Thursday, 29 March 2012

verdict on uk riots: people need a 'stake in society', says report

Verdict on UK riots: people need a 'stake in society', says report. Panel concludes that riots were fuelled by a lack of opportunities for young people, poor parenting and suspicion of the police
- Guardian, 28 March

divorce and the congregation

Divorce and the Congregation: Practical wisdom informed by biblical teaching
- Books & Culture, March/April 2012. An interesting article reviewing a range of books on divorce-related issues

citing chapter and verse

Citing Chapter and Verse: Which Scripture Is the Right One?
- New York Times, 26 March

'What this means is that the rhetoric of disinterested inquiry, as retailed by the likes of Dawkins and Pinker, is in fact a very interested assertion of the superiority of one set of beliefs. And accompanying that assertion is a conviction that those who are not persuaded of those beliefs can be dismissed out of hand.'

father of the email attachment

Father of the email attachment: As his invention celebrates its 20th anniversary, Nathaniel Borenstein explains how and why he revolutionised modern communications
- Guardian, 26 March

"I would tell people: 'Some day I'm going to have grandkids, and I'll want to email people pictures of them.' And people laughed."

how we made: just my imagination by the temptations

How we made: Just My Imagination by the Temptations. 'We were having big disagreements. The lead singer had to finish the vocals on his own'
- Guardian, 26 March

titanic facts

Two extracts from the feature on the Titanic in this week's Radio Times:

a) [Julian Fellowes says] 'I think there are bits of information where the public either doesn't know something, or has got the wrong end of the stick.
He cites the oft-repeated fact that the ship only has a third of the lifeboats required for the people on board. 'It's always interpreted as "What do we care if the steerage drown, as long as Lady Mary's rescued?" But that wasn't it at all. The great steam liners had been operating by then for a little less than half a century, and they didn't sink often. When they did it was invariably because of a collision with another vessel. And when that happens the damage is so localised that they took forever to sink. If it takes 12 hours to sink there was more than enough time for other boats to get there...
'So on Titanic they though there was no point in cluttering up the boat deck, making everyone hysterical and having 56 lifeboats hanging everywhere. In fact, they thought they had too many! It never occurred to them they would have the unique quality of the iceberg damage - which was a slash right down the side of the ship. I mean, it sank in 90 minutes.'

b) Of the 880 crew aboard the RMS Titanic, 600 came from Southampton and of those, 549 perished.

Friday, 23 March 2012

can britain tolerate christians?

Can Britain Tolerate Christians? Nondiscrimination laws become a morass of claims and counterclaims.
- Wall Street Journal, 15 March

'I have ennui!'

Saw this cartoon on Emlyn's Facebook page and tracked it down. The full run of cartoons on the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal site is a mixed bag, from the ones I've looked at, but this is class.

Family in car, mum and dad in front, dad driving, two kids in the back. Kid says, 'Mom, Dad! I have ennui!' Dad says, 'Well, you should've made peace with the absurdity of human existence before we started driving!' Caption says, 'Dad eventually pulled over at a frozen lake, which represented the sublime beauty of impermanence, but he was pretty annoyed about it.'

religion and the enlightenment

I think that the reason I enjoyed this programme so much was that it brought into clear focus the splicing and the contradiction and the internal opposition on nature of great religion and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.
I've always thought it was completely simplistic to think that the Enlightenment came and wiped the slate clean of all previous knowledge. That the great knowledge systems built up by people every bit as clever as those in the Enlightenment were suddenly not fit for purpose and we had a new dawn. It seems to me that we carry the past with us wherever we go and there are few clean changes, and if so, they are brutal and short-lived and the pendulum then swings back. It's evolution and merging that brings about the eventual big changes.
Religion had a great deal to offer the Enlightenment, as enlightened people in the Royal Society, for instance, from Newton through to Priestley and Clerk Maxwell, were well aware of. In the person of Moses Mendelssohn we had a supreme example of a religious scholar and a believer in one of the great world faiths, who was also entranced by, and became part of, the Enlightenment; led, as it seemed then, solely by reason.
- extract from Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time email for this week's episode on Moses Mendelssohn

flora robson and anna crilly

Watching Murder at the Gallop just now (Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, my anniversary present was a box of the four). Dame Flora Robson reminded of someone. Took me a while to work out it was Anna Crilly.

travels in london's sewers

Travels In London's sewers
- interesting article by Rose George, on her website, from 2006, written for LRB

otters that look like benedict cumberbatch

A blog post on The Daily Otter, of Otters That Look Like Benedict Cumberbatch. That's all.

is boris working?

