Monday, 20 December 2010


How funny! Columnist Melanie Phillips has not said anything about Wikileaks until today and she's come out with a swoop at the Left which, she suggests in today’s Mail, is represented by a group of luvvies.

Here is a couple of articles I have linked to on Twitter:

The New York Times

The Guardian

Friday, 17 December 2010

High Tide

I just got hold of a film I haven’t seen since I was a kid: High Tide. It’s an underrated Gillian Armstrong film that no one remembers. You can’t even get it on dvd. The Radio Times says it almost drowned at the time it was released in 1987. Well, I think it would make a great Christmas re-run with all those shots of the Australian sunshine.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Student Protests

I just passed a student demo along Baker Street. Also today, I discovered at least two Oxford University libraries are now closed at the weekend because it’s no longer term time. What’s the bet that when students are paying £9,000 a year to go there, those libraries will still be closed at the weekend outside of term time? Term time at Oxford is just eight weeks. And the last time I was in the Bodleian, one light fixture was buzzing so loudly it was like trying to read with an alarm bell activating overhead, another light fixture was flashing on and off continuously and one reading room was freezing cold. I hope someone else complained too.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Caprice and Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

I was at Elgood House today in Bell Street, Marylebone, with folks from the Marylebone Project – the largest shelter for homeless women in London. The women were celebrating Thanksgiving because the American Intercontinental University teamed up with the Church Army to cook the tradional American dinner for everyone at Elgood House. Supermodel Caprice Bourret was there too:

The interview is here:

Caprice was joined by Brix Smith-Start from Gok's Fashion Fix. Brix brought her two puppies with her...(mother and daughter, apparently):

I love the beret:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Kate Middleton (or "Catherine")

The only reference in the nationals to Kate Middleton’s spinsterhood is byThe Daily Telegraph:
At the age of 29, as she will be by the time she marries, Kate Middleton will be the oldest spinster ever to marry a future king.
Bachelorettes have more fun than spinsters, DT.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Dame Helen and The Queen

Peter McKay on Dame Helen Mirren in the Daily Mail yesterday:
She considers Britain an ‘angry’ and ‘cruel’ society that no longer cherishes old-fashioned values.

But I wonder if Dame Helen, 65, is also disappointed in the Queen, whom she played in the eponymous film about HM during the Diana crisis.

She wrote to the monarch saying she’d researched her role carefully, adding that ‘day after day my respect for her was growing enormously. She hasn’t replied, but her secretary wrote to me on her behalf, explaining: “We have read your letter with interest.” ’

That’s what I reply to readers who say I should be shot.
I imagine Dame Helen gets interesting letters she doesn’t reply to either.

Monday, 8 November 2010

National Ethical Investment Week

Can we invest ethically?

CIF Belief piece on cooperation in the world of ethical investment:
Picture this: India. Delhi. 2005. A multinational company is looking for skilled employees for five vacancies. It outsources recruitment to a local firm that asks candidates a standard set of questions. One question is "What do your parents do for a living?" The answer reveals where the candidate sits in the caste hierarchy.
Fast forward a year to 2006: A HSBC shareholder attends his bank's AGM in London. He raises the problem of caste discrimination occurring across multinational corporations in India. The chairman agrees this is an issue that needs tackling. HSBC meets with the Dalit Solidarity Network to discuss strategies. Proactive policy follows.
What has the church got to do with any of this? Well, churches in the UK have combined assets of £12bn. That is a sum that wields some power in the investment world. The Methodist church's Central Finance Board (CFB) looks after £1.1bn of those assets. The Ministers Pension Fund accounts for just over a quarter with a further £140m managed for non Methodist bodies under the Epworth name. In June 2010, CFB published its ethical policy on caste discrimination. It stated that companies "should be able to report to shareholders the progress made in enhancing the employment opportunities of scheduled castes within the context of recruitment and in career development". That's just one example. There are many more.
For the whole thing see here

Monday, 1 November 2010

Stephen Fry On Women And Sex

It seems to have come to light over the weekend that Stephen Fry doesn’t like women very much. Remember Stephen Fry in America? He couldn’t even look at a shed full of cows without grossing out about their genitalia. I think his comments are more of a reflection of the fact that Stephen Fry doesn’t want to have sex with women.  Perhaps the men he hangs out with don’t really like women all that much either? And as for women not wanting to have sex with “total strangers” – discretion is something that women do very well.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Churches Call Osborne To Account For Welfare Fraud Exaggeration

CIF Belief piece on The Chancellor's Comprehensive Spending Review.

