Things we were all probably better off knowing nothing about: the Blood Eagle

17 12 2008

The Blood Eagle was an unimaginably gruesome form of torture and execution practiced by the Vikings. According a Scandinavian document, the ßáttr af Ragnars sonum, it was used on the king of Northumbria after the defeat of his forces during the Viking invasion of 865. Here’s what they did:

‘They caused the bloody eagle to be carved on the back of Ælla, and they cut away all of the ribs from the spine, and then they ripped out his lungs.’

Scholars dispute whether Blood Eagles were ever actually performed; it could be a myth based on misinterpretation or mistranslation of Viking poetry.

Still, it’s pretty disgusting.

Today’s text: Judge Robert Jackson

12 12 2008

If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.

From the Nuremberg Trials

Baadaasss popes

3 12 2008

From Something Awful, the 6 Most Awful Popes. Pedophiles, purse-cutters and pimp daddies. One pope even had a corpse dug up and put on trial. Catholicism for the win!

Via commenter Luke at Pharyngula.

“Godless communism has done plenty of atrocities in its attempt to create Utopia (heaven on earth). But that, seemingly, is justified if you’re an atheist.”

26 11 2008


(My response here.)

UPDATE: I recommend this article to anyone looking for a sound and thorough elaboration of the counterargument to novparl’s assertion cited in the title of this post. (PDF version also available.)

Too much book-learning makes baby Jesus cry

19 11 2008

In 1378 John Wycliffe first translated the Bible into English . . . and it appears certain rightwing Catholics are rueing the day.

The Rt Rev Patrick O’Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster, has claimed that graduates are spreading scepticism and sowing dissent. Instead of following the Church’s teaching they are “hedonistic”, “selfish” and “egocentric”, he said. [. . .] While not naming names, he suggested that such people had been compromised by their education, which he said had a “dark side, due to original sin”.Prominent Catholics in public life include Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general, and Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister.

Bishop O’Donoghue, who has recently published a report on how to renew Catholicism in Britain, argued that mass education has led to “sickness in the Church and wider society”

In short, too much education is teh evil, because those Catholics who have eaten of this forbidden fruit and have become influential have “corrupted the faith of those who had not gone to university.” And what’s worse,

In the case of education, we can see its distortion through the widespread dissemination of radical scepticism, positivism, utilitarianism and relativism.”Taken together, these intellectual trends have resulted in a fragmented society that marginalizes God, with many people mistakenly thinking they can live happy and productive lives without him.

Just think . . . all this time I’ve been depressed and unproductive because I lack belief in the existence of deities. Ditto, these sad and lazy fools.

But O’Donoghue isn’t the first British Catholic clergyman to attack thinking: earlier this year the highest-ranked Catholic in the land warned that reason leads to terror and oppression. It’s just O’Donoghue is far more abrupt about what is at stake: educated Catholics, their minds poisoned by the “dark side” of their education—“original sin and concupiscence”—leading the sheep astray. Is this the voice of an institution worried about its waning power and influence, and increasing irrelevance? Or is it the voice of an institution that is in so much despair about its ability to defend its theological claims with reasoned argument and evidence, that it simply falls to demonising reason itself and demonising those who, having set foot inside the gates of a university, have developed the capacity to question Catholic dogma (and we can’t have that)?

Perhaps it’s both.

Only a lobotomised nation could have sanctioned this with a smile on its face

25 09 2008

If you want a vivid demonstration of the abject sociopathy of authoritarian-follower morality, in which the harm principle is trumped by self-righteousness and aggression towards outgroups, look no further than the immigration detention regime presided over by the recently-deposed Howard Government. The People’s Inquiry into Detention, the product of documentary evidence, 200 testimonies at 10 public hearings, as well as 200 written submissions, “heard heart-breaking evidence of the unnecessary cruelty inflicted by the Howard government on people seeking asylum in Australia. It places the stories of detention on the public record from the perspective of those most affected by the policies and practices” (ABC News Online). The inquiry documents the deaths at sea of more than 360 asylum seekers between 2000 and 2001, the placement into desert prisons—often for years on end—of those waiting for their refugee claims to be processed, and the savage conditions within those detention centres.

It was told of people being forced to steal food to feed their children, of assaults on both adults and children, of physical and mental health care so inadequate that many former detainees now have serious, permanent disabilities. A lack of accountability created a culture of violence and self-harm within detention. Protests were routinely met with armed force. The inquiry was told of people eating glass and gravel and pouring boiling water on themselves, and presented with images of self-harm too graphic to publish.

A boy who spent three years in detention said:

The worst thing, I will never forget it, was people cutting themselves. It was horrible. I remember one time a person was harming himself up a tree and his children was crying under the tree. His wife was crying and yelling under the tree. His blood was dropping from the tree.

Once released from detention, many refugees told the inquiry their experiences had irrevocably changed them. Many were unable to forget the violent images they had been exposed to in detention and suffered ongoing mental health problems. Others told how the uncertainty of their temporary visa status compounded their anxiety.

Christian organisations, including the Brotherhood of St Laurence and UnitingJustice Australia, were among those in the front lines fightng to bring an end to the cruelty; other Christians, including many of those in the then-Liberal/National government, were among its most vocal supporters.

