Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tesco update

Back in February, the local Tesco on Downland Drive (as well as the branch in Dobbins Place) had it's alcohol licence suspended after repeatedly being caught selling booze to under-18s in operations run by Sussex Police and the local Trading Standards. However, Tesco immediately appealed, and so the suspension has not taken effect.

There was another Tesco branch in Worthing which was subject to the same treatment for the same transgression, and the local council there had acted earlier. In the same way, Tesco appealed, and the appeal was heard and lost a few days ago.

The two Crawley stores are the subject of appeals on 9th and 16th of July (it isn't obvious from reports which one will be heard on which date). Unless there is some significant difference in the details, it would seem likely that the cases will go the same way - meaning that the shops would have to sell no alcohol for 28 days and when they get the license back ensure that a named licensee is on the premises on weekend nights.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Blogertarian reveals true colours

Justin at Chicken Yoghurt says farewell to Blair in unsurprising terms, finishing up with a list of 151 awful things that he's done in the last ten years.

Not wishing to pick through the whole list to decide which I concur with and which are just paranoid warblings, I'll just look at the preamble to see where this comes from:

‘But think of all the good he did,’ say his vestigial supporters. The first ‘good’ to fall from their lips is his three general election victories. The thing is, the Labour Party isn’t like the Brazilian World Cup team - an election victory isn’t a trophy to put in the glass case until the next tournament. To hear most of Blair’s hagiographers speak, winning has been the end in itself.

I agree with this part - to a certain extent. Of course, that Blair won three elections is a measure of some success, and has the advantage that Hague and Howard didn't win any elections.

Once you get past the three golden ‘historic’ election victories, the rest of the trophies accrued over the last ten years look small and brassy. What about economic growth during every quarter of his premiership, cry the faithful. Or the minimum wage? And tax credits?

The thing is, who really cares about such things?

Me for one. Am I alone here? Isn't it part of the Labour movement, if not the vast majority of what we call the 'progressive' wing of politics to at least care about things like the low paid and unemployment? I tell you what, if the minimum wage was revoked today (unthinkable now, but not in 1997) or the economy slowed up, people would start to care an awful lot about it.

Especially when they’re administered in such cack-handed, inhumane ways.

Inhumane? The minimum wage is inhumane? Economic growth has been brought about in a cack-handed manner? I don't get the point - unless Justin has already moved on from the things he doesn't care about...

I think I'll pass on the 151 things that Justin does care about (I suspect that a great many aren't solely down to Blair, and that some are suggestions or quotes rather than actual policies).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Unity on the Ring Thing

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the parents of Lydia Playfoot, the 'Silver Ring Thing' girl, were somewhat involved with the running of the Silver Ring Thing in the UK.

In a sterling post, Unity from Ministry of Truth explains in full detail that involvement, along with a few more details about the case and the organisation.

But there's more. He also uncovers (with help from Tim Ireland the history of one Denise Pfeiffer, who appears to:

1) be involved with the PR firm which works for the Silver Ring Thing,
2) have been actually working for the Silver Ring Thing in 2004 as 'Assistant National Director',
3) be such a rabid Michael Jackson fan that she was charged with making obscene phone calls to the man who accused MJ of abusing his son (she was deported from the USA for that),
4) be the current or ex-girlfriend of one Clive Potter, BNP parliamentary candidate and a man heavily involved in the Solidarity 'Trade Union' and the Christian Council of Britain (both BNP fronts),
5) have, along with Potter, been involved in National Front activities in 2000 against the Leicester Mardi Gras,
6) be a lingerie model (at least in 2006)
7) work for 'mediamarch', an organisation which calls for lots of censorship
8) claim to be an 'asexual' and adult celibate


Following in the fine tradition of Sir Winston Churchill

Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.
is attributed to Churchill, commenting about his leaving the Liberals to rejoin the Conservatives.

Of course, the Tory MP Quentin Davies has merely 'ratted' today, but with impeccable timing. Tomorrow Gordon Brown will take over from Blair, and on Thursday the new cabinet will be named. As Davies has once worked on Northern Ireland, I daresay that there will be speculation that he's after the job that Paddy Ashdown turned down last week.

Davies has issued an open letter to David Cameron, outlining the reasons for his defection:

Under your leadership the Conservative party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything.

It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda.


