25 March, 2014

Sharia Not to be Adopted into UK Legal System for First Time, says more accurate headline


But really, let's face it, it could be any article by a rag about sharia in any Anglo nation because it feeds into, amongst other things, the popular Londonistan myth.

'Sharia law to be adopted into UK legal system for first time' bleats the headline, and as with most such sensationalist headlines is somewhat contradicted by the article. Nonetheless rather more clarification is in order.

The Law Society is not a governmental or judiciary body; more a lobbying, self-regulating union of lawyers. They issue best-practice guidelines as an aid to solicitors as part of their basic function. In this instance they issued guidelines on how to draw up sharia-compliant wills.

It is given very basic shrift in the article but to be clear: under English common law (and codified by statute in the specific case of England and Wales) individuals are able to agree to third-party arbitration rather than go through civil courts. There can be some very good reasons for doing this indeed and religious minorities have for many decades, if not centuries, used them as a way of establishing some forms of voluntary contracts amongst their own community. There are legal limits to arbitration; rulings cannot violate English law and cannot be entirely unreasonable. As a rather extreme example one cannot agree to a marriage license under which a woman will be stoned for adultery for instance, it would not be a legally binding provision of the marriage because the act of murder is unlawful. Similarly if a marriage license is obtained through the civil courts, the regular rules and functions of civil law apply.

But for instance a couple of people can come to an agreement to decide that, say, an oath will be made under Halakha, that is religious Jewish law. Experts (eg., Rabbis) will draw up (or oversee, or give witness to) the agreement, and if matters come to a head a Beth Din or other Jewish court will decide if it has been broken. If any parties involved take issue with the result they may avail themselves of a regular secular court, which will then have to consider the agreement, which likely means that the court will have to consider Jewish law because the agreement was made in those terms. Unless the agreement is illegal or wholly unreasonable the arbiter will (because the parties agreed to it) be deferred to.

This is the same principle applied to sharia. Given that Muslims are a growing minority and that uses of sharia arbitration are on the increase it makes sense that the Law Society has drawn up guidelines for its members given that they may well encounter clients who wish to have wills compliant with sharia in their practices. This does not mean sharia is being adopted into English law, the Law Society lacks the power to legislate; merely its members are being offered direction in a kind of arbitration that is already lawful.

The points raised about the misogyny and bigotry inherent in how sharia is practised are of course well founded; I'd strongly suggest religious laws tend to be myopic and primitive attempts at morality and almost invariably therefore are actually quite wicked and cruel in many instances. Their almost inevitably discriminatory nature rubs against the grain in liberal democracies which, again almost invariably, have trended towards not merely being tolerant of minorities and the vulnerable but actively moving to prevent acts of bigotry against them. 

All that being said, and recognising they are not equivalent forms of discrimination by any stretch of the imagination, England has an established church with an assured place in government and taxpayer-funded schooling, and denies women an equal share of inheritance when it comes to titles and aristocratic estates irrespective of wills or the wishes of anyone involved. Still. Seriously.

-The Rev. Schmitt, FCD.

06 March, 2014

Journalist Hypocrite Shock Bonk Horror

RT Host Abby Martin Condemns Russian Incursion Into Crimea – By Glenn Greenwald 4 Mar 2014, 7:26 AM EST

The vast bulk of the commentary issuing from American commentators about the Russian military action in Ukraine involves condemning exactly that which they routinely advocate and which the U.S. itself routinely does. So suffocating is the resulting stench that those who played leading roles in selling the public the attack on Iraq and who are still unrepentant about it, such as

Greenwald's gloriously passive acquiescence to supporting George Bush and the invasion of Iraq has never been repented or apologised for or even honestly acknowledged, and why would it be? Such humanitarianism manifested itself also in his supporting the surely democratic invasion of Mali by numerous miltias; decrying France for bombing Muslims, which presumably, since Greenwald is an honest man, is all that was done. Such criticism is grounded in one simple fact: without any kind of analysis - which fortunately Greenwald is unburdened by - any given western government can simultaneously be held to blame for doing nothing to prevent the terrible things done by dictatorships, and also for the terrible effects of opposing them. We are left stood around saying 'oh dear'. Except when it comes to invading Iraq, evidently.

