And now for something not entirely different 
Monday, 14 September, 2009, 08:33 AM - Science, Not TFTD
I've always wished there were some learning materials for people like me, who have a smattering of maths, but are nowhere near being professional physicists. I find all the popular accounts of gauge theories, symmetry breaking and space time curvature, really quite frustrating. In their desperation to avoid an equation at any cost, they're often forced to argue by analogy that leaves me feeling that I haven't really learned anything.

A few days ago I discovered that Leonard Susskind has done just that. If you're comfortable with some basic calculus (and he'll remind you as he goes along about most of it) then these lectures are an absolute joy.

He starts off with Classical Mechanics. Classical Mechanics is boring, right? Not the way he teaches it. By lecture 4 he's gone from what's allowed as a physical law to Noether's theorem. (If you haven't come across this before then this will blow your mind. It basically says that physical conservation laws arise from symmetries in nature - symmetry in your choice of spatial coordinate systems leads to conservation of momentum, symmetry in your choice of time zone leads to conservation of energy - and he demonstrates all this on the whiteboard.) This is far more advanced than anything I did in undergraduate physics and he makes it all look effortless - pen in one hand, cup of coffee in the other.

These are the best things I've discovered since the Feynman Lectures on Physics. It's really all I can do to tear myself away from them and get on with something else. I can hardly wait to get onto the Relativity and Quantum Mechanics lectures.
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Rev Dr Dr David Wilkinson, Principal of St John's College Durham 
Monday, 14 September, 2009, 08:28 AM - Science, Wilkinson
Rating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)

I want to talk to you today about space exploration, so there'll be no need whatsoever to gratuitously mention the Invisible Magic Friend. I'll mention the Luna 2 anniversary and the The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite search for water on the moon. The amount of water on the moon will impact the plans for manned flights to Mars. Isn't this fun? A TFTD where I actually tell you things?

Of course many complain about the $19 billion NASA budget. All that money wasted when it could be added to something useful, like the $33 billion annual U.S. expenditure on beauty products, or the $600 billion spent on weapons to kill and maim people.

If you find exploration and discovery boring, if you're the sort of person who really doesn't like learning stuff then you're fortunate to have me around. As a Reverend Doctor Doctor, and unlike people who only have one Ph.D., I'm able to both extol the virtues of science and remind you that the heavens declare the glory of the Invisible Magic Fr...

Oh bugger!

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Lord Black of Crossharbour - Why I became a Catholic 
Sunday, 13 September, 2009, 09:14 AM - Money, Prison, Not TFTD
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

As I languish here in prison, incarcerated for crimes of which I am entirely innocent, I wish to tell you all how I came to be a Catholic. But first, let me just dismiss the lies that have been told about me in court. The selfish shareholders of Hollinger International simply do not realise the vital business function played by my wife's expensive designer handbags, or the need for us to use the company jet on vacation. When I sold Hollinger titles, it was inevitable that we would have to sign non-compete agreements with the purchasers and that the fees for these should rightfully come to me rather than the company. With my wide business interests, it is surely no surprise that some of these agreements would ensure that I did not compete with myself, and on the one occasion where the agreement was not finalised, I think everyone will understand that I fully deserved to take the fees regardless. I doubt there is a single hard working entrepreneur out there who does not see a $62,000 bill at La Grenouille restaurant as a perfectly legitimate business expense. A busy CEO such as myself always needs a shaving stand and Napoleon Bonaparte's fitted the bill precisely. I needed some stools, so naturally I purchased Louis XVI stools - who wouldn't? How a succession of shareholders, juries and judges came to see this as fraud and embezzlement is completely beyond me. One person at least has trusted me. My good friend, Saint Tony of Bliar had me ennobled. Like me, Saint Tony is a fellow Catholic convert, a man who has similarly done no wrong, told no lies and was born without the stain of sin on his soul.

So why did I become a Catholic? Although I have a quite undeserved reputation as a merciless businessman with a love of suing anyone who crosses me, I have nevertheless always had a deeply spiritual side. I was the most perfect being I knew, yet still I was not omnipotent. Logically, there had to be a being superior even to me. Even Hitler and Stalin secretly believed in God and if it was good enough for Hitler and Stalin then it was good enough for me. So I knew for a fact that God existed, but how to worship Him? I had always been impressed by the good work of individual Catholics, looking after the deprived and underprivileged. Their names go unmentioned - a tradition which I shall maintain. It is work that has my full moral support. I thoroughly approve of other people looking after the sick and the poor, and am happy to take my share of the credit by identifying their religious beliefs with my own. I was therefore prepared to consider Catholicism, but only after I had rigorously justified all of its dogmas by wanting to believe them.

My first encounter with the Catholic church was with the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Quebec. I was most impressed by their understanding of the world, with their good business sense and their tight control of money. They stood firm against the anti-Christ of communism, an atheistic creed that is very poor for legitimate businessmen such as myself. My good friend Cardinal Carter of Toronto also had some very nice claret. When he retired it seemed a shame to waste his business knowledge, so he became a director of one of my companies.

My first visit to St Peter's made a great impression on me. The grandeur, the scale, the magnificent solidity and architectural genius of high art. I felt immediately at home. Here, I thought, is my sort of church, wealthy, opulent, ostentatious.

I was unimpressed by science. Science diminishes us by explaining things. The Copernican idea, that the universe does not revolve around me, I find deeply unappealing. Similarly, evolution, which strips me of my God-like powers, can hardly be a source of inspiration. With the benefit on my immense intellect, I find it easy to dismiss the claims of science as no more valid than claims of miracles. Although I have not actually witnessed any miracles, I think the scientifically verified miracles of Lourdes proves that miracles do in fact exist.

So, having established that God and miracles are real, which religion should I accord the benefit of my membership? I knew nothing about the Eastern religions, so they had to be wrong. Islam seemed to have a disproportionate number of brown people in it that made it entirely too foreign. So what of the claims of Christianity?

Napoleon thought that Jesus was even better than Alexander or Caesar and it would be foolish to argue with Napoleon. We know from the New Testament that Christ was divine and there is no reason to doubt that he told St Peter to found a church. But then there are so many Christian churches. Which to choose? Clearly the Eastern Orthodox are heretics and I hadn't met a single one of them that was a company director or had a decent bottle of claret. The Church of England, unlike the Catholic Church, was more concerned with money and temporal power than God. Having considered all the religions that were very nearly Catholic, I could see that whatever was left, the Catholic Church, had to be the true religion. By a happy coincidence, it turned out that the true religion was in fact the one with which I had become most familiar and that was run by my most powerful and wealthy friends.

You will note that in reaching my conclusion I have taken account of the views of Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. I have mentioned Caesar and Alexander. It may surprise you that I have not chosen to quote Jesus. Jesus' actual teachings are of course irrelevant. What matters is that he was a being greater than me and therefore a suitable object of my worship.

The life of a devoutly spiritual person in prison is not so difficult as one might at first suppose. Happily there are a great many Catholics here in prison with me.

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Which is Conrad Black and which is Vincent Nichols and have they ever been see in the same room together?


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Reverend Dr Giles Fraser - Not just vicar of Putney but Canon Chancellor elect of St Paul's Cathedral 
Saturday, 12 September, 2009, 08:56 AM - Morality, Theology, Fraser
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

You are all SINNERS!!! That's why none of you should be allowed near children. Trust me, I know about this, I'm about to be installed as Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral by a crack Church of England team of Canon Chancellor installers. (In keeping with CofE policy, this highly qualified installation team will remove all packaging and ensure that the old Canon Chancellor is safely disposed of in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way.) Thank the Invisible Magic Friend the government has finally woken up and realised we need databases full of what your next door neighbours are saying about you all. Thousands of state employees will pour over millions of informers' statements about how you suspiciously helped your niece out of the swimming pool that time - you dirty, depraved sinner you.

Some think that people brought up in happy homes will basically turn out nice, honest and generally well adjusted, that humanity can rise above its base instincts, that we can aspire to a better world, with an optimistic view of the future. Well let me just tell you the Church knows better. You're all evil at heart and you always will be. You were born with the stain of original sin on your invisible magic bit and need to be watched 24 hours a day to stop you fiddling with kids in your filthy perverted way.

We know you're all sinners because Saint Augustine said so. The only one who ever disagreed was Pelagius and he was a heretic so you can ignore him. I mean, if you aren't all sinners who need to be saved then the Church would be pretty pointless, wouldn't it? My career advancement would be nothing more than a meaningless new title conferred by an organisation whose only reason for existence was its own self promotion, so you must all be sinners. That Humphrys fellow rudely questioned the wisdom of such detailed intrusion into the lives of a quarter of the population. Well I'm a Reverend, nearly Canon, Doctor, you don't get to criticise me Humphrys, you sinner you.