You had come to office as leader of the party committed to break a solemn agreement we had with the European People's party to sit with them in the EPP-ED Group during the currency of this European parliament.

For seven months you vacillated, and during that time we had several conversations.

It was quite clear to me that you had no qualms in principle about tearing up this agreement, and that it was only the balance of prevailing political pressures which led you ultimately to stop short of doing so (though since then you have hardly acted in good faith in continuing with the agreement, for example you never attend the EPP-ED Summits claiming that you are "too busy" - even though half a dozen or more prime ministers are always present.)

This is crucial. When Cameron argued for a referendum on the new EU Treaty / reheated Constitution in Parliament yesterday, it was pointed out by Blair that the EPP-ED had met last week to consider the treaty, along with senior right wing Europeans. If it's so important that a referendum is required, what was Cameron doing last week that stopped him engaging himself in the process?

You are the first leader of the Conservative party who (for different reasons) will not be received either by the president of the United States, or by the chancellor of Germany (up to, and very much including, Iain Duncan Smith every one of your predecessors was most welcome both in the White House and in all the chancelleries of Europe).

It is fair to say that you have so far made a shambles of your foreign policy, and that would be a great handicap to you - and, more seriously, to the country - if you ever came to power.


Although you have many positive qualities you have three, superficiality, unreliability and an apparent lack of any clear convictions, which in my view ought to exclude you from the position of national leadership to which you aspire and which it is the presumed purpose of the Conservative party to achieve.

Double Ouch!

To put the icing on the cake, as far as those of us who may be less than sympathetic to the fortunes of the Tories, Quentin Davies is the MP for Grantham and Stamford, the birthplace of Maggie Thatcher.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Silver Ring Thing Ding Dong

Odd case this one - a girl suing her school (which she's leaving this year having finished her GCSEs) because they banned her from wearing her 'Silver Ring Thing(tm)' Ring. The SRT is a movement, not a religion. Check out the main website and its Vision and Business Plan. It is also a very odd idea. I have no problem with the idea of abstinence, although equally I don't think it's a big sin to have pre-marital sex. I think that making kids proclaim it with a ring is bizarre. But encouraging pledging kids to meet up and date but not go beyond a certain point, while expecting them to abide by their promise is startlingly naive and a recipe for failure. That's not just my opinion, as a study from Texas bears out

The school concerned is Millais, in our neighbouring town of Horsham. Millais is an all-girls school, twinned with Forest Boys school. In three months time, most of the able students (and we can assume, I hope, that Lydia Playfoot is able) go on to do their A and AS levels at Collyer's Sixth Form College.

I happened to go to Collyer's myself, and the Millais girls were suddenly, at 16, among the testosterone-filled boys from Forest, not to mention the worldly lads from Tandridge (Horsham's mixed school) and a few chirpy Crawley wide boys. A real test of anyone's pledge of abstinence that, I think.

But, even so, the idea that a ring (a corporately produced one at that) is a religious symbol on a par with the Sikh kara bracelet is ridiculous. The kara is part of the central core of Sikhism, one of the 'Five Ks'. While it is disputed, the Islamic practice of hijab has a real history. Millais would allow the wearing of a crucifix, a real Christian symbol, so it's not like Christians are being persecuted or anything.

The fact that her parents are themselves heavily involved in the Silver Ring Thing in the UK suggests to me that this is not about her rights, as much as it is about their campaign. Now that is a true religious tradition - the use and control of the young to further the ends of the people running it.

Harman, the members' choice

The result of the Deputy Leadership elections yesterday was a bit of surprise. Unity over at the Ministry of Truth has an in depth analysis of the round by round results. Personally I would not know how to set a 'left / right' divide among the contenders, only Blears, Cruddas and Harman were really identifiably from any particular 'wing'.

Basically, Harman was ahead in the members' section all of the way through. Johnson was leading the MPs & MEPs section all of the way through too, and Cruddas topped the Union and Affiliates section until he was eliminated.

Seeing as consistent complaints from some members are that the 'leadership' overrule them, and that the unions often are used to override the constituency votes at Conference, it's interesting to note that in this case the Members got their way over the MPs, MEPs, Unions and Affiliates.

Personally I'd rather Cruddas had won, although he did creditably, leading in 1st preferences and coming third overall. As the votes that transferred from him to Harman in the last round included mine, I can't complain too much I suppose. She performed pretty well in the hustings and appeared to move away from the "vote for me, I'm a woman" stance towards picking up on Cruddas' agenda.

