is something I personally disagree with it upon). The Bill continually states the required conditions as an illness that is “either terminal or life shortening”, or “a condition that is progressive and either terminal or life shortening.” (source: Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Parliament).

In the true fashion of a Fleet Street hack however, Kevin McKenna does not let facts get in the way of a good story. Instead he states “Many people who take their own lives do so because of depression. Society has not yet begun to consider urging those suffering from depression to kill themselves and have done with it.” Indeed, society has not yet begun to consider it. And I will wager that Kevin McKenna has not began to consider that depression can also mean an end to quality of life. I’ll doubt he has even heard of the Belgian transsexual Nathan Verhelst, who opted for assisted suicide. Nathan Verhelst underwent gender reassignment which went horribly wrong when his mastectomy was botched, and his body rejected his new penis. 44 years old and faced with being in a twilight world of being neither male nor female every day for the rest of his life, poor Nathan felt that death held less terror than continuing living, and underwent a peaceful assisted dying in 2013. That is dreadfully sad, but who can say he was wrong to take that decision? Not me, and certainly not Kevin McKenna, nor anyone else who has never walked in Nathan Verhelst’s shoes.

Continuing to contradict himself and frankly tell bare-faced lies about the Bill, McKenna states “MacDonald’s latest offering largely mirrors the Oregon model that, when passed into legislation, resulted in a 450% jump in assisted suicides, of which around 20% involved people who were depressed.” Again, the Bill does not mention depression, anywhere, and therefore cannot in any way be compared to the Oregon model. Either Kevin McKenna is misinformed, ignorant, or lying through his back teeth.

Next comes another low blow and more emotive language. “Still, it’s a good way of alleviating the burden of care spending. Better still, as soon as we all start wearing tartan dressing gowns, swearing in the night and getting fed soup, we ought all, in a spirit of civic and fiscal responsibility, sign our own death certificates.” Nobody, certainly not Margo MacDonald or Patrick Harvie, have ever or would ever condone killing the elderly and infirm because they are an inconvenience or a burden. I shall tell you who did however; Tory peer Baroness Warnock, who in 2013 stated that the elderly should consider euthanasia to prevent being a burden either upon their relatives, or the National Health Service or society in general. Baroness Warnock strongly pushed a “civic duty” argument, and that story, which was roundly condemned by the majority of supporters of assisted dying, was reported in the parent newspaper to that which McKenna used to be editor of, the Daily Mail.

The emotive language continues with an attack upon “militant atheists who are egging her on in her deathly obsession”. Now, I don’t know if Margo MacDonald is an atheist or not. She has certainly never publicly stated being one, so if McKenna is stating she is, I for one would like to see his proof for that. I however am an atheist. I mix with atheists and I can assure Kevin McKenna that every atheist is a freethinker, and while I agree with euthanasia, there are others, including those who could be described as “militant” who do not. It is clear from his statement that Kevin McKenna knows nothing about atheists but, in the bigoted style he and some other Christians write, seeks to cast aspersions upon the character of all atheists.

Trying to claim a minor victory, McKenna then points out that those in support of assisted dying in Scotland has dropped from 75% to 69%. While no doubt feeling smug in himself, the reader will notice however that not only does he fail to mention that is not only still the majority, it is an overwhelming majority. I had to laugh however when McKenna stated “There are many reasons why people signal their approval of assisted suicide, many based on an emotional and ill-considered reaction to a sugar-coated question with no knowledge of a complicated issue.” Given the angry tone, the false accusations, the slurs, the low blows and the spurious and ill-informed claims in McKenna’s article, one can only say physician heal thyself. The vast majority of people I have discussed assisted dying with, treat in a sober fashion, advancing thoughtful and informed arguments. I should hate to discuss it with McKenna, who appears totally incapable of doing so.

McKenna continues his emotive style by bringing in those with Locked In Syndrome (LSI). Again without offering any proof to back up his claims, he states “There is an assumption that people suffering from locked-in syndrome – being completely paralysed and able only to communicate through blinking – must have reached a stage where life is simply not worth living any more.” I would like to know exactly who is making any such assumption or claim. In fact the vast majority of those of us in favour of assisted dying are well aware that the vast majority of LSI sufferers are actually happy within their lives and suffer no loss of quality of life. The same can be said of Alzheimer’s and other dementia sufferers who are quite happy with their lot. No serious supporter of assisted dying would ever support it on any other grounds than severe or total loss of quality of life. I would venture therefore that the only person assuming that LSI sufferers should consider euthanasia is Kevin McKenna, given that he is the only one who is mentions it.

Then follows more of the same bile about the elderly and infirm being a financial burden and, yet again without proof, McKenna asserts “For many, though, the financial, physical and emotional demands this would make on us would be too much to bear and thus we would call them vegetables and seek ways of putting them out of our misery.” That is a terrible thing to say, in which McKenna seems to think that “many” people would seek to kill loved ones due to them being a burden. If this were the case, then it would already be happening, albeit by illegal means. When in fact there are thousands of carers of elderly and infirm loved ones across Scotland who attend to them with love and care on a daily basis and for whom killing them could not be further from their mind. But then, it is only McKenna and certainly not carers referring to the infirm as “vegetables”.

Yet McKenna keeps this up by stating “But in a society where the price of human dignity is considered too dear for those who gave us the bedroom tax and who would allow our biggest bank to destroy thousands of small businesses for increased profit we should be wary of placing a price on human beings at the end of their lives.” I would point out to him that neither Margo MacDonald, Patrick Harvie, myself, nor the vast majority of assisted dying supporters are supporters of the Conservative government which gave us these things – see point above about Baroness Warnock. I would also point out to him that when there was a vote in the House of Commons to repeal the Bedroom Tax, it failed because 47 MPs of his precious Labour Party either abstained or failed to turn up for the vote.

Again accusing Margo MacDonald of her political career dwindling, McKenna states “MacDonald ought to be campaigning for a minimum quality of palliative care for everyone in Scotland who requires it at the end of their lives. Scotland can be rightly proud of the quality of its palliative care where it exists.” We can indeed be proud of our level of palliative care. It is not however the great panacea that Kevin McKenna seems to think it is. I will reiterate that when I watched a loved one die in pain, the staff in the hospital did their utmost to alleviate his pain, yet it had little to no effect. I am surmising that Kevin McKenna has never seen anyone die in those circumstances, for if he had, he would not talk such drivel about something he apparently knows nothing about. If he has experienced such a death however, then he should think black, burning shame of himself for even suggesting that palliative care is the answer to all ills.

Then he adds “Where this includes a care module that takes account of a patient’s social, emotional and spiritual needs – as well as physical ones – requests for assisted suicide are sparse.” Again, I would like to see the proof of this, as he offers none. Apart from which the person I watched die was out of his head so much towards the time that he could not understand even loved ones, and if any minister had come near him, and he was lucid enough to comprehend that, he would have told them to piss off. Immediately Kevin McKenna makes the assumption that all the terminally ill need is drugs and a minister, without taking into consideration that some patients may be one of those atheists he hates so much, or completely uninterested. Has he in fact considered that there may be some dying in pain who may be quite angry at some sanctimonious minister talking about God’s goodness and pie in the sky why we die. Incidentally an NHS Chaplain earns £25,783 – £34,530 per annum. While I would in no means deny anyone the right to their faith, I would be more impressed if clergy taking what is to all effects for many a very well paid second job, were to in fact offer their services for free. As far as I can see Kevin McKenna is trying to manipulate the needs of the dying to push his own Christian agenda.

McKenna then returns to the cost argument, which again he is the only person to have mentioned this in relation to Margo McDonald’s Bill and asks what we question as quality of life. Using more emotive language, he states “When people start talking loosely about what constitutes intolerable pain or quality of life, then those who have mental health issues or who have Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy must begin to wonder if one day some politicians will consider their existences to be too much for the nation to bear.” In fact, just like LSI, nobody has ever suggested that the mentally ill, of those with Down’s Syndrome or cerebral palsy should be euthanised. It is only Kevin McKenna claiming that, while those of us who are better educated know very well that the mentally ill, those with Down’s, or with cerebral palsy do in fact lead very full and satisfying lives with no loss of quality thereof. I myself have long championed the right of Down’s and other special needs people to work, form relationships, get married and raised families. Compare that to past governments, both Labour and Tory, who forcibly sterilised special needs people, and locked them away, out of sight, out of mind. I would suggest therefore that when it comes to Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy, Kevin McKenna does not know what he is talking about. But then, given that he mentions mental illness and mental impairment in the same sentence, he clearly sees them as the same thing, thereby proving his ignorance of those issues.

McKenna ends his article on the same emotive note he began with, once more bringing in the financial aspect and then stating “Once again, the vulnerable sick, the elderly, the infirm and those who have become enfeebled must prepare to lock their doors and put on the heating as the air in Scotland just got chilly again. If this bill ever becomes law, how many of them will be made to feel a burden on their peers? How many, their minds beginning to become gently detached, will be handed a pen and a piece of paper and asked to hand over the title deeds?” I would suggest that Kevin McKenna actually reads the Bill, and has a look at those safeguards which he claims are so “bewildering and meaningless” and he will find that they are more than adequate protect such vulnerable people. Particularly those whose mental state is impaired are well protected, thereby making a lie of McKenna’s claims about the elderly, as well as those mentally ill and mentally impaired.

