That's what it says on the US Dollar, anyway, and some Christian ministries have an awful lot of dollars. But does God have much to do with it? What, exactly, do these people do with the money they collect?
That's the question that US Senator Charles Grassley and the Senate Committee on Finance have been asking (PDF) of a number of very rich organisations in the USA. Ministries run by Benny Hin, Creflo Dollar (yes, really), Joyce Meyer and others have been asked to provide information on just what they have been doing with the funds donated to them, and how much they have been paying to fund the lifestyles of their leaders.
To be fair to Joyce Meyer, she has responded to the Senator's queries - but some of the others have said that the only way they'll say how much they are spending on themselves is if a court forces them to.
Ministry Watch have been asking similar questions for some time, but now it seems something is going to happen.
The tragedy is the lack of accountability that got us to this point, and the harm it will do to to the work of God.
On the other hand, if it makes people think twice before siphoning money from Gods work, that has to be A Good Thing ™. The 21st Century Christian fundraising industry seems to have forgotten about Ananias and Saphira. This may be a necessary reminder.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
That's what it says on the US Dollar, anyway, and some Christian ministries have an awful lot of dollars. But does God have much to do with it? What, exactly, do these people do with the money they collect?
Monday, December 17, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Gordon Brown is turning out even more weaselly than Tony Blair.
After promising a referendum on the European Constitution, he's decided that the virtually identical European Treaty does not need a referendum after all.
And when it was being signed in Lisbon on Thursday, Gordon Brown arranged to turn up late, so he wouldn't need to be in the group photo. It might alarm the voters, or something. Then he nipped round the back and signed it anyway.
And why is the new treaty supposed to be different from the old proposed constitution?
- The constitution would have scrapped the previous treaties and started again. This treaty doesn't. Except that the provisions we end up with are almost identical in either case.
- The constitution would have included a "charter of fundamental rights" . The treaty doesn't include the text as such, but still makes it binding. Clever, eh?
- The constitution talked about the EU flag and anthem - the treaty doesn't. But since they are already there, it doesn't have to.
- The EU "foreign minister" has been renamed "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy" - but he'll still have more or less the same power.
- The constitution would have removed many national vetoes. The treaty does as well. See - completely different!
- And there are a few opt outs, that will allow a second class EU to be established, containing the UK, and perhaps Ireland and Denmark, and the "first class" version, with the extra sovereignty the federalists demand. How long do you think it will take for the calls for the UK to be "good Europeans" and remove these "anomalies"?
- The BBC goes into more detail.
The federalists in the rest of the EU have realised the scepticism that exists in many countries, and are trying to avoid popular votes there.
Ireland has said they'll ask the people - but sure if the people get it wrong, they'll just ask them again, until they give the right answer.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I've just been reading the Education Minister's tedious and self-congratulatory statement on how she is going to truly transform our system into a world class system fit for the 21st century (download PDF).
One new policy is to abolish academic selection, and replace it with selection by parental income. Those who can afford houses near the good schools will get in. Those who can't, won't. Unless a tiny few of them win a special lottery that she's thinking of setting up.
I'm struggling to see how selection by wealth and postcode will improve social mobility and reduce division, or how a lottery for places will lead to a fairer society. Especially as the existing sectarian split will still remain, entire and unaffected.
But I was forgetting - she has another new policy. These income-based divisions won't be a problem, because henceforth every school will be good.
Unfortunately it's hard to tell how she's going to do that, because every few paragraphs she lapses into some other language. My linguistic abilities aren't enough to tell whether she's repeating in Serbo Croat what she just said, or saying the same thing first in Kiswahili, or adding some essential detail, perhaps in Irish, that somehow makes sense of the entire statement. I'm pretty sure it's not the last one though.
You'd think an Education Minister could remember what language she was supposed to be communicating in, and stick to it. It's hardly very inclusive to issue a report that only one religious community has been taught to read. Especially when she proclaims that equality is her watchword - Equality of access!
