I don’t understand No. 13

You just can’t shut some people up.
Much to my annoyance, I spotted a typo on this edition of I don’t understand. I’ve tried deleting the original image. I did delete the original image, but I can’t get rid of it from this entry. There was a minor error in the title, so it doesn’t matter which image you click on; but what do I have to do to unadd [sic!] photos from entries? It seems that I can’t.

I’ve got a little list

Top ten scientific discoveries.
Mark Vernon has also replied to A.C. Grayling’s claim that Christianity has never made a single contribution to science in The real history lesson.
A.C.’s challenge is kind of unanswerable. For a start, it’s set up to fail because Christianity is in the business of faith, not science. Any contribution Christianity has made to science is incidental and secondary to the worship of God. A.C. has failed to establish the conditions under which his challenge might be fulfilled. If the condition is that the scientific discovery has to have been made by self-professed Christians, then there are more than a few examples as commenters and Mark Vernon have noted. And there are all sorts of other criteria that could be used. Perhaps the scientist not only has to be a self-professed Christian, but the research has to have been done for the greater glory of God and his works. You can make up any number of criteria.

Don’t ignore the who?

Protestants? Do I know these guys?
It seems that the Protestants are in a huff because of the Maddy and A.C. Show over in the commentisfree section of The Guardian. Theo Hobson has decided to weigh in on the side of neither in Don’t ignore the Protestants.
The more complex reality, which is hateful to the ears of both these writers, is that our passage to enlightened liberal modernity was very a largely a product of one form of Christianity: Protestantism.
Oddly enough, I don’t completely disagree, because my understanding was that humanity was free to worship God directly without the intervention of a priesthood. It’s a bit dangerous because people then start thinking for themselves when their parish priest isn’t doing the thinking for them; and thinking all sorts of inappropriate thoughts at that. Hobson is pushing his luck with
If we want to understand the relationship between Christianity and secularism, we must look at the specifically Protestant advance of toleration and liberty.
Try telling that to the Babington Plot conspirators or Guy Fawkes and co., dispatched brutally in the brave new world of liberal Protestantism. There’s nothing that better defines a liberal and tolerant society than public castration and disembowelling. That’s why modern societies are actually illiberal. They don’t do this sort of thing any longer.
The cause was forged by ardent Protestants such as Milton and Cromwell – and less ardent but certainly sincere ones such as Locke. These thinkers demanded that toleration was central to a Protestant state, not because they were beginning to reject Christianity but because they saw liberty as essential to Protestantism.
Milton and Cromwell were liberals or advocates of liberalism? It’s a bit like saying that Mao was a philanthropist. Locke appears to have been a little more enlightened, although I haven’t got round to reading his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689).
Yes, this revolution was also advanced by a few probable atheists like Hobbes, but they are marginal compared to the countless committed Protestants who fought for it. And yes, I also know that there were, and are, plenty of illiberal Protestants, but that does not disprove the existence of the pro-liberal tradition.
I don’t think Hobbes was exactly a liberal. If I had to compare him with anyone, it’d be Confucius. Of course, the existence of illiberal Protestants doesn’t disprove the existence of the pro-liberal tradition; yet it proves nothing either except by implication.
Put it like this. The breaking of the monopoly that Catholicism had over Europe is probably a contributory factor to the rise of modern secularism in Europe. (Frankly, I think liberalism is overrated as a characteristic of Europeans, although they may be, comparatively speaking, more liberal than Americans: this is why I’m not going to make any direct equation between Protestantism and European liberalism.) However, France, where Catholicism eventually triumphed, is a strongly secular society. There the path must’ve been different regardless of the revolution. If Hobson is going to argue that Protestantism fostered liberal secularism, then perhaps the French could argue that Catholicism played the same role. The evolution of European secularism is not quite as straightforward as Hobson would have us believe.