McKenna ends on the note “The last days of a human life are sacred and anointed and must remain free from those who will always exploit legislation to end it before its allotted time.” What exactly is sacred about watching a man you have loved all your life wither away over six years and die in terrible pain, not even knowing you are there? I was in a hospice once and I saw a woman in her last days whose skin was transparent. She looked in her 90s but she was in fact 44 years old. She did not even know her husband or her children around her. Where is the sacrity in such an obscenity to all which is decent? A dear friend of mine died of bowel cancer and spent his last days shitting and bleeding from his anus in constant pain. Just how exactly was he anointed?

It seems to me that the only “sacred and anointed” days are in the mind of Kevin McKenna, and those of like minds. The only “offence to our human dignity” is to allow those in pain, either physically or psychologically, to continue in that pain needlessly. It is not only an affront to decency that we as human beings show more compassion and humanity to animals than our own species, it is doubly so as, being sapient creatures, those in pain are often aware of exactly what is happening to them, and can comprehend what their last days hold. That is not dignity, it is a state of terror.

And why do we do this? Because the state, through archaic laws based on a bronze age book of ignorant and illiterate goat herders camp fire tales says it has to be like this in the third millennium CE, and that is what ignorant, religious busybodies and hacks like Kevin McKenna support. That is not only arrant nonsense in this day and age, it is one of the most inhumane acts we commit upon other human beings.

Kevin McKenna’s full article can be read here:

Margo MacDonald’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill can be read on the Scottish Parliament website:


ICBM: Inter-Continental Ballistic Marsupials

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 28 January 2014)
Young Earth Creationism just got a little dafter.

People who take the Bible literally and believe in Young Earth Creation (YEC) seldom cease to be a source of amusement and infuriation, in varying degrees. These people believe that the entire universe, including the Earth, all flora and fauna, and mankind were created in the Biblical six days, 6000 years ago. Some of their crazier notions are dinosaurs and mankind co-existing, all creatures being herbivores before the ‘Fall of Man’, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and that the Earth was formed largely as we see it today.

All bizarre stuff, long ago rejected as arrant nonsense, yet the young earth creationists blindly ignore science and maintain that if it is in the Bible, it is the ‘Word of God’, which is thereby infallible and therefore must be the truth. Probably one of the most infuriating things YECs attempt is to attempt science, which they are frankly no good at and which even children have been able to point out the fallacy of their arguments.

So, faced with the problem of how marsupial creatures appear mostly in Australia, two well-known bastions of YEC, Conservapedia (“the trustworthy encyclopedia”) and Answers in Genesis have came up with a ‘scientific’ explanation as to how animals were widespread after the flood of Noah – and YEC just got a little more crazier.

Here is a quote from Conservapedia:

“The Post-Noachian Flood Volcano Theory comes from the example of Krakatoa, which, in 1883, erupted and destroyed most of the island, thus remaining lifeless for many years. Still the same life that was there before the eruption eventually came back. It is possible that volcanoes in the Mount Ararat region were able to transport the smaller animals over much greater distances than the animals could get just by walking.”

Yes, dear reader, you did just read that correctly. Conservapedia is indeed claiming that animals were blown across the globe by volcanic eruptions in the area of Mount Ararat in Turkey, including marsupials being blown across the globe to Australia.

Answers in Genesis even tries to justify this line by quoting Encyclopedia Britannica concerning the reconolization of Surtsey after a volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1963;

“Comparisons can be made with more modern recolonizations. For example, the Encyclopædia Britannica has the following to say about Surtsey Island and Krakatoa and the multiplication of species.
Six months after the eruption of a volcano on the island of Surtsey off the coast of Iceland in 1963, the island had been colonized by a few bacteria, molds, insects, and birds. Within about a year of the eruption of a volcano on the island of Krakatoa in the tropical Pacific in 1883, a few grass species, insects, and vertebrates had taken hold. On both Surtsey and Krakatoa, only a few decades had elapsed before hundreds of species reached the islands. Not all species are able to take hold and become permanently established, but eventually the island communities stabilize into a dynamic equilibrium.
There is little secret, therefore, how nonflying animals may have travelled to the outer parts of the world after the Flood.”

There it is, in their own words. They honestly imagine that volcanoes could have blown creatures across the globe after the Naochian flood. I laid out this hypothosis to my girlfriend’s 14 year old daughter. She stared at me for a full minute before saying “No wonder nobody listens to Christians any more.” before walking away.

Laying aside the fact that Surtsey island is a mere 87 miles distant from Iceland, and nothing like the thousands of miles required for the widespread diaspora of animals, I decided to have a little fun with the YEC “Volcano Theory” as they call it, to display the many flaws in their argument and just why it is so absurd.

For my example, I shall indeed be citing Australasian marsupials, and assuming as the YECs do, that the Earth was created largely as it appears today. To this end, I am assuming that the hypothosis of marsupials being blown to the Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia, where the highest concentration of them are to be found to this day, giving a distance of approximately 7500 miles for the animals to travel.

1. No Evidence of Large Scale Volcanic Activity

Firstly, whilst Mount Ararat itself is indeed a mountain formed from a stratovolcano (formed of lava flows and pyroclastic ejecta), it stands alone. There are no other “volcanoes in the Mount Ararat region” around the Ararat Massiv. Any volcanic eruption therefore would have to come from Ararat itself.

There is indeed evidence of Mount Ararat, a stratovolcanic mountain, being active in the third millennium BCE, the same period claimed for the flood, which would seem to support the YEC claim. It is strange however that the Bible, being supposedly so accurate, makes absolutely no mention of Ararat undergoing a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. One would find it equally bizarre if Noah attempted landing the ark on an active volcano.

As to that evidence of volcanic activity, that itself presents problems for the YEC claim. Among the evidence discovered are human remains. Were the flood to have destroyed every human being upon the face of the earth, then that leaves the question of where those humans at the base of Mount Ararat came from.

2. Volcanic gases

Even before any eruption, the first danger to life would come from volcanic gases. In recorded time alone, thousands of deaths have been caused by sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and carbonic acid and hydrogen sulfide released from active volcanoes. The Oku Volcanic Field in Cameroon, Africa, is a prime example of this. In August, 1984, 37 people were killed when carbon dioxide was released from Lake Monoun. In August, 1986, 1,700 people were killed when a large amount of carbon dioxide was released from Lake Nyos and at least 300 people were hospitalized. The problems of carbon dioxide release from the Oku Field was so severe that a $2.8 billion project to degas Lake Nyos was undertaken.

Imagine then a primitive people, with nothing to protect them, actually being on an active volcano, spewing out deadly gases, with a boat full of animals – and not one creature is reported to have died. Certainly not Noah or any of his family.

3. Blast

I don’t know if the YEC camp get their ideas from watching old Roadrunner cartoons, but volcanic eruptions tend not to blow living organisms across the globe. They are far more likely to tear them to shreds. Conservapedia makes mention of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa in the Java Strait. That indeed was a devastating series of eruptions which ripped the entire island apart. The pressure wave created by the largest Krakatoa eruption circled the globe seven times, and is estimated to have measured in the region of 200 megatons of trinitrotoluene (TNT). The sonic blast of the explosion reached as far as Australia and was also reported in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The largest atomic bomb in history, the ‘Tsar Bomba’, set off by the USSR in 1961, with a yield of 58 megatons, does not even come near to comparing with that. And consider that those close to ground zero in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings (around 15,000 kilotons each) were instantaneously vapourised, while those a little further out were burned to a crisp.

Yet Krakatoa is not the largest volcanic eruption known to have occurred. That particular distinction belongs to the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera, some 2.2 million years ago, which spread ash over 2500 cubic kilometres (599.78 cubic miles). We therefore see that even that devastating eruption, which destroyed all in it’s path, would not even come near to blasting anything 7500 miles distant.

Blast injuries can occur at as little as 3psi (half atmosphere), and a human body can be torn apart from as little as 6psi. The largest volcanic eruption in recorded times was that of Tambora, Italy, in 1815, which erupted with an internal pressure in the region of 47 million psi. Yet the creationists would have you believe that a volcanic eruption well in excess of that of the Yellowstone Caldera eruption would simply carry furry creatures off to foreign climes.

And of course, everything native to the Middle-East – including Noah and his family – were miraculously NOT blown across the globe, but rather stayed firmly on the ground.

4. Launch

Contrary to what some people are wont to claim, the Bible does indeed state in several places that the Earth is flat, which seems to the basis upon which Conservapedia are basing their ideas; that somehow the animals would be blasted across the skies from one continent to the other. We know of course that the Earth is not flat, and far from flying across the skies, even if they survived the blast, the animals would be blasted off into space, were it not for a little matter called gravity. The Earth’s gravity tends not to like things flying off from it, and to paraphrase Douglas Adams in “Life, the Universe and Everything”, tends to take an upward glance and demand to know what the hell do you think you’re doing up there.

So it is that to travel from the 7500 miles from Mount Ararat to the Daintree Rainforest, the animals would have to travel through space on a ballistic trajectory. This first would require reaching an escape velocity fast and strong enough to escape Earth’s gravity and atmosphere, then carry them high enough to enter a ballistic trajectory taking them to their new home in Australia. The force needed for escape velocity from Earth is approximately 11.2 kilometres per second (6.96 miles per second). This is in the region of 34 times the speed of sound – Mach 34. To put it another way, the velocity of rifle bullet emerging from the muzzle is up to 1.7 km/s, and as you can see Earth escape velocity is well in excess of that.

The human body can survive 3 to 6 g-force, and every person who has ever gone into space has to undergo extensive training to first see if they are suitable, then to enable to endure the massive g-forces produced by escape velocity. Because of the limitations of the human body, manned spacecraft launches have to take g-force effect into consideration, thereby allowing space launches only a narrow window in which to operate.

