Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Eco-Congregation Scotland

This is just a note to myself that the new Eco-Congregation Scotland web site is now in beta mode at the new URL:

Hopefully this link will get picked up by search engines to start the indexing process.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scottish Cultural History vs The Tartan Tat shops of Edinburgh

Tourists never hear this story. We won’t let them hear it because we think they would not be interested or that we should make Scotland more “contemporary”. Yet, without this piece of history much of the music and dance culture that tourists take for granted in Edinburgh would be quite different.

Niel Gow
Niel Gow (1727-1807) and his family were responsible for the collecting, writing and popularisation of many of what we consider to be standard Scottish dance tunes (including Flowers of Edinburgh, Fairy Dance and many others). This is due partly to the business acumen of his son Nathaniel who published his father’s tunes as sheet music from business premises in Edinburgh.

Initially “Nathaniel Gow & Son, Music Sellers to his Majesty” of 60 Princes Street” and later “Gow and Shepherd” of 16 Princes Street.

This article gives something of the history of the firm.

In 1796 Nathaniel Gow entered into partnership with William Shepherd, an Edinburgh musician, and their first place of business was at 41, North Bridge Street, from whence they published many collected pieces and much sheet music. Before 1804 they had removed to 16, Princes Street, and this number is retained until 1810-11, when it is changed (probably by re-numbering the street) to 40.
Shepherd having died Nathaniel Gow found himself in great monetary difficulties and had to make up a large sum to the executors of his former partner. Shortly before 1818 he however entered into business again with his son as " Nathaniel Gow & Son," at 60, Princes Street, and they carried on the trade until 1825, when, the son having died, he shortly afterwards was partner with the firm Gow & Galbraith.
In 1827 bankruptcy came to Nathaniel Gow, and his friends advised him to advertise a ball for his benefit ; it realised a sum of nearly £300. The ball was again repeated in three subsequent years with a like satisfactory result. Besides this he had a pension of £50 a year from the Caledonian Club. He died in 1831.
However, by a strange twist of fate, one of Gow’s old addresses in Princes Street (no 16) is occupied by a “Tartan Emporium”, which specialises in playing drum machine backed techno-bagpipe music to passers by:

This shop makes no mention of its connection with real Scottish cultural history, but they will sell you a tartan  viking hat:

Just for the record, here are the current buildings numbered 60 and 40 Princes Street:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How to generate a text to speech mp3 file

Google translate includes a tool for reading its translated text aloud. This works by generating a temporary mp3 file which is then played back in the browser. As a result it can also be used to generate a speech to text  mp3 file of any English text.

Enter some English text below, select an accent and it will generate the mp3 file in a new tab or window. The file will be called "translate_tts.mp3". If you are using the Chrome browser it will launch in its built in mp3 player. Right click anywhere on the playback page and select "save as" to save the file.

This  currently only works for phrases of up to 100 characters.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Come Ye By Atholl - Another interesting Scottish song.

Come Ye By Atholl is a well known Jacobite song in Scottish folk circles. Here it is is sung by North Sea Gas:

although the best version I have heard is by Stephen Quigg (click here for a page containing a sound clip of his version).

The song itself did not originate from people involved in the Jacobite uprising, but was written by the poet James Hogg, who said of it:
...there can be no dispute that it is one of my worst. (Source: Scottish pastoral poems, songs etc Mostly written in the dialect of the South, James Hogg, Edinburgh 1801)
The tune was given to Hogg by Niel Gow and is called "Gala Water".

Its original title, as given by Hogg, is "Bonnie Prince Charlie". Presumably it was changed later to avoid confusion with other songs about the prince.

Here are the original words from James Hogg's original published version (note its "Cam ye by Athol" not "Come ye by Atholl")
Cam ye by Athol, lad wi' the philabeg,
Down by the Tummel, or banks o' the Garry,
Saw ye our lads, wi' their bonnets and white cockades,
Leaving their mountains to follow Prince Charlie ?
  Follow thee! follow thee ! wha wadna follow thee ? ,
  Lang Last thou loved and trusted us fairly !
  Charlie, Charlie, wha wadna follow thee,
  King o' the Highland hearts, bonny Prince Charlie ?

