Thursday, 31 May 2012

The sins of our fathers

In the news in the States at the moment, the horrible, if not entirely unpredictable demise of one Mark Wolford, a preacher who took the word of the Bible rather more literally than proved good for him. Full story here, but the short version is that he handled extremely dangerous snakes as part of his services, in an effort I suppose to test both his own faith and the veracity of Mark 16: 17-18, which is quoted in the article I've linked to.

I don't even really know where to begin with the folly of this, with the inevitability of it. I realise that this is, of course, not the fault of religion per se, and entirely down to the stupidity and hubris of the individual involved, but what the fuck? Watching his own father die in exactly the same circumstances didn't teach this man anything? And who took their moral and spiritual guidance from such an individual? If they saw his ongoing preaching as evidence of his divine protection, what do they think caused his death?

The late Mr Wolford did not seem unduly troubled by doubt, notwithstanding his father's fate. "If I didn't do it, if I'd never gotten back involved, it'd be the same as denying the power and saying it was not real," he is reported as having said. Well, needless to say, I don't see it like that. The only thing he was denying is the plain fact that, if you're to accept his world view as a truth, either his father's faith was insufficient to save him, or there is no such God-given protection. Such post-rationalisation is typical of blind faith, though, if understandable in a preacher. You'd have to find some reason for seeing your father die in a test of faith which was neither of those realities, or you'd chuck it all in.

So, of course, this is his fault, not religion's. But take away the blind, stupid certainty of his faith, and he might at least have sought medical treatment, had he been messing with venomous serpents in the bloody first place. If there were any such entity, I'd be asking God to ensure that nobody else died in such a fashion in His name, and that Mr Wolford's children, if he had any, learn the lesson which eluded their father.

Industrial action by doctors shows just how many the government is pissing off

The last time doctors took industrial action was during the mid-seventies. Well paid, well respected generally, they're not exactly the most militant group, but have voted overwhelmingly to strike for all but emergency activity on June 21st, with possible further action to follow.

Given how well paid they are, and the comfort in which most of them can expect to retire, and given the people who are likely to suffer as a result of their action, they can expect little sympathy from Joe Public. On that, my personal feeling is that they work hard, carry a heavy burden not to make mistakes because of the possible consequences of them, and are merely paid what all members of our health services are actually worth. I'd far rather bump the pay of nurses, junior doctors etc up at the expense of hugely paid businessmen, but that's another story.

Anyway, this is mainly noteworthy because, as white collar, middle-class, high-earning people, these are the last sort of voters the Tories should be looking to piss off. Lately, when there's been a Conservative government (which is how I view this one, regardless of the fact it's supposed to be a coalition), there have been more strikes among those sectors of work which are run by the more left-wing unions than there are when Labour are in power. What you might call traditionally working-class sectors are those who usually come into conflict with Tory ideology.

But here we have a disaffected group who come from what may reasonably be expected to be drawn from the Tory vote. In attacking pensions so broadly, and so deeply, they're infuriating people well outside the usual gamut of the disaffected. So we can now, to a list which already includes public sector workers, miners, nurses, fire fighters, transport workers and even the police (who, let's not forget, openly booed Theresa May at their conference), add doctors to this growing list of those they've angered.

At this rate, you've got to wonder who's going to be left supporting them when the next election comes round. There will, of course, be the usual tax cuts in the last pre-election budget, but is that going to be enough this time round to carry their sorry arses back in? In cutting everything so dogmatically, are they busy cutting their own electoral throats at the same time?

Friday, 25 May 2012

The importance of reading what you've written

Many of you know what I do for a living, and also know that I get irritated when I see mistakes in printed material, on telly or wherever they may occur. Just occasionally, though, you see one which fills you with joy. This has, I promise, not been retouched - it's a photocopy of the front of a real menu, which I've scanned. I've annotated one mistake which is pretty obvious, but there's another on there that they really, really should have watched out for. See if you can see it.

Let's just say that I'd insist upon this fabulous offer, were I ever to visit this no doubt fine establishment.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Remembering Jim Henson

I'd have written this two days ago, if I'd had time. Wednesday 16th was the anniversary of the death of one of my absolute favourite entertainment figures, the great Jim Henson.