Also tu quoque of course. In a few months, after stability has been re-established, after Russia's military occupancy has ended, it would be rather awkward indeed for western nations to find fault with Crimea re-negotiating its relationship with Ukraine, even leaving for Russia (if she's stupid enough to take it); not that this would necessarily stop them. Governments are as morally mercurial as popular civil libertarian bloggers. For the publics of our nations, self-determination is paramount. Russia picking a puppet ruler amidst a military invasion is not self-determination; her awareness of this generates her hilariously transparent lies about what all her unmarked soldiers are doing at gunpoint.

-The Rev. Schmitt, FCD.

21 September, 2013

Shock and Horror as Pope Less Awful than Last Pope


Seriously though think of all the suffering gay people go through because of bigotry, tending into outright persecution and murder socially and legally in many countries, such as, for instance, majority Catholic Uganda, in which homosexuality is illegal upon pain of death. It is all well and good to speak to the west of how tolerant the Church is now, to plead for less focus on issues that lose the Church so many congregants amongst the first world. But to raise this facade on the one hand, while Cardinals and priests still tout the murderous lie that condoms are worse than (and propagate) AIDS throughout so much of Sub-Saharan Africa, to preach that gay people are tempters, maintaining the perpetual and cruel fabrication that they are acting immorally and unnaturally when they move amongst nations where this can and does get innocent people killed.

The Pope can make a massive positive difference in the lives of so many by saying what all good and reasonable people know: the gender of the people you love and the people you are attracted to says nothing at all about your morality; monogamy and its legal codification through marriage is good and bountiful and beautiful for all of us, and condoms totally save lives and help alleviate poverty. It is criminal to feed into that mass of hatred, however minutely, however timidly Francis wishes to do so, however weakly he foists the bulwark of faith against what we all know in our hearts to be true about our gay brothers and sisters. He has the power within his grasp to do so much and he chooses not to, maybe because his own beliefs are wicked, maybe through fear of the political powers within and without his own church; it is not the first time a Pope has sat silent, or added his voice to the perpetration of evil that it is within his power to change. The fact remains that no matter how he flaps his hands, and really anything a Pope has to say about condoms or heretics or gay people should begin and end with an apology, he could do something very good, at no risk to his own life or safety, and chooses to either remain silent or to feed meekly into that evil. He's a Pope, a station now bereft of temporal power, and like anyone else whose power lies in his words this is the wickedness he is capable of, and he does it.

-The Rev. Schmitt., FCD.

20 July, 2013

The N word

Crossposted yo 

There seems to be this confusion about when white people and black people can say the naughty n word. Oh nooo it's racist to only let black people say it.


Well actually white people say it a lot. Academics, writers, comedians, numerous hip-hop and rap artists, white people who genuinely speak AAVE and yokels amongst other yokels for instance. Also white people being funny and ironic.


The distinction is and always has been about intent and it is a bit bizarre to have to point this out. In Rachel Jentel's speech community 'nigger' really does just mean 'man', we did not need someone to tell us this but evidently pretended we did, and she genuinely can envisage any person in that speech community speaking that way, irrespective of their race. It does not follow that it is therefore not awful to insult blacks. It does not mean that we are forced to pretend that Limbaugh is also speaking AAVE.

What is the likelihood that any given white person is going to be saying it as a term of brotherhood and endearment? Thus the horrible burden of the whites: we are almost certainly going to be using it because we are racist and stupid, with few exceptions, and so when we use it because we are racist and stupid, we get called racist for it. Just saying that we are totally not saying it to insult black people while insulting black people is just not persuasive. It is the child saying 'niggardly' over and over again and thinking no one can tell them off for being mindlessly insulting. We see you, guys. We get what you're doing. It's still that thing. 

Our own intuitions about language should not need to be pointed out. If they are correct they should not be shied away from. 

In Limbaugh's exceptional, profound, bigoted ignorance he saw an opportunity to say a naughty word about black people and belittle a black person because she is black at the same time. All of us intuitively understand this is what he is doing. It is the source of his banal comedy and is the (incorrect) point he is trying to make. It is a very strange phenomena that a group of people will sit around claiming differently. By all appearances some people are stupid and petty enough to claim he is not for no reason other than weird sense of what partisanship is, and some whites really, desperately want to say it without any social consequences. 

