God's a bastard, instalment 34827

I just put out some more bird seed, because I noticed that this morning's supply had been depleted by the usual mob of colourful creatures, but also because one of the birds still picking at the few seeds left clearly needs all the help it can get.

It's a cockatoo with a fairly advanced case of "psittacine beak and feather disease". I could have taken a picture of it, but it always makes me so sad to even look at a cockatoo with this disease that I just couldn't stand it.

It also makes me sort of aimlessly angry, wishing God existed so I could ask Him what the bloody hell He thought He was playing at.

Psittacine beak and feather disease is, in brief, a virus which takes one of the most beautiful creatures in the world, and makes it uglier and uglier until it is so ugly that it can no longer eat, whereupon it dies. If opportunistic infections of the bird's devastated feathers and tumorous, necrotic beak and claws haven't killed it already, that is.

There is no cure, or even specific treatment, for psittacine beak and feather disease.

There are hundreds of diseases of humans and animals that're just as horrible. But few are as purely and plainly awful as this one. It's like a metaphor for the unfairness of life.

Right - I'm off to Cute Overload for a while.

21% of US squares triangular, survey finds

When I read The Barna Group's "Most Americans Take Well-Known Bible Stories at Face Value" (which, yes, was a year ago, but it's not as if there've been a lot of great breakthroughs in the field since then), I was not entirely surprised to read that "Americans ... remain confident that some of the most amazing stories in the Bible can be taken at face value."

Given that, as I've previously mentioned, the USA appears to be a country in which 21% of the atheists believe in God, it's not surprising that - to pick one example from the Barna survey - 64% of Americans (or at least of the Americans that the rather preachy Barna Group surveyed...) believe that Moses literally parted the Red Sea.

This, however, is definitely one of those situations where it would have paid for both the people doing the survey and those writing stories about it - presuming they didn't all just have an axe to grind - to sit down for a probably-unavailable minute and have a little think about exactly what their findings meant.

Since it would appear that they didn't, let's do it ourselves, shall we?

Look at that 21%-of-atheists-say-they're-theists thing, for example. This turns out to be, so far as I can see, an actual, fair, genuine result. 21% of people who clearly said they were atheists also clearly said they believed in a "God or universal spirit".

That finding is from a Penthouse Pew Forum survey, which I consider rather more reliable than a Barna one.

Pew, you see, make their methodology and detailed results freely available. There's a PDF, here, that shows you the actual survey questions, next to the results.

On page 27 of that document, there's what looks to me like a very fair way to quickly find someone's religious affiliation or lack thereof, which includes a re-questioning for people who've been given the final options "atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular" and chosen the last option, to make sure they actually want to be "nothing in particular", and not atheist or agnostic.

You can never make a survey question perfect; in this case there's the problem of people who, like me, hold the considered opinion that gods do not exist (atheism), but accept our own fallibility and thus admit that we might be wrong (agnosticism), however improbable that may be. We therefore tick the "atheist" box, but if later on we're asked whether we think there's the slightest possibility that gods may exist, we'll say yes, like an agnostic.

But the Pew survey is about as good as a quick multiple-choice test is ever going to be.

In the rest of the main "topline" document they roll all of the Unaffiliateds together into one line, which presumably explains why seventy per cent of that category actually report belief in a God or universal spirit (page 44), and 36% of them (page 45) say they're absolutely certain that said entity exists, neither of which beliefs are at all compatible with atheism or agnosticism.

You can get a nice detailed separate table that breaks down all of the religions (PDF), though. That table shows you that 515 people, 10.2 per cent of the 5048 "Unaffiliated" respondents, said they were atheists.

Taken all together, this indicates that the Pew Forum aren't getting their "21% of atheists believe in god" result by subterfuge.

