Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More blackmail threats in religious circles

In November the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, threatened BA with withdrawing millions of pounds of church shares if the company did not relax its ban on staff wearing crucifixes. Barely two months later and another church leader, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, is engaged in yet more racketeering.

The Catholic church has claimed it will be forced to close its adoption agencies if laws are passed which will oblige them to place children with homosexual couples. O'Connor claims that the church's integrity will be undermined if it is forced to contravene its own teachings. Given the manifold problems already undermining the Catholic church's 'integrity', this is a mere drop in the ocean.

Earlier, on Channel 4 news, Chris Bryant MP spoke of the disadvantage to thousands of children if the Catholic church went ahead with its proposals. He was countered by the Archbishop of Birmingham who spoke of the rights of Catholic people being denied. This right presumably being to discriminate against and persecute whomsoever they please.

Bryant makes a sensible point but he quails from the fight in front of him. Why is it that a person can walk down Oxford Street with a ten feet tall banner which warns against the 'sin' of homosexuality? If I chanced upon a merry band of racists demanding the rounding up and summary beatings of the local Somalians, I'd bend the ear of nearest copper. The privilege religions enjoy in the face of such examples is lost on me.

At some point the government must take a lucid and unequivocal stand. It should be clear about what equality means and clear about people's rights to adhere to a particular doctrine.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Piracy on the high seas!

I'm aghast, readers, about this story of the stricken MSC Napoli, beached on the coast of Devon.

There are around 40 containers parked on Branscombe beach today filled with everything from piles of Pampers to buckets of beauty cream. So it's no surprise that the looters have descended on the beach to rob and purloin anything not, well, a few miles adrift. I can't be bothered reading too much about this story but I have learned that Pc Steve Speariett has confirmed that around 50 BMW motorbikes have also gone walkies. I'm glad Pc Speariett has been able to tell us how many 13 grand motorbikes have just disappeared off the beach rather than prevent any of them going. I suspect he was too busy checking his hair in the mirror and repeatedly telling the BBC reporter how to spell his surname properly.

Unlike the cheeky chappy also featured on the news, who happily admitted to having plundered one of the bikes and told of his plans to shift it on Ebay. Surely even Speariett can't miss a lead like that. Surely.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Big Brother debate plumbs new depths

Question Time just devoted 20 minutes to the goings-on in the Big Brother house culminating in Edwina Currie calling Jo, Jade, and Danielle "slags". While I do hope the three of them are somehow dragged towards enlightenment on leaving the house Currie's slur hardly lends dignity to her argument.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Who'd've thunk it?

He's on to something.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Green won't quit

My weekly email from the National Secular Society has landed in my inbox and the top news item concerns the dreadful leader of Christian Voice, Stephen Green, and his incessant obsession with 'Jerry Springer: the Opera'. Here is the item reproduced:

Religious zealot Stephen Green of Christian Voice, says that he has begun the process of bringing a private prosecution for blasphemy against Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC and Jonathan Thoday, the show’s producer, for their part in broadcasting Jerry Springer -- the Opera on BBC2 two years ago.

Green and his legal advisors say they laid evidence before Horseferry Magistrate’s Court on Monday in an effort to get a summons issued in a private prosecution of the two BBC men. They are now awaiting a decision as to whether the case can proceed.

Mr Green said: “There is a ancient law against blasphemy in this land because the law believes it should not occur. It is as simple as that. If artistic people do not where or how to stop as they push against the boundaries of decency, then the law must step in and tell them. In this present case, it appears prime facie that a most odious and wicked blasphemy was perpetrated against Almighty God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Clearly, justice must be done. No-one, be they ever so influential or wealthy, can be above the law.”

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “We sincerely hope that Mr Green succeeds in his efforts to bring this to court -- then we can see the blasphemy law destroyed once and for all. The court might do what Parliament won’t.” Mr Sanderson said that the blasphemy law was widely thought to be in contravention of the Human Rights Act and a court case would confirm this once and for all.

