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Showing posts from June, 2007

Thoughts on the Haymarket car bomb

It was good to hear Ricky Gervais on BBC Radio 4 this morning say that he’d been an atheist since the age of 10. So have I actually. I worked out that what the “God Squad” said was unlikely to be true, and that was that. Anyone who wants a rational discussion about it is most welcome, but don’t use the “f” word, please. (I refer to “faith”.)
Just before that the news was reporting that last night the ideologues had been making another attempt to blast hundreds of us into oblivion. (Great isn’t it – I’d never been to the Tiger Tiger nightclub in Haymarket in my entire life until this week, and suddenly it’s all over the news as the place where the car bomb was left.)
As Ed Husain has shown in his book The Islamist, these ideologues are a load of know-nothings who forbid intellectual questioning and seek to impose by force an empire based on a medieval mentality. This regime will, according to the ideologues, be based on divine will, and they will be the only people entitled to i…

Deforestation - the cruel reality

On 27th June I saw a private pre-screening of a BBC programme about orangutans, to be screened on TV on 6 July at 7 pm in the Saving Planet Earth series. The BBC isn't allowed to be political, but this is a political issue. Watch the programme! See what the word deforestation really means.
I came close to despair watching the programme. There is a lot of evidence about the importance of rainforests not just for the creatures that live in them but for the world's climate systems. The trees absorb rainwater and carbon dioxide and put water vapour and oxygen into the atmosphere. It is not just Borneo rainforest but all rainforest that performs this vital role. Once the trees are gone, that process stops. Fertile topsoil is washed away, the land becomes sterile desert and the atmosphere is affected.
What the BBC didn't talk about, but we ought to talk about, is how to get the authorities in Borneo, where orangutans live, to stop the deforestation. If anyone has ideas…

A book we should all read

The Lib Dems' core principles include opposition to conformity and ignorance. I suggest we had better all read Ed Husain's new book The Islamist published by Penguin last month. It is his story - at times a deeply personal memoir - and much more besides.
The early chapters of the book centre on places I know quite well: Limehouse and Whitechapel. The author was born in Mile End, east London, in the mid-1970s. His childhood was spent in Limehouse. It was happy at first, but his parents believed in single-sex schooling, and so sent him to Stepney Green, the nearest boys-only secondary school. He describes his first year there as the worst year of his life. "Here everyone was Bangladeshi, Muslim, and male," he writes.
He read avidly, and in one of his schoolbooks - Gulam Sarwar's Islam: Beliefs and Teachings - he first encountered the notion of Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. The textbook stated that there was no state in existence in which Is…

Thoughts on the Hitchens brothers

Shirley Williams was undaunted by three boors plus Tony McNulty on Question Time. Boris Johnson, whom incidentally I often spot cycling in Westminster, did his usual buffoon act which is likeable enough I suppose. The two Hitchens brothers were another matter.
Peter's angular features and humourless glare reminded me somehow of Cully in T H White's The Sword in the Stone (look it up boy, look it up). With perfect public-school diction and authoritative delivery, out rolled some absolutely barking mad sentiments, particularly on the sovereignty of states which for some reason he regards as an unalloyed good, hence his intemperate rant against the European Union.
Christopher sat glowering, sweating and red-faced. Almost every time Shirley spoke, he interrupted. When she objected to this, did I really hear him telling her not to be so self-important? Excuse me, Christopher, even if Shirley were not brilliant and especially qualified to speak on public affairs by her recor…

Campaigning in Westminster - the other side of the tracks

On Saturday we were at Church Street market, collecting signatures on a petition to save local shops from a proposed new supermarket, which would be Tesco's tenth within a square mile. Times have changed since I used to shop in Church Street: now it looks rather like Cairo as far as attire goes, many of the women being entirely covered from head to toe. I would estimate that at least half the people could understand English poorly or not at all. Some dealt with the situation by ignoring us completely, as if we were invisible and they deaf. I saw a similar technique used in downtown Marrakech where it is a useful defence against constant pestering. Here, however, it ensured that communication on an issue that actually affects them, because many of their community have market stalls, was made impossible. I stood like a prow of a boat as the stream of shoppers divided and flowed past.
Of those who were prepared to talk, quite a number needed no persuasion and readily signed up …

Baroness Miller defends Manor Garden allotments

Baroness Miller has taken up the cause of the Manor Garden allotment site which is under threat from the Olympic quangos. (I wrote about them on 10th April.) She commented last week: "The London Development Agency seems determined to use the slash and concrete approach to these allotments. They... plan to bulldoze the lot, including 100-year old apple trees, concrete it over and call it sustainable.
"It is ironic that the thriving community at the heart of these allotments are just the sort the Government talks of creating." It is indeed.

Those BAE payments

I find it odd that when the BBC today reported that armaments company BAE with UK Ministry of Defence co-operation secretly paid Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia more than £1bn in connection with Britain's biggest ever weapons contract, various opinion-formers commented that such payments were outlawed in 2002. A cursory glance at section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, which is very widely expressed and still in force, suggests that such payments were outlawed a great deal earlier than that - over a century ago, in fact. I look forward to being told the legal arguments to the contrary.
So much for the criminal law. As for civil law, it could be that the State of Saudi Arabia has a heck of a claim against Prince Bandar for repayment of secret profits.

More films to see before you die

A couple more films to add to that all-important list. Babette's Feast - based on the story by Karen Blixen. Is it about food? Art? Life? You decide. It Happened Here (dir. Kevin Brownlow) - a vision of England after a hypothetical Nazi invasion and occupation in 1940. And if you don't think it could have happened here, remember Oswald Moseley and the Brownshirts really happened here. Pauline, a nice Englishwoman who is a nurse, is not allowed to work unless she joins the Party. She is drawn into well-intentioned collaboration until the point when (not to spoil the plot) she realises that she has been an unwitting accomplice to murder. She joins the Resistance. What would I have done if I had been in her shoes? What would you have done? The budget was a shoestring, almost all the actors were amateurs, the film took eight years to complete and it is a masterpiece.