Did you know you can opt out of Catholic teachings at some Catholic schools?

September 3, 2014

I don’t have time right now to do this justice, so I’ll just quote from the Globe and Mail article:

An Ontario Catholic high school teacher was disciplined for informing his students they can’t be forced to study religion, underscoring the determination of Catholic school boards to get students to take religious studies.

The teacher, Paul Blake, had a disciplinary note attached to his file in May, after he told a group of Grade 12 students of a recent court case that affirmed their right to an exemption from religious courses and ceremonies.

Minister of Education Liz Sandals refused to say Wednesday whether she will continue to let Catholic schools force students to study religion against their will.

“I figured I had nothing left to lose,” he said in a recent interview. “Some of my students were quite surprised and they were like, ‘All these years I’ve been taking this course and I didn’t need to?’”

Since the mid 1980s, students are allowed to get an exemption if they are going to Catholic school but don’t want to take the Catholic courses. It all comes down to the fact that Catholic schools now get public money and have opened their doors to teaching students of other faiths.



Atheist Scruples: the one star friend

September 3, 2014

You are a restaurant critic. A good friend owns a restaurant and asks you to review it. The food is mediocre. Do you say so in the review?

Being an honest sort of person, I think I’d have to be honest about my experience at the restaurant, even if this person is a good friend of mine. My reputation as a trusted source for good eats would require it. I am assuming I do this for a living and get paid by a newspaper or magazine and don’t just write shit up on a blog so I can digitally piss on all the places that I thought sucked.

The game I take these questions from was printed in the mid 1980s before the internet and sites Yelp.com made it easy for everyone to rave or complain about service and food quality.

There’s this article from 2007 documenting a lawsuit over a review but more recently in France this July, a blogger was sued by a restaurant.

According to French website Arrêt sur Images, the restaurant’s owner admitted that the service Doudet received may not have been perfect, but that the article was “more of an insult than criticism” and was doing his business harm when it appeared in Google searches.

In typical internet style, Google searches for the restaurant now prominently feature articles about it suing Caroline Doudet.

Although the restaurant sued about the entire article, the judge’s decision was limited to the headline, which Doudet was ordered to change. In addition to the €1,500 fine she had to pay €1,000 (£790) in court costs, bringing her total bill for writing a blogpost to €2,500 (£2,000).

Doudet opted to delete the article rather than fix the headline.

Talk about a headache.

In June 2014, an Australian restaurant finally won an eleven year battle against a newspaper (edited to add actual link to article, 11:51 am) and the paper was

forced to pay $AUS623,526 [£349,000] for a notorious critique which described the pork belly as “the porcine equal of a parched Weetbix [Weetabix]”

The 2003 review, by Matthew Evans, in the Sydney Morning Herald of plush waterside restaurant Coco Roco provided colourful descriptions of the “soggy blackberries”, “overcooked potatoes”, “outstandingly dull” roast chicken and limoncello oysters that “jangle like a car crash”, before warning readers – perhaps unnecessarily – to “stay home”.

Coco and Roco were separate places; Evans was reviewing Coco at the time, which had recently opened. It was forced to close its doors six months later and the owners blame it all on Evans’ review which remained available to read online long after the restaurant was gone.

The newspaper eventually lost the case after a court ruled that the review failed to adequately point out that Coco Roco included two restaurants and that Evans had eaten at the upmarket Coco and was not reviewing the bistro-style Roco.

Evans gave up the review business and moved to Tasmania a few years ago. He’s quoted as telling another paper, it’s

“a sad day for Australian food journalism”.

“I think reviewers and publications become fearful of being sued,” he told The Hobart Mercury.

It’s not just food journalism, though. It’s bigger than that and the risk is everywhere.

Simon Singh made headlines in the UK (and around the skeptic world) when the British Chiropractic Association attempted to sue him for libel. He wrote an article critical of chiropractors and some of the claims they’ll make about effectiveness. The case was later dropped.

“Other scientists, science writers, bloggers, investigative journalists, human rights activists – all get threatened with these libel suits,” he told BBC News. “And at the end of the day, the people who lose out are the general public because we don’t get to find out the real truth because these libel suits just stop good journalism.”

Dr Singh said he was still waiting to find out how the costs of the case would be borne. He said his defence had so far cost him in excess of £100,000.

I don’t want to change my answer to the question and claim the place is better than it is just to avoid a potential lawsuit. I’d just aim to be clear in writing and express my opinion on where the place fell flat without being overly insulting or hypercritical about the rest of it. I’d just try to write it in a way that shows I care about quality.


Siberia cursed by ancient mummy? Of course not

August 27, 2014

According to a recent article provided by the Daily Mail, the mummified remains of a Siberian princess are to blame for earthquakes and flooding in the region. Supposedly, it’s some kind of curse. Why does the Mail focus first on this part? Because it’s the Mail.

