Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Pastor publicly executes elf in protest against Satan's minions at Christmas

John Knudsen, a Danish pastor at the L√łkken Free Church in Vendsyssel, has dealt the first blow against an enemy that he believes to be one of greatest threat to Christmas. It is, of course, the Elf.

Many people imagine elves as Santa's little helpers making toys for children or magical folk from Germanic and Norse Folklore, but not John Knudsen. He believes that they are "poltergeists that come from the devil and make children sick" and that the decorating of elves at Christmas is "comparable to decorating with Nazi flags."

Since Mr. Knudson is a reasonable man, he decided to hang an elf by the neck outside of his church. Accompanying the elf was a sign reading "we reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises”, a reference to the Christian baptism rite. The protest against Satan and his elvish minions has also been supported by his parish and some members of the town.

Since the pastor was unable to catch a real elf, the mock execution was only performed on an effigy of a Christmas elf. However, many people have asked, even threatened him to take the elf down. His decision to ignore these requests has not gone unnoticed by the "elves", as Knudson claims they have been sending him threatening letters. He also reported the mysterious appearance of a dozen or so metre-high gnomes outside of his home.

Refusing to give up the fight, the pastor set up a night watch to prevent the elf from being stolen before it's scheduled removal on Sunday. However, one resident managed to take the elf down in broad daylight on Monday and also left behind a note to reassure the pastor that it would be "kept safe until after the New Year".

Knudson, obviously worried about elven poltergeists infecting the children his beloved town, reported the theft to the police. Despite a confession from the thief, the police refused to press charges on the grounds that their "caseload was too heavy to make investigating theft of a stuffed toy elf a priority".

With thanks to the Copenhagen Post

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

UK Government continues to ignore scientific advice on drugs

Downgrading the Importance of Scientific Advice

A new plan has been announced that will allow the UK government to make new policies on drugs without consulting expert doctors and scientists, effectively allowing them to change the law on controlled substances for reasons which are not supported by any evidence. The decision will come at the cost of a greatly reduced quality of scientific advice in government and a huge dent in the relationship between the government and scientists.
The changes are new amendments to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which requires the government to seek advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) when making decisions to ban drugs and potentially criminalise large numbers of people. The ACMD is required to have at least 20 members, among them representatives of the practices of medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and pharmacy, the pharmaceutical industry, and chemistry (other than pharmaceutical chemistry); and members who have a wide and relevant experience of social problems connected with the misuse of drugs. All are unpaid and have active careers in their area of expertise. The new plans are to remove the requirements for advisers from these professions.

The crime prevention minister James Brokenshire, on behalf of the government, said today:

"Removing the requirement on the home secretary to appoint to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs at least one person with experience in six specific areas will allow us greater flexibility in the expertise we are able to draw on."

I wonder though,  in what scenario wouldn't you want a medical doctor or pharmacist to give scientific advice on the misuse of drugs?

The Government do have a right not to take on board the advice from the ACMD, which they have exercised almost to its full potential over the last few years. On the Advice of the ACMD, Home Secretary David Blunkett downgraded cannabis from Class B to Class C in 2004. However, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith returned it to Class B in 2009. In February of the same year, the ACMD advised the government  to downgrade ecstasy from a Class A to a Class B drug. The ACMD's report on ecstasy, based on a 12 month study of 4,000 academic papers, concluded that it was nowhere near as dangerous as other Class A drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine. Once again, Jaqui Smith didn't listen to the advice.

Background: The Sacking of David Nutt

Senior Advisor to the ACMD, David Nutt, publicly condemned the UK government for ignoring scientific advice when making it's decisions. He believed that drugs should be classified according the the evidence of how harmful they are to the individual and to society. Nutt pointed out that alcohol and tobacco caused more harm than LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.

He also published a paper which showed that whilst there is one instance of acute harm for every 350 exposures to horse riding, there is only one instance of acute harm for every 10'000 exposures to ecstasy. His point was that the classification of drugs is obviously not based on how harmful they are but on an attitude fuelled by "scare stories" over the years. He backed up his claim for this distorted media attitude with a study of drug related news paper reports over a period of 10 years:

"the likelihood of a newspaper reporting a death from paracetamol was in per 250 deaths, for diazepam it was 1 in 50, whereas for amphetamine it was 1 in 3 and for ecstasy every associated death was reported."

Jaqui Smith received an enormous amount of criticism from the scientific community for bullying Professor Nutt into apologising for implying that horse riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy, despite the fact he was doing his job as a scientist to set out the facts and that the paper was published outside of his ACMD role. Her successor, Alan Johnson, sacked David  Nutt, adding:

"It is important that the government's messages on drugs are clear and as an advisor you do nothing to undermine public understanding of them. I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD."

However, he was never clear on how David Nutt had broken any guidelines or codes of practice.