Mr Bamboo is…

…an unwitting boy magnet.
A few months ago I noted that I’d been the result of a Baidu search result for the phrase "muscle bear", and had expressed puzzlement because I could at no time recall having used this phrase. I did a search via Google and discovered that it referred to a gay website which, based on the link content, appears to be pictures of buff boy babes (watch me get hits for that phrase). And now I’ve been returned as a search result for "muscle bear" again, but this time I clicked on the link from Baidu.
I discovered that I’ve got hits for the phrase because back in July last year I wrote "brought muscle to bear". I’m guessing that the searcher was Chinese because the idiom "bring X to bear on Y" is obviously not a relevant search result.
That’s not the only search that’s brought the unwary Chinese gay community (Oh bugger! Another phrase that’s going to mislead the punters.) to Green Bamboo. A few days ago it was "gay Internet TV"; another one which I had today was "that’s so gay bar". Huh? Is that someone’s attempt to do a search for "gay bar" as they try to avoid possible issues with Baidu censoring their search results? The particular entry that that search got was also from July last year.
Anyway, let’s finish off this post with a gratuitous piccie of Salma Hayek. What? I need a reason? It’s a picture of Salma Hayek. That’s reason enough. Yeah, I knew you’d see it my way.

You can lead a Grayling to blogging

And you can make him rant.

Yes, kids, he’s at it again; this time in A history lesson.

Oh, Green…
That’s Mr Bamboo to you.
Sorry, Mr Bamboo. You’re such an A.C. Grayling fanboy.
Does seem like that, doesn’t it?
What are you doing? Offering to have his babies?
Of course not. Salma Hayek wouldn’t be a happy bunny.

As I said the last time, I’d probably agree with most of A.C.’s views about religion. I think the problem I have with him is that he’s a Juvenalian and I’m a Horatian.

Grayling’s latest post is in response to one by Madeleine Bunting (These US-style culture wars seeping into Britain are an absurd distraction) who’s attacking Grayling’s slightly iffy grasp of history from his previous entry. She adds

It wilfully omits how Christianity (and, incidentally, Islam) has fostered learning and science (even arches and domes) in Europe for hundreds of years – as well as providing the foundations for human rights and secularism itself.

To which Grayling replies

I challenge her to name one – even one small – contribution to science made by Christianity in its two thousand years; just one…

That sounds like something to which I should be able to give a ready answer because it seems unlikely that Christianity, no matter how unwilling, never made some contribution to science. I could, for example, take issue with the term “science” or question how directly Christianity has to be involved in the contribution. For example, Isaac Newton was a Christian. In fact, this is what Encarta says about his religious inclinations:

Newton also wrote on Judaeo-Christian prophecy, whose decipherment was essential, he thought, to the understanding of God. His book on the subject, which was reprinted well into the Victorian Age, represented lifelong study. Its message was that Christianity went astray in the 4th century ad, when the first Council of Nicaea propounded erroneous doctrines of the nature of Christ. The full extent of Newton’s unorthodoxy was recognized only in the present century: but although a critic of accepted Trinitarian dogmas and the Council of Nicaea, he possessed a deep religious sense, venerated the Bible and accepted its account of creation. In late editions of his scientific works he expressed a strong sense of God’s providential role in nature.
© 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

The question is who exactly has to make a scientific discovery for it to be a “contribution made by Christianity”. The Pope? Some parish priest? Newton seems to fit the bill even if his views were, apparently, a little unorthodox. Alexander Pope wrote

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

In other words, Newton would seem to be as good an answer as any, as would many other scientists. What about Gregor Mendel, who was a monk? Once again, from Encarta we have

In 1843 he entered the Augustinian monastery at Brünn (now Brno, Czech Republic), which was known as a centre of learning and scientific endeavour. He studied science as well as theology
© 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

To paraphrase a favourite couplet of mine from Pope’s Essay on Criticism:

A Fool might once himself alone expose,
Now One who blogs makes many more in Prose.

Yes, I’m a fool, but not as big a fool as Bunting.

Increasingly, the stridency with which the non-religious attack the religious belies their own profound insecurity – that the progress they like to attribute to western or enlightenment values is a much-compromised property. It is challenged by almost everything we see around us: climate change, rising levels of mental ill-health, growing economic inequality fuelled by debt and hyper-consumerism. As Oliver James’s new book, Affluenza, makes clear, the nostrums of the west’s “good life” – success, fame, wealth – mask an extraordinary vacuity of purpose, a desperate, restless discontent.