Her other big idea is to do selection at 14, instead of at 11 - but even this is hopelessly confused. She simply lists all possible permutations, and calls it a policy! Shift kids from half-way up one 11-19 age school to the middle of another one at age 14, or keep them where they are the whole time, or get them to take a few classes at a different school, or make every child in an area change schools at 14.
To those who say this will be disruptive, she says changes are needed due to falling rolls - so clearly these are the changes we need!
And to those who don't understand Irish, she says: Tosóidh muid anois ar an obair tábhachtach, whatever one of those is.
At least she gets one thing right: "My proposals... require further work!"
A good place to start would be where the real problem lies - in Belfast's ghetto primary schools from which 98% of students fail the current selection test, and in too many cases can barely read and write. By the time these kids get to secondary schools the damage has already been done!
Friday, November 30, 2007
It seems that an English teacher working in the Sudan was threatened with 40 lashes and a year's imprisonment for stirring up religious hatred.
What was her crime?
She had taken a vote among her mostly muslim 6-7 year old pupils on what to call a teddy bear. They ignored her suggestion and voted 20 to 3 to name it Mohammad, after one of the boys in the class.
Two months later a secretary in the school complains to the Education Ministry, and the teacher is arrested, and local Islamic clergy are baying for her blood. Before you know it, she is charged (Wednesday), and tried, convicted and sentenced (Thursday). She got 15 days, not one year and a flogging - but it's still absolutely daft!
I wrote it up for wikinews over here.
To be fair, the Muslim Council of Britain has roundly condemned this insanity:
This case should have required only simple common sense to resolve. It is unfortunate that the Sudanese authorities were found wanting in this most basic of qualities.The Islamic Human Rights Commission was among Muslim groups to call for her immediate release, and some Sudanese bloggers are not impressed.
Not the real Muhammad.
I don't need a fatwah right now!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
OK, maybe a couple of trees:
Innocent, the nice smoothie people, are planting trees to help rural communities in India and Africa (see how here). There are even virtual images of two of them: one tree, and another tree.
If I keep drinking the smoothies, there may be more.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Banking details of all families with kids in the UK, and details of their kids, have gone missing. Lost in the post, apparently. This is exactly why the government cannot be trusted with the enormous interlinked collection of data on its citizens that their ID Card scheme would require.
Mistakes happen in any system, especially if security is not considered at the outset. The bigger the collection of data, the more of a prize it makes for wrongdoers, and the more likely it is that someone, somewhere, will make just such an error. A national ID card scheme, bound as it is to grow and grow, as new and more cunning uses are invented for the data, and more and more people need to access it, is a disaster waiting to happen.
And best of all, it's completely unnecessary. Nobody has explained exactly how it solves any of the excuses being offered for its sorry existence - can't stop illegal immigration unless the police get the powers to make us show our papers on demand, can't prevent employment of illegal immigrants by unscrupulous employers who pay slave wages, can't stop terrorism (Seriously, how could it? The London tube bombers all had valid ID, for goodness sake).
At least it will make a few IT suppliers (who definitely won't have ties to government, right?) very rich indeed.
On a lighter note, it seems the missing CDs have turned up on ebay:
"Cash on collection ONLY please from Portsmouth PO8, since we wouldn't want these to get lost in the post!"
Thursday, November 08, 2007
If you liked Douglas Hofstadter's books, you'll enjoy this!
I just found a rather unusual web cartoon site - check it out at xkcd.com. They even use a creative commons licence, so you can copy their stuff for personal use.
But they warn you: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Anyone who is puzzled by the peculiar EU rules on bringing "liquids" onto planes (you can, as long as they are in a resealable clear plastic bag, and they are in containers less than 100ml) will be pleased that sanity is dawning - in the European Parliament of all places.
They have asked the European Commission to repeal the ban, unless new facts emerge. They also, quite sensibly, ask for information about exactly what you can bring (the real rules, not the cartoons that every airport interprets differently), and the reasons why, to be given to passengers.
Of course the Commission have a record of ignoring the Parliament, so don't hold your breath waiting for the sanity to spread.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Last week I saw something new - door to door art salesmen. Young women actually, but never mind. They seem to roam the world, selling paintings. Some interesting pictures too.
