Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is Tony Blair narcissistic?

 . . .  a person who has been charged with acting as he did for reasons such as a desire to keep in with America, or to flatter George Bush, or because of oil, or of imperialism or colonialism or militarism, and who has also been charged with telling lies about his reasons for action, might quite legitimately say that he did what he believed was right - that is, he believed there to be morally compelling reasons for acting as he did, rather than the scurrilous reasons which are being attributed to him by others. There's nothing narcissistic about defending yourself against criticism. (Eve Garrard)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chilcot Inquiry

As a corrective to the latest wave of anti-Blair hysteria please read John Rentoul's journal.

In particular you will learn that:

"in respect of this morning's front-page report in The Independent:

(a) It's not new;

(b) It fits at least one of several interlocking anti-war narratives;

(c) Nobody lied."

Read it and be demystified.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Winter's Tale

It was dark. It was winter. But perhaps not too late.

A mother, no longer a young woman, had come to visit her son.

She had not seen him for twenty years. On Christmas Day 1989 he walked out on her in anger and never came back. She had not seen him since. Nor had she met his son, her own grandson, now ten years old. She had tried to communicate by letters and cards and presents at Christmas, but they had all passed without acknowledgement.

She rang the bell. The door was opened. Before her now stood a man in early middle-age she did not at once recognise. Their eyes met.

"Hi!", she said wistfully, then paused, and allowed the level of hope in her to rise.

"Go away!" he sneered.

There was nothing to add. And nothing to fight for. An end of sorts.

Without pity.

Friday, December 04, 2009

When you think of it

If all the questions that could be asked about life, the universe and everything were actually asked, the answer to nearly all of them would be:

NOBODY KNOWS!

At least that's what I think.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

'I still can't see that I was wrong'

So says Fern Britton in a Times interview on the subject of staying schtum about her gastric band.

Later in the same piece she is asked about her own interviews with Tony Blair and in particular whether he admitted to feeling guilt about Iraq? She continues:

“I said, ‘What about those parents whose children have lost their lives, and will not shake your hand because you have blood on them? That must be painful?” And he said, much more painful to them — they’ve lost a child — and all of that. So I said, ‘But you are the person they will always hold responsible,’ and he said, ‘Yes, yes.’ But he still believes he was right.”

No one ever admits they are wrong, I observe. “No,” she says, “it would be interesting if they did.”

Gastric band? Iraq? How do you admit you're wrong if you believe you're right?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Which War?

Gnotalex, a Canadian blogger, has a go at what he calls this global-warming farce and in so doing makes the much maligned 'War on Terror' sound a more rational option.

"To declare war on '... the 15th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is present in all known lifeforms, and in the human body carbon is the second most abundant element by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen. This abundance, together with the unique diversity of organic compounds and their unusual polymer-forming ability at the temperatures commonly encountered on Earth, make this element the chemical basis of all known life. (Wikipedia)' is beyond parody; only a greedy, preening dolt (c'mon down, Al Gore!) could possibly believe it. The Canadian Government should boycott the upcoming Copenhagen conference and dare Gaia to do her worst."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Funnily enough

This young man was interviewed on the telly. He was said to be autistic.

He told us that he loves words; he's really good at learning languages; he just doesn't like talking to people.

He reminded me of the Yorkshireman who was asked by a visitor to the working-men's club whether the comedian was any good. He is if you like laughing, was his reply.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Whose side are they on?

An extraordinary and unintended comment on the ethic of public service was made today by a spokesman for the British police service. After a flood in Cockermouth, Cumbria, a police officer had been reported missing. Shortly afterwards a man's body was found washed up by the river. Although the corpse had not yet been identified the spokesman stated that they, the police, were 'pessimistic'.

They obviously feared that he might be one of theirs and not just an ordinary . . .

On choosing one's parents carefully

My mother was a troubled and tormented person, but she was not a deep thinker. She just found living life on the sort of terms that were available to her tremendously difficult.

My father by contrast was an incredibly resourceful man who would keep smiling through the worst that the world could do to him. He was the best kind of trickster. He did however entertain deep and troubling thoughts about human existence as such. He protested, philosophically, against what he saw as the supreme injustice that we human beings are not consulted about the two most important decisions affecting our lives: whether we are born, and whether we die.

A special man.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cathedral Communion

I left the chapel where the service had taken place. As I waited for the celebrant whom I had arranged to meet for a chat afterwards, my attention was drawn to a board on which were posted prayer requests. At the top was a card inscribed with a message to David (my name). It said 'Please take care. All my love to you always. From your Mum.' I felt warm. As if it were for me. I reached for an empty card and scribbled a reciprocal solicitation: 'Mum, all my love to you too. From David'.

Later that week I found myself recalling that although my father loved and was loving to me he had some difficulty understanding me. It was mother who really knew me though she did not always behave lovingly towards me.

The same evening we attended a performance of Ibsen's Ghosts. There Oswald Alving is asked by his mother whether he loves her. He replies rather, 'I know you'. I caught my breath.

Communion in more than one kind.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Goodbye cruel world

The wonderful Caitlin Moran perfectly captures the gracious quality of internet communication:

" . . . cyberspace has such a gentle civility to it as a method of communication that it makes all other alternative look like acts of borderline war. Telephones, for instance. My God, but as the days go by, they seem more and more brutal. How did we ever start using them in the first place?

"When you call someone, essentially you suddenly materialise in their life, screaming, “ME ME! ME ME! IT’S ME! TALK TO ME!” The telephone was first invented at a time when you could readily purchase cocaine in any chemist. I think we can draw our own conclusions. Using one is an act of superlative self-confidence — the kind of thing only contestants on The Apprentice would do; or, maybe, Bono."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hath not a Jew eyes . . . ?

Susan Hill getting it right again about anti-Semitism, women priests, and so much else:

"I was reading some twitter by the Archbishop of Canterbury about climate change and other nonsense, and it struck me forcibly that the man is forever dodging the real and vital issues. Why do he and his fellow Bishops and all his clergy, never speak out loud and clear, reminding their congregations that Christians and Jews are merely separate branches of a tree with a common trunk, common roots and telling them that all forms of anti-Semitism are wrong ? Wrong, sinful, wicked, evil – use whatever word you like to get the message home. It matters but I sometimes wonder if they even realise how much anti-Semitism there is out there. They’d rather waffle on about women priests. And talking of which, Paul appointed quite a few women to active positions of authority in the churches he founded in a number of different countries so the next time an Anglican clergyman who is anti-the ordination of women starts, ask him about Prisca and Aquila, to name but two. Paul had more sense than the lot of them put together."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lest We Forget

The British Soldier - Poppy Appeal

The average British soldier is 19 years old…..he is a short haired, well built lad who, under normal circumstances is considered by society as half man, half boy. Not yet dry behind the ears and just old enough to buy a round of drinks but old enough to die for his country – and for you. He’s not particularly keen on hard work but he’d rather be grafting in Afghanistan than unemployed in the UK . He recently left comprehensive school where he was probably an average student, played some form of sport, drove a ten year old rust bucket, and knew a girl that either broke up with him when he left, or swore to be waiting when he returns home. He moves easily to rock and roll or hip-hop or to the rattle of a 7.62mm machine gun.


