Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Reasons to keep the bishops in the House of Lords

(even Rowan Williams)

1. Because 26 Lords Spiritual sitting alongside other elected members in a largely toothless revising chamber do not a theocracy make.

2. Because they are at least as likely to have their hearts in the right place as the politicos they rub shoulders with.

3. Because, whilst most are the kind of hand-wringing Guardian readers who think people are going to starve if their benefits are restricted to, er, more than a C of E priest gets, if we wait long enough another George Carey may come along.

4. Because their presence is a nod to fourteen or so centuries of unbroken Christian tradition which have shaped even militant atheists far more than they care to realise.

5. Because on many ethical issues they do in fact speak for many people in other Christian denominations and of other faiths.

6. Because if it ain't broke don't fix it.

7. Because it annoys Tom Chivers.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Orwell test, the Grumpy test and the Derby Three

Do you think that men who have sex with each other should be punished by execution? No, I don't either.

Do you think that someone who not only held that opinion but cared enough about it enough to produce leaflets expounding it, complete with a picture of a gallows, and post them through people's letterboxes would be more than a little repellent? Same here.

Do you think that if you were a homosexually inclined man and you received one of these leaflets you would feel upset about it? We're still in agreement.

So should the distribution of such leaflets be a criminal offence? Since in fact it now is, this may be the point at which our views diverge.

Ever since it started the Harry's Place blog has had a banner which reads "freedom, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don't want to hear". Fine words by a fine writer - George Orwell (and it's a pity he doesn't get a name check from HP any more).

So the Orwell test tells me that if I can't say in public that men who have sex with men should be executed, I'm not free.

And let's be clear about the vital corollary to the Orwell test. Since Orwell's day we've become positively addicted to proclaiming our rights, less keen to talk about the obligations without which rights are meaningless. Let's have some big bold red letters:-

"Freedom, if it means anything, is the duty to allow people to tell us what we don't want to hear."
I'll modestly christen that one the Grumpy test.

I don't want to say what the Derby Three said in their leaflets. They do and we must allow them to say it. If we want our society to be a free one, that is, and evidently many of us don't.

Take what is for most of us an equally repellent opinion: that adults should be allowed to have sex with children. Can that be said in public? Anyone saying it is at best on shaky ground. Way back in the Eighties the leading lights of something called the Paedophile Information Exchange were convicted of, if I remember rightly, "conspiracy to corrupt public morals" - a category of offence as vague and potentially all-encompassing as "hate crime" - and as far as I could make out from the trial report in the Times the convictions were based largely on the fact that the group had campaigned for the abolition of the age of consent. It bothered me that it could be illegal to campaign for a change in the law, and if I'd been braver I'd have written a letter to the Times to that effect. I don't recall anybody else being brave enough either - or if they were the paper wasn't brave enough to print it.

But if we want our society to be a free one we are obliged to allow those who so wish to voice this abhorrent opinion. Even if the thought of them getting their way makes us feel sick. Once again, the facts suggest we'd rather not have too much freedom.

I'd like to be able to read the Derby Three's leaflets, and of course the problem is that it would be illegal to reporduce them. No doubt I could find the texts if I did a bit of digging about on non-UK-based Islamist sites, but I'd rather not. I'd just like to satisfy myself on one point which would make everything I've written so far not wrong but inapplicable. That would be the case if they had suggested that Islamic law trumps the law of the land and that Muslims would be justified in taking the law into their own hands. Then we would have a case of incitement to murder on our hands, and anyone guilty of that deserves to have the book thrown at them. There we hit a valid limitation to freedom of speech.

But it doesn't look that way. Partly because the report doesn't say so. And partly because they were apparently charged with "incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation", not the manifestly much more serious offence of incitement to murder.

What the BBC report does do is quote a homosexual recipient of the leaflets:-

He said the first leaflet, Turn Or Burn, made him feel "quite horrified" and it was after he received Death Penalty? that he called the police.

"They made me feel terrorised in my own home," he said.

"Sometimes I wondered whether I would be getting a burning rag through the letterbox or if I would be attacked in the street."
Well, his feelings are entirely understandable. And should be entirely irrelevant. Either the leaflets incited arson and assault or they didn't.

