Monday, December 31, 2007

They should lash us to our pews

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?...Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?

The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.
Annie Dillard, (1945 - ) from her book Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

Sunday, December 30, 2007

How green was my valet?

Slavery was in fact the very first form of "Renewable Energy". Slavery was green! And, what is even better, slavery was sustainable - it lasted for thousands of years, until the ability to use fossil fuels gave us the liberty to feel bad about it. Whenever someone waxes eloquent about "Renewable Energy", think slavery. Because that is where wishful thinking is taking us.

- Commenter Alice.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The First Noel

Mr Noel Coward is supposed to have said that he loved criticism, just so long as it was unqualified praise. Now I've mixed feelings about that cove. The closet he was in was made of glass. Everybody knew. I have no need for a closet in that sense. All my sexual sins are straight. But my need of praise is probably greater, and certainly more secret, than Mr Cowards ever was.

At the same time I tend to think less of those I am able to impress. How could they be so easily fooled? It's not the best basis for friendship, which is one of the reasons I don't have a lot of friends. I see them either as lying to me, or as lacking perspicacity. The notion that they might just like me is beyond my credulity, though I really do get on with a few of them. Groucho Marx's complaint, that he would not wish to belong to a club that would have him as a member, is a self-defeating mantra with which I am well acquainted.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Out of the mouths of teenagers

From The New Statesman:

"Our local high school participated in a government sponsored science program called "GLOBE". They faithfully recorded air temperatures (high/low/noon) for 12 years, even during vacations and summer breaks. No matter how the numbers crunched- no evidence for rising temperatures. Curious, we tapped into the data for all the other school's data participating- no evidence. We chalked it up to the fact that data since 1994 isn't a good enough time period ( but it feels like it when your doing the work)."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reasons, God and doing the right thing

More sanity from Norm:

"A.C. Grayling tells us that Tony Blair 'practically said' the following:

I believe in God and he told me to go to war in Iraq.
"Practically said, because in fact Blair didn't say that. Grayling is referring to the former prime minister's remarks as reported here or here or here. And it's an obviously prejudicial way of representing his decision; as if Blair had no reasons for going to war but just listened to the Big Guy and bing, that was it - He commanded and Blair obeyed. Others, likewise, make much of the fact that Blair sometimes says he did what he thought was right. The scandal! You might imagine that other people, in acting, don't do what they think is right, or that Tony Blair arrived at his decision about what he thought was right independently of the reasons he had for thinking so. Of course, Blair did have reasons for going to war in Iraq, reasons which he set out before parliament and the country. Doing what one thinks is right, and (for a person of faith) communing with God in coming to a decision, these are not necessarily processes above all reasoning; they can be, respectively, the outcome of and an aid to weighing reasons.

"All the wise souls, so many liberals amongst them, who wilfully misconstrue what Blair has said on this score reveal only their own failure to accept that there might have been reasons on the other side from the one they took. That is one measure of their liberalism."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From below ground

On my daily walkthink I was turning over in my mind how I see my place as a Christian priest in a modern world. In a word 'unattached'. I don't mean that in a denominational sense. I am happy to be called Anglican, albeit a member at-a-distance.

My trouble is that I have always been a rather idealistic priest with an ideal view of the Church. In other words, the Church that I could serve in does not exist. During my ministry the people who upset me the most, no - who crucified me with their vicious nastiness, were members of the Church, not outsiders. I appreciate, even relish, the opposition of genuine opponents, as well as the loyal opposition of friends. What I cannot bear is the extremes of 'family' behaviour that turn the local Church into a sub-human, let alone sub-christian culture.

Another thing I find tricky is representative office. The peculiar expectations that people have of the clergy has meant that being a priest in the Church has felt to me too much like being in a prison, sometimes a dungeon, and too often it has felt like being buried alive.

Sticks and Stones

Jonathan Derbyshire writes about how hard it is to avoid giving offense, since some people take offense simply because they are oversensitive, or because they harbor unjustified prejudices.

. . . there is no "distinctive performative verb for insulting"; that is, we don't say, "I insult you," whereas we do say, "I promise to you" or "I censure you." This means that insults are often ambiguous: One can be insulted without taking offense (the insult can, as Austin puts it, "misfire"), just as one can take offense where none is intended. There are . . significant implications here for restrictions on hate speech confined to profane or vulgar language. There can be "politely worded insults," after all, but to prohibit these as well would be to risk "stifling all controversial discourse." It is one thing to claim that words are also deeds and can do harm, and quite another confidently to specify the words that wound.

Terry Wogan on his morning radio show often describes people listening or watching TV, and waiting expectantly to be offended. Some of them have lived in parishes I have served as a priest. Then again Jesus was accused of blasphemy, and the early Christians were known as atheists. So what should we expect?

Sweet Reason

AC Grayling in defence of the "New Atheists".

. . . eventually, one hopes, those who persist in wanting to have an invisible friend, who continue believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, will do so in private, where such proclivities belong, along with wearing the opposite sex’s underwear. And we will all enjoy the Mass in B minor and Chartres Cathedral, as we all enjoy the Coliseum where the gladiators fought, and the murals of Pompeii, and the essays of the atheist David Hume, for their intrinsic merits, understanding the sociology of their provenance in due perspective, not needing to believe in the Norse or the Hindu or the Christian gods to do so, nor wishing to, nor – best of all – having to, for fear of the lit faggots at the foot of the stake.

Monday, December 17, 2007

'Tis the season to be jolly

Thaddeus Tremayne explains why we may soon have to find a way to put Santa Claus back into Christmas.

"A frosty reception awaits Santa Claus in Britain this year. It seems that the much-loved benefactor of children everywhere is, in fact, suspected of being guilty of a number of illegal practices.

"Greenpeace UK has accused Santa of 'environmental terrorism' by encouraging crass global consumerism without any effort to dispose of packaging and minimise waste. They have also attacked Santa for his record of pollution output and have demanded that he take steps to lower the carbon footprint of his activities. The complaint has prompted officials at the Department of the Environment to investigate Santa for possible breaches of the EU Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment Directive, which makes the producers of goods responsible for their environmentally sound disposal.

"Further trouble can be expected from the Information Commissioner who has pointed out that Santa may be in breach of the Data Protection Act by keeping records of all the country's children. In particular, his lists of who has been naughty and who has been nice constitutes a behavioural database which cannot be kept without the unambiguous, specific and informed consent of the subject.

"The Equality Commission has also weighed in with concerns about Santa's employment practices. His policy of only working with elves is clearly discriminatory and leaves him open to prosecutions by pixies, faeries and goblins who are not being considered for employment due to their race.

"The Department of Work and Pensions is also investigating the work practices of Santa on the basis that, over the Christmas period, he demands that his elvish workforce work around the clock in order to meet the seasonal demand. This is a clear and unequivocal flouting of the EU Working Time Directive which limits the working week to 48 hours and could give rise to a further prosecution.

"Santa's time-honoured habit of stopping for a drink of brandy in every household (and there are 25 million in the UK) will also bring trouble. According the Civil Aviation Authority, the alcohol limit for any pilot is 20 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. Police forces nationwide have been put on alert for an overweight, elderly, bearded man at the controls of a nine-reindeer sleigh and, if spotted, to apprehend him immediately.

"Santa was not available for comment but a spokeself has said that Santa is seriously considering whether or not to fly over British airspace this year."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kith and Kidney

"Barbara Ryder, 59, is one of only four people in the UK to have made an altruistic kidney donation."

Until September 2006 living donors were only allowed to give kidneys to those genetically linked, or related through marriage.

A question occurs to me. If these donations are truly anonymous, could they be used to aid the recovery of, say, a notorious child-murderer, and would that cause prospective donors to have second thoughts?

Heaven's Above

This Peter Sellers' film in which he plays a country parson appointed by mistake always touches me, especially the words he addresses to his disgruntled parishioners:

"What I have, you don't want. What you want, I can't give."

An epitaph for my ministry.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Living for kicks

From Faith and Theology, this by Reinaldo Arenas:

“The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fair Trade?

James Bartholomew worries about the really poor.

"I have long been slightly resentful of "Fair Trade" labels because of the implicit suggestion that all other trade is unfair. The slogan has seemed anti-capitalist in making this implicit suggestion and since capitalism is the source of prosperity around the world and the reason that so much of humanity has been lifted out of absolute poverty, the suggestion seems to me both inappropriate and damaging.

"I have also suspected that the Fair Trade labelling could also more damage specific groups of poor people. Now, today, Andrew Alexander has provided an indication of how this could work:

"In fact, the Fair Trade doctrine is pernicious, for all its genuinely good intentions - such a common feature of "cures" for world poverty.

"The doctrine may bring satisfaction to a substantial bureaucracy and a sense of virtue to consumers, but it is positively harmful to the world's poorest.

"FT producer acquires his label by showing he is paying a "fair" wage, is treating his workforce well and ensuring that the children get education and medicines. Obviously, this favours those who have already moved out of the most basic poverty.

"The prospects for the very poor are thus made worse since they cannot compete on such terms. The right to undercut is the privilege of the poor - of poor individuals, poor countries, poor businesses. It should not be undermined.

"Moreover, to obtain a Fair Trade label, a producer must buy a licence and submit to inspection - in countries where corruption is notorious. To impose a licensing cost, a tax and a powerful bureaucracy on any producer hardly seems a natural way to help the poor. It is also a barrier to those wanting to start up on their own.

"Coffee production provides useful examples of cost. For coffee production co-operatives of under 100 workers, the Fair Trade people charge £1,500 for certification and annual renewal costs of well over £800. Since the average Kenyan income is under £200 a year, this is not negligible. The system also creates a significant travelling inspectorate."

Bethlehem and bigotry

Michael Gove continues to swim against the tide.

Eggnog lattes on sale at Starbucks? Feature-length M&S commercials? There’s one invariable sign that Christmas is almost upon us – a story about how Bethlehem is suffering at the hands of wicked Israel.

It has become almost as much a feature of seasonal journalism as stories about how Nativity plays are being subverted and commentaries on how commercialism is snuffing out the true meaning of the festival.

This year we’ve already had our first exercise in demonising Israel for its treatment of Bethlehem with the graffiti artist Banksy enjoying extensive coverage for his trip to decorate the security barrier near the town with his work. The message of Banksy’s work and the coverage it has generated is the same: oppressive Israel has snuffed the life out of the town where the Prince of Peace was born. Herod’s spirit lives on, even as the spirit of Christmas is struggling to survive.

The truth is very different. The parlous position of Palestinian Christians, indeed the difficult position of most Christians across the Arab world, is a consequence not of Israeli aggression but of growing Islamist influence. Israel goes out of its way to honour sites and traditions sacred to other faiths while the radicals who are driving Palestinian politics seek to create an Islamist state in which other faiths, if they survive at all, do so with the explicit subject status of dhimmis. But when it comes to Israel’s position in these matters it’s still a case of O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see them lie.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Moral Maze

Susan Hill asks:

At what point would you abandon an old friend who committed some serious offences against both the law and the moral code of almost everyone who is sane enough to have one? At the first crime ? The fifth ? When they went to prison ? Never ? At what point would you say enough, I cannot be associated with someone who has done this any longer ? And what would it take ? Murder ? Before that ?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Getting Jiggy

One of the things that got me down about being in the Church was the endless cycle of debates about this, that, and mostly the other, which over my lifetime never seemed to go anywhere only sometimes backwards.

The answer of course is to incorporate into the canon of scripture the writings of people who knew much more than Isaiah, Jesus, St Paul, and the gang about such issues as human sexuality.

A couple of examples from Gore Vidal:

  • Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • The reason no one has yet been able to come up with a good word to describe the homosexualist (sometimes known as gay, fag, queer, etc.) is because he does not exist. The human race is divided into male and female. Many human beings enjoy sexual relations with their own sex, many don't; many respond to both. This plurality is the fact of our nature and not worth fretting about.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

On global warming

My own position may be summed up as:

1. It's probably happening.

2. But there may be some benefits - like fewer deaths from hypothermia.

3. Some of it might have nothing to do with how humans behave.

4. We should be careful not to spend so much money on trying to stop it
happening that we fail to protect the vulnerable from its consequences by investing in such things as water conservation, health and education.

5. By being vegetarian, not flying, recycling, and not wasting fuel, I feel I do my bit for the environment.

6. I get sick of being lectured, by rich people who live in big houses, jet about and eat meat, about how much more I should be doing to save the earth. Incidentally, they mean 'save the earth for humans', the earth is a lot older than us and will survive anyway in one form or another.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Not about race

Martin Amis denies he is racist.

. . . it's not about race. It's about ideology.

If every inhabitant of a liberal democracy believes in liberal democracy, then it doesn't matter what creed or colour they are. If, on the other hand, some of them believe in Sharia and the Caliphate (and believe, too, that slaughtering the attendees of ladies' night at the Tiger Tiger discotheque is a good way of bringing that about), the numbers start to matter.


It's December and, as Nancy Banks-Smith writes:

About this time of year, you sense a trembling like railway lines shaking with the rumble of an oncoming express. Or, as it is known in soaps, the Christmas Special.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Michael knows best

The Bishop of Rochester offered yet another of his opinions to the BBC this week.

"I am sorry that Tony Blair feels that he could not talk about his faith in case people thought he was a nutter. Christian vision underlies all that is important about Britain: its laws, institutions, and values. If Blair had been able to relate his vision to his policies, we would have had a much more constructive social policy at home and principled policies abroad."

It seems to me that sounding like a nutter is the least of Mr Blair's worries. Some of my best friends are nutters, but none of them are as unbearably condescending as Nazir-Ali.

Not in my name

Bill Buford asks is it possible that meat is now openly enjoying a renaissance—that it’s finally cool to be a carnivore? He reviews The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It has a coherent ideology, evident in the opening pages, "an eleven-photograph sequence that shows the author taking two cows to slaughter. The pictures are not sensational, but they are unflinching. The first is of the animals boarding a trailer, the floor covered with hay, backed up against a corral (a dirt road, a wooden gate, early-summer foliage, a green-diffused light, Fearnley-Whittingstall, in his familiar Wellies, coaxing them along). Then: a captive bolt gun pressed against the top of an animal’s head. Then: the animal on its side on a concrete floor, collapsed, blood starting to pool. It is raised by its hind legs and hung upside down to drain blood. It is skinned, a thick white fat being peeled off the body in a single rug piece. This is followed by a tug-of-war removal of the unwieldy, instantly expanding intestines, like a white plastic trash bag filled to bursting, and the sawing of the carcass in half, the moment when conventional butchering begins. There is little accompanying text, apart from a rhetorical aside:Why is it considered entertainment when a predator kills another animal in a wild-life film, Fearnley-Whittingstall wonders, “whereas the final moments of human predation of our farmed livestock are considered too disturbing and shameful to be made available even for information.” The reader understands the point. Meat comes from an animal—a banal connection that has been obscured by the way supermarkets prepare and present our food—and the animal has to be killed. If you fear the sight of a carcass, you shouldn't be eating from it."

Heavy Metal

"When I lived in England, not so long ago, one of the minor pleasures of rural life was walking across a couple of fields, along a public footpath through a copse, discovering a small medieval country church, and going inside to contemplate the divine for a few minutes. In those days, the churches were unlocked. They’re not anymore. Presumably there were local lads who would steal from the Lord even then, but not a significant segment of the population who targeted houses of worship. So today there’s wire mesh over the beautiful (one assumes) stained glass to stop thieves pinching the lead from the windows. It’s a small loss, but a telling one. The police have no leads, and the buildings have no lead. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it was stolen last Thursday."

- Mark Steyn, on escalating metal thefts in Britain.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two Faces

Holy Smoke has this comment on Rowan Williams' uncanny ability to miss the point.

"Christians in Indonesia, Africa and the Middle East are being beaten, imprisoned, tortured and killed in the name of Allah. Moderate Muslims in Britain desperately need to be made aware of this situation.

"And what has the Archbishop of Canterbury given them? Yet another sermon on the evils of Yankee imperialism."

At the same time Kate Herbert in Education Guardian has been teaching primary school children about Henry VIII.

However . . .

"Many of them didn't understand the situation of Lady Jane Grey, having to choose between her religion and her life. One suggested that money is as important now as religion was then: they would rather change religion than give up money, homes and toys. Not the Muslim children. They wouldn't swap their religion for an easier life, even if it meant ruling the world for the next nine months."

I thought of my little grandson who would make serious sacrifices to get to see his wrestling heroes knocking ten sorts of **** out of each other but, as the child of a vicar's daughter, has no obvious sense of religious commitment whatsoever.

And then last week there was the TV programme Never Mind The Buzzcocks during which a member of the panel, commenting on David Bowie's performance in The Last Temptation of Christ, said it was so wooden that Jesus Christ should have been nailed to it. We all laughed. Minutes later an awkward attempt was made to tease another panellist, Germaine Jackson, a Muslim, about his beliefs which ended in a half-apologetic withdrawal when the look on his face signalled obvious displeasure.

What is is about Islam that so many otherwise outspoken people are reluctant to criticise, let alone poke fun at, it? In order to maintain the multiculturalist ethos are we in danger of creating a double standard under which the west, modernity and liberal democracy are always on the defensive? I feel increasingly uneasy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Human Rights

Simon Deng, a former jihad slave and now a human rights activist, has written a remarkable protest to Bishop Desmond Tutu who has accused Israel of ‘apartheid’.

"The State of Israel is not an apartheid state. I know because I write this from Jerusalem where I have seen Arab mothers peacefully strolling with their families – even though I also drove on Israeli roads protected by walls and fences from Arab bullets and stones. I know Arabs go to Israeli schools, and get the best medical care in the world. I know they vote and have elected representatives to the Israeli Parliament. I see street signs in Arabic, an official language here. None of this was true for blacks under Apartheid in Tutu’s South Africa.

I also know countries that do deserve the apartheid label: My country, Sudan, is on the top of the list, but so are Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. What has happened to my people in Sudan is a thousand times worse than Apartheid in South Africa. And no matter how the Palestinians suffer, they suffer nothing compared to my people. Nothing. And most of the suffering is the fault of their leaders. Bishop Tutu, I see black Jews walking down the street here in Jerusalem. Black like us, free and proud.

Tutu said Israeli checkpoints are a nightmare. But checkpoints are there because Palestinians are sent into Israel to blow up and kill innocent women and children. Tutu wants checkpoints removed. Do you not have doors in your home, Bishop? Does that make your house an apartheid house? If someone, Heaven forbid, tried to enter with a bomb, we would want you to have security people ‘humiliating’your guests with searches, and we would not call you racist for doing so. We all go through checkpoints at every airport. Are the airlines being racist? No.

Yes, the Palestinians are inconvenienced at checkpoints. But why, Bishop Tutu, do you care more about that inconvenience than about Jewish lives? …Slaughter and genocide and slavery are lashing Africans right now. Where are you for Sudan, Bishop Tutu? You are busy attacking the Jewish state. Why ?"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Scripture Stricture

I've always thought the Bible a dangerous book. Christopher Evans, who taught me New Testament Studies as an undergraduate, himself wrote a book entitled. 'Is Holy Scripture Christian?' But to find such a spiritual and intellectual giant as Kierkegaard calling for a ban set my eyebrows soaring skywards.

“Fundamentally a reformation which did away with the Bible would now be
just as valid as Luther’s doing away with the Pope…. The Bible Societies, those
vapid caricatures of missions, societies which like all companies only work with
money and are just as mundanely interested in spreading the Bible as other
companies in their enterprises: the Bible Societies have done immeasurable harm. Christendom has long been in need of a hero who, in fear and trembling before God, had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible. That is something quite as necessary as preaching against Christianity.”

Saturday, November 24, 2007


According to The Daily Mash Chancellor Alistair Darling has admitted sending millions of bank account details to a Nigerian doctor who contacted him earlier this week.

The Chancellor told the House of Commons he had received a 'very moving email' from a Dr Kwantana in Lagos who is hoping to begin a new life in Canada.

Mr Darling said: "Naturally he wanted to transfer his assets to his new home and asked for my assistance."

In keeping with our manifesto commitment of helping Africans to help themselves, I agreed to send him 25 million bank account details.

"In exchange for my role in this surprisingly simple transaction he has offered a generous commission which I believe will begin to offset the £25bn I have given to Northern Rock and which - we are all now starting to realise - is never, ever going to be paid back.

"Not in a million years. No siree. Not a snowball's chance in hell."

Mr Darling added: "Our new relationship with this gutsy Nigerian not only raises Britain's standing in the international community, but will deliver real value for the British taxpayer. I commend it to the House."

The Kwantana email in full:

Hello dear lovely friend and I am introducing myself at you as Dr Jericho Kwantana MD.

Most recently since birth I have been leaving Nigeria to start my new life in Canadia but due to and because of international bank lawings, good Nigerian doctors like I and myself are unable to be allowed to make huge and large inter-continental money transferings to the Bank of Torontoro.

Dearest lovely friend, I have in a prized Zurich account-hole waiting 21 billions dollar money. I am able and ready to transfer this cash bomb to you and if able to hold and send to my wife in Canadia, I will make the kind offer to you of full 10 percentage of totals.

I hope with sincerity and much enthusiasms that you are able to look kindly upon my Canadian ambitions. One last and final pleading to you: In order for transactions to overtake speedily, I require that you send to me very kindly the sort code and account number of every British person.

With the kindness and prayers of Jesus,

Your Friend Jericho Kwantana

Joke of the Day

An English professor told her students that there would be no excuse for not showing up for their final exam, except for serious injury, illness, or a death in the student's immediate family. A smartass jock in the back of the room asked, "What about extreme sexual exhaustion?" The entire class did its best to stifle their laughter. When silence was restored, the teacher smiled sympathetically at the student, shook her head, and sweetly said, "You can write with your other hand."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Do you know who I am?

I can actually remember an Anglican bishop who was known for thus addressing an obviously unimpressed young antagonist.

You may have heard of the grey haired lady who climbed three flights of stairs, opened a carved mahogany door and walked into an exotically furnished reception room. A gong sounded and out of a cloud of incense appeared a brunette eastern beauty: 'Do you wish to meet with His Omnipotence, the wise, all-knowing, all-seeing guru, Maharishi Naru?' 'Yeah', said the old woman, 'Tell Irving his mama is here from the Bronx.'

It's the easiest thing in the world to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. Spouses and mothers can help prevent it. Unselfconscious humility is rare. It can't be an achievement, because to try for it is to miss it altogether. It's a grace. It's free, but by no means cheap. It goes with a certain honesty and transparency. I have also found that it's usually accompanied by a deal of courage.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Being afraid

It is distressing to read in The Times that this man, the award-winning artist Grayson Perry, is consciously avoiding comment on radical Islam in his otherwise highly provocative body of work because of the threat of reprisals.

‘I’ve censored myself,’ Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. ‘The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.’

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Look after yourself

During a past bout of crippling anxiety I was urged to look after myself. I'd heard this before in the form, "Look after yourself, because if you don't do that you won't be able to look after anyone else." But, perhaps with brutal honesty, my counsellor offered a different ending viz "Look after yourself, for if you don't, nobody else will."

To this day I struggle with the bleakness of this: sometimes believing it true, and then again not being so sure.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From the Chief Rabbi

'You know that in the middle of our synagogue services we have what we call the reading of the Torah- the reading of a scroll- a section of the pentateuch and some Rabbis rule that when this is to be read you stand and others rule that when its read you sit. A stranger came to a new community one year in America and went to the local synagogue that Sabbath. It was wonderful- everyone was welcoming and the praying was wonderful until it came to this bit in the middle of the Torah reading of the scrolls.

'To his amazement and horror half the congregation stood, half the congregation sat and they started yelling and screaming at each other. The people that were standing were saying, “ignoramuses, don’t you know when the Torah is being read you have to stand” and the people who were sitting were saying to the ones who were standing, “Heretics! Don’t you know when the Torah is being read you have to sit?” This crazy pandemonium carries on; the reading comes to an end, peace reigns and etcetera. The same thing happens the next week and the week after. Finally, the stranger cannot stand it any longer. The town is currently without a rabbi so he travels to the nearest town where there is a rabbi, a distinguished rabbinical scholar and he is ushered into his presence. An old, wise, grey bearded scholar surrounded by books.

'He says, “Rabbi, I have a question for you. Tell me, when the Torah is being read, do you stand?”

'And the sage stroked his beard and said, “No, that is not the tradition.” So he said, “Well tell me Rabbi, in that case, when the Torah is being read, do you sit?” And the sage shook his head and said, “No, that is not the tradition.” And the man said, “Rabbi, you’ve got to help me here. Because in my Synagogue, half of them stand and half of them sit and they all shout out nasty names to one another.” The Rabbi nodded and he said, “Yeah, that is the tradition.”

Get it sorted

During a weekend visit from my step-daughter we were told that we should 'get sorted' our problem with not wanting to go on long journeys by land sea or air. We both feel the same way, my wife and I, and it doesn't usually matter to anyone else, except for those who consider it an absurd existential waste to be free and able to travel the world and not actually to do it. However, whilst knowing our desperate desire to move within a fairly short radius, the said step-daughter has booked her wedding in Las Vegas. Her mum of course wants to be at her only daughter's wedding but, like me, has something like a mental block about flying to Vegas. Step-daughter has set her heart on the full works. Irresistible object - immovable force. It could only end in tears. And it did.

Is there something wrong with me? with us? with this not wanting to go and be somewhere else?

I love my life - my ordinary, daily, fairly routine life. If I could live forever I would go on doing the kinds of things I am doing now. I'm never bored - confused often, spoilt for choice occasionally, frustrated sometimes - but never bored. I find life, people, things, endlessly fascinating. I don't need to go anywhere else, or travel far, or go on any kind of 'journey'. I don't believe those who advocate self-improvement.

I'm deeply contented with my life as it is, where it is, doing the kinds of things I'm doing. All I need is someone to share it with. I have that someone.

Does this sound unconscionably smug? I'm sorry. Maybe it's my age, but more than ever being 'at home' is important. It's very nearly enough.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Putting on stones

I guess Perry de Havilland speaks for all of us in this furious reaction to the interview given by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari to the Telegraph. Dr Bari is head of the Muslim Council of Britain which is usually credited as representing moderate Muslim opinion. God help us.

Is stoning ever justified? "It depends what sort of stoning and what circumstances," Dr Bari replies. "When our prophet talked about stoning for adultery he said there should be four [witnesses] - in realistic terms that's impossible. It's a metaphor for disapproval.

I see...

Don't worry, dear, what we are about to do to you is just a metaphor

It is pictures like that which fill my mind with homicidal rage. The Muslims partially burying this Muslim woman, in preparation for her being stoned to death in accordance with the Koran, all deserve nothing less than a bullet in their brains, to be put down like rabid dogs. And when I hear people like Dr. Bari describing this practice as a "metaphor for disapproval" rather than a method of theocratic execution, my feelings towards him move from mere disagreement into transcendent loathing. Take a moment and really look at that fucking picture. According to Dr. Bari, if there were four witnesses, that is perfectly okay then. Try getting your head around that.

And so when a man who cannot bring himself to unequivocally condemn such barbarity tells us that we have anything whatsoever to learn from what he sees as Islam, it would be fair to say "I do not think so". As I discovered in Bosnia in the 1990's, being a Muslim and accepting the norms of western post-Enlightenment civilisation is entirely possible... 'Muslim' becomes more of an ethnic identity rather than a religious one, in which you just have to ignore large chunks of the Koran or 'interpret' them into something harmless (and face it, there are parts of the Old Testament most Christians prefer to gloss over too). The key is that the Bosnian Muslims became more and more secular (i.e. less religious), more western, the west did not become more like them.

Friday, November 09, 2007


From the Guardian problem page:

"Almost every relationship problem that flounces on to these pages and collapses in an overwrought heap could be solved with one simple response: talk to each other. Bloody hell, it's not rocket science."

It's an ill wind

The first divorce directly related to the September 11th terrorist attack has been filed in New York. It appears that a guy with an office on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Centre spent the morning at his girlfriend's appartment with his phone turned off. Needless to say, he wasn't watching TV either. When he turned his phone back on again at about 11am, it rang immediately. It was his hysterical wife, "Are you OK? Where are you?" He said, "What do you mean? I'm in my office of course."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

From Blackburn Diocesan Website

Announcement from Bishop's House
We are sad to announces the deaths of Rev Nicholas Clapp on 11 October.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All together now!

“God doesn’t exist—the bastard!” Jean-Paul Sartre

Monday, October 29, 2007


Random Acts of Reality by a member of the London Ambulance Service has this tribute to a passing generation.

"Our patient, lets call her 'Gladys', is ninety-nine years old. She lives in her own flat, but has a carer come first thing in the morning to make sure that she is alright. She's blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and normally potters around her house. She should use a walking frame, but often walks around without it. She's been laying on her floor all night. She has a community alarm. This is a pendant that is worn around the neck. If the person needs help they press the big red button on it and a call is put through to a care centre - they will then call us. Her community alarm is on a table. She'd managed to pull a tablecloth off the table to use as a blanket. Sleeping on the floor she waited until her morning carer arrived. Community carers aren't allowed to pick people up off the floor - that is a job for the ambulance service, with our backs of steel we are often called to do some heavy lifting. But we like these jobs, if the patient hasn't hurt themselves we can leave them at home - the patient is always happy to see us and it makes us feel that we have done something useful. So we check Gladys over, she hasn't hurt herself, she isn't too cold and she wants to stay at home. We pick her up, tidy up the things that she pulled on the floor when she grabbed the tablecloth. We make her a cup of tea and chat a bit about her family. I tell her off for not wearing her alarm, and remind her that we are more than happy to come around her place should she get into trouble. I let her know that I'd rather pick her off the floor than yet another drunk. I'm betting that she won't wear the alarm, there are a lot of people who don't even though it costs £100 a year. I've known elderly patients who have fallen over at night, then not pressed the button until gone 8am. They 'didn't want to bother us'. It's a generation that is getting smaller and not being replaced, this self-sufficiency and the desire not to be a burden on others. The feeling that spending the night on the floor isn't an 'emergency'. I'll miss them when they are all gone.

Jesus Prayer

In another desperate attempt to get my prayer-life back on the road I'm going to try the Jesus Prayer as a way of being with God. Breathing in to the thought "Lord Jesus Christ", and breathing out to "have mercy on me." It may seem a tenuous link with the great tradition of which I am myself an ordained member, but beggars can't be choosers, and for now it's the best I can do.

It's a myth

Progressive Vision has this from Shane Frith. A refreshing change from the tired old scaremongering cliches of the tabloid press.

"The claim that immigration puts strain on 'vital public services' is a
myth. The reality is that immigration only puts 'pressure' on the inefficient
state sector such as state schools and NHS hospitals. Vital public services
provided by the private sector welcome the additional customers. In the vital
field of food supply, you don't hear Tesco complaining that they hadn't planned
on the increased business - we face no food shortages. Neither does Vodafone
struggle with the technical demands of providing mobile phones to all these
immigrants. Immigration merely highlights the existing failure of the
inefficient, unreformed state sector."

Monday, October 22, 2007

What's Left

Sarah Baxter has her own test for spotting a phoney liberal.

If you think Bush is a fascist and Castro is a progressive,

you are not a democrat.

If you think cultural traditions can trump women’s rights,

you are not a feminist.

And if you think antisemitic rants are simply an expression of
frustration with American and Israeli policy,

you have learnt nothing from history.

New Labour

A man and his new wife jetted off to their honeymoon, and after a wonderful night of candlelit dinner and wine they went back to the bridal suite.

Upon entering, the bride softly told her husband "I'm a virgin, please be gentle".

Looking confused, the groom asked "But I thought I was your second husband?"

She replied, "Yes, that's true, but he was New Labour. He spent the 10 years of our marriage sitting at the end of the bed telling me how good it was going to be."

Archbish Wants Women to Agonize More

See this.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Up for t'Cup

A man walked into the ladies department of a clothing store. He reluctantly walked up to the woman behind the counter and said, "I'd like to buy a bra for my wife."
"What type of bra?", asked the saleslady.
"Type?", inquired the man, "There is more than one type?"
"Look around", she said, indicating a sea of bras in every shape, size color and material. "But actually, even with all of this variety, there are really only three types of bras."
Confused, the man asked, "Only three? What are they?"
She replied: "The Catholic type, the, Salvation Army type, and the Baptist type. Which one do you need?"
"What's the difference between them?" the man asked.
"Oh, it's quite simple. The Catholic type supports the masses, the Salvation Army type lifts up the fallen, and the Baptist type makes mountains out of mole hills."

Synagogue finds a home, with help from a Muslim contractor

Associated Press reports that a Jewish synagogue is rising in the hills of Arkansas, in large part because of the generosity of the project contractor: a Muslim immigrant from the West Bank.
Since 1981, members of Temple Shalom have practiced their faith where they could. The congregation bought a home to convert into a temple, but members abandoned their plans after residents complained that the synagogue would bring traffic to their neighborhood.
The Reform congregation then bought new land — and Fadil Bayyari got involved. The Springdale, Ark., general contractor agreed to waive his regular fee, saving Temple Shalom at least $250,000.
"Abraham is our forefather," Bayyari said. "We're first cousins. How we got to hate each other is beyond me."
Bayyari, who built the mosque in Fayetteville, said his kinship with the Jewish congregation also stems from the fact that his faith community, too, lacked its own building until the mosque was completed.
Jeremy Hess, a founding member of Temple Shalom and the building project coordinator, said the synagogue will be open to all. He said working with Bayyari taught him that "you can't judge anyone except by the character of who they are."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

If a farmer worked in the Church . . .

From Bigbulkyanglican:

Wonderful image of our instituionalised Church coming out of the Allelon Missional Order Conference in the States which goes something like this:

If the farmer worked like the current church, he would:
Plow in the barn;
Plant in the barn;
Pray that it would rain in the barn;
Harvest in the barn;
then burn down the barn and call it revival!


Friday, October 12, 2007

Quote of the Month

"I do not wish to live in a society where you are stoned for adultery; I prefer to live in a society where we get stoned first and then commit adultery."
Ibn Warraq, during a debate on the superiority of Western values.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Where can this be?

It's actually a room set aside for Ramadan prayers in The Pentagon, headquarters of the US Department of Defence. A little surprising, given the popular view of the Bush regime as a citadel of the Christian Right.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Simon Hilyer

Derek Hilyer's tribute to his brother was published in today's Guardian. Had I read it a few years ago I might have found it a touch sentimental. Now we have little ones in our life to which such words could easily one day apply.

My brother Simon, who has died aged 51, never learned to speak or understand very much, or to perform simple tasks. He lived most of his life in a hospital for people with learning disabilities. Then, two years ago, he moved to a house in Derby, which he shared with two other people, supported by the Turning Point trust.

Yet he lived with an intensity that would have exhausted any of us - and it quite often did. When he was distressed, he would lash out from frustration and failure to communicate; when he was unhappy, he would look at you with eyes full of misery, hurt and betrayal - and he could not explain why he was sad. But when he was jolly, he would show complete interest in what was going on, supervising the cooking, interrogating his carers with a penetrating, intelligent gaze. And in the calmer surroundings of his own home, he had times of pure joy. He had the ability to pass his delight in living straight to anyone he was with.

Simon was born in Cheshire, the son of my cousin John. He was adopted by my parents when his mother Beatrice died, but as his behaviour became more challenging he went to live at Aston Hall hospital, Derbyshire. It is sad that my parents did not live to see him benefit from the changes in attitudes, where drugs are used to help rather than to control, and with emphasis increasingly being placed on supporting people to make decisions for themselves, to lead, as far as possible, their own lives.

Simon relied on staff at the hospital, and his home, caring for him. And he needed and received help from many others - people in shops, pubs, holiday centres and restaurants - who happily accepted him and his two companions, together with social and medical workers.

When people die, it is often asked: what did he do? What was he? How did he spend his time? The answer could be: he did nothing, his life was pointless, he was someone to be pitied. But the 50-odd people at his funeral knew that was nonsense. Simon, as we hope one day it will be said of us, lived a full, rewarding and thoroughly worthwhile life.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Is God Real?

D Z Phillips ('Introducing Philosophy' p.145) offers a way forward in answering this question.

Why do we assume that no matter what the subject matter - trees, money, love, God - we can always draw the distinction between the real and the unreal in the same way? How would we go about distinguishing between a real and an unreal tree, real and unreal money, real and unreal love, and a real and unreal God? It is in the different ways in which we go about this that we come to appreciate the notions of reality involved.

So we do not know, free of any context, what the distinction between the real and the unreal come to. But if this true, why should it not apply to religion? Should we not explore the kind of reality involved here? May we not find that, surprisingly, the reality involved is a spiritual reality? If this is so, then finding God would be finding this spiritual reality. Struggling to believe would be struggling to find it. Rebellion would be defying or hating this spiritual reality. This is the direction I think the enquiry should take.

Gender Agenda

Julia Langdon comments on what she calls 'the gay movement'.

It started with "outing," which was an unforgivable intrusion on the private lives of homosexual persons; it labels gays who live by a moral code and prefer to live quietly as "self-haters." It insists on separateness -- gay neighborhoods, gay pride days, gay rites, gay clubs, gay cruises -- while demanding "full inclusion and acceptance." It shouts down as "homophobic" anyone who respectfully disagrees.

Not many women I knew bought into the feminists' agenda; no homosexuals I know want much to do with the activists' agenda, either. They are church members, business owners, and employees whose homosexuality is a small part of their makeup and not their reason for being. They resent all of the attention and don't see taking on churches and church leaders as particularly helpful.

Julia is, I think, an honest and decent enough journalist, but how many feminists and homosexuals does she really speak for?

In praise of email

I can't pretend to be as switched-on technologically as Fat Man but I would like to associate myself with his little eulogy.

Nature pink and fluffy

A pair of Sumatran
and a set
of young
all abandoned at birth,
have become inseparable after sharing a room at an Indonesian zoo.
Not quite the lion with the lamb
- but close.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

You don't have to be depressed - but it helps.