I hae but ae son, my gallant young Donald ;
But if I had ten, they should follow Glengarry !
Health to M`Donnell and gallant Clan-Ronald,
For these are the men that will die for their Charlie !
  Follow thee ! follow thee! &c.

I'll to Lochiel and Appin, and kneel to them,
Down by Lord Murray, and Roy of Kildarlie;
Brave M'Intosh he shall fly to the field with them
These are the lads I can trust wi' my Charlie !
  Follow thee! follow thee! &c.

Down through the Lowlands, down wi' the Whigamore*!
Loyal true Highlanders, down wi' them rarely !
Ronald an' Donald, drive on, wi' the broad claymore,
Over the necks of the foes o' Prince Charlie!
  Follow thee ! follow thee ! wha wadna follow thee ?
  Lang thou loved and trusted us fairly !
  Charlie, Charlie, wha wadna follow thee,
  King o' the Highland hearts, bonny Prince Charlie ?

Here is a link to the sheet music if you require it.

*Note that the use of the word "Whigamore" (now spelled Whiggamore) had come to mean "protestant" by  the time Hogg wrote this song, but at the time of the 1745 uprising it probably had its original, more specific, meaning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Edinburgh Liberal Democrats in shock endorsement of local Liberal Democrat candidate.

Apparently "The Citizen - South Edinburgh's Community Newsletter since 1971" is backing Mike Pringle to be our next constituency MSP:

Should we really be surprised given that its published by the Liberal Democrats on his behalf?

Click on image for larger version

The strange thing is that everyone knows this, and the Lib Dems know that everyone knows this, so why make something of backing their own candidate? It would have been more interesting if they weren't.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Edinburgh City Mission - again!

I was responding to a friends message on Facebook and wanted to put in a link to an article I wrote in 2009 about Edinburgh City Mission's promotion of creationism. I did a quick search on Google rather than using my blog search in order to find the page, but it has dropped out of the Google index. Nothing odd about that, it does happen sometimes, but its not even appearing under really precise searches like "Gordon's Blog Edinburgh City Mission".

Anyway, I had a look at the Wikipedia page for Edinburgh City Mission and a link to my article which had been there since 2009 had also disappeared. According to Wikipedia it was removed on 23rd November 2010 by a user calling himself Keith Wapshott with no specific reason given:

Click on image for larger version

Out of interest I put the name of that Wikipedia editor into Google and it brought me to the new web site of Edinburgh City Mission which lists the same person as the designer in the footer of every page:

Click on image for larger version
I don't enjoy pointing this out. If its true (and lets face it, it Wikipedia is prone to weirdness) its a rather unseemly way to behave, especially if creationists are right, God is all powerful and prayer works.

I am not against Edinburgh City Mission in any way. I just don't think that they should be using charitable resources, donated primarily to help the poor in practical ways, to promote fringe beliefs (only 39% of Evangelicals believe that Evolution and Christianity are incompatible and less than 10% of all Christians worldwide). As a charity they are open to public scrutiny and debate. Everyone has an opinion, and the Internet allows those opinions to be heard more clearly. Using technical blocking tactics to prevent alternative opinions being heard is wrong, but this is the third time I have experienced this from evangelical fundamentalists. Its quite a clear pattern.

Example 1 (its a long read - threat of lawyers for telling my own personal story)
Example 2

In the USA, a number of the big Evangelical ministries use cease and desist and copyright complaints to prevent reasonable debate, or to prevent their material being seen outside its intended audience, and the same seems to be happening here.

If these people are right in their opinions then they will win the argument hands down without any dirty tricks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Giving chuggers the elbow - why face-to-face fundraising in Edinburgh is a bad thing

This article was started a couple of months ago, but I have been prompted to complete it after today’s  Edinburgh Evening News report that centre management company Essential Edinburgh has introduced new rules to control chugging:
“They will have to ensure they never say or do anything that could pressurise or harass people, and tell anyone who agrees to make a donation that they are being paid to collect for charity.”
Chugging (or face-to-face fundraising to use the correct term) is something that I dislike as a member of the public, as a fundraising professional, and as a chief officer in the voluntary sector.

