BBC review of the year

Okay, in preparation for something which may or may not get published here tomorrow, in which you may or may not get to read Doombreed's Review of 2006, which may or may not be a humourous take on 2006's most prominent events (I may or may not review 2005, just to mess with you), here is Auntie Beeb's list of news.BBC.com's most popular stories of 2006.

Watch out for the goat wedding. That's the high point.


Friday Rodent Blogging

Selene even managed to get some Christmas presents this year. Some chew toys, some honey bars, some honey-bars-in-boxes (that are supposed to be good to eat and fun to play with) and, above all, a new car. Here she is checking it out in preparation for taking it for a spin.



It's entirely possible that this may be the single coolest thing in the entire history of the planet, whilst simultaneously being the single most pointless thing in the entire history of the world.

A Spotting Guide To The Common Dalek.

Also available in poster format.


Global Warming? What Global Warming?

Just how much evidence would be required to convince people that global warming is a reality?

How about an inhabited island disappearing under the sea?

Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.

This isn't scaremongering by scientists. This isn't a problem that our great-grandchildren may or may not have to deal with. This is real. This is now.


Why Does An Atheist Celebrate Christmas?

I get asked this question, generally by people who stand there with a smug, triumphant look on their face as if they've just found the chink in the armour of Satan. "If you're an atheist," they say, obvously relishing the chance to show the heathen the error of his ways, "why do you celebrate Christmas?"

So here's the answer which, I realise, was promised this time last year, but better late than never.

In the strictest sense, I don't. At least not in the sense that most people mean when they ask that question.

It must be emphasised that there is a significant difference between celebrating Christmas and celebrating at Christmas. It is possible, despite protestations to the contrary by some Christians and, indeed some atheists, to celebrate at Christmas in a purely secular fashion.

Now, I know that that sounds like something of a cop-out. I've read and heard many opinions from both Christians and atheists that celebrating in any fashion , irrespective of the intent, is a religious observance, a pathetic attempt to cling onto a life that, had I the courage of my convictions, I would have left behind.

And the atheists are, if anything, even more offensive about it*1

I could dwell on all of the many facts in support of secular celebration of Christmas. I could talk about how many of the facets of a "traditional" Christmas predate Christianity by, in some cases, thousands of years. The tree, the giving of presents, the decorating of the house, the singing, the pantomimes, all have their origins in traditions much older than a mere two thousand years. The date itself - December 25th, one week before the new year - has been celebrated as a winter festival, both secular and in varying religious terms, for so long that it's near impossible to pin down exactly where and when the practice started.

But these arguments would be ineffective on both judgemental atheists and Christians, because the former has probably heard all of the arguments and discounted them as irrelevant, and the latter would probably refuse to believe them.

No, in order to answer the question, it must be looked at from a different perspective.

Instead of "Why would an atheist celebrate Christmas?", we could look at "What would happen if an an atheist decided to not celebrate Christmas".

More specifically, this atheist.

The first and most personal problem is that it would cause serious friction with Mrs Doombreed. Christmas is a big holiday with my wife and her family. Am I to simply snub them? Stay at home?

But that, in itself, presents a problem. America, like England, almost entirely shuts down at Christmas. Virtually nothing is open*2. Almost all restaurants, bars, cinemas, shops, nothing going on, nothing to do. In England, there's actually a law*3 preventing many businesses from opening on Christmas Day.

For virtually all jobs, you've got the day (if not the week or more) off. Okay, I'm not about to argue if my employer wants to give me a paid day off, but that does leave one at a loose end.

Most of my friends are celebrating with their families, so going to see them is out.

Even the mighty atheist edifice that is the Atheist Parents forum was like a ghost town on Christmas Day, so busy were almost all of the members with their families.

And, when you get right down to it, why should I mope around whilst Mrs Doombreed goes off and has fun? Is your desire to be right so powerful that you'd rather I was miserable than happy?

The point I'm making here is that, when you live in a country as securely dominated by Christians as England or America are, you are included in the Christmas celebrations whether you like it or not. You probably won't be working, there's nothing else open, the telly is overrun with Christmas specials and Christmas films and Christmas comedies and Christmas dramas and people singing Christmas songs and people gushing about Christmas over and over and over.