And what does Harman do? Straight away she mentions Crawley in her acceptance speech (where Blears appeared to have forgotten about us in her lists of SE marginals).

With Brown announcing that the Deputy Leader would take on the 'Party Chair' role in cabinet (a particular bugbear of mine was that none of the preceding Chairs were ever elected by anyone other than Tony Blair), I'm feeling pretty positive about the outcome.

For Hazel Blears this was a disaster. Despite coming 3rd in the MPs & MEPs section on first preferences, she was some way behind overall and so was the first eliminated. As the current 'Party Chair', she's also already lost her cabinet post into the bargain. Not a good result for the Blairites there.

The Tories are also starting to wobble - the latest polls are going against them - but today they had a good chance to make capital out of Europe. Here's hoping that they don't end up tearing themselves up over the EU again (well, not hoping too much?).

[Update: Tory MP defects to Labour, with Europe as a prime reason. What else should I wish for?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cameron - Channelling Gordon Brown?

Dave, the smoothy leader of the Tories, told us the other day that he was not like Gordon Brown.

Funny, then, than Tom Freeman has noticed that much of that very same speech was a simplified version of what Gordon himself had been saying - inclusive government, not relying on top-down solutions etc etc.

The main difference between the two is, I think, that Gordon Brown believes what he says and that he'll get some time to demonstrate it. David Cameron is in the business of promising moon sticks (and I still don't understand how the Tory 'new localism' won't lead to an increase in 'postcode lotteries').

Monday, June 18, 2007

Review - Saffron Lounge

(possibly the first of an occasional series, or perhaps just a one-off...)

On Sunday I went along to have a meal at a new Indian/ restaurant in the centre of Crawley, the Saffron Lounge. The place only opened up last week, and due to the timing, it was a very quiet night. The staff were friendly without being intrusive (a common problem on a slow night). The decor is determinedly modern, with much of the wall tiled in pale stones - which made it appear a little antiseptic. Green and orange were the main colours, incongruously set off by neon blue uplighting in the ceiling. The similarity of the scheme to that of the toilets was a little off-putting.

The food itself was clearly designed to be a move away from the traditional 'curry house' menu. The owners are also involved with the Taj Mahal at the south end of the High Street, and it appears to have been pitched to compete directly with the Blue India on the opposite side of the road. The prices were a little on the high side, but the choice was certainly wider than the usual fare.

For starters we had a mixture of tikka pieces of meat and fish, and each of them were very distinct and superbly cooked. For main I had a biryani with chicken and Ms Danivon chose a lamb Bhuna. When they arrived, the portions looked a little on the small side, and we had to return a plain rice as it was cold to touch. However, it turned out that the food was rich enough not to require much more, and the hot rice was quickly and efficiently returned. We had breads as well, a lovely and not-at-all greasy garlic naan, and a surprisingly light and tasty aloo paratha.

Overall, we were pretty happy, although with the aforementioned Blue India nearby and the recently relaunched Zari's in Ifield as competition, as well as a recently modernised Taj Mahal, it remains to be seen whether Crawley can sustain another up-market restaurant specialising in Southern Asian cuisine.

Food - Very good (7/10)
Value for Money - Pricey but not unreasonably so (6/10)
Atmosphere - Austere (4/10)
Service - Friendly and effcient (7/10)
Overall 6/10

Saffron Lounge
5 Grand Parade,
High Street
res. 01293 529946

Arise Sir Salman

Not being a great fan of patronage and peerage, I'm not usually enthused by the Honours Lists. They are a way to recognise valuable individuals, particularly the local charity workers who may otherwise be unknown. However, it also means the usual list of old polticians, civil servants, military officers and employees of the Royal family getting a gong simply for having done a job.

This year's Queen's birthday list saw the knighthood of Salman Rushdie. It would be unremarkable for an esteemed author (not just a Booker, but the 'Booker of Bookers') to be honoured, except of course that there is more to his history.

When The Satanic Verses came out, he was accused of blasphemy (how a non-Muslim can be accused of blasphemy seems odd, surely any member of a religion that denies Allah's place as the indivisible god of all creation is also a blasphemer). Famously, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini condemned him to death in a fatwah.

