Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More bad news for Brown

Could Sepp Blatter be working with Milburn and Clarke? He of the uncommon sensitivity and flair for comedy (he once brushed over a footballer's tragic death and suggested the popularity of women's football could be augmented by making females play in "tighter shorts") today revealed that it's unlikely England will host the 2018 World Cup.

Fifa currently operates a rotation policy to selection the region in which the finals are held and North America and Asia are ahead in the pecking order.

2020 Vision

But it's not much to look at. There's nice picture of a girl with some binoculars. She appears to be in the middle of a vast expanse of water, perhaps at the helm of a luxury yacht. It's implied that she's looking towards "A progressive century". Hope she's not simply lost.

Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn want to have a debate about policy. Not one about the leadership. No, siree. Strange time to decide, though, isn't it? Conventional wisdom suggests they're busy trying to cajole poor, wee David "the Boffin" Miliband into running against Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, but the Boffin is steadfastly refusing to be bullied. He'll be next leader but one says the smart money. With this in mind Clarke and Milburn presumably want to force Brown into accepting some policies conceived by the wider party, rather than be force-fed the Chancellor's vision for the future. But most likely it's because neither of them likes Gordy very much and they want to stick their hefty boots in.

Monday, February 26, 2007

We'd be better off without religion

The motion which will be put forth at the upcoming debate hosted by the Intelligence Squared media forum. Unfortunately, I only read about it in today's Guardian and the event is now sold out. However, the guest speakers should make for an entertaining joust.

If anyone who might be reading this is in possession of a spare ticket, please email me at and we can haggle over how much it's worth.

As I said, the debate is mentioned in an article in today's G2 section of the Guardian. Written by Stuart Jeffries, it examines what he describes as "the vicious and uncompromising battle between believers and non-believers." Unsurprisingly Jeffries focuses on the recent struggles over the Danish cartoons, Jerry Springer: the opera, and gay adoption. From the religious side there's some of the usual drivel about fundamentalist secularists being as bad religious extremists. But the most apposite comments Jeffries cites come from Professor AC Grayling: "These groups are trying to be exempt from the effort to be a fair society, and we are faced with the threat of a possible return to the dark ages. We are trying to keep a pluralistic society, and elements in the Christian church and other religions are trying to destroy it."

Amen to that.

Azzim Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, sees it differently, "I refer to secular fundamentalism. The problem is that these people believe that they have the absolute truth. That means you have no room to talk to others so you end up having a physical fight. They want to close the door and ignore religion, but this will provoke a violent religiosity. If someone seeks to deny my existence, I will fight to assert it."

I agree with him. Based on the available evidence I am certain I am right: there is no God. But I am certain I can conduct my anti-theism without recourse to fisticuffs. Nor should my anti-theism "provoke a violent religiosity". It is the ideas which I hate but not the practitioners. Nor is anyone's "existence" being questioned. The religious and anti-religious should be able to engage in debate in much the same way as Labour supporters and Tories. I may reflect on a Utopia free of religion and Tories but in reality I know that I will always have to deal with people of faith and deal with Tories. Tamimi's words simply reinforce the point that the religious consider their ideas or faiths to be beyond criticism, that they are to be respected absolutely. This cannot and should not be guaranteed.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Egyptian blogger jailed

I risk very little when I commit my sometimes half-baked views to the blogosphere. Little beyond scorn or ridicule. In Britain the dissident or contrarian can campaign and rail without fear of reprisals or brutality, at least none directed by the state. So the case today of Abdel Kareem Soliman serves to remind how the freedom of ideas is less certain in many other countries.

Soliman used his web log to condemn the
al-Azhar university, the country's foremost Islamic institution, and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he described as a dictator. Today he was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. I am not aware of what exactly Soliman said other than call Mubarak a dictator and describe the al-Azhar institution as a "university of terror" and that it suppressed free thought. Unfortunately, he has been vindicated in that belief.

Harry heads for Iraq

And declares himself to be "over the moon". I appreciate this may represent the fruition of all his training and dedication but could he not have described it differently.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Is this the 19th century that I'm watching on TV?

Iraq burns, sabres are rattled in Iran's direction, and benighted fools in strange costumes debate esoteric texts.

