Saturday, 27 November 2010

Blair/Hitchens & 'the heart of a heartless world...'

The public debate staged in Toronto last night between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on the issue of whether religion is 'a force for good in the world' appears to have been won quite decisively by Hitchens. The New Statesman kindly offers a transcript in 3 parts. I consider these to be The Best Bits:
- "What I say to you is at least, look, what we shouldn't do is end up in a situation where we say, we've got six hospices here, one suicide bomber there - how does it all equalise out? That's not a very productive way of arguing this..."
- [On what is 'the point' of religion] "Stimulating the impulse to do good, disciplining the propensity to be selfish and bad."
- "...if you are a person of faith, it's part of your character, it defines you in many ways as a human being. It doesn't do the policy answers, I am afraid. So as I used to say to people, you don't go into church and look heavenward and say to God, 'Right, next year, the minimum wage, is it £6.50 or £7...?' Unfortunately, he doesn't tell you the answer. And even on the major decisions that are to do with war and peace that I've taken, they were decisions based on policy, and so they should be, and you may disagree with those decisions, but they were taken because I genuinely believed them to be right."

- "Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and also makes intelligent people say stupid things."
- "The cure for poverty has a name, in fact. It's called the empowerment of women…Name me one religion that stands for that, or ever has."
- "...there's a sense of pleasure to be had in helping your fellow creature. I think that should be enough, thank you."

And gentlemen, thank you.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Faber Finds: Robert Aickman

In my new day-job as overseer at the print-on-demand/ebook reviver of 'lost'/classic books known as Faber Finds, I've begun blogging on some of the treasures Finds has been restoring to readers, and today I addressed an author who's dear to me: Robert Aickman. If you don't know his work, and you're ready to be greatly unnerved, then all I can say is that a luxurious darkness awaits you...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Eurozone: "Struggling a bit, aren't they...?"

The two-handed satire of John Clarke and Bryan Dawe is new to me, but on this evidence - a skit on Eurozone debt in the style of Mastermind - I'll be looking out for it from now. (The Oz accents, I admit, add greatly to the pawkiness of the humour.)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The other Lost Leader...

With Labour seemingly mired in one of its periodic phases of being led by windbags, hypocrites and small-scale connivers (it’s been that way for several years now...) it’s hard to think about ‘moving forward’, not with so much rebarbative recent history still to be digested… David Laws’ recent sour remarks about Ed Miliband (amid his hasty reminiscence of the ConDem shotgun wedding) should be set in context of Laws’ obvious Toryism and attendant hatred for Labourism. But the Mail's serialisation of Brown at 10 by Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge made for more disconcerting reading. Let’s set aside the risible spectacle of the Mail arrogating to itself the right to determine, Socialist Worker -style, exactly who is a traitor to the cause of Labour. The rest of us just need to read between the lines and marvel anew at how such a sanctimonious and scarily self-obsessed pair as Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman wound up at the very pinnacle of the Labour Party, prior to blessing Ed Miliband as their rightful inheritor.
John Rentoul’s revival of 'AJ4PM' is tongue-in-cheek, surely, for the moment has passed, just as so many other promising Labour ‘moments’ have crashed into the rocks over recent years. I haven’t been wowed by Johnson’s despatch box performances as shadow chancellor. But, rare in a politician, he remains a recognisible human being, one with just the right mix of frankness and canniness, and unlike his Leader he's not about to bang on about the defeatingly populist notion that people ought forever to hand back more than half their income once they've made their way to £150K.
Johnson's recent tribute to his Leader has a nicely minimal feel: 'Everyone’s got their views about how we get back into government and there’s a variety of views in the Shadow Cabinet… … we have to discuss those differences of opinion like mature people which is really a mindset that I think Ed has brought into the party that is I think commendable...'
No, I don't wish to re-run redundant quarrels so even I balked a little at Rentoul's observations in his print column today: "There were disloyal whispers at Westminster last week. Anonymous speculation about Brownites organising for Yvette Cooper to succeed [EdMili]. Sarcasm about when he was going to start in his new job. Grumbles about his breaking his paternity leave on Friday to provide a soundbite for TV news on Lord Young's resignation – a Tory bad news story that needed no help from him – instead of to surprise us with his plans, say, to be tough on immigration..."
But, y'know, if the cap fits... Or as the bracingly rude Daily Mash satirises it, 'Despite assurances from David Miliband that there would no repeat of the Blair-Brown 'soap opera', his supporters said that would be f**king right...'