Here is the first paragraph:
It may be more than a week since the chancellor's spending review speech, but we are still wading through the fallout of what he said. Public service spending cuts will be the deepest since April 1975, according to Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis, with councils losing around 100,000 jobs. And that's not all. George Osborne got his numbers wrong in one of the most important speeches of the new coalition government. He exaggerated the figure for benefit fraud and failed to address the HMRC figure for uncollected tax revenue. If we are "all in this together", as he concluded, then surely he has got to get this right.
Click this hyperlink to read the rest.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Julie Burchill On The Trinity

After a skim of today's papers, I fancy having a poke at Julie Burchill who has written this in the Indie today:

Last year I took the first steps towards converting to Judaism; also last year, I abandoned my attempt. It was partly that I find it hard to stick at any discipline, being bone-idle and highly hedonistic (for instance, I was only a lesbian for six months), and I realised that Judaism was such an extraordinarily complex and rich religion that I would really have to commit to do it properly. As I can't even commit to Lost or any of those long American television shows, this seemed unlikely.
I also began to feel a tiny bit ridiculous trotting to shul every Saturday, in a way that I didn't feel going to church on a Sunday, even though I found the Jewish idea of one deity far more sensible than the Father, Son and Holy Ghost free-for-all. I'm well aware that everyone who isn't a complete self-deluding fool finds themselves preposterous at times, but I didn't want this to happen because of a culture that I have such respect for.
This reveals Julie has spent about two minutes studying Christianity. The “Father, Son and Holy Ghost free-for-all”? (Maybe that is a deliberate pun: “free for all/three for all”?) The idea is three persons in one Godhead: The Trinity – together but separate. It’s a classic idea.
And every poet will tell you the story about the three women – the silent one always having the last word. Read Gilles Deleuze.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Anne Rice quits being Catholic

I've just learned about Anne Rice’s dramatic quit from Catholicism in Guardian’s G2 today. There is an interview with Emma Brockes about her new novel, Of Love and Evil, and a picture of Anne sitting in the grounds of her balmy estate in Palm Springs.

The statement she posted on Facebook (reprinted in today’s G2) only really says that she has left the Catholic Church; not necessarily her faith:

"I quit," she wrote. "In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
The question Emma asks is: what took her so long? Well, there are Catholics who don’t follow the dogma and who are able to live with the contradiction. I guess Anne felt she couldn’t.

When I was doing some research in Berlin a couple of months ago, the curator assisting me told me that the daughter of one of the subjects I was studying lives in Palm Springs. I asked what she had said about the place. The curator said she had been told that it was a great place to live because nothing ever happens there.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Green Brigade

Anyone looking for a fun read in the papers today should check out Julie Burchill in the Indie.

In a week of exposure to hard-core green brigade philosophy (don’t eat meat, live in a cold house, don’t fly, find exploding children funny, etc), Burchill provides an alternative to sanctimony.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Coco Chanel

Interesting stuff going on with Coco Chanel right now: HarperCollins is launching two books by two women at the same time. The Daily Mail has done a spread on Justine Picardie’s book today. Tilar Mazzeo’s book, The Secret of Chanel No. 5, is out in November. Will both reveal Coco’s war record? The movies haven’t.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Culture Watch - Tamara Karsavina

A painting of Tamara Karsavina revealed at London’s Wellcome Library after years of being wrongly identified:

See here for the painting.

(And you can see the likeness of the painting to the person here.)

Tamara decided to learn English after achieving the position of Prima Ballerina Assoluta in Corsair in 1909, and so perhaps the pages in her hand are by Swinburne or Robert Lewis Stevenson – two authors she read to help her learn. Or maybe she is reading a letter from home.

Tamara Karsavina lived in Frognal, Hampstead in the early 1960s. Many Hampstead houses declare the names of people who lived between their walls, but there isn’t a plaque on Tamara’s house.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Hawking on God

Following the media hype surrounding Professor Stephen Hawking’s new book, there seems to be two conclusions emerging:

1) If you want to call the laws of physics God, then go ahead.

2) We are never really going to know why the laws of physics are as they are.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Papal Visit

You won’t be hearing it here first but Pope Benedict XVI is coming to town. Last night Conway Hall in Red Lion Square was packed with people debating whether or not his visit should be a State Visit (estimated cost to the tax payer - £12 million). The Central London Humanist Group in partnership with the British Humanist Association and the South Place London Ethical Society hosted the event that Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee chaired. Philosophy professor A.C. Grayling and gay activist Peter Tatchell were for the motion - “The Papal Visit should not be a State Visit” - and Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh and Friar Christopher Jamison argued against. Then it opened to the floor.