We can only hope.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Walter Smith: in a world of his own

Walter Smith has lashed out at the Scottish Football Association for not offering him a new contract and claims that is the reason he walked out on the job.

"Rangers have offered me employment for the next three years. My job with Scotland was going to finish in November if we didn't qualify for the European Championship. I had to look after myself."

It's hardly an ambiguous position, Wattie. Qualify and you can stay; don't then you won't. But he continues:

"I would ask people what they would do in the same situation. I was asked if I wanted to enter into discussions about a new contract. I said I was happy with the situation the way it was, but that did not stop them from offering me one. If they had chosen to offer me an extended contract and I had signed it then I would not be leaving now. It's as simple as that."

I think I've had girlfriends like this. Conversations normally went like this:

Me: "That's a nice bag, would you like it?"
Her: "Yes, it is, but it's too much."
Me: "Okay."

Walks off.

Her: "You don't want to buy it for me then? Harumph."

Walter clearly wants his tummy to be tickled a little first before he's thrown the bone. And a Cruft's-style rosette.

"What disappoints me most of all is when I took that job the president and the chief executive were being smuggled out of football stadiums in the back of cars. They forget I came to Scotland at a diabolical time. And this is the way they act at the end."

Woah there, Wattie. Diabolical? Okay, it wasn't all champagne and strawberries but it wasn't that bad. It was never as bad some of the media would have liked us to believe. There was a fair amount of xenophobia to boot, so when a dour, mumbly 'home-grown' manager came along the press were almost delighted. Perhaps the SFA is more perplexed at how someone who managed Rangers for the best part of ten years and won just about as many competitions as he entered would want to go back. Particularly as the club is in such a state and particularly as you, Wattie, hadn't achieved anything in the job you were in.

Never believe your own press, folks.

What would you do with $1 million a week?

Only in America.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On Ruth Kelly

It is not often, if at all, that I’m moved to speak favourably about Ruth Kelly. Indeed I don’t expect to here, but I will avoid, I hope, any descent into the ad hominem. Rather I will set out some reasons why her decision to send her son to a private school should not be viewed or judged in the same light as that of the decision of Diane Abbott, for example.

Firstly, the details
which have emerged in the media in the last couple of days serve to tell us little. We know that the school Kelly and her husband have chosen is private and that it costs something in the region of £15,000 per year - a modest amount when one is considering special school places. It is suggested that her son has dyslexia but we don't know whether or not the child has a Statement of Special Educational Needs.

It may be reasonably expected of a mainstream school to cater for the needs of a child who has dyslexia. Indeed, some authorities do not consider dyslexia a special educational need at all. In Ruth Kelly's case we must assume that she believed her son would receive an education more suited to his needs in the school her family has chosen. This does not necessarily suggest that the school the child is leaving was somehow failing the child.

With conditions such as autism and dyslexia there have emerged alternative theories and methods of teaching which are not made available in the state sector. The relative merits of some of these methods such as the 'Applied Behavioural Analysis' are much disputed. Many parents opt for such programmes in the hope that they will provide a remedy for their child's educational difficulty. In this case it's a private specialist school. I think the essential difference is that Kelly has opted for a school which she believes best suits her child's needs. She hasn't gone private simply because she's wealthy or because it's a better option than the local inner city school. It appears she has done it because her son has a particular type of need which can be best provided for at a particular type of school. I suppose the city banker could argue that they chose Eton because their child has a particular type of need, but I would hope the difference should be clear.

There's not a team like the Glasgow Rangers

Not one quite as shambolic at any rate.

Things seemed to be steadily improving for Scottish football of late. A new manager of the national team and a solid start to its European Championships qualifying group soon banished the bad memories of Berti Vogts' reign. Then last week came Paul Le Guen's resignation as manager of Rangers football club and with it tales of petulance and infantility to shame the most pampered of divas, or in this instance the most pampered of Scottish football players, Barry Ferguson.

