Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's up at the Christian Party?

Its seems that not all is well at the Christian Party. The party has been fined £2,750 by the Electoral Commission for failing to provide accounts. The fine has been levied on party leader Rev George Hargreaves.

From the Electoral Commission web site:

Legal action to recover two fines totalling £2,750, imposed on Reverend George Hargreaves, Treasurer of the Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship” has been initiated.
The first fine was originally £500 for failure to provide accounts by the deadline of 7 July 2011. This automatically increased to £750 because it was not paid. A second fine of £2,000 is for Reverend Hargreaves’ failure to comply with a notice requiring accounts to be delivered to the Commission by 1 March 2012.
Full article here.

The Christian Party holds quite a fundamentalist position with policies that include:

  • "a science curriculum which should "reflect the evidence of creation/design" in the universe."
  • "replacing the standard of 'beyond reasonable doubt' with the more biblical 'evidence of two or three reliable witnesses' in the criminal justice system."
  • and rather oddly (until you relaise that Rev Hargreaves earns part of his income from songwriting royalties)  "that Mechanical Copyright Protection enjoyed by songwriters should be extended to featured recording artists and record producers."

This may be why it has never got any electoral traction. In the 2010 United Kingdom general election, the party stood 71 candidates, gaining 18,623 votes.

I notice that their web site currently carries a copy of an election leaflet for a candidate standing in an election  in July 2011, but with the date misprinted as 2001:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Loch Ness Monster being used as evidence against evolution by some American schools

The famous "surgeon's photo",
now known to be a fake created
using a toy submarine and some  Plasticine.

As reported in the Herald newspaper and elsewhere:

Thousands of children in the southern state will receive publicly-funded vouchers for the next school year to attend private schools where Scotland's most famous mythological beast will be taught as a real living creature. These private schools follow a fundamentalist curriculum including the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme to teach controversial religious beliefs aimed at disproving evolution and proving creationism.
One tenet has it that if it can be proved that dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time as man then Darwinism is fatally flawed.
Critics have damned the content of the course books, calling them "bizarre" and accusing them of promoting radical religious and political ideologies.
The textbooks in the series are alleged to teach young earth creationism; are hostile towards other religions and other sectors of Christianity, including Roman Catholicism; and present a biased version of history that is often factually incorrect.
One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: "Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? 'Nessie' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur."
Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur. It's unclear if the movie Godzilla was the inspiration for this lesson.

However there are over thirty Schools following this curriculum in the UK. You will find a list here. This is a worrying trend as the claims made above are dubious, to say the least.

For example, the statement "Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur" is probably based on photographs taken by an expedition led by Robert Rines in 1975 (not Sir Peter Scott, as is often thought - he just coined the latin name "nessiteras rhombopteryx" after seeing the photographs). However, the photos were considerably enhanced by Nasa's jet propulsion laboratory and then manually retouched. Modern computer enhancements of the original images do not show up anything that looks like a plesiousaur flipper. You can see the original image and the enhancements here. Make up your own mind!

It has to be said, however, that Loch Ness does not contain enough fish to feed a breeding population of sea creatures and there are any number of reasonable explanations for the things seen on the loch's surface, most due to its great depth and the way that wind and currents interact).

So how does this reflect on theology and religion? Well, the arguments for and against young earth creationism are all well rehearsed. I have covered them many times before and a summary of my objections can be found here. The fundamental contradiction of this Loch Ness monster example is that it presents speculation as fact, and that's not science.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Its not just Scientology and Wikipedia

In case you haven't heard, Wikipedia has banned IP addresses owned by the Church of Scientology from making edits to articles. But it's not just Scientology that's at it. Other religious groups are equally as concerned about the free exchange of opinions about their activities. Free discussion does not fit well with most religions and truth seems to be an issue of opinion rather than fact. Hence the founding of Conservapedia by American right wing Christians which gives a version of the truth which is less offensive to them.
"I've tried editing Wikipedia, and found that the biased editors who dominate it censor or change facts to suit their views," Andy Schlafly, the founder of Conservapedia, told the Guardian. "In one case my factual edits were removed within 60 seconds - so editing Wikipedia is no longer a viable approach." (
Religious groups don't like the Internet. I had my own encounter with a local religious group on Wikipedia last year. It is not likely to end any time soon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Trumpet Players Guide to Playing the French Horn