An exhumed 2,500 year old mummified Siberian princess is set to be reburied because native groups in the Altai Mountains claim her posthumous anger is causing floods and earthquakes.

The tattooed corpse of the 25-year-old woman was preserved in permafrost until she was dug up more than two decades ago. It was this act, it is claimed, that has caused her anger.

Now the Council of Elders in Altai – representing native Siberians in the region – have passed a vote to rebury her remains, a decision apparently accepted by local governor Alexander Berdnikov.

And what happens when the body is returned to “rest” but earthquakes and floods still ravage the area? Will they claim it’s her lingering resentment or search the area for some other scapegoat?

The article goes on to describe where it was found and what else was buried along with it. Then,

Spokeswoman for the regional government Oksana Yeremeeva said: ‘The decision of Council of Elders is very respectable, but we cannot implement it immediately.’

Currently the mummy was seen as a museum possession and a new law would be needed to give the go-ahead to a reburial.

She said: ‘The mummy, though it can sound quite rude, is still a museum exhibit, that is we cannot just bury it, no-one has done such things before.’

The move is likely to require validation by the Russian Ministry of Culture in Moscow.

I don’t know if it comes down to journalistic “laziness” or harsh deadlines that leave writers with little time to dig deeper into topics. Or are they just being honest when it comes to giving people what they apparently want? I know the headline did much of the work to get me interested in clicking. Going with a flamboyantly stupid headline may gain them click points on their stat meters but how many people will stop at, “Ha, ha, silly people think curses are real” and how many will notice the actual story worth pursuing that gets ignored here?

The issue worth discussing is the one about the rights of locals to maintain connection to their history versus the stance of museums and researchers intent on better understanding that history. This kind of clash is not uncommon.

Ideally, both groups will be able to work together to figure out the best way to deal with the historic pieces. I did some “digging” for other news that would fit this theme. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will officially open late September, 2014, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In an article from last August, the Winnipeg Sun had a rundown of artifacts that had been found while digging out the space for the museum. 400,000 artifacts of various types.

Local aboriginal elders were consulted about the oral history of the site and how to respect the land being excavated. On the advice of those elders, a medicine bag was buried with each of the 500 pilings constructed to support the structure.

“Bringing archaeology and oral history together will give us all a better understanding of Manitoba’s ancient past,” said Mireille Lamontagne, the museum’s manager of education programs. “The museum will undertake key oral histories related to the archaeology project that will be kept as part of the museum’s corporate family.”

The bulk of the items found a home with the Provincial Historic Resources Branch, according to the article.

update Aug 28/14: If you’ll be in the Winnipeg area Sept 19-21st Rightsfest is sounding pretty darn fun.

Many of the performances will have a human rights theme, including a collaboration between the Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble, an Israeli folk dance ensemble, and the Rusalka Ukrainian Dance Ensemble.

Other performers will include 100 Decibels, a deaf mime troupe, and Shannon Bear, a traditional First Nations dancer and human-rights activist.

If atheist and traveling in Britain, stay at the Travelodge: no bibles

August 19, 2014

There’s no real story here, but Fox and the Daily Mail and others like them want to make it one, apparently. Which article to pick on first.. the Mail, I guess, since Fox is just paraphrasing that anyway. The hotel’s stance is that they opted to pull the bibles once they renovated rather than promote one set of beliefs and ignore others.

A Church of England spokesman said: ‘It seems both tragic and bizarre that hotels would remove the word of God for the sake of ergonomic design, economic incentive or a spurious definition of the word “diversity”.’

It seems not all Travelodges even have Bibles available on request. At the branch in Battersea, south London, there was no Bible in the room or behind reception.

When requested, the receptionist could not find a copy and said no one had ever asked him for one in his four months of working there.Instead, he suggested using the hotel’s free wifi to ‘Google it and read it online’.

That seems a little on the “How dare he!?” side of things but isn’t it kind of silly to assume a hotel chain ought to store bibles on the premises? If you need a bible in your hotel room when you travel, why don’t you just bring your own? He has a point about just going online to find one, though. They’re everywhere. Pick whatever translation you want and you can find it to read somewhere. I prefer the Skeptics Annotated Bible for all my bible reading needs.

The Gideons have been foisting their bibles onto whoever will take them since 1899 but I don’t think saving souls is one of the mandates of a typical hotel chain. Hotels are on the hook to provide patrons with (hopefully clean) beds and bathrooms, and food that won’t kill them. Anything else is just perks. It’s a holdover from the notion that everyone you were possibly going to meet was going to be a Christian who’d be a bible reader automatically. Can’t say the same of everyone one meets these days, especially in a tourist-heavy place like London. It’s wrong to only provide one kind of reading material as if there were only one kind of person staying at the hotel.