To anybody my age, The Muppet Show was essential viewing on a Sunday evening during their childhood, my one regret being that I wasn't actually old enough to really appreciate the thing for the quality of the writing, puppetry and set building.

It was, by a country mile, better than any entertainment programme on at the moment, and I'd have it back on TV in a heartbeat if it could be done as well as it was then. Henson's real genius, as well as his ability to handle a 'peace 'n'love' message without being heavy-handed, was in engaging absolutely all ages in producing a show that was consistently funny and inventive.

The Muppets form an essential part of my grown-up Christmas experience too – their version of A Christmas Carol somehow managing to remain faithful to the book while at the same time incorporating singing vegetables. You don't get that on Britain's Got Talent. (I realise that some people would argue that this is exactly what you get on BGT, but you take my point.)

Another one of those people taken too young at 53, he refused hospital treatment when he fell ill, some have said because of his religious beliefs (yet another reason to hate it if that's true, but that's well-trodden ground), and Kermit's voice and soul was gone. Though they continue to make films, the most recent of which being very well received, I rather fear my hope of a Sunday evening Muppet Show resurrection will never happen.

Cheers, Jim.

(I do not know who owns the copyright to this image and will very happily credit them should they get in touch. I hope, given the nature of my post, they would approve of me using it here.)

Monday, 14 May 2012

Romney shows true Republican colours

Mitt Romney's comments (here) on marriage, addressing a congregation of the converted (to say the least) as part of what is evidently a pitch to the Christian right voters in the States, shows both him and his party up for what they are.

It's a worrying sign that the same sort of people who want creationism taught in schools as fact, and who distrust atheists more vehemently than any other minority group in the US, according to an oft-quoted University of Minnesota study, still carry this much sway in the thinking of the patrician class of such a world power.

This man could be President, if the strength of feeling that this group evidently harbour against him can be used by the Republicans and translated into votes. Obama's support for free health care, and his modernist views on what marriage is, clearly strike a deep chord of discontent with these people. To parts of the outside world, and certainly to me, his attitudes merely seem human and contemporary, but this evidently marks him out as a socialist; sees him regarded as the worst kind of anti-American scum in some eyes in the country over which he presides.

It already looks absolutely imperative that Obama wins the Presidential election because, if Romney is to be the one standing against him and comes through to win, we could have another George W Bush on our hands. Remember him? The creationist loon who said, and I quote, at Chicago's O'Hare airport in 1987, "...I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

So he dismissed some of his own countryment, regardless of their feelings for the US. We must all hope we never have another of his kind in the Oval Office, but Romney makes me fear it could be all too soon that we have exactly that.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

And the political wheel turns

So Boris Johnson seems to have won a second term on the basis that he's slightly less unpopular than Ken Livingstone. It was a close run thing with the big two miles clear of everybody else. From the point of view of the mayoral elections, probably more interesting was the fact that in the rest of the country, where major cities were voting on the principal of actually having an elected mayor, all but one rejected the idea. You have to wonder if the experience of Londoners, and the unedifying sight of the major players yelling at each other, had anything to do with how those votes went.

On local councils, the usual mid-governmental term took effect, with whoever's in opposition kicking the governing party's arse, as is often the case. (Or arses in this case, as it's the Lib Dems, beginning to reap what they sowed, whose rear end has been most comprehensively reddened this time round.) It's difficult to know if this represents a genuine rejection of the policy of cuts that are biting so deeply or is merely the standard response to an unpopular government. As all governments seem to be unpopular mid-term, we'll probably have to wait for a general election to see this play itself out to a conclusion. Or at least, the conclusion of a single rotation of this political wheel.

In the meantime, the best we London residents can hope for is that Boris continues to not do too much damage. Livingstone suggested that, in winning the mayoral election, Johnson has also settled the next Tory leadership battle. But with his four-year term certain to run beyond the next general election, I'm not sure how that's possible. Livingstone, just as he did with the tone of his campaign, got that one wrong I think.