Monday, 27 February 2012

charles clarke: 'thanks to religion, I've found life after politics'

Charles Clarke: 'Thanks to religion, I've found life after politics'. Labour would still be in power if the party had seen sense and made Charles Clarke its leader. At least, that’s what he thinks.
- Telegraph, 26 February

faithful politics

Faithful Politics
Faith is definitely flavour of the month. You can't help but notice the number of faith stories in the news lately. From prayers at council meetings and the rights of Christian B&B owners to the question of 'militant secularism', faith is a hot topic. Generally no-one seems to mind when we keep our faith to ourselves. We can sing, dance and preach to the choir all we like. The problem starts when we go public.
As evangelical Christians this presents a difficulty. Politics is a label that we have given to certain aspects of life. From Genesis to Revelation we see a holy God who seeks relationship with us in every area of our lives. We are commanded to tell others about Jesus Christ and we seek to glorify Him with every thought, word and action. Instead of building our own empire and reputation we seek to build the Kingdom of God. In essence, a Christian's faith is their defining feature not their private hobby.
The fact that this leads to conflict in our society is not a surprise. The Bible says that the wisdom of the cross will seem like foolishness to the world. In our pluralistic society, Christians claim an absolute authority on truth, morality and the way to eternal life. This is seen as offensive and narrow-minded to say the least. Perhaps more than ever Christians need wisdom and prayerful consideration when choosing their public battles. Opinion on difficult issues varies greatly even between Christians. The how's, why's, where's and when's of Christian engagement in politics will surely divide opinion but there is one thing we need to guard against.
The gospel cannot be removed from politics but it should never be politicised.
To clarify, there is no political party, denomination, movement or country that can claim any monopoly on the cross. Royalists and republicans, unionists and nationalists, conservatives, labour and liberals - none can stake a divinely ordained claim within the church of Christ. The danger is that faith becomes a political football, a way to secure allegiance and woo an electorate. The temptation is to 'do deals' and pander to those who are simply treating Christian faith as a tool rather than a living reality. It's not a new threat and it's happening right now throughout the world.
The good news of God's grace in Jesus Christ for whoever believes stands alone. It transcends time and tradition. God is in control, He is never on the back foot, overtaken by current events. We must protect the freedom of the gospel and avoid even well-meaning attempts to bind it to a national flag or party rosette.
Actually on reflection, to say that "Jesus is Lord" is perhaps the most political statement we can make. It's bold, dangerous and demands everything from us. In the coming days may we have clarity and courage to speak and to live revolutionary lives in the pursuit of nothing but Jesus Christ.
- EA politics blog entry, 23 February

we need reforms to protect the rights of christians

We need reforms to protect the rights of Christians: Two backbenchers explain the findings of a six-month inquiry into the 'marginalisation' of Christians in Britain.
- Telegraph, 26 February

The EA-backed report, Clearing The Ground, is summarised here.

bbc director general admits christianity gets tougher treatment

Mark Thompson: BBC director general admits Christianity gets tougher treatment. The BBC director general Mark Thompson has claimed that Christianity is treated with less sensitivity than other religions because it is “pretty broad shoulders”.
- Telegraph, 27 February

Friday, 24 February 2012

neurons v free will

Neurons v Free Will: The notion of free will is under attack again, this time from the advance of neuroscience. Anthony Gottlieb explains...
- Economist Intelligent Life magazine, March/April 2012.

Free will v predestination was always a debating stick to beat Christians with in my youth, but it's equally an issue for scientists. I imagine a lot of people happy to buy into the idea that science has done away with God are less happy to buy into the idea that science has done away with their free will too. Not so many takers for The Free Will Delusion...