Of course, this sort of thing undermines the idea that Islam is a religion of peace, or that it is robust enough to withstand criticism. Like the Danish cartoons affair of 2005/6, a deliberately provoked overreaction led to violence.

Today the Pakistani parliament did their best to calm tensions - by condemning the knighthood in a debate which included a government minister suggesting that it could justify suicide attacks. The Muslim Council of Britain called it an insult.

The real insult is actually the idea that people of a faith can dictate to everybody else what to read, what to say, or what to think.

While I have no problem with Muslims as people, and regard all religions as equally valid, I think that one's beliefs are ones own affair, and should not be imposed on other people simply because they stem from a religion. That includes institutional control like a theocratic government and most definitely includes the threat of violence (or the justification of violence).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Blair on the media

I reckon Tony Blair is pretty well spot on in his speech today. The media is as much to blame for the distortion of politics as politicians. The gleeful way that the press will tear into any public figure, whether a Z-list celebrity ex-reality star, a minister of the state or anyone in between should be compared with the grubby methods of the journos themselves.

Blair is right that Labour was too reliant on 'spin' in the early days of his leadership and premiership. However, the history of 'spin' is often forgotten by the critics of New Labour.

Before Blair came along, and even when he first appeared, the media, in particular the major-selling print media were clearly aligned with the Tories. Labour had also been pretty poor at press management and failed to keep up with the issues as they were raised.

The 'spin' was actually the way that the press will twist any message or policy or position. Many editors and journalists have a bias, even if they claim not to, and will emphasise what they think is good or bad. The 'spin doctor' was supposed to try to deal with the press in a way which limited the bias that could be applied by journalists.

By 1997, Labour's spin doctors were aided by a press that was abandoning the Tories Ineptness and inertia are not entirely popular, and it was clear that the Major government was on its way out. On top of that, the PR dept of the Party was highly effective.

In the early years of the Blair premiership, 'spin' was overused to an extent in order to protect the nascent government. Now, I think that the perception of 'spin' has overtaken reality massively. A politician can hardly try and say anything without being accused of 'spin'. Yet the media are barely held to account for their blatant politicking.

The example used by Blair, the Independent, is a case in point. Many times it has a front page which is almost pure hyperbole, covering a single issue from a particular point of view, calling for action or condemning those who disagree. It is pure sensationalism, no different from a screaming red top headline, or a Daily Mail / Express 'tax bombshell' hype.

Increasingly it is difficult to discern news from comment. The reason that the Indy should examine itself is that when it was founded, it was on the basis of strong journalistic ethics and a lack of editorial agenda.

Don't get me wrong, I may well agree with the Independent's views or conclusions. But presenting opinion and conjecture as fact is what undermines the integrity of the press - and as the press often has a major impact on the way that we view the world, distorts our perceptions.

You can understand, perhaps, why Blair has waited until he's in is swansong phase to make his comments. The fact that he knew he couldn't say them earlier would appear to help vindicate him.

Cohen, what are you doing?

A while ago I noted that Nick Cohen, writer and polemicist, had chided the 'Left' for only concentrating on how bad the Iraq war was and ignoring the plight of the Iraqis themselves.


At the time, I noted that Nick's website only seemed to include plugs for his book, and no mention of the sterling work that he does to actually support Iraqi trade unionists. I checked again today, 3 months later. I notice a new article by Cohen that he plugs in Democratiya. Oh good, I thought. Except that it is not about Iraq at all. It's a review of Paul Anderson's Orwell in Tribune (which was out last year).

So what does Nick do for the Iraqi Trade Unionists, when he's not busy self-promoting and writing about his obsessions with the 'Left'? He even manages to bring his thesis into the review.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gosh, the interesting things you can do with the interweb, eh?

As I had a quiet weekend, I've done a bit more blogging than usual. What I've also done is a few behind the scenes things to make my life a little easier. I've added a link for people to send email (which I hope is disguised well enough to limit spambots picking the address up - and it isn't to my main address anyway)

I also added a counter, free from I didn't think I had many readers, but it turns out that on a Sunday about 50 unique visitors pop by. Mind you, because AOL uses dynamic IP address allocation, I think I'm getting a few doubles.

But, hi everyone, nice to know you're out there (from as far away as Indonesia, it seems)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Warrior Soul - The Losers

This one's for the beautiful people....