Is Boris Working?: amusing anti-Boris website.

john sentamu attacks 'aggressive atheism’

Christianity is under threat from a new, intolerant brand of “aggressive atheism” intent on driving religion out of public life, the Archbishop of York warned yesterday.
- Telegraph, 23 March

'I've seen the simpsons'

A quoted extract from Reverse Missionaries, about Christian missionaries from overseas in the UK, in the preview in today's Radio Times:
When this week's visiting pastor sees the apathy towards religion in Blantyre, Glasgow, where his hero David Livingstone was born, he feels like crying. Church-going is openly derided: 'How do you know it's boring?' he asks a kid in a skate-park. 'I've seen The Simpsons,' is the reply.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

'what the budget means for us'

Yesterday's Evening Standard loved the budget, it was clear. But the 'What the budget means for us item was jaw-droppingly unrepresentative in its high-earning'cross section of Londoners'.

For example, the first example begins:
The Young Professional
Caroline Stanbury, 35, is director of Gift-Library, a worldwide online shop that ships to 80 countries. She and her husband, investment banker Cem Habib, 38, live in a four-bedroom house in Holland Park with their two-year-old twin sons Aaron and Zac and daughter Yasmine, six.
Annual turnover: £1.6 million

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

prayers for muamba

Prayers for Muamba: Have you prayed for Fabrice Muamba today? His family are exhorting the country to believe in the power of prayer, and I suspect many millions of Britons, whether they have faith or not, will have felt moved to offer a silent appeal to an invisible power asking that the young footballer pull through.
- BBC, 19 March. Interesting reflection on society's view of prayer in times of crisis. It certainly has been striking in this story how often people have said they are praying, or are encouraging others to pray, for Muamba.

Monday, 19 March 2012

bibles at olympics

Bible society is unable to hand out Bibles bearing the Olympics logo at London 2012: Although Bibles with the Olympics logo were handed out in Communist China, they won’t be at London 2012.
- Daily Telegraph, 13 March

Spokesman in article says Beijing use wasn't authorised, but they were obviously policing the brand less strenuously there (it's extraordinary what you're not allowed to say or show, and their bending over backwards for their corporate sponsors exclusivity is also nothing short of scandalous), but makes for an interesting contrast.

london air pollution at record high

London air pollution at record high: Traffic fumes, weather and dirty air from northern England and France add up to worst air pollution since 2008's more stringent monitoring
- Guardian, 15 March

mayoral hustings in the city of london

Boris Johnson v Ken Livingstone mayoral hustings in the City of London – Thursday 15 March: Labour candidate claims score draw in clash with Tory incumbent, plus Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick and the Green party's Jenny Jones
- Guardian, 15 March

Saturday, 17 March 2012

she stoops to conquer

Got day seats for She Stoops To Conquer at the National Theatre last night. We both enjoyed it, just an old (1773), straightforward, unpretentious comedy done in a straightforward comedic style (reading the programme just now I see that that's just what Oliver Goldsmith was going for, somewhat against the fashion). Reminded me both of Playboy of the Western World and more so of The Belle's Stratagem in the way it introduced each scene with the company making virtually a capella music, you could see why they did it as you could feel it giving energy to the production.

From the programme, by his own account, not necessarily reliable, the basic plot device is based on something which happened to him as a student.

It was well acted all round, Sophie Thompson over the top but appropriately so (though sometimes reminded me a bit too much of Bubbles in Absolutely Fabulous with the facial contortions and mangled pronunciations), David Fynn good as the country yokel son and Katherine Kelly as the smart daughter (looked familiar, concluded it was mostly looking like my late friend Sarah Mayers - reviews below reveal she was in Coronation Street, not where I've seen her).