Pew's main "topline" document doesn't break Unaffiliated out into Atheist, Agnostic, Secular Unaffiliated and Religious Unaffiliated in its tables, presumably to make them clearer. But it does not appear that they're pulling a statistical fast one by, for instance, rolling all of the responses from Unaffiliateds together and then just declaring 10.2% of those responses to have been from atheists, even if none of the atheists actually reported belief in a deity.

No, it really does seem that about 108 people that Pew surveyed clearly declared themselves to be atheists, and then clearly professed belief in a god of some sort.

That doesn't, of course, make a blind bit of sense. Atheism is not a religion, just as baldness is not a hairstyle and no car in the driveway is not a kind of car in the driveway. But it's not the survey-givers' job to educate people about terminology. If you want to say you're an atheist who believes in a god, they'll write your answer down like everyone else's, even if that answer indicates that you're ignorant, nuts or a prankster. Fair enough.

Now, let's look at the Barna Group's survey.

Oh, wait a minute, we can't. They'll be happy to sell us umpteen books about being a better Christian or their copyrighted Christian Leader Profile test, but I can find no trace on their site of even the opportunity to buy a copy of any of their actual survey questions and results.

So now we're in the woods. Who knows what questions Barna actually asked, and what answers people actually gave?

With the right survey, you can get people to say pretty much anything you want. You can even influence their beliefs. ("What effect would it have on your vote if you were to discover that Candidate Smith is a child molester?")

Like Sir Humphrey persuading Bernard that he both supports and opposes reintroducing conscription, the framing of the questions makes all the difference. Especially when you're asking people about things that they don't actually think about much, or even care about much, like whether David actually killed Goliath.

As anyone working in this field knows, you have to take considerable care, even if you're scrupulously honest, to make sure that the meaning of your questions, and the meaning of the respondents' answers, is clear.

Stop people coming out of a church, for instance, and ask them if they believe in the Immaculate Conception. Most of them - Catholic or Protestant - will probably say that they do. So you can tick down ninety-whatever-percent on your survey and then issue a press release saying that belief in that doctrine is very strong, hurrah.

What most of the people will have thought you were asking, though, is whether Jesus was born of a virgin. The Catholic Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception actually states that Mary was born free of original sin, on account of how Jesus could not be incubated in the wicked womb of a normal woman, and if she weighs more than a duck she's a witch.

Your average rank-and-file dozes-through-the-sermon churchgoer is somewhat unlikely to know this. Your non-churchgoing ticks-the-box-marked-Christian person on the street is very unlikely to know.

So if I were running a survey like the Barna one, then apart from making sure I released the questions and not just digests of the alleged answers, I'd also make very clear exactly what stories I was asking about, without just using common names that people often misinterpret.

(To be fair, the Barna survey probably generally did that; there's not a lot of room for error when you're asking about stories like Jonah and the whale or Daniel and the lions' den.)

But I'd also scatter in a few Bible-ish stories that were actually made up just for the survey. Jesus... blessing the fields... of the Moabites, say.

If respondents say they believe stories that not even Dan Brown ever mentioned - as, I bet, many of them would - then clearly people's statements of belief in the other stories should be taken with a large grain of salt.

The Barna survey press releases do, however, tell you something about George Barna, who is I think representative of a peculiar movement in American Christianity. This press release about the Bible-story survey manages to restrict its preachiness to a "Reflections on the Data" section, but the one I mentioned earlier contains a number of places where George expresses the strangely popular, and reliable-like-clockwork, belief that Christianity in the USA (and elsewhere!) is "under siege".

"...While the level of literal acceptance of these Bible stories is nothing short of astonishing given our cultural context...", for instance, and earlier on "Surprisingly, the most significant Bible story of all - 'the story of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, after being crucified and buried' - was also the most widely embraced."

Outside observers may find this slightly bizarre, since Christianity in the USA is obviously massively dominant...

...and Christians who don't believe (or at least say they believe) that Jesus was resurrected are pretty hard to find.