Why I don't like chugging:

1. It makes no money. 
The only way to make money is to take the donors recruited through chugging and try to extract more money from them later on. This misleads donors into signing up because “its only £3 per month”. It can't be if charities are to make any money from it.

Donor recruitment costs
From Third Force News. Issue 629, 1st April 2011
Charities pay tens of millions of pounds every year to subcontracted firms who sign people up to direct debits on the street or doorstep and while chuggers, as they have become known, are both loved and loathed in equal measure, the rewards can be plenty: last year 750,000 people signed on the dotted line, giving an average contribution of £90 a year.
Figures show smaller charities are increasingly turning to face-to-face fundraising as a way to generate cash in the downturn.
According to the Professional Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) - set up by charities to monitor face-to-face fundraising - on average, the companies behind the collections are getting between £80 and £160 per donor they sign up.
Mick Aldridge, the PFRA's chief executive said: "Some charities might be paying £50 or £60 per donor, some might be paying £100 or £120 or possibly even more."
"It may look to the outsider - to the uninformed outsider - as if all their first-year donation is going to go to a third party but thats not the only way of looking at it," he said.
The problem is that chugging is a bit like the emperors new clothes. I am not an uninformed outsider, but because I disagree with it my opinion will no doubt be branded as “uninformed” along with anyone else who points at the naked man striding down the street.

Attrition rates
The attrition rate (number of donors dropping out) in the first year is very high. Between 33% and 58 % of donors recruited in this way will cancel their direct debit within twelve months.

According to an article in Civil Society magazine:
Donors recruited by face-to-face fundraising are dropping off at higher rates than in the recent past, according to the latest figures. The 2009 PFRA Attrition Survey, released today, expects that between 55 and 58 per cent of donors recruited in 2008 via street fundraisers will have cancelled their donation within 12 months. This marks a significant increase from the 2008 Attrition Survey which showed that in 2006 the average street fundraising attrition rate was 49 per cent.
A recent report from the PFRA states:
The 2010 instalment of the annual survey – which has previously been run in 2008 and 2009 – shows that attrition of doorstep-recruited donors after five months of 2009 stands at 30.5 per cent. Previous DARS have covered campaigns run in 2004 and 2006-08 inclusive. Average attrition in all previous years after five months was around 33 per cent.*  (In other words, 33 per cent of people who made a first payment had cancelled their Direct Debit after three months.)
“If this trend continues for the rest of the year, we should see doorstep attrition come in at around 44 or 45 per cent, which would represent our best year since we began our analysis, as most years have returned annual attrition levels of 48-50 per cent,” says Rupert Tappin, managing director of Future Fundraising who, along with Morag Fleming of Scottish social care charity Quarriers, co-devised DARS.
Although some face-to-face fundraising contractors will provide partial discounts on recruitment costs to compensate charities for donors who drop out their self regulatory body the PFRA is now complaining  that other types of fundraising don’t have to publish their attrition rates which makes chugging look bad. This argument is daft. Even if every other type of donor recruitment had equal or worse attrition rates, this would not vindicate chugging.

Donor servicing costs
You may be giving £3 per month, but it may be costing £2 to hold your details on a database, process your monthly direct debit and write to you.

So why do charities get involved with face-to-face fundraising? Its partly because they feel that all their competitors are doing it and partly because at face value (or presentation) it does look like an "investment", but by the time the true outcomes are known the headquarters fundraising staff who set up these schemes are unlikely to atill be in post.

2. It is a betrayal of the the voluntary sector's values of equality and inclusion. 
You will never see an old, ugly or disabled chugger. If there are any they are the tiny exception to the rule.

A typical chugger recruitment ad

3. Chuggers target the same people over and over again.
The people walking down Princes Street and Rose Street are largely the same people every day of the week. Is it any wonder people get fed up being approached by chuggers?

4. It is often aggressive, or persistent beyond the point where I have said no. 
Last week I was approached by a chugger and put my hand up and said "no thankyou". He pursued me down the street. Yes UNICEF, this was you (and I am not the only person raising specific concerns about UNICEF’s activities in Edinburgh).

5. It makes all charities look bad.
Regardless of whether they do face-to-face fundraising themselves, all charities come out badly from chugging because the only regular contact most people will have with a charity is either going into a charity shop or meeting chuggers.