Some reviews. Telegraph ('unlike the vicious Restoration comedies of a century earlier, in Goldsmith’s dramatic world affection, good humour and romance prevail'). Guardian ('Exaggeration, falling just the right side of over-acting, is the keynote' - yes). West End Whingers. Independent. There Ought To Be Clowns. National Theatre production page. What's On Stage. Evening Standard. Time Out. Another Telegraph (Sunday?). The Arts Desk. The Stage. Generally well-received.

'one in ten households today employs domestic help'

The most surprising thing in the article in the She Stoops To Conquer programme on 'Life in the 18th century' was actually a fact about today: 'One in ten households today employs domestic help but in the Georgian period, domestic service was Britain's second largest employer.' One in ten!

word december 2011

MG Lewis, author of gothic shocker The Monk, wrote his will on his servant's hat before dying of yellow fever on a boat from Jamaica.
- fact learned by December 2011 Word book reviewer from John Sutherland's Lives of the Novelists

facts from 99% True page on punk:
- Andrew Marr drew cartoons for the punk fanzine Chainsaw, using the nom de plume Willy D
- Patti Smith gave up a baby for adoption with the proviso that it was brought up Catholic
- When The Velvet Underground were offered their first paid gig, original drummer Angus MacLise is reputed to have said, 'You mean we have to start when they tell us to and we have to end when they tell us to? I can't work that way.' And he quit.
- Joe Strummer's first guitar was an acoustic that had previously belonged to Pete Townshend. He bought his first PA with the £120 he received for marrying a South African woman who wanted UK citizenship.
- Sniffin' Glue, the punk fanzine founded by Mark Perry, never printed the instructions with which it is most associated, namely, 'This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.' That originally appeared in another fanzine, Sideburns.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

give me a reasonable believer over an uncompromising atheist any day

Give me a reasonable believer over an uncompromising atheist any day: In a coalition of the reasonable, I might have more fruitful dialogue with an evangelical or Catholic than a fellow atheist
- Julian Baggini, Guardian, 15 March

'rising theatre ticket prices are driving young people away from west end'

Kevin Spacey: 'Rising theatre ticket prices are driving young people away from West End'. Rising ticket prices at West End theatres risk alienating an entire generation of future audiences, Kevin Spacey, the actor and director, has claimed.
- Telegraph, 15 March

olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown london

Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London. London 2012 will see the UK's biggest mobilisation of military and security forces since the second world war and the effects will linger long after the athletes have left
- Guardian, 12 March

it’s a huge mistake to forbid a tiny act of christian worship

It’s a huge mistake to forbid a tiny act of Christian worship: The right of Nadia Eweida to wear a crucifix is unassailable and must be upheld, writes Boris Johnson.
- Telegraph, 15 March

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

more on local councillors

I met our Labour councillor Neil Coyle after work last Tuesday, having been in touch, and he seemed a good sort. Among other things, he indicated that Labour hadn't expected to win in this ward in the last local election, which had been Lib Dem, so they were surprised when they got two seats out of three. He and his partner have since moved into the ward, in one of the new blocks off Crampton Street.

I suspect his colleague Patrick Diamond was taken equally by surprise. I'd heard from Catherine Bowman, the Lib Dem, but not Patrick when I corresponded. Patrick had obviously been busy with this Policy Network publication, in the Guardian yesterday:

Labour must steer clear of vapid form of leftism, warns manifesto author: Former Blair adviser Patrick Diamond says Labour is making a negligible impact on the major issues of the day
- Guardian, 12 March

Labour's lost liberalism: Now that Blue Labour has come unstuck, the party should reconnect with its orange heritage
- Guardian, 12 March

private eye cartoon readings

Three cartoons from Private Eye of 10 February:

a) Woman reading paper saying to man, 'How come we never get invited to these extreme weather events?'

