Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Evening With Faith Healers

On Wednesday I'll be recording my fourth appearance on Premier Christian Radio's 'Unbelievable' show. If you like Christian and non Christian debate I recommend you check out their archive. The host, Justin Brierley, makes an excellent moderator and always ensures both sides get fair hearing.

My last two shows were on miracles. After they aired a faith healer called David contacted the host and offered to take me on an evening of healing on the streets of Dublin. I was reticent - David is based in the Middle East and if nothing else I did not want him to incur the financial expense of such a journey. I think we left it as something along the lines of 'only if you happen to be here'.

Time passed and David contacted me with dates of his planned visit to Ireland. By happy coincidence we later discovered that one of his Irish cohorts knows my brother in law. We agreed to meet, spent an evening in Dublin city centre, and got on rather well.

That was perhaps seven months ago. At the time Justin asked me if I'd like to go back on his show to discuss the experience and if I'm honest I ducked the request. I liked, indeed admired David, and his ministry didn't raise any flags normally associated with faith healers. He does not accept remuneration, does not seek fame or recognition, avoids those with obvious serious ailments lest he causes offence, and seems to genuinely brighten the days of those he encounters. I felt my choice was between arguing with a likeable fellow with heartfelt intentions or taking a very soft approach and inadvertently endorsing faith healers who have a negative impact on society.

Recently Justin asked again. David seemed game, I had a day off around the time and I thought why not. This post is as much my effort to collect my thoughts and give David fair warning of points I'll raise as anything else. Given the gap in time I'm sure our recollections will differ in places, any lapses on my part are unintentional. Given how long and unwieldy this post has become I'll only discuss the first few encounters.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Preserving Ethos Argument - Does It Hold Up?

"...it is not discrimination for a religious employer to act against a member of staff who is undermining their ethos." - David Quinn, March 9th, 2013 

A castle I rented. Seriously. It was cool. Irish Landmark Trust. Check it out.
Surrounding forest reclaiming a woodland walk. It was like location scouting for a Tomb Raider movie.
Mrs Shorts and I spent an enjoyable St Patrick's week in Cork. We rented a small castle, found a semi abandoned 18th century walled garden, toured ruins and visited Fota Island. We had lunch in Ballymaloe. We toured the Jameson distillery. When I returned to work I told colleagues about the time I spent with the woman I love, showed holiday pictures, and recommended castle rental.

I can do this in Ireland because I do not have a religious employer and my sexuality is not considered a threat to anyone's sincerely held beliefs. If Mrs Shorts was a Mr and I had chosen education as a career path I would likely have required a cover story. I could have avoided any discussions with colleagues, I suppose, or pretended I had travelled alone. But renting a romantic castle for solo use is a little suspicious so I may have had to pretend I spent the week at home. Photos, naturally, would have to be kept from social media. Perhaps I could invent a partner of approved gender and spin tales to fit. It would be awkward to explain why said partner could never attend work social events, but that is a price considered appropriate to protect the delicate sincerely held beliefs of some.

Monday, March 24, 2014

GAPS In Thinking - Irish Times Promoting Medically Negligent Pseudoscience

Some six days ago the Irish Times allowed themselves the spectacular abandonment of judgement required to print a fluff piece supporting Dr Natasha Campbell McBride's GAPS diet, a supposed cure for autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, diabetes, dyspraxia, depression and schizophrenia. Twelve hundred words of grovelling propaganda did not allow a single note of criticism or a voice of medical reason - her bizarre claims given credence through an absence of balanced reporting, fact checking and critical thought.

McBride is indeed a medical doctor. To find details of this degree we must travel to 1984 USSR, fully five years before David Hasselhoff sang to the destruction of the Berlin wall. The Soviet Union's coffers drained into both an Afghanistan conflict and an unpluggable trade gap, the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station in Chernobyl supplied 10% of the Ukraine's electricity needs and General Secretary Yuri Andropov battled endemic corruption throughout the union. Her certification comes from this time, from the Bashkir Medical University, in a country that no longer exists.

Does this necessarily make graduates bad doctors? Of course not. I merely voice caution that we cannot give such degrees automatic respect. I am not alone in this view. The qualification does not allow Campbell McBride to practice medicine in the UK or the United States, for example. It seems unwise to grant it more credence than Dr Nick Riviera's Hollywood Upstairs Medical degree.

What's The Harm?

The Financial Cost Of GAPS

I would even go further, depending on your commitment and certain circumstances, you have a good chance of bringing your child as close as possible to normality! -Dr Natasha McBride, heaping guilt on the parents of autistic children before passing them the check.

Like any good sales focused organisation, the GAPS company does not make it easy for prospective customers to gauge the full cost of its products and services. No price tags appear on http://www.shop.gapsdiet.com. You only get the bill at checkout.

For a rough estimate of cost I added one of every item they sell to a cart for a total cost of $3,404.89. (Where a product is available in multiple sizes, flavours or delivery mechanisms I added only one.) The obvious counter is that not everyone will require every product, but do bear in mind that many of these will be recurring costs, from specialised fluoride free toothpaste (a snip at $7.95), fermented vegetables (at $77 an expensive way of getting one's five a day), blended butter and cod liver oil tablets ($46.95, sounds delicious), powdered ox bile ($19.95, what kitchen would be without?), a 'biotic powder' ($63.95) and my personal favourite, an "anti-tumor, anti-parasitic, anti-viral and antiseptic" essential oil that can "destroy all tested bacteria and viruses, which simultaneously restoring balance to the body." (See fifth question on the manufacturer's site. They also claim it is "effective in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.". It is not.)