I thought long ago that if religion had been invented in this day and age, it would’ve been a species of escapism, a diversion, a crutch (in some cases). This sounds like the old line that the Jehovah’s Witnesses trot out when they come calling. “Isn’t the world today so terrible?” The implication is that I’m missing some spiritual dimension or that religion is, somehow, going to fix all these problems. If only everyone prayed their little hearts out. Oh hang on. They did that in the Middle Ages and look what happened on a regular basis – plague, pestilence, war, and famine.

My point is that humans made these messes and humans are going to have to clean them up. There isn’t going to be and never has been any chance of divine intervention. I’m sure my ancestors must’ve been confused silly by the Black Death. They lived miserable lives; they toiled in the fields; they went to church every Sunday. Suddenly, they’re being told that God is chastising them for their sins. How many wondered how it was that God had decided there was excessive sinfulness in the mid 14th century when no one had been any more or any less sinful than usual?

The National Secular Society even raised the cry of English kings down the centuries last week: “Who runs Britain – the government or the Vatican?”

It’s a little hyperbolic, but the point is obvious.

And the winner is…

Shilpa Shetty. £200K to appear and, having won, now likely to see the revival of a career which had been languishing. [29.09.13. I assume this has something to do with the series of Big Brother in which Jade Goody took umbrage at Shetty for being nice. Another entry which really belonged on Facebook.]

More from that occasional series


I’d seen the DVD of Flyboys in the shops a couple of times recently and thought I’d check it out. It’s the story of Escadrille Lafayette, the American squadron that fought in France during World War I before the Americans officially entered the war. It was slick, glossy, and implausible.

The special effects weren’t bad, although when Baron von Dachshund shot up Ted Studly’s plane without killing Ted, I began to wonder whether the fuselage was made of titanium. Of course, Ted wasn’t such a poltroon as to whack the Baron with a machine gun. Nope, it was out with his six-shooter to show that smug German how real men fight.

Ted also cut the hand off one of his friends when the latter got trapped in No man’s land when the latter’s plane crashed. It gave a whole new meaning to “one off the wrist”. [Though predictable, this still manages to be painful. –ed.]

Black Hawk Down.

Whenever Tom Sizemore is crashing and burning (he must be on the Lindsay Lohan Self-improvement-through-excess programme), he’s always described as the star of Black Hawk Down. Like Flyboys, curiosity got the better of me with this one. This is the story about the Americans and their adventures in Mogadishu in Somalia, and how an attempt to capture some of the enemy leadership went badly wrong. Basically, things went from bad to worse as first one and then another chopper crashed, and attempts to rescue the trapped soldiers kept running into trouble.

At the end of the film it said that 19 Americans had been killed. How many Somalis? 1000. Apart from one scene where some Somali fighter was talking to the captured helicopter pilot, the Somalis were merely a faceless horde who were there to get mown down. Were they really so casual with their lives? Did they really fight like such a disorganised mob?

The film managed to be gritty and dramatic, and managed to maintain its momentum in spite of its length. It also seemed that American forces in Somali had a large Scottish contingent, including two graduates of Trainspotting.

Changing horses in mid-stream

The Case of Francis Bacon’s Non-finite Clauses.

I was reading Francis Bacon’s short essay Of Suspicion when I noticed this sentence:

…and therefore men should remedy suspicion, by procuring to know more, and not to keep their suspicions in smother.

In Modern English, we might say something like this:

…and therefore men should remedy suspicion by procuring to know more and (by) not repressing it.

(All right, so it’s not especially idiomatic.) I did a search of the Essays and couldn’t find any instances of “preposition + not + gerund”. In other words, it appears that in Bacon’s English it was not possible to use such a construction, hence he switches to the infinitive.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any other examples of this phenomenon in the Essays. There are 45 instances of “not to”, but only this one follows a “prep + gerund” construction.

However, Bacon was quite happy to use “do not + verb” and “doth not + verb”, which, I think, was a new construction in English at the time. I’d guess that “prep + not + gerund” had yet to appear. A search of The Spectator (published about 90 years after Bacon wrote his Essays) still yields very few instances of this construction:

I have been so very scrupulous in this Particular of not hurting any Man’s Reputation… (No. 262)
…who is apprehensive either of Torment or of Annihilation; of being miserable, or of not being at all. (No. 381)
…as the Desire of not appearing singular… (No. 576)
…by not considering that… (No. 592)

Curiously, a search through my own writings (albeit using the search func­tion in Windows Explorer which I don’t exactly trust) yields far fewer in­stances of “prep + not + gerund” than I expected.

