Archive for July, 2007

Posted on July 16, 2007 in Religion by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish13 Comments »

Fellow Witanagemot member, L’Ombre de l’Olivier has bought to my attention a debate taking place in the Washington Post between Michael Gerson and our old friend Christopher Hitchens on the nature of atheism. I am not about to quote any of these articles but they are all worth a read.

What really rankles with me is this old hogwash perpetually pedalled by the religiously inclined that an atheist cannot possibly have a strong set of moral values and that only an adherence to a religious faith can provide the moral platform, teaching and structure that we all need to live a peaceful, law-abiding and productive life. Far too many people implicitly believe this bullshit and far more are taken in by it and are ready to shout ‘I believe’ to show the world they are grounded in religion and therefore must be ‘good’. And compared to those people I am more honest. I am an atheist. It’s not something I am proud of and it’s not something I preach – I just am.

I am an atheist on two counts. The first, and the major reason, is that I have never been presented with any compelling argument to believe in what Hitchens calls the ‘Heavenly Dictatorship’ whereas I have been consistently presented with arguments that make common sense, have scientific evidence to back them up and that do not rely on a far-fetched belief in the supernatural or ethereal. And I feel in absolutely no way diminished by this stance. The second reason, of course, is having been bought up in a predominantly Christian tradition, any research into the history of this established religion makes it obvious to me that it is not a club I wish to belong to. It is, in short, morally corrupt. It is, in fact, more corrupt than any atheist I have ever met.

In the last week alone we have seen the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Church payout $660 million dollars to the victims of priestly abuse and a wave of Christian protest because a Hindu chaplain said a prayer at the opening of the US Senate session. Abuse, lies, violence and intolerance. And these people have the nerve to be critical of atheism. We all know that if Jesus turned up in Bible Belt America he wouldn’t last five minutes before, at the best, being run out of town but at the worse seriously assaulted and probably shot. And Christians are not, of course, alone. Muslims slaughtering fellow Muslims is daily news around the world.

Groucho Marx once famously quipped that he’d rather not belong to any club that would have him as a member. In the opposite way, I don’t want to be a member of any club that has those Los Angeles and Boston priests – or the repressed bible thumpers – claiming the moral high ground because I’d pitch my own set of moral values against theirs any day.

Posted on July 13, 2007 in Personal by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish2 Comments »

So – what DO Oxford, Cambridge and Dover have in common? Well, according to Chris Kuzneski, they are the sites of England’s finest and oldest universities. This is something I have to admit that I didn’t know. In fact, it took me quite seriously by surprise.

I am a pretty voracious reader and I get through a lot of novels. When I buy books I try and always include an author new to me which can end up being a good or bad experience. But it is seldom as dire as Chris Kuzneski’s ‘The Sign of the Cross’. When an author states that he has performed extensive research I am happy to believe him. When a novel has been published by Penguin who, at least in the distant days when I was working in publishing, have a high standard and a good team of editors then I believe I might be on safe ground. Sadly, Kuzneski’s standard of research leaves an awful lot to be desired and Penguin should be ashamed of themselves for peddling such atrocious garbage.

Rather than perform just a small amount of research and base his English scenes at a Cambridge college, Kuzneski chose instead to conjure one up from his imagination. Dover University, we are informed, was founded in the reign of Elizabeth I and includes magnificent buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren. These were obviously two names he felt comfortable showing off his knowledge of. What’s more, in recent years the very best of students have been eschewing the big two in favour of Dover.

But it gets worse! The author then shows his complete lack of knowledge of English geography – or perhaps his absurd American view that everywhere in England is ‘just outside of London’ – by having two characters fly – in the morning – from France to London taking the express to Victoria and then boarding the ‘local line into Dover’. Where they arrived… still in the morning! So he didn’t research Network Rail either! And it’s all downhill from this point on with a plot dependent upon rehashed ‘Dan Brown’, more coincidences than a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, a cliffhanger at the end of every bloody chapter and too many paragraphs starting with the word ‘Anyway’.