But none of this is really news for those who have been interested enough to follow Australia’s mistreatment of asylum seekers. The evil leftist ABC, SBS and Fairfax press—latte-sipping dibber-dobbers that they are—have been documenting such tales at a steady rate since Tampa. The aspirationals lapped it up, hailing as a national virtue the kicking in the guts of the downtrodden, and voted for Howard in increasing numbers. You can still see the vestiges of this crowd in the comments section of the already-cited ABC article, propounding the same “they were asking for it” apologetics they’ve been pushing throughout this decade-long debate.

Does the advancement of religion = charity?

11 08 2008

Max Wallace, director of the Australian National Secular Association, writing in The Australian, welcomes the Treasury review of tax concessions to religious charities. However, he also notes a disturbing definition of “charity,” a residue of Elizabethan English law, that has made it difficult for courts and legislatures to determine the limits of tax exemption for churches:

The Statute of Elizabeth (I) of 1601 created four heads of charity: the relief of poverty; advancement of education; advancement of religion; other purposes beneficial to the community. Historically, monarchs and churches had usually been tax-exempt. [. . .]
All religious organisations that satisfy the legal definition of religion in Australia are tax-exempt. The Australian Taxation Office makes these determinations when organisations apply. The definition of religion in Australia was decided in the 1983 High Court Scientology case, in which the court defined religion as any belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle and canons of conduct that give effect to that belief. An organisation must have a building, be paying a stipend to a minister with a congregation, perform rituals and be open to the public.

Second, in Australia, under our charity law the dominant purpose of a religious organisation’s activities must be the “advancement of religion”. It does not matter if the religious organisation is running a commercial business, so long as the dominant purpose of the activity is religious.

This opens the door for any religious organisation to tithe its members, parlay the donations into a considerable sum, then invest it in a commercial business or investment whose profits will be tax-exempt. All things being equal, with tax-exempt status, a business can grow quickly. There is no requirement for any of these profits to be applied to the relief of poverty or any of the many other charitable causes because the advancement of religion, that 17th-century idea, is deemed to be charitable in itself. It does not matter what kind of religion it is, so long as it has a supernatural belief.

Wallace mentions the Grassley hearings into the financial shenanigans of prosperity churches in the US, where obscenely-wealthy televangelists have claimed tax-exemptions for multi-bathroom Pacific oceanside mansions by classifying them as “parsonages”—a sign that churches there no longer appear to enjoy the carte-blanche they once did under the Bush Administration regarding what does and what does not count as tax-exempt. Whether the Australian Treasury will have similar success holding Australian churches’ proverbial feet to the flame will depend on how Queenie’s definition of charity will be interpreted.

Kudos, Labor . . .

30 07 2008

Tampa Refugees (Safdar Ali Hussaini)

. . . for winding down the mandatory detention of asylum seekers:

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia is ending its policy of automatic detention for asylum seekers who arrive in the country without visas, the government said Tuesday.Detention in immigration centers will be used only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said as he announced the policy change in a speech at Australian National University in the capital, Canberra.

Children and adults who are not considered a security risk will no longer be held, Mr. Evans said. The presumption will be that they will remain in the country while their status is resolved, he said. In addition, the cases of adults who are detained will be reviewed every three months.

Previously, illegal immigrants who reached the Australian mainland were immediately sent to detention centers while the government sifted through their claims for asylum, a process that could take years. (New York Times)

The Howard Government’s refugee policy, and worse than that, the enthusiastic support it received from many Australians, absolutely floored me when it reared its hideous head in the early 2000s. Hansonism in the hands of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party was a fad, and its public face very soon became a laughing-stock and an embarrassment. But, as many a Letters to the Editor page in the early years of this decade would attest, people were at best, indifferent, at worst seemed delighted about brown people from distant lands suffering physically and psychologically in desert camps. The issue galvanised my left-libertarian politics, to the consternation of many of my friends whose email inboxes I would regularly spam with articles condemning the practice. (How Web 1.0!) Read the rest of this entry »

A more welcoming stance towards gays and lesbians . . . or teh Jesus gets it.

17 07 2008

Via John Morales, in the comments at Pharyngula:

As John remarks, this YouTube may not last, but given the hysterical overreaction to PZ Myer’s post on “Frackin’ Crackers,” I think we can expect a lot more of these.

On the subject of “Al Queerda,” two WYD developments: one encouraging, the other disappointing, if not unexpected.

First, the disappointing. Read the rest of this entry »

Dispatches from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious

7 07 2008

The badly decomposed body of an American actress was discovered in a Sydney flat in 2006. Here’s how Ninemsn reports on the inquest:

Ms Germain’s dress was lifted above her shoulders and a clothes peg was attached to her genitals.Towels, cushions, a foot spa and a construction hat covered her body, obscuring all but her right arm.

An electrical cord was wrapped around her neck and a toaster had been strung from the shower rail.

A knife and a razor blade were discovered near her body and lipstick was smeared throughout the bathroom and on Ms Germain.

“There did not appear to be any knife-inflicted injuries at the time of post-mortem,” Sgt Beecroft said.

While the circumstances were clearly suspicious, two autopsies had been unable to determine a cause of death, she said. [Emphasis added]

Sgt. Beecroft, I dub thee . . .