He is about a stone lighter than when he left home because he is working or fighting from dawn to dusk and well beyond. He has trouble spelling, so letter writing is a pain for him, but he can strip a rifle in 25 seconds and reassemble it in the dark. He can recite every detail of a machine gun or grenade launcher and use either effectively if he has to. He digs trenches and latrines without the aid of machines and can apply first aid like a professional paramedic. He can march until he is told to stop, or stay dead still until he is told to move.


He obeys orders instantly and without hesitation but he is not without a rebellious spirit or a sense of personal dignity. He is confidently self-sufficient. He has two sets of uniform with him: he washes one and wears the other. He keeps his water bottle full and his feet dry. He sometimes forgets to brush his teeth, but never forgets to clean his rifle. He can cook his own meals, mend his own clothes and fix his own hurts. If you are thirsty, he'll share his water with you; if you are hungry, his food is your food. He'll even share his life-saving ammunition with you in the heat of a firefight if you run low.

He has learned to use his hands like weapons and regards his weapon as an extension of his own hands. He can save your life or he can take it, because that is his job - it's what a soldier does. He often works twice as long and hard as a civilian, draw half the pay and have nowhere to spend it, and can still find black ironic humour in it all. There's an old saying in the British Army: 'If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have joined!'


He has seen more suffering and death than he should have in his short lifetime. He has wept in public and in private, for friends who have fallen in combat and he is unashamed to show it or admit it. He feels every bugle note of the 'Last Post' or 'Sunset' vibrate through his body while standing rigidly to attention. He's not afraid to 'Bollock' anyone who shows disrespect when the Regimental Colours are on display or the National Anthem is played; yet in an odd twist, he would defend anyone's right to be an individual. Just as with generations of young people before him, he is paying the price for our freedom. Clean shaven and baby faced he may be, but be prepared to defend yourself if you treat him like a kid.
He is the latest in a long thin line of British Fighting Men that have kept this country free for hundreds of years. He asks for nothing from us except our respect, friendship and understanding. We may not like what he does, but sometimes he doesn't like it either - he just has it to do.. Remember him always, for he has earned our respect and admiration with his blood.

And now we even have brave young women putting themselves in harm's way, doing their part in this tradition of going to war when our nation's politicians call on us to do so.

. . . say a prayer for our troops in the trouble spots of the world.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

No Quick Fix

The following words of Dorothy Rowe should be set alongside the fashionable support for cognitive behavioral therapy in the British NHS.

" . . . in therapy the presenting problem is never the real problem. In mental distress the real problem always arises from some kind of threat or insult to the sense of being a person. This can be hard to uncover, and difficult to ameliorate. It is never amenable to a quick fix."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pedigree Chum

A new book by New Zealand authors Robert and Brenda Vale urges pet owners to "Eat the dog", since the carbon footprint of a year's dog-food is too awful to contemplate.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dog-lovers desert RSPCA over 'inhumane' killings

This from The Times:

"The dogs, which had been kept indoors for several weeks and were said to be aggressive and in poor condition, were killed with a captive bolt gun of the kind used in abattoirs to stun livestock before slaughter. The use of captive bolt guns is deemed “inhumane” and “unacceptable” for the destruction of dogs by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)."

Why do we owe dogs a more humane killing than livestock? Humane killing for all I say. Better still - no avoidable killing at all! We don't need to eat meat.

What happened to global warming?

This is the perhaps surprising headline of a report by Paul Hudson, Climate correspondent at the BBC.

Average temperatures have not increased for over a decade

This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Staring stupidly

The revelation (to me) by Penny Smith on Countdown that 'gove' is an old English verb which means 'to stare stupidly' might at least moderate the childish fun that one Michael GOVE, Shadow Children's Minister, and his colleagues have been having at the expense of Gove's opposite number in government, Ed BALLS.

I doubt it though. An election is pending. Not a time for grown-ups.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Celia again

"There is an interesting possibility that Christ was not only not paranoid, but that he was not sane at all."

Monday, October 05, 2009

A question never answered

It's become a doctrine increasingly felt as a fact that the Blair/Bush war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein was immoral and illegal.

What I wait in vain to hear is what the war's opponents would do if Saddam was still in power, and what would they say to the loved ones of those, already thousands before he was stopped, he would still be free to persecute, torture and kill.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Medical Mafia

"Medical goods and services are immorally controlled by a monopolised profession which transfers the right of decision from the patient to the doctor."

Starting from here we could have a much more exciting criique of the British NHS.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Section 28

A few weeks ago I wrote to the British MP William Hague, lately Shadow Foreign Secretary. When he was Leader of the Opposition in Parliament I well remember the fun he had at Labour's (and Tony Blair's) expense in relation to the proposed repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act. This had been introduced by the Conservatives in 1988. Among other things it prohibited local councils from distributing any material, whether plays, leaflets, books, etc, that portrayed gay relationships as anything other than abnormal. Young William clearly thought that such a stand would be electorally popular.

More recently David Cameron, the present Tory leader and likely next Prime Minister has adopted a new approach. On Section 28 he now says "we (the Tories) got it wrong. I hope you can forgive us."

I wished to know from Mr Hague whether he is at one with his party leader in the fulness of this apology, and, if so, to seek a fuller account of the nature of the mistake he had made?

I have written again, repeating my request. I am still awaiting a reply.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thai teacher caught on cellphone beating pupil

BANGKOK - A Thai teacher faces prosecution after cellphone footage showed him beating a pupil and slamming the boy's head into a whiteboard for forgetting his textbook, officials and reports said Tuesday.
The video, shown on local television stations, showed the male teacher at a privately-run Thai-Chinese secondary school in Bangkok grabbing the 12-year-old by his throat and hitting him around the head several times.