Although I have been playing the trumpet for over twenty years my first instrument was french horn which I played from the ages of 10 to 14 before switching to euphonium and then trumpet when I was 19. Many years later I was playing in a theatre production  where the first trumpet player was getting a doubling fee for cueing in a missing french horn part. This got me thinking about the possibilities of doubling and as the years have gone on I have tried various combinations of instruments and mouthpieces. The advantage of being able to play the horn well enough for the simpler parts is that I get to play in orchestras that play repertoire that has no trumpet parts. Transposition is similar to the standard ones used on the trumpet.

The first problem that any trumpet player will have with the french horn is that the valves are  played with the left hand. It is the only brass instruments with the valves that way. The reason is arcane - the original natural horn needed stopped with the right hand and most people are right handed. The first valve horns were natural horns with removable valve sections so they put them on the left. There are American horns with the valves on the right but these are usually piston valved and pitched in high Eb or F - the same pitch as a brass band tenor horn, so they are not true french horns. Usually these instruments are called “tenor cors”.

The french horn is a very long instrument with a far larger range of notes than the trumpet (around five octaves compared to the trumpet’s usual three). This means that orchestral horn parts range from the very high parts in the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No 1 to the booming tuba like sounds in the romantic German repertoire. This is tough for any trumpet player to emulate so what I have done is develop a solid mid range from around bottom C (concert F) up two octaves to the C on the ledger line. The sound can get very squirrely and hard to control above G because the horn is played in its upper partials like a natural trumpet. The notes are very close together and its easy to misspitch or hit the note out of tune.

The valve fingering for the french horn in F is the same as for a Bb trumpet but one octave apart, so a D just below the stave is played 1st valve not 1 and 3, just like the fourth line D on the trumpet. Once you have got this into your head and dealt with the pitching issues you will realise how hard the upper register can be. This is where the Bb side of a double horn comes into play. It is completely different to the fourth valve on a four valve trumpet or euphonium. On a double french horn, holding down the fourth valve switches to different, shorter, main and valve tuning slides pitched in Bb (higher than the F horn). This requires slightly different valve fingering, but improves security.

Here is a link to a french horn fingering chart:

French Horn Instrument Choices for the Trumpet Player
Any trumpet player wanting to double presumably doesn’t want to spend a lot of money or end up with a horn that is too hard work to play. For this reason a good student horn is probably the logical option. However, a lot of these are now “mini horns” wrapped up smaller and usually only in Bb. These should be avoided by adults as they don't play the full range of required notes.

The horn I use is an Anborg Bb/F cdouble compensating horn made in Italy in the 1980’s. It's a former school instrument I bought on Ebay for £75. The price included a brand new, good quality, leather carrying case so it was a real bargain. After a couple of years I paid £120 to have it serviced and this has improved it considerably. Its a well made horn and they are quite well respected. For a while they were sold by Paxman with their name on them as a student horn and lots of good players learned on them. It produces a nice tone and is not too difficult to blow. These can be found quite easily for £150 to £200 in better condition than mine.

My Anborg Como French Horn

French Horn Mouthpieces for Trumpet Players
Horn mouthpieces typically have narrower rims than trumpet mouthpieces and can be difficult to switch to. Generally speaking, if you play on a larger trumpet mouthpiece (3C or bigger) you will find it easier to use a horn mouthpiece. There are a couple of mouthpieces on the market which have more forgiving rims. Kelly make a plastic “MC” model which is not as deep as most horn mouthpieces and has quite a comfortable rim. Denis Wick make french horn mouthpieces with wider rims, which are probably the best option.
The 7 has a rim that’s fairly compatible with a Bach 1.5C. I play on a narrower 5N because I like the flexibility of the narrower rim. I use a Kelly MC for outdoor playing at Christmas or for extra security in higher parts.

Do give the horn a try if you can. Its a very versatile instrument with uses in shows, popular music and orchestral repertoire.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Microsoft abandoning natrive DVD support tells us about their business strategy.