In conclusion, charities survived before the smoke and mirrors of face-to-face fundraising and they would survive if it was banned entirely. The money spent on it would not go unspent in fundraising budgets. It would be for other, less obnoxious, forms of fundraising. Its time that local authorities and the public in general gave chuggers the elbow.

Update: 9th August 2012
The Sunday Telegraph recently did an undercover investigation into chugging which is worth a read:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A message for Big Issue sellers

You are selling a product nobody wants.

I know this is going to sound harsh or even cruel, but if you were selling sandwiches, coffee or even pack-a-mac type raincoats you would do much better on the streets of Edinburgh. Even if you sold the Evening News you would sell more copies because people actually want to read it.

Its a basic rule of business that you need to be selling something there is a demand for. Lets face it many people never buy magazines and a lot of the people who buy the Big Issue do so as an act of charity rather than because they like or need the magazine. So why do we like homeless people standing on street corners selling magazines? I can't help thinking that society, in all its liberal fullness, still likes a wee bit of humiliation of those who are not quite as well off in material terms. It makes us feel a bit more secure and when we buy a copy of the Big Issue it makes us feel a little bit better. There has to be a better way for the homeless to help themselves without having to beg people to buy things nobody really wants.

I wrote the above paragraph yesterday and after doing a bit of research it seems I am not the only person who has had the same thought. The Independent Newspaper reported in 2000 a scheme for homeless people in Edinburgh to sell coffee. This scheme doesn't appear to have gone anywhere, but it shows that this is a long standing issue and I am not the first to point at the Big Issue as a poor solution.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

My Pirate Ancestor (or "how we lost our fortune")

My 8th great grandfather was an Olave Sinclair (1518-1579). Olave had four children. I am descended from his eldest son James. His younger son Matthew Sinclair of Ness (1540-1602) was something of a black sheep, teaming up with a Captain James Halkerston in 1573, stealing a ship at Burntisland and attacking ships carrying rent and taxes from Shetland to Edinburgh.

The reason he did this is all to do with the Marian Civil War. Halkerston had fought on the Catholic side and subsequently acted as an agent for various Catholic noblemen in attempts to re-establish Catholicism in Scotland. The Sinclairs were a prominent Catholic family and held out against Protestantism till around 1590. They were not major players in the war, but supplies were sent to the Marian side from Orkney by ship (presumably by the Sinclair's, who were the earls of Orkney) and captured by the King. This seems to be the motivation for attacking official ships coming back from Shetland and Orkney.

An excellent essay on Halkerston can be found here. This suggests a further ship was stolen from Peterhead. Some additional information on Halkerston's poetry can be found here.

Although the King called for Matthew Sinclair to be apprehended it appears he evaded capture and lived on until 27th June 1602 when he was set upon and murdered by a group of conspirators including his nephews Francis Sinclair of Uyea and Robert Sinclair; Robert’s servant John Lindsay; Adam Sinclair of Brew (my 6th great grandfather), John Bruce (servant to Adam Sinclair); John Sinclair (son of Laurence Sinclair of Goat) and another Laurence Sinclair (son of William Sinclair of Ustaness.

The murder trial was held before the Lawting Court at Scalloway on 16th August 1602 without the defendants present as they were fugitives. Found guilty their whole goods, lands and gear were forfeited. A trader from Bremen called Garth Hemlein was suspected of involvement, but acquitted.

According to the court documents as recorded in “Notes on Orkney and Zetland: illustrative of the history, antiquities, senery and customs of those islands” by Alexander Peterkin, Edinburgh 1822. Adam Sinclair (my 6th great grandfather) had fallen out with Matthew and paid his servant John Bruce to kill him. Following this, master and servant fled the island. The court’s exact judgement was that he was to be captured and beheaded as an example to others:
Quhairunto the Assyse taking long and mature deliberatioun, be the inspectioun of the chepturis of the law-buik, and practicks of the countrie in sic caices, and the haill premises found lawfullie provin, decernis the said Adam's haill moveabills, guids, and gere, with his haill heritabil landis and possessiouns, to be escheit, and himself beneist the countrie within the space of 15 dais, and gif he beis apprehendit thairaftir, to be tane to the Heiding-hill of Skalloway-Bankis, and thair his heid to be tane and strukin fra his bodie, in exampill of utheris.
(The “law-buik” in question was still the law of Norway which was still in force at this time on Orkney and Shetland.)