I think it's these people!
(photo by numstead, creative commons licence)
Sunday, October 07, 2007
I'm in Sri Lanka, where it's warmer than at home, and sometimes even wetter. It's not as cheap as it used to be - from a local perspective, things are getting very expensive. But I've got a local SIM for my mobile phone, and call and text charges are better than O2 roaming. Veeeeeerrry much better!
No insightful posts about the state of the country today - it's getting late. And pictures will have to wait till the right connections can get sorted out. But I'm having a good time in Kandy.
And Happy Birthday to my sister, if she's reading this. Your card is in the email, since there seems to be another postal strike back home.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Maybe I'm being too cynical, but when I got round to reading the Times this weekend, I discovered that Gordon Brown is taking an axe to the Ministerial code of conduct that he had said needed to be strengthened.
The sleaze and scandal under previous administrations resulted in a strengthening of the rules in 1997. Ministers were required to obey "the letter and the spirit" of these rules - and one of them was that they were not allowed to be directors of companies while they were government ministers.
The new rule allows ministers to dispose of the interest, or take "alternative steps". So they get to keep the jobs if they can convince themselves and their senior advisers that it's OK. The prospect of conflicts of interest is all too clear.
What is not quite so clear is why Gordon Brown thinks this rule should go. Maybe it was an accidental cut in his rush to simplify the rules - but it's unfortunate that when it was proposed, one of his junior ministers was still on a number of boards of directors.
Fortunately somebody in parliament has noticed, and the Committee for Standards in Public Life is taking a look at the new code of conduct.
Monday, September 24, 2007
The Catholic Church has asked its members to stop giving money to Amnesty International, and the Catholic auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor has advised that school links with Amnesty should be severed. It's because Amnesty International now supports abortion for rape victims in war zones.
It's fair enough to stop funding organisations that campaign for things you disagree with - indeed, it's a reasonable way to express your opposition. I've done it in the past.
But should all links be cut? In general, is it a good idea to withdraw from organisations we don't agree fully with? Is it even possible?
And what about people who want to remain in such organisations, and express their opposition on the inside? Is it reasonable to ask members of a church to leave an organisation, like AI, that also does a lot of good?
I think the Bishop is confused about the kind of organisation Amnesty International is. The catholic church is (at least in theory) a take-it-or-leave-it-all organisation that exists partly to teach its members what to believe and what to do. "You don't get to pick and choose," as a catholic friend of mine once said.
Amnesty, on the other hand, is not in the business of telling its members what to think. So far as I know, they don't excommunicate their people for differing from the party line. You are allowed to disagree.
So if people want to join in the Amnesty's work against oppression while still holding the Catholic church's absolutist position on abortion, they can. They can even try to overturn Amnesty's policy from within. Amnesty won't excommunicate them, and the Catholic Church shouldn't stigmatise them either.
As Christians, we're supposed to be in the world, but not of the world. We're supposed not just to be different, but also to make a difference.
Anyway, where would such complete withdrawal end? From politics? From employment? From education? From genetic research? From the arts? And how would we pick the supremely important issues that prompt withdrawal? Abortion? Slavery? The death penalty? Social justice? Failure to care for others as we care for ourselves? Failure to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Bah Humbug! The residents' association has been wittering for ages about getting ramps built on the roads where I live. I thought that idiocy had gone away - but no such luck. There is now a dirty great ramp just down the road.
So now we're going to suffer the inconvenience and wear and tear of driving over ramps, with the increased traffic noise as cars slow down before and speed up afterwards, and the resulting increase in pollution.
It's not as though there were even a problem with speeding, or kids having to play in the street.
It looks like I'm going to have to keep an eye on these witless do-gooders! Who knows what they'll come up with next? Parking permits?
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
Seems Sinn Fein have been marching for truth last weekend for some of the victims of the troubles (BBC story here).
Hypothetically, if you were Sinn Fein, and you wanted a process that would deliver truth for all the victims of the troubles, which would you think was more likely to succeed?