b) Man saying to woman, 'How am I supposed to know what you're thinking if you never update your blog?'

c) Photo of snow-covered railway station, headed 'Network Rail bonus shock', with tannoy announcement superimposed: 'In the event of the gravy train being cancelled there will be a gravy replacement bus service'

vital statistics

I had a free NHS health check at the GP's last week. First time I've had my height measured properly for a long time - 181.5cm, apparently, which is 5'11.5" according to an online metric/imperial converter. Weight 90.8kg (shoes off, pockets full), which is 14st 4lb. Slightly overweight, therefore, apparently, to no one's surprise. Recommendation: get a bit more exercise. Blood pressure 138/85 - satisfactory (booklet says all should have at or below 140/90). Body Mass Index 27.6 (bang in middle of 'overweight' range of 25 - 29.9). Cardiovascular disease risk score 7.4 - satisfactory, dragged down by family history rather than current lifestyle. Glucose 5.71 mmol/l - satisfactory. Cholesterol TC/HDL 4.1 mmol/l - satisfactory (some kind of distinction between good and bad fat involved, my good fat (HDL) figure being 1.02 mmol/l).

Sunday, 11 March 2012

eliot quote re the faith

'The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilised but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse, meanwhile redeeming the time so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us, to renew and rebuild civilisation and save the world from suicide.'
- T S Eliot, 'in an essay in 1930', quoted in Monthly Record, February 2012, p18.

free press extracts

Three items from this week's WHFP.

From Donnie Foot's column: 'Celebrity photographer Eve Arnold, who died last January, was best known for her iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, but she also had the privilege of doing Margaret Thatcher and she remembered the experience vividly. She spent the time telling her how photos should really be taken. Arnold remarked afterwards that though Thatcher's head was not as large as Churchill's, the egos were equally huge.'

The Square Fellow - the broadcasting columnist - remarked interestingly that he'd heard two separate Icelanders being interviewed on Radio Scotland on two separate occasions and they could both have passed for Stornowegians in accent. 'There's something very interesting on on here. We're not at all sure what, but it strikes us as an excellent subject to ponder upon for someone who is currently stuck for ideas to choose for their linguistics PhD. Or it could just simply be that one of their better schools boasts a particularly loud-spoken Nicolson Institute old boy as the head of the English department there...'

From Norrie T's golf column: 'The chances of being hit by a driver using their spmarter phone in Point is nil. This woudl require connectivity which, as every Rubhach knows, is hard to come by in the cantons of Knock, Garrabost and Aird. The simple phrase 'I've jsut finished work and will be home in 10 miutes' requires at least four phone calls. With every connection comes a fee and it has been calculated that per head of poulation, Flesherin is the main sponsor of the McLaren-Mercedes F1 racing team.'

Anna this week posted a Google-Earth-type pic - presumably from some feature re rising sea levels - on Facebook showing Point as an island, captioned, 'Global warming does this? What's not to like?'

Friday, 9 March 2012

how mortal sins became 'lifestyle choices'

How mortal sins became 'lifestyle choices'
- Peter Mullen, Telegraph, 5 March

But the greatest influence on our redefinition of human nature was the theory of evolution. Towards the end of the 19th century people, led by the likes of Herbert Spencer, came to imagine that just as the species was developing physically, so we are also developing morally. And so we invented the superstition which goes by the name “Progress.” It is this mindless belief in progress which leads commentators – John Humphrys only this morning – to be scandalised by the occurrence of something they regard as “medieval” or “primitive barbarity.” You hear often the anguished cry, “We don’t expect that sort of thing to happen in this day and age…in the 21st century…” etc. As if the mere passage of time bestowed upon us moral improvement. As if the 20th century had not surpassed all previous ages in the numbers slaughtered in wars and genocides.
These days, morality itself is merely what we find pleasant or agreeable. It is Benthamism: the notion that the only good is the maximisation of pleasure. As Nietzsche rightly said of it, “Pig philosophy.”