It appears that the reason for the falling out of Matthew and Adam Sinclair may have been over the plundering of a Dutch wreck, Adam being indicted for this crime in the same session of the court:
In an action against Adam Sinclair of Brow for wrongous and violent intromission with goods of a broken Dutch ship, without leave of the owner, or any commission from my Lord his deputes, or the Foud of the parish; " the Assise taking this to consideration, and trying him to have committit great wrang and oppressioun thairinto, thai all in ane vote decernis the said Adam, with his haill moveabill guids and gere, in my Lordis will thairfoir, in exampill of utheris, reserving place to satisfy the partie."
I hope to find out more about Matthew Sinclair and James Halkerston's piratical activities as I continue my research. Alas, due to Adam Sinclair going on the run my branch of the Sinclair family left behind what remained of their privilege to become poor fishermen and subsistence farmers.

Halkerston fled to Antwerp in 1573 to fight for the Dutch against the Spanish and apparently died penniless in London in 1615.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The injustice of Christianity

Christianity and justice do seem to be strange bedfellows.

For example, if Hitler had repented he would have gone to heaven in spite of his crimes. This is one of the problems with evangelical Christianity. It is, at its core, unjust. Anyone can do anything they like to other people as long as they accept Jesus and repent on their death bed. That's a bigger problem than anything Rob Bell may or may not have written in his recent book “"Love Wins" which seems to be exercising Christians greatly at the moment.

The classic response to this apparent injustice is that God's justice is fulfilled by punishing Jesus instead of the sinner. Really? That's not justice. That's like having a row with your wife and then kicking the cat. Substitutionary atonement is no atonement at all, like rounding up the usual suspects and convicting someone of a crime even if they did not commit it.

The second explanation usually provided is that God gives his son in our place as an act of love. If we translate that to the real world it would be the equivalent of you committing murder then me murdering one of my children to make up for it.

The difficulty seems to be that Christians have blinkered themselves to this logical problem and spiritualised the issue until they can no longer see it in all its starkness.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jules Verne - The Edinburgh Connection

Anyone reading the better known novels of Jules Verne will notice the references to Scotland and particularly Edinburgh. Verne was a prolific novelist, but nowadays we only see three or four of his novels regularly and most of these are  his futuristic novels.  For someone living in 19th Century France, Verne had an unusually detailed knowledge of Scotland and this seeps out into his better known novels. Surprisingly he even wrote three novels set in Scotland (although they were not translated into English until the early 1990's).

Here are some notes on the Scottish influence on Verne's writing.

Five Weeks In  A Balloon
This was Verne’s first published novel from 1863 (Google Books copy).

  • Dick Kennedy comes from Leith and the expeditioners carry a gun made by John Dickson & Son  (who still have a gun shop in Frederick Street).
  • Dr Fergusson is Scottish and it is said of his servant Joe: “He is a clever lad and there are few swimmers like him. He could swim across the firth of forth at Edinburgh.”

20,000 Leagues under the sea
The interior of the submarine Nautilus is said to be based on the interior of Abbotsford House, which Verne had visited during a holiday in Scotland as a homage to his literary hero Sir Walter Scott. The name of Captain Nemo (latin for nobody) was apparently suggested by the motto on royal crest on Edinburgh Castle which is also not unlike the character of Nemo himself (Nemo me impune lacessit - “noone can harm me unpunished”).
“All my life I have delighted in the works of Sir Walter Scott, and during a never-to-be-forgotten tour in the British Isles, my happiest days were spent in Scotland. I still see, as in a vision, beautiful, picturesque Edinburgh, with its Heart of Midlothian, and many entrancing memories; the Highlands, world-forgotten Iona, and the wild Hebrides. Of course, to one familiar with the works of Scott, there is scarce a district of his native land lacking some association connected with the writer and his immortal work” Verne Quoted in M. A. Belloc, Jules Verne at Home, Strand Magazine, February (1895)

Verne’s affinity with Scotland seems similar to his affinity with Quebec (about which he wrote several non futuristic novels, the best known of which is "The Fur Country"). Verne did not like imperialism, especially British imperialism and although his writings display a lot of racial stereotypes they do promote the right to self determination.