Personally, I’d rather see other books or materials made available that don’t lean toward any religion. Throw some love poetry in the drawer. Supply books by local authors. Maybe something along the lines of “Here’s what’s Haunted” for people who like ghost hunt stuff when they travel. Trivia books maybe. Crossword puzzles or a handful of Pictionary cards and a notepad for drawing on.

Along these lines, I’ve been reading about the U.S. Navy and their hem/haw over keeping bibles available at their lodgings. They had pulled them out due to some complaints but put them back in again because of other complaints. The bibles will be staying in the rooms while “the policy is under review.”

Chaplain (Ret.) Col. Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said. “Our national has a history of religious accommodation for military personnel since before George Washington established the chaplain corps in July 1775. Allowing Bibles in guest quarters is a continuation of our desire to serve those who serve us.”

He then claims there’s nothing to review. The Freedom From Religion Foundation wanted to make the point that the Navy, a government agency, is promoting certain faiths over others. It should be all or nothing, no special treatment given to Christians. Alas, that seems to be a hard idea for some Christian people to wrap their holier-than-thou heads around…

Atheist Scruples: Let’s talk about sex, maybe…

August 18, 2014

You have adolescent children. An out-of-town friend is visiting with her new boyfriend. Do you let your guests sleep together?

This is a two bedroom duplex so no. The kid has one room, we have the other. Any guests have to make due with the couch and the floor…

If this were happening today, anyway.

Hypothetically, we’re talking a house situation here where kids have their own rooms and there is at least one guest room to offer (plus the sofa).

Yeah, sure. Let them sleep together. Whatever. It’s 2014, not 1983. Hell, even in the late ’80s a cousin would come for a visit with his or her current fling and Mom would kick me out of my bedroom and give them my double bed.

I’m reminded of a time when an older cousin was staying with us in such a situation and the phone had rung around 10 or so in the morning; it was her father calling from out of town. I’m pretty sure I knocked on the bedroom door first but I might not have. Either way, I poked my head in to let her know she had a phone call. She was pretty annoyed at me. “Well, what would you have been doing?” I legitimately asked when she came out to take the call. I’m sure I knew what sex was at the time and I was pretty sure this cousin of mine wouldn’t bonk her boy toy in the room right beside my parents’ bedroom anyway.

CFI Saskatoon had a meet-up on Sunday with a Show-and-Tell theme. I shamelessly promoted my blog. Hi local readers!

One of the other topics that came up for discussion was sex education in public schools and what Saskatoon has been doing. One of the guys mentioned that his daughter wound up having to take a sex-ed course that promoted abstinence over everything else and she couldn’t finish Grade 12 without taking it. He did some research into the guy who designed the course and apparently it was bible-verse free but still fundamentally inspired and he was annoyed to find out that she couldn’t opt out. He didn’t want to kick up a fuss while she was in school but our organizer suggested he could do it now that she’s done school. Time will tell.

They also talked about the Edmonton school board that got a bit of bad press this year because of this issue. Emily Dawson and her mother, Kathy, filed a human rights complaint over a sex-ed workshop offered at Emily’s school. It was being run by an anti-abortionist group. Quoting from the National Post article:

Norah Kennedy of the Pregnancy Care Centre says the organization is “shocked and upset.”

Kennedy says her group was brought in to teach free of charge and has always been open about its “abstinence-based” teaching.

Parker said that a board review found the group’s workshops followed all guidelines for the sex education portion of CALM — or Career and Life Management, a course required for high school graduation.

“The information being provided was not of a religious nature and was aligned with the curriculum and scientifically based,” he maintains.

But not based on the science – social science – that has effectively panned abstinence education as a waste of effort and tax dollars. The Board has now dropped the group from their schools and will look for other presenters for this coming school year.

The Guardian writer Jessica Valinti noted:

Students need sexual education that’s comprehensive, medically accurate, and free from shame and ideology. Not just because sexuality is an integral part of our humanity, but because when you withhold medical information about sexuality from children and teens, you are endangering health and lives. That some students today are actually learning less than their parents did in sex ed is a scandal. Do we really want our children to be less-informed than we were?

Dawson claimed that the workshop included false information about sexually transmitted diseases, shamed many of the women, and weren’t very supportive of the boys, either. Valenti again:

Teens – whether you like the idea of them having sex or not – deserve access to information that can keep them healthy and safe. Anything else is criminal.

So, dragging it back to the question posed at the beginning, I would expect by this point that the adolescent kids have a solid understanding of the point of sex, the value of safe sex, and the natural desire of two people in love (or not) to want to undertake sex for pleasure or procreation or panacea.