david frost the preacher

[David Frost's father was a Methodist preacher] When David was 18, he delivered his own sermons for a couple of years, as a lay preacher at the local Methodist church. 'The one I remember most clearly was based on Ol' Man River... what was that bit?' He struggles to recall the lines, scribbling on a scrap of paper to get the memory-juices flowing. '"Tired of living and scared of dying", that was it. So I spoke about what it is for people who are, indeed, tired of living but scared of dying... and then I reversed it and talked about people who are tired of dying - the thing where people die little deaths every day in various ways - and "scared of living", which is when people are presented with a Christian alternative and are sometimes scared to go all the way with faith or whatever.'
Later, when touching on personal matters, he says that he still retains his faith and has found it helpful in 'times of crisis', when he falls back on 'a mixture of prayer and meditation'.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

gay marriage: noisy bishops are not always wrong

Gay marriage: noisy bishops are not always wrong. As Rowan Williams warns in more subtle terms than Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the law cannot be used to push cultural change
- Michael White, Guardian, 5 March

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

the mystery of the last supper

The consensus within biblical academic circles for many years has been that it is impossible to harmonise the accounts of the Last Supper. Matthew, Mark and Luke all state clearly that the final meal Jesus ate with his disciples was a Passover meal as seen, for example, in Luke 22:15: 'Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer".'
John 18:28 states, 'Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.' In 19:14, John tells us Jesus was tried and crucified on 'the Preparation Day of the Passover.'
... The apparent discrepancy between John and the Synoptic Gospels, he shows, is due to the fact that John was working to the official Jewish calendar observed by the Sadducees, the Zealots and the Essenes and that Jesus, the 'New Moses', established his New Covenant on the exact anniversary of the Exodus. After the Babylonian captivity, many of the former exiles continued to follow the Babylonian calendar (the months of the Jewish calendar to this day reflect the Babylonian calendar) so some kept the Passover according to the Babylonian calendar while others followed the pre-exilic calendar.
So, according to Humphreys' calculations, the evangelists all agree that the Last Supper took place on 12th Nisan (Wednesday 1st April AD33) and that Jesus died at 3.00pm on 14th Nisan (Friday 3rd April AD33) at the very time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed.
- extract from review in CWI Herald by Mike Moore of The Mystery of the Last Supper by Colin J Humphreys

since you've been gone, magic roundabout

I emailed this to the Rocking Vicar newsletter on 1 March 2005: 'The first four "lines" of the riff to Rainbow's Since You've Been Gone (da-da-da, duh-duh, da-da-da, duh-duh) are the same as the first four lines of the Magic Roundabout theme tune (da-dadilada, duh-dudiluduh, da-dadilada, duh-dudiluduh), just with longer notes.'

Sunday, 4 March 2012

marcel berlins column

Found an old link I'd emailed myself (I have hundreds such emails of varying vintages) to Marcel Berlin's column in the Guardian of 30 November 2005, both items in which were interesting:

Let us get the obvious out of the way. Yes, George Best was a genius with a football; yes, he was beautiful and sexy; yes, his life after sport slightly resembled a Greek tragedy, except that there wasn't all that much tragedy about it and rather a lot of enjoyment. All that I agree with. I am an admirer. But I still do not comprehend the sheer volume of attention devoted to his dying, though I have a modest theory to explain part of it.
Over the past few days I've asked people I met the same question: can you think of anyone else who, on expiry, would have attracted similar media coverage, apart from the Queen and the Prince of Wales? I'm talking about front-page stories in all the papers (not just the popular papers), day after day, and the permanent presence of television reporters outside the hospital, leading the news bulletins even when they had nothing to say. John Lennon was the only name mentioned that some of my interviewees thought might have rated exaggerated coverage similar to Best's - except that Lennon died young, suddenly and abroad. It's difficult to imagine how his lengthy death as a 60-year-old would have been received by the nation; anyway, it would have depended on how he had lived his life in the intervening years.
Best's latest manifestation as a violent, woman-beating drunk had been paraded before us for years, forcing us to make the constant comparison between the god that he once was and the pathetic figure that he had turned into. He had become part of our celebrity furniture. His final lingering helped to warn the nation to go into grief-and-homage mode; it also gave newspapers the time to prepare the copious special memorial supplements and articles that were published last Friday even though he hadn't quite died.
So Best had everything going for him, second only to that of Diana, Princess of Wales in terms of receiving national posthumous adulation; she too, in a far shorter time-span than Best's, had descended from goddess to naffness.
But here is my great discovery. I was discussing Best with a couple in their mid-twenties. They confessed that he didn't mean much to them or to their friends. Sure, their dads had been keen on him, they had seen videos and television clips of his skills, and they had vaguely followed his later escapades, but he wasn't important to them. I tested others in that age group. They said the same thing. Best had no direct impact on their lives; he didn't speak to them. Their feelings for him, when he died, were vicarious, not heartfelt. Then a friend, who once edited a magazine in Chelsea, told me how, in the late 80s, he looked out of his window and saw Best strolling down the King's Road. Excitedly, he summoned his young journalists. Look, quickly, there's George Best. Oh yeah, they muttered, uninterested, and went back to their desks.
Bestophilia, I have now realised, is a generational thing. And that explains a lot. Why were the newspapers quite so excessively crammed with Best? Because the people who have influence on the daily content of newspapers are middle-aged and mostly men, as are the television and radio decision-makers who ruled that the lead item on news bulletins should always be the state of Best's dying. This was, my theory goes, media manipulation by a small coterie of enthusiasts who were around - even if they were kids - during the great Best years. And they have imposed their Bestomania on the nation.
When Diana died, the people spoke and the media, realising that the phenomenon of mass grief was greater than they had bargained for, followed. When Best died, the media took the lead and some of the people followed.
· What have all those stories got in common - the ones about local councils banning Christmas lights, schools not putting on nativity plays, etc, etc, in order not to cause offence to religionists of other faiths? I must have read a score of such tales recently, and what links nearly all of them is that the prohibitions were ordered in anticipation of objections, not because any had actually been made. The latest story I saw on the theme a few days ago - there have probably been several since - revealed that the England and Wales Cricket Board, who confirmed it, were considering banning English cricket supporters from singing the hymn Jerusalem (it won the Ashes for us, remember) next time Pakistan come to play test matches here. It might cause offence to Muslims, because Jerusalem is also their holy city.
Was it Muslims who discovered this new area of affront? Of course not. A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain was puzzled; he couldn't imagine why Muslims would take offence. The idea that they might was probably thought up by a bunch of white officials at Lord's.
And when religious individuals or representatives of non-Christian religions are asked whether they really objected to Christmas lights being called Christmas lights, or to the presence of a few Father Christmases doing the rounds of local stores, the answer is almost always a negative, even surprise that the question merits asking. I am convinced that, in very many cases, the offence is in the minds of the institutions doing the banning; it is not felt by the people they are purporting to protect. The policy of accommodating the alleged sensibilities of minority religions by eliminating Christianity from December is devised by people with little idea of the realities of coexistence.
There is a serious point. We laugh, and occasionally get angry, at some of the extremes of political correctness we read of. Silly local council, silly school. But there are many who read the stories and blame the minorities. I have heard someone say: "Those Muslims, they're now telling us what we can do at Christmas." It's unfair, it only exacerbates anti-Muslim and anti-minority feeling, and it feeds resentment and racism. I accept that the prohibitors think that they are acting in the interests of diversity, multiculturalism and so on; but their actions may have the contrary effect.

john duncan quote

'I allowed myself to be cheated with my eyes open that I might gain an opportunity of slyly stealing away a prejudice or two, and insinuating a word for Him who is the Gentiles' light and Israel's glory.'
- John Duncan, quoted by John Ross in an article in the Free Church Record, October 2011 (yes, I'm a bit behind)

Saturday, 3 March 2012

a down's child is a blessing, not a tragedy

A Down's child is a blessing, not a tragedy: Yes, there are challenges. But Sally Phillips says her seven-year-old son Ollie – cheeky, honest and an enthusiastic dancer – is the life and soul of her family
- Daily Mail, 2 March