Verne’s Scottish Novels
Verne actually wrote three novels set in Scotland and based on his own travels:
  • Voyage à Reculons en Angleterre et l’Ecosse 1860 (written three years before his first published novel Five Weeks in a Balloon)
  • Les Indes Noires (The Underground City) 1877
  • Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray) 1882
There is a very informative article about these novels here;

In addition to this his novella The Blockade Runners is about a Scottish ship breaking a blockade during the American civil war.

It appears I am not the only person interested in Verne's connections with Scotland! Amazon has a book listed for publication this August called Jules Verne in Scotland by Ian Thompson.

A BBC Article about The Underground City.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Some domain names for sale

I have a few spare domain names that were registered for projects and then not used.

For an up to date list and contact details please click here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Craighouse Gardens Edinburgh - then and now.

The flat I live in is located in one of Edinburgh's most desirable districts, Morningside, but my modern flat is built on a former industrial site. Craighouse Gardens is the western end of Balcarres Street, which still has an industrial feel to it with various workshops and businesses. The old tenements are smaller than most in Morningside because they were built to house the workers in the local factories. These included Mackenzie and Moncur Limited, who operated an iron foundry from here between 1850 and the early 1970's. The company specialised in conservatories and hot houses and built these for many famous hotels and country houses. They also made some of the iron work for the hot houses for the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh:

Click here to download a PDF document with pictures of the foundry.

Here is a photo of the street as it is now and an equivalent plan of the old foundry.

(Click on the map to see a larger version.)
The street must have been renamed Craighouse Gardens at some point. Myerside Road was also renamed  previously it was just a continuation of Craighouse Road.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The best opening paragraphs of any book

I realised yesterday that I have not written a proper article for a few weeks. Partly because I have had a lot of technical tips to write up, but also because of my work schedule - over the past week I have spoken at two evening meetings and only had one evening at home. Now that I have an early Sunday morning and some of my favourite Fair Trade Columbian in the coffee machine its time to write about my favourite book and what I think is the best opening page of any book.

Few people know this book. It is a short book, only 253 pages, and it has never been on a best seller list or sold in a supermarket. Yet Free Fall by William Golding has remained my favourite book for more than twenty years. Like most of Golding’s books the central theme is descent from a state of innocence to a state of ambivalent morality brought about by circumstances rather than choice.

Free Fall speaks to me because the central character, Sammy Mountjoy, is rather like me. An artist who has tried both politics and religion, he undergoes trials outside his control and finally recognises the pattern of cause and effect. I am not quite as fatalistic, and I have not been to war, but I had my own search for meaning in politics and religion before finally understanding that what happens to us is mainly down to our own choices. We should make the most of those choices while we can.

The book is written entirely in the first person. The opening page is a remarkable piece of writing which still draws me in after numerous readings:

I have walked by stalls in the market-place where books, dog-eared and faded from their purple, have burst with a white hosanna. I have seen people crowned with a double crown, holding in either hand the crook and flail, the power and the glory. I have understood how the scar be­comes a star, I have felt the flake of fire fall, miraculous and pentecostal. My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are grey faces that peer over my shoulder. I live on Paradise Hill, ten minutes from the station, thirty seconds from the shops and the local. Yet I am a burning amateur, torn by the irrational and incoherent, violently searching and self-condemned.

When did I lose my freedom? For once, I was free. I had power to choose. The mechanics of cause and effect is statistical probability yet surely sometimes we operate be­low or beyond that threshold. Free-will cannot be debated but only experienced, like a colour or the taste of potatoes. I remember one such experience. I was very small and I was sitting on the stone surround of the pool and fountain in the centre of the park. There was bright sunlight, banks of red and blue flowers, green lawn. There was no guilt but only the plash and splatter of the fountain at the centre. I had bathed and drunk and now I was sitting on the warm stone edge placidly considering what I should do next. The gravelled paths of the park radiated from me: and all at once I was overcome by a new know­ledge. I could take whichever I would of these paths.
There was nothing to draw me down one more than the other. I danced down one for joy in the taste of potatoes. I was free. I had chosen.

