Thursday, December 27, 2007

On the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Most will already be aware of Benazir Bhutto's death and will not require the likes of me to elaborate further. Having just spent eight hours on a train I'm in no mood to try and make sense of today's events but I do fear the consequences will be catastrophic for Pakistan.

Thoughts on who might be responsible for the attack are here and here.

A fitting panegyric by Christopher Hitchens for Slate is here. (update: 00.19)

Monday, December 24, 2007

On Blair, Catholicism, and Ann Widdecombe

It can be, for some, customary to express dismay or mock-horror when one finds oneself in agreement with the thoughts of someone with whom you consider yourself to be diametrically opposed politically or culturally. Any note of acquiesence tends to be made facetiously or laden with caveats or with some assertion that one's mind is not what it once was. So it was when I read Ann Widdecombe's observations on Tony Blair's protracted decision to convert to Catholicism.

Herself a convert since 1993, Widdecombe, told Sky News at the weekend that Blair would have to have admitted to "believ(ing) everything the church teaches to be revealed truth.' And that means if you previously had any problems with church teaching, as Tony Blair obviously did over abortion ... you would have to say you changed your mind." Widdecombe suggesting that the church ought to have demanded such a statement from the former prime minister. Blair has not released any statement about his conversion. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has written to Blair to ask whether he has "repented". Of course, he has not. And nor should he. Blair is to be commended thoroughly for his positions on civil partnerships and abortions during his time as premier. Unfortunately, he did allow the Catholic church some leeway in the row over gay adoption but the correct position was still reached.

None the less, I cannot understand his decision to convert. It disappoints me that he is a person of faith, but this is by the by. He is free to believe as he pleases on this matter. I wish, however, that he had seen sense and left it at that. I cannot sympathise with the man in his decision to attach himself formally to an organisation whose fundamental tenets he so clearly is at odds with. Nor do I appreciate why such an organisation should want him among its affiliates (whatever one of those might be characterised as). Doubtless, he has been accepted in some vainglorious and condescending notion of being "forgiven" but surely the damage where he is concerned has been done.

Perhaps we shall see Blair petitioning and lobbying his successor and erstwhile comrade over matters of a Catholic interest in the future. Fortunately, I am confident, unshakably, that this will not be the case. Blair is guilty of the worst kind of doublethink and is a fool to have aligned himself with a reactionary organisation with whose teachings he evidently has no truck with.

Oh and Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Tommy Sheridan

The perma-tanned one, the self-proclaimed scourge of Rupert Murdoch, has been charged with perjury following a police investigation resulting from his defamation case against the News of the World. This may not come as a surprise to some observers.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On £35,000 cocktails

A London nightclub frequented by bulky, braces-wearing bankers, footballers and celebrities last week launched its 'Christmas Cocktail'. A blend of cognacs, adorned with an edible gold leaf, it will set you back £35,000. The reason? On the ocean-floor of this rarefied sea lies sunken treasure: an 11-carat white diamond. If someone orders one, the music stops and some pompous Hollywood film theme tune plays signaling that the other patrons must suspend briefly their own frivolities and instead gawp at the drink which is brought to the client's table, shepherded by its own minders.

I suppose we can only be grateful that this sort of gratuitous nonsense goes on behind closed doors. And before I'm accused of class-jealously or curmudgeonhood (the latter not being a title I ordinarily shy from in any case) may I state in mitigation that I think this kind of outward show of opulence is quite removed from those more recognisable displays of wealth. Cars, boats and houses all, to some degree, serve a purpose. Whether someone requires five of each of those is perhaps to be discussed another time. But as far as I can discern there is no other aim in making the purchase other than a crude and crass display of wealth. That the transaction secures a diamond at its end is secondary to the show itself. I wonder whether the staff in such exclusive bars receive more than the average bar job wage in London. I expect not. You might at least find consolation in the likelihood that tips are doubtless plentiful.

The footballer Johnathan Woodgate, formerly of Real Madrid now in the more humble surrounds of Middlesbrough, is said to have once incinerated £200 in cash while sitting in a working class pub in Leeds. To describe Woodgate's behaviour in this instance as disgraceful and repugnant would, to borrow from Christopher Hitchens, be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. At the root is some desire to provoke. The same cannot be said of those nightclub-goers with vastly more money to burn since, as explained, mercifully they do it behind closed doors. But what speaks more urgently of a need to tax these people more, if only to save them from themselves?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

On a warning

Paul Westerberg - Eyes Like Sparks

Thursday, December 06, 2007

On Lyrical Terrorism

Sounds ridiculous, does it not? Yet, Samina Malik, the self-styled 'lyrical terrorist" was today handed a nine-month suspended jail sentence under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which states that it is an offence if a person "collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism."

That her case ever got as far as court is a nonsense. The contention that this woman has been charged with a thought crime has featured prominently in many of the comment sections of today's papers. Matthew Parris, in the Times a few weeks ago when the case first came to light, wrote most persuasively on the subject. Inayat Bunglawala also made the point in today's Guardian and for once I found myself in agreement with him, yet many could not avoid the accusation of cant in his case.

The only lyrical terrorism Ms Malik is guilty of, involves mangled rhyme and scansion rather than train carriages. She claimed she chose the handle 'lyrical terrorist' because she thought it was cool. Her thinking doesn't sound too developed to me and strikes me as nothing more than impressionable and foolish.

In his book 'The Islamist' the author Ed Husain describes his past life as a young, firebrand Muslim 'radical'. He was not. Nothing in his book is particularly shocking and his story is that of a bored and equally impressionable adolescent. It strikes me that if Ms Malik was thought fit for gaol then the Old Bill ought to be knocking on Mr Husain's door asking him about his book, which is a full confession of his one-time interest in idiotic ideas, questionable religious people, and beards. I'd suggest Husain was more deeply involved in shadowy practices than is evinced from what we know of Malik, but, surprise, surprise, when Husain reached adulthood he realised what he doing was a bit silly and embarrassing and gave it all up.

Samina Malik had not stockpiled fertilizer at her home. She didn't have instructions on how to build bombs (although anyone who was against the Vietnam war may well have done in the form of the The Anarchist Cookbook). She wrote dreadful poems she thought would impress her mates. The facts of the case tell us she did nothing wrong, yet she faced a possible sentence of ten years' imprisonment. She was caught apparently thinking and promoting acts which we find hideous. But we cannot accept a situation where thoughts become outlawed. An act or the preparation of an act must be what is required before a person is required to stand before a jury accused of terrorism.