[Later the same day.]

I searched through most of the literary texts that I have on my computer and found very few instances of “prep + not + gerund”. The ones that I did manage to track down were all “of not + gerund”. Interestingly, one of them was in Bacon’s New Organon:

Indeed, the desire of not moving is the only appetite they have…

The largest number I found was in Varney the Vampyre, although it was a mere seven instances out of about 215 chapters. Bulfinch’s Legends of Charlemagne yielded

Ogier felt keenly the grief of not having been permitted to embrace his father once more…

where the gerund is complex entity, but was the only example of this con­struction in that text.

That’s why it wasn’t working

The Guardian hasn’t been playing at all.

It’s been impossible to get onto The Guardian since last night. I can get to the site, but at best it loads in part and then spins on its wheels until I get annoyed and give up on it. The progress bar, which I take as a thoroughly reliable indicator of the degree to which a page has loaded, usually stands at 90% or more while nothing happens. I hope that this is a sign that the undersea cable is being repaired.

Live update! The Guardian now appears. The Catholics can’t opt out over gay adoption. Not sure what that’s about. Do Catholics have to be gay to adopt? Or do the children have to be gay to be adopted by Catholics? These are troubling times.

In another story, the Chinese will soon be the world’s most numerous Internet users – in a couple of years. (Yes, people, it’s a dejà vu moment. Tangential thought: what about India?) Of course we had to have

Online leap reported despite heavy censorship


Beijing is aware that the internet is a powerful tool in shaping public opinion and encourages web use for education and business, saying its aim is to only block material the authorities consider subversive or obscene.

But we can still buy Japanese AV from DVD shops. Way to be consistent, Nanny. What’s the bet that the biggest buyers of porn in China are the Party boys? [04.08.14. There was a recent case (in Hubei, I think) in which some corrupt official was found to have hidden is stash of porn under a statue.]

I thought from another comment that wikipedia might’ve been unblocked, but apparently not so from my attempt to get onto the site just now.

As I’ve noted before about online censorship here, it seems to affect the expat community more than it does the Chinese whose experience of the Internet is probably predominantly limited to the Chinese part of Cyberia because language is a natural barrier for most surfers here. None of the pupils I’ve ever taught here, barring one I can think of, would have a chance of understanding articles in The Guardian or have the perseverance to struggle through just one.

Anyway, Simon Underdown is taking a swipe at Intelligent Design in Survival of the thickest. The post comes from an article about Intelligent Design in RE classes. (Intelligent Design to feature in school RE lessons.) That’s not all.

In a move that is likely to spark controversy, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has for the first time recommended that pupils be taught about atheism and creationism in RE classes.

Two things. One, what has religion got to do with a secular education? Two, how does atheism fit into religious education classes since it’s not actually a religion in the first place? (Perhaps we’ll get the old argument that atheism must be a religion because we all worship Richard Dawkins.) Actually, a third thing. Creationism? Are you kidding?

The article (ID to feature etc.) ends

The new guidelines for key stage 3 (11 to 14-year-olds), published yesterday, say: “This unit focuses on creation and origins of the universe and human life and the relationship between religion and science. It aims to deepen pupils’ awareness of ultimate questions through argument, discussion, debate and reflection and enable them to learn from a variety of ideas of religious traditions and other world views.
“It explores Christianity, Hinduism and Islam and also considers the perspective of those who do not believe there is a god (atheists). It considers beliefs and concepts related to authority, religion and science as well as expressions of spirituality.”

It’s still making religion seem to be the unmarked state beside which other states of existence are implicit aberrations. Wouldn’t classes in philosophy be much more useful instead of time being wasted on this?

I think, though, that it’s important to distinguish being taught about a religion from being taught about some of its nonsensical accretions as if they have some sort of validity. (Yes, I’m kind of aware that I’ve probably blithely blundered through several fallacies in logic because I’m sure that other accretions have been controversial, but the whole matter is now in the past just as current issues such as ID and creationism may be added to the catalogue of religious follies in the future.)

The decision by the QCA does rather seem to be an instance of jumping on a contemporary bandwagon. Right now, ID, creationism and atheism are getting a lot of airtime (at least in The Guardian). Sooner or later, should I expect to see these as topics of IELTS writing task 2 which is often on subjects that I recognise as (formerly) controversial?

[04.08.14. The Guardian has now been blocked, probably per­man­ently, after it posted a story about the devious doings of the rich and powerful back in January. Ironically, Emperor Frog Face has been conducting an anti-corruption campaign whose natural targets ought to include the people in the Guardian article. In fact, while the campaign appears genuine, Frog Face seems to be using it to strengthen and widen his grip on power.

As far as I can tell, Emperor Robot I not only caused Robot II problems throughout his entire reign, but his people remain influential today, and, apparently, somewhat of an impediment to progress. According to the savvy punters, Shanghai remains problem­atic because of this.]

I should mention

That it’s my Dad’s birthday.
Yes, it’s Happy Birthday to my Dad who’s 69 today. As I noted, this is the first time in 58 years that he can invert the number and still be the same age. I wonder if you were to tip him upside down, he’d still look the same as he does the right way up. Or is that just a numerical thing?

Meanwhile, in education news…
We kicked off our exams today with listening. It started with Todd and me wondering how to get power to the tape recorder until Todd spotted that there were a bunch of switches on top of the desk at the front of the room. The quality of the tape wasn’t too bad, but between sections, the hissing made it sound as if we were at the seaside.
I marked the exams before lunch, with the average for both classes being on the borderline between IELTS 2.5 and 3, which is about where I’d expect our little darlings to be. (IELTS 9 is native speaker level so their proficiency in listening is still quite low; that’s pretty typical for our classes.)
Tomorrow, they have a double dose of exam goodness – reading and writing. Exam goodness? Now I understand why everyone keeps telling me to stop combing before I start wrenching up chunks of skin and bone.

There really was a sky rocket in flight.
According to a story over on The Register (and no doubt other places), the Chinese have now publically admitted that they shot down an old weather satellite as a test of an anti-satellite missile system.
If the IELTS class wasn’t effectively over for the term, I’d been thinking about giving them one of the articles about the test from The Guardian. I assume that the Chinese public now knows about the test so there’s no fun to be had out of passing on the news.
"That news is total sock drawer liner" as the old Chinese proverb goes.

I’m wondering whether wordpress blogs are blocked from China. There’s a lot of wheel spin before I get the usual message about the connection timing out. The dns lookup program I have doesn’t produce any error messages and I’m now running TraceRT. I get to and then get several messages about a lack of resources, which I take to be the point where the whole connection gets broken.
I’m not aware of wordpress being blocked or, rather, I don’t recall seeing it mentioned anywhere.

Buzz, buzz!
I was reading The Spectator the other day (I mean the Addison and Steele version, not the modern imitator) and found the most arrant nonsense about atheism by Eustace Budgell (The Spectator No. 389 Tuesday, May 27, 1712). I’ve just done a quick search through the works of Alexander Pope and found that Budgell gets mentioned a few times.
From the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot (ll. 378, 379):
Let Budgell charge low Grub-street on his quill,
And write whate’er he pleased, except his will;
He also gets mentioned in the second book of the Dunciad (ll. 397, 398):
Thrice Budgell aim’d to speak, but thrice suppress’d
By potent Arthur, knock’d his chin and breast.
Pope’s has the following note about Budgell, although I must admit that I don’t know who Arthur is.
‘Thrice Budgell aim’d to speak:’ famous for his speeches on many occasions about the South Sea Scheme, &c. ‘He is a very ingenious gentleman, and hath written some excellent Epilogues to Plays, and one small piece on Love, which is very pretty.’ Jacob, Lives of Poets, vol. ii. p. 289. But this gentleman since made himself much more eminent, and personally well known to the greatest statesmen of all parties, as well as to all the courts of law in this nation.—P.
Budgell committed suicide in 1737. He lost a fortune in the South Sea Bubble and was accused of forging a will (hence the reference in the quote from the Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot).