Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Nothing new under the sun

I had intended composing a New Year Message for 2009, pointing out that the crisis we are currently involved in is not just political, economic, financial, or military - it is first and foremost a moral crisis: the wholesale abandonment of honesty. Then I remembered that Rudyard Kipling had said all this far better than I could ever contrive to:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Censors on the prowl

“I’m not trying to curb free speech”, says Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport, announcing his proposals for internet viewing restrictions, “I just want to protect the public from ‘unacceptable’ material”.

All would-be censors pay lip-service to free speech. The trouble is, they don’t seem to know what it is. In their book, you can say whatever you want – as long as they don’t disagree with it. You can read or view whatever you want – as long as it doesn’t offend their notions of what is ‘harmful’, ‘indecent’, or ‘offensive’.

Mr Burnham considers that clips of beheadings [for instance] are too shocking to be shown, and that children – it’s always children – must be ‘protected’ from violent or sexual content.

So presumably under the new Burnham dispensation the daily television news bulletins are going to be radically sanitised. No more scenes of fighting, bombing, civilian casualties, people dying of starvation, anywhere in the world? No more fictional murders? No more representations of the crucifixion on religious programmes?

An age-based rating system is to be applied, and presumably parents and others whose children watch material considered ‘unsuitable’ by Mr Burnham and his bunch of censoring nannies will be comitting yet another newly created offence.

To justify this latest invasion of parental rights and privacy, an NSPCC poll is cited which found that three out of four children had been ‘disturbed’ by images they had seen on the internet. “Most parents have no clue what their children are up to online”, said a self-important NSPCC nanny figure, implying that she did, and that they were up to no good.

Of course many parents don’t have much inkling of what’s going on in their childrens’ minds a lot of the time. Nor should they, if the children are to develop their own sense of identity and independence. Do we really want to live in a world where it is considered improper for children ever to be disturbed by what they see or hear, so that they are consequently ill-equipped to deal with the shocks and traumas which they will inevitably sometimes encounter as they go through life?

I suppose Mr Burnham will be all for banning Grimm’s Fairy Tales next. They and their kind provided many an agreeable frisson of horror in my childhood days.

These busybody censors keep popping up like jack-in-the boxes. Why can’t they mind their own business, and get off our backs? A quarter of a century ago, I wrote an essay on ‘Pornography and Free Speech’, pointing out that freedom of expression is the essential bedrock of democratic liberty which underpins all other freedoms, and making the case against censorship exercised on grounds of taste. I said, in part:

“I start from the premise that all censorship is evil, because it diminishes human freedom and interferes with the spontaneity of communication. In an ideal world there would be no censorship, but the world we live in is far from ideal; and for the foreseeable future there will be some censorship. What there is should be as limited as possible, and should be kept under constant and vigilant scrutiny. The burden of proving that censorship is the lesser evil in any given instance should always lie upon those (be they the representatives of the State or private bodies or persons) who seek to impose it. And such proof should include solid evidence of demonstrable harm, greater than the harm wrought by the proposed censorship, to an individual, to a group, or to society as a whole, if the article or information in question remained uncensored.

“Such harm can usually be proved in cases of legitimate restriction of information on grounds of State security or libel upon an individual (even though the law on these matters is widely acknowledged to be defective and awaits legislative improvement). In matters of public taste and morals, however, tangible evidence of harm or damage is much more elusive. These questions are essentially subjective - and it is for this reason above all that I believe the less the law intrudes into the realm of public and private morality, the better.

“All censorship is a hindrance to the free flow of facts, of opinions and of ideas; and therefore, regardless of the motive with which it is imposed, censorship constitutes a distortion of spontaneous communication between human beings. I would not wish to argue that communication should never be restricted by convention or even sometimes by law; but I do maintain that every instance of such restriction ought to be scrutinised vigilantly in a democratic society, and that the onus of justifying it should be upon those authorities or individuals seeking to impose it. The only possible guiding principle for a society that is tolerably free in fact as well as in name has to be that enunciated by John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty (1859) that

‘If all mankind minus one were of the opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind’.

“Censorship is the intervention of a third mind between the communicator and those to whom the communication is addressed. The censor says: ‘For a reason which seems good to me, I must stop this information reaching you.’ (‘You’ may be either a specific individual, a class of individuals, or the public at large.)

“What is censored may be a fact, an opinion or a scene. A censored fact may be true or untrue. A censored opinion may be well-founded or ill-founded. A censored scene may be real or imaginary. As Mill points out, society can be harmed just as much by the censoring of falsehoods and errors as by the suppression of truth - not least because the truth or falsehood of information and opinions can only be established by free discussion and full examination of all the available evidence.