I enjoy a good yarn. It would take minimal research to make the English scenes believable but even that would not have saved this book. What on earth Penguin thought they were doing is beyond me. This story didn’t just need more editing – it needed a rejection slip.

Posted on July 11, 2007 in History by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish4 Comments »

Ex-ambassador to the USA, Christopher Meyer, tells a great story in his book DC Confidential about a dinner he hosted for the recently deposed Prime Mimister, Margaret Thatcher. At one point in the dinner she stood and started to lecture forth on some political issue and Dennis turned to her and said, ‘enough woman, enough! Why don’t you sit down‘. And she meekly did.
Now if only he had said something like that in 1950 when she told him she was thinking of standing as a parliamentary candidate.

Posted on July 11, 2007 in Politics by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish1 Comment »

I took my motorhome for it’s first MOT this morning. Great place – clean, tidy, efficient – housed in the typical industrial unit. Two hydraulic ramps. usual stuff – toolboxes, computer test equipment. Do it while you wait. A few chairs next to a grimy coffee machine for the punters. A copy of the Sun with oil stains on it.

Being that it’s the middle of the English summer, it was quite cold this morning and they only had one of the big doors open. And I couldn’t help noticing the low roof with no skylights or extractor fans.

As well as my vehicle, there was a Toyota MR2 up on the other ramp with it’s dual exhaust pipes gleaming and a Ford of some sort on the brake test rollers. And all 3 had their engines running. Two car petrol engines and my motorhome’s Fiat/Peugeot diesel.

So it stank in there of exhaust fumes with nowhere to go except for one door. Nasty, carcinogenic, filthy exhaust. But it didn’t matter to me as I fancied a cigarette and I wasn’t allowed to smoke inside, it being an enclosed public space and all.

Posted on July 10, 2007 in Politics by Andy @ Yellow Swordfish5 Comments »

I genuinely admire political activists whether I agree with them or not. Their determined and relentless jack-hammering away in the face of disingenuous, authoritarian government and a largely complacent population can only be commended. And the rise of the internet as a social communication tool has given a platform to a wider audience for those who formerly ranted in the local pub to their mates or buttonholed their neighbour over the garden fence. I should know, as while I am not possessed of the true determination and drive of the pure activist, I do know how to rant.

But as in all walks of life, there are ranters and ranters. There are, for example, many fellow members of the Witanagemot Club who put me to shame. Take Wonko. I might not agree with everything he has to say – or even, sometimes, the way that he says it – but you have to admire his determination and commitment to the causes he champions. There he is every day, whittling away, producing piece after piece virtually all directed towards righting the issues he sees as wrong. And he is not alone of course. All over the web there are thousands of people who have found their voice and found their platform and proceed with a gritty determination to criticise, publicise, denounce and explain – hoping and fighting for change.

Then there are people like me. I share many of the goals of the Wonko’s of this world – I feel the same level of injustice and contempt where it is due – but every now and then I have to turn it off to let my head heal and to repaint the wall. It is, quite simply, easy to get demoralised. And that’s especially true living in a country where democracy has died; where the politicians have completely abandoned the notion of listening or representing the people; where the mainstream media has the government in its pocket – and if not it’s merely the other way around; and where the vast majority of people don’t even appear to recognise that anything is substantially wrong. Mention to an average Englishman that his country no longer officially exists and he is more likely to laugh at such an absurd notion and remind you that we still have an English football team.

So while all sorts of scandalous statements have been made by the new ‘British’ Prime Minister and his unapologetic band of toads, I have remained silent. Perhaps because it is all being said so much better elsewhere. Perhaps to let my batteries recharge. Either way, it’s only temporary. My rage will return.

But until then I’ve been Gordon Browned into submission. I’ve also been Harriet Harmoned and EU treatied; smoking banned and politically corrected; globally warmed and John Prescotted; nearly flooded and seriously wetted; suicide bombed and Alastair Campbelled; West Lothianed and Barnett Formula’ed; George Bushed and Scooter Libbyed; photographed, numbered and ID carded. And iPhoned up to the teeth, which, if I had one, would probably be tapped.

See? Underneath this calm facade I’m still burning inside.