David Nutt claimed that it was almost as if the ACMD was expected to find evidence to support the government's stance on drugs and that, in the end, they didn't like what real scientists were saying. His sacking delivered quite a blow to the relationship between scientists and the government and was followed by the resignation of many more scientific advisers on the ACMD. Many have also criticised the 'War on Drugs' for causing more harm than the drugs themselves.

"Science Opposing 'War on Drugs' is Overwhelming"

These are the words from  Dr. Evan Wood, the director of the urban health research initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. He is also the co-author of the Vienna Declaration, which calls on the world’s politicians to let scientific evidence guide their policies on illicit drugs.  Vienna was chosen as the site for the 2010 conference because it is home to the United Nations commission on narcotic drugs and a crossroads for Westerners to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where HIV infections from dirty needles are skyrocketing.

He believes that the war on drugs, waged by many governments worldwide, continues to ignore the health and social harms cased by their antiquated policies and described it as a "global catastrophe. Up until now, the scientific community hasn’t really been outspoken about it,” he said.

Scientists have been attacked by groups seeking to maintain the status quo. I have been in a leadership position involved with the evaluation of the supervised injecting facility in Vancouver and have experienced first-hand how scientists promoting the notion that addiction is a public-health problem and a medical problem can be attacked for those views.” 

"One in 100 adults in Russia is already HIV-infected because of heroin use,” said Wood, chair of the committee that wrote the declaration. His main concern is the negative role the War on Drugs has played in the fight against AIDS, It’s an injection-drug-related epidemic. Needle exchange is illegal.” He pointed out that methadone, one of the best substitutes for heroin to combat addiction, is illegal there, even if prescribed.

Wood points out the declaration stresses gang violence in cities such as Vancouver is directly related to drug prohibition.“When these drugs are made illegal, organized crime groups are enriched by that,” he said. "They fight one another to maintain those profits.”

He also stated that the money spent on combating drug related crime could be better spent elsewhere. “In California, they spend more on incarceration than they do on post-secondary education. It’s estimated that one in nine African-American males between the ages of 25 and 35 are in prison on any given day in the U.S.

The World Health Organisation and Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS have also strongly endorsed the call for drug-policy reforms.

Public Opinion

The reception to the evidence from the experts has been met with mixed feelings. This is largely due to the fact that many haven't heard about the evidence  and don't seem to understand that people like David Nutt and Dr. Wood aren't just spouting out their innermost thoughts based on biases concerning drugs, the media and government. They're doing their job, which is to represent the facts in the best way possible and tell us what those facts are. It seems that people don't like what they're now being told. Many people seem to be against drugs, not because the facts tell them to be but because of some moral obligation to oppose them.

The main problem is, it's hard to shake off what we've been told for so long about drugs. And that is probably the main reasons that the government is not willing to change the laws on drugs because they think it will send people the wrong message: that on the subject of drugs, they didn't know what they were talking about.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Researchers say societal values must be considered in endangered species decisions

Researchers argue that, when making decisions on whether a species need protection from extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has excluded significant research findings about human threats to protected species, even though the law governing the agencies action requires all decisions to be based “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.”

A group of scientists, led by Jeremy Bruskotter of Ohio State University, argue in the December issue of the journal BioScience that research about societal values should be considered along with biological and ecological data in listing decisions. The researchers refer to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 decision to remove grey wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains from endangered species protections to demonstrate their point.

In it's decision to remove Grey Wolves from the endangered species list in 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged  that “human-caused mortality” pushed them dangerously close to extinction in the 1930s, but then claim that “attitudes toward wolves have improved greatly over the past 30 years.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited only a single study from 2002 to support this claim. Bruskotter said, “This is not for a lack of literature on the topic.”  He stated that there were plenty of studies on the attitudes towards wolves dating back to the 1970's. Bruskotter and his colleagues discovered that attitudes towards wolves had actually remained "stable over the last 30 years" and that there was no indication of improvement. In addition, the researchers found that attitudes have become more negative between 1999 and 2008, especially in the northern Rocky Mountains.

In it's decision to delist the Grey Wolves, the Fish and Wildlife Service also argued that state management of wolves will foster local support of wolves and wolf recovery; and existing state regulatory mechanisms will “balance negative attitudes” and ensure recovery. However an Idaho survey cited by Bruskotter suggests that powerful stakeholders in the state  (mainly big game hunters and livestock producers) “are motivated to kill as many wolves as possible without returning wolves to federal protections.”

The researchers also questioned the ability of state regulator mechanisms to "balance negative attitudes" towards wolves by citing several legislative actions from states in the Northern Rockies which call for the removal of wolves.

“Risks that relate to humans range from direct killing of animals to a municipality encouraging development in areas where species are sensitive,” Bruskotter said. “The Fish and Wildlife Service will look at direct impacts, or the proximate cause of species decline. They don’t often step back and consider what lies behind those causes. And that’s one of the things we’re saying they need to do.”