Or shall we make it illegal for Communists to drop their leaflets through the doors of capitalists, on the grounds that they could give the latter nightmares about being murdered in their beds?

George Orwell gave us a terrifying pcture of total thought control. As far as I recall it didn't occur to him that the Party might justify it as being necessary to protect the citizen from unpleasant emotions.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Professor Malaprop

"Foetus parties" are a phenomenon that appeared on my radar the day before yesterday. I started reading this expecting to find myself harrumphing over the latest irritating fad. Then I reached this bit...
Also, does this escalate the thinking held by some that a foetus should have a life of its own before birth and, therefore, have rights of its own?
At the moment, UK law allows for the mother to make decisions on behalf of her baby until the baby is born. Using technology in this way seems to have the potential to upset this position and raises the spectrum of women being accused of doing wrong to their foetus, as happens in the USA.
The least of my concerns is that someone who can't write literate English ("raises the spectrum", mark you) is entitled to call herself a professor. More horrifying by far is the discovery that a person who worries about encouraging mothers to see the children inside them as human beings in their own right is chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives.

So, don't feel obliged to invite me, but by all means keep partying. As for Professor Warwick's concern about "class envy, alienation and a sense of inequity", how about foetus parties on the NHS?

A reason to stay Catholic

This will confirm many in the view that the Catholic church is unfit for consumption. This on the other hand will hardly register outside the country concerned - but it ought to.
"We cannot build a state in a culture of treachery, lies and terror, of militarisation and the flagrant violation of the freedom of expression"
These are brave men, and surely their country's best hope.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Godless morality with its slip showing

Fifty-two per cent of Republican voters reject the theory of evolution, saying mankind was created in present form within the last 10,000 years; just 31 per cent think man-made climate change is happening. In Congress, Republicans fought stem cell research and the HPV vaccine. Sarah Palin, ignoramus-in-chief, mocked “fruit-fly research” as a “pet project [with] little or nothing to do with the public good,” rejecting at a stroke most advances in genetics since Gregor Mendel.
- Tom Chivers, posting under the heading "Republicans turn their back on the Enlightenment" and revealingly failing to distinguish between rejecting evolution because it conflicts with religious dogma and opposing embryonic stem cell research on moral grounds. Research=science=good. I'm certainly disappointed by Rick Santorum's stance on evolution and think he would do better to be guided by the Pope, but if forced to choose I'd trust his moral reasoning sooner than Mr Chivers', since the very possibilty of moral reasoning rests on our being more than just highly-evolved monkeys.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The dawning age of DIY brainwashing?

After I'd written the update at the end of my previous post, paranoia began to set in. Was it really just coincidence that one visit to the Guardian homepage led me to two substantial pieces on the persecution of Christians? Or has the paper already mastered the art of silently tailoring the content it offers to the individual reader's interests and preferences? Depend on it, this is on its way even if it's not already with us. It would merely be an extension of what advertisers already do. Not always with great skill, of course. I seem to cut a pitiable figure in their eyes. There was a sustained campaign to get me to take out a credit card at the special paupers' interest rate of three zillion percent. They've given up on that one for the present, but now they think I need them to find me a woman. Perhaps they associate blogging with anoraks and questionable personal hygiene - quite rightly so, of course, but thankfully it hasn't deterred Frau Grumpy up to now.

I digress. My serious point is that we face the terrifying prospect of news media which allow us to brainwash ourselves, constructing ever more impenetrable walls out of our own prejudices without even noticing we're doing it. I infinitely prefer to have the Grauniad trying to convert me to its own prejudices. That way I know where I am, and I'm about as likely to succumb as I am to go down with chicken pox a second time.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Imposing the party line

To give its due, the BBC has done a much better job of reporting the massacres of Nigerian Christians than other news media. Not that that's difficult; today the Daily Tottygraph thought I would be more interested in the revelation that Foxy Knoxy's ex has a new girlfriend. Frau Grumpy says if I want to read a proper newspaper why don't I give the FAZ a try.

Unfortunately today has provided evidence of the party line being laid down at the Beeb. This morning at 08:06 the latest report appeared under the admirably unambiguous headline:-

Nigeria Christians hit by fresh Islamist attacks

But by 18:26 the same story had been published again with a new headline:-

Nigerians flee Boko Haram sectarian attacks

Even in its earlier incarnation the story begins with an equivocal reference to "a 24-hour wave of violence apparently targeting Christian communities". Clearly it is too early to exclude the possibility that Nigeria's large Buddhist community is being targeted.