Interesting that Microsoft are abandoning native DVD support in Windows 8 to save money on licencing. Yet, its one of the few things that keeps me using Windows. Windows 7 does an incredibly good job at authoring DVD's from Windows Live Movie Maker projects and the ability to autoplay a DVD in Windows media player is much better than requiring a seperate program - which usually have an inferior GUI.

At the same time the new "Metro" desktop looks more like a Windows phone:

I think what we are seeing is a change to Microsoft's overall strategy with its future being in business computing and mobile devices rather than in home computing. Time will tell if this is where they end up.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ten things you could do that would make me more likely to attend your church

I am sure I am not alone in this, but here are my ten tips for pastors and ministers:

  1. Reduce the number of electric guitars - go on, you know you want to.
  2. Stop trying to get down with the kids in the ‘hood  - you are probably the same age as me.
  3. Use fewer quotes from Christian “celebrities” I have never heard of in order to justify the points in your sermon.
  4. Move your main service to a Sunday afternoon.
  5. Have less sitting in rows and more interaction, less speaking at me and more discussion with me.
  6. Stop targeting young people or vulnerable groups because they are more likely to “convert”.
  7. Stop presenting your opinion as a shared orthodoxy when you haven't asked anyone in your church what they actually think.
  8. Make your sermons shorter - if your sermon takes longer than twenty minutes then you are probably not a good enough communicator. Some books of the bible take less than twenty minutes to read. There is a reason for this.
  9. Encourage real sincerity. Don’t have a “welcomer” come up to me and say that they have been told by the pastor that they should make people feel welcome.
  10. Don’t ask me for money.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Was there death before Adam?

From an interesting article from the John Rae Initiative:

1. We need to be clear that when God declared His work to be ‘good’, he was speaking from His viewpoint not ours. There was certainly death in the world from the earliest days of biological life, because God gave the plants to the animals for food, and plant death is as much death as animal death. Moreover, there were many, many generations of animal death before humans came on the scene. The dinosaurs had flourished - and then become extinct. We know from their fossils that they suffered from bone disease, just as we do. [4] We are wrong to assume that there was no death or disease before the Fall. 
2. The ‘death’ that entered the world with Adam (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21) was primarily separation from God, the source of that which makes us truly human. Our first parents ‘died’ the day they sinned; they were removed from God’s presence (i.e. evicted from Eden), but they survived for years and had all their children outside Eden. Through Christ’s redeeming death, we are raised to life, "born anew" by being reunited with God.

I found this while preparing for a presentation on Environmental Theology. Worth a read.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lies, damned lies and statistics

People often repeat headline statistics without knowing the context or looking at the source. I am not very trusting of these things so I tend to look up the original data wherever possible to see what was actually said and the context in which it was said.

Today was a case in point where my friend Pete tweeted:

Globally - 100,000 people become Christians every day. 4,500 new churches start every week. (Source: David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson)

I did a bit of searching around and the data comes from a study by David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, "Annual Statistical Data on Global Mission: 2002," from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Jan. 2002), 23. You can download a copy here (registration required). I did and the actual statistics are not as optimistic as that.

Here are some of the statistics.

1900 - 558,132,000
1970 - 1,236,374,000
2000 - 1,999,564,000

In an increasing world population the number of Christians IS increasing, but where some Christians might see that as winning some a race the percentage figures are more sobering:

Christians as a percentage of world population
1900 - 34.5
1970 - 33.5
2000 - 33.0
2002 - 33.1
2025 - 33.4 (projection based on trends in 2002)

So even by their projection the percentage of Christians in the world in 2025 will be much the same as in 1970.

The sting in the tail for evangelicals
Evangelicals using these figures need to be very careful indeed. To get to them Barrett and Johnson include 1.38bn “church attenders”  (i.e. nominal Christians) and nearly 1.3bn Roman Catholic and Orthodox church members. Few of these will be people who would identify as, or be honestly counted, as "bible believing" or "born again".

Once again, evangelicals are tending to count people as Christians when it suits them, and not count them when it doesn't. See my previous article The problem of the Nominal Christian for another example of this in relation to persecution.