How the Church of Scotland justifies its unelected Education Committee appointees; assumption, presumption, and privilege

Primate's Progress

scotsparliamentlogo Our petition to the Scottish Parliament seeking to remove these unelected representatives is still open for signature here

As regular readers will know, moves are afoot to remove the three Church nominees who sit, with no regard to the electoral process, on every Local Authority Education Committee in Scotland (you can help by simply signing our Parliamentary Petition here).

In England, the legal requirement is for two such representatives, one from the Church of England and one from the Catholic Church. Something ought to be done something about this, although the English educational system, disrupted and fragmented, is now largely out of the hands of the local authorities anyway. There is much be said about the situation developing in England, little of it complimentary, but that is not my present concern.

churches_of_scotland_timeline3 Schisms and mergers among Scottish churches since the Reformation; Wikidwitch via Wikipedia. Click on link for clearer image

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The neck of a goose and other devices

There’s been a bit of a stooshie in some of the social media arenas into which I dip an occasional sceptical toe. The news item that has been stimulating debate is the report in the UK Daily Mail newspaper of a curry house manager who was prosecuted for food safety offences. But what caught the xenophobic imagination of the press was the implication from the prosecuting local authority that a bottle in the kitchen was contaminated with faecal matter because it was used to carry water to the toilet for personal cleansing after defecation. And this must surely mean that the chef in question actually prepared food after defecating and cleaning himself, which is the worst offence of all.

Once I did wipe me with a gentle-woman’s velvet mask, and found it to be good; for the softness of the silk was very voluptuous and pleasant to my fundament. Another time with one of their hoods, and in like manner that was comfortable. At another time with a lady’s neckerchief, and after that I wiped me with some ear-pieces of hers made of crimson satin, but there was such a number of golden spangles in them (turdy round things, a pox take them) that they fetched away all the skin of my tail with a vengeance.

Frankly, the response to this story is racist self-justification of the worst sort. I doesn’t matter that the chef in question was convicted of food safety offences. What mattered to the gutter press was that he was dark-skinned, of Indian heritage, had the name Chowdhury and was bad enough to clean himself after defecating.

There is no need of wiping one’s tail, said Gargantua, but when it is foul; foul it cannot be, unless one have been a-skiting; skite then we must before we wipe our tails.

Now, this sort of thing fills the British with horror. After all, poo is dirty, nasty stuff and you never want the merest trace on your lilywhite fingers and, after all, we’ve got toilet paper so we don’t have to make the choice of washing or leaving unwashed in the absence of wiping. Surely only the heathen races of darker hues would ever dream of actually washing their bottoms after having a Donald? Even the French managed to invent the bidet, although that is equally foreign and unsettling to the chauvinistic Anglais mind.

Afterwards, in dunging behind a bush, I found a March-cat, and with it I wiped my breech, but her claws were so sharp that they scratched and exulcerated all my perinee. Of this I recovered the next morning thereafter, by wiping myself with my mother’s gloves, of a most excellent perfume and scent of the Arabian Benin.

The report from the court is clear. Mr Chowdhury did use the bottle found in the kitchen for personal cleansing and did perform his ablutions with his hands. Frankly, so what? The council raised reasonable concerns that the bottle was refilled at the kitchen sink, which obviously has the potential to contaminated food preparation areas with faecal bacteria, which is a genuine Bad Thing. Most premises where this practice is carried out keep a discreet bottle in the loo itself for filling from the washbasin in the compartment.
The defence to the accusation was that Mr Chowdhury was following his own cultural practice in washing his backside with water using his hand. And he was. But culture is derived from locality and environment, and not from skin colour, family name or religion. The rather nasty backlash that I’ve seen to this story is seeking to associate the practice with Islam and muslims in general, leading to the inference that “these people” are dirty, don’t or won’t understand food hygiene and can’t be trusted to prepare food for white people. Frankly, that’s all balls.

After that I wiped me with sage, with fennel, with anet, with marjoram, with roses, with gourd-leaves, with beets, with colewort, with leaves of the vine-tree, with mallows, wool-blade, which is a tail-scarlet, with lettuce, and with spinach leaves.

My father told me many years ago that bacteria could seep through eight layers of toilet paper. I don’t disbelieve him. I wash my backside with water using my hands myself – in the bath or in the shower; sometimes I’ve even taken a poo immediately before said bath or shower. Everyone who doesn’t exclusively use a flannel glove at all times in the bath or shower is in the same category. I don’t consider myself unsuitable to be a food handler as a consequence.

Then with mercury, with parsley, with nettles, with comfrey, but that gave me the bloody flux of Lombardy, which I healed by wiping me with my braguette.