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Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Catholic newspaper, The Tablet 
Friday, 11 September, 2009, 08:27 AM - Money, Pepinster
Rating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)

Kraft want to takeover Cadbury's, turning it into a proper, American company. Mr. Cadbury was a Quaker. He wasn't just any old Quaker though, he was a Christian Quaker, as indeed they all were at the time, which is why he was nice to his workforce.

Aren't Quakers just fantastic? They're just really nice - a bit like Buddhists, but not as creepy, and some of them have an Invisible Magic Friend, which is nice. Quakers don't have a fixed set of beliefs, so they can't come on here on TFTD and tell you about them. Besides, some of them are secular humanists, so you might accidentally get an agnostic or even an atheist talking to you, and we can't have that, can we?

I like Quakers so much that I'm going to stay a Catholic. Because despite being very nice, Quakers are of course, wrong. They've got no infallible pope to guide them, no strictly celibate male hierarchy with magic powers to tell them what's right and wrong, no sensible Vatican dictated liturgy. And then there's all those strange beliefs, like peace and equality and rights for gay people - totally weird. Despite all that, they're really, really, really nice. Which just goes to show that even nice people can make money, sometimes.

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Reverend Lucy Winkett, Canon Precentor of St Paul's Cathedral  
Thursday, 10 September, 2009, 09:13 AM - Invisible magic stuff, Science, Winkett
Rating 5 out of 5 (Extraordinarily platitudinous)

Young children, before they become rational, have imaginary friends. This just goes to show how perfectly natural and normal it is for adults to have an Invisible Magic Friend also. Scientists (both of them) have now proven that we are hardwired to believe in the Invisible Magic Friend. Dubliners have evolved to become Catholics, while those born in Jerusalem used to be hard wired to become Jews, then evolved into Christians, then into Muslims and now back into Jews again. Atheists are therefore freak mutants going against their nature. Who would have thought that a social species, that relies on cooperation and communication to survive, would possess an instinct to believe what we are told? I, for one insisted on empirical verification that sticking my hands in the fire caused severe pain. None of that silly, irrational belief just because my parents said so.

It's so nice to see science upholding the truth of religion, when they are so often characterised as opposites. Just because one brings people together in the search for truth, gives testable answers to questions and increases our understanding of the world, and the other divides people into tribal affiliations that rely on authority and revelation to make you do what we tell you to.

Jews and Christians love the Invisible Magic Friend with all their heart, soul and mind. As usual we won't mention the other Abrahamic faith whose Invisible Magic Friend seems to have gone a bit loopy. Logic and reason therefore dictate that the Christian Invisible Magic Friend exists. I can assert that this is perfectly rational because I haven't just taken people's word for it but have thought about it and decided it's a very nice thing to believe.

I trust the Invisible Magic Friend, not to do anything in particular, but just to exist. This makes me a complete and fulfilled human being, in touch with my instincts, in a way that non-believers can never be.

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Not just Reverend, this is Church of England Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons 
Wednesday, 9 September, 2009, 08:01 AM - Environment, Materialism, James Jones
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

I really can't be bothered having a whole new Thought today, so I'll just rehash one I did ages ago about Loaves and Fishes and that everyone will have forgotten about by now. It's such an effort to wade through the newspapers looking for some sort of story with a moral in it, a connection to Jesus and some sort of relevance to all your tedious, godless little lives. So I'll just cross my forehead and wring my hands about consumer food waste instead of biofuels. I don't think anyone will notice that it's essentially the same little sermonnette.

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John Bell, of the Iona Community 
Tuesday, 8 September, 2009, 11:20 AM - Money, Women, Bell
Rating 3 out of 5 (Fairly platitudinous)

Women in The City are being paid less than men. This is shocking. Terrible. How immoral. I can scarcely believe in this day and age, in the 21st century, there can be large industries where women don't get treated equally with men. Of course the Church has, in the past, not always granted absolutely equal rights to women, but thankfully that's all past now. Christianity today is a shining beacon of equality. 50% of all our priests, bishops, moderators and monks are women, and 50% of all nuns are men. As a feminist myself, I am proud of the sterling record of the Church in championing modern women's rights.

It all started with Jesus. Jesus loved women - oh, no, not that way. Jesus was pure and without sin. You would never catch Jesus putting bits of himself inside anything as impure as a woman. Even the real founder of Christianity, Saint Paul, had lots to say about women. So all in all, I think Christianity can be fairly smug about its record on women's rights. We're certainly in a very strong position to lecture those wicked City types who aren't as enlightened as the Church and whom everbody hates because they're rich anyway.

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The Augost 2009 Clemmie Awards 
Monday, 7 September, 2009, 03:46 PM - Clemmies
The waiting is finally over. The Platitude of the Day Academy have been meeting in closed conclave. After several heated rounds of discussion, white smoke over a chimney in Southend attests to the emergence of a winner of the inaugural Clemmie Award. In order to maintain a suitable sense of antici....



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...pation, I shall announce the results in reverse order. In joint third place, with a creditable platitudinous rating of 3.4, we actually have three presenters.

Screaming Dom Antony Sutch, for his Won't some one please think of the Bankers.
Reverend Canon Doctor Alan Billings, an Anglican Priest, for his The Joy of Torture.
Right Awful Anne Atkins - Agonising Aunt and Vicar's Wife for her The Secret Diary of Anne Atkins Aged 63 and 3/4.

Just barely missing the top accolade this month, with a very strong platitudinous rating of 4.1, second place goes to:

Reverend Canon Doctor Alan Billings, an Anglican Priest for his British Mothers are just great for not being Afghan.

But in first place, with a result that is sure to please the crowds, and a stunning platitudinous rating of 4.2, this months Clemmie Award goes to:










Right Awful Anne Atkins - Agonising Aunt and Vicar's Wife , for her Some people are daft and think they see UFOs.

Well done Anne, you are now officially the most platitudinous TFTD presenter for August 2009. Can Anne hold on to her title next month, or will one of the many Revs, Right Revs, Most Revs or Rev Drs steal it from her? Don't miss next month's exciting Clemmie Awards ceremony!
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Rabbi Lionel Blue 
Monday, 7 September, 2009, 08:36 AM - Invisible magic stuff, Money, Prayer, Rabbi Lionel Blue
Rating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)

Er.....

Yes... many happy memories.... of things.... things that have happened... in the past... old things... long, long ago... in a galaxy far, far away...

Many of you... now that you've spent your bank bonuses are now seeking out the Invisible Magic Friend... You're finding it hard to find him... due to him being invisible and magic. Your financial ruin and new found destitution are signs... They're signs that the Invisible Magic Friend wants you to be that way... As an old time conversationalist with the Invisible Magic Friend here are my hints and tips for making first contact.

First, click your heels three times and say, "Where are you Invisible Magic Friend?"

I'M RIGHT HERE, IN YOUR HEAD, WHERE I'VE ALWAYS BEEN.

Not now, Invisible Magic Friend. I'm trying to explain to the wireless listeners how to find you.

IF THEY SPEND LONG ENOUGH TALKING TO THEMSELVES THEY'LL SOON FIND ME IN THEIR HEADS TOO.

You need to study the holy prophets.

OH, I WAS IN THEIR HEADS ALL RIGHT. THEY WERE COMPLETELY WACKO.

Try staring aimlessly at an altar for hours on end.

YEP, THAT USUALLY DOES THE TRICK.

If you don't have a lover then the Invisible Magic Friend can really help out.

I REALLY DO WISH YOU'D STOP TALKING TO ME WHILE YOU'RE DOING THAT.

The Invisible Magic Friend is there to be used.

TYPICAL! IS THAT ALL I AM TO YOU? AN OBJECT TO BE USED? YOU TOLD ME YOU LOVED ME FOR MY MIND.

His greater power can cure you of alcoholism.

A SIMPLE TWELVE STEP PROGRAMME IS ALL IT TAKES TO FREE YOU FROM A POINTLESS, DESTRUCTIVE OBSESSION AND RETURN YOU TO NORMALITY. YOU'LL FEEL BETTER, HAVE MORE SPARE TIME AND WON'T BE SUCH AN ENDLESS BORE.

There's a big Jewish festival come up you know.

OH, WHAT A SURPRISE.

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