Lastly the way lots of white Americans, or at least lots of the most vocal, talk about black people as some kind of hostile and exotic creature glimpsed through trees is creepy as Hell guys, just FYI 

 -The Rev. Schmitt, FCD.

01 December, 2012

Popes N Kids

The Catholic Church comports itself as a moral authority, speaking and lobbying regularly on temporal matters. As a matter of routine its opinions are treated as worthwhile fodder for reproduction by all mainstream news agencies across Europe, the UK, the US and beyond. Meanwhile, many very important people within the Catholic Church, both within individual diocese and within the Holy See itself, covered up and continue to hide the activities of child rapists and child abusers, working to prevent such people from being prosecuted or treated, from their crimes being exposed publicly; they worked diligently to prevent the victims of such crime receiving due compensation and frequently, even, to prevent the paedophile from being removed from a position of trust, thereby actively facilitating their crimes.

People are responsible for their individual failures and it would not be right or appropriate to blame all people within the Church for the crimes, the culture of silence, etc. That being said it is perfectly appropriate to recognise the failures of the Church as an organisation in regards to issues of transparency, justice, and duty of care, for it surely did fail on a truly massive scale in self appointed responsibilities on a very serious issue, and designedly so.

The problem as applied to the organisation of the Catholic Church as it pertains to the shielding of paedophiles, as opposed to the laity, is that a) the Church is highly hierarchical, and it is therefore right and proper to condemn the power structure which deliberately shelters clergy from prosecution for their crimes and even allowed individuals known to have abused children to remain in a position of responsibility to vulnerable charges, b) the sexual abuse and its subsequent concealment was international, occurring in churches, orphanages and places of education in Ireland, the US, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands etc., c) the Church, even now, has failed to come clean about the full extent of such abuse and continues to fail to even seriously attempt to expiate its sins with its continued zeal in preventing justice from running its course, d) some people very high up indeed have been implicated, or were directly involved in the protection of clergy from investigation by secular authorities.

Additionally it is not merely the fact that sexual abuse happened. Nor is it merely a case of individual serial monsters, nor, to re-emphasise, am I suggesting collective guilt; the fact remains that Catholic Church is an organisation with a hierarchy which facilitated such abuses. For instance the power structure of the clergy was involved in the decision to castrate boys for being abused or for being gay: the structure of the Catholic Church designedly did shield paedophiles, designedly did maim boys for their sexuality or for being abused. Those individual Catholics involved in such decisions are personally responsible for their crimes and their protection of crimes, but one has to also question how they were given such absolute jurisdiction over people in the first place, prerogative they clearly should not have had.

The response to the charges, and to moral blame being laid at the feet of the Church, has almost without exception been ad hominem tu quoque. We are to suppose that the crimes of the church are reduced because they also occur in state schools. We are supposed to be dissuaded that such acts are not heinous because we cannot know how many Catholic clergy participated in crimes compared to the general population in a given nation. We are to prevent ourselves from recognising the role of the Church in protecting paedophiles because paedophiles are ubiquitous, or may be more or equally prevalent in other bodies. We are supposed to fail to recognise the many abuses which occurred in the past couple of decades, because most of the known scandals happened in the 70s or earlier. It is a paltry attempt at relativism by those who, for centuries, when not engaging in insipid political apologetics, feebly claim divinely inspired knowledge of an external moral absolutism. It is not good enough to say that others have been or were at the time as morally retrograde as you were if you purport to be a moral authority of any value, particularly one ordained and guided by God. Frequently, instead, such supposed jurisdiction is merely a dark mirror of our worst inclinations as a society allowed to run unfettered; instead, frequently, it is about control and greed on a massive scale. That there were more such acts that we know of happening several decades ago does not alter the fact of ongoing abuses, and pretending otherwise is a shameful apologetics of such crimes.

The sins of one are not mitigated by the sins of another. Indeed such arguments are an obvious and transparent false equivalence intended to defend some of the worst organised crimes in civilised society, as is pretending such crimes are about gay people in the Church, a claim that demonstrates a complete lack of concern for the seriousness of the crimes or a proper sense of responsibility.