I noticed Austen Ivereigh start the evening a mild shade of pale that simmered to pink and boiled over red by the end of the night (this picture was taken at the start of the evening). When he said The Pope was right about condoms – that they don’t prevent the spread of HIV – the floor went wild.

But there was also a strong pro-Pope crowd. I’d say heckling was almost even on both sides.

A.C. Grayling said he was pretty sure The Queen would give him a short answer if he rang her up and asked whether he could have a £12 million four day holiday on account of the fairies living at the bottom of his back garden that he'd privatised and turned into a republic. Someone from the floor said that she might give a different answer if 178 states had officially recognised his “fairy garden”. He replied that if that were the case he would tell Her Majesty that she was using the argumentum ad populum - a fallacious argument that concludes X must be true because Y number of people believe it is: just because millions of people believe something, doesn’t make it true. Later on, when he brought up a similar point on the subject of belief, a heckler pointed out he was straying from the motion.

One girl from the floor said that she found Catholicism empowering; that it enabled her to live out her femininity in a real way. What on earth does that mean? I didn’t get to ask her. Austen Ivereigh said women have power in the Catholic Church – they run schools, abbeys… (The heckling drowned out the rest).

A great evening.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Michel Houellebecq

The Independent reports today that French writer Michel Houellebecq has a new book out. Perhaps the only difference about this satire is that he actually uses his own name.

I first became interested in Michel Houellebecq’s work through his mother, Lucie Ceccaldi. It was after I read an article about their feud. I was stunned by the things that she said about him, the fact that she looks like the type of woman who wouldn’t hurt a fly and that they were both going for each other in the press.

It was a case of curiosity for the work of a writer labelled a "liar, an imposter and a parasite" by his own mother.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Olympic Fever

I have just written a piece bigging up the 2012 Games in the hope of slicing through the cynicism. The Bishop of Barking reckons that cynicism could rise up until two weeks before the opening ceremony. That’s a little less than two years of increased negativity! I’ve given it a shot in less than 300 words. It's only going out through pro-Olympic networks, so I'm probably only raving to the converted.

FYI: This is what you’ll now see if you pass through Stratford station:

(Minus the reflection.)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Lynn Barber on Men

Did anyone else here Lynn Barber on Radio 4 on Sunday? I was only half listening and I didn’t hear the whole thing because I turned it off. But I did hear this bit quoted in the Telegraph today:
“My thinking after that was that I must get a boyfriend immediately and that I haven’t got time to waste going punting or to dinner with them. Why don’t I just go to bed with them first, eliminate them if they are no good and not waste time.”
I was left with the impression that Lynn was so desperate to have a boy from Oxford lined up to marry before the three years were through that there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do nail one - she wasn’t going to bed for love or pleasure. Hearing what she said just before and what said just after (about her relationship with her husband) sealed that impression.

This seems to confirm my point:

“ (Lynn said) ‘I would criticise more what I call the Elizabeth Taylor syndrome, where highly sexed women feel they have to marry the man they sleep with. Then they get divorced and do the same thing over and over again. This seems to be happening in America now.’ (Byrony Gordon writes) Given that Barber went on to marry a fellow student, David Cardiff, with whom she stayed until his death seven years ago, you have to concede that she has a rather good point.”
Were all the 50 boys studying at Oxford?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Kafka's Legacy

I don't think there is anything missing in this story ran in The Independent and The Guardian today. It has all the parts for an epic.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Tori Amos at Victoria Apollo

The Victoria Apollo became the best piano bar in town last night – for one night only. Tori Amos performed solo. No band, just the piano and keyboard. That’s the third time I have seen her live now; the second time up close. She really is a gifted artist; luminous, like a ray of sunlight pouring through the window of a forgotten medieval chapel somewhere in the mountains. She radiates so many visions and emotions when she performs – some of them earthly, some of them mythical – that I think she’s close to the peak of her ability as an aesthetic conduit in performance. There’s much more to an Amos show than the creation of sonic shapes and part of that “much more” is an element of reaching for the “sacred” sphere. It was difficult to tell, last night, whether she was actually highly sensitive to the moment or whether everything she did was controlled, contained and mastered: probably a bit of both. Every now and again, she’d “drink” from the audience and there was a kind of “chalice” transference, but she’d never get “drunk” on it. It’s probably taken some years to get that balance.