For the launch needed to propel anything 7500 miles, manned spacecraft would be no use. We instead have to look at intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are usually (but not always) armed with nuclear weapons. A good example would be the Chinese DongFeng 5A (NATO reporting name: CSS-4) ICBM, capable of striking targets within a 13,000 km radius (7500 miles = 12070 km). The DongFeng 5A is a vehicle-launched missile whose g-force at launch measures in hundreds – or enough to tear any living organism apart through pressure alone. That is the sort of escape velocity which would be needed for the creationist argument to work.

And do not forget that space crews are in highly sophisticated machines, hooked up to life support, and protected by pressure suits. Even if the animals were indeed launched, they would be in the open, with the heat and pressure of blast propelling them high up into space, with absolutely no protection. It reminds me of the old joke of the two seagulls watching a Tristar jetliner;
“He’s moving fast.” says one seagull.
“So would you if you had three arses and all of them were on fire.” replies the other.

5. The Flight

So, our marsupials, having survived deadly gases, blast waves, and the launch, are now in space and on a ballistic trajectory taking them to Australia. The only problem of course being that they are now in the vacuum of space. Now, I’m no expert, but I’m guessing that wallabies and other such creatures need oxygen to breathe. And we are not talking about them just holding their breath for a few minutes here. For the distance we are talking about, the creatures would be in space for an hour or more. Even the hardiest land animal I know of is not capable of holding it’s breath for so long.

6. The Landing

However, let us assume that the marsupials have somehow managed to avoid asphyxiation in space for an hour or more, and they are now in a freefall through the atmosphere to their new home.
Well of course, we first have to assume that they have managed to angle themselves just nicely to avoid burning up on re-entry – also assuming that they have reached a sufficient speed (around 40,000 mph) to allow them to re-enter Earth atmosphere and not bounce of it and go floating off into space.
They are now falling from high altitude towards the Earth, and of course, they are not going to asphyxiate nor freeze to death in the conditions of the upper atmosphere.

On 16 August 1961, Colonel Joe Kittinger of the US Air Force jumped from a helium balloon from the height of 102,800 feet (19 miles up), thereby achieving the world’s highest ever skydive, which he held for decades to come. He opened his parachute at 18,000 feet to bring himself to a safe and controlled landing. On previous jumps, Kittinger had blacked out and went into flat spins at time, severely endangering his life. On the ascent of his record-breaking jump, one of Colonel Joe’s gloves ripped, causing his hand to swell up to three times it’s normal size. He never told ground control, because he knew that they would abort the jump and pull him back to ground.

Joe Kittinger was a technical advisor on the Red Bull Stratos jump on 14 October 2012, in which Austrian Felix Baumgartner, meaning to jump from 120,000 feet, instead did not jump until his balloon reached 127,852 feet (24.21 miles up). As well as smashing Colonel Joe’s record, and making the world’s highest manned ballon ascent, on his descent Baumgartner reached 843.6mph, thereby becoming the first human being to break the sound barrier outside of a vehicle.

Both men wore pressure suits and life support, absolutely vital for the high altitude and the descent, and landed safely by parachute. Our marsupials would be falling from the upper limits of Earth atmosphere, the Karman Line, some 100 km – over 62 miles – up, with no protection, or life support systems whatsoever.

And further assuming that they survived cold and lack of oxygen, as well as the massive pressures created by both the upper atmosphere and smashing through the sound barrier during the freefall to earth, we have the little matter of the landing. As cuddly as koala’s and kangaroos may seem, one would imagine that as the Earth comes up to meet them in excess of 800mph, they are far more likely to go “SPLAT!” and make very deep holes, than bounce along the ground to a safe landing.


I really don’t know why Young Earth Creationists even bother trying to use science, when they are obviously so pisspoor at it and only succeed in making themselves look bloody stupid when they do. I know many Christians, whom I have a great deal of respect for. Most, if not all of these, accept that the Bible is full of inaccuracies, and accept that evolution is an undeniable fact, rather than making themselves look foolish by making such fatuous attempts to deny it as Conservapedia and Answers in Genesis does.

Even if there are those who maintain that the Naochian flood were true, most Christians are happy to claim that there was widespread diaspora of animals afterwards, simply because “God put them there”. That is a matter of faith for those individuals, and whilst as an atheist I may disagree with them, I am far more likely to have respect for them than anyone who imagines wallabies and duck-billed platypus raining down on Queensland.

And if any Christians agree with the volcano idea and take umbrage with myself or others decrying it, I shall repeat and would ask you to consider the reaction of my girlfriend’s daughter; saying “No wonder nobody listens to Christians any more.” before turning away. You not only make yourself look foolish in the extreme, you are in fact doing your faith a massive disservice, and more likely to drive people away than win hearts over.

Link to Conservapedia page on Post-Diluvian Diasporas here:

Saut oan ma parritch

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 10 December 2013)
Or why a Scot rejects the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

In discussions between atheists and theists, the accusation of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy often comes up. This usually occurs when an atheist mentions some atrocity committed by a theist, usually but not always a Christian, and a Christian replies “A true Christian would not do that.” The Christian then is committing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

The fallacy can be summed up thus:

“No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
“I am Scottish, and put sugar on my porridge.”
“Then you are not a true Scotsman.”

Whilst there may be a modicum of use to the No True Scotsman fallacy, I intensely dislike it, and always have done. It is all very well for theists to claim that anyone who identifies with any particular faith must come under the blanket term of that faith, yet the reality of that is often very different. To use a popular Christian analogy, entering a church no more makes you a Christian than entering a garage makes you a car. There are plenty who will happily hide behind the badge of religion to justify their own prejudices and actions, yet that does not make them a true follower of that faith.

I have often made this point with regard to Islam. The terrible events carried out by radicalised Islamists, before and after 9/11, shocked the world. Yet I have continually made the point that I refuse to believe that the guy I buy my spices from, the kind woman who shared recipes with me, or those Muslims who help organise my home town’s annual Mela – a festival of peace, goodwill and friendship – are intent on killing either myself or other non-Muslims. I have said it once and I will say it again, the moment that we start hating Muslims, the terrorists have won; you are giving them precisely what they want. Those who would use the blanket term of Muslim for both Al Queda and the bloke down the corner shop who is just trying to earn a living not only are incorrect, in their stereotyping, they only succeed in spreading Islamaphobic bigotry. Best leave that crap to the red top gutter press – they are so much efficient than you are.

So the same applies to Christianity (or any faith). Even as an atheist, I find it offensive to my many kind and tolerant Christian friends bracketed along with the intolerant and those who claim to be Christians, yet carry out terrible acts. Consider that odious organisations such as the Westboro Baptist Church, the Ku Klux Klan and the Church of the Aryan Nations all claim to be Christian. On closer examination of these groups however, nobody with even the slightest modicum of Biblical theology could ever describe them as Christian, and one tends to find that the vast majority of Christians openly oppose them and their ideologies. Members of clergy and other theists who abuse little children are not following the doctrines of Christianity, and nor are those who hide behind Christianity to justify their own homophobia, or any other bigotry for that matter. The New Testament is very clear that Jesus accepted all and turned away none. Therefore, anyone who rejects that notion cannot truly be said to be a Christian. Are those burning crosses on the lawns of African Americans really the same as those churches organising food banks for the poor? I think not.

This is the problem with the No True Scotsman fallacy; it is based entirely upon a generalisation. Those who would put bombers, paedophiles, hatemongers, and bigots of all kind alongside kind and tolerant theists is effectively saying “They are all the same.” That in itself is actually a bigoted statement, for the person using it does not know all theists, and therefore by stereotyping all they judge the good along with the bad. That is not only unfair, it is unjust and, most of all, it is untrue.

It seems to me that the atheist claiming the No True Scotsman fallacy also makes a rod for their own back. When theists point to atrocities or intolerance carried out by non-believers in an attempt to stereotype all, many atheists quite rightfully cry foul and make the point that one cannot generalise all atheists by the actions of a few. This is true. And if it is true for atheists, then it logically follows that the same must be true for theists. So if you are illustrating intolerance towards theists, should it be so very surprising if they reply in kind?

Using the No True Scotsman fallacy argument helps no-one and can only serve to entrench division where both theists and atheists need to find respect and tolerance for each other. And yes, you can reject that if you want. But consider then if you really are all that different from the religious fundamentalists who dig their heels in and refuse to listen.

Many also would do well to consider the origins of the No True Scotsman fallacy, which I personally consider to based upon bigotry. My above summary of the theory serves well, however it was originally coined by the philosopher Anthony Flew, who presented it thus;

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again”. Hamish is shocked and declares that “No Scotsman would do such a thing”. The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing”

It seems to me therefore that Flew was suggesting by that argument that Scots are more violent than the English; a tired, untrue and extremely bigoted stereotype.

Finally, it may interest the reader to learn that the author of the Anthony Flew, a strong and prominent atheist most of his life, turned to deism later in life and stated “I’m quite happy to believe in an inoffensive inactive god.”

Still wish to use the No True Scotsman fallacy argument?

Parritch is much nicer wi’ saut oan it onywey.

No More Heroes

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 4 December 2013)
The Cult of Celebrity; why it is out of control, and why it is dangerous.

On 23 August 1926 Rudolph Valentino, movie heartthrob and star of silent movies, died of peritonitis and pleuritis in the New York Polyclinic Hospital, aged only 31. The aftermath of Valentino’s death sent shockwaves among his great many fans, the overwhelming majority of whom were girls and women. The following day saw an all-day riot in New York City, requiring 100 New York Police Department mounted officers called in to restore order, as women tried to get to his body, some of them not believing the story. Some women even committed suicide, including two outside the hospital. When Valentino’s body was taken to funeral mass at Saint Malachy’s Church on 49th Street and Broadway, approximately 100,000 fans lined the streets to pay their respect.