The artist is not there to be worshipped or adored. They're there to be enjoyed. The audience is not there to be politely asked to buy the T-shirts, to be patted on the head and to go home. The audience is a part of the artist. They're friends. Allies. A show is a rock'n'roll ritual. The bands are the witchdoctors, the medicine men, the wise men. The band entice, preach, encourage, unite, excite ...
-- vocalist Kory Clarke in Kerrang! magazine, 1991

(Hat tip: Blank Crisis)

Lewis Hamilton

I'm not a huge fan of F1, where the racing is more of a procession (and with the number of safety car breaks, today was no exception), and it's more a case of technology and timing pit stops than driving ability.

However, you can't knock Lewis Hamilton, who has won his first race today. He's now also leading the championship, following a run of 5 podium finishes in his previous 5 races. I think this must be the best ever start for a driver in their first season, at least within living memory, and what is more he seems like a really nice, down to earth bloke.

What better example can we have for young Britons than a mixed race kid flying the flag for us, beating the rest of the world and doing it with style. Good for you, Lewis.

Al-Yamamah, BAE and the Government

It should go without saying that bribery and corruption is wrong. It should also go without saying that it is inconsistent with an ethical foreign policy.

Still, it seems that the current UK Government is determined not to allow the actions/inaction of a previous one to be accounted for and punished. The Thatcher Government, lest we forget, got the Al-Yamamah deal through in 1985. This is why it isn't Tories who are complaining about the scandal, because there must be a fair few senior Conservatives and supporters who were a little worried that a continued investigation might end up with a knock on their doors.

The forces of law and order were investigating allegations of bribes, and the decision was taken at the highest level - Blair - to shut it off for reasons of 'national security'. Presumably the Saudis had said that they would stop co-operating with us on the 'War on Terror' if we outed their Royal Family as grubby men on the make.

My problem with this capitulation is that it won't stop the Saudis from continuing to pursue their dodgy way of doing business (it's not like the Saud family don't cream enough from their own nation, that they have to siphon funds from any foreign deal too). Yeah, if we pull out, it means that other countries will benefit, and if the Al-Yamamah deal collapses, there will be some impact on BAE itself, and its employees. However, these are just excuses. Do we need to be competing to sell weapons? Should we be encouraging the proliferation of military hardware into unstable regions and nations with autocratic regimes? Can't we redirect BAE into less deadly business, such as civilian aircraft?

What I reckon has happened is that some officials in the Foreign Office (and some in the Home Office) gave advice, which politicians took, not because they wanted to, but because the advice itself and the source came across as authoritative.

The problem is that sometimes the official's advice is wrong. It was wrong at a local level in 2001 when they said we shouldn't have an investigation into the causes of flooding in Maidenbower and other parts of the town. Luckily, I managed to convince enough councillors of that before it was too late (and it was luck, rather than any particular political genius, and I got a right ear-bashing for violating the whip).

It's wrong in this case too. If we don't get direct help from Saudi Arabia, that doesn't mean that we won't be getting a fair amount of information through our other allies which originates from Saudi (they can't exactly stop the CIA forwarding it on). Perhaps we should instead be taking a long hard look at whether they really are a solid ally on a 'War on Terror' anyway - they are not above funding dodgy groups in the Middle East, they repress their own people, they attempt to fit up foreigners to hide the fact that terrorists were setting off bombs.

The problem is that Social Democrats, and I see the Blairites as being prime examples of the creed, tend to overvalue the contributions of bureaucrats. The notion is that they are experts, that they have the interests of the State (or whatever they serve) as the prime or only motivation and that if you ignore their advice they will go against you. I think all three are false - they are human and just as fallible and prone to bias as anyone, and for the most part they may actually respect you if you go against their advice for a solid and ethical reason.

Talking of Labour and the interweb...

The other day I looked into MpURL, which is the Party's site for members. If you are a Labour member, you only need your membership number to access a site that you have set up all ready for you.

You'll be able to set up a blog, which can be internal only or can be made public. You can contact other users directly - and it's easy to find who members are in your own CLP. There is also a discussion board already in place for each CLP, as well a set of boards set up for discussing policies (remember them?).

To be honest, I haven't been impressed by much of the national party's previous efforts on t'internet, or to contact and involve members. This, however is really pretty nifty. It certainly surpasses the 'Labour Supporters Network', which seemed to be simply a large mailing list which was barely used, and an excuse to bypass the membership.