But there's also no shortage of talking heads eager to opine that the evil forces of secularism are constantly gaining ground in their unholy mission to re-name trees with lights on them, and so on.

To be fair, Barna goes on to say (in the third person...) that the real problem is that all of the nominal Bible-believing which his who-knew-what-it-asked survey discovered doesn't translate to much in the way of actual "Christian" acts. So I suppose that's the grain of rationality within the "Christianity under siege" belief; that lots of people say they're Christians, but you can't find a lot of true Christians among them.

But, again, this doesn't seem very surprising to anybody who accepts the not-too-hard-to-support point of view that Christianity is just another major religion, which the overwhelming majority of adherents use not to lead them into the light, but to justify whatever they wanted to do anyway. Yes, believing the Bible ought to lead to defined-by-Barna-as-"Christian" behaviour. But no remotely sensible reader of the New Testament could possibly conclude that Jesus would find it acceptable for you to drive a Lexus to church - and yet "prosperity theology" has sprung up to bridge the gap.

Similarly, the idea of karma ought, you would think, to lead people to good behaviour. But instead, your average Hindu-in-the-street is quite likely to believe that karma means that miserable beggars, children raped by their parents, or any other unfortunates you care to name, are suffering righteous punishment for bad deeds in a past life. And, again, that the prosperous deserve their prosperity, for surely god(s) would not have given the rich so much money if it were not their just reward.

All of this makes sense, if you don't think there's One True Religion that should guide its followers to be obviously better people than those who've foolishly been raised in some other, fictional faith. But to people like Barna, who believe that their particular religious variant is that one special phone-line to God, the entirely ordinary behaviour of their fellow believers can only be explained by the evil actions of external forces, besieging the chosen of God and leading - nay, forcing - them away from the righteous path they'd otherwise obviously choose to follow.

Adding fake-Bible-story questions to the survey could have helped Barna out, because it would have given him a chance to claim that people of disappointing morality who believe that David fought Goliath, but also believe that Josiah, um, washed the Pharaoh's feet, clearly do not in fact know much about Christianity and could therefore not be expected to be particularly righteous.

Adding fake stories, though, could also have measured the credophilia - indiscriminate collection of beliefs - that lies at the core of a lot of religions.

If your religion says that faith by itself is a virtue, you shouldn't be surprised if you end up with a bunch of people who'll believe almost anything. And who'll think that holding those beliefs, without doing anything else in particular, is enough to get you into heaven.

Organise your Viking funeral before it's too late!

In the comments for this old Respectful Insolence piece, one less-than-deep-thinker made the mistake of announcing that he sometimes actually told patients "This stroke is God trying to speak to you..."

This attracted a certain amount of snark. If a god can't think of a better way to communicate with you than by bursting a blood vessel in your brain, I'm not sure I want to visit an afterlife run by him.

I hope, if I ever find myself in a similar situation, to have the presence of mind (somewhat dependent upon the presence of functional brain cells...) to say "Yes, you're right. There's clearly not much time left for me to die heroically in battle."

(If I just nodded and then yelled "BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!" while lunging at the doctor with a letter-opener, he probably wouldn't get the joke. Besides, I'm definitely more of a Nurgle kind of guy.)

Still no sign of enchanted Prince Albert rings

Vendors of "haunted" objects have apparently diversified from merely selling spooky dolls. Now there are about a billion other "haunted" things for sale on eBay.

(Actually, as I write this, there are only about ten thousand hits for non-Halloween "haunted" things in ebay.com's ever-entertaining "Everything Else" category. There's similar nonsense scattered around various other categories, but Everything Else, especially the wall-to-wall-BS "Metaphysical" subcategory, is where the real winners are to be found.)

You name it, someone's selling it. Ordinary glass marbles that've allegedly "captured the energy at the moment of all sunspot explosions that have ever happened on the surface of the sun". Dime-store rings that allegedly come with an "astral plane incubus", guaranteed to "bring you pleasure during dreams". A "Powerful Amulet" enchanted by a "psychic witch" to bring in "MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF MONEY & CASH FAST".

Some of this stuff costs less than ten dollars all told - the money-amulet is fifteen bucks delivered, but just think how fast you'll make it back. And the "HAUNTED MOST POWERFUL ASTRAL TRAVEL ORB IN THE WORLD!" costs thirty bucks delivered. But c'mon, it's "SUPERCHARGED WITH ASTRAL TRAVEL ENERGY!"

It's possible to spend a fair bit more, though.


"Haunted Demon Ring and much more! Money, Power, Love"? $160 delivered.



"Haunted Ghostly Hand Asylum Window Black & White Photo" or "HAUNTED- THE RING OF UMBRA - THE SEAL OF THE SUMMONER"? Each $2500.

(But the photo doesn't apparently do anything, while the Ring of Umbra is just dripping with "ISHAB MalFatah & Muhamad-Dal-Jafi Magic". This will apparently pretty much turn you into Mister Mxyzptlk.)



Twenty-seven thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine dollars. And thirty cents.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

The voting public.

One of these things is not like the other

I'm a bit late on this one, but it's so hilarious that I simply must tell you about it, just in case you haven't seen it yourself.

This is, if you ask me, even funnier than the well-documented evolution of that Intelligent Design textbook.

I hadn't actually read Richard Dawkins' blog post about the hilarious stupidity of Turkish creationist Harun Yahya's glossy but rather poorly fact-checked book "Atlas of Creation".

(If Harun hasn't gotten around to sending you one for free yet you may be able to find a seller on Amazon!)

"Harun Yahya" is the pen name of one Adnan Oktar, a leading light in the burgeoning field of Islamic creationism, in which Muslims strive to demonstrate that their newer and more vibrant religion can outdo Christianity in every field, the stupider the better. Islamic creationism has found a de facto home in Turkey, and a de facto leader in Harun/Adnan. He has a Web site.

The problem Dawkins found with Atlas of Creation (instantly, upon opening the book at random) is not the usual distortions, misquotes and plain old lies that are the stock in trade of the jobbing creationist. The problem, rather, comes from the fact that the book contains many comparisons between fossil organisms and modern ones that're supposed to demonstrate that those organisms have not changed at all over millions of years. That is the entire thesis of the book.

That, in itself, would only actually be an argument against evolution if it were hard to find organisms which have changed over the years, which is of course not at all the case. Environments and ecological niches tend to change, applying selective pressure to the species that live there, which then change, or become extinct. Most organisms are not ferns or crocodiles, pretty much as adequate to their task today as they were before the first mammal had drawn breath.

The standard creationist tactic to deal with this awkward situation is to declare anything that looks as if it's changed to actually be two, or three, or as many as are necessary, entirely different species with no relationship at all. Any time you find a "missing link", they can therefore just say that now there are two more gaps that remain tellingly unfilled.

(In related news, it is physically impossible to close a door.)

But never mind that, because Dawkins found that the Atlas of Creation frequently fails to actually compare a fossil creature with a modern version of the same thing at all.

The first such mistake he found, where he first opened the book, was the claim that a fossil eel hadn't changed at all when compared with... a modern sea snake, which is actually a very different species.

There were many more. Sometimes the book fails to even compare a fossil with a living creature in the same subkingdom.

But the very finest comparisons were discovered by entomologist Steve Lew.

The makers of the Atlas of Creation, you see, apparently kept production costs down by just lifting pictures from all over the Internet. The problem with doing this - besides the tedious copyright-infringement stuff - is that you can't reliably tell what organism a picture is of just by looking at it. (Especially if you've got the level of knowledge about biology that's typical among famous creationists.) Go to a proper stock-photo outfit (or, in this case, some biology-photos resource, I suppose) and you're likely to find that when you ask for a picture of a caddis fly, you get a picture of a caddis fly.

If, on the other hand, your image requests are made in a more informal, Google-Imagey sort of way, you may give yourself away just a teeny bit.

As I write this, the third Google Images hit for "caddis fly" is from grahamowengallery.com - specifically, this page. If you go to that page, you shouldn't need even a rudimentary command of the English language to see that Graham Owen makes wonderfully realistic fake insects, using fly-tying techniques. A lot of his work is actually, in theory at least, usable for actual fishing, because it's tied around a hook like any other fly.

This detail escaped the worthies putting together the Atlas of Creation.

Creationism at its finest

So there it is, bold as brass in the middle of their glossy book: A fly in amber in the background, and a fishing fly with a bloody great hook sticking out of its arse in the foreground. They just Photoshopped out the background of Graham Owen's picture.

They also knocked off Mr Owen's "Red Hardy Spider" image from the same page. The hook's much harder to see there, but the nature of the page the image came from is just as bloody obvious.

(UPDATE: I e-mailed Graham Owen about this, and he told me that he's made a Web page about the image thievery! it turns out that they also knocked off his picture of a mayfly. And Graham confirmed for me that the makers of Atlas of Creation didn't even ask permission to use the pictures, much less pay to license them. Graham's now asked them about it, but they apparently can't take any time off from their busy job of being very pious and respectable followers of God to send him an answer about why they copied his photos without paying.)

Mr Oktar spoiled all the fun by writing a reply to Richard Dawkins, a Turkish newspaper that picked up the story, all the cool kids at school who won't play with him, et cetera, complaining about Dawkins' "terrible ignorance". He argues that "whether or not it is a model makes no difference", since the picture represents something that does actually exist, and then goes on to say "The fact that demolishes evolution is that the creature has remained unchanged for millions of years and that it completely refutes evolution."

Well, if it completely refutes evolution then I suppose it must demolish it as well, not to mention contradict it, destroy it, pulverise it and give it a very stern talking to. But I think I must have missed the part where evolution says that the phenotype of an organism must change over time.

The only reason to think this is the case is if you believe in the frequently-espoused but completely stupid "ladder" kind of evolution, where everything's striving to get "higher" all the time, and will surely achieve this goal. This is preposterous on its face - all these billions of years, and we've still got bacteria - but it's ubiquitous in lousy sci-fi. There, "evolutionary level" is a property that can be freely pushed one way or the other, so a ray gun or a defective time machine or whatever can "de-evolve" people into apes, or "evolve" them into huge-brained psychic ectomorphs or similarly super-intelligent "beings of pure energy".

If you don't get all of your knowledge of evolution from that one God-awful episode of Voyager, though, the fact that Richard Dawkins "never goes into the question of whether or not the caddis fly is still alive today" is not, as Yahya says, a dead giveaway that evolution is completely bogus.

Dawkins is, I think, reasonably sure that people already know that caddis flies still exist, and that ancient ones looked much like modern ones. If there's no great selective pressure on an organism, you shouldn't expect it to change much. If a particular organism was already very well adapted to its environment, and its environment has not greatly changed, then neither does the organism. Stop me if I'm going too fast for you here, creationists.

I think it still matters that they made such lousy image choices, though, because it's an entertaining case in point of the sloppiness of most, if not all, creationist arguments. Comparing fossils with unrelated animals, or fishing flies, is like your candidate making a speech in front of a picture of a military hospital... that turns out to actually be a picture of a similarly-named middle school. It shows that you're just not paying attention, even when you'll look like idiots if you get it wrong.

This doesn't, of course, matter to the creationist target market, who can't be expected to make it through any book that doesn't have pretty pictures (frequently including whatever holy book they claim to so fervently believe).

Adnan Oktar actually does, of course, believe that no species has ever significantly changed over time. (He's also pleased to point out that all terrorists are atheist "Darwinists"! I suppose that'd explain why they hate American soldiers so much.)

It's a little difficult to defend these beliefs logically, so he's taken the popular option in this situation and defended them legally instead. Richard Dawkins' site is, therefore, now unavailable in Turkey (or supposed to be, anyway), along with a variety of other sites that've irritated someone there. (Oktar's lawsuits are currently protecting Turkish Internet users from the whole of WordPress.com and Google Groups; the Turkish government blocks several other sites. At one point, the Turkish block list apparently included, on account of a typographical error, the unused imbd.com domain instead of the Internet Movie Database.)

Oktar's probably a bit too busy to start shooting off more lawsuits at the moment, since he's appealing his recent conviction for "creating an illegal organization for personal gain"; this is the latest instalment of a particularly distasteful story.

(When looking for more info about that, I found this thread on James Randi's forum, where one commenter points out that one of the numerous defective comparisons in the Atlas of Creation is between a fossilised spider crab and a contemporary crab spider. Next stop: A horseshoe crab, and a horseshoe!)

Once Oktar's dealt with his little legal problem, though, I presume he'll issue a flurry of lawsuits demanding that every site that's discussed this tragically hilarious story also be blocked in Turkey.

Sooner or later, Turkish Web browsers will only let you see harunyahya.com and discovery.org.

The day I got cursed

While I was reading about the astounding inability of an Indian sorcerer to kill a skeptic with his magical powers, I thought about the time some nut at a party claimed to have eldritch magical powers, and I'd better look out or she'd curse me.

I invited her to do her worst.

It's been, I don't know, maybe fifteen years now, and I remain not noticeably more cursed than several other people who were there at the time.

Back there at the party, though, I was slightly worried.

I knew that curses weren't real, and that even if they were real this eighteen-year-old hippie-wannabe probably wasn't a very high-level magic user.

(And she also, like, totally wasn't paying attention to the Threefold Law! OMG!)

But I also know that monsters are not lurking in the dark. And yet, when I'm going for a walk in the middle of the night... I'm kind of worried about monsters.

Not muggers. Monsters.

Likewise, I wasn't really worried that the girl trying to curse me would decide to get the job done in a more straightforward way, by stabbing me or cutting my car's brake lines or something.

No, I was worried that Everything I Knew Might Be Wrong, and that her wiggly fingers and fixed stare were, against all reason, actually cursing me.

(If I'd been Sanal Edamaruku, the Indian rationalist with the evil magician dancing around him lighting fires and sprinkling water, I would have had more grounds for concern about mundane physical attacks. There are any number of ways you could poison someone while performing these sorts of rituals, for instance. So I'd want to be pretty sure that my "attacker" had enough faith in his powers to not feel any need to help 'em along.)

I worry about curses and monsters because, of course, I have an active imagination. Nature, nurture, continued consumption of appropriate entertainment products... for one reason or another, I'm good at making stuff up.

Take this too far and you can end up going a bit strange, but it's my belief that a solid dose of imagination is a very useful thing to have, even if it does leave you more concerned about things that go bump in the night than you ought to be.

Good old-fashioned imagination seems to be in disturbingly short supply these days, and people are suffering for the lack of it.

Most kids seem to be very good at imagination, but if you don't exercise your imagination, it'll atrophy just like anything else. You have to keep... imagining. Reading helps, but reading Newsweek does not help nearly as much as reading Analog.

If your imagination has atrophied, it seems to be the case that you'll slowly forget what it's even like to imagine something. By itself, this is just sad. But it's also dangerous, because every now and then you'll still find yourself imagining stuff, without realising that's what you're doing.

Perhaps it'll happen because you're drunk, or over-tired, or on nitrous at the dentist. Perhaps you'll just have a little burp of creativity, despite your best efforts to think about nothing but real estate prices and the next election. However it occurs, you'll be so unprepared for it, so un-used to having strange and unusual thoughts, that you'll assume whatever you've just imagined must really be happening.

And this, I theorise, is how people become convinced that Jehovah really has impressed an image of Jesus in a tortilla, or that their new $200 audiophile power cord really does make a difference to the sound of their hi-fi, or that there really are ghosts in that creaky old house. Or any number of much more dangerous things.

I don't think people reach these conclusions because they're crazy. I think they reach them because they're excessively sane, no longer possessing a mental immune system sufficiently sensitised to fantasy to recognise it when it comes along.

Someone who's been raised in a sterile bubble to protect them from illness will be easy prey for any germ that manages to penetrate the plastic. And people who've expelled all fictional foolishness from their minds can, just as paradoxically, end up believing far more ridiculous things than those of us who are completely ready for the inevitable zombie/alien/robot apocalypse, or can tell you exactly what a B'omarr Monk is without looking it up, or who dress up as orcs and wizards on the weekend.

Intelligent design STILL bunk - film at 11

Steve Fuller, unpersuasive testifier for the defense in the Kitzmiller Intelligent Design trial (you know, the one that led a conservative Christian judge to conclude that Intelligent Design was obviously just creationism with a fake moustache), has written a book explaining his views.

That book has been reviewed by Norman Levitt, who has himself written a book which addresses similar subject matter from a somewhat different point of view.

Levitt's review is not complimentary.

It is, I think, on par with Roger Ebert's review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.

It seems to me that Levitt tired of the serious-thinker-versus-stoned-dimwit-with-a-high-opinion-of-himself beat-down fairly early, so he started throwing in hundred-dollar words to keep himself interested.

God Hates... Server Not Found

It is a black day for freedom of speech.

The destruction of the Library of Alexandria; the burning of "degenerate" books by the Nazis... and now this.

I shudder even to say it, but... The Westboro Baptist Church's globally renowned site, godhatesfags.com, has been taken down.

(I'm not kidding about the "renowned" part. Godhatesfags.com currently has a Google PageRank of 5. That's only one point lower than mine. And I'm fantastic.)

Wikipedia currently says that this terrible development is the fault of one "Iridius Izzarne of Seattle Washington", who complained to The Planet, Fred Phelps' Web hosts, about an Acceptable Use Policy violation.

If that's true (I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the complainant's name, at least, is not entirely kosher...), then the only part of it that surprises me is that it took this long.

The Planet's Acceptable Use Policy (PDF) prohibits any "data or content...which...constitutes a violation of any federal, state, local or international law".

Godhatesfags.com is one big hate-speech violation. The "international" part of the AUP makes this an open and shut case.

How long have The Planet been hosting Phelps' sites? Surely other people have complained?

(And yes, it is sites, plural. The similarly entertaining godhatesireland.com, godhatescanada.com and godhatessweden.com, Phelps' other sites which make clear his opinions about God's opinions about what Fred reckons are the most homo-friendly parts of the world, are also now down.)

This shouldn't be much of an obstacle for the Phelps', of course. There are plenty of hosting companies that'd be happy to take them on, either out of a fanatical devotion to free speech or because they already host a zillion spam servers and just don't give a shit as long as the cheques don't bounce.

I also presume that a family of lawyers like the Phelps' won't actually be dumb enough to complain about this horrible infringement of their free speech. Freedom of speech does not guarantee you the right to have your speech broadcast by any private entity.

(Ten thousand points go to anybody who can get Phelps to declare that this is all part of the Jewish banker/Muslim paedophile/Catholic sodomite conspiracy.)

Phelps, whose continued existence at the age of 77 testifies to the fact that neither God nor Satan wants Fred to get any closer to them, remains an absolute pearler of a test case for one's personal commitment to free speech. He's a stinking pustulent bubo on the buttocks of society, but he's got the same right to his beliefs, and right to state them in any even slightly decorous way, as everybody else.

I've got to say, though, that I wouldn't mind at all if Fred Phelps was just a gedankenexperiment.