Le Guen arrived and immediately 'Wee Baz' realised that his new manager's idea of what a professional athlete should be, and his own vague grasp of the concept, were somewhat at odds. Le Guen soon surveyed his new squad and decided an extra spot of fitness training might be in order. However, Ferguson thought this grossly unfair and not really in keeping with the 'Scottish way'. Then Le Guen decided that for their £10-15,000-a-week Barry and his chums might have to sacrifice drinking alcohol during the season. Afterall they've only got from their mid-thirties onwards to get uproariously pissed every day for as long as their livers can stand it. Hmmm... you might think, this guy's just arrived from winning three titles consecutively in France and done not too badly in the Champions' League. We on the other hand haven't won so much as a bottle of Bucky from the church tombola; he might be on to something. Alas, no. Wee Baz knew best.

So tensions grew and the manager resigned and a player spoke out. I'll not recount anymore of the miserable episode - you can read it where I've added links. If Le Guen happens to turn up at your club in the near future, please, treat him right.

Mozza for Eurovision?

Morrissey is reportedly considering submitting an entry to be the UK's representative at Eurovision this year. What is he on? I'd have to vote for him though.

Come on, you Lords

The House of Lords is voting tonight on proposed gay rights law. Outside there are people protesting with 'torches' and quite possibly pitchforks. They're not homophobes, you know.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Britain should integrate into Muslim values

So says Sarfraz Manzoor in today's Guardian, hot on the heels of Neal Lawson's comment piece yesterday, exhorting us to look to religious leaders for moral guidance.

I don't think Manzoor fairs much better in his quest to turn us on to the benefits of a religious upbringing. Take this:

My father often used the threat of "what might the community say?" as a weapon to control my rebellious teenage desires. I resented the power that this community had over me, but it is only now that I can appreciate its value.

There are some rebellious teenage desires we might all agree are worth suppressing. Excessive onanism, perhaps. Maybe not so rebellious. I suppose a great deal depends on what sort of community you live in. You might live in a place where bashing-up homosexuals is seen as the way to spend a Saturday night. If your parents collared you over your refusal to participate in such high-jinks I'd advise you to foster your rebellious streak. Make no mistake: there are communities where the accepted wisdom will border on the example I've used.

He continues:

Muslim children are more likely to be brought up in two-parent families rather than the single-parent households that are increasingly common in Britain.

Now this fact may hark back to some degree to his earlier point. If the fear of local opinion is all-consuming then divorce or separation are probably off the menu. It is probably fair to say that Muslim family systems are more patriarchal than the average British nuclear set-up. An unhappy spouse, even one less restricted by the community opinion, may find it difficult to request divorce or separation as a consequence.

Muslim parents also tend to be less interested in child-centred parenting and more into parent-centred parenting. For example, when I was growing up there was no possibility of answering back to my parents, and this was accompanied by an all-pervasive fear of letting them down. This was a model of parenting that put great faith in deference and, while at the time it felt regressive, it was also what kept my generation in check.

He's got a point here but not a definitively Muslim one. I think my experience was much the same. Fear of a boot up the backside was my prime motivation for not answering back. And, at the risk of sounding like Bernard Ingham, it never did me any harm. Admittedly now it is considerably less tolerated to give your child a clip round the ear. And rightly so. Yet, Manzoor does not expound exactly what it was that forbade his answering back, what made his family unique.

He concludes:

As the clamour for British Muslims to integrate grows louder, it is worth remembering that, amid all the negatives arising from living inside a tightly knit community, there are also positives worth retaining - the greater the integration, the weaker the sense of community. It is the third generation - those in their teens and 20s who have been raised by parents often more liberal than my parents' generation - who are the young men and women now tarnishing the reputation of British Muslims.

Whether the danger is religious extremism, drugs or crime, those involved are largely third-generation Muslims who are so integrated into white society that they are emulating its worst characteristics. Integration did not save them, it created them.