Now that's over with...

My ballot paper as a Party member for the Deputy Leadership election arrived yesterday, and because the Labour Party has embraced technology like the interweb, I didn't have to rely on Royal Mail to put my 'X's in boxes.

Actually, you don't put 'X's in boxes anyway, you put numbers of preference.

My votes were:

  1. 1 Jon Cruddas - naturally, I think he is the best of the candidates, and with a true vision of how to fulfil the role.
  2. 2 Peter Hain - Like Cruddas he has some interesting ideas on how to reconnect with the party, but there is something about him that I just can't put my finger on.
  3. 3 Harriet Harman - A last minute promotion to 3rd, after some good performances in the hustings that I've seen. I don't follow the logic that the post has to be filled by a woman, bt I think she is capable in her own right. I nearly put her above Hain.
  4. 4 Hilary Benn - If this was a vote for who to be in the Cabinet, he'd be my no. 1, but if anything the post of Deputy Leader would be a distraction. Given him the Foreign Office, Mr Brown.
  5. 5 Alan Johnson - reminds me too much of Prescott
Hazel Blears didn't get even my 6th preference. Of course, it's highly unlikely that my 5th or 6th preference will be needed anyway, I expect by then that Cruddas, Benn or Johnson will already have the 50% they need, or if not be in the front runners.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hunting Act fails to collapse in court

When the ban on hunting with dogs came in (years late and after several attempts to compromise, rebuffed by the 'sport'), we were told confidently by the supporters of getting dogs to rip animals to bits for the enjoyment of people in silly coats that it wasn't too much of a defeat for them.

They would 'defy the ban'. When challenged, the gaping holes in the legislation will become apparent and the ban will fall. The aristocracy and their hangers on will prevail over the 'jealous' proles.

Except that this hasn't really happened. The BBC reports that two men from the Quantock Staghounds have been convicted under the Hunting Act.

(hat tip: Chris Gale)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Theo Hobson - pretentious and cowardly?

Reminding me why I don't really intend to submit more pieces to the Guardian's Comment is Free, along comes Theo Hobson with his: Atheism is pretentious and cowardly

A few choice quotes (as if the title wasn't enough):

Atheism is pretentious in the sense of claiming to know more than it does. It claims to know what belief in God entails, and what religion, in all its infinite variety, essentially is. And atheism is muddled because it cannot decide on what grounds it ultimately objects to religion. Does it oppose it on the grounds of its alleged falsity? Or does it oppose it on the grounds of its alleged harmfulness?
For someone who thinks that atheism misunderstands what a belief in god entails, Theo seems to miserably miss the point about what atheism entails. The ultimate objection to religion, for most if not all proclaimed atheists, is that we don't believe in a God or gods. After that comes the point when we notice the harmfulness of religion (and atheists and heretics have often felt that first hand in the dim and distant days of history).

Atheism is the belief that the demise of religion, and the rise of "rationality", will make the world a better place. Atheism therefore entails an account of history - a story of liberation from a harmful error called "religion". This narrative is jaw-droppingly naive.
Well, the last sentence is true, applied to Hobson's text itself. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God(s), or the belief in a lack of God(s). While many atheists may wish that everybody else believed the same as they do, what most of us really only want is for the religious to stick to their own affairs and stop telling us what to do, based on their own beliefs. We don't want to 'impose' atheism on people, or even necessarily 'liberate' them from religion, we just don't agree with Christians and the other theists who believe in a variety of gods, some of whom seem to have determined that people who don't worship them in a particular way are doomed to Hell, and should be repressed here on earth in the meantime.

Some will quibble with the above definition. Atheism is just the rejection of God, of any supernatural power, they will say, it entails no necessary belief in historical progress. This is disingenuous. The militant atheists have a moral mission: to improve the world by working towards the eradication of religion.
Quibble? No, it's plain wrong. Atheism has no moral basis, it has a logical one. 'Humanism' has a moral basis, but that's not what Hobson is attacking. As for the word 'militant'? My goodness! While we are talking about R Dawkins, C Hitchens and AC Grayling, all they do is write and talk. Real militants use violence. That's what 'militant' means - warlike, aggressive.