The use of paper for wiping faeces from backsides is a modern, western invention and isn’t that great at actually doing the job. I’ve been assured in the past by non-westerners who use water that they consider the western practice to be dirty and foul, because faecal matter can be left behind.

Who his foul tail with paper wipes,
Shall at his ballocks leave some chips.

Actually, the rise in the use of moist cleansing wipes suggests that we knew that all along, but were too priggish to admit it.

But, to conclude, I say and maintain, that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers, and wipe-breeches, there is none in the world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs. And believe me therein upon mine honour, for you will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down and of the temporate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the inwards, in so far as to come even to the regions of the heart and brains.

My personal favourite material for the task, in the absence of a goose’s feathered neck, is moss, which combines the scrubbing and cleansing in one simple, natural facility. But you don’t get a lot of moss in middle-eastern deserts or the hot dry topics.

Personally, I don’t care how people clean their backsides, what matters is that they have good personal hygiene and clean their hands both after using the toilet and upon their return to food preparation duties. I’m not convinced that all the social media warriors who condemn Mr Chowdhury could necessarily say the same for themselves.

Note: the quotations are taken from Gargantua by François Rabelais, translated by Thomas Urquhart and Peter Antony Motteux. The direct source is

Learning from creationists; radiocarbon dating

Primate's Progress

Radiocarbon dating only takes us back some 50,000 years. This makes it a much smaller threat to Young Earth creationists than, say, lead-uranium dating, which takes us back billions of years. So why do creationists single it out for attack? Because there are indeed problems with the most simple-minded application of the method, and it does not matter to the creationist that these problems have long since been solved. Creationists think, and argue, more like lawyers than like scientists. In the courtroom, changing your story under cross-examination will destroy your credibility, and yet this is what scientists do all the time. Scientists accept that even the most well-established findings are subject to revision and refinement; lawyers, like theologians, seek certainty whether the data justify it or not.

SymTalk Leonard Sym’s presentation to Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub, 21 March 2016

This post is derived from a talk given by my friend…

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Religious privilege in Scottish schools increasing, says Glasgow University report

Primate's Progress

Denominational schools in Scotland are run according to a century-old Concordat between the British government and the Catholic Church. During that century, the influence of the other Churches within non-denominational schools has grown, even as their worshippers deserted them. The result is a mosaic of mutually contradictory objectives and provisions. Our children deserve better.

Religion-in-Scots-Law-header (1)Glasgow University has just published its long-awaited report, sponsored by Humanist Society Scotland, into the role of religion in Scots law. The full report runs to 355 pages, and the summary to 11. It is limited to discussion of the law, but my commentary here also includes in some places what is known about actual practice. I will concentrate on the three areas covered are greatest length; the legal status of the Church of Scotland, religion and marriage, and, above all, education. The report covers several other areas where the law gives special recognition to…

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An affront to democracy; unelected Church nominees on Council Education Committees in Scotland (and England)

Primate's Progress

A question for your Holyrood candidates

I will be asking my Scottish parliamentary candidates how, in their view, Council Education Committees ought to be selected.  Should they simply consist of elected councillors, plus others (e.g. teachers) that they vote to co-opt? If not, what arrangement would the candidate prefer? And readers may also want to ask about this; I would love to hear the candidates’ answers. Why I am asking this strange question? Because of these strange facts:

The scandal

By pre-devolution law, all Council Education Committees must include three individuals nominated by Churches. One nominee is from the Catholic Church, and one from the Church of Scotland. The third is from a religious body selected by the Council, having regard to local demographics. The elected councillors themselves have no further say in the matter, nor do those they represent. Non-believers, and members of any other than the three…

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District councils’ contribution to public health

The role of local authorities in public health differs between England and Scotland. These slides show how much of a contribution councils can make when given the opportunity.

UK Environmental Health Research Network

The King’s Fund say: “In partnership with District Councils’ Network, we have produced a set of slides that illustrate the key role played by district councils in keeping us healthy. We hope they will be a useful resource for you – please feel free to use them in your office, in documents or presentations.”

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More on evidence!

Publishing valuable environmental health research can be as simple as writing up that job you did last Tuesday.

UK Environmental Health Research Network

The UK Health Prevention First Forum  have produced a report on the role of case studies as evidence in public health (January 2016).

Their research found case studies to help capture real experiences of public health work in specific times and places and reveal stories about interventions.  The Forum concludes that the uniqueness of case studies is that they capture local knowledge in ways that cannot be captured by other means in complex and varied contexts. They add that guidelines and templates that enhance the format, replicability and assessment would help improve status.

With a closer focus in environmental health, Stephen Battersby had produced a report on local authority use of enforcement powers in housing cases which can be accessed via EHN-online.

Each of these new reports are appended to our open access pages.


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