How did I lose my freedom? I must go back and tell the story over. It is a curious story, not so much in the external events which are common enough, but in the way it presents itself to me, the only teller. For time is not to be laid out endlessly like a row of bricks. That straight line from the first hiccup to the last gasp is a dead thing. Time is two modes. The one is an effortless perception native to us as water to the mackerel. The other is a memory, a sense of shuffle fold and coil, of that day nearer than that because more important, of that event mirroring this, or those three set apart, exceptional and out of the straight line altogether. I put the day in the park first in my story, not because I was young, a baby almost; but because freedom has become more and more precious to me as I taste the potato less and less often.

I have hung all systems on the wall like a row of useless hats. They do not fit. They come in from outside, they are suggested patterns, some dull and some of great beauty. But I have lived enough of my life to require a pattern that fits over everything I know; and where shall I find that ? Then why do I write this down ? Is it a pattern I am looking for? That Marxist hat in the middle of the row, did I ever think it would last me a lifetime ? What is wrong with the Christian biretta that I hardly wore at all ? Nick's rationalist hat kept the rain out, seemed impregnable plate-armour, dull and decent. It looks small now and rather silly, a bowler like all bowlers, very formal, very complete, very ignorant. There is a school cap, too. I had no more than hung it there, not knowing of the other hats

William Golding's work is overshadowed by Lord of The Flies. Its place on the school curriculum means that many will never read his other novels, but set this aside. If you have not read Free Fall you owe it to yourself to get a copy and find out what happens to Sammy Mountjoy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Creationists, kinds, Noah's Ark and Genesis 1:25

The issue of "kind" is a Ken Ham-ism. He made it up because he needed to be able to fit all the species of the earth into Noah’s Ark.

The “kind” argument goes like this:

We can observe small changes in species so those must be true (he calls this “microevolution”), but there is a point beyond which a species cannot change, like an evolutionary brake. Proponents of this theory (including Ham) present no evidence for the existence of this brake and rely totally on their interpretation of the word “kind” in Genesis 1:25:
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
However, this interpretation has significant problems. Unless Ken Ham is claiming special revelation from God then he and everyone else only has the words on the page to go on. I have had a brief look at the uses of "miyn" in the old testament (this is the word translated "kind" in Genesis 1:25). Ken Ham says that kinds are an archetype or root species. For example, having one pair of archetypal cats on the ark would allow all types of cat, from domestic cats to lions, to descend from that pair. In fact, for his ark theory to work you need as few “kinds” as possible or the boat won't float. However, the use of miyn in other parts of the pentateuch shows that it does not mean an archetype. Leviticus 11:22 says that the locust and bald locust and the grasshopper are all different kinds:
Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.
That’s not how Ham and other young earth creationists want to interpret it.

Or how about Deuteronomy 14:15-16 which states that the ostrich, owl, seagull, hawk, little owl, great owl, white owl, pelican, vulture, cormorant, stork and heron are all different kinds.

“Miyn” seems to mean visibly different species not an archetypal ancestor animal. If the ostrich, owl and hawk are different kinds then these, and all other  all other bird species, had to be on the ark too.

In addition to this Leviticus 19:19 is an instruction not to breed animals of different kinds - "Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind" - yet under Ham's interpretation of "kind" this would be biologically impossible so why mention it at all? The different "kinds" of cattle are what we would call breeds.

In order for the “kind” theory to hold water the young earth creationists are going to have to:

  • Prove scientifically that there is a point beyond which one species cannot evolve.
  • Explain to their supporters why they are using a process of "micro evolution" to prove that the Noah's Ark story is true while at the same time denying that species have evolved by a process of natural selection.
  • Prove that the Hebrew word “miyn” means a fixed archetypal animal and not just visibly different species.
  • Explain how all the “kinds” listed in Leviticus and Deuteronomy fitted onto the ark.

The most worrying aspect of this is that people trust the creationist's interpretation of the Bible without looking at it themselves.

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Photographs

I took these photographs last weekend at the botanic gardens in Edinburgh.