People have always had, and seem to need, heroes. And the “cult of celebrity” was of course nothing new. Naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) enjoyed celebrity status in his day. Possibly the first ever professional model, Lilly Langtree (1853-1929) – known as “The Jersey Lilly” – had picture postcards of herself produced and had cult status around the world; including even the tough ‘Judge’ Roy Bean had the Texas town he brought peace to renamed ‘Langtry’ (sic) in her honour. And the actor and playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was both extremely popular and despised in equal measure; seeking notoriety where he could not find fame – a “cult” of a different kind.

Valentino’s death was however a watershed. It marked a new milestone in the cult of celebrity, as never before had so many people been so deeply affected by a death of a public person. The still new media of the motion picture had taken the great on-screen lover, Rudolph Valentino, to the hearts of millions of women and girls. Seen as an Adonis, practically a demigod, his death could not be believed by many and left others confused, disturbed, hurt and heartbroken. And so it was that the cult of celebrity entered the modern age.

Increasing technology saw the cult of celebrity soar. As silent movies gave way to the ‘talkies’, both women and men found new heartthrobs among the many actors. Magazines such as Variety started including photographs of actors and actresses which found their way onto the walls and locker doors of many girls, women, men and boys. Cigarette manufacturers started including collectable cards with pictures of the most famous actors of the day.

In the music industry, the Edison wax reel gave way to the phonograph record, just as ragtime was making it’s transition into jazz. From Jazz, swing and the big band sound would be born. Everyone was astounded when at the height of war, the doyen of all band leaders, Glenn Miller, disappeared on a routine flight. Then a young man from Tupelo, Mississippi, USA, burst onto the scene with his eclectic mix of Rock ‘n’ Roll, blues and country music. And when he appeared shaking his hips on the relatively new medium of television, teenagers across the USA, then worldwide, went wild. Elvis had entered the building. And he took the cult of celebrity to a whole new height.

He was not alone of course. Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Bill Haley among others were enjoying similar adulation, and the thing got to such a level that the US government got together with the record companies to produce “clean cotton” – a soft, harmless form of ‘rock’ which they felt would not lead teenagers astray. In came the “Bobbys” – Bobby Vee, Bobby Gentry, Bobby Goldsboro – and the like with their “tum-te-tum” music, and suddenly clean-cut good all-American boys were teen idols. Even Elvis, feared by parents and moralists at first, cleaned up his act. A spell in the army established him as America’s favourite son, then some idiot suggested that he should act in his own movies, thereby further entrenching his celebrity status. Elvis was indeed a great singer, guitarist, songwriter and showman. He was never an actor. However, the public bought it, and attended his movies in droves.

But Rock being a living thing, nobody could halt it’s natural evolution. So it was inevitable that something had to fill the void. Enter four young men from Liverpool, England. The Beatles took the cult of celebrity to fever pitch like nothing ever had before (or possibly has since). With thousands of screaming, hysterical teenage girls and the police struggling to keep order, it was obvious there was a new phenomenon at play. All four of the Beatles, and their families, were constantly stalked by fans. John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia Powell, writes in her story of life with John, A Twist of Lennon that she and other girlfriends and wives of band members would routinely receive death threats and would at times require police surveillance to prevent attacks.

The Beatles also appeared in their own movies, but these were pretty much tongue in cheek and never serious efforts at cinematography. They did however change the UK – and the cult of celebrity – forever. They were recognised by the establishment in 1965 when each was presented with the MBE (Most excellent Order of the British Empire) for ‘Services to Entertainment’. This caused a lot of consternation with the fuddy-duddies of British society, not least because not one of the Beatles had ever seen any military service. Some other recipients of medals returned theirs in protest. However, the awards stood and the cult of celebrity had been put up another notch. John Lennon returned his MBE in protest to Britain’s support of the USA in the Vietnam War in 1969. The Beatles split to pursue their own careers at the end of 1970, and there were many fans in tears, unable to believe or comprehend that the dream was indeed over. John Lennon’s second wife, Yoko Ono, was unjustly blamed for breaking the band up, became a hate target and like Cynthia before her, received death threats.

Amidst all this in the 1960s, celebrity status was beginning to creep into politics, and never more so than with the youngest president the USA has ever had. John F Kennedy, elected in 1961, was extremely charismatic. When he said “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask rather what you can do for your country.” it was a soundbite which struck a chord with millions of Americans from all backgrounds. His virulent anti-Communism, being the only president to face down a Soviet premier and make him blink first, his commitment to the USA taking the lead in the space race, and his stance on Civil Rights all made him extremely popular. As he was being driven through Dallas, in the staunchly Republican bible belt of the deep south on 22 November 1963, even there thousands turned out to see him. And the last words he heard were perhaps those of Governor Connolly when he turned in his car seat and told Jack Kennedy “You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you, Mister President.” Seconds later a bullet smashed through the president’s brain, killing him.

The reaction to John F Kennedy’s death was enormous, not just in the USA but all around the world. He was well-loved and represented new hope for a tired and war-weary world. With his death, many dreams seemed to be smashed, and it became a common soundbite that everyone knows where they were the day Kennedy was shot. That is just how much high regard he was held in. The same can be said of his brother Robert, who was equally charismatic and charming and enjoying his own celebrity cult when he too was assassinated.

Linked to the Kennedy brothers was the foremost actress and pin-up girl of the day, Marilyn Monroe. Born Norman Jean Baker, Monroe was America’s favourite daughter. Through her many movies she had become the blonde bombshell who outshone all other actresses of the day. Marilyn was portrayed of something of a gold-digger and a bimbo, when in fact she was neither. She in fact said a great many things aimed at American girls of the day, telling them that they could be anything they wanted to be. These things ensured that she would develop a cult which would never diminish. And when she was found dead of a drug overdose, American and the world were shocked. Despite the evidence suggesting that Marilyn Monroe accidentally overdosed, there were those who refused to believe that this doyen of American womanhood could do any wrong, and fingers began to be pointed at the Kennedy brothers.

Ever since the 1960s, therefore, the cult of celebrity has indeed been huge and ever with us. The 1970s brought huge adulation, goodness knows why, to among others The Osmonds, my home town’s own Bay City Rollers, and (shudder) Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band. Elvis Presley, now sweaty, drugged to the eyeballs, and so fat he could only fit in a jumpsuit, was still enjoying the adoration of his fans. Then on 16 August 1977 the years of excess of drug taking and overeating finally took it’s toll. Elvis had left the building forever. The immediate reaction was that of ‘grieving’ fans in hysterics, and a great many believing it was a hoax, that he was still alive and – like some latter-day King Arthur – would one day return to rule again. Incredibly, there are still some people who believe this to this day.

Having taken five years out to bring up their son Sean, John Lennon and Yoko Ono cut a new joint album, Double Fantasy, in 1980. On 8 December that year, the couple were returning home from David Geffen’s studio, The Hit Factory, in New York City when they were approached by a young fan, Mark David Chapman. Chapman, mentally ill and convinced that he was John Lennon and the former Beatle was an imposter, emptied a gun into John outside the couple’s home. Lennon, aged 40, died from loss of blood. The reaction was immediate. As news spread out across NYC, thousands gathered outside the Dakota Apartments where John and Yoko lived. Many to pay homage, many – just as so many had done with Elvis – simply not believing that John was dead. Just like Valentino, there were suicides reported. Probably one of the most unsavoury aspects to John Lennon’s murder was that of some fans calling for the death penalty for Mark Chapman, whilst others wanted to take the law into their own hands and kill him with their own bare hands. John Lennon, a strong believer in human rights and a committed pacifist, would have been the first to condemn such views.

The 1980s brought in a whole new concept to the cult of celebrity; the spin doctor. Perhaps it was the fault of the USA, electing former movie actor Ronald Reagan as president, but suddenly and increasingly politicians were being coached on their dress, appearance, body language and even what to say. It was the age of cheesy soundbites. “U-turn if you want to,” quipped UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “The lady’s not for turning.” Ronald Reagan, attempting to emulate Jack Kennedy (and failing badly) went to Berlin and said over the PA “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Even in the opposition, the spin doctors were having a field day. Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, was filmed cavorting on a beach with his wife Glenys, and the two of them falling into the surf. A move which backfired badly when it was likened to a parody of the beach scene in the movie From Here to Eternity. Yet the ‘charisma’ of both Thatcher and Reagan seemed to have worked. Despite pursuing disastrous economic policies and a great many questionable foreign and domestic policy acts, Thatcher won three consecutive elections; 1979, 1983 and 1987, while Reagan was successfully re-elected in 1986. Perhaps it was that Thatcher was the UK’s first woman prime minister, and that Reagan was a former actor and familiar face which were factors in their success. There is one thing for sure, spin certainly played a strong part in the way they were portrayed.

The cult of celebrity took a new turn in 1986 when as well as the USA having an ex-actor as a president, the actor Clint Eastwood was elected as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This was followed two years later by singer Sonny Bono becoming mayor of Palm Springs. Had these men not been famous, it is extremely doubtful that they ever would have been elected.

The 1990s were the decade when I believe the rot really set in. After the dull Prime Ministership of the gray man, John Major in the UK, the spin-manufactured Tony Blair with his ‘New’ Labour Party was just waiting to step out of the wings with his “third way”. Young, charismatic, vibrant, Blair was portrayed by his spin doctors as the man of the people. There were interviews and photoshoots on hot days, showing him with jacket off, no tie, and patches of sweat underneath his armpits. Blair was all show and no substance – and the people fell for it when they elected him as Prime Minister in 1997. There was definitely a cult of celebrity around Blair when he was elected and for a short time afterwards. For all the good he did the UK, the people would have been as well voting for Lionel Blair.

As well as Blair however, a new phenomenon entered British politics when one Martin Bell decided to run for parliament in the 1997 General Election. What past experience and qualifications did Martin Bell have to be a Member of Parliament? Absolutely none. His past job in fact had been as a well-known BBC News correspondent. Bell had widely covered news in some of the hottest trouble spots around the world and had been wounded by shrapnel in Bosnia in 1992. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) the same year. Martin Bell, known as The Man in the White Suit due his trademark clothing, stood as an Independent candidate in the Tatton constituency in the 1997 election. The sitting MP, Neil Hamilton, had been involved in sleaze allegations and was thereby deeply unpopular. Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, decided it would be a good idea for Labour to withdraw their candidate. Martin Bell romped home to victory, overturning a Conservative majority of over 22,000. Bell was in fact rarely active in the House of Commons, and when he did – which must have been to Campbell’s anger – he generally backed the Conservatives. He certainly was against reducing the age of consent for gay men and opposed the ban on fox hunting. He stepped down at the 2001 election. Not that it mattered; the crossover from television personality to politician had become reality in the UK.

Not that Martin Bell was alone. The actress Glenda Jackson had been elected as a Labour MP in the 1992 General Election. Give her her due, Glenda Jackson more represents grass roots old Labour and was often highly critical of Tony Blair and was to eventually openly challenge Blair for the Labour leadership, and in 2006 joined the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru as well as 30 other MPs calling for an inquiry into the Iraq war.

The 1990s were the decade of falseness. These were the boom years of music company manufactured boy and girl bands and ‘Britpop’. The Spice Girls, completely manufactured, burst onto the scene in 1996 and almost every one of their cheesy songs was an instant hit. They went on to make a movie, Spice World, a mere year later, which was little more than a rip-off of the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night; thereby underlining their manufactured image of “the female Beatles”. Most people should not have been taken in by the falseness of the Spice Girls or their inadequacy to do much other than look pretty and lip-sync poorly written songs. Continual and prolonged media bombardment however saw them constantly in the limelight, and their falseness did not prevent band member Geri Halliwell becoming a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund in 1997, despite having no qualifications for the job. That was the same year by the way that Geri left and the band split. But then, the 1990s were notorious for here today, gone tomorrow, disposable bands.

In 1981 the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, married Lady Diana Spencer, who portrayed herself as a shy, shrinking violet. Once the ring was on the finger, all that changed and she showed herself to be a fun seeker and somewhat domineering. The marriage of good time girl Diana and the Prince of Wales was showing strain in the late 1980s. By the early 1990s, it was common knowledge that both were having affairs. They finally divorced in 1995. This left Diana free to party on as much as possible and she soon surrounded herself with showbiz friends such as Elton John, George Michael, Phil Collins, and the Scots comedian Billy Connolly (no longer making jokes about the establishment but now brown-nosing them). Diana was still officially a royal princess and said she wanted to be seen as the “Princess of Hearts” (God gie us a guid conceit o’ oorseels). She made a great media play of her hugging AIDS sufferers and highlighting the carnage that landmines cause. She also took up in a relationship with Dodi Al Fayed, son of millionaire businessman and then owner of Harrods, Mohammed Al Fayed. The two left the Ritz Hotel with security guard Trevor Rees-Jones in Paris at approximately 12:20am on 31 August 1997 and were sped away in a Mercedes by their driver, Henri Paul. Nobody knows exactly how it happened but five minutes later the car smashed into a pillar in the Alma Tunnel. Paul and Al Fayed were killed instantly. Rees-Jones and Diana were seriously injured and she died on the operating table at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital at 4:00am

The reaction to Diana’s death was ridiculous. There was hardly a TV station one could escape from it, not just on the day but for days afterwards. The entire UK – the world – behaved as if they had lost a close family member. Five days later Mother Teresa of Calcutta died and there were t-shirts produced showing the two of them hand-in-hand as angels. There were even calls to have Diana canonised as a saint. The newspapers were full of false outpourings of grief which a great deal of the UK – and world – population joined in with. People were caught on camera openly crying and saying how sad it was and how they were ‘devastated’. Elton John reworked his 1970s hit about Marilyn Monroe, Candle in the Wind, with new words, renaming it Goodbye England’s Rose. Earlier in 1997 the capital of the island of Montserrat, Plymouth, was abandoned after it was buried in volcanic ash. The Montserrat governnent proposed renaming the new capital, Brades, Port Diana (although this has never been carried out). When Diana’s funeral took place, it was broadcast simultaneously on all the major TV networks, and as ever the public fawned all over it. A few of us however, looked upon it as nothing more than the rather sad and untimely death of yet another victim of drunk driving. The only bit that got me was when the coffin was led into St Paul’s Cathedral and there was a small white wreath on the front with the single word “Mummy” on it. That did make me choke back the tears – that her two little boys, William and Harry, had lost their mother.

Diana had set herself up as this great carer about children – and there may be some truth in that. So the final irony came when a memorial fountain was opened in Hyde Park, London, dedicated to her. Kids were supposed to be able to play in it, but in the first few days of it being opened, children slipped in it and cracked their heads off the hard concrete. The entire thing had to be closed, redesigned and rebuilt to make it safer.

Feelings still run so deep about Diana that I know I am going to get stick for writing these things. I couldn’t care less. Tragic and sad, yes. But then so is every innocent victim of a drunk driver, and so is every kid losing a parent, and these things happen all the time. I never knew Diana, neither did you, the reader. Since her death there has been an entire industry of Diana momentoes grown up – and the gullible public are stupid enough to buy them, even when most of them have never been authorised. In the end she was a human being with human failings, just like you and I, no different. She was certainly no saint, and I am sure that if she could hear any such suggestion, she would laugh herself back into the grave.

If the 1990s were the decade of falseness, then one would have thought we would have learned as a new millennium dawned. No such luck. In fact, the ‘noughties’ brought in a hideous new concept which curses our televisions to this day – the reality show. The first and most odious of these was Big Brother; a show in which a number of people are put into a house to be filmed day and night. For the life of me I cannot see the appeal of this show, although it was and remains enormously popular. Out of Big Brother grew a new and insidious trend; those who had appeared on it suddenly were given ‘celebrity’ status; they were sought for newspaper interviews and made other TV appearances. The concept of ‘famous for being famous’ was thus born.

Of course, not content with hosting members of the public, there had to be the spin-off of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, which featured mostly forgotten and z-list celebrities. Then the disturbing concept of politicians entered their ranks. First off the rank was the far-left leader of the Respect (no irony intended) Party, George Galloway. Galloway actually used to be a fine thinker and once had a lot to say I agreed with. However, since his publicity seeking on Celebrity Big Brother (and the fact he has a handshake like being handed a wet fish), prancing about in a leotard and pretending to be a cat, I lost all respect I formerly had for him. Since then his mind appears to have become increasingly deranged and I reckon he is best ignored. For me personally the most painful time was when Scotland’s own Tommy Sheridan, leader of the Scottish Socialist Party, went on Celebrity Big Brother. Tommy was once something of a hero of mine. In the 1980s he was leader of the Scottish anti-Poll Tax rallies (which were always entirely peaceful, unlike the riots which ensued in England), he was a fine socialist orator, was an effective Member of the Scottish Parliament, and he was responsible for devising the Debt Arrangement Scheme – designed to help people in debt and keep them away from loan sharks. So I found it rather sad that he felt it necessary to court publicity by appearing on Celebrity Big Brother. Worse than that, Coolio was on the same show – and Tommy shamefully talked to him in an poorly attempted effort of African American ‘gangsta’ talk. I recall stating online “Let’s see him go to LA and try talking to the Bloods like that.”

Following on from Big Brother came a flood of other “reality” and talent shows, featuring both members of the public, forgotten celebrities, and of course publicity-seeking politicians. Pop Idol, American Idol, X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent (yes, but very little), Celebrity Fit Club, Hell’s Kitchen, Strictly Come Dancing, Celebrity Dancing on Ice, I’m A Celebrity (questionable) Get Me Out Of Here… the list goes on and on, and there does not appear to be any sign of it stopping soon. And this is not lost on politicians who go on these shows. Any publicity – even bad publicity – is good publicity. This was certainly not lost on the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe who went on Celebrity Fit Club while still a serving MP. And while she had retired from politics before going on Strictly Come Dancing, the show nonetheless raised her profile, which had the potential for her to spread not only her dubious politics but also her odious uncompromising Roman Catholic religious views. Ann Widdecombe, now aged 66, maintains that she has stayed a virgin for religious reasons. The main one being that if there is a God, he made her incredibly ugly.

And this is where the dangers creep into these shows. They have taken the cult of celebrity higher than it has ever been in history; virtually creating ‘celebrities’ out of nothing, and making people famous for being famous. What is worse is that the mass media is happy to play along with it. Since the 1980s gossip or other articles about so-called celebrities have been a staple of the mass media. Newspapers and magazines thrive upon the phenomena, and ‘celeb’ stories will often take precedence over more important and much more serious news stories. The saddest part of this is that the public seem to thrive upon it, as if they need it. If it were not for the public buying the newspapers and magazines, they simply would not be considered ‘newsworthy’.