“The censor's ‘good reason’ for censoring a fact is usually that a person learning it would be harmed (this argument is frequently advanced as a ‘reason’ for not giving sex education to adolescents); or that a third party would be damaged by it (the basis on which the laws of libel are founded and on which legal measures to protect privacy are advocated by some people); or that the community or the State would be harmed (the raison d'etre of the Official Secrets Acts). The ‘good reason’ for censoring an opinion about society is usually that it would undermine the established order (i.e. it is seditious) or that it is highly offensive to the feelings of certain groups in society (e.g. the Race Relations Acts, blasphemy). The ‘good reason’ for censoring an opinion about an individual or a group is usually that the person or the group would be harmed or offended by its publication. The censor's ’good reason’ for censoring a scene is usually that it will harm the people seeing it or that some of them are outraged by it: this is the common justification for censorship of pornography. In other situations, censorship may simply be used as a repressive weapon by the State or other authority without being directly related to the content of the material which is being censored.

“Are the censor's ‘good reasons’ really good? The answers must depend not only on whether the harm he fears is real, but also on whether it outweighs the counter-harm which censorship does to freedom of speech. Any act of censorship, whatever its pretext, is by its very nature a political action: it is the exercise of power by one group over another. In a democratic society the presumption must always be in favour of free speech. If any other presumption prevails, the society is no longer free and open, but will - albeit gradually - become closed and authoritarian.

“Surely, in the end, it is safer to run the risks involved in a free and open society where views, attitudes and opinions are expressed which one does not necessarily approve of, than to live under a regime where free enquiry and expression are stifled and suppressed. Censorship is a habit of mind which, once it gains a foothold, spreads like a cancer. Whatever its starting point, the end of the censor's road is likely to be the same: repression of ‘dangerous’ ideas, not only about sex but about morals, politics, art and life.

“I detest censorship and would-be censors because they attack my freedom - and yours - to read, see, hear and do what I - and you – choose…The attempt to preserve people [including children] from harm by keeping them in ignorance of whatever may ‘morally pollute’ them strikes me as not only misconceived and futile, but as positively evil in its consequences. Living is, by its very nature, a dangerous process; and it is only by being conscious of the depths, as well as of the heights, of human imagination that we can make meaningful choices and accept full moral responsibility for ourselves. Bad things happen in the world, whether we are allowed to know it or not: and we shall never overcome evil by being kept in ignorance of its existence.”

So my message to Andy Burnham and his ilk is: “Keep your censoring activities within your own household, and confine them to your own children. Let other parents, and their children, take responsibility for their own reading, viewing and listening choices.”

NO to the Nanny State!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Shum contradickshun, shurely?

In his Christmas message, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Reverend Haydn Thomas, pondered the meaning of "good will to all men”.

"It means showing tolerance towards all people, no matter what their creed, race, gender or politics," he said.

"It means accepting that everyone has a right to express their opinion even though they don't necessarily believe the same as you."

He then said he was 'hurt' by the two members of the Welsh assembly who invited poet Patrick Jones to read his poems at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

The poet's reading of his collection of poems Darkness Is Where The Stars Are led to protests and claims that his work was "obscene and blasphemous".

- BBC report

Whatever happened to melody?

To Ben’s incredulous scorn, Anticant sometimes listens to a pop music station calling itself Mellow Magic, which has the silly slogan “more music, less talk” – an obvious lie each time they say it! Far from being mellow, much of their output is raucous and tuneless. I suppose I hang on hoping that the next track will be an old familiar friend, or at least hummable to – but what is mostly on offer is:

[a] men who ‘sing’ as if they have clothes pegs clipped to their noses;

[b] a growing tribe of women with the nasty habit of making rasping ‘hawking’ noises from the backs of their throats as if they are about to be sick [and so far as I’m concerned, the sooner the better];

[c] persons of both sexes who HOWL like dogs baying at the moon, and seem to have no idea of voice production - though I suppose that old-fashioned notion went out with the advent of portable microphones;

[d] thunderously loud thumping backups which often drown out the puny voices, reminding me of those heavy forge hammers in the steelworks I used to visit of old;

[e] last but not least, the over-rated ‘superstars’ – the utterly talentless Madonna, Elton John giving his famous imitation of Donald Duck in a tizzy, George Michael sounding like a mouse with tonsillitis, and Will Young, who gets ever more epicene.

Whatever happened to the easy listening music of my youth and young adulthood, performed by artists who knew how to enthral and delight an audience – Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett [happily still with us], and this side of the pond, David Whitfield, Matt Monro and their ilk?

And still more, what has become of the charming genre of musical comedy and light operetta: Noel Coward, Ivor Novello, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hammerstein…..?

What beats me is who pays these people to perform, and even more who wants to listen to them?

Now there’s a nice Christmas rant for you! Obviously, Anticant is getting old. And, sometimes, nostalgically grumpy.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

What an idea!

I find something irresistibly comic about the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Christmas sermon, telling people that they shouldn't expect magical solutions to their problems.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas is for everyone

When I was young in the mid-twentieth century, Christmas wasn’t politicised in the way that it – like almost everything else – has become today. Whether you were a Christian or not, Christmas was an uncomplicatedly happy time of the year – magical for some: a festive break in the middle of winter’s gloom, enjoyed (or ignored) by everyone in whatever way they chose, without officious priests, politicians, or journalists telling them how they ‘ought’ to be celebrating it.

To my mind, that is as it should be. But nowadays, we are ceaselessly assailed with the injunctions of the Politically Correct – ‘those who know best‘ - about what we should and should not do at Christmas. The ineffable Mr Ed Balls’ Department for Children, Schools and Families has even issued 150,000 leaflets called "Tis The Season To Be Careful", warning people to guard against (among other things) the danger of gravy exploding in microwaves! [Thanks to Ken at ‘Nanny Knows Best’ for this tit-bit.]

Even Christians are admonished not to celebrate the birth of their Saviour in a fashion which may be ‘offensive’ to those of other faiths: being ‘offensive’ is now a major crime in the eyes of the PC brigade, who ignore the obvious fact that being offended is a choice, and that sensible people for the most part choose to put up with it instead of kicking up a petulant fuss.

I am not a Christian, but I have no objection to Christians – or any one else - celebrating Christmas in whatever fashion they choose. How they do it is their business, and no-one else’s.

If that includes letting the gravy go ballistic, so be it.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Grandmothers are great

My two grandmothers were very different personalities. My father’s mother had a sweetness, as well as a firmness, which drew people to her as a fount of sage advice and comfort. She played a major role in my growing up, and her death when I was eighteen was a personal tragedy for me.

My other grandmother was also a strong character, but in a different, and more negative, way. She endeavoured to rule her family to such an extent that she alienated their affections, and ended up as a very lonely old woman, still railing about their shortcomings. I felt sorry for her.

Grandmothers – when we are fortunate enough to have them – are often seminal figures in our lives. To a child, they represent a fount of wisdom and experience beyond that of our parents, and although often accused of over-indulgent “spoiling”, leave behind them – perhaps for that very reason – undying memories of being not only loved, but fully accepted by them.

Wise grandmothers – often great-grandmothers – feature in many of the classic fairy tales by the great Victorian writer George MacDonald, such as “The Princess and the Goblin” and “The Princess and Curdie”. Usually they are tucked away in a lofty turret of the castle, only reachable by a child with true discernment, where they sit spinning the warp and weft of the lives of those whose good fairy they are. In “The Wise Woman”, it is an isolated cottage on the moors where the grandmother-figure instils spiritual wisdom by placing the self-absorbed and surly children into ‘mood chambers’ where they undergo various revelatory experiences.

MacDonald understood the power of true feminine wisdom, long before the strident man- hating feminists appeared on the modern scene. If you haven’t read him, do – his Complete Fairy Tales are available in the Penguin Classics series – and reflect this Christmas upon the blessings the fortunate ones amongst us have received from our grandmothers.

The Pope's Christmas message

Pope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.
- BBC News.

Well, it's a nice change from 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all Mankind'.

In these dire times we are living through, is gay-bashing really the most important mission of the Roman Catholic Church – above reducing global violence, seeking an end to war, ministering to the sick, the hungry, and the homeless?

The New Testament Jesus is not recorded as having even mentioned homosexuality. Nowadays, it seems to be an obsession of his vicars on earth – a displacement mechanism which allows them to turn their pious eyes away from the real evils afflicting humanity.

This ex-Nazi Pope is either naïve or deranged. Hopefully, no sane person will take much notice of his ignorant and bigoted pronouncements. He was recently forced to eat humble pie for a clumsy attack on Muslims; now he owes an apology to those belonging to sexual minorities – though it is unlikely to be forthcoming.

I repeat what I said on a previous post: Ever since it lost its moral and temporal supremacy at the Reformation, the Catholic Church has been consistently hostile to the liberal, civilised values of the Enlightenment, to modernity, and to scientific progress.

My Christmas message to the Pope and his minions is: It’s time for you to join the turkeys, and get stuffed.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Anticant is indisposed

For the past week the Burrow household has been in the grip of one of the worst 'flu-type viruses we can remember. So much for the vaunted jabs we had in October!

Anticant has stayed thankfully in bed, occasionally tottering along to the computer to check mail, but incapable of doing much typing. Pre-Christmas preparations have been disrupted, and it will be a while before normal blogging service is resumed [whatever passes for 'normal' in the Burrow and the Arena!]