- a campaign to expose the evils perpetrated by “pro-british” forces, which ignores any harm done by republicans, or
- calls for truth about what happened to all the victims, with a promise to deliver the truth about the victims your own people had created. A promise backed up with actual delivery - starting, perhaps, with truth for the McCartney sisters.
Again hypothetically, if you just wanted a stick to beat “the Brits” with, which would you pick?
Thursday, July 12, 2007
There were bonfires all over Belfast last night.
From the hills, the view over the city was quite impressive. It would have been more impressive without the drizzly haze - though the fire brigade were probably quite thankful for it!
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
I was over in England at the weekend, and there were signs about the new smoking ban. It looks like England and Wales are catching up with the rest of the UK.
Now that Ireland and the UK have led the way, I wonder what the chances are of the EU adopting this as a health and safety measure? Or is the EU just for things that "Europe" wants and we don't?
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Human rights matter! That's why the UN had a Human Rights Commission, and that's why the main abusers of human rights made sure they were on the commission - to prevent any inconvenient interference from the UN. Not so much "set a thief to watch a thief" as let the thieves run the police. It wasn't working.
The UN realised this was undermining their credibility, and last year they completely changed everything, while leaving it almost the same as before. The Human Rights Commission became the Human Rights Council, and the world waited with bated breath for the UN to get to grips with the problem.
It's the first anniversary of the shiny new UN Human Rights Council's first meeting, so what has happened?
- They tried to add Belarus (Europe's last dictatorship, already under investigation for human rights abuses) to the Council - fortunately this failed. Egypt and Angola were added though.
- Embarrassing human rights investigations into abuses in Belarus and Cuba have been cancelled.
- The Non Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the African Group, and the Asian Group called for the end of all the other investigations - except for one into Israel, which they want to make permanent.
- For now, the other investigations continue, but Algeria has written new rules to restrict the activities of the investigators. These have been adopted.
- The universal periodic review of all countries, mandated when the HRC was set up, is being whittled away. The council wants the review to be based solely on information provided by the state (a "cooperative mechanism") and the outcome to be adopted by the HRC only with the consent of the state being reviewed (they will be "fully involved in the outcome"). Not much to worry about there, if you're up to no good.
- Just in case the reviews throw up any inconvenient truths, China and Belarus want to make it harder to start new investigations by requiring a two-thirds majority of the Council.
- An investigation (by the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, the right to health, the rights of internally displaced persons, and the right to housing) into Lebanon and Israel criticised both Israel and Hizbollah for serious human rights and humanitarian law violations during the war, and recommended that the Council "having addressed the conduct of Israel. . . should also ensure that Hizbollah's attacks are thoroughly investigated." This was rejected - instead it is proposed to place Israel alone under permanent investigation.
- The HRC responded to the genocide in Darfur with a mildly worded mission to "assess the human rights situation in Darfur and the needs of the Sudan in this regard". Nevertheless, the report is damning - and languishing without any effective action.
It seems the new HRC is living up to the standards of the old HRC.
In other UN news, Zimbabwe, which has transformed itself from the breadbasket of Africa to the continent's basket case, was appointed to chair the UN Commission on Sustainable Development!
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
It must be Summer! The Sphinx (probably the best Kebab joint in Belfast) is apparently frying new potatoes.
The sun was beating down.
And just this morning I noticed that my first raspberry of the season was nearly ripe. By this evening there were several, so for the next few weeks there will be fresh organic raspberries at casa notmyopinion.
Even if they are only organic because I'm too lazy to spray them!
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Monday, April 30, 2007
Not since the 1950s have we seen such a shift in the public teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
Research theologians in the Catholic International Theological Commission have discovered that there are "serious... grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved... We emphasise that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge."
For many centuries Rome has taught that infants who had not been baptised still suffered from the guilt of "original sin", inherited from Adam, and therefore could not be admitted to heaven. Augustine taught that they were in Hell, but only mildly punished. Later theologians constructed the concept of Limbo, and taught that it was a place of happiness, or mere loss - not a place of suffering.