I have a question. What if the abuse was witnessed by other members of staff who had failed to follow procedures and report the assault they had seen? Would they too face disciplinary action? If so this is one clear advantage of cellphones.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fair play

And just in case you are tempted to blame modern commercialism for the decline in standards of sportsmanship, The Times letters page contains this apt reference:

" . . . in book five of The Aeneid, during a running race, Virgil writes that Nisus “rose from the slime and threw himself in the path of Salius and knocked him head over heels” in order to allow his dear friend Euryalus to win. Even 2,000 years ago they were not averse to a bit of cheating in sport."

No pain, please!

Matthew Taylor finds in a new opinion poll evidence that voters still don't accept that they have to share in the pain.

How about this for a judgement on this Christian country of ours:

Ours is a society in which millions volunteer, donate to charities or adhere to religious or secular creeds advocating selflessness, but the message of our poll is inescapable; when it comes to addressing the fiscal crisis what matters to people is not fairness, or the best interests of the country, but simple self-interest. . . . our elected representatives feel compelled to tell us we can have our cake, eat it and walk out without paying.

Being bored

From a recent interview:

Ian Hislop: I remember being told by my teenagers that Church was boring and thinking, good it's meant to be boring. You need a lot more boring in your life and in the middle of it, you'll find something.

Rowan Williams: I have to confess that has been in the past one of my regular confirmation sermons. Get used to it. It's not always going to be fun. Life isn't always going to be fun and there's something to be said for sitting things out...”

It put me in mind of R S Thomas' The Moon in Lleyn where he addresses those who stand in empty churches to proclaim that religion is over:

But a voice sounds
in my ear: Why so fast,
mortal? These very seas
are baptized. The parish
has a saint's name time cannot
unfrock. In cities that
have outgrown their promise people
are becoming pilgrims
again, if not to this place,
then to the recreation of it
in their own spirits. You must remain
kneeling. Even as this moon
making its way through the earth's
cumbersome shadow, prayer, too,
has its phases.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Prey for me

The weekend Times led with the awful story of the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard. She was abducted, imprisoned and raped.

In the same issue Simon Barnes was extolling the the ugliness, cruelty and the beauty of nature. Let us celebrate cruelty, he writes, as we do ugliness, with a full heart.

I am not inclined to intervene to protect garden birds from predatory sparrowhawks, though one creature being destroyed and consumed by another in full view is a harrowing sight. For myself I choose to lead as un-predatory a life as possible. I disapprove of slaughterhouses and eschew their produce. I am happiest following the vegan way but I sometimes lapse into a woolly, even fishy, vegetarianism. A rational basis for my position I find in Peter Singer's 'Animal Liberation'.

My problem is with the use of the word 'cruelty' to describe both what was done to Jaycee and what sparrowhawks do in the wild to their prey. Surely sparrowhawks are neither cruel nor kind. These are human attributes. Nature may indeed be red in tooth and claw, but sparrowhawks, being predators, are just - predatory.

Being looked after

A woman I know in her seventies seems to be 'losing her marbles'. It may pass but, if it doesn't, she could well end up being 'looked after' by members of her family. Not the worst outcome you may think. They will be good and kind to her. But they will patronize her. They will not listen to her and take her seriously. They will edit what she says to fit in with their own understanding and priorities. They will tell her what she is feeling - and why. They are all good people - but they never really listen.

How sad.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

ORTHODOXY

Going through some old scribblings of mine today I found these words which I was glad to be reminded of:

Orthodoxy is based on a fallacy - that we can all agree - and a judgement - that we should.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It suddenly dawned on me

The one who inspires me is not one who is in a minority - but one who stands alone - the true individual.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Celia Green again

Anyone who can write this stuff is worth a closer look:

The question is whether anyone has ever been, in any serious way, not sane.

My best candidates are Nietzsche and Christ. It may be objected that their ideas cannot possibly be of interest, since one went mad and the other was crucified. However, I think we should not hold this against them.

They may have felt a trifle isolated.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It can't be long now

An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.

- George Eliot

Monday, August 10, 2009

Christianity and Sadism

There may be something in this:

I have long had a theory that the popularity of Christianity has always depended on its appeal to the sadism of its adherents. The exceptional should be crucified, saith Society; and somehow everyone suspects (in spite of all arguments to the contrary) that if there is a God, he may be exceptional in some way. So the figure of Christ crucified becomes the figure of the dangerous exceptional alien—suitably defeated. 'Only a suffering God can help', said Bonhoeffer, licking his lips.

Celia Green

Thursday, August 06, 2009

News to me

"Shortage of homes for sale expected to push up prices by end of the year

But the bad news is they could fall again next year"



This was a headline in today's Times newspaper.

How has the concept of news been so corrupted that the word is now used to describe things that haven't happened and may never happen? News bulletins are occupied by predictions. Yesterday's news is about tomorrow.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Explaining Evil

Thanks to Norm for this:

Over at Mick Hartley's invaluable site, we are directed to a report by Adam Hochschild on the Congo that details some of the nightmarish horrors which have been inflicted on the helpless inhabitants of that unhappy country. Hochschild asks, among other things, how it can be that some of the warm and friendly and helpful people that he met there were also rapists, torturers, and murderers; and he offers an answer:

What turns such people into rapists, sadists, killers? Greed, fear, demagogic leaders and their claim that such violence is necessary for self-defense, seeing everyone around you doing the same thing - and the fact that the rest of the world pays tragically little attention to one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of our time.

No doubt all these things are true; such factors do contribute to the enactment of evil. But there's an explanatory gap between the causal factors cited (greed, fear, and the rest) and the horror of what's done. How does greed – the desire to get more and more good things for oneself – or fear – the worry that one may be harmed – lead a warm and friendly and helpful person to eviscerate and dismember a man, force his wife to collect up the scattered body parts, and rape her on top of them? How is it supposed to work, this claim that the sight of other people acting out our worst nightmares turns ordinary men into monsters ready to do such things themselves? The causes on offer seem too ordinary, too everyday, too small, to adequately account for the barely believable enormities to which they lead. This excess, this overflowing of atrocity, this leap from mundane cause to inventively hideous effect, is what's in need of explanation - an explanation which by and large we entirely lack. (Eve Garrard)

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Every Morning

A reflection on the nature of reality:

"The comedian Steven Wright tells this joke deadpan:

“I woke up one day and everything in the apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica.

I said to my roommate, ‘Can you believe this? Everything in the apartment has been stolen and replaced with an exact replica.’