In the meantime we wish all our friends and visitors a bright festive season.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Rancid rant

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has made an intemperate attack on secularism and what he describes as “a liberal society, hostile to Christian morals and values”.

According to the Cardinal, Britain shows signs of degenerating into a country “free of morals” because of its rejection of traditional values and its new emphasis on the rights of the individual, stoked up by “vocal and aggressive atheists”. The “unfriendly climate for people of all faiths” has [he says] united the country’s major faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Catholicism, the Cardinal claims, has borne the brunt of this “liberal hostility” because it defends “absolute values” which it considers to be “fundamental pillars of a rightly ordered society”.

Almost needless to say, these “absolute values” include implacable Catholic opposition to liberal laws on abortion, homosexuality and divorce, and support for faith schools. He accuses critics of Catholic moral doctrine of being repressively intolerant, and asserts that the Human Rights Act denies the rights of religious groups to act according to their conscience and beliefs.

This utter codswallop really takes the biscuit. It is total "through the looking glass" thinking.

Ever since it lost its moral and temporal supremacy at the Reformation, the Catholic Church has been consistently hostile to the liberal, civilised values of the Enlightenment, to modernity, and to scientific progress.

Yet Catholics take full advantage of the social and technological benefits which this hated "liberalism" has provided.

In this day and age they are parasitic throwbacks, seeking to drag us all back to a pre-rational age.

Anyone doubting this should read Double Cross: the Code of the Catholic Church by David Ranan for a full exposure of their humbugging 'absolute values' and for the cruelty they all too often practise as opposed to the 'sweetness and light' which they preach.

True to form, the Pope’s headquarters at the Vatican would – according to the National Secular Society’s Newsline – prefer gay people to be executed rather than married. And it doesn’t want disabled people to be protected, either, in case that promotes abortion:

‘The full extent of the regressive nature of the Vatican under Ratzinger was made clear this week when it was revealed that the Vatican had opposed two United Nations resolutions aimed at protecting gay and disabled people from discrimination and death.

‘When France proposed a resolution seeking all nations to decriminalise homosexuality, the Vatican immediately said it would oppose the resolution. This is despite the fact that up to 70 nations still have legal punishments for gay people including, in some instances, the death penalty. In a number of Islamic countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, homosexual acts are still a capital offence.

‘The UN resolution is due to be proposed by France later this month on behalf of the 27-nation European Union. But Archbishop Celestino Migliore said the Vatican opposed the resolution because it would “add new categories of those protected from discrimination” and could lead to reverse discrimination against traditional heterosexual marriage.

‘“If adopted, they would create new and implacable discriminations”, Migliore said. “For example, states which do not recognise same-sex unions as matrimony will be pilloried and made an object of pressure. ‘

A strongly worded editorial in Italy's mainstream La Stampa newspaper said the Vatican’s reasoning was “grotesque”.

‘Franco Grillini, founder and honorary president of Arcigay, Italy’s leading gay rights group, said the Vatican’s reasoning smacked of “total idiocy and madness”. Mr Grillini said the resolution had nothing to do with gay marriage, but was aimed at stopping the execution of gay people in Islamic countries.

‘An editorial in Rome’s left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper said the Vatican’s position “leaves one dumbstruck”. Margherita Boniver, a leading member of Italy’s leftist Democratic Party, called it “alarmingly anachronistic”.

‘The gay rights activist, Grillini, said he feared what he called another “Holy Alliance” between the Vatican and Islamic states at the United Nations to oppose the proposed resolution. At a major U.N. conference on the family in Cairo in 1994, the Vatican teamed up with Islamic and Latin American countries to defeat an abortion rights proposal. In October, a leading Vatican official called homosexuality “a deviation, an irregularity and a wound”. ‘

The secretary of the UK’s Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, David Christmas, described the statement as “ludicrous”. He said: “The accusation that it is in some way discriminatory to attempt to counteract the prejudice and hatred which exists in over 80 countries that outlaw same sex relations would appear to be yet another example of the Vatican turning logical thinking on its head.”

‘Mr Christmas pointed out that in nine countries or regions of countries the mandatory punishment for homosexuality is death by execution. “Isn’t the Vatican supposed to believe in the right to life?”, he asked.

‘Meanwhile, The Times has revealed that the Holy See also refused to sign a UN document last May on the rights of the disabled because it did not condemn abortion or assert the rights of foetuses with birth defects. ‘

The Vatican made its position clear as it marked the United Nations International Day of Disabled People. Archbishop Migliore said the Vatican could not accept a clause in the UN declaration affirming a right to “sexual health and reproduction” because “in some countries such rights include the right to abortion”.

‘The Italian left of centre Democratic Party said that coupled with the Vatican’s stand on gays, this showed a "return to obscurantism" under Josef Ratzinger.