And there is another danger which comes from the cult of celebrity, and that is creating idols then deciding that they are fit to govern. Apart from the examples I mentioned earlier, consider baggage handler John Smeaton. On 30 June 1997 three radicalised Islamic terrorists attempted to crash a car loaded with explosives into Glasgow Airport. The explosives failed to go off, but one of the men set himself alight. Baggage Handler John Smeaton, seeing this man who was shouting “Allah. Allah.” kicked him in the testicles, then punched him out. Smeaton was regarded all over Scotland, the UK, the world, as a hero. He said he was only doing what anyone else would have done (not sure about that John). Smeaton was subsequently awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal (QGM), has made a plethora of personal appearances (including Ground Zero in NYC) and even had a column in the tabloid newspaper The Sun.

Then someone decided it would be a good idea for John to stand for parliament. He duly stood as an independent candidate for Glasgow North-East in the 2009 by-election. In the event he polled only 258 votes, with Labour winning 12,231 votes. I do not for one moment think that members of the public should not stand for election. On the contrary, if you think you can make a difference, I say go for it. What I do question are the circumstances behind John Smeaton standing for election, when he had never considered doing it before the abortive Glasgow Airport bombing.

Standing for elected office takes a lot of doing, which is precisely why I have never stood myself. Being an elected politician is not as simple as it sounds. You have to be informed and somewhat expert on a great many issues, both domestic and foreign. You particularly need to have a good knowledge of economics. You need to keep fully up to date on news stories and developments. You need to be able to hold your own in an argument and not become overheated when putting forward to your point of view. You have to be as devious as opponents and be aware of potential traps and pitfalls, how to avoid them, and how to turn them on those against you. Politicians also should (although few do) be prepared to admit where they are wrong and apologise humbly for that. But most of all, politics is very much the art of compromise and any politician needs to be able to bend wherever it is pragmatic to do so. I do not have all of these qualifications for elected office; neither, I would suggest, does John Smeaton. And nor do a great many celebrities who think they can make the crossover into politics. Those who would wish them to do so should bear that in mind.

In 1977, The Stranglers released the song No More Heroes. The message behind the song was clear; we should not have heroes, because being human, they can only possibly fail to disappoint our expectations of them. One could take any historical character and if you look carefully enough, you will find flaws in their character. Jesus was shamed by the Canaanite woman into helping her after he derided her as “a dog”. Robert the Bruce changed sides between the Scots and English more times than he changed his underpants. Joan of Arc may have been schizophrenic. Cromwell was a bloodthirsty mass murderer. Abraham Lincoln had 18,000 suspected confederates imprisoned without trial. Winston Churchill was an anti-Semitic, racist, elitist alcoholic. Gandhi was naive in thinking that women should will themselves to die instead of being raped.

And even when we look at the few mentioned here, of a great many more with a cult of celebrity behind them, we find out that Rudolph Valentino was apparently unattentive to his many lovers and lousy in bed. Darwin plagiarised the work of some others. Lilly Langtree became a royal mistress. Oscar Wilde’s attraction to young boys was questionable to say the least. Elvis’s excesses for food and drugs are now stuff of legend. Both John and Robert Kennedy were adulterers and alcoholics, and the Kennedy family were not above buying their way to office nor using the mob to achieve their aims. Marilyn Monroe would not have died were it not for her weakness for substance abuse. All four of the Beatles were notorious users of hard drugs, including LSD and heroin. John Lennon was ill-tempered, angry at the world for his shitty upbringing, and apparently impossible to live with at times. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan destroyed the lives of millions, then blamed them for their own plight. Their foreign policies killed millions of innocents. The same can be said for Tony Blair – on both counts; a man who openly lied to the UK to take the country into an illegal blood-for-oil war. Princess Diana adored attracting publicity, then complained about it when the press were all about her (the same can be said of Eminem, trying to get his music sold – then whining about press intrusion and fan adulation in his songs). She was a good time girl and an adulteress to boot – which actually could have cost her her life for High Treason at the time. Geri Halliwell took her UN post, pontificating about population nine years before having a child of her own. I could go on, but I think you have got the point.

More recently there has been the uncovering in the UK of a man who most certainly was considered a hero and had a huge cult of celebrity built around him; Jimmy Savile. Jimmy Savile was a radio DJ and presenter on the weekly BBC music programme Top of the Pops for many years. The BBC gave him his own show Jim’ll Fix It which ran from 1975 to 1994, in which he arranged for children to do extraordinary things. Saville popularised charity walks and fun runs, which he attended regularly, supposedly to raise cash for Stoke Mandeville children’s hospital. He was also a regular visitor to that hospital and others at Broadmoor and Leeds. Regarded as a national icon, Jimmy Savile was first presented with an OBE and later knighted as Sir Jimmy Savile. A working class guy made well who loved his old mum and worked tirelessly for children’s charities, no-one would hear a word against Sir Jimmy. There had been allegations laid before him during his lifetime of inappropriate behaviour with young girls, but he always managed to fend these off. After he died however, the flood gates opened and exposed cases of serious sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile against little girls dating back to the early 1960s. As more and more cases came to light, more and more of his victims felt brave enough to come forward. In 2012 the number of people phoning the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reporting being sexually abused by Jimmy Savile reached over 300. A specialist police task force investigating believe he could have abused well in excess of 1000 little girls, many of whom were sick, some of whom were special needs. Now tell me the cult of celebrity is not dangerous.

I am writing this in the wake of the untimely death of actor Paul Walker (aged 40), famous for his roles in The Fast and the Furious movies. The same day that Walker was killed, there was as train derailment in New York City which killed four and left over 60 severely injured. Two days previously a helicopter crashed into the Clutha Vaults Bar, Glasgow, killing 8. On many ‘news’ sites it was Walker’s death which took priority as top story. What is worse that I noticed a great many more postings on Facebook ‘paying respect to’ and ‘grieving’ Paul Walker than about either tragedy. Indeed, of the NYC derailment, there was hardly any mention. Have we become such a society that the deaths of 12 ordinary people are equal to one celebrity on the stock exchange of life?

And the cult of celebrity carries another, much more insidious danger; it is dangerous to democracy. We have a society which will happily sit and vote for their favourites on reality shows week in, week out – sometimes day in, day out. When many of these people are asked to get of their lazy fat arses for a few minutes once every few years to go put a cross in a box, it suddenly becomes a different matter. Yet if these same ‘celebrities’ were to stand for election, I have no doubt it would suddenly become a different matter; with the public voting for people who are ill-qualified to govern.

And that even applies to professional politicians. We should always be wary of any charismatic politician and the spin which makes them appear so attractive. All too often we are nowadays being sold a pup, and it is the equivalent of the pre-senile old lady voting for the sleazy guy because “he’s such a nice man”. I would even go as far as to say this applies to US President Barack Obama. Was he selected by the Democrats because he was competent, or was it purely because he is black? Was he elected – twice – because of his policies, or was it because nobody wants to be the person who did not vote for the black guy?

All that glisters is indeed not gold, that which is beautiful is not always true, nor is that which is true always beautiful. This is not lost on politicians in power who are happy to keep the electorate stupid and uninformed. Any other way and we may just learn that we can live without them and may just vote them out of office. Doubt that? Go have a look at the percentage of eligible voters in your constituency who bothered to vote in your last election, then come back and tell me I am wrong.

Celebrities are just people; human beings with the same human failings as you and I. When we set them up on a pedestal, or adulate them, then we are always going to be disappointed. And the extent society does so to this day has the potential to make us lose sight of the truly important things, as well as making a rod for our own backs and getting precisely the sort of government society deserves.

I leave the last word to John Smeaton, as he told newspaper reporters in 1997;

“Would you stop it with all this hero worship?”

Hippy Hollandaise

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 29 November 2013)
Christianity does not have the monopoly on the festive season.

As we approach the festive season, we yet again see the internet being bombarded with posts by Christians stating that they will say “Happy Christmas” or “Merry Christmas” and not “Happy Holidays”. There seems to be a belief in recent years, particularly in the USA that “Happy Holidays” is at the least modern political correctness, or at the worst appeasement of Muslims.

As these people attempt to “put Christ back into Christmas” they are in fact very mistaken. Christianity does not have the monopoly on the festive season, and it never did.

In fact, no-one knows how far back the term “Happy Holiday” goes back. It was however first introduced in the USA, which has always been a meeting place of cultures and faiths, not to appease Muslims but rather to include Jews celebrating Chanukah in the festive season. It may in fact come from the Hebrew Hag Sameach, which was never originally associated with Chanukah but rather Passover. The phrase took on the plural to became Irving Berlin’s inspiration for the song of the same name in 1941 and was sang by Bing Crosby in the movie Holiday Inn, released in 1942. Surely no-one could ever accuse Bing and Old Blue Eyes of being anti-Christian?

There is no real surprise that there should be festivals in late December. They take place around the winter solstice, when the northern hemisphere is furthest from the sun, giving us the shortest day. It was seen by our pagan ancestors as a time of rebirth and renewal. No surprise then that the birth of several deities should take place around then. Horus, Heracles, Zeus, Sol Invictus and Mithra were all associated with the festive season, and the Roman Festival of Saturnalia also reached it’s climax around the winter solstice.

And this makes a nonsense of those who claim – and I have seen this – that 25 December is the birthday of Jesus Christ. The fact is that we simply do not know what date Jesus was born upon. Contrary to popular belief, neither Horus nor Mithra were allegedly born on 25 December. These claims are pure myth, started off by early 20th century writers on spirituality. However, according to Andrew McGowan of the Biblical Archaeological Society, as well as the Saturnalia taking place in late December, in 274 CE the Roman Emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) on 25 December. As the people of the time were mostly poor, it would have been impossible for them to celebrate the Saturnalia, Sol Invictus and Jesus Christ in separate festivals, so all three became merged into the one. It was not until the 12th century that Christmas was set as 25 December. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday. It is interesting to note that in Scots history 6th January was for a long time referred to as “Auld Yule”. Note also that 6th January is twelve days after Christmas – Twelfth Night.