He said, ‘Do I know you?’ ”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A de-bap, a doo-bop, a wa-wa-waah

News today that you'll soon be able to baptise the kids and marry your partner in the Church of England without even juggling different orders of service. But what if one of the kids has second thoughts later on. Here's Norm on de-baptism.

"Here's an item about atheists who are going through de-baptism ceremonies as a way of marking the renunciation of their former faith. Notwithstanding the emphasis placed by those involved on the lighthearted and satirical nature of what they're doing, it does rather look like they're testifying to the power of the original they're purporting to send up while undoing it, if they feel the need actually to go through a ceremony of reversal. You lost or renounced your faith? I mean, you really did? Then, it has no power and you can just walk away from it without more ado. But if you need a ceremony...

"Of course, like everyone else, atheists are allowed rituals. But given what we atheists don't believe, it would be better if would-be atheist rituals didn't mirror religious ones. Why, you could go for a walk and mull things over."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The decline of violence

Stephen Pinker shows how our ancestors were far more violent than we are today. Given the stunning lack of regard for human life in the Bible, a history of socially sanctioned mutilation and torture, one-on-one murder, and casualties of war, all the evidence is that we are probably living in the most peaceful moment of our species' time on earth.

The future is Pinker indeed!


Monday, July 13, 2009

Preaching and Practice

Desmond Tutu is always on the side of the angels but, as Norm points out, his logic can get a bit muddled.

"Here's a view:

The West should in general, he warns, beware of preaching about corrupt African dictators. "You could say the same about Europe. You get a Churchill and then there's a long wait... What gives me a great deal of hope for Africa is looking at the history of Europe. Very recently you had two world wars, you had the Holocaust, you had dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece. There was a time when Italy was changing governments like you change pairs of socks. There was the Soviet Union, Stalin's gulags. You forget that you really made a mess of things. It was a Western country that was the first and only country to use weapons of mass destruction. [Africa] is not on a level with Western people.

"I can be nice and say there's hope for us. When I'm a little angry I say 'For goodness sake you need a fairly large dose of modesty. You ought to be hiding your heads for the things you have actually done'."

That's Desmond Tutu speaking. Still, what he says is wrong. And that it is, is shown by the fact that he's the one who's saying it. Nobody will gauge his criticisms of non-African countries by reference to the appalling record of apartheid, because as an opponent of apartheid Tutu was not responsible for it. But, equally, individual Westerners aren't responsible for the Holocaust, or dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece, and they - or, at least, many of them - have the right to condemn African dictators. This isn't about non-Africans preaching to Africans; it's about democrats, anywhere, speaking their minds, speaking critically, about governments that deny the fundamental rights of the people they govern."

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Teleology

After years of so-called retirement I still don't know what my life (what's left of it) is for, but I think I know what it's not for.

Similarly, I don't quite know what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I have a better idea of what I don't want to do.

Education

This morning my wife asked me the meaning of 'heuristic'.
I told her to find out for herself.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cheese Crumbs

From the infamous Kinsey Report:

Cheese crumbs spread before a pair of copulating rats will distract the female but not the male.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Daniel

This is Daniel.

Hilary and I have the joy and privilege of looking after him. His main home is with his mum and dad, two disabled brothers and three able sisters. As respite for his main family Daniel spends part of every week, and most or all of some weeks with us. The arrangement is supervised, monitored and supported by our local Children's Services department. It's called Shared Care.

Daniel has lissencephaly (lissencephaly, we say, we shall say this only once.) His brain is smooth when it shouldn't be. A smooth brain can lead to a jerky life. In Daniel's case jerky episodes can turn into prolonged epileptic fits. Daniel can neither walk nor talk, though he can get about and make very meaningful sounds and gestures.

We think of Daniel as ours - but not ours.

We didn't choose him. He was given to us. We were vetted and selected - but we didn't select him.

We don't know how long we've got him for - or how long he's got - or how long we've got.

He'll never be able to repay us - or disappoint us. Our pleasure and rewards are of the simplest kind.

Every moment matters - is all there is.

Wherever Daniel goes he takes a very big cushion (bigger than him) and a Sky TV remote control - and that's when he's travelling light.

His rule for life is: If you want the full attention of someone, sit on his head.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Pianist

Went to a performance last night of The Pianist, based on the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman.

Part of it was the story of a man who kept an orphanage for Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto. When they were transported to their deaths in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, he insisted on going with them to protect them as much as he could, even though this meant he would have to die too.

I thought of Daniel and the others we care for. I felt, as if praying, that unless I am that man in relation to them, my life has no meaning.

You-just-did-ness

Does anyone know if there's a word for this?

Like when someone says, 'Words can't express how grateful I am.' They just did.

or

When someone says, 'I'm no good at expressing myself.' And again they just have expressed themselves - perfectly.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Gentleman Bob

This from Norm:

He is commonly regarded as one of Africa's most ruthless tyrants, unleashing persecution and violence on anyone who dares challenge his iron rule.

So it came as a surprise to Zimbabwe's main opposition when they discovered that President Robert Mugabe has the manners of a Victorian English gentleman.

Why it should be regarded as a matter of surprise, let alone comment, is beyond me. We already know this, OK - people can be charming and also brutal, cultured and cruel. We know it, big time. After a day in the death camps presiding over the most revolting cruelties, men crossed the wire to be with their families - 'decent' men at home, who loved their children, refined men who listened to Bach and Beethoven.

The thing with Mugabe was never, like, 'Oh, how uncouth he is, what a boor; he swears in company, he belches at the table'. Politically, he's a criminal, that's all.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Shared Faith

Late-term Abortion

This painful matter is back in the news. Kira Cochrane reminds us what it is really about.

Many of those who have late-term abortions are the most vulnerable: teenagers who didn't realise that they were pregnant until five months' gestation; women with learning disabilities; those using methadone in drug rehabilitation programmes, which puts a halt to your periods. Women like the one I read of recently, whose partner started beating her up when she became pregnant, and who feared she would never be able to escape him if she had his baby. (In more than 30% of domestic violence cases, the abuse started during pregnancy.) Women who have suffered a severely traumatic episode - the death of a partner, or a child, for instance - who fear that the stress might affect foetal development. The BPAS has just published a 28-day audit of late-term abortion requests, to be distributed to MPs. The stories include that of a woman with two small daughters from a previous marriage, who had an unplanned pregnancy with her current partner, which he urged her to continue. She then found out that he was abusing her daughters. As Ann Furedi of BPAS says, the stories "provide a really stark contrast to the abstract, philosophical and rather sterile discussion about viability and not viability. What this does is to take it woman by woman. The challenge that we're putting to MPs is to look at this and think about it - what makes you think that the lives of these women would have been better if they'd had to continue their pregnancy? We're talking about women who, by their own admission, are saying, 'I cannot cope with having this child'."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Child abuse report

Speechless and in tears - after watching this.

http://www.gavinsblog.com/2009/05/26/child-abuse-report/

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Double Standards?

Melanie Phillips draws our attention to the suffering of civilians under Sri Lankan bombardment. "Hospitals have been repeatedly shelled. Thousands of civilians have been trapped and unknown numbers have died. The BBC says more than 70,000 people have been killed in this conflict, while the United Nations says it thinks 265,000 people have been displaced."

"Sure, there are some protests. But where are the calls by academics or trade unions to boycott Sri Lanka? Where are the denunciations of Sri Lankan ‘atrocities’ by the bishops and archbishops of the Church of England? Where are the passionate and emotive TV documentaries about the plight of the Tamils, the one-sided grillings of the Sri Lankans on the Today programme, the front page splashes and multi-part newspaper features on the Sri Lankans’ supposed breaches of international law, the NGOs’ appeals for humanitarian aid for the besieged Tamils, the attempts by human rights lawyers to prosecute Sri Lanka’s military for ‘war crimes’? No, all these things are reserved instead for Israel, which has demonstrably gone out of its way to avoid civilian casualties as far as humanly possible and yet upon whose imagined crimes against humanity the western intelligentsia – which has barely bestirred itself over the Tamils -- obsessively dwells."

At Further Expense

The British people have been scapegoating Parliament because of members on the fiddle. Now MPs are piling all the blame on their Speaker.

As Oscar Wilde opined, 'Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.' We don't like MPs. We don't understand or appreciate what they do, or benefit from it ourselves in any immediate or obvious way.

We have a problem here but it's not about lying and cheating, because we all do that, especially when we can get away with it.

A letter in yesterday's Times proposed a moral audit of the whole nation. Must have been a Rabbi.

Monday, May 18, 2009

At Enormous Expense

I seem to be one of the few people who sees the current outcry against Members of Parliament as just another case of what Thomas Macauley termed the ridiculous sight of 'the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality'.

The proposition that these particular culprits are untypical of the rest of our society at work and play is the most nauseating nonsense. How many of us, for instance, would turn down an offer of workmanship done well, efficiently, cheaply, quickly, paid for cash-in-hand, no questions asked, at known expense to the public purse through non-declaration and thus non-payment of Income Tax and, probably, VAT? This is cheating - just as much as wrongly claiming state benefits. But I do not know anyone who hasn't done it and wouldn't do it - even my friend who happens to be a retired police officer.

Who wouldn't, in claiming expenses from an employer or estimating expenses to set against their earnings for tax purposes, give themselves the benefit of the doubt, generously if permitted?

Church spokesmen, unable to resist, have of course jumped on the bandwagon of moral condemnation. Like most others they have forgotten how easily and unhealthily we project our shortcomings onto others and make scapegoats of easily definable groups. Worst of all they have forgotten their own scriptures which warn against human greed, against casting stones at other sinners, against moral sadism in all its forms.

Let's hope that there are not individuals and groups with malicious intent waiting in the wings to exploit for their own nefarious ends our collective, sanctimonious indignation.

From Harry's Place

Surely the BNP hopes to gain votes from people who are very keen to “support our troops”.

Well, I support the troops. People like Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, for example.

Grenada-born L/Cpl Beharry was honoured in 2005 after twice saving lives under enemy fire. He became the Army’s most high-profile war hero when he received the VC for “repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour” for the two rescues in May and June 2004 “despite a harrowing weight of incoming fire”.

He was at the head of a five-vehicle convoy when it came under attack in the town of al-Amarah on 1 May 2004. He guided the column through a mile of enemy ground to drop off wounded comrades at great risk to his own safety, his citation said.

Weeks later, his vehicle was hit by an rocket-propelled grenade round. Despite receiving horrific head injuries, he drove out of the ambush and again saved his crew.

The BNP is unimpressed.

The BNP, led by Nick Griffin, called Johnson Beharry “an immigrant” and claimed his heroics, which saved the lives of 30 fellow soldiers, were simply “routine”.

On its website the far-right political party states that Lance Corporal Beharry only received Britain’s top military honour because of “positive discrimination by the PC-mad government”.

It comes just days after the party held an Armed Forces Awareness Day to try to portray themselves as “the only party that supports our troops”.

Whatever their views on wars and politics, in March many people were horrified by the hateful Islamist protest against soldiers in Luton.

This racist belittling of bravery by BNP scum is no better than that.

Anyone who really does support British troops should never vote for the BNP.

NPG 6803, Johnson Gideon Beharry

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Blog or Twitter?

Not sure which way to go.

Quite like short, not necessarily grammatical, notes with hyperlinks.

Went to a lecture Thursday night at Manchester Cathedral. Michael Schmidt, Professor of Poetry. Not the best lecture so far. I was left feeling not very clever, certainly not as clever as the speaker, and afterwards not much wiser. Especially horrified by the way he praised Rowan Williams' initiative on Sharia Law, one of the few things I think he has, as Abp of C, got catastrophically wrong.

Disturbing account in the Church Times of how serious religious violence in Nigeria is being ignored. Might cause the Abp to have second thoughts.

Carol Ann Duffy's appointment as Poet Laureate has been widely welcomed. In the past her lesbian stance might have prevented it, but, as she says, “I think we’ve all grown up a lot over the past ten years. Sexuality is now celebrated. It is a lovely, ordinary, normal thing.”

There's probably a philosophical label for this but I'm struck by how much trouble we make for ourselves by using nouns rather than verbs. Two have just occurred to me - depressive and failure. To be either a depressive or a failure is to be stuck in or with something, something you have to be cured of or delivered from. To be depressed sometimes, or to fail, is part of being human and of itself no big deal. I think, for example, the political left have wrongly judged that failing makes you a failure, and diminishes your worth as an individual, something you must be protected from, by state intervention if necessary. Is this the "all must have prizes" philosophy?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

War by any other name

Joe Queenan lampoons some recent examples of newspeak.

The Obama administration has come under intense criticism for replacing the term "war on terror" with the emaciated euphemism "overseas contingency operations," and for referring to individual acts of terror as "man-caused disasters."

This semi-official attempt to disassociate the administration from the fierce rhetoric favored by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney has enraged Americans on both the right and left. Many feel that such vaporous bureaucratese is a self-emasculating action that plunges us into an Orwellian world where words have no emotional connection with the horrors they purport to describe.