‘Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society said: “These two incidents expose the Vatican’s “morality” to be a sham. How otherwise could an organisation that purports to be a moral authority and whose current Pope’s first encyclical was laughingly entitled God is Love actually oppose measures to put pressure on states who execute citizens because of their sexuality? It seems that in some respects the Vatican has not moved on very much from some of the medieval atrocities for which it was so famous.”’


Sunday, 30 November 2008

Roll up, roll up!

In a newspaper interview clearly targeted at Private Eye’s Brownnoser of the Year award, the newly ennobled Lord Mandelson of Foye gushes that “Internationally people say to me, 'Your prime minister has been transformed. His standing has soared.' People really do look to him like some Moses figure who is going to lead them away from this economic mess to the promised land."

This likening of our dear Supreme Leader to an Old Testament prophet – and this one in particular – has occasioned some ribaldry on the blogosphere, where it’s been pointed out that Moses never actually reached the promised land, and one commentator expressed the wish that Gordo had never left the bulrushes in the first place. Anticant’s view is that Gordo doesn’t need to be Moses to get up our noses.

I’m not sure where Foye is - possibly a twee version of Fowey? - but in Lord M’s case a double ‘ll’ has obviously been omitted after the ‘o’. However, his eagerly awaited further interventions of this nature will at least boost what little Yuletide wassail we are able to muster this year.

And he has provided Anticant with a brilliant idea for a seasonal competition in which Burrow regulars and Arena visitors are invited to participate:


Anticant kicks off with Lord M himself as Joshua, because he sees himself as Gordo’s successor, destined to arrive at the promised land; Jacqui Smith as Salome, dancing before King Gordon with Damian Green’s head on a platter; and G.W. Bush as Belshazzar who ignored the writing on the wall and came a cropper.

Over to you!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ignorance is bliss - official

According to the Catholic Bishop of Lancaster, Patrick O'Donoghue, university-educated Catholics have sown scepticism, dissent and confusion within Holy Mother Church and are responsible for the decline in attendance at Mass. Instead of following the Church's teaching, they are 'hedonistic', 'selfish' and 'egocentric' said the Bishop, who added that higher education has its dark side 'due to original sin'. You can read his full rant here.

Prominent Catholics in public life include Tony Blair and Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, both of whom are Oxford graduates.

Bishop O'Donoghue was presumably 'educated' at some bog-standard Catholic seminary.

The former Professor of Divinity at Cambridge commented "What constructive purpose could possibly be served by such irresponsible and wholesale scapegoating of the educated, I have simply no idea".


Monday, 17 November 2008

A potty proposal


Our first woman Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has come up with a mind-bogglingly bizarre plan to criminalise paying for sex with a woman who is 'controlled for another person's gain'. This new offence will, according to the Guardian's political editor, "carry a hefty fine and criminal record, which could prevent those caught from getting jobs in sensitive occupations". The legislation will cover not only trafficked women ['sex slaves'] - who are indeed in need of effective state protection but all too often don't get it despite the stringent laws against such trafficking - but also those who have pimps or who are drug addicts prostituting themselves in order to pay off their dealers.

Unsurprisingly, such a broad definition is expected to include "the great majority of Britain's 80,000 sex workers" [source of figure unstated]. Ignorance of the woman's circumstances will not be a defence. The egregious Ms Smith has stated: "It won't be enough to say 'I didn't know'. What I hope people will say is, 'I am not going to take the risk if there is any concern that the woman hasn't made a free choice.' It would be quite difficult for a man paying for sex in the majority of cases not to fall under this particular offence." [my italics] But she is graciously refraining from imposing a universal ban on paid sex because some women argued that they did it out of choice "and it's not my job to criminalise that".

There you have it! Ms Smith and her advisers don't have the bottle to make prostitution illegal and have done with it - so they concoct a new failsafe catch-all crime which, like so many new offences introduced by this civil liberty-trashing New Labour government, removes the burden of proving guilt from where it properly belongs - the prosecution - and dumps the burden of proving his innocence upon the accused. So much for traditional British justice.

I have spent a large part of my life publicly arguing for freedom of choice in sexual behaviour between consenting partners, because it seems to me that nothing less accords with the dignity of the individual, however immoral or depraved some folk think their freely made choices are. I heartily agree with one of Margaret Thatcher's more sensible pronouncements, when she said: "Free choice is ultimately what life is about, what ethics is about. The whole of the case for freedom is a moral case because it involves choice. Do away with choice and you do away with human dignity."

A guiding light of my political philosophy has been John Stuart Mill's seminal essay On Liberty [1859] - now sadly neglected - in which he lays down the principle that 'the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way'; that 'each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily or mental or spiritual'; that 'mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest'; and that 'over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign'.