During a televised interview the novelist John Updike was asked why his books contained so many parsons, and why they appeared in such a bad light. Updike replied that most clergymen he had met were not particularly deep human beings, and that he was fascinated by people in bonds. Parsons, he added, are men in very visible social bonds.

I retired from stipendiary ministry as an Anglican priest in the year 2000, ostensibly disabled by anxiety and depression. I have since come to see that depression had become a condition of my ministry. It was the treatment for depression, initially in my case a course of Prozac, which led to my resignation. As, with help of medication, I came to identify and admit the misery I had long felt, the possibility of a return to my clerical office receded.

I had for some time resisted the conclusion that there is necessarily a conflict between the claims of professional ministry and personal integrity. Now I found myself wondering aloud, not least to clerical friends and colleagues, whether it is possible to be entirely honest, as a Christian and a priest, about what I think, feel, believe, do not believe, about who I am, and how, as we grow, that changes. The demands of clerical office (e.g. performing church services, giving comfort and assurance) seemed to require ever more feats of mental and emotional gymnastics. I was beginning to feel that the arts of pretending, condescending, posturing, play-acting, more pertinent to show business, had subverted the Church's more serious agenda.

My doctor, concerned about my mental state, asked whether I ever had thoughts of suicide or self-harm. I never did. It occurred to me however that accepting early retirement, which by now I had begun to consider, might be described as 'professional' suicide. His advice I found helpful. He suggested that leaving a job that threatened to destroy me as a person was the very opposite of suicide. It could be necessary for my survival!

As I understand it, and have experienced it, depression is, among other things, a means of self-protection from the sometimes-painful intensity of feeling fully alive in a fragile, fleeting, complex and morally ambiguous world. It is, in particular, a defense against uncertainty. Thus in this sense the opposite of being depressed is, I suppose, to be honest, open, out and free. It is also to be uncertain.

At an early stage of my troubles I had sought the support and understanding of my professional colleagues. I figured, naively, that the project of liberated life would be meat and drink to the Church in which I had been an ordained priest for thirty years. I seem to remember a time (in the seventies?) when this would have been true. So I set out to find, first among my brother priests, the kind of open, honest, adult, serious, and generous human beings I had in mind.

Whether their embarrassed reaction to my difficulties is better described as a failure of friendship or of pastoral care, I am still not clear. Those senior members of the diocese, with whom I was emboldened to share my religious doubts and sense of vocational crisis, often betrayed an alarming cynicism.

One excused himself with "Sorry, I don't do deep." (this from a priest who hears, presumably only shallow, confessions.) He was busily promoting a daily parish mass whilst confiding to me that he looked forward in retirement to never having to go to church again. I was urged repeatedly not to take religion so seriously. Another priest, with responsibility for training the junior clergy wrote, "I can't make any useful comments about your tension between faith and the Church. I suppose that having lived with being selective with the truth for most of my life, I find it quite natural - even if constricting - to juggle hypocrisies. The Church as an institution claims almost none of my allegiance and I simply plough my own furrow, as far as possible."

Cynicism Rules - OK! But what is at the root of it. For one thing, I believe, perhaps surprisingly, that it is somewhat connected to the Church's policy of discrimination against gay and lesbian clergy, a large minority, and the enforced celibacy it imposes. The concealment and deceit that is a necessary part of maintaining this fiction, for more often than not it is a fiction, about one's personal life sustains a culture of fear, evasion and denial which undermines the essential integrity of office. What is no less damaging to morale, is that those who choose to conform to the celibate ideal and live the single life may, unless it is a choice they are comfortable with, suffer great loneliness. We should not underestimate how injurious this is to the soul of the Church, and how corrupting of its internal politics.

A few years ago Elizabeth Templeton highlighted some of these issues when she wrote, 'We live (in the churches), if not with an active conspiracy, at least with a terrifying collusion of public silence about questions that need to be asked', which in turn leads to 'the isolation and furtiveness which people feel about their own wonderings, doubts and alternative understandings.'

And what is true of the churches is true a posteriori, and with knobs on, of its clergy. There must be no public inkling that they have any such unfinished agenda; that for them the search for an honest and credible faith is still on. Those who persist in their search are likely to find their distress compounded by the addition of guilt, and with guilt the fear of disclosure, stigma and opprobrium.

Templeton continues, 'We are learning from the courage of minorities who come out of their closets that fear is a sapping and festering overload on anyone's system." Should we not accept that "everyone wrestles with major questions about faith, unless they are brain-dead or bullied into concealment."

The conclusion I came to was that, although you do not have to be depressed, cynical or homophobic to be a clergyman, it can improve your chances of success!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Go Gaily

I'm taking a holiday. Back in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Early Retirement

This might cause a sigh in all book lovers.

In the year of Christ 1571, at the age of thirty-eight, on the last day of February, anniversary of his birth, Michel de Montaigne, long weary of the servitude of the court and of public enjoyments, while still entire, retired to the bosom of the learned Virgins [Muses], where in calm and freedom from all cares he will spend what little remains of his life now more than half run out. If the fates permit, he will complete this abode, this sweet ancestral retreat, and he has consecrated it to his freedom, tranquility, and leisure.

It's not so easy when you're the son of a workaholic. Love you Dad.

Attack on Giant Pakistan Buddha

Further evidence that it isn't just support for the Iraq war, or even publication of those cartoons, that upsets our Muslim neighbours.

Now the Buddhists are being attacked for having 'non-Islamic' statues. Where will it end?


Tariq Ramadan is one of those apologists for Islam who uses long words to obscure the obvious truth.

Thus, he tells Egyptian television that the destruction of the Israeli state is for the moment "impossible" and he describes the idea of stoning adulterous women as "unimplementable." This is something less than a full condemnation, but he is quick to say that simple condemnation of such things would reduce his own "credibility" in the eyes of a Muslim audience that, or so he claims, he wants to modernize by stealth.

He would fit well into the modern Church of England if it wasn't that the shariah penalty for conversion is death.

Feel Good or Do Good

Researchers led by Robert Davis, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, have concluded that the number of heat-related deaths in New York in the 1990s was only a third as high as in the 1960s. The main reason is simple: air-conditioning.

On the basis of such evidence, Dr Bjorn Lomborg argues that the best strategy in the face of climate change is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York, so that people elsewhere can afford to do things like shore up their coastlines and buy air conditioners. He calls Kyoto-style treaties to cut greenhouse-gas emissions a mistake because they cost too much and do too little too late.

Dr. Lomborg, who’s best known (and most reviled in some circles) for an earlier book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” runs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which gathers economists to set priorities in tackling global problems. In his new book, he dismisses the Kyoto emissions cuts as a “feel-good” strategy because it sounds virtuous and lets politicians make promises they don’t have to keep. He outlines an alternative “do-good” strategy that would cost less but accomplish more in dealing with climate change as well as more pressing threats like malaria, AIDS, polluted drinking water and malnutrition.

Makes a lot of sense to me.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Islamic Fanaticism

Merrick at My Telegraph is afraid we are heading into deep trouble.

"A man whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War 2 owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism. "Very few people were true Nazis", he said, "but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. and I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories."

We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is the religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the spectre of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.

The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of the shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honour-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously approve the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. The hard quantifiable fact is that the 'peaceful majority', the 'silent majority' is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia comprised Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet
the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China's huge population - it was peaceful as well; but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people. The average Japanese individual prior to World War 2 was not a war-mongering sadist. Yet Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel and bayonet. And, who can forget Rwanda, which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were "peace loving"?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence. Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany, they will awake one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold; we must pay attention to the only group that counts - the fanatics who threaten our way of life."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Waiting for the Barbarians

This poem I came across today is about what happens when an external threat is removed. Religion has historically been used as just such an external threat. But what happens when God is no more?

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are to arrive today.

Why such inaction in the Senate?

Why do the Senators sit and pass no laws?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.

What laws can the Senators pass any more?
When the barbarians come they will make the laws.

Why did our emperor wake up so early,

and sits at the greatest gate of the city,
on the throne, solemn, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today.

And the emperor waits to receive
their chief. Indeed he has prepared
to give him a scroll. Therein he inscribed
many titles and names of honor.

Why have our two consuls and the praetors come out

today in their red, embroidered togas;
why do they wear amethyst-studded bracelets,
and rings with brilliant, glittering emeralds;
why are they carrying costly canes today,
wonderfully carved with silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today,

and such things dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't the worthy orators come as always

to make their speeches, to have their say?

Because the barbarians are to arrive today;

and they get bored with eloquence and orations.

Why all of a sudden this unrest

and confusion. (How solemn the faces have become).
Why are the streets and squares clearing quickly,
and all return to their homes, so deep in thought?

Because night is here but the barbarians have not come.

And some people arrived from the borders,
and said that there are no longer any barbarians.

And now what shall become of us without any barbarians?

Those people were some kind of solution.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1904)

And another thing

A few further thoughts about ourselves and other animals.

First let me emphasise my belief that in all our doings ‘human beings come first’. My only worry is that often when those words are used it is in part an excuse for doing nothing about either human or non-human animal suffering, rather than about making a genuine choice between incompatible alternatives.

Next, we need to remember that humans are sometimes inhumane, towards other humans, and that non-human animals are not always savage. What seems often to be overlooked is that animals are able to form complex social relationships and experience grief in times of separation and loss. I have heard it argued that because other animals kill for food, we may do so too. I say that doesn’t follow but in any case there is a certain irony in the fact that the very animals we choose to kill and eat are mostly themselves vegetarian.

May I also add that whilst I uphold animal liberation, I am a bit of a separatist. That’s to say; I feel that other animals should be given scope to live their own lives, as much as possible on their own. We should leave them alone as much as we possibly can. I am no longer a keeper or even a lover of pets of any kind. I find pet lovers rather sentimental and often indifferent to the cruel treatment of animals they don’t own and who, or whose products, finish up on their table. What’s more I am appalled by the way pet owners permit their charges to foul the pavements, our pathways and parks. Think of how they would react if children were permitted by their parents to do the same. In the same way I am astonished that elderly men, who have never and would never have changed a baby’s nappy, not even their own baby’s, should follow their pet dogs, clearing up their mess with such selfless devotion.

I’ve heard it said that if abattoirs were made of glass, we would all be vegetarians. So why is it that the mass media, who cover the most shocking events in war, and include scenes of the most bloody violence in film drama, steer so clear of the everyday scenes of life and work in the abattoirs of our own country? I for one cannot remember a single interview with a slaughter man, exploring what he does and what affect it has on him, let alone on the animals.

Another question: In an age of ever ‘greener’ politics, why is it that we hear so little about the sheer wastefulness of meat eating? We have to use fertile land to grow protein crops, which we then feed to animals. Animals turn out to be a very inefficient converter of protein in that the yield of protein in their meat is only a fraction of the protein they are fed. This is not only wasteful of animal life, but also of good land, and even more critically, of water.

I must say I also get a little irritated by the frequent complaint that children these days have lost touch with agriculture and need to be re-educated in order to understand the connection between animals, food and farming. Attempts to do this are usually so sanitized that the children are left ignorant of the process by means of which a whole, live sheep, pig or cow, gets to be a neatly and bloodlessly packaged tray of meat at the supermarket. To describe the use of animals in the processing of human food without mentioning slaughter is, I think, like giving an account of war and soldiering without reference to guns, weapons, fighting and killing.

Finally, may I assure you that giving up meat eating does not necessarily entail the sacrifice of all your traditional pleasures. The synthetic meat business is booming. Sausages, burgers and, yes, even ‘bacon-butties’ are all available in meatless form. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference – but the animal will. It’ll still be alive!

Stop the War - or at least slow down a bit!

Norm draws our attention to what can only be described as an overwhelming tide of public opinion.

[The Stop the War Coalition] has organised more than a dozen national demonstrations since [February 2003]. None has been attended by fewer than 50,000 people.
Population of the UK: 60,587,300.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dare to be . . .

After a night disturbed by the crying of one of our little ones, my wife announced that she was going downstairs to open the front gate for our window-cleaner. It sounded like some kind of euphemism. Then again perhaps I've been listening to too many 'Janet and John' stories. Well our window-cleaner is quite handsome, but not her type. In fact she constantly assures me that nobody is her type - except me. Do I believe her? Abjectly so.

The little one who kept us awake for much of the night has what you might call a winning personality. He has quite won our hearts and minds. Like the other children who stay with us he has a severe disability and not much capacity to express clearly what his needs are or how urgent. And yet he is subtle in his manipulation of us. His gift is to be objectionable in a perfectly adorable way. We never lose patience with him. Maybe this is what 'in love' means.

UN believable

Thanks again to Norm,

" . . . here's a passage from Gordon Brown's letter to the Liberal Democrat leader, on Britain's continuing obligations in Iraq:

We are there at the express invitation of the Iraqi Government, implementing a UN mandate renewed last November in UNSCR 1723.

We, together with the rest of the international community, have undertaken to support the country's political and economic development through the UN-led International Compact for Iraq.

Remember when lack of UN authorization was given as amongst the reasons pulling thousands of people on to the streets in protest against the military intervention in Iraq? Me too."

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Norm comments on words out of context.

"I have in mind the time Winnie Mandela said 'with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country [South Africa]'. The endorsement of the barbaric practice of necklacing that the remark appeared to be didn't show her in an especially good light, but she came back by saying her words had been taken out of context. It's the best example I can remember of people using this defence without going on to explain how the context would give the offending words a more benign meaning."

Andrew Anthony cites another example in today's Observer:

"No one loves the kuffaar! Not a single person here from the Muslims loves the kuffaar. Whether those kuffaar are from the UK or from the US. We love the people of Islam and we hate the people of kuffaar. We hate the kuffaar!"

What context, he asks, could make these words 'acceptable or reasonable'? They're taken from Channel 4's documentary Undercover Mosque where a radical Muslim preacher includes them in his sermon and later accuses the programme makers of quoting them out of context. He was reading someone else's words.

But was not the Pope accused of bigotry and racism when quoting a fourteenth century Byzantine emperor's unfavourable remarks about Mohammed? And were not Muslims infuriated by the publication of 'The Satanic Verses'? Would they not have been even more incensed if it had been quoted 'in context' by a Christian preacher?

Is sex dirty?

Andrew Brown defends Augustine.

"I am always surprised that people misunderstand — for example — original sin as being a doctrine that sex is dirty. But when Augustine thought it was transmitted at the moment of conception, I don’t think he meant that we wouldn’t get it if our parents didn’t fuck; or, if he did, he shouldn’t have. He meant, surely, something much more like one of the central insights of Darwinism: that individual life necessarily involves differential survival, failure, great pain, and injustice. Conception in that sense is important as the moment of individuation, not the one connected to fucking. Otherwise, identical twins would have identical sins."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Global Warming

When Freeman Dyson, professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton thinks this, whatever is the man on the Clapham omnibus to make of it?

Here are a few excerpts from his recent contribution to Edge.

. . . all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am
opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded
citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models.

There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the
warming is not global.
. . . the problems are grossly exaggerated.

When I listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by
the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the
superficiality of our theories. Many of the basic processes of planetary ecology
are poorly understood. They must be better understood before we can reach an
accurate diagnosis of the present condition of our planet. When we are trying to
take care of a planet, just as when we are taking care of a human patient,
diseases must be diagnosed before they can be cured. We need to observe and
measure what is going on in the biosphere, rather than relying on computer

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mr Eugenides

In his Normblog profile Mr Eugenides makes a serious comment about the UN.