Highlights for me last night were Northern Lad, Space Dog, Hey Jupiter, Take To The Sky and – (the best) – Tori’s version of Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode in the encore. Wonderful (Can't match being there, though, whoever got it on camera.)

Friday, 2 July 2010

Israel and Palestine

I have not long returned from an intense week in Portsmouth covering media relations for the Methodist Church’s annual Conference. The Conference had such pulling power this year that we even had Ruth Gledhill (The Times’ Religious Correspondent) working in the Conference press office with us on Tuesday :) (she was there for the Archbishop’s address).

I have written a piece for CIF Belief on the incredibly painful decision the Conference took to boycott Israeli produce from Israeli settlements.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Snoop Dogg

Wow. Julie Bindel has just realised she is not the only feminist who likes Snoop Dogg. I heard Julie speak earlier this year and she was still scratching her head over the idea of feminists who wear make-up and don’t have short hair. Snoop Dogg has made some great tracks, sexy videos and appeared in the L Word. Odd she doesn’t mention that.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Church and media conference 2010

Is religion sidelined by the media? Broadcasters, church folk and humanists gathered last week to thrash things out. See here: CIF Belief in The Guardian Online.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Ilford North and Ilford South Constituencies

Two shots of adrenaline rush fired with the announcement of the results for Ilford North and Ilford South constituencies during the early hours of this morning in the press pack race for accurate and speedy reporting. The press pack at Redbridge Town Hall included the local papers, The Muslim Paper and BBC and ITN stringers. No TV – they weren’t contentious seats.

Here are a couple of snaps from the press balcony overlooking the count, which were taken just before midnight; way before the announcements.

In the bottom right hand corner of this pic (above) you can see Mike Gapes, Labour MP for Ilford South, in his red rosette – he easily retained his seat.

In the top left hand corner (above), those who know him will be able to make out Lee Scott, Conservative MP for Ilford North, who also easily retained his seat.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


The day before the Election and the papers show their colours:

The Guardian: Lib Dem
The Independent: Lib Dem
The Times: Labour (for a Tory-Lib Dem pact)
The Telegraph: Conservative
The Daily Mail: Conservative
The Express: Conservative
The Sun: Conservative
The Mirror: Labour

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


The Christian think-tank Ekklesia got a mention in a string of nationals today. They have run the story about Jonathan Bartley’s confrontation with David Cameron on the campaign trail yesterday.

Ekklesia’s profile in the world outside the Christian one is probably a little lower than Theos’s – another Christian think-tank which sits in a different place along the political spectrum to Ekklesia. This may be down to the fact that Theos puts on debates. There were some great ones last year. The last one they did got national coverage. In fact, their next one is: How much religious liberty can a liberal society afford? Joshua Rozenberg is chairing. If I were not going to be in the States at the time, I would be there (it’s an invite only event, though).

Thursday, 22 April 2010


UKIP death wish. Watch Lord Pearson here.

No, it's not a spoof.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


The Times wins on best front page of the day (with the Telegraph’s splash on the prolonged flight ban finishing a close second). It has run with the Trident question, which cuts clear divides between the three main parties’ politics. Inside, they have printed a letter from four army generals asking whether the Cold War missile is actually value for money.

The generals question: ““Is the UK’s security best served by going ahead with business as usual; reducing our nuclear arsenal; adjusting our nuclear posture or eliminating our nuclear weapons?”

And they make the point: “It may well be that money spent on new nuclear weapons will be money that is not available to support our frontline troops, or for crucial counterterrorism work; money not available for buying helicopters, armoured vehicles, frigates or even for paying for more manpower.”

It does seem like an obvious way to reduce the country’s deficit. But the Times’ leader column cautions: “The only real alternative would be, therefore, to abandon our nuclear capability — and with it our nuclear expertise. That decision would be irreversible. It should not be taken lightly in a flurry of cost-saving, nor because it seems like an easy option in a politically charged debate. The generals are right to argue that Trident should be included in the Strategic Defence Review. The detail would surely make the case for its retention.”

Surely, there would be ways around Britain retaining its nuclear expertise if Trident were scrapped: strategic partnerships between states with experts working collaboratively, for instance. Besides, it is not as there isn't any talk of viable alternatives:

(From the Times' article): “General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank added his weight to the debate last night, saying that a cheaper option to Trident should be considered, particularly as Britain strives for a world without nuclear bombs.

“Do we really need the kind of effective weapon we had in the Cold War? There is quite an argument to say we do not,” he told The Times. He suggested that nuclear-tipped missiles launched from the land or by air were possible alternatives.”