This was reinforced and brought up to date by the Wolfenden Committee's 1957 Report on Homosexuality and Prostitution which stressed the "decisive" importance of allowing individual freedom of choice and action in matters of private morality: "Unless a deliberate attempt is to be made by society, acting through the agency of the law, to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law's business." Now, it would appear, Ms Jacqui Smith and her New Labour cohorts are bent on making such an attempt.

In 1972 the then Chairman of the Sexual Law Reform Society, Bishop John A.T. Robinson, delivered a lecture on The Place of Law in the Field of Sex in which he affirmed that the true function of law in a democratic society was "not to prohibit but to protect, not to enforce morals but to safeguard persons, their privacies and freedoms". I remain convinced this is right: privacy, protection and consent are the key issues in this area of personal behaviour.

It is always difficult to defend as harmless private consenting activity which is deemed immoral, offensive, or anti-social by others. It is almost impossible to get a hearing for the - surely plausible - view that not all consenting relationships between those above and below the legal age of consent are exploitive or damaging. It is equally hard to get a hearing for the far from absurd contention that many - if not most - prostitutes, male as well as female, take up their profession freely and willingly and enjoy their work. Yet this is the finding of more than one research study, and I myself have known such prostitutes who do not operate at the seedy or criminal end of the business. Yet telling this to the likes of Jacqui Smith and ideologically anti-prostitution feminists is like shouting at a brick wall. Whether it is true or not, they simply do not want to know.

Civil liberties and personal freedom have taken worse knocks under this New Labour government than at any time I can remember. How long will the too patient public continue putting up with this constant erosion of freedoms we took for granted throughout the twentieth century? It will be interesting to see.

To conclude, let me recall the words of John Addington Symonds, celebrated Victorian literary critic and bisexual: "Good Lord! In what different orbits human souls can move. He talks of sex out of legal codes and blue books. I talk of it from human documents, myself, the people I have known, the adulterers and prostitutes of both sexes I have dealt with over bottles of wine and confidences."

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Atheist thought for the day

"Most atheists probably wouldn't give a flying teapot what anyone else believed were those beliefs not used as spurious justification for assuming positions of privilege, manipulating politics, obstructing science, discriminating against others, commandeering community schools, proselytising to the young and the vulnerable, lying about scientific theory, and generally trying to manipulate the lives of the willing and unwilling alike."

- MIKE LIM, writing in the National Secular Society's Newsline

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Religion gone rotten

Commenting on my previous post, Billy says: "I just dont get this singling out of homosexuals business".

It's quite simple, really. Homosexuals are, by and large, a peaceable, inoffensive lot who just wish to get on with their own lives as they choose and who are unlikely to get militantly aggressive even when viciously attacked.

An ideal target, in fact, for the pharisaical holier-than-thou "thank God/Allah we are not like THESE people" bigots of all religious stripes who seek a public platform on which to strut their superiority to the common herd.

I have been a lifelong campaigner for gay rights. Bitter experience has taught me that the "godly" are my mortal enemies. Not that I wish to have enemies, but all too often there is no choice.

In the 1950s and '60s, the most vocal opponents of decriminalising homosexual behaviour were religious. To be fair, we also received valuable support from some church people who had a more realistic sense of justice than most of their contemporaries. But they were in a minority.

In the 1970s and '80s there was a vicious backlash against gay people spearheaded by the odious Moral Re-Armament bigot Mary Whitehouse and her assorted allies. They were not in the least concerned with the truth - only with smearing those of us who worked for a more humane society with every lie they could concoct.

Now we have the African Anglican bishops who are so obsessed with fear and loathing of same-sex love that they threaten to split the Church of England over the issue, while the increasingly intimidated 'liberals' such as the pathetically casuistic Archbishop Rowan Williams bend over backwards to placate them instead of telling them to go take a running jump.

The Roman Catholics, as always, spout ignorant rubbish on the topic - see my previous post - while studiously ignoring the glaring fact that a great many of their priests are homosexual by temperament if not by practice. The Polish prime minister - presumably a devout Catholic - has said "if a person tries to infect others with homosexuality the state must intervene". Here in Britain, Catholics strive for exemption from equality legislation protecting people of homosexual temperament from discrimination.

In the United States, the paranoid, growingly strident "born again" cultural conservatives - for whom one birth was too many - use frantic opposition to gay rights to rally ignorantly pious voters in support of what they term "traditional American values". The recent success of California's 'Proposition Eight' banning gay marriage in that State was carried thanks largely to black Christians who turned out in force to vote for Obama, after a virulent campaign bankrolled by Mormons - who are dubiously Christian and most of whom don't live in California, anyway.

Homosexuality is, alas, also a burning issue - sometimes literally - in some Caribbean communities where 'rappers' incite their audiences to murderous action against "batty boys".

And now we have amongst us the Muslims, whose preachers and government ministers in Islamic countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia think nothing of advocating hanging, stoning, and torture for homosexuals, who are fiercely persecuted throughout the Arab world. The hypocrisy of all this is staggering, as in addition to their sexism and male chauvinism Arab men are notorious for their widepread indulgence in homosexual activity. In Britain, gay Muslims live in fear and are mostly unwilling to speak out about their predicament.

It is a strange paradox that a government which has passed several commendably liberalising measures favouring gay people - including the introduction of Civil Partnerships - is unwilling to stand up robustly against these various forms of anti-gay religious bigotry because of a spurious and increasingly discredited doctrine of 'multiculturalism' and 'respect' for beliefs paraded as "religious" regardless of their content and the social harm they do.

In the current uneasy climate of clashing values - a climate largely created by religious bigotry - the besetting sin of the British is a lazy toleration of intolerance.

It is time for us all to wake up and to start tackling this poison resolutely before it is too late.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Holy shower!

The Roman Catholic Church is to introduce psychological vetting to eliminate candidates for the priesthood who suffer from "deep seated homosexual tendencies", even if they are celibate, on the ground that their orientation disqualifies them from exercising "spiritual paternity" [here].

What arrogant, ignorant twaddle! Do those who promulgate such stuff really believe that there have never been gay priests - perhaps some Popes - who were competent spiritual pastors?

The Catholic Church, of course, is a law unto itself - a bigoted, narrow-minded cult whose twisted interpretation of Christianity is incomprehensible to those outside it - and, I suspect, to a lot of its sheeplike followers.

In this instance, they are behaving like those golf clubs of old who made an ostentatious virtue of excluding Jewish members, while covertly seeking the financial benefits they offered.

They remind me of Groucho Marx's celebrated observation "Who'd want to belong to a club that would have me as a member?"

Why any self-respecting gay person, Christian or otherwise, would want to touch the Catholic Church with a bargepole beats me.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Thought fo US election day

"Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other".

~ Oscar Ameringer

Monday, 13 October 2008

Anticant for PM?

In general I refrain from commenting on the political and financial scene for fear of bursting a blood-vessel. But the events of recent weeks and days are so ludicrous that they merit notice in the Arena.

First, we had the NuLabour infighting and jockeying for position by the would-be ousters of GordiBroon, all of whom – not least the odiously reptilian Milipede – showed themselves as being eager to wound, but too timid to strike.

Then we had Gordi’s much-trumpeted reshuffle of the Downing Street deckchairs which – notwithstanding the surprise gimmick of Mandy’s return - aroused as much interest outside the Westminster goldfish bowl as an airline lunch. ZanuLab simply have not got the message that everyone – apart from themselves – has totally lost interest in them, and wish them begone. In their self-obsessed way they rabbit on and on about how the country still needs their “leadership” and how their “project” is getting back on track. But no-one else is listening any more.

The spreading financial meltdown has exposed the sheer irrelevance of both their theories and their policies. And even more that of the boastful transatlantic champions of unbridled free enterprise in the Citadel of Capitalism who have been driven to “rescue” their improvident financial institutions from the consequences of their own folly at the double expense of the taxpayers, who first of all suffer from the banks’ reckless mismanagement and dishonesty in urging them to borrow loans they cannot afford, and then pay all over again to bail their tormentors out.

The same totally clueless policy is now being adopted here, with Gormless Gordon claiming [presumably as a first effect of Mandelsonian spin] to be the “global saviour” with his risible “rescue plan”. The fact is, as is quite clear from all the media comments, that it is unlikely to work in the long term, and that no-one either in government or the City has any clear idea of what to do in order to restore confidence and get the economy functioning again.

Far from being “Prudence personified”, the Prime Minister and long-time Chancellor cannot escape his responsibility for being “Incapability Brown” who not merely presided over, but actively encouraged, the decade of financial profligacy and recklessness which has resulted in this sorry mess.

Future historians are unlikely to award him the accolade for shrewdness and sobriety which he craves. Stubborn dimwittedness is more likely to be his political obituary. The sooner he is gone, the better.

Not that anyone more competent is likely to take over, more’s the pity.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Well, who'd have thought it?

Announcing no new policies, Mr Bush said: "We must ensure the actions of one country do not contradict or undermine the actions of another.

"In an interconnected world, no nation will gain by driving down the fortunes of another. We are in this together. We will come through it together."

- BBC report

He could have fooled me. Does he think we're all dumb, or something?

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Andalucía illumined

I have known John Gill since he was a young man, and have enjoyed watching him craft his career as journalist, editor, and author. He is an informed and lively commentator on the modern music and jazz scene, and an accomplished travel writer. In his latest book, ANDALUCÍA: A CULTURAL HISTORY [Signal Books, 2008 – available here] he brings together all the insights, knowledge and enthusiasm he has gathered from eight years’ residence in Spain’s most colourful province – “a garden at the foot of Europe and a crossroads between Spain, Africa and the New World”.