So, if I can't escape it, why not simply make it my own? My nice, secular, religion-free, once-a-year, call-it-what-you-like*4, family celebration.

I like the gifts, both giving and receiving. I like the tree, the decorating, the lights, the ornaments*5, the tinsel. I like the Christmas dinner. I like the crappy Christmas telly. I like the eggnog. Oh, I like the eggnog. I like Mrs Doombreed's mum's Christmas candy. I even like some of the Christmas songs on the radio.

So why can't I enjoy it without the religious nonsense?

And why can't you let me be? Am I hurting you?

*1: There is nothing about atheism, despite the sterling example set by Your Gracious Host, to prevent an atheist from being an arrogant, offensive, loud-mouthed, pompous arsehole. What's perhaps more saddening is that, whilst there is much about Christianity that should prevent a Christian from being an arrogant, offensive, loud-mouthed, pompous arsehole, many still exhibit these qualities with depressing zeal.

*2: I would like to state, in the strongest possible terms, that I have no interest in seeing this change. The majority of atheists, in my experience, feel the same. If a business wants to close on Christmas Day or, indeed, any other day, that is their right and that should be protected. I am merely pointing out the consequences of that decision to an ordinary atheist.

*3: Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004

*4: Some call it solstice, some call it festivus. I call it Christmas simply because it's just easier.

*5: I especially like the Hallmark Keepsake ornament of Princess Leia In The Gold Bikini that Mrs Doombreed bought me last year.


Merry Christmas

Whoever you are, whatever you believe, however you mark, celebrate, observe, or otherwise deal with this day, whether you do anything special or not, whether you even acknowledge this day, I hope you had a good day and a great holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Felize Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Solstice, Happy Kwanza, Mele Kalikimaka, or even just Have A Great Day, it's all the same.

Peace and goodwill.

P.s., just because it's hilarious and seasonal, here's a re-post of that great Daily Show clip from last year.

Broncos 24-23 Paul Brown High School Chess Club

Apparently, the Bengals didn't bother turning up today, either. No offense to Denver, who are, I'm sure, an absolutely splendid team in their own right, but this was a game that Cincinnati threw away. Too many turnovers, too many dropped passes, too many missed chances, and that annoying cock-up of an extra point in the final seconds that would have - should have - tied the game.

Merry 8-7-0 Christmas.

Now we've got to beat struggling but always tough Pittsburgh at home and get some specific help from a few other teams to make the playoffs.


Friday Rodent Blogging

If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me. If I don't move they can't see me.

Crap. They can see me, can't they?

Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

I'm not sure whether this is supposed to be an ornate dagger or a miniature sword. It is entirely metal, 17" long with a 10 1/4" double-edged blade. The blade features a Celtic design in black with what appears to be some sort of Earth or forest deity emblem in blue.

Definitely a fantasy movie style blade.


Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

This is a pretty simple lock knife, 8" long with a 3 1/4" blade. The handle is - according to the guy I bought it from - antler, but it feels like plastic to me. It is carved with three skeletons wearing medieval armour, surrounded by bats, and the front panel is a winged skull. The blade is etched with stylised skulls.

Clearly intended for display rather than use.


Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

People often make much of the difference in weapon laws between England and America but, as far as blades go, the two are broadly similar, at least in Kentucky.

Kentucky law allows me to own all the blades in my collection; so does England. Kentucky law allows me to display them in my home; so does England. Kentucky law prohibits me from carrying them in public; so does England.

Well, with two exceptions. Kentucky state law makes it a crime to carry a knife in public unless it is (a) "an ordinary pocketknife" (like a Swiss Army knife or similar) or (b) a hunting knife.

That (above) is a hunting knife. It is 13" long with a 7" single-edged blade. The top of the blade features a false edge. The Bear's head ornamental crosspiece and pommel are brass, which make the knife fairly weighty. The handle, disappointingly, is plastic, but could easily be replaced with something more hard-wearing by a bladesmith.

Kentucky law does not define exactly what a hunting knife is, but by the generally accepted definitions, this qualifies.

So it's legal to carry.

Err.. maybe..

Whatever the law, any police officer who found you carrying this could be forgiven for asking just why the hell you have it, unless you were actually engaged in a hunting trip.

Colts 34-16 Paul Brown High School Chess Club

The Bengals didn't play today. I'm not sure who was out there playing in their uniforms, but they clearly had no idea how to play the game.

Some words that might have helped the Bengals tonight:

Catch (as in: "..the ball")
Sack (as in: "..that tall guy in blue with the 18 on his chest")
Protect (as in: "..the guy in the same uniform as you with the 9 on his chest")
Don't (as in: "..drop the ball, Carson" or "..let Marvin Harrison run around unmarked" or "..give Payton Manning three and a half hours to decide where he's going to throw the ball")
Do (as in: "..score")

Still, at least the Colts cheerleaders looked especially nice in their tiny blue Christmas outfits. They now rank 2nd behind the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in the Doombreed Scale Of Sexiest Cheerleader Outfits.

Scant compensation for the loss. Pun intended.


P.s. At least nobody spent $35,000 tonight.


Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

This is another very workmanlike sword.

It's a double-edged short sword, 27 1/2" long with a very plain 22 1/2" blade. The wooden handle has an inset filigree design, and the pommel and crosspiece are brass. The crosspiece appears to have been replaced by a former owner, because it is lopsided and the craftsmanship doesn't match the rest of the sword. Tidying it up might be a future project for me.

Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

This is a very nice utilitarian backsword. It is 25 1/2" long with a 19 1/2" blade which is free from any decoration. The handle is plain wood with a brass crosspiece and pommel.

I don't know anything about the origins or history of this blade, but it does have a certain military look to it. The curve and length of the blade, and the angling of the handle suggests a cavalry sword, but I don't know for sure.


Friday Rodent Blogging

Selene is surveying her kingdom from the vantage point of the top of her house, presumably planning her next big project in intricate detail.

Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

And now to the pride of my collection, a very nice display piece, this is an ornamental katana.

I am going to use the real terms, so forgive me, sword enthusiasts, if I err.

The sword is 37 1/2" long with a 26 1/2" blade, which makes it a daito, or long sword. Both the tsuka (handle) and the saya (scabbard) are decorated with various metal menuki (ornaments), the most impressive of which are the tsuba (hand guard), which is shaped like a pair of wings, and the koiguchi (scabbard mouth), which has an oriental wingless dragon curled around it. When the sword is sheathed, these two combine to make the winged dragon seen in the bottom picture (above). The kabuto-gane (pommel) is a stylised representation of a helmeted Samurai's head. The saya is decorated with a flame pattern, both halfway along its length and at the sayajiri (scabbard tip). The tsuka has a menuki on each side depicting the dragon biting its own tail, twisted to form the infinity symbol, which looks nice but would make the sword impractical for use.

And that's me done with the mangling of the language.


Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

Knife number 3 is definitely a display item.

11" overall, and with a dangerously sharp 6 1/2" blade, this would made a nasty little weapon, but for the fact that the handle and sheath are plastic. Both look okay, despite the "we're not copying The Lord Of The Rings, honest" wizard-and-Elf motif on both and the amazingly bad faux plastic gemstone that adorns both sides of the sheath. The butt is metal, but the bolster is plastic, and whilst it does have a full length tang, it's so narrow it would make a pen look seriously overweight.

Oddly, the knife is very nicely balanced and would probably make for very accurate throwing, provided one could be confident that the handle would survive the impact.


Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits of Metal

This is the second knife in my collection, and was a birthday present from Mrs Doombreed's parents.

It is 13 1/2" long with an 8 1/4" double-edged blade. It has the word "Lifeknife" and a curious lighthouse motif on the blade. The metal handle has two three-masted ships embossed on each side and the pommel is a crest surrounded by what appears to be Russian characters. The blade is extremely sharp and has a serrated upper third.

A nice decorative piece.


Doombreed's Collection Of Pointy Bits Of Metal

I thought I'd start posting pics of my varied, and growing, collection of stabbing implements.

The first is the one that started my collection here. It's 15 1/2" long, with an 8 3/4" hook-ended, single-edged (apart from the inside curve of the hook, which is also edged) blade. The blade etching is a kind of Greek motif, the handle is metal with a wood-effect covering. It's nice and heavy, but not especially sharp.

Sharp enough to do damage, mind.

Uhhh.. something's not right..

0615: Alarm goes off

0620: Eat breakfast whilst checking AP for new posts

0630: Go out for morning cigarette

0640: Start coffeemaker

0645: Shower

0700: Wake Mrs Doombreed

0710: Decant coffee into thermos

0720: Leave for work

0732: Prepare to exit car to go into work

0733: Realise that it's actually 0633

0645 (again): Blog about how dumb I am for getting up an hour early, not noticing that the bedroom clock is an hour fast, and failing to notice this on no less than seven other clocks along the way which were set right.


Bengals 27-10 Raiders

The Bengals remain hotter than hot, giving the Raiders - admittedly not the NFL's toughest opponents right now - a nice little beating.


P.s. Sympathies to any Cowboys fans out there (including Mrs Doombreed). This game against the Saints is not at all going your way.

Mmmmm.. Justice..

Okay, the story that's coming out of Albermarle County, VA, is almost too funny.

Here's what happened: Hollymead Elementary School uses a neat idea called "backpack mail", which involves special folders handed out to each child, containing weekly announcements, details of after-school events and the like.

Two students at the school petitioned to be allowed to use the system to promote their church's "Vacation Bible School", but were denied on the grounds of, well the Constitution of the United States of America, but more specifically, by the school's own policy forbidding the "distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes".

Well, the student's father "sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county". "Liberty Counsel" is a right-wing legal group "dedicated to advancing religious freedom" (although, in the opinion of this blogger, for "religious freedom" read "our religious freedom, not yours").

Well, as a result of this glorious assault on the foundations of the USA, the policy was changed and the leaflets went out.

Oh, but then comes the justice. A pagan group at the same school decided along the lines of "what's sauce for the goose.." and started advertising their religious activities.

They created a one-page flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist and used the backpack system to invite the entire school community.

“Have you ever wondered what ‘Holidays’ refers to?” reads the flier. “Everyone knows about Christmas – but what else are people celebrating in December? Why do we celebrate the way we do?”

The flier invites people to “an educational program for children of all ages (and their adults), where we’ll explore the traditions of December and their origins, followed by a Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule.”

It concludes, “Come for one or both parts and bring your curiosity.”

Many members of this congregation are strong supporters of church-state separation who don’t believe public schools should promote any religion. But they were also unwilling to cede the field to Falwell and his fundamentalist allies. Falwell opened the backpack forum, and the Pagans were determined to secure equal time.

Suddenly not everyone was pleased by the open forum. Jeff Riddle, pastor of Jefferson Park Baptist Church in Charlottesville, wrote on his personal blog, “If the school allows the Baptist or Methodist church to send home a note to its students about Vacation Bible School, it also has to allow the Unitarian Church to send home a note about its ‘Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule’….This kind of note adds weight to the argument that it is high time for Christians to leave public schools for reasonable alternatives (homeschooling and private Christian schools).”

Another conservative Christian blogger in the county complained about finding the flier in her child’s folder. Apparently unaware of Falwell’s role in bringing it about, the blogger who goes by the name Cathy, noted disclaimer language at the bottom of the flier noting that the event is not connected to the school and wrote, “They [the school officials] aren’t endorsing or sponsoring this? Then it shouldn’t have been included in the Friday folders. The Friday folders have never been used for any thing other than school work and school board and/or County sanctioned/sponsored programs.”

She then fumed that a “pagan ritual” is “an educational experience my children don’t need.”

Well, Cathy and Jeff, it’s a new day. Your pals Falwell and Staver have opened up this forum, and now everyone gets to use it. Isn’t that what you wanted all along – freedom of religion? That freedom means all religions – even ones you don’t happen to like.

Here's a hearty ha-ha from me.

Read the full story here.

Hat tip to Looksbothways at AP.


Friday Rodent Blogging

Selene graces you with the royal wave. You are blessed. Rejoice.