smallest gap between first and last place in football league

"Looking at the Premier League table, I realised that four points separate Reading in 18th and Middlesbrough in 12th," wrote Erica Bland back in 2008. "Which got me wondering – which was the closest league of all time, with the smallest gap between first and last place?"
We're going to have to set some parameters on this one, Erica, as otherwise we'd end up with readers emailing in excitedly about two-team leagues such as that in the Isle of Scilly. For the sake of argument, then, we're going to arbitrarily limit our scope to leagues featuring at least 12 teams, and at least 22 games.
Which is convenient, really, since such a focus allows us to include both of our two stand-out favourites for closest league ever. First up is Morocco's 14-team Championnat National de 1ère Division, where Casablanca's Wydad Athletic Club won the league title with 57 points in 1965-66, while both Club Omnisport de Meknès and Maghreb Athletic Tetouan were relegated in last and second-last respectively on 49 points – a gap of only eight points. While a system which awarded three points per win, two for a draw and one for a loss did tend towards equality, it remains true that Wydad had won only four more games – and drawn the same number – as the relegated clubs. The gap between first and last was just over 15% of the theoretical maximum (52) had Wydad won all their games and last place lost all of theirs.
Arguably tighter still, however, was Romania's Divizia C, Seria a VIII-a in 1983-84. In a 16-team league, with two points awarded for a win and one for a draw, Muresul Deva took first place – and promotion to Divizia B – with 38 points, while Minerul Ghelar and Minerul Aninoasa were relegated in the bottom two spots with 29 and 28 points respectively. The league looks more preposterous still, however, if you simply ignore Muresul Deva for a moment. Second-place UMT Timisoara had 31 points, meaning they avoided relegation by 13 places but by only two points. Most infuriatingly for second-last Minerul Ghelar, eight other teams finished equal with them on 29 points, yet of those sides only they were relegated; sadly that's what a goal difference of -17 will do for you.
- Guardian Knowledge, 22 February

it's the first london mayoral election hustings – all over again

It's the first London mayoral election hustings – all over again: Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick faced an audience of older voters in London, as they did four years ago
- entertaining account by Michael White, Guardian, 21 February

It was enough to bring out the hunched-shoulders side of the mayor's personality when he looks shiftily like a man being hunted by an irate father with a shotgun – or his party leader.
... But he was not all nerdy. Perhaps the mayor had been too busy to innovate since 2008 because he had other things on his plate – like the £250,000-a-year column he still writes for the Daily Telegraph, Livingstone mused unkindly. As Johnson shrank beneath his trademark tea cosy hairdo, pantomime cries of "Ooh" rose from the oldsters, a good cross-section of 200 Londoners packed into an upstairs room.
"As mayor I got by on £140,000 ... if you cannot live on £140,000 you must have a very interesting lifestyle," observed Ken in an innuendo-packed sentence. As a Labour flier being handed out to the oldies reminded them, in an exuberant moment the mayor had called the £250,000 "chicken feed," a phrase repeated by Livingstone who theatrically produced an "I will be a full-time mayor" pledge card. "I've left a space for you to sign, Boris." Huge laughter.
... Yet the one you had to feel really sorry for was former Met copper Brian ("I love bendy buses") Paddick, the Marx Brother they always forget.
Even here things were not what they were last time. Paddick is no standup comic, but he is a lot better than he was and held his own with some corny shtick for the OAPs about always consulting a "secret agent". She turned out to be his wise old mum in Sutton, who is 92 and scared to go out after the riots. Young Brian spoke so warmly of his mother that we all wished she was the candidate.
... In the twilight of a long career he has finally become the Ronald Reagan of the campaign, determined not to exploit the youth and inexperience of his opponents while ruthlessly doing so.
In their voracious demands for better buses, safer streets, more social care, ever-freer travel and an end to ageist discrimination, the oldsters were as bad as teenagers, albeit generally more polite. Naturally the candidates pandered to them all. Old folk remember to vote.

- here also are two more Guardian accounts of the event: the live blog, and Dave Hill's blog entry (titled 'Boris gets a spanking').

Thursday, 23 February 2012

our local councillors

Our three current local councillors are Catherine Bowman (LD), Neil Coyle (Lab) and Patrick Diamond (Lab). Catherine has a website, Neil is on Twitter, and Patrick has a Wikipedia entry (former advisor to Peter Mandelson, it turns out). (I had cause to write to them today, hence the research.)

The first of our local councillors I encountered was Caroline Pidgeon, at a TRA AGM a long time ago. I thought, in a rather cliched way, that woman's going places, and she did (currently leader of the Lib Dem group on the London Assembly).

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

latest heygate estate plan

Lend Lease unveils final masterplan for Elephant & Castle’s Heygate Estate: The latest proposals for the development of nearly 2,500 homes and dozens of new shops on the site of the Heygate Estate have been put on public display by Lend Lease in advance of an outline planning application to Southwark Council.
- London SE1, 22 February

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

bod gave sausage rolls to you

Bod gave sausage rolls to you
- just a quirky posting on the Word blog, with a little picture and a link to Argent doing 'God gave rock and roll to you'

a good week for the smiting of the ungodly

A good week for the smiting of the ungodly: The anger last week against the smug anti-religion brigade was quite startling.
- Telegraph, 21 February

impressive cricket catch

I don't know much about cricket, but I do know that this Youtube clip of a catch on the boundary in a game in New Zealand is very good indeed.