The US Episcopal Church has reason to cheer today as a report commissioned for church leaders deems that it has largely conformed to orthodox teaching. If ever there was an example of the reactionary and anti-enlightenment forces at work in the church today it is this hilarious spat. How dare these people demand an "apology" for the ordination of Gene Robinson, as though his appointment were some capricious act of folly.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ex-BNP man prepared for 'civil war'

I'm not sure what to make of this story. Robert Cottage is alleged to have told of his intention to kill Tony Blair and that Britain was heading toward civil war. Cottage admitted to having stockpiled chemical weapons in his home but denied intending to use them. His co-defendant, David Jackson, denies both charges.

By rights this ought to be big news. However, it's not clear if the two hand any details of a plan to kill Blair nor whether they had the ability to successfully finish any such plot. Cottage's apparently unbalanced state of mind suggests not. That he believed Britain was on course to civil war in the years ahead speaks of a paranoia and delusion bordering on clinical. Whether this is some ploy on the defence's part with a view to pleading mitigation remains to be seen. The prosecution has been quick to dismiss this explanation. The pair clearly intended to do a great deal of harm, however inexpertly carried out.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

We the undersigned...

You may have heard that you can petition the Prime Minister at the 10 Downing Street website. There's been plenty of blogging about this recently and it's perhaps suggestive of the nation's mood when you consider the current most popular petitions call for an end to the consideration of road charging and scrapping inheritance tax. Less indicative, arguably, is the petition launched by one David Kitchen calling for the national anthem to be replaced by 'Gold' by Spandau Ballet.

Which naturally leads me to ask those of you who may be reading this what your choice for a national anthem would be? Lacking any imagination this Saturday night I'll get the ball rolling with 'Take Down the Union Jack' by Billy Bragg.

Obama to run

As expected Barack Obama today announced his candidacy for the next President of the US. There's an interesting piece about him in today's Grauniad. He seems like a man of conviction, honesty, and realistic optimism, surprisingly so in some respects. His autobiography, "Dreams of my Father" (his father left home when he was a child), details his reliance on cocaine, marijuana and alcohol for a time during his childhood. But at least it is he who has revealed this. Elsewhere he seems to have a patchy record in the Senate, at times favouring political loyalty over personal conviction. None the less, to me he represents a better prospect than Hillary Clinton.

Dave Cameron was my dealer

The Beeb reports that a new biography on Dave Cameron reveals that he was once hauled before the head at Eton for puffing pot. Great news for the tabloid editors but not of much interest anywhere else. Not even as exciting as my headline suggests. It does say in the report DC was "not the ringleader" so you can see where I've got confused.

Though it is one of those stories when I wish I was a master of photoshop and could construct a crude likeness of Dave with a spliff hanging out of his mouth and a couple of spirals where his eyes should be.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Top Gear. Cars. Yeah.

It's only taken one episode and already the new series of Top Gear has upset those people who huddle around TV sets waiting to be upset. I don't care much for Clarkson and co myself but I do think he's best ignored.

The latest furore concerns Richard Hammond's return to the programme. The brain injury charity Headway has registered its unhappiness with comments made about 'the Hamster'
on his return to the programme. Predictably, Clarkson made some oafish remark about him being mental the-other-fella offered him a tissue in case he was dribbling. Not side-splittingly funny by any means and potentially upsetting for some viewers. While I can see why Headway feels it should remind people that not all victims of accidents make complete recoveries, I do question whether it considered its objections would ever amount to anything. Clarkson revels in upsetting people. He's big chums with AA Gill who also glories in bashing whomever strays onto his radar. Ask the Albanians. Top Gear, as so far as I can tell, revolves around 'blokey banter', so in general the advice should be turn off if you don't like. Nonetheless, I do agree with Headway when it complains that some of the coverage of Hammond's crash has been irresponsible.

If I had a friend who had survived a similar accident and recovered as well as Hammond, I and others would probably make jokes at their expensive when it felt it was right to do so. It's called gallows humour and most of use it at some point. For Clarkson and the-other-fella, it's a way of saying, "Oh eck, thank gawd, you made it, we love you" without actually having to say the L-word or have to ponder too long on the lexicon of endearment. Hammond's crash and his recovery is probably a great career move given the programme he fronts. And his thoughts on the subject whenever a mic has been thrust in his face have certainly played up to the dare devil, petrol head image. But perhaps it's just his and those closest to him's way of coping.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Blair has collar felt again

A regrettably quiet week at the Pamphleteer, but then there was a media blackout, you understand.