Let me take a step back, and ask a rather basic question. What is this thing that the atheists hate so much? What is religion? Believe it or not, I don't know the answer. Indeed it seems to me that anyone who does claim to know is underestimating the complexity of the topic considerably. If the atheist deigns to define religion at all, he is likely to do so briskly and conventionally, as belief in and worship of some species of supernatural power. It's a terribly inadequate definition. Dictionaries would do better to leave a blank, to admit ignorance.
Well, if a theologian doesn't know what religion is, then who does? I despair...

In reality, "religion" is far wider than a belief in a supernatural power. This is only one aspect of what we mean by "religion". For example there is surely something religious in the communal ecstasy of a rave, or a pop concert, or a play, or a sporting event, or a political rally. Some would say that these events are quasi-religious, that they echo religious worship, but are distinct from it. But how on earth is one to make the distinction? Is a yoga class "religious"?
What a load of piffle! A political rally as a religious experience? I suppose that makes the Communists and any other political movement you care to mention religious then? If a sporting event leads to violence, is it religiously motivated? The communal ecstasy of a rave may well be due to very real ecstasy, the drug MDMD, rather than some religious feeling.

What about a performance of a requiem? What about Hitchens' own belief in the saving power of literature? In practice, "religion" cannot really be separated from "culture".
Yes, it can. For example, street culture is rarely about religion.

The fact is that the relationship between religion, morality and politics is infinitely various and complex. The critic of religious abuses must be specific, particular. He must focus on particular practices, particular institutions, and explain why they have a detrimental effect on society. But the militant atheist cannot humbly limit himself to the realm of the particular; he necessarily lapses into sloppy generalisation.
'sloppy generalisation'? Of course Hobson doesn't dare do that, not even in the same sentence as criticising the fictional 'militant athiest' of it. Oh, he does.

I consider the atheist's desire to generalise about religion to be a case of intellectual cowardice. The intellectual coward is one who chooses simplicity over complexity and difficulty. The militant atheist chooses to uphold a worldview of Animal Farm crudity: atheist good, believer bad.
Nope. If anything, it's 'atheism correct, theism incorrect'. But there is not really a moral imperative there. For Christians, it certainly is 'Christianity good, everything else bad', for Muslims it's 'Islam good, everything else bad'.

Is it intellectual cowardice to accept that we do not go to an afterlife, that this is all we have, the life we see? I think not. When you think about it, it's a scary thought. The less brave prefer to cosset themselves in myths and dream of an infinite life of happiness, and the religious creeds promise such a life - if you just follow our rules...

There's more - such as ad hominem attacks on Christopher Hitchens (at least one of which didn't get into print as an editor snipped it out). But essentially Theo Hobson accuses the atheist (not always being careful to distinguish between the 'militant' variety and the general common-or-garden unbeliever) of pretentiousness while waffling on about how all culture is essentially religious, because some of the feelings in a big group of people are like the same feelings as we get in a church. He accuses them of intellectual cowardice when he hasn't even got the courage to tell us what religion actually is. He attacks generalisations while concocting a picture of rampaging atheists in jackboots, stomping all over the poor fluffy religions and tarring all who choose not to believe in a God with the same brush.

Unsurprisingly, the comments below the article are heated and reactionary.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

More from Freemania

Having spotted the posting mentioned in the previous link, I read more of Tom Freeman's stuff.

In particular, this post (Building and listening) resonates.

Very often, when people say things like “I just want politicians to listen”, which sounds almost infinitely reasonable, they mean something else entirely...

...What they often really want is not so much listening as obedience. So when politicians promise to listen, even if they’re not being vapidly disingenuous, they’re bound to let people down.

Yep. The problem with trying to give 'the people' what they want is that they generally want the Moon on a stick. Not only that, but one set of people want a red stick with a full Moon, and others want a green stick with a half Moon, while others want a long thin multicoloured stick with flashing lights and a cool tune and a pen on the end topped by a new Moon. Strangely enough even providing Moon sticks will mean you doomed to annoy a fair number of 'the people'.

I mean, when your biggest problem is a bit of a traffic jam in the mornings, that means that your life is actually quite good. For some people in this world, the hyperbole that we see in the UK about minor inconveniences would be highly offensive, given that they live in war zones, or are repressed by dictators, or are ill and unable to obtain even basic treatment.

Fantastic Day

With talk of a 'National Britishness Day', this list of suggestions from Tom Freeman gave me a good giggle: Happy 'National British Day' Day