to defend the church’s role is to defend faith as a whole

To defend the Church’s role is to defend faith as a whole: The Queen is right – our national religion is a force for unity and a channel of peace.
- Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, 17 February

Thursday, 16 February 2012

sicilian fugitive deported after london whereabouts revealed on facebook

Sicilian fugitive deported after London whereabouts revealed on Facebook: Michele Grasso tracked down after profile documented visits to Madame Tussauds, Ministry of Sound and London Eye
- Guardian, 12 February

teddy roosevelt's diary entry

On Valentine's Day of 1884, just 36 hours after the birth of their only daughter, Alice, 25-year-old future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt held his young wife in his arms as she passed away from undiagnosed Bright's disease. Incredibly, just hours before, in the same house, he had already said a final goodbye to his mother, Martha. She had succumbed to Typhoid, aged just 48.
In an effort to cope with the loss, his deceased wife was never mentioned again in public — even in his autobiography.
Theodore's diary for that day read as follows.

The light has gone out of my life
- Letters of Note

Sunday, 12 February 2012

peter capaldi

Two facts about Peter Capaldi from an interview-based article in the Radio Times of 4 February:
- Bill Forsyth was a friend of his 'costume-designer landlady, and on meeting the lodger in his pal's kitchen one night, was so struck by "the drama" of the 23-year-old's face that he cast him as a young oil-company employee opposite Burt Lancaster in Local Hero, released in early 1983.' (He had failed to get into drama school but not clear if this was while or after he was in the Glasgow School of Art.)
- Armando Iannucci was brought up in the same street as he had been (another Glasgow Italian)

king john

On Facebook on Tuesday 31 January I wrote 'I saw a good production of King John by William Shakespeare at the Union Theatre tonight, which means I've now seen all 38 Shakespeare plays. It was 37 when I started (pretty sure the first was Pericles, implausibly enough, at the Aberdeen Arts Centre while at University), then they added The Two Noble Kinsmen. Boys and their lists, eh?'
Among the comments Dana said, 'Do you get a nice badge for this? Or at least a doublet..'
I said, I am disproportionately satisfied with this, and do feel I should mark it in some way, but Bethan refuses point blank to make me a badge or to buy me hose and garters. There's probably some club I can register with now, perhaps called Smug & Unbearable. A posting on Facebook will have to do.'

Like several of the other lesser-seen plays I've seen, the production was good and made me wonder why it wasn't performed very often (I'd heard the play on CDs from the library during my retinal recuperation). I've been very fortunate with the Shakespeare productions I've seen, really. It was well staged and well acted, quite a large cast in a smal space with a small audience; I've only seen one thing at the Union Theatre before, a Sondheim thing, possibly with Genevieve only as Bethan doesn't remember seeing it (I think it was Side By Side By Sondheim). From the biogs in the programme I think the only actor I'd seen before was James Robinson, who was in They Came To A City at the Southwark Playhouse. Rikki Lawton as the Bastard and Nicholas Osmond as King John probably stood out most, but they had the showiest parts (though in quite different ways) - they both looked familiar, though I don't think I've seen them before (suspect King John was just reminding me of cross between Adam Buxton, Giles Coren and guy-in-Miranda-who-looks-like-Giles-Coren). I enjoyed it a lot.

I hadn't heard much about the production before - I picked up on it from the London SE1 email - but it seems to have been well-received. Some links. The Union Theatre and its Twitter site. The production's site (which has a cast page as per programme), a trailer on Vimeo, and its Twitter site (a number of the cast are on Twitter too).

Reviews. London SE1 ('Nicholas Osmond brilliantly displays how his pomposity and haplessness combine to cause his eventual and inevitable downfall. ... The use, or at least threatened use, of a blowtorch is slightly terrifying on such a confined stage, but extremely effective. The production also deploys an excellent, and often tongue-in-cheek, soundtrack. The scene, in which King John is haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed, who dance to the strains of a waltz, is creative and, quite honestly, eerie.'). Remote Goat (King John is staged here as a black comedy; smiling, singing and dancing with the weighty subjects. Some may find this jarring if not to their tastes but considering the content, I feel this production brings the text and the meanings within to the forefront with consideration and precision.'). London Theatre Guide. The Public Reviews blog. Exeunt. Time Out. The Stage. One Stop Arts. What's On Stage. Big Q. (new to me, as are a couple of others here, but this is more substantial and I'm surprised it hasn't popped up before). Guardian. The production's lighting designer Jason Meininger has a page on the production which draws together reviews, plus a healthy set of photos. Notes of an Idealist ('Samantha Lawson as Lady Constance first of all attracted attention by being young, black and extremely beautiful and then delivered an outstanding, intense, abandoned performance on a different scale from everyone else.' - latter point certainly true, not in terms of quality but in terms of intensity, as if from another play, but worked in context, where everyone else is being political and she is being political too but emotionally-driven in that). Evening Standard. British Theatre Guide.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

top five regrets of the dying

Top five regrets of the dying: A nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and among the top ones is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'.
- Guardian, 1 February.

