Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't remind me

On the birthday of the late Nobel economist Milton Friedman I have to admit that I find his insights more and more compelling. Here's one:

"The market gives people what the people want instead of what other people think they ought to want. At the bottom of many criticisms of the market economy is really lack of belief in freedom itself."

Like many Christian Socialists I have managed for most of my life to avoid and deny the obvious wisdom here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lest we forget

Why do I still take The Guardian? It doesn't even include speedway in its sports coverage.

Further to this post on the one-state solution: just one day after being offered a vision of a democratic and secular state in which the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis 'are equally protected', we learn from the Guardian that the two major organizations now representing Palestinian aspirations, Fatah and Hamas, routinely torture detainees, and hence each other's supporters - this according to Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, and Human Rights Watch. As the Guardian's reporter presenting this information is the slippery-tongued Jonathan Steele, you might expect - somewhere - an attention-shifting, mitigating note to be struck. Your expectation won't be disappointed:

The alleged abuse by PA forces appears to be aimed at convincing western donor governments, as well as Israel, that the authority is "clamping down on terror".

Just a typical day in the columns of the Guardian newspaper.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I couldn't put it better myself

From an interview with Pat Condell:

I’m a vegetarian and I strongly support animal rights. (I hope that’s OK with Jesus.)
I find it hard not to smile at religion’s conceit that we’re superior to animals on the basis that we have souls and they don’t, when five minutes in a slaughterhouse would convince anyone that, if anything, it’s animals who have the souls and human beings who don’t.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

No danger

Mission expert dismisses fears of Islamic take-over in the UK
Tuesday, 15th July 2008. 4:13pm

By: Nick Mackenzie.

The UK is not in danger of an Islamic takeover, according to Steve Bell, the National Director of Christian mission agency Interserve, who is an expert on Muslims issues.
Mission expert dismisses fears of Islamic take-over in the UK

Speaking at this year's Keswick Convention, a meeting of conservative evangelical Christians in the north of England, Steve Bell, the National Director of Interserve, pointed out that 'Muslim fertility rates are dropping noticeably in Europe, and dramatically in the Middle East and North Africa. Fundamentalism thrives in communities with large extended families and poverty and this pattern is diminishing among Europe's Muslim communities. A sub-replacement birthrate was one of the causes of the decline of Christianity in Europe and it looks set to do the same for Islam in Europe.'

Not only is an Islamic takeover in this country unlikely, but he also believes that the UK is providing a safe place in which Islam can change: “Muslims in the West are finding they can practice Islam without pressure from Islamic governments. So here in the UK both dangerous Islamists and freethinking reformers are emerging.

“The West is now the crucible in which Islam is being openly debated and modified for the 21st century. I suggest the outcome of the debate in this country that is going on between Muslims could well affect the outcome for the future of Islam worldwide. A reforming process is already painfully underway within the house of Islam.

In a mess

Something in me is still moved by words like these, from Prodigal Kiwis:

“…When Thomas Merton was a novice master at the Abbey of Gethsemane…He started off one class by speaking [the following] words to the earnest and pious would-be monks who’d been placed in his care: “Men, before you have a spiritual life, you’ve got to have a life!

I [Parker Palmer] treasure that line because it sheds the light of humor on one of the big problems of religion and spirituality: the assumption that the spiritual life is a life set apart from the “secular” life – which is to say, from the life one is living.

… Merton’s point, of course, is that we will find our spiritual lives in [the mess of our lives themselves], in [their] earthly realities, unpredictable challenges, surprising resources, [and] creative dynamics…

…If we stand in the middle of the mess assuming that the spiritual life will be orderly and pristine, linear and logical without complexity or contradiction, we will pray… for an extreme makeover, [and] of course, the ultimate extreme makeover is an embalmed and well-accessorized corpse, which is what we become in life when we try to defy [and reduce] the wideness and wildness of God…”

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Above board

We've just finished reading Beloved by Toni Morrison. Not an easy book. Not a book to enjoy. Excruciating in parts, but kinda beautiful too. It captures the way that slaves in America were at the mercy of their owners, like checkers on a board.

What she (a mother) called the nastiness of life was the shock she received upon learning that nobody stopped playing checkers just because the pieces included her children.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book Club

We have a Book Club that meets in our home. Once a month we get together with a few friends to discuss a novel we've agreed on in advance. Actually it needn't be a novel. It can be any book. We started with a meeting at which each member of the group was invited to nominate 'a good read'. From this we drew up a list of books and dates, the idea being that each member of the group in turn should introduce the volume of her choice.

Now I can imagine someone suggesting that we read one of the classics of world literature, but one collection I guess we would all steer clear of would be the bible. As far as religious commitment goes we are I suppose a fairly average English mixture, all of us having some, at least childhood, acquaintance with the scriptures. So why is it that people, like us, who love books, don't love the bible, and, in the same way, people who read books, don't read the bible?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A reality check

On the Newsvine:

A recent opinion poll conducted by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government found that 77 percent of Israeli Arabs would rather live in Israel than in any other country in the world.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Getting better

Normblog has news of Afghanistan:

The education system that we take for granted in Britain is still a distant dream here, where the government struggles to find teachers and classrooms. But the girls at the Qala-e-Baig school in Shakar Darra are among 2m attending schools across the country. They are a visible sign of real progress.

When the Taliban fell in 2001 there were only 900,000 children in school, all of them boys. That figure is now 6m and rising.

And . . .
The minister for education told me that another teacher had been beheaded by the Taliban in the past week. Schools are burnt down and the populace terrorised.
Educating children, including girls, versus beheading teachers and burning down schools. Whatever you do, though, don't talk about a noble cause.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Without hope

Most forms of religion I've come across invite us to hope for the 'wrong thing', usually some kind of satisfaction beyond this world, and this life. In Sheldon Kopp I found a religious writer who had no place for such consolation. He described his work as a psychotherapist in "If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!"

The seeker comes in hope of finding something definite, something permanent, something unchanging upon which to depend. He is offered instead the reflection that life is just what it seems to be, a changing, ambiguous, ephemeral mixed bag. It may often be discouraging, but it is ultimately worth it, because that's all there is.

Why do I find this strangely comforting?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Pounds of flesh

I'm back from Merchant of Venice and the British Speedway Grand Prix. Antonio was the clear winner at Stratford, while Jason Crump, of Belle Vue Aces and Australia, had a stunning victory at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Shylock and Nikki Pedersen turned out to be poor losers.

Both performances were excellent in their own way, both dramatic, exciting and entertaining. Very different audiences, apart from me and Big H, but equally well-behaved. Large contingents of children here and there. Quite why the two groups should otherwise be so mutually exclusive I'm not sure.

Nobody died on stage, but Chris Harris (not the actor) is nursing a broken nose.

A hero to some

From normblog:

A prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbollah has led to the freeing of Samir Kuntar. If you want to know who Samir Kuntar is, you can read about him here and here: a man responsible for 'a murder of unimaginable cruelty', for smashing a child's skull against a rock with a rifle butt after shooting her father in front of her. This man, it would appear, is a hero to some.