Yet, if the intention of the Obama administration is to tone down the confrontational rhetoric being used by our enemies, the effort is already reaping results. This week, in a pronounced shift from its usual theatrical style, the Taliban announced that it will no longer refer to its favorite method of murder as "beheadings," but will henceforth employ the expression "cephalic attrition." "Flayings" -- a barbarously exotic style of execution that has been popular in this part of the world since before the time of Alexander -- will now be described as "unsolicited epidermal reconfigurations." In a similar vein, lopping off captives' arms will now be referred to as "appendage furloughing," while public floggings of teenaged girls will from here on out be spoken of as "metajudicial interfacing."


There's more.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On the Telly

I've just heard Ben Miller on ITV's Moving Wallpaper refer to someone as a 'misanthropic sociopath with entitlement issues'. Whatever this is, it isn't 'dumbing down'.

Not at peace

Sometimes I think I'm an introvert. But, if so, why are there so many people I want to shout at and shake at the same time?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Shoe thrower's sentence reduced

Gene brings news of justice tempered by mercy.

The journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush in Baghdad in the presence of Prime Minister al-Maliki last December has had his sentence cut from three years to one.

This is in contrast to what would have happened to him if he had thrown his shoes in the presence of Saddam Hussein while he was in power. In that case, the only things cut would have been his head and possibly other body parts.

I'm no expert on what is appropriate punishment but, as Gene says, it's a far more lenient sentence than he would have got in any other Arab country.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Solitude

“Solitude greeting solitude, that's what community is all about. Community is not the place where we are no longer alone but the place where we respect, protect, and reverently greet one another's aloneness. When we allow our aloneness to lead us into solitude, our solitude will enable us to rejoice in the solitude of others. Our solitude roots us in our own hearts. Instead of making us yearn for company that will offer us immediate satisfaction, solitude makes us claim our centre and empowers us to call others to claim theirs. Our various solitudes are like strong, straight pillars that hold up the roof of our communal house. Thus, solitude always strengthens community.”
Henri Nouwen

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman

timesonline reports from a region of Pakistan where the brutal Taleban have taken control:

In return for peace the Taleban can administer the region, run Sharia courts, ban women from marketplaces, outlaw music shops and stop girls older than 13 going to school.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Israel's crime

If you are beginning to feel "that Jews who are worried about anti-Jewish discrimination are really mendacious liars seeking to pull the wool over honest Gentile eyes" then please pay attention to this appeal by Eve Garrard.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Religion, theo-politics and race

Paul Sikander at Butterflies & Wheels has cautionary things to say about a phobia that is sweeping the world.

‘Islamophobia’ is a constructed model designed to protect Islam and Islamic politics from criticism. It has little or nothing to do with protecting individual Muslims from discrimination.

Until the late 1990’s, ethnic minorities in this country were conceived of as being susceptible to discrimination on the basis of immutable human factors. That you are black or Asian is a fact that cannot be altered, and you could face discrimination in British society because of it, prejudice sometimes subtle, sometimes violent and visceral. And so, civil and political society sought to counter this by privileging the dignity of the individual in the face of racism. If a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Sikh was to be called a ‘Paki’ it was not because of the religion they actively or nominally belonged to. If a West Indian was called a ‘nigger’ it was not because of any cultural or religious formulation or criticism they were facing. Anti-Semitism when it was expressed, the earlier racism of Europe, that had been present before the post war migration of black and Asian people to the UK, was simultaneously a similar and different mode of prejudice. But crucially, anti-Semitism when expressed and countered was not about defending the theology of Judaism.

The construction of the concept of ‘Islamophobia’ began in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair. The impetus for it was to stigmatise an entire range of individuals and opinions, from those who took issue with religious precepts of Islam, to those who questioned certain values of the religion, certain cultural practices recurrent inside the sub-culture of some British Muslim groups, all the way through to those who critically analysed Islamist politics.

For the first time, ‘racism’ was not considered to be the active discrimination against individuals because of their ethnic background. Now, ‘racism’ was asserted to be anything that remotely offended the sensibilities of religious Muslims, including those from within the Muslim community who dissented from a certain line on any range of issues.

What a victory. To weld together the protection of religion and theo-politics with the whole idea of racism. To no longer privilege the dignity of the individual against racial prejudice, but to privilege the ‘dignity’ of the religion of Islam, and the politics of Islamism, and providing them with an immunity — the righteous immunity of protection from ‘victimisation’.

Save the children from whom?

Norm sums up why people like me have stopped supporting what once were our favourite charities, and Comic Relief to boot.

Save the Children opposed the Iraq war, so doing what too many humanitarian NGOs have been doing lately, namely, adopting partisan positions on difficult and divisive political issues, thereby going beyond their stated and legitimate purposes, and turning away some of their longtime supporters. Save the Children favoured leaving the children of Iraq to the continued attentions of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The first and biggest lie

Brett at HP on a major casualty in the "war on terror".

According to a StWC press release: “Anti-war groups from across the world will meet to oppose any further expasion (sic) of NATO and demand an end to the occupation of Afghanistan.” Another rally will feature “leading speakers from the peace movement.”

That these are “anti-war” groups and that these speakers are from “the peace movement” is the first and biggest lie in what I know will be a flood of many more.

These are NOT “anti-war” campaigners. They are not pacifists. They are not conscientious objectors. They are certainly not against all wars. They are not against the use of armed force. And, perhaps most importantly, they are not even against all sides in current conflicts.

. . . the people invited to speak for the “Stop the War Coalition” are only against the use of military force if it is Western military force.

. . . this same sorry lot have no idea what do do about the theocratic fascists, the Taliban. As their malignant influence spreads into neighbouring Pakistan, as more women are forced into burkas, as more teachers are murdered and schools burned down because they educate girls, as the flirtatious are stoned to death and secularists murdered in their wake, what does the StWC recommend? Of course - western forces pull out of Afghanistan and leave them to it.

It is a position so ludicrous, so reckless and senseless, that the only way to make sense of it is to accept that it is in the interests of the enemies of democracy. Or peace.

There's no best species on earth award

That's what Pam Mason says in today's Guardian, and in so doing she grasps a beautiful truth:

Human achievements only matter to, and improve the lives of, other humans. There's no Best Species On Earth award which we win every year, like the US winning the World Series.