Friday, 9 April 2010

Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill

So, vulture funds are now illegal. The Debt Relief Bill passed in the wash-up on Wednesday. The Guardian reported today.

I have had a quick skim through Hansard to see if there were any good moral hazard arguments put forward by the Conservatives. Mr David Gauke (Cons MP) defended the sunset clause, which will mean the Bill being reviewed after 12 months.

“It is important that its provisions are carefully calibrated, because if we prevent creditors from enforcing debts against developing countries, there is a risk that they will not lend to developing countries in future. The law of unintended consequences could apply and we could make things worse for developing countries. Nobody wants to do that, which is why the Bill is carefully calibrated to apply only to heavily indebted poor countries. It relates only to past debt and not to future contracts. Future lending agreements can be enforced unaffected by the Bill.”

He goes on: “Concern was frequently expressed by industry bodies during the Treasury consultation that the Bill might send the message that creditors in the UK could not enforce debts against developing countries and that that could be applied more broadly. As part of the consultation, it was pointed out that those possible spill-over costs would be difficult to assess. For example, would a risk premium be applied to developing countries that would make it harder for them to obtain credit?”

He rounds up: “Let me say why I think this debate is helpful. Parliament is dealing with the matter sensibly, recognising the potential dangers and treading carefully. That is a good message to send out. The concern about the risk premium centres not on the Bill itself, but on the possibility that it will become a precedent for a future Bill that prevents the enforcement of future debts. No doubt some in this House would argue that that would be a great thing to do, but it would pose significant dangers for developing countries.”

The responsibility doesn’t just lie with the developing country; it also lies with the creditor.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes

A Guardian article today on the forthcoming Ballet Russes exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum that doesn’t mention Tamara Karsavina!

Tamara Karsavina was the grace of the three graces (Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spessivtzeva) during the time of Diaghilev. Serge Lifar will tell you. He will also argue that Karsavina's name is inseparable from Diaghilev's (in his book, The Three Graces). I think I will faint if the Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 exhibition doesn’t include a reference to her.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Vulture Funds (continued)

What is happening on the Vulture Funds front? quotes Harriet Harman in the House of Commons on Thursday:

“I appreciate my hon. Friend's support for the Bill. I share in that support, as do the Government and hon. Members from across the House. He will recognise that we need to make progress on that Bill and on the "vulture fund" Bill not only in this House, but in the House of Lords. The House of Lords does not have the same timetabling arrangements as this place and we do not have the same Government majority in the House of Lords. This is private Members' business, not Government business, so in order for progress to be made the Opposition need to ensure that they will not block it and will ensure that it can progress. This is really a question for the Opposition: will they withdraw their opposition so that these Bills can make progress?”

Political football but no time mentioned for the debate.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Vulture Funds

An article in The Independent today reports that David Cameron has hit a "glass ceiling" in support and needs to do more to convince liberal voters to back his rebranded Tory party. Ken Clarke, the shadow Business Secretary, reportedly told Andrew Marr: "So many seats have to change hands. We have got to get through the glass ceiling by winning over more liberals."

Well, they aren’t going to do it by blocking the Debt Relief Bill.

The Independent explains: "A landmark move to protect the world's poorest countries from debt sharks was blocked yesterday by a single Conservative MP during extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons. Vulture fund investment companies buy up defaulted third world debt and sue for immediate repayment. The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill was designed to curb their activities, ensuring that creditors cannot pursue debt repayment beyond the level assessed as fair and sustainable by the World Bank.”

Who would want to block this legislation?

The Tories don’t want to tell us: “One lone voice piped up: "Object!" Three Conservatives were in the chamber – Christopher Chope, Andrew Robathan and Simon Burns – but it was not clear at the time who had intervened.”

Mr Chope?

Mr Chope told The Independent: "If you are concerned about this Bill making progress, you should be asking why the Government hasn't given it extra time. As far as today's proceedings are concerned, there's a big Government spin operation to shift the blame to other people."

If Hansard doesn’t keep a log of objectors, then it should.

But the bottom line is that if this Bill is not given the Royal Assent before the General Election, it won’t get through.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Reason, Fiction and Faith

Cognitive theorist, Steven Pinker, drew me to the RSA this lunch time. I was wooed by the title of the debate: “Reason, Fiction and Faith – Are any of the arguments for the existence of God any good?” as well as the chance to see a fellow Romantic in the flesh. However, it wasn’t Steven who was doing the talking. He was there to give his wife, the philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein, a boost by sharing a platform with her and acting as her interviewer. A powerful partnership.

But it was by no means disappointing to listen to Rebecