30 March 2011

Vote YES to a fairer voting system

On the 5th of May Britain will have a vote on changing the current first past the post voting system to a proportional vote.

In 1994 New Zealand changed to a proportional vote called Mixed Member Proportional, this is much like the system they use in many places in Germany. Australia also uses this method to vote for it's Senate.

It's hoped that the change will help stop the Jobs of Life mentality of those MPs in safe seats. The major parties don't want it. Not at all! So you know it has to be a good thing.

The No campaign will tell you it's only used by a few countries, when it's actually used by over 80, and the current First Past the Post is prone to wasted votes and our old friend Gerry Mander.

Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good  -
Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken

26 March 2011

Priest takes down Sex Party Electoral Posters


Sex Party Posters Ordered Down at Church Polling Booth
Written by ASP Staff   
Saturday, 26 March 2011 13:55
Sex Party volunteers at the St Peter’s Catholic Church polling booth on Devonshire st in Surry Hills, have been ordered by the priest in charge of the venue to pull their posters down for most of today’s NSW election.

No other parties were ordered to take down their signage. Sex Party volunteers claimed that the priest was so aggressive and rude to them that they were fearful of an altercation developing and agreed to take down the signage.

Sex Party President Fiona Patten said the Catholic Church was being paid by the NSW Electoral Commission to hold the election in the Parish Hall and that included hosting signage on the property.

“The actions of the church’s representative in unfairly discriminating against the Sex Party for its political views, represents an offence under the Discrimination Act. He has also jeopardised our chances of getting a fair and legitimate vote at this booth which could constitute an offence under the Electoral Act. We will be pursuing this issue with the Electoral Commission on Monday and see what our options are”, she said.

Nothing is more unreliable than the populace, nothing more obscure than human intentions, nothing more deceptive than the whole electoral system. -- Marcus Tullius Cicero

25 March 2011

Learned Socities, debates and the Web

        One of the things I really love about being in Britain is the history, and the amount of public discourse. The country really does have a large amount of intellectuals, (although you would never know it around Soccer season)

Learned Societies have been around here for over 350 years with the founding of the Royal Society. These days most are on the web, and provide great resources with Libraries, pictures and videos. Many have been hosting public lectures from experts in their fields for hundreds of years. (not the same experts)

Britain was the centre of the industrial and scientific revolutions, and this means a great number of these Societies or Institutions exist in London, such as :-

The Royal Society
The Royal Society of Arts
The British Academy
Gresham College
The Royal Institution
Society of Chemical Industry
Royal Geographical Society
Royal Institute of Philosophy
Royal Asiatic Society
The Linnean Society
Royal Academy of Arts
Royal Statistical Society

Almost all of the above have useful and informative web sites.

These days we can see many of these lectures on the Web
Royal Society TV
RSA on You Tube

I am quite pleased to see that some of these have spread around the world, and have branches or affiliates in Australian such RiAus

Intelligence Squared is a London based debating forum, where the debates are now streamed over the web for free, and people can interact via twitter in real time. It's been so popular it's spread to the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Nigeria, and the Ukraine.

London also has public debates at the Centre for Inquiry. Some of these are video recorded as well.

Many Universities have Lectures on the Web, just to point out two London ones.
London School of Economics
Imperial College London 

It was on YouTube where I first came across The RSA, and from there I started to discovered the rich variety the local instutions provide.

“London is the epitome of our times, and the Rome of today.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

18 March 2011

The Purple Economy - A book review


   Max Wallace has authored a book that lays out how Australia, and (almost only Australia) keeps the Churches on side with Government with these particular Tax deductions and handouts.

The first part of the book demolishes any ideas about separation of church  and state in Australia.
In the 1998 DOGS case (Defence of Government Schools), the high court decided there was no separation of church and state in Australia.

This is why we  had  Peter Hollingworth  an Anglican Archbishop as Governor General, and the Government can fund Chaplains in Australian schools.

Even though the Australian constitution is almost exactly written and intended to be the same in the church/state regard as the USA, it has a single word different, and that was enough for the High Court to determine their is no separation.

Looking back over 100 years to the founding of the Australian Commonwealth can't be easy, and parts of the constitution will have been taken from many models, but our interest is in Section 116.

I won't reproduce it here, as the wikipedia entry is quite through. But the interpretation of the meaning separation of Church and State is one that needs to be investigated, e.g.  What does it all mean?

 Some think it means that the State looks after the government of the people, and religion is just something funded by believers and and those particular principles of belief are just for themselves. This is how secularism works, and certainly the most desirable in modern society (until the human race grows up). This is the French model.

Some think it means the government will not establish a State Church, as it exists now in England. This is how the courts have interpreted the situation  in Australia.

Some think it means that the Government will not tax you to pay for the support of a religions that you don't believe in. The situation in Germany, Denmark  and Sweden, is actually much like this. The Government taxes it's citizens on behalf of their church.

Italy has the Tax Eight Per Thousand

In the US, the principle is that the state does not subsidise religion, also
Everyone is free to exercise their religion.
Religion can't be imposed on anyone.
There is no religious test for government positions.
There is no State religion.

Nice theory, but for those in the USA, this NYT article will probably interest you your separation of Church and state is slowly being eroded, your taxes going to support the religious, and civil laws being exempted for their benefit.

This is exactly what is happening in Australia, the taxes the church doesn't pay on it's profit making activities is made up by taxes the rest of the population pay. Australian Government money goes to religious schools, these schools that were setup precisely to be outside the government system, and to promote the religious views of the respective churches 

But to sum it up, Australian Church / State separation is a DOGS breakfast, and the importance of the DOGS case takes some pages to go over in the book

So again it comes down to money, I have covered this before in my post about the lack of a Charity Commission in Australia

The Business Review Weekly estimated in 2005 the 5 biggest religious groups in the country had a revenue of A$23.3 Billion. It is summarised in this PDF from the Australian and New Zealand law and History journal  and this page at the ADOGS website

The BRW also claim the Catholic Church is the biggest landowner in Australia, I can't confirm this, and finding out for certain is beyond my resources, as part of the problem is the parish systems and the different Australian states. The Catholic Church is spread across 200 religious orders, and if the comments by an ex-member of Opus Dei are to be believed, the accountants are completely disorganised, and it's very likely the Church doesn't know what it actually owns, and probably prefers it that way

The Second part is about Religion and Government

How much has religious thinking affected those we elect to Government?
In the last decade a National day of Thanks Giving has been informally held, although I have no idea how popular it is compared to Talk like a Pirate day.
Peter Costello is certainly keen on it, and even likes to make the occasional speech , John Howard was also keen to support  this day of intellectual fiction.

So how is the  Australian Government records for doing what is best for it's citizens, instead of furthering the Christian agenda?

  • The lack of a Royal Commission into priestly Child Abuse.
  • Sale of a radio transmitter to a fundamentalist Christian group so they can send their signals into Asia (Station is now closed)
    Much of the book then goes in to the murky world of Charities and Government, and some comparisons of how other countries handle the relationship. Then continues with how some MPs deal with their religious convictions and the rest of the community, and the Liberal Governments attack on the human rights of citizens.

    One thing Max Wallace says in a minor paragraph is how Dr Carmen Lawrence received hate mail and death threats when she spoke about Hill$ong Church in Parliament. This reminded me about this video of Richard Dawkins reading his hate mail. Ben Goldacre the author of Bad Science, just said on twitter that he does get abusive hate mail, and it would surprise many who it's from.

    The book also has a short section on Black Collar Crime, and notes the Catholic Church had documention called On the manner of proceeding in cases of the crimes of solicitation in 1962 to advise on how to move Priests around, and threaten excommunication on anyone who made claims public. 

    This is the first time I have re-read a book immediately, it's full of shocking details of things that I never knew, but then again I have never been exposed to Religion. This was where I first heard of the Magdalene Laundries, and how they operated in Australia at least in the 1940s, and only due to the intervention of a "miracle" they didn't come to public notice at that time.  

    Australian Industry Commissions 1995 report (PDF) Charitable Organisations in Australia

    The Catholic Church also gets income from Peters Pence.
    It's only $US84 Million, but it's likely it goes into the Vatican bank, an organization with alleged links to the Mafia, a fencer of Nazi gold, and money laundering potentially even more corrupt than banks are generally supposed to be.(I take note that the Vatican Bank is the subject of many conspiracy theories, so anything written about it is highly suspect)

    Do you know why I have credibility? Because I don't exude morality -- Bob Hawke

    04 March 2011

    British Humanist Posters deemed offensive

    Seems there are some problems with the following posters from the British Humanist Association:-

    Two reasons were given by owners of the space: they were concerned that the use of the phrase ‘for God’s sake’ would cause widespread and serious offence and they also did not wish to take adverts relating to religion.
    The BHA has reacted with astonishment that an everyday phrase should be deemed too contentious for public display.
    ‘It is a little tongue-in-cheek,’ BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘but in the same way that saying “bless you” has no religious implication for many, “for God’s sake” is used to express urgency and not to invoke a deity. This censorship of a legitimate advert is frustrating and ridiculous: the blasphemy laws in England have been abolished but we are seeing the same principle being enforced nonetheless.’

    I can't see it myself.

    Maybe they are worried some employees might have problems?

    Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead. - Kurt Vonnegut