Who, apart from us, says we're so special? God? Darwin? A select committee of chimpanzees and dolphins? Yes, we have more abstract knowledge than we had 1000, 100, even five years ago, but it means absolutely nothing to anyone but us. Our achievements please us alone, and when we become extinct (most likely by our own hands) our vanishing will actually improve life for other species, provided we haven't wiped them out too.

Edward O Wilson was making a similar point:
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's a fabrication that Britain doesn't make things any more

The truth that dares not speak its name. From timesonline:

Manufacturing output accounts for a larger share of GDP in the UK (13 per cent) than it does in France (12 per cent) or the United States (12 per cent).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More equal than others

This, from Harry's Place, is more none-too-subtle evidence of a double standard.

. . . have a read of these extracts from a Socialist Worker article from 2005, and see if you can guess which stateless and oppressed nation it describes:

This is a country occupied by a murderous foreign power for decades. A country split apart by a 1,600 mile series of fortified walls backed by soldiers, heavy weaponry and millions of landmines.

A country with 160,000 people living in refugee camps and yearning to return to their homeland.

It is a country where young and old have declared an intifada against their rulers — and where hundreds of UN resolutions which call for justice have been contemptuously ignored.

Still not guessed yet? The language may be familiar but the target might surprise you.

Look here for the answer.

The conclusion: Jews behaving in a certain way, bad: Arabs doing the same, erm well, you don’t understand, you’ve got to see it in context…ah, can I phone a friend? etc etc

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An ancient prejudice

An article by Howard Jacobson on anti-Semitism is always worth reading, especially when it includes lines like this:

A life spent singing anti-Zionist carols in the company of Ken Livingstone and George Galloway is its own punishment.

Amazing Grace

Can't resist posting this passage from Kathleen Norris' book Amazing Grace. It reminds me of warmer feelings I once had for religious practices.

Not long ago I heard a novice speak of a nun with Alzheimer's in her community, who every day insists on being placed in her wheelchair at the entrance to the monastery's nursing home wing so that she can greet everyone who comes. "She is no longer certain what she is welcoming people to," the younger woman explained, "but hospitality is so deeply ingrained in her that it has become her whole life." Better an old fool welcoming people at the door with her whole heart and soul, Benedict might agree, than a distracted, cold, or officious monk or nun with faculties intact.

Friday, February 06, 2009

UNfreedom

Thanks to MadPriest for this:

The right to criticise religion is being slowly doused in acid. Across the world, the small, incremental gains made by secularism ~ giving us the space to doubt and question and make up our own minds ~ are being beaten back by belligerent demands that we “respect” religion. A historic marker has just been passed, showing how far we have been shoved. The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten: to put him on the side of the religious censors.

Starting in 1999, a coalition of Islamist tyrants, led by Saudi Arabia, demanded the rules be rewritten. The demand for everyone to be able to think and speak freely failed to “respect” the “unique sensitivities” of the religious, they decided, so they issued an alternative Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. It insisted that you can only speak within “the limits set by the shariah (law). It is not permitted to spread falsehood or disseminate that which involves encouraging abomination or forsaking the Islamic community”.

In other words, you can say anything you like, as long as it precisely what the reactionary mullahs tell you to say. The declaration makes it clear there is no equality for women, gays, non-Muslims, or apostates. It has been backed by the Vatican and a bevy of Christian fundamentalists.

Incredibly, they are succeeding. The UN’s Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech ~ including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed, so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN ~ and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” ~ and Brown was ordered to be silent. Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims.


Johann Hari
(THE STATESMAN)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Democratic dawn in Iraq

William Shawcross writing in The Guardian gives credit where he thinks it's due.

The weekend's elections in Iraq were a huge success for the Iraqi people. The remarkably peaceful day of voting on Saturday - and the interim results - give good reason to hope Iraq really is on the way to building a decent society.

There will be further setbacks. But who knows, Iraq may yet even become a model for democratic change in other Arab countries. If so, who deserves some credit? The much maligned President Bush. And Tony Blair.

But some of my best friends are Lions

This from the Hamas Covenant:

The Zionist invasion is a cruel invasion, which has no scruples whatsoever; it uses every vicious and vile method to achieve its goals. In its infiltration and espionage operations, it greatly relies on secret organizations which grew out of it, such as the Freemasons, the Rotary Clubs, the Lions and other such espionage groups. All these organizations, covert or overt, work for the interests of Zionism and under its direction, and their aim is to break societies, undermine values, destroy people's honor, create moral degeneration and annihilate Islam. [Zionism] is behind all types of trafficking in drugs and alcohol, so as to make it easier for it to take control and expand.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The charming Cherie Blair

Louise Bagshawe at CentreRight pays this most unexpected compliment.

I had the honour, and yes I do mean honour, of interviewing Cherie Blair. As a tribal Tory, like the rest of us, I've read the caricatures published about this woman over the years. She was the PM's wife our press loved to loathe. Grasping, bolshie, chippy, you name it. There was none of that anywhere in the person I met.

What I'm about to say will not surprise anybody who has read her book. Mrs. Blair is a naturally good writer, so much so that I think in becoming a lawyer she may have missed her true calling. Speaking for Myself is a cracking good read. The author is self-deprecating, witty, perspective, laugh out loud funny at times. You must get it if you haven't done yet. No wonder why it was a massive bestseller when so many bland, sanitised political memoirs fail.

I interviewed her at Southwark Crown Court where she is still working as a Recorder. Not the height of glamour, and obviously Mrs. Blair has no need to work. She does it from a sense of duty and self-satisfaction. When I said I thought it was great she was still working she looked puzzled that I'd even imagine she would stop. She was kind, she was polite, she asked about the date of the election, she said we needed more women in parliament, asked me about standing in Corby. We discussed the hell of the PPC selection process, something she went through herself as well as watching her husband suffer through it.

I was there to interview her, but she's one of those rare people who seems more interested in others than herself. She was elegant, she smiles and laughs all the time. She is (red rag to a bull on ConHome, this, but I admire it) a true feminist. She said she sees her book not as political but written for other women. Men will love it too.

You can see the interview during the show, but in passing in one of her answers, Mrs. Blair said of the press that she didn't even recognise the woman they described. Nor do I. I don't think I've ever been more struck by the disparity between somebody's manufactured image and the person they turned out to be. In the future, I will put even less stock in the tabloids' portrayal of anybody's character. As Conservatives, we can be thankful that such a bright and charismatic woman never made it into Parliament.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A war not quite over

"The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism... in a manner that is consistent with our values and ideals," Mr Obama said.

It's that struggle formerly known as the 'war on terror'.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Heaven defined

What animal would you most like to be?