The theological establishment (including the current and previous popes) has been back-pedalling for some time, stating that Limbo was not part of the infallible teaching, but merely an conclusion drawn from other infallible teachings. Since 1970, Catholic funerals have been permitted for unbaptised infants, where their parents had intended for them to be baptised. There are, however, other theologians who state that both St Augustine and councils of the church have defined limbo as official teaching.
Evangelical protestants, for the most part, teach that infants are admitted to heaven if they have not gained the ability to accept or reject God before they die.
The new Catholic teaching, supported by the pope, but not endorsed ex cathedra, is curiously hesitant. It seems to place the concept of Limbo for infants... in limbo.
The statement itself has been curiously delayed. The International Theological Commission completed its statement in December 2005, but it was not until January 2007 that publication was approved by the Pope. The 41-page document was published by the Catholic News Service in Origins, on 20th April. The publication costs $5, and the document is not yet freely available on the Internet.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The BBC is planning to launch new on-demand services which will allow us to download programmes via the Internet. I mentioned earlier that Ofcom wanted restrictions to make the services less useful, so that other companies can sell us the same sort of thing thing all over again.
The BBC Trust accepted many of these restrictions, but they are running a consultation to see if the public will buy this. We shouldn't! Click here to tell them what you think. You don't need to answer all of the questions.
Here is my 2p worth (sorry for the length)...
Do you agree with the BBC Trust's proposal to approve the new BBC on-demand services, subject to the modifications outlined in the Trust's report of its provisional conclusions?
In a market in which most broadcasters are expected to be offering on-demand services, would you agree that it is a priority for the BBC to be investing in this area?
The BBC Trust has proposed setting a limit of 30 days as the amount of time that programmes can be stored on a computer before being viewed. As this is an emerging market, there is currently no clear standard on the length of the storage window. On balance, the Trust thinks 30 days is the right length of time. How long do you think consumers should be able to store BBC programmes on their computers before viewing them?
The BBC Trust concluded that public value would be created by allowing series stacking. This would allow viewers to catch-up with all episodes of a series for the duration of its run. The Trust recognised that although it would provide increased opportunities to view BBC programmes, it could also deter people from buying DVDs or using commercial video-on-demand services. Do you consider series stacking to be a useful feature? What kind of series would you expect to be included? Should there be any limitation on the number of episodes of a series made available for catch-up or the length of time for which they can be viewed?
How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?
Should the BBC be allowed to offer book readings from its radio services as audio downloads over the internet?
The BBC Trust concluded there was fine balance between public value and market impact in deciding whether to allow the BBC to offer audio downloads of classical music. While such downloads could help introduce new listeners to classical music, they could also deter purchases of commercial recordings. What is your view on whether - and to what extent - the BBC should be allowed to offer radio broadcasts of classical music as audio downloads over the internet?
How important is it to you that the BBC provides some means for parents to control which of its programmes are accessible on-demand to children? Is such a facility necessary or is it more a matter for parents to exercise controls over how children use the internet?
What are your views on whether the BBC should offer content from non-BBC providers on the on-demand service on its website?
What are your views on whether and how the BBC should make available on-demand content on services run by other providers - such as multi-channel services or internet-based audio and video downloading services?
Do the revisions proposed to BBC Service Licences to allow the new services to go ahead seem appropriate?
Are there any other issues you would like the BBC Trust to consider in relation to the proposed services?
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
Just the other day, some celebrity was celebrating her marriage - it might have been that Hurley character. The BBC reported (for hours) that the festivities had been "marred by scuffles".
What actually happened was this: some of the paparazzi had tried to block the couple's car and then get in to the party, the security guards stopped them, and they started fighting. Slaps and shoving, it seems. The press were fighting with security guards outside the locked fortress. Inside, the wedding celebrations weren't actually marred at all.
Get over yourselves.
Now that I think about it, "loutish behaviour by press mars wedding" would have been slightly less misleading.