I sympathise. The notion of integrating places too great a burden on those expected to do it. It places little on those with whom integration should be achieved. A level of reciprocal understanding is what is required above all. It is patent nonsense to state that "the greater the integration, the weaker the sense of community". Again I do not think Manzoor explains why he believes this to be true. A sense of community can only be born from a group recognising that they share something of a situation or place. How an integrated populus is a barrier to this I cannot explain. Certainly, if families are integrating into large areas where religious extremism or drugs or crime exist prominently then the likelihood of one of their family becoming involved in one of those things is increased. However, Manzoor's concession that third-generation Muslims can be caught up in those things suggests the values he holds dear are perhaps not as powerful as he would wish them to be.

Society is moving away from ideas of the fanciful and the superstitious. There do exist values which many, perhaps a majority, of us recognise as common. It is time those values were held up as things good-in-themselves and not good because a particular text or dogma says so. It is such a connection which repels many who are proselytised at.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lawson wrong on religion

Today's comment section in the Guardian carries a piece by the Compass chair, Neal Lawson. I'm not sure where I stand on Lawson or Compass. I have read Lawson's periodic appearances in the Guardian with interest but have always been prevented from agreeing with him wholeheartedly by the odd, persuasive and pervasive niggle. But his piece today seems to me to be all over the shop.

Lawson fears that many politicians do not speak out on questions of poverty and social injustice, as they are muzzled by the drive to appease big business. In such a climate, he reasons, it is the religious leaders to whom we must turn.

The head of the Catholic church in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said in his Christmas mass: "Our nation is in great need because it is deprived of some of the greatest values of life." He spoke of the emergence of a culture that espoused "individual freedom as the fundamental value to which all others must be subject". This culture, he said, is the cause of a break with the moral traditions of humanity that meant we were no longer able to "respond to the fundamental questions on the sense and direction of our lives".

If turning to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is where our salvation lies, then I for one am nervous. Assuming for one moment that this, indeed, is the correct course of action and forgetting Murphy-O'Connor's somewhat dubious attitude towards child abuse, all the good Cardinal has done is identify- vaguely- where he believes the problems in society may lie.

Religious communities are among the increasingly few places that bring people together as citizens rather than as consumers - fighting for a living wage and against poverty.

The same communities where people are expected to drop a portion of their meagre earnings into a begging bowl on a Sunday so people like Rowan Williams can threaten businesses with disinvestment of church funds. As an atheist Lawson ought to have a fundamental problem with the premise on which those citizens are coaxed into such communities. Furthermore, figures such as Mother Teresa preached that those in poverty should accept their situation since, after all, true wealth is to be found in the next world.

There's a great deal more in this article with which to do battle but I'm afraid the hour is late. I may return to it tomorrow.

Blair backs hanging inquiry

After John Prescott yesterday described the manner of Saddam Hussein's hanging as "deplorable", Tony Blair has today backed an inquiry into what "went wrong". A Downing Street spokesperson refused to endorse Prescott's description saying that it was deputy prime minister's own view.

The news follows the publication of an interview with the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, in the Wall Street Journal where he expresses his wish to leave the job as soon as possible. The sectarian divisions in Iraq are undoubtedly troubling for
al-Maliki and it may be that the sectarian lynching- for that is what it must be called- of Hussein may have proven too much for him. Downing Street's refusal to condemn the lynch mob style of the execution points to a reluctance to further pressurise al-Maliki, but it is wrong-headed.

What hope does this give the world that Iraq is being now being governed by politicians and not militiamen? The prosecution of power in Iraq is already complicated by the balance of tribal factions within the government. Al-Maliki is a prominent member of the Shia movement (itself bedevilled by factionalism) which opposed Hussein and led the resistance. As the signatory of Hussein's death warrant he will be fearful of Sunni reprisals by those who may blame him for what they see as the humiliating way in which the execution played out. Nuri al-Maliki's interview contains the words of a desperate and bereft man.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hussein footage to be investigated

So I was right then. Almost. I said pictures and testimonies would appear, but on reflection I failed to mention the obvious. If your mobile goes off on a bus you can expect a chorus of sushes and piercing glare of a dozen eyes. Its presence at a state sanctioned hanging is apparently less intrusive. The Iraqi government is to investigate.

I do go on, but this about sums it up for me.