The current Pope himself has been implicated in hiding paedophiles, and certainly knew of both the crimes and the efforts of the Church to hide them, but his efforts to defend the culture of insularity from justice are instead cast as triumphs. No one is absolved by the document, particularly considering how selectively released such information is. Of especial note it becomes clear that at no point does it seem to have entered anyone's head that perhaps child molesters should face actual punishment, removal from society, justice or rehabilitation. It is not a terribly startling display of ethics that inside the Church there was discussion of how hard it should be to demote some of the predators. Although one supposes that since he recognised there would be less fallout for the Church in the event of the wall of silence being breached, Benedict is a hero.

The further claim is that the church is finally getting the problem in hand, that it is working to finally expose and prevent such abuses, we must forgive and forget. The abuse and cover ups, meanwhile, continue; this resistance to justice ran all the way up to the Holy See, as it always has. They are ongoing to a shocking extent in countries across the world. The catholic church at its highest levels cannot be trusted to allow the paedophiles within its clergy to be brought to justice, frequently cannot even be relied upon to remove them from positions where such crimes can be committed easily. Even now!

Ire and frustration at a body conducting this sort of thing is entirely appropriate. Any individual who protects a single paedophile from being exposed to justice is a monstrous evil; any institution which shelters such criminals on a regular basis purely to protect its own reputation, as a matter of course, even now - even now! - is wedded to the evil of the initial crime. To defend that sort of behaviour, to defend the squirming apologetics of the Church's behaviour in this regard, to repeat their falsehoods, is to be wedded to that evil.

Unsurprisingly an international lobby group masquerading as a moral authority cannot be trusted to be open or to serve the public good when short term political gains are to be had protecting its image by protecting the paedophiles in its own ranks. For decades child abuse and rape has been institutionalised across the globe in orphanages, churches and schools; in some places it still is, and only in drips and drabs does the truth out, fought so vigorously against by the Church, often far too late for punishment or rehabilitation to be meted out against individual offenders, let alone to rescue children from such horrors or provide timely assistance or after care. Again and again a power structure obsessed with the personal lives of its laity has the transparency of a brick of lead, and it wields this opacity as a bludgeon against any kind of justice.

And yet, the very same officials partaking in such acts, in such apologetics, in such cover ups, have their opinion on moral and political matters – abortion, contraception, women, and so forth – treated as if it were any less trivial than that of a random punter on the street. Their pretensions to superior knowledge of an external morality are treated as legitimate positions – their faith, in other words, treated as potentially fact. But such notions are a nonsense. The Holy See is a political body with political goals. The fiction of them being anything else is perhaps most amply demonstrated by the child abuse scandals and the way in which they have been handled.

Shorter version:

-The Rev. Schmitt., FCD

26 November, 2012

sceince, facts, theories, laws, proofs, dogs


All the observations in the world are insufficient for proof: we must rely on our senses and instruments, which are necessarily faulty, and repeated experiment, which relies somewhat on the assumption that after seeing a hammer fall hundreds of times, the five hundred and first time it won't turn into a bird. Proof as such only really exists in internally consistent abstractions such as maths and logic. In looking at such a world the theories we construct are based on facts, but a fact in science is only as enduring as mankind is able to determine such a thing.

Rather than seeking truth per se science builds models based on observation and experiment, and such models must by their nature be tentatively held, for there is always the potential for an observation of things acting in a manner that is unexpected. To account for this new data the model must be altered to explain this new evidence. Our theories, even those for which mountains of evidence exist, all follow this pattern, constantly.

To take the example of electromagnetism: mankind was utterly ignorant of the relationship between electricity and magnetism until a battery was accidentally turned on near a compass by a very smart chap who decided to write about it to other smart chaps, and after a lot of thinking and prodding and waving magnets with coils around we now treat the two as a single force. Hell for a long time we had no idea that lightning for instance had any relationship to electricity whatsoever, until, among others, Benjamin Franklin was able to convincingly show it. The concept of an electrical charge, its nature, that all electricity is essentially caused by the same phenomenon, was based on the gathering of decades of observations, experimental data and constantly altering models. Each scientist who contributed to this knowledge was himself in the dark about many aspects of electromagnetism.

Now after so much observation, and empiricism having spent the past few centuries demonstrating its worth, the chances of the phenomena of electricity being completely swept aside by a revolutionary discovery is roughly the same as the falling hammer turning into a pigeon (I worked out the statistics of both using a science calculator). Even if we find our models are mere shadows of a much wider phenomenon, or that we have gotten the wrong end of the stick entirely and our explanations are the ridiculous mewling of man-children, the evidence we have gathered already - the data of the thing - is not thereby suddenly wrong, rather it is incorporated into a much wider body of knowledge, and the resulting explanation may be only dimly recognisable to us as electricity as we know it. 

After centuries of changing models, our understanding of what electricity actually is has become vastly different to that of its first discoverers. In later centuries the future discoveries of mankind (if we hang in there) will similarly make our understanding of it seem paltry. True revolutions in science are rare, some philosophers of science would suggest they do not happen at all, but rather there is a continual and gradual series of reformations, where even the apparently sudden disappearance for the need of the luminiferous aether was really paved by decades of discoveries which made it increasingly unnecessary and an alternative explanation for the data increasingly well-shaped. Even something as socially tumultuous as the discovery of the common descent of all life on earth was presaged by the discoveries and hypotheses of Erasmus Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, again amongst many others, who all gradually added bits and pieces of knowledge, who added claims which could be researched and tested and found wanting or were supported.

Gravity is a theory, and in many ways not a terribly well understood one.  Newton's universal law of gravity (and it is literally this) is certainly not a theory, but that is because there is no explanatory model or framework there. It tells us very little about gravity; indeed, even at the time Newton knew it was incapable of accurately describing the movements of the planets in the solar system with the required accuracy for the system to be maintained, and Newton himself, one of the cleverest, if not the cleverest bloke who's ever existed, had to fill in the gaps at the edge of his knowledge with such things as God. He was incorrect to do so, and he was more than smart enough to solve the problem himself, had he not shied away from doing so.

The Universal Law of Gravitation is a single datum, an equation which describes a single relationship. A theory of gravitation would seek to explain a collection of huge amounts of such data. I should also point out that Newton's law of gravitation is actually a bit wrong: general relativity (theory!) has already demonstrated that the 'law' is an (albeit a very excellent and eminently useful for most of our purposes in history) approximation, and becomes increasingly inaccurate as the speed of light is approached or the gravitational potential energy increases. Its inaccuracy is demonstrable by observations we can make here on earth (and indeed such observations helped develop general relativity in the first place). To cleave to a 'law' as being a fact where a theory is not, and by that to mean a 'law' is more truthful and proven than a 'theory' by mere dint of the terminology used, is to completely misunderstand what these terms are referring to.

The fact that all knowledge about the natural world is essentially tentative does not mean it is not useful or not to be relied upon. Humanity got a man on the moon relying on Newton, but without Einstein we wouldn't have GPS. There are fundamental problems with the way science is presented in the news media and to some extent I understand that, and a deep disconnect from the increasing specialisation of academia, are perhaps the predominant causative factors of the deeply ingrained wish to remain ignorant amongst many of the kind of people on the internet folk like me enjoy picking on. But to leap from that mistrust in science, which itself is constantly a self-correcting enterprise, to placing your trust in politicians or theologians or laymen pastors to interpret scientific results, to reject a consensus you do not understand the reasons for as so many do in regards to creationism, anthropogenic global warming denialism and so on, will perhaps forever remain deeply perplexing to me.

-The Rev. Schmitt.

24 November, 2012

Don't Godwin yourself you silly goose


'Israel', of course, is not such people any more than 'Palestine' is the febrile and fatuous and autonomous armed wing of Hamas. The geopolitics involved are, as people will go to great lengths to point out, horrendously complicated.

One thing is not quite so complicated however. Exterminationist rhetoric is never excusable, never ameliorated by context, never countered by giving the other side of the story, as it were, because there is no side of the story which makes it anything less than horrendous. For such rhetoric to be increasingly uttered by people in a position of power, for the deputy defence minister, for instance, to literally call for a shoah - that is, a Holocaust of Palestinians - should be deeply unsettling. There is never any excuse for such talk, and the more it is accepted, the more it is treated with blasé indifference, the more accepted it becomes by the power elite then the more translatable into eliminationist and exterminationist crimes the idea becomes. For such thoughts to be uttered in a modern liberal democracy by a cabinet minister should be unthinkable. It is never self defense to declare an intention to wipe out a people. It is never justified. It is never reasonable or rational or rendered sane by context. There is no such thing as balance for calls to genocide. People who say such things should not get away with it. They should not be part of the political process. They should not get to keep their jobs in government, or be regarded as savvy thinkers, or as journalists. That they keep their jobs and their roles and their functions should be of the deepest concern. There is no way of altering that, literally irrespective of anything any group of Palestinians do. They must be rooted out and rejected, and where they are not, the society in which such rhetoric is allowed to flourish must be looked at warily. Its justifications for military actions, policing actions, must be held under intense scrutiny because it is a society in which the idea of mass murder of a people merely for being of that people is tolerated and such ideas are darkly insidious.

We can talk about the feeble calls of genocide uttered by the  al-Qassam brigades - which Israel had prior to the mid-late 1990s allowed to develop and occasionally even supported against left wing and considerably more conciliatory Palestinian groups such as most notably the PLO and its Fatah wing, the only groups the Islamists have ever been militarily effective against - if you like. Morally such comments are of course equivalent, and it is a sign of the desperation and the hatred and the fear and, increasingly, religious bigotry and zealousness of Palestinians that Hamas was voted into power, more or less, and enjoys popular support after waging a low intensity conflict with Israel. All of the same condemnation I uttered against individual Israelis making such comments apply of course to individual Palestinians making such comments. Concern with societies which don't reject such people is echoed, with different nuances: it appears rather more popular amongst the Palestinians which is unsurprising, albeit no more justified, because their system of governance is less sovereign and also designedly protects fewer rights and liberties, and they have the worst of the conflict.

But as the article points out, the al-Qassam brigades are undoubtedly a terrorist organisation and Hamas is tainted by the association - they have actively supported numerous terrorist attacks and strategies, actively have had genocidal rhetoric woven into their quasi-repudiated 1988 charter. There's no such thing as a counterpoint for any of the individuals involved or the organisations which allow them to flourish that advocate genocide. In suggesting a state of comparison, in suggesting balanced reporting would more fully compare the genocidal comments between Hamas and Israel one is suggesting a collective moral equivalence between the state of Israel and a band of terrorist mass murderers. Far from excusing Hamas such an attitude condemns Israel in the worst ways imaginable. Are we really going to say they are like entities, the two distinct sides of the conflict?

There's another crucial distinction I suppose, pragmatically, insofar as Israel notably has the power and ability to complete such a genocide, and unlike the Palestinians is a functional and relatively well-established democracy, sovereign over its own territory, with the wealth of a superpower behind it, the full firepower and economic strength of a nation state at its beck and call, the capacity and will to strangle trade and embargo both luxuries and necessities. It kills a magnitude greater Palestinians than Palestinians kill Israelis in conflicts, and considerably more than that in more general terms. You don't get to mitigate such calls to mass murder by suggesting we need to look at the other side. You don't get to play them down by pointing out that the al-Qassam tactic of indiscriminate shelling - which has killed about four civilians during the most recent operations, roughly 11 since 2003, and one soldier - is, and it most certainly is, murderous, callous, and brutal. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been dispossessed of homes and livelihoods, forced into squalor and poverty and hunger; almost all have had goods and services and necessities restricted or prohibited as a matter of course; eliminationist rhetoric has been transformed into dramatically debilitating practice with the ghettoisation of Palestinians into the West Bank and Gaza. These are things Palestinians cannot do to Israelis. They can fling rockets and shells, which is a horrible and terrifying thing to endure. It is not an equitable level of suffering to endure.

The Palestinians are no more fair game than the people of Israel. In a modern, liberal democracy, with freedom of the press and of ideas and to a lesser extent of association, one rather hopes that such ideas as sodding genocide would be crushed mercilessly by better ideas, free from state or militia-driven censorship or the debilitating insular mindset generated by a loss of national sovereignty and repression. We cannot hope for such in Gaza, which enjoys none of these freedoms, opposed as they are by both Hamas and the net military and government actions of Israel.  Hamas is our enemy, irrespective of the mildly softening stance towards Israel brought about by its surge into political power, and suggesting moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas in such points merely suggests Israel is becoming our enemy too. That would be unpleasant.

As for responding to the conflict with a shrug,

-The Rev. Schmitt.