One of a pair of well-loved cats in a house with a cat flap. Love, companionship and independence. Bliss.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Punditry

I hear that Suggs is marching against racism and homophobia.
I mean, it's just Madness gone politically correct.

Just suppose

Suppose there had been an increase over recent years in the incidence of a particularly cruel and criminal act. Suppose it amounted to an attempt to sabotage the National Blood Service and thus prevent urgent transfusions of blood taking place. Suppose that, apart from a few representatives of oddball organisations and a handful of individual nutters, most of the known culprits were Jehovah's Witnesses and sought to justify their criminal behaviour by reference to the teachings of that religious group, even though many leading Jehovah's Witnesses had publicly condemned their actions.

Suppose a book had been written and a charitable helpline set up to advise and support victims of this horrific interference with a life-saving service. Suppose that the writer of the book and director of the charity was invited to answer questions about the problem in a Guardian column, and she did so without once mentioning Jehovah's Witnesses. Wouldn't it make you think?

Jasvinder Sanghera appeals for support in her efforts to eradicate forced marriage and honour-based crime, without once mentioning Islam.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Becoming western culture

Interesting to see Don Cupitt's typically shrewd observation that Christianity has gradually evolved beyond its 'church' form, to become modern western culture.

He sees this in "the way that the modern world expects Christian standards of the West. People in the poor countries expect the West to feel rather guilty about being so rich, and to acknowledge a duty to 'redistribute' its surplus wealth. They expect the West to acknowledge the sinfulness of colonialism and the slave trade, . . to go on about individual human rights, about democracy and the rule of law. In short, the rest of the world has a great range of moral expectations of the West and tries hard to exploit them. But the poor countries don't have the same expectations of other religions or culture-areas. Nobody expects the Turks to apologize to the Armenians, or the Egyptian Arabs to the Copts, the Indians to dwell on the evils of the Maghul Empire, or the Zanzibaris to demand repentance and reparations for centuries of slave-trading in dhows down the East African coast."

"The world assumes (rightly, it seems) that Christian values do still greatly influence Western behaviour. Many commentators assume that Christianity is a dying faith whereas Islam is very much alive. Because other faiths and cultures show absolutely no inclination to be self-critical in public, they can confidently assert their own moral superiority and the West's relative decadence. But are rich oil sheiks apologizing to black East Africa for slavery, and offering aid without strings? Seemingly not, despite the fact that Almsgiving (Zakat) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam."

His conclusion? That "Christianity is doing better in its afterlife as 'Western culture' than ever it did as a religion."

A virtue of losers

According to Dr Alan White in the Guardian Review, this is how Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a man who had lost all sympathetic feeling for his fellows, saw kindness - as a virtue of losers. Scrooge was of course redeemed and reabsorbed into life and its networks of reciprocity by the hand of a sort of God, a sort of God (be it God or Marx) that, says Dr White, we are lacking today.

But surely all human virtues are truly virtues of losers. We all eventually lose everything - forever. Isn't it this that makes them virtues in the first place? Isn't it only because we are born losers that any kind of morality is possible? If we depend on God or Marx to compensate our losses, can we ever be said to act virtuously at all?

Atheist Bus

Posters have appeared on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground, with the slogan, There's Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying And Enjoy Your Life.

The trouble with this slogan is the word 'probably'. I think the probability of God's existence is a profoundly irreligious idea. I would rather argue that God is Nothing, following the line of Gareth Moore in Believing in God. It is the extension of another plea I have made here, that we cannot understand belief in God without understanding what it means to become nothing before him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good Politics

'For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.' (Nelson Mandela)

Friday, January 09, 2009

When antisemitism needs a spell check.

In Defence of Israel

The scenes from Gaza are heartbreaking. But the whole conflict could be avoided if the Palestinians said one small thing.

Daniel Finkelstein's words are moving and wise. Please read them.

Just imagine

Norm reports . .

. . a 'helpful' warning that has just been delivered to Gordon Brown. Jewish representatives are saying to him that it might be hard to restrain angry young Jews from bombing mosques and the London Underground if the rockets on Sderot and other Israeli towns don't cease. Not that the Jewish representatives support this, of course; they're pleading for restraint. Cancel that paragraph - just kidding.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

My Coolest Grand

About two years into my term of articles, aged 19, I asked Walter Eccles, my boss, for a £1000 loan. The family business, a corner shop, was going bust. It was my dad's business and comprised our home. My request was graciously and regretfully turned down.

How cool was that? £1000 was a lot of money in the early sixties. My starting salary was two pounds ten shillings a week. To me it was a simple matter. My dad was in need. My employer was in the money. Perhaps surprisingly, neither my importunate request, nor Mr Eccles' gentle letdown, made my later relationship with him the least bit uncomfortable. What a gent!

In Senegal

This is what happened:

Nine gay men in Senegal have been sent to jail for “indecent conduct and unnatural acts”.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Senegal but lawyers for the men said the sentence was the harshest ever handed down to gay men in the country.

The judge added three years to the maximum five-year sentence after ruling that the men were also members of a criminal organisation.

Most of them belonged to an association set up to fight HIV and Aids.

“This is the first time that the Senegalese legal system has handed down such a harsh sentence against gays,” said Issa Diop, one of the men’s four defence lawyers.

The head of a gay rights organisation in Senegal told AFP news agency that the situation for gay people in the country was getting worse.

“Many gays are already fleeing to neighbouring countries because of our living conditions,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Senegal is a predominantly Muslim country and gay men and women remain socially marginalised.

Spring Gardens, Manchester

I passed here today. It took me back to my interview with Walter Eccles, partner in the form of Chartered Accountants, Litton, Pownall, Blakey and Higson. I was leaving school at sixteen and looking for employment as an articled clerk. My dad came with me to the interview. He was trying hard to impress in the way of proud working class fathers. He asked what renumeration I might expect. Having been to a Grammar School I knew that he should have said 'remuneration'. I was mildly embarrassed, but even more I was glad to have a father who cared.

Thanks dad.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Moral Inversion

Melanie Phillips offers a judgement on those who took part in the anti-Israel demonstration in London:

Such people have made no protest at the bombardment of Israeli towns by more than 6000 rockets in the past six years, deliberately targeting innocent civilians. They have made no protest at the way Hamas has used Gazan civilians as human shields, situating its murderous arsenals beneath apartment blocks, in schools and hospitals and mosques in order to maximise the numbers of civilians killed (in order to manipulate all-too pliable western opinion). No, their protest only starts when Israel finally takes the military action aimed at stopping this genocidal barrage.