Saturday, December 29, 2007

In God We Trust?

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.

Monday, December 17, 2007


According to a Facebook application that lets you compare your friends, I am... wait for it...

  • Most punctual.
  • Person who can drink the most.
No, really, It's official! The computer says yes!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More weaselly than Blair

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.
But we still don't need a referendum, according to Gordon Brown.

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

Outlining a nightmare of an education system

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!

(cartoons by