I am not sure how to categorise this home enema kit. It comes with a free half pound of coffee, but at $74.95 I presume this would not represent an economical method of getting one's evening brew.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Iona Institute, Putin, the Definition of Homophobia

Many of you are doubtless aware of accusations of homophobia against members of the Iona Institute and John Waters. You no doubt share my confusion and befuddlement at such a complex area, and are as relieved as I am to see that the matter has now been passed to the appropriate legal teams.

Our brains perhaps not being large enough to correctly interpret the term homophobia, perhaps we can instead contrast views of the Iona Institute with those of Vladimir Putin. First, I present their views on children having access to positive LGBTQ role models.

Won't Somebody Think Of The Children!
"“We do not have a ban on non-traditional sexual relationships... [w]e have a ban on the propaganda of homosexuality... I want to underline this. Propaganda among children. These are absolutely different things – a ban on something or a ban on the propaganda of that thing." -Vladimir Putin

We can contrast this with the Iona Institute's campaigning in favour of Section 37, which permits religious organisations to discriminate against visible members of the LGBTQ community in matters of employment.


"Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act is frequently the target of criticism on the grounds that it permits religious employers to ‘discriminate’ against certain categories of persons, for example, those who are openly gay or lesbian.... We further believe that any withdrawal of this protection is both unconstitutional and an attack on the right of free profession and practice of religion.
In effect, this [granting LGBTQ citizens equal employment rights] would discriminate against the beliefs of parents and the ethos of the relevant religious organisation." - Iona Institute
 While obviously not making a decision on whether either are homophobic, we can say with some certainty that they have a strong preference for restricting openly LGBTQ folks from working with children.

Same Sex Parents

#TeamPanti - some images made from Twitter followers

Some images based on @PantiBliss's Twitter followers.

First I took all her Twitter followers, pulled their Twitter biographies, and ran them through www.wordle.net to make a word cloud. The more commonly a word was used, the larger it appears:

Secondly I downloaded all her profile pictures and rearranged some of them to form a mosaic image. 1,699 images were used. Want to find yourself? search for your username, you'll find one or more grid references to the right. The top left hand corner is 0,0, the bottom right hand corner is 70,70. Click if you'd like to see a larger image.

Enjoy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fluoride Girl's Creative Manager Links Homosexuality and the Pill

I recently had the pleasure of taking part in an episode of the 4FM Late Show with Niall Boylan. I commend Boylan for putting the show together so quickly - it seemed as soon as he was aware of campaigners against vaccination he was eager to see their views put to the test. He has done a public service in showing the anti vaccine arguments to be the nonsense that they are. Aisling FitzGibbon, aka The Girl Against Fluoride, was offered a slot to defend her opposition to vaccines, but given the short notice she was unavailable so offered her creative manager and writer as an alternative spokesperson. Her name is Martha Brassil, she is also FitzGibbon's mother.

The call in contributions on the night were excellent and included a mother speaking of her regret at not vaccinating. Her son nearly lost his eyesight. A physiotherapist from Cork told of her experiences working with polio survivors. The vaccine opponents were not as impressive. I won't make you prejudge - the podcast should be available in early January.

Boylan was kind enough to make a small segment available on Soundcloud. During the show we touched on Brassil's beliefs in angel healing and her endorsement of Barbara Wren, a woman caught by the BBC pretending to cure cancer with urine and castor oil. (More on both here.) What raised the most eyebrows was her baffling linking of homosexuality and birth control. It is this segment which Boylan has released early, and I offer a transcription below.

Addendum: the full podcast is now available.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Irish Nationalist Brotherhood Embraces Multiculturalism

I have little doubt that I will almost immediately regret the decision to invest energy writing about the Irish Nationalist Brotherhood. I am mortal, my time on this earth is finite, and life brims with much greater pleasures than looking at the Twitter account of a rather depressing group that could easily hold its AGM in a large taxi.

That said, this seems to fall neatly into my area. These half dozen racists remind me of a puffer fish or scared little kitty - lacking any real substance or mass, they've found an - let's be charitable - almost intelligent way of appearing to be larger and more intimidating than reality would allow.


Over a thousand racists following their account seems to give them a warm, fuzzy feeling, the implication being that 0.0002% of the population share their views. It enables them to send vaguely threatening tweets like this:

To our members in Buncrana do you know who this anti #INB hatemonger is. [name removed]?


But how have they achieved such numbers?

Multiculturalism.

They have opened up their borders and accepted any and all comers. They just can't get enough of foreign folks.

Every Twitter account contains a location tag. When you set up your account you type in where you're from. I pulled this information from all their followers and put it into a word cloud. Words that are larger are the words most frequently used:

Those most concerned with keeping Ireland white and pure seem to hail mainly from South Africa and the USA. Only 18 list Dublin as a timezone, and they're mostly radio stations and charities that automatically follow back.

This is the point where I normally write a witty summary and closing. I'm sorry to disappoint - they're really not worth my time.