As to this nonsense of saying Happy Holiday being to appease Muslims, or indeed to be anti-Christian, I do not know where that comes from. In my experience nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of Muslims, certainly here in the UK, are business owners and they love Christmas. Why shouldn’t they? It is boom time for them. Here in Edinburgh there are Muslim-owned businesses close to Edinburgh Central Mosque who put Christmas decorations up every December. One of them, the Kebab Mahal restaurant, annually puts a sign in their window wishing all their customers a Merry Christmas. It has always been my experience that Muslims have been nothing other than respectful to those celebrating Christmas.

We therefore see that there is nothing wrong in saying “Happy Holiday(s)”. But then, there is nothing wrong in saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Christmas” either. It is all down to individual choice. I personally prefer to say “Seasons Greetings” or “Compliments of the season”. Christianity however does not have a monopoly upon the festive season. So by all mean, use whichever phrase you wish.

I would suggest however that if anyone refuses to say “Happy Holiday(s)” to be inclusive of Christians and Christianity only, then they are doing so for all the all reasons. Finally, I would remind them that they do so in the name of a man whom it is said accepted all and turned away none.

What is a Feminist?

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 25 November 2013)
Why I am one, and why you should be one too.

I have noticed that there is quite a lot of people, both male and female (but mostly male), who show antipathy to the term “feminism”. It would seem that the public perception of feminism is that of a fat, angry, man-hating, bulldyke Lesbian with a shaved head and wearing a boiler suit.

Let us be clear about something right off. Feminism is not about hating men. It is not about placing women above or apart from men. Feminism merely seeks equality for both women and men, nothing more. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definition;

“The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”

For US readers, Merriam-Webster gives this definition;

“The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.”

Okay, have you got that? Equality of sexes concerning sexes, based on rights and opportunities, and activity in support of women’s rights and interests. Notice that at no place do these definitions state that women should ever be seen as superior to, nor apart from men. You may also notice that at no point do these definitions state that feminism is a female-only aim.

It is without a doubt the fault of certain people who call themselves “radical feminists” who are responsible for the public perception of the misandric (anti-male) woman; an image which has not been at all helped by the mass media which jumps upon the more outlandish ideas of radical feminists and portrays and parodies all feminism in that vision.

The idea that a feminist must be misandric is utter nonsense. Much more than that, it plays directly into the hands of people I refer to as “feminazis”. And don’t think for one moment that is strong language. There are some such people who honestly believe that women are superior to men. Given that they see women as a ‘master race’, I would venture that ‘feminazi’ is a fitting title indeed.

Feminazis are not only not feminists, they often do the feminist cause and that of women in general a great deal of harm indeed. I recall reading a book by Valerie Sonas (founder of the Society to Cut Up Men) in which she banged on about how men cannot know what a woman feels or thinks, then went onto to try and tell people what men feel and think, and stated “Every man deep down knows he’s a worthless piece of shit.” Well Valerie, dear, if I cannot know what a woman feels and thinks, then it logically follows that neither you, nor any other woman can possibly know how a man feels or thinks – or indeed what he knows deep down; apart from the fact that you have deep psychological problems.

Feminazis do indeed harm the cause of feminism and the rights of women in general. They portray women who do not prescibe to their brand of “feminism” as not being feminists at all, deride them, despise them, and make them feel less than whole. So even when women do set out to achieve, some in fact turn their back on what the public perception of feminism is and even openly deride it. As one who lived under the disastrous misrule of Margaret Thatcher, even I have to admit that given she was not only the UK’s first woman Prime Minister but gained that title three times in succession, she should be seen as a feminist icon. Yet Thatcher rejected feminism completely. She once stated to her secretary “The feminists hate me, don’t they? And they should. I despise feminism. It is poison.” And what followed was not Thatcher championing the rights of women but rather coming down heavily on single mothers and instead strongly emphasising the traditional family (with dad in charge) as the basis of civilization.

Not that there is anything wrong with the family, or of a woman being in a traditional family, or for that matter being the homemaker and mother. It is perfectly possible to be such, yet be a feminist at the same time, so long as the family relationship is based upon equality of gender roles. I wanted to despair at one woman journalist once, in an article in which she said she was not a feminist because she was happy with her job, her husband, and her family. The irony of course is that the woman in question had accepted the feminazi/public perception of feminism, when she herself was indeed a feminist.

Equality apart, feminism is about choice; a woman’s choice to do with her life and body as she wishes. By insisting that ALL women should be “coming out of the kitchen” (apologies to Annie Lennox – I’m not trying to deride her), feminazis in fact would refuse women the choice to do with their lives as they choose. My own mother was a great homemaker and mum but she never, not once, let my father rule the roost. And what is more had any feminazi tried to tell her that she was wrong to live her life in that way, she soon would have given them a piece of her mind.

One of my favourite lines ever concerning this comes from Lois in the cartoon Family Guy:

Gloria Ironbox (Rad Fem): “Peter tells me you don’t have a career of your own.”
Lois: “No. Life outside my kitchen is so bright and scary. You just caught me between pregnancies.”

But not only do feminazis hurt women, some are more than willing to harm others – and to side with those who would stamp on women’s rights to further their own twisted agenda. One particularly odious case in point is Cathy Brennan of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERF) – a group of radical feminists who reject male-to-female transsexuals on the basis that if they were not born female, they are not female.

TERF have in the past have spouted hate and venom, and even issued threats, to transsexuals and their supporters on the internet and elsewhere in public. Cathy Brennan, one of their leading lights recently hit a new low.

In October 2013 a story broke on Christian Radio in the USA claiming that a male student, claiming to be a transgirl, was harassing girls when using the girls’ restrooms at a school in California. The entire story was based around a letter from one parent to the conservative Christian law group Pacific Justice Institute (PJI). PJI then took up the case and sent a letter to the school, demanding protection for the girls. This story was splashed across the world by Fox Nation the Examiner and the Daily Mail in the UK. The transgender group TransAdvocate examined the story and interviewed the principal of the school. There was indeed one transgirl in the school, who was welcome to use the girls’ restrooms. No incidents of harassment had occurred and the students had no problems with the transgirl in question sharing restrooms with them. When TransAdvocate made this public, The Examiner and the Daily Mail dropped the story from their websites. Fox is continuing to pursue it.

Did this stop PJI? Indeed it did not. They continued to pursue the girl in question. Then in stepped Cathy Brennan who openly supported PJI and even delivered a reply to TransAdvocate on behalf of PJI;

“We’ve seen similar claims. It is our position that the intrusion of a biological male into a restroom for teenage girls is inherently intimidating and harassing. We have received additional reports of particular incidents of harassment, and we are working to corroborate those reports. In our letter, we specifically asked the school to notify us immediately if they disputed any of the factual allegations. To date, they have not done so. The core of this story — that the school is elevating the rights of one self-proclaimed transgender student while minimizing the privacy rights of all the biologically female students, has not been seriously controverted. We encourage journalists to continue their important work of investigating the details of this story independently and not simply accepting the statements of either side, and certainly not pulling their stories simply because activists demand this story be silenced.”

But then, Cathy Brennan went one step further – she publicly named the transgirl. This has subsequently led to the girl receiving threats of violence, death threats, suffering depression and missing school.

So we see here that not only is Cathy Brennan and her TERF group willing to attack transgender, they are not above attacking children either. Also however, by championing PJI, TERF have effectively allied themselves with a group which is openly anti-LGBT and which also strongly stands by traditional conservative Christian ‘family values’ – in other words a group which would happily trample on the rights of women.

But then, feminazis have some very strange ideas about sexuality. A great many of them describe themselves as “political lesbians”. In other words they seek lesbian relationships purely out of their misandry, but more than this, some at least choose to be lesbians. This is a very important and disturbing definition. One of the continual claims homophobes make about the LGBT community is that they are choosing that lifestyle. This is in turn continually countered by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, etc, that there was no choice involved but they were born that way. Indeed, while the science is as yet undecided, research strongly promotes the belief that sexual and gender identity are formed in the womb, rather than a result of cultural and environmental factors. For heterosexual or bi feminazis to claim therefore that they are lesbians for purely political reasons, not only do they do women born lesbians a disservice, they play directly into the hands of homophobic bigots pushing the choice argument.

We therefore see that feminazis, rad fems, call-them-what-you-will, are damaging to the cause of feminism, to the rights of women, to kids, and to the LGBT community. We see in fact that they are not feminists at all. Margaret Thatcher had it partially right – they are poison.

So can a man ever be a feminist? Absolutely. It is non gender specific, and to imagine a man can never be a feminist is as much a nonsense as to claim that a white person cannot stand against racism. And to state any different is to play directly into the hands of the feminazis.

Of course some would have you believe differently. Cornish comedian Bill Bailey, who is balding, has a beard and pot belly, was once photographed with a pipe in his mouth and wearing a t-shirt with “Thsi is what a feminist looks like.” printed on it. Well the feminazis had a field day with that one. They immediately claimed that Bill Bailey was parodying feminists. He was doing no such thing. Bailey’s appearance happens to be well known. The man cannot help the way he is built (and neither should he have to make excuses for it – think on that feminazis). He also happens to be a former winner of Pipe Smoker of the Year, so to see him with a pipe in his mouth is quite normal (I have one myself). By wearing that particular t-shirt, he was merely making a statement of solidarity with feminism and the rights of women. Incidentally, President Obama has been photographed holding up a t-shirt with the same wording. Is he then portraying feminists as middle aged black men? No doubt the feminazis would have you believe so.