This edition of FRB is brought to you by Mrs Doombreed's photographic skills. Nice shot, love.


The Swedish town of Gavle erects, every year, a traditional Christmas goat. The 43ft tall straw statue stands in the town's central square, continuing a tradition that dates back to 1966. Goats are very important to Swedish tradition, as, apparently, a goat delivered winter festival gifts before Father Christmas took over the job.

Unfortunately, a second, less festive tradition takes place. In all but ten of the last forty years, the goat has been set on fire, sometimes within hours of being erected.

The town authorities in Gavle are hoping that this year they've got it licked. The goat has been painted in a special flame-resistant coating, and the goat is under 24-hour surveillance.

You can monitor the poor goat's progress by checking out "goatcam". There are two views available, from the side and from behind, both with large, slow-refreshing images.

You never know, keep an eye on the cams and if it does go up in flames, you may be able to capture a newsworthy image.

Or, just watch it burn, if that's your bag..


281 Tricks To Irritate An Atheist

This utterly hilarious post lists off 281 (yes, I know the bit about the bottom of the list - it's a joke) ways to irritate an atheist. And, yes, in my years as a freethinker, I've encountered many of these in one setting or another.

Hat Tip to MomSquared at AP.


Hat Tip

Our cable company and the NFL Network have, apparently, resolved whatever differences they had and are now going to be showing the NFL Network games as scheduled.

Yeah, bit late for this Bengals fan.

At least Mrs Doombreed gets to see her Cowboys play the Falcons next Saturday.


Wow... just... wow...

Apparently, country singer John Michael Montgomery believes that atheists are automatically alchoholic, drug-using, child abusers.

Well, pardon me, Mr Montgomery, but bollocks. Great, big, sweaty bollocks.

According to ChildhelpUSA, 906,000 children are reported as abused in the USA every year, and estimates put the actual number as being around three times more than are reported.

Given as how we keep being told that 90% of Americans believe in God, at least some of those good ole God-fearin', church-goin', bible-thumpin', Jesus-lovin' folks must be involved here, somewhere.

They can't all be Catholic priests.

Child abuse is one of those abhorrent events that transcends race, creed, background, social status, and, yes, even religious belief.


On this day in history...

...Mrs Doombreed was born.

Happy Birthday, sweet love of my life, and may you enjoy many, many more.


Bengals 13-7 Ravens

Thanks to our cable company and the NFL Network I missed yesterday's game between the Bengals and the Ravens, which the Bengals won.

Great result, though.


Friday Rodent Blogging

Selene, nose-down in her food bowl into which, if you look closely, she has chewed a doorway for easier entrance and exit.


New Immigration Test

The US is revamping its immigration test in order to refocus from simply memorising facts to actually showing that you understand democracy.

Critics, of course, say that it's an anti-immigration tactic that seeks to target immigrants with little or no grasp of English.

Meh, doesn't a country have the right to set its own immigration agenda?

Anyway, I thought I'd have a quick crack at the five questions the Beeb identified as being on the new test.

Okay, so you only have my word for it, but this is off of the top of my head:

Why does the United States have three branches of government?

The major powers were split into three distinct branches so that no one person or group could wield total control over the USA.

Name two rights that are only available to US citizens:

The right to bear arms and the right to vote.

Name two cabinet level positions:

The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense. Off the top of my head I can also name: the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Transportation, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Energy. (after checking, I found that this list was under half of the positions. I missed the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I also missed the Vice President, the White House Chief of Staff, th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Angency, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of the National Drug Control Policy, and the United States Trade Representative. Still, with that many, it shouldn't be hard to remember two.)

Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence:

That power derives from a mandate of the people, not by right of birth.

What does the Constitution do?

The Constitution lays out the structure, rights and responsibilities of the Federal government, and guarantees, through the ammendments, the rights of the people and the States.

Man, it's a shame I'm not interested in becoming a citizen, that was pretty easy.

Oh, why not?

Because the oath goes:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

No, it's not the "so help me God" bit - that's optional - it's the "renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity" bit.

I'm British, a subject of Her Majesty The Queen, and any oath I take to the contrary would be a lie, and I'm not about to lie under oath.