Perhaps the real story is how badly the press behave, and how much the paparazzi believe they are entitled to hound anyone they label as "in the public eye".
There is a difference between "the public interest", and "what tabloid readers want to know"! The function of a free press must surely be more than merely selling copies (or eyeballs to advertisers).
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
"I know," said Tony Blair, "let's give people a way to tell us what they think - that'll reduce cynicism about politicians, and help people get involved." And so the "Number 10" e-Petitions site was born. Or maybe not...
Unfortunately those pesky voters keep asking for things that the Dear Leader doesn't want. Apparently 1,515,317 people have signed a petition against the spy-in-your-car satellite tracking system he plans to build. No, wait, it's gone up while I was writing... now it's 1,515,867!
Go sign the petition, if you don't want Tony's cronies to track your every move (and get rich doing it, if past IT contracts are anything to go by).
Only 4 days left - it closes on 20th February.
Of course, if you want to be tracked everywhere you drive, there is a petition in favour that you can sign. It's still a free country, though they're working on that!
Unfortunately, Tony says you are all wrong and he's going to ignore you - but it's getting harder to ignore the 1,516,366 people who are using their freedom.
Sorry, make that 1,516,874!
So Britain is now, apparently, the worst country in the developed world for kids (here's the UNICEF report). Unfortunately that's not all we're bad at.
It seems we're one of the most spied upon countries as well. A Privacy International report from November late last year puts us in the bottom group of countries, those with "endemic surveillance", alongside Russia, China, Malaysia and Singapore. And that's without Tony Blair's proposed spy-in-the-sky satellite tracking of all motorists!
Even the government's information commissioner thinks so - he said we are sleep-walking into a surveillance society. This was after a report to the International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners' Conference, which he hosted in London.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Ofcom wants to prevent viewers from being able to download a whole TV or radio series at once from the BBC, and is insisting that book readings and classical music should only be made available in restricted proprietary formats.
It's not clear who Ofcom (the telecoms and media regulator) is working for - but it doesn't seem to be you or me, if this story in the Register is any guide.
The BBC plans to make more of the programmes we're paying for available to us via the internet, with services like catch-up TV via the net, simultaneous broadcast over the internet and air, and unrestricted downloads of selected programmes.
Ofcom has produced a Market Impact Assessment, which objects to this on the grounds that someone else might want to charge you for similar services, and recommends that the service be made less convenient to consumers.
If you think that paying once for programmes (through the licence fee) is enough, there is some good news. The BBC Trust responded by saying that Ofcom's report is interesting and all, but they are also going to consider the potential value to the public of the new services, and that their decision will be based on "an informed judgement of all the evidence, in the best interests of licence fee payers".
At least someone has our interests at heart. Shame it's not the regulator.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
On a couple of trips into the surrounding areas we saw some spectacular views, and some very atmospheric ones -- for which read "so much mist we couldn't see a thing". World's End is supposed to have a huge drop and an amazing vista, but for us, the word ended in a wall of grey. I'm assured that's very rare! And the views later on were pretty spectacular...
...until the sun set while we were some way from the carpark!
On the way to the Rest House we were getting directions from a local. The road was pretty bumpy, so the driver asked him if it was like this all the way. "Yes," he replied, "it's a good road!" We eventually made it (after avoiding a place that looked like it had an hourly room rate), and had an excellent meal, a hot shower, and a fair room. The blankets were clean too - we'd just bought a pile of them earlier in the day.
Back to work on the scenery the next day...
Another night we stayed in an old Tea Plantation owner's bungalow, converted into a guesthouse. Apparently it has spectacular views... so the manager dug out his laptop and showed us what we would have seen if we'd come on any other day of the year.
The plantation manager was telling us that the tea plantation is still in operation, and they try to run the estate on fair and just principles, with decent salaries (by local standards) for the workers. It seems that many plantations keep their pickers in one-room houses, pay them a pittance, and give them few if any rights. He also had an interesting take on the benefits and drawbacks of the Fair Trade movement.
That's the road to the plantation. It's an excellent road!