Unlike most foreigners writing about another country, Gill does not assume the superior stance of “us” writing about “them”, but penetrates empathetically into the history, distinctive traditions, and cultural attitudes of the successive inhabitants of this many-peopled south-eastern corner of Spain. Indeed, he – sometimes scathingly - turns the tables on the maldito guiris [damn foreigners], mostly British or American, who – with rare exceptions, such as Gerald Brenan – have written patronisingly, and sometimes fantastically, about Andalucía.

Starting with the earliest hominid invaders of almost 2 million years ago – whose imprints are still yielding fresh insights to contemporary archaeologists - we learn of the early cave dwellers, the Beaker People, the myth of Atlantis, and lost cities and peoples; the visits – sometimes leading to settlement – by Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans; early Christianity; and the almost eight centuries of Al-Andalus – the tolerant, civilised, highly cultured Muslim regime which lasted from 711AD to the Reconquista by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

Gill looks back nostalgically to this golden age of Islamic enlightenment, philosophy, and scientific discovery and tends to view the following centuries of stiflingly Monarchic and Catholic Spain as an anticlimax. He writes perceptively and movingly of the social and cultural wounds and personal tragedies inflicted by the 1930s civil war, while taking a cautiously optimistic view of the new, post-Franco Spain. His thoughts and opinions about 20th century Andalucian writers, poets, artists, and musicians are shrewd, candid and illuminating.

A mere catalogue doesn’t do justice to this book, and even more remarkable than the richness of the skilfully deployed knowledge of many aspects of Andalucían history, culture, and contemporary life is the tautly structured and often racy style of the writing – insightful, enthusiastic, witty, allusive, and occasionally waspish. John Gill’s Andalucía is stimulating and indeed essential reading for anyone interested in this fascinating part of Europe, and will I think be warmly welcomed by Spanish and non-Spanish readers alike.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

I like it!

In a comment on a Guardian CiF piece, 'Fairness is still our guide', allegedly written by our Dear Prime Minister, smellthecoffee observes:

"Labour began with Keir Hardie and ended up with Laurel and Hardie."

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Mr Otis regrets.....

Another “weepie”, this time from the ‘Telegraph’. Otis Ferry, the high-profile pro-hunting campaigner, has been remanded in custody ahead of his trial on charges of robbery, assault and perverting the course of justice.

Speaking outside the court, his mother said: “"I am worried about him being in prison without any clean socks or shirts. For someone who loves the outdoors so much it's very difficult to be in a cell without windows. I have been in a police cell and it's not a pleasant place to be."

Whether you love the outdoors or not, being banged up in a police cell is never a pleasant place to be.

Poor Otis! Maybe his dad, the warbling Bryan, is even now crafting an update of Cole Porter’s celebrated song:

“Mr Otis regrets he’s unable to hunt today……….”

How the other half lives

The 'Guardian' has started serialising extracts from “Tony’s Ten Years: Memories of the Blair Administration”, by Adam Boulton, a TV journalist who is married to Anji Hunter, Blair’s “close friend and long-serving amanuensis” [and non persona grata with Cherie Blair]. Here is the opening paragraph:

“Tony Blair's earnings from British politics plummeted when he left parliament. As prime minister his final salary had been £187,611 per annum, plus the Downing Street flat, Chequers, and full administrative support. On quitting, he was immediately eligible for a pension of £63,468 a year and £84,000 towards the expense of running a private office. It would have been hard to make ends meet without the £4.6m book deal, or the £1m he earned from public speaking the first year after he left office…..” and so on and so forth.

Oh, dear! This has quite spoiled my day. My heart bleeds for the impoverished Blairs, and I shall be weeping intermittently for them over the weekend.

And I won’t be reading any more ‘Harry Potter’ books – not that I ever managed to get through any of the drearily turgid tomes. I see that J.K. Rowling has just given £1 million to the Labour Party. Presumably she will soon be something like a Dame.

O tempora, O mores!

Monday, 8 September 2008

President Palin

Read Atheist Ethicist's scary post on this gruesome possibility here.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

More holy humbug

"The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life."

- Adolf Hitler, ‘My New World Order’, Proclamation to the German Nation at Berlin, February 1, 1933


"I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen... I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."

- George W. Bush commenting to Texas evangelist James Robinson in the run-up to his 2000 presidential campaign


"And I just -- I cannot speak strongly enough about how we must collectively get after those who kill in the name of -- in the name of some kind of false religion".

- George W. Bush, press appearance with King Abdullah of Jordan, Aug. 1,2002