But the introduction of the weaselly use of the word "sectarian", familiar from the BBC's coverage of massacres of Christians in Egypt, represents a definite turn for the worse.

Update: on revisiting the Trivigraph I discover that it is important that I should know that somebody called Graham Norton has been burgled. Full marks to the Grauniad though, and the paper should also be complimented on this piece - yes, "sectarian tensions" here too, but once you get past that it's a good report.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

In which Mr Grumpy comes over all Guardian-readerish

Actually it's just straightforward Christian ethics.

Last week Julia M's entertaining blog featured an incident in which a child was run over by a car near her school. Now it is rarely difficult to distinguish Julia from a Guardian reader, and she is famed for making short work of Counsel for the defence's pleas of mitigating circumstances. In this instance, unusually, she was inclined to sympathize with the perpetrator, and quoted a comment from the relevant local paper with approval:-
My thoughts go out to all involved in this horrific accident. Praying that the little girl is ok. Having known the driver of the car since I was 4 years old I can tell you she is a lovely lovely person and had very good reason to be driving That morning and believe me she is absolutely devastated over whats happened. Before we judge tho it is also children's parents responsibility to teach road safety and if your child doesn't know this then they should be accompanied safely to wherever they are going. It was an accident where a child walked right out in front of the driver and could have happened to anyone. I feel for all parties involved as it was not the child's fault she wasn't supervised by a responsible adult as much as it wasn't the drivers fault this child walked in the path of the car.
... this prompting Julia to conclude:-
Hmmm. Like School Road itself, it seems that responsibility is a two-way street...

And should remain that way.
Now comes a counter-hmmm(m) from yours truly:-
Hmmmm. So the road is called School Road. It has three schools in it. It presumably has signs featuring pictures of children. If the lovely lovely driver couldn't stop in time methinks speed and/or inattention was almost by definition an issue. But, hey, I'm just a poor ignorant non-driver.
Not so, says Julia:-
No, not if - as the commenter claims - the child darted out from between parked cars (which as PJH points out, shouldn't have been there).
At this point, since Julia is such a prolific blogger that the post is already three pages back, I take up the argument on my own turf.

For the commenter and Julia, the speed limit evidently confers an absolute entitlement to drive that fast. School run in full swing? No need to slow down, the speed limit's 30. Cars parked all over the place? Not my problem, they shouldn't be there. The speed limit's 30.

Though I described myself above as a non-driver, I do in fact hold a full driving licence, acquired at the tender age of 51. I was taking lessons less than three years ago, so they're about as fresh in my memory as anything is these days. And one of the most important things I learnt is that you adjust your speed not just to the speed limit but to road conditions, and specifically to any hazards present.

Parked cars are always hazards, and they do not magically cease to be so because they "shouldn't have been there". Schools are hazards too, and School Road with its three schools is a triple hazard. School Road with the school run in full swing and cars parked in all kinds of places where they shouldn't be is a mega-hazard, and the appropriate speed for it is, well, the speed which would enable you to stop in time if a child darted out from behind one of those parked cars. In other words veeeery slow. And even slower if you're not watching those parked cars like a hawk as you should be.

Because a child's right to life trumps your entitlement to do what you want to do with that lump of steel you go around in. Unconditionally.

Running late? Your problem. Next time start out earlier. Enraged by the mums' inconsiderate and illegal parking? My full sympathy, but two wrongs don't make a right, so drive safely for the conditions as they actually are. Nobody else drives like that? Well, you can be the first. If you haven't made a New Year's resolution yet, you might like to think about resolving to minimize the risk that you will ever run over a child. Because you don't want to be part of the culture of death, do you?

Campaign against gender role stereotyping meets unexpected resistance

Back to work<unsmiley face> but the day has not been quite devoid of entertainment: this just posted on the in-house social media thingy...

Early Learning Centre Toy Kitchen + Lots of Accessories FOR SALE

Assembled, and in A1 condition as my son hardly played with this, and it's been in the cupboard for 18 months, hence sale.
Btw I didn't manage a Happy Christmas post. Consider it wished. New Year ditto.