Anyone can be a feminist; regardless of being male, female, transgender, intersex, heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bi, pansexual, or asexual. They can be the career woman, the homemaker and mother, or both, or the househusband, or the guy who works long hours to support his family. They can be the single parent, or the single person without kids. All that is required is to seek equality and parity for women, to seek to remove traditional patriarchal barriers to women gaining their full achievement and successes and to combat views and cultures which suppress women, which see them as being inferior to men, or merely as chattels to be owned and/or the sexual playthings of men. In short, if you believe in human rights, you are indeed a feminist.

And there is another important point here. If some men will not listen to women with regard to women’s rights, then perhaps they will listen to other men. Whenever we man encounter any patriarchal view which suppresses the rights of women, we should be ready to combat that wherever possible; from calling for women’s rights to education and employment around the world, to oppossing to female genital mutilation, to pointing out to idiots who say some women ask to be raped by what they wear that they are being stupid and not a little creepy.

Perhaps it is because I have always been surrounded by sort of strong women which Scotland seems to produce in excess that I have always championed women and the rights of women. My mum was one such woman who, although my family were poor, managed to bring my sisters and I up in very difficult circumstances I once had an elderly great aunt, who was every inch the genteel little old lady. Yet to look at that frail creature you would never believe that she once fought for the vote in the suffragette movement. My grandmother once found out that my grandad had fathered a daughter who had ended up in a children’s home. She took that girl out of that home and brought her up as her own child – tell me that is not strength. When I met my partner we bonded immediately because we recognised in each other that we were equals on an intellectual level, as well as on an emotional and physical one. There is nothing would drive me mad more than to have a partner who was some “Barbie” bimbo, or a subservant “Stepford Wife”. To Hell with that – I need someone I can have a bloody good argument with now and again.

That is why I am a feminist. That is why it is badge I am proud to wear. In the final instance I suspect a great deal of people are indeed feminists but do not realise it. And the more people deny it, the more that they play directly into the feminazi agenda, and that stereotype which the media is all too happy to portray, in order to keep women subservient to men.

The “Privilege” of Atheists

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 11 November 2013)
Which does not actually exist.

This article is largely in reply to an statement put forward by a Christian on a Facebook discussion recently. The said cove said this;

“one of these privileges that atheists have underpins all their privileges – that is the right to teach an atheistic world view which filters through every aspect of life”

I shall be kind and suggest that the person who stated this is simply incorrect, as do to do otherwise would be to accuse him of deliberately telling falsehoods. I shall however demonstrate just how much this statement is wrong, and if anything the opposite applies, with theists being privileges, some of which all society pays for.

Let us go through the life of the average person in my native Scotland (although this could apply to many of the western democracies).

When a child is born, their name has to be registered. It is only in recent years that the term “Christian name” has been replaced with “Forename”. This however was not in any means done to placate atheists but rather as a recognition that modern Scotland is a multicultural and multi-faith society. In other words the change was made to accommodate parents of other faiths to Christianity, but certainly not atheists.

While baptism has fallen in recent years, it is still not uncommon among Scotland’s Protestant faiths, and the Church of Scotland is pressing for . Roman Catholic children by comparison are much more likely to be Christened. Jewish baby boys of course are routinely circumcised, whilst depending on the particular faith and culture, Muslim boys may be circumcised at any time from seven days to seven years old.

Most children to this day will be brought up in the faith of their parents, being told stories from whichever Holy book the family follow. In the vast majority of cases this will be Christianity. One of the most popular toys for young children remains to be a wooden Noah’s Ark with toy animals.

Once children enter school, they will be given Religious Observance (RO), if the parents so deem. One of the problems with this currently is that there is an opt out system, where parents have to make it clear to the school that they do not wish their children to receive RO. Many parents are actually ignorant of this right, as there are schools which do not make them aware of it. And even where the parents do opt their children out, schools have been guilty of not providing adequate alternatives for opted out children. To counter this the Scottish Secular Society has presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament, asking for the system to be changed to opt in, so that schools have to ask parents by letter for permission to let their children receive RO. The Scottish Secular Society have made it perfectly clear that they respect the rights of freedom of religion and that this is not attempt to remove religion from schools altogether, yet there are some in Christian churches in Scotland opposing this move and even falsely claiming that the removing religion is the objective of the secularists.

Both the central (Westminster) government and the devolved Scottish government have stated that they consider RO to be important to children’s education and development, yet do not supply a further explanation as to why religion is scholastically or developmentally advantageous to children.

RO takes place in Scotland’s non-denominational schools. This can include prayers, “time for reflection”, visits from local ministers, being taken to church. This of course makes the claim of being non-denominational a complete falsehood, and these measures are carried out at the expense of every taxpayer, whether they are Christian or not. There are also after-school clubs ran by Christian volunteer workers, some of whom have been found guilty of handing out creationist literature to children.

Every December a great many schools continue to put on their nativity plays, with children acting out the Biblical scene of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Parents can of course choose to send their children to a faith school, be it private, or one of Scotland’s state Roman Catholic schools. These establishments put faith at the centre of tuition.

Around the age of seven years old Roman Catholic children undergo First Communion, confirming them into the church. And the Roman Catholic Church is discussing lowering this age. At 12 years old Jewish girls undergo the Bat Mitzvah, marking coming of age, while Jewish boys undergo their Bar Mitzvah at age 13. In their teens most Sikh children will undergo the ritual of Amrit, in which they are confirmed in their faith by baptism.

Should children join a youth organisation such as the Scouts, Girl’s Guides or Boy’s Brigade, they will have the option of swearing an oath to the Judeo/Christian God. This has only recently been made optional.

Upon leaving school and going into employment, any employer who operates on a Sunday must by law ask the employee if they have any objections to working on a Sunday, the accepted day of rest. Notice that despite Scotland’s multi-faith society, no such dispensation is made for other faiths.

The working calendar recognises two large holidays, Christmas and Easter; both Christian-based festivals. Again, no such dispensation is made for the festivals of other faiths.

Anyone who is called before a court, is expected to swear an oath to God on the Bible or some other Holy book. There is of course to option to affirm to tell the truth, without a religious oath, but I have personally seen jurors being sworn in without them being informed of that option. It is merely taken for granted that they will swear to the Judeo/Christian God on the Bible. Every September “Kirking” of the courts occurs around Scotland in which judges are sworn in – in church – for the coming legal year. This includes a colourful procession of judges from the courts to St Giles Kirk in Edinburgh for the swearing in.

Despite how far they have come, it is still true that many girls dream of the fairytale white wedding, in a church, and making their vows on a solemn oath to the Christian God.

Throughout life most people will encounter faith, mostly Christianity, wheresoever they turn. They will be surrounded by churches, they will see Christian messages outside churches, on buses, and elsewhere. They will frequently hear street preachers and even have people coming to their door in an effort to convert them to their faith.

And all the time the major faiths will continue to open their doors to welcome the faithful seven days a week. No problem with that. If people wish to do that, that is their choice. Consider however that recognised faiths have tax-exempt status.

If anyone joins the armed forces, they must swear an oath to God, Queen and country. People entering politics can choose to swear to God, or affirm. However, central Westminster government still has the Lords Spiritual; 26 unelected Church of England bishops, who are able to vote upon and influence legislation.

In the Scottish Parliament, business begins each week with Time for Reflection, which consists of someone giving a spiritual or philosophical message. Whilst this is supposedly open to all faiths and none, it is more often than not given by a member of the Christian faith. Humanists and atheists have only very rarely given the message at Time for Reflection.

Many politicians meanwhile declare themselves to be devout believers, and notoriously allow their faith to cloud their judgement in matters of government. Even the Scottish National Party, by cosying up to religious homophobes, is guilty of this. Let us not forget either that the former Tony Blair famously prayed to God before taking the UK into a war in Iraq.

Generally in Scotland most people are still theists in one form or the other, and the general consensus is with the believer and against the atheist. Far from their claims, Christians are rarely vilified but I have actually been threatened a few times and one occasion even physically assaulted for being an atheist.

If someone enters hospital, they will have the option of a visit from the hospital chaplain. This is a recognised post, held by a person of faith (usually Christian), which carries a healthy salary (£25,783 – £34,530 per annum at time of writing); the cost of which is picked up by the taxpayer. Some local authorities also employ chaplains for their employees. Now you know where your Council Tax is going.

And at the end of that life, it is expected, unless they had previously stated otherwise, that most people shall have a funeral presided over by a person of faith, usually from the Church of Scotland, and usually someone who never once met the deceased.

These are just but a few examples of how faith is all around us all the time, from the cradle to the grave. And I for one therefore would like to see just where is this “privileges that atheists have underpins all their privileges – that is the right to teach an atheistic world view which filters through every aspect of life”? Because as far as I can see, not only does it not exist, but it is very much the opposite which is the reality.

And the best part? Myself and many other atheists do not and never would attempt to deny people’s right to their faith. If anything, most of us strongly defend the right of everyone to follow whichever faith they choose, and even to bring their children up according to that faith.

Theists who think that atheists are in any way privileged and that our views affect every aspect of life therefore need to take a good long look at themselves – particularly as atheists are among those paying the tab for RO and chaplains, and they are enjoying a tax-exempt status. To use a Biblical analogy, they need to remove the beam from their own eye before attempting to remove the mote from a brothers.