What would you do with the UN? > I'd specify minimum entry criteria; if you hang homosexuals, perform chemical experiments on dissidents, or attempt to wipe out chunks of your citizenry based on their religion or ethnic background, you'd be out. How this organization retains the confidence of so many people is an utter mystery to me.

He then makes two of the funniest replies to these questions I have read.

Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > If Angelina Jolie handcuffed me to a bed and started listing the merits of a national ID database, I would listen. I'm a fundamentally fair-minded person.

How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > I'd buy a private island in international waters, construct a giant arena inside a hollowed-out volcano, and make Patricia Hewitt and Polly Toynbee fight to the death with rusty tridents and rolled-up copies of The Guardian. This is not a joke.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Worried about Irving

From normblog:

Morty visits Dr Saul, the veterinarian, and says, 'My dog has a problem.'

Dr Saul says, 'So tell me about the dog and the problem.'

'It's a Jewish dog. His name is Irving and he can talk,' says Morty.

'He can talk?' the doubting doctor asks.

'Watch this.' Morty points to the dog and commands: 'Irving - Fetch!'

Irving, the dog, begins to walk toward the door, then turns around and says...

'So why are you talking to me like that? You always order me around like I'm nothing. And you only call me when you want something. And then you make me sleep on the floor, with my arthritis. You give me this fahkahkta food with all the salt and fat, and you tell me it's a special diet. It tastes like dreck! YOU should eat it yourself! And do you ever take me for a decent walk? NO, it's out of the house, a short pish, and right back home. Maybe if I could stretch out a little, the sciatica wouldn't kill me so much! I should roll over and play dead for real for all you care!'

Dr Saul is amazed, 'This is remarkable! What could be the problem?'

Morty says, 'He has a hearing problem! I said "Fetch", not "Kvetch"'.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Heated Debate

For over ten years I was prescribed one of the infamous benzodiazepines (Ativan) as treatment for serious anxiety and panic attacks. It always seemed to me that I had freely agreed to the treatment, and that I chose to continue with it. I myself ordered the repeat prescriptions. Although I was warned that I might become dangerously addicted, I never exceeded the specified dose, and, before coming off them, I had voluntarily reduced my intake by gradual withdrawal. When the time came to stop the medication I was again warned that my symptoms would probably be as severe as those associated with withdrawal from heroin. I ceased treatment with no obvious adverse side-effects whatsoever.

Although I am naturally more sympathetic to registered addicts than Policeman's Blog seems to be, I do think he has a point.

I’ve long suspected that heroin addiction may not be as bad as all that. Probably because all the heroin addicts I meet are pathetic losers who would be just as pathetic if they weren’t addicted to drugs. It all strikes me as something of a winge, “Oh, the thing is officer, I just want the help.” “I started taking heroin when a close family friend died.” “I’m not on heroin any more, I’m on a ‘scrip, so I don’t know why I stole the DVD.”

When you compare the worries a heroin addict has (getting a fix, are there any more hot chocolate maxpacks in custody) to the concerns of non-addicted taxpayers (can I pay the mortgage this month, where are my kids, has the wife crashed the car, will I get the sack from work) there doesn’t seem to be any comparison.

The crime argument is even less compelling, “Heroin is so addictive, I have to mug old ladies.” Nonsense. As I look at the addicts coming into custody from the local shopping centre, I cannot believe that the absence of heroin would magically turn them into productive (or failing that, honest) people.

I’ve always had a nagging doubt that everything we get told about addiction is a lie and that heroin addicts get a free ride from honest people who’ve been conned into being sympathetic by the legal and medical establishment.

But pets can wreck relationships

A warning to all love-sick pet owners from Ian Sample.

Over-indulging pets can spell disaster for singletons hoping to attract a new partner, according to a nationwide survey of attitudes to pet ownership.

Questionnaires completed online by more than 200,000 people revealed that the type of pet a person owned, the way they treated it and the number they owned had a dramatic impact on how appealing they were as a future partner.

Women were particularly unimpressed with men who owned spiders, with 48% admitting to being repelled at the prospect. Men were turned off by partners who pampered pets, spending more than £100 a week on accessories and upkeep. One in four men said they would not date a woman with two or more cats and a third of women said they would avoid men who let cats sleep on their pillows.

One quarter of men and women questioned said that if push came to shove, for example if a new partner was unbearably allergic to their pet, they would still choose to keep the pet.

The survey was conducted between YouGov and a dating agency, Parship, to investigate the potential pitfalls of having pets as surrogate partners. Victoria Lukats, a psychiatrist at Sussex Partnership NHS trust in Brighton, who was involved in the survey, said: "The image of Paris Hilton and her pampered pets is one that seems to send most men running for the hills."


The philosopher Peter Singer has coined the word ‘speciesism’ to describe a prejudice or attitude of bias towards the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species. The fundamental objections to speciesism apply equally to racism and sexism.

Now many philosophers have proposed the principle of equal consideration of interests, in some form or other, as a basic moral principle; but not many of them have recognized that this principle applies to members of other species as well as to our own. Jeremy Bentham was one of the few who did realize this. In a forward-looking passage, written at a time when black slaves in the British dominions were still being treated much as we now treat nonhuman animals, Bentham wrote:

The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights, which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason, nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

Here Bentham points to the capacity for suffering as the vital characteristic that gives a being the right to equal consideration. The capacity for suffering—or more strictly, for suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness—is not just another characteristic like the capacity for language, or for higher mathematics. The capacity for suffering and enjoying things is a prerequisite for having any interests at all, a condition that must be satisfied before we can speak of interests in any meaningful way. It would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare. A mouse, on the other hand, does have an interest in not being tormented, because it will suffer if it is.

The point is, if a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering seriously. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering—in so far as rough comparisons can be made—of any other being. If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience (using the term as shorthand for the capacity to suffer or experience enjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others.

The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race, when there is a clash between such interests and the interests of those of another race. Similarly the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is the same in each case.

Except that most human beings are speciesists

For the great majority of human beings, especially in urban, industrialized societies, the most direct form of contact with members of other species is at mealtimes: we eat them. In doing so we treat them purely as means to our ends. We regard their life and well-being as subordinate to our taste for a particular kind of dish. I say "taste" deliberately because it is purely a matter of pleasing our palate. There can be no defense of eating flesh in terms of satisfying nutritional needs, since it has been established beyond doubt that we could satisfy our need for protein and other essential nutrients far more efficiently with a diet that replaced animal flesh by soy beans, or products derived from soy beans, and other high-protein vegetable products.

It is not merely the act of killing that indicates what we are ready to do to other species in order to gratify our tastes. The suffering we inflict on the animals while they are alive is perhaps an even clearer indication of our speciesism than the fact that we are prepared to kill them. In order to have meat on the table at a price that people can afford, our society tolerates methods of meat production that confine sentient animals in cramped, unsuitable conditions for the entire durations of their lives. Animals are treated like machines that convert fodder into flesh, and any innovation that results in a higher "conversion ratio" is liable to be adopted. As one authority on the subject has said, "cruelty is acknowledged only when profitability ceases."

Since, as l have said, none of these practices cater for anything more than our pleasures of taste, our practice of rearing and killing other animals in order to eat them is a clear instance of the sacrifice of the most important interests of other beings in order to satisfy trivial interests of our own. I do not myself think there is any other way to avoid speciesism but to stop this practice. It may be difficult, but it is no more difficult than it would have been say for a white slaveholder to go against the traditions of his society and free his slaves: if we do not change our dietary habits, how can we censure those slaveholders who would not change their own way of living? There is a related but not identical argument to be had about animal experiments, another major form of speciesism in our society.