It would be a non-issue to have a friend and partner sharing a room while the kids are around. That’s all there is to it.

A search for Billy Graham leads to Cliff Richard and sex abuse

August 16, 2014

I usually just find the advice column he still has at the Kansas City Star but today, something a little less fun to read. This from the Guardian the other day:

A police raid on a home owned by Cliff Richard is part of an investigation into an allegation of sexual assault on a boy at a rally held by the evangelical US preacher Billy Graham three decades ago.

Richard’s property in Berkshire was searched on Thursday by detectives investigating the claim that the boy, aged under 16 at the time, was abused by an adult at a faith event held by the US pastor in Sheffield, Yorkshire in the 1980s. The rally was held at Bramall Lane, the home of Sheffield United Football Club.

I wonder what they thought would still be on the property after all this time, but I guess that’s the point of looking. One never knows.

Richard, who is currently in Portugal, said the claim was “completely false” and that the raid on his Berkshire property came without notice.

He said in a statement: “For many months I have been aware of allegations against me of historic impropriety which have been circulating online. The allegations are completely false.

South Yorkshire Police aren’t at a point of accusing or arresting anyone but Richard states that he’ll cooperate with the investigation even though he’s not happy about it.

(Unrelated, but noted in the article: Richard credits Billy Graham with his conversion to Christianity at a London rally in 1966.)

Police said the search was not connected to Operation Yewtree, established in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, which is being run by the Metropolitan police.

Oh My Flying Spaghetti Monster, blogging creates a lot of extra homework, but it’s worth doing. Operation Yewtree turns out to be a police investigation into sex abuse allegations surrounding celebrities, mostly. Usually the reported abuse happened many years ago and the accusations are just coming to light now.

Savile was a well known star in the UK and, after his death, rumours of sexual misconduct started surfacing and ITV ran a documentary focusing on that. Rolf Harris has also been charged thanks to this and is now in jail. (He’s the Aussie who sung “Tie me Kangaroo Down, Sport” and “Six White Boomers” – two faves from my childhood. Sigh.)

Back to the Guardian article:

Journalists and photographers had maintained a vigil in front of the Charter secondary school, opposite the estate, while helicopters from media organisations hovered overhead. One resident said: “We knew there was something going on when we heard the helicopters and then we saw it on the news. He’s got a lot of fans. A lot of people are going to be very shocked [by the allegations].”

Well, all they can do is wait and see what comes of it all, I guess.

Animal rights over religious rights in Denmark? That’s interesting.

August 15, 2014

To say the least…

European regulations require animals to be stunned before they are slaughtered, but grants exemptions on religious grounds. For meat to be considered kosher under Jewish law or halal under Islamic law, the animal must be conscious when killed.

Yet defending his government’s decision to remove this exemption, the minister for agriculture and food Dan Jørgensen told Denmark’s TV2 that “animal rights come before religion”.

Commenting on the change, Israel’s deputy minister of religious services Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan told the Jewish Daily Forward: “European anti-Semitism is showing its true colours across Europe, and is even intensifying in the government institutions.”

NPR notes that Sweden and Norway have had a ban in place for years.

Dutch lawmakers took up the issue in 2012, and even Britain’s top veterinarian is now making headlines by suggesting his country would do well to follow the Danish example.

As Europe grows more secular, says Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Congregation in Copenpagen, “religious tradition” is no longer a valid argument for much of anything, he says.

Benyones Essabar with the group Danish Halal agrees.

“Religion itself in Europe doesn’t play the big role … it does in other countries. So every time we speak about something that [has] to do with religion,” he says, “it will always be looked at as something from medieval times, and something that doesn’t have any scientific place in our modern days.”

There are a lot of rules set down to make food properly Kosher or halal. Some of it sounds completely silly in terms of blessings and prayers to certain gods in order to make it “official” but other parts probably did have a basis in food safety and health at a time when people did not have refrigerators or any knowledge of bacteria and parasites. Salt has been used as a preservative for centuries and the kernels of Kosher salt are ideal for soaking up liquid like blood; blood is a no-go for both traditions. Why milk and meat can’t go together for halal food is up for grabs in terms of sciency reasons, but it would have made sense at the time to avoid the meat of carnivores. It still makes sense.

I can’t speak to the sense people have about these bans coming across as anti-Semitic or Islamophobic, though. I can see why that would be a fear since both are minority groups in Europe with a history of racism, fear and propaganda denouncing the faith and its followers. But, what if it really does just come down to compassion for the plight of animals? So long as people insist on eating them, shouldn’t all attempts be made to make their end as painless as possible? Can Kosher and Halal butchers and the rest involved guarantee that?