He also sympathised with the organisation, saying the Fish and Wildlife Service is “hammered from every angle. This is not a condemnation of their action. It’s meant to be forward thinking — to provide a roadmap for how to incorporate social science information into future endangered species decisions.

The researchers concluded that "It is time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to expand its view of what constitutes ‘science’ and fully incorporate the social sciences into listing decisions.”

Saturday, 4 December 2010

PETA use Pope's comments in campaign to neuter dogs and cats

Many people have misunderstood the comments made by the Pope as a relaxed stance on condoms. However, unfortunately for those westerners who chose to live by the words of a senial pontiff- nothing has changed unless abstaining from using a condom could be a matter of life and death. Nonetheless, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has used the recent media flurry surrounding the Pope's comments in their newest international campaign.

The campaign poster shows the pope waving to crowds with a condom in his hand. Below the picture are the words "DOGS AND CATS CAN'T USE CONDOMS." The poster aims to draw attention to "an unholy animal overpopulation crisis" which leads to the euthanizing of millions of healthy pets each year and urges people to spay or neuter their dogs and cats to help reduce the problem. The "Pope Condom" campaign was launched outside the vatican this week and will soon be hitting Cathedrals and Churches across America.

It's possible that PETA may have created for themselves some uneccessary obstacles by potentially narrowing it's audience down to christians, particularly catholics. However, any complaints about the imagery from the the vatican or the likes of Bill Donohue from the Catholic League could actually prove more helpful for the international success of the project. It's quite conceivable that provocation is the honest aim of PETA's message.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

'Christian Voice' call for ban on Twilight's calendar

The Article

I found this article in the free paper 'METRO'

Christian Voice says mixing religion with the cult vampire series is ‘deeply offensive’ to Christians.
‘It’s sickening to see the message of Jesus Christ being hijacked to peddle a brand like Twilight, which to all intents and purposes proclaims an anti-religious cult,’ said Stephen Green, national director of the group.

'Twilight may be fiction, but it is dangerous to mix-up such a story in the minds of impressionable children with that of the Nativity.' 

Stephen Green - Christian Voice
The Twilight Eclipse calendar features a picture of actress Kristen Stewart, and her two rivals in love - Edward the vampire, played by Robert Pattinson, and Jacob the werewolf, portrayed by Taylor Lautner. 

Tesco apologised if anyone was offended but said it always gives customers a choice, adding: 'Twilight is a very popular brand and we aim to provide the types of products our customers would like to buy.'

My Reply

I thought it was ridiculous so I decided to email Christian Voice about it:

Dear Christian Voice,

Whilst travelling home on the train after a day at university, I picked up a copy of the free newspaper - METRO. In it I saw an article concerning a row between your organisation and a large supermarket chain over a Twilight themed advent calendar. Despite the fact that I can't wait to see the back of Twilight, I found your stance on the matter very confusing, considering the reasons (below) voiced by your very own national Director, Stephen Green.
"It's sickening to see the message of Jesus Christ being hijacked to peddle a brand like Twilight, which to all intents an purposes proclaims an anti-religious cult."
Mixing religion with the cult-vampire series is "deeply offensive" to Christians.

Firstly, I imagine that by 'the message of Jesus Christ' you are talking about the many references to chocolate filled advent calendars that are a littered throughout the New Testament. Unfortunately, I don't remember any mentions of these novelties in the psalms, letters to the Corinthians; neither have I heard any stories of the apostles opening the first windows on their calendars and asking each other if their chocolates are also shaped like baby Jesus. Could you explain to me how having Doctor Who, The Simpsons or Father Christmas on these calendars is promoting 'the message of Jesus Christ'  for you any better than Twilight. Why of all the secular calendars have you singled out the Twilight calendar.

Secondly, this season belongs to everyone - not just Christians. Christianity has hijacked the winter solstice in order to peddle the message of Jesus Christ, and it is by no means the first religion to do so. We don't mind you celebrating the birth of your saviour on the Winter solstice, as long as you don't try to stop people having their own non-christian celebrations. By claiming that non-christian themes should be banned during this festive period, this is exactly what you are doing.

Furthermore, on your website it says that "Christian Voice opposes the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill as an ILLIBERAL ATTACK ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH." I agree with you that all religions should be criticised, and that preventing people from doing so is an attack on freedom of speech. But then you go on to say that if the bill is passed you want to "Report Islamic bookstores for selling the Quran and Hadith" claiming that it is hate speech, yet you want to be able to continue to preach about how other religions lead you to be eternally tortured in hell. If this really is the Voice of Christians, then I'm thankful not to be amongst your ranks.

Happy Holidays,

David Craggs

I'll let you know if I get a reply.