The five are:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

fred the symbol

This week's big news-effect announcement is that former RBS boss Fred Goodwin has been stripped of his knighthood. As pious chancellor George Osborne explained, Fred "came to symbolise everything that went wrong in the British economy over the last decade".
How convenient, and I know we all feel a real sense of catharsis now that someone none of us will ever clap eyes on has been stripped of whatever meaningless bauble was conferred upon him by a bunch of politicians still posing as hapless bystanders to events that continue to destroy people's lives. But most impressive is that "came to symbolise" – perhaps the woolliest piece of non-legal reasoning for a decision since that bloke was voted off the Weakest Link for being Welsh.
By now, you will have realised that your role in papering over capitalism's malfunctions is to watch politicians call for empty gestures, and then look grateful for them.
- Marina Hyde, Guardian, 2 February

david attenborough refuses to rule out god

David Attenborough refuses to rule out God: Speaking on Desert Island Discs, David Attenborough, said that there may be a God and that this would not be 'inconsistent' with the theory of evolution. The 85-year-old broadcaster and naturalist told Kirsty Young: 'I don’t think that an understanding and an acceptance of the 4 billion-year-long history of life is in any way inconsistent with a belief of a supreme being. I am not so confident as to say that I am an atheist. I would prefer to say I am an agnostic.’ (Daily Mail, 30/1)
- Bible Society's Newswatch email, 3 February (email links to original Daily Mail article source)

Monday, 6 February 2012

best 'letter to the editor' ever

Despite never being published in the paper, the following brief letter — sent to the offices of The Times in 1946 by the famously eccentric Lt. Col. Alfred Daniel Wintle — was so adored by staff, it has apparently been preserved ever since. It's easy to see why.
From Lt. Col. A.D. Wintle.
The Royal Dragoons
Cavalry Club
127 Piccadilly W.1.
To the Editor of The Times.
I have just written you a long letter.
On reading it over, I have thrown it into the waste paper basket.
Hoping this will meet with your approval,
I am
Your obedient Servant
(Signed, 'ADWintle')
6 Feb '46
- Letters of Note blog, 6 July 2011.

His Wikipedia entry also makes entertaining reading.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

treating sport as a religion

Suppose we really treated sport as a religion. What would we say?: In a liberal and tolerant society like ours there is no place for the divisive tribalism of the football terraces
- Guardian, 4 February. Nicely done extended metaphor by Nick Spencer

'no such thing as society' fallacy

Margaret Thatcher's famous remark, "There is no such thing as society," is often quoted out of context. That's a shame because, in context, it is even more absurd than it appears when naked and alone. Thatcher offered her observation in 1987, during an interview with Woman's Own: "There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate." Yes, That's right. There is living tapestry, all woven together to make a big picture. Some people even call that picture "the big society", I hear.
Thatcher continues: "… we have these little innocents and the worst crime in life is when those children, who would naturally have the right to look to their parents for help, for comfort, not only just for the food and shelter but for time, for understanding, turn round and not only is that help not forthcoming, but they get either neglect or worse than that, cruelty."
Oh, dear. That bit is not so easy to ridicule, is it? That bit is quite right. It is appalling to have children and then to abuse or neglect them. There is no excuse for it. Not even the excuse that you were abused and neglected as a child yourself – an explanation not being the same as an excuse. We are all agreed on that, broadly?
Good. By agreeing that Thatcher is right in that second assertion, one proves that she is wrong in the first one.
If there were no such thing as society, there would be no such thing as criticising others for their own sovereign and individual behaviour. There would be no social norms, no agreed ethical standards. There would be no loom, no warp, no weft, no tapestry. That is the trouble with rightwing individualism. It is always poking its snout into other people's business to remind them that … well … that other people's business is not their business. The baleful Conservative paradox is that you go into public service to dismantle it, into government (ostensibly) to disempower it.
- Deborah Orr article extract, Guardian, 4 February

model's hips too fat at 92cm

Too fat? Next Top Model winner sues agency: Ananda Marchildon claims Elite withheld Dutch competition prize money and sacked her because her hips were 2cm too big
- Guardian, 4 February

Article begins:
A winner of Holland's Next Top Model is suing her agency for refusing to give her the prize money she claims she is due because they say she is "too fat".
Ananda Marchildon said she only received €10,000 (£8,300) of the €75,000 contract she was promised after winning the competition in 2008, aged 21. She was also stripped of her title.
The 1.83m (6ft) model claims she was sacked by Elite Model Management two years into the three-year agreement because her hip measurement exceeded their maximum limit of 90cm. The average European woman has 102.9cm hips. At the time of her dismissal, Marchildon claims her hips were 92cm.
- interestingly, the print version (where I saw it) gave the measurements in inches rather than cms (max limit = 35.4in, European average 40.5in). Also interestingly, the print version had a different headline to the online version, as did the Simon Hoggart sketch in the previous post (search optimisation, I guess, also more literal re contact for drawing in surfers - though made searching online on print headline futile).

the duke of edinburgh's wish list

The fascinating bit in Mr Batterham's book is about the Duke of Edinburgh, who apparently is a bibliophile. He has a secretary who orders books for him. "The duke keeps a cupboard of goodies, such as the books he buys from me, so that people who want to give him a present can choose something he is known to like! Then they buy it from him, and give it back."
What a wonderful idea! You get both the present, and the money.
- extract from Simon Hoggart's Saturday sketch, Guardian, 4 February

the placebo effect

John Worrall, who neatly reversed the two questions I wanted to ask him (deduction should always have preceded induction of course!), went into a wonderful aria about the need to do a programme on evidence-based medicine. He spoke powerfully about the effect of placebos, saying that you could cut somebody’s ribcage open after an attack of angina, and instead of operating just stitch it up again and say you had done the usual surgery, and that placebo effect could result in just as good a recovery as that resulting from the surgical intervention. He put it more elaborately than that, but certainly he gave both Tom and me the taste for evidence-based medicine in a future programme.
- from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time newsletter, 27 January (that week's topic was the scientific method)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

alain de botton's atheist temple

Alain de Botton's atheist temple is a nice idea, but a defunct one: De Botton's atheist temple call does not need to be realised – our existing places of worship can be appreciated by all
- John Gray, Guardian, 2 February

When he proposes building a temple for unbelievers, de Botton is reinventing a wheel that never really turned. The fad for atheist temples lasted for perhaps 60 years, while places of worship dedicated to something bigger than humanity have been around for many millennia. There is a nice irony here. For all his loony notions, Comte was more intelligent than most of the atheists who came after him. He saw clearly that religion is an enduring human need that cannot be denied. Yet despite the formative influence it had on writers and philosophers such as George Eliot and John Stuart Mill, Comte's religion of humanity disappeared leaving hardly a trace – just a handful of sites, whose history as places of worship practically nobody remembers.

huhne's mum and the hamilton defence

Two facts from yesterday's Evening Standard:
- Chris Huhne's mum was the voice of the speaking clock
- in 2003, Neil and Christine Hamilton avoided a speeding fine when their car was flashed by a speed camera, because they claimed they couldn't remember who was driving.

Friday, 3 February 2012

david langford; frank muir and j g ballard

I've just sent this long-intended message to David Langford via his Ansible website:

Dear David,
I have meant to email for some time, finally prompted by your eye update; I hope all is recovering well.

I wanted to say thanks for your writing, which I have appreciated very much and which I guess like a lot of others I first came across in White Dwarf - which in the end I was getting primarily for your article - then other similar magazines and, unexpectedly, Amstrad magazines. I was pleased to come across the Ansible website and email a few years ago, and eventually did the decent thing and bought some books.

My memory of Christmas 2009 is reading The Complete Critical Assembly and Frank Muir's A Kentish Lad with a rising black sun in my right eye. After the holidays I told an A&E nurse friend of mine I wasn't sure who I should go to with this, my GP or my optician, and she said A&E; and a couple of days later they were lasering my retina back on. The NHS is not so bad.

I thought you might be interested in this extract from A Kentish Lad (1997), if you're not aware of it already, which suggests that Frank Muir may have had a formative influence on the Ballardian view of the world:
"I was told recently that the novelist J. G. Ballard much enjoyed the My Word! stories, and after hearing a story of mine in which, for purposes of the plot, I extolled the virtues of living in beautiful Shepperton, Surrey (Thorpe [where Frank Muir lived] is about 5 miles away) - I described Shepperton as 'the Malibu of the Thames Valley' - he was moved by this warm recommendation and drove over in his car, liked what he saw and bought a house there, in which he still lives. Could this be true? I do hope so."

With best wishes, and thanks again,

bobby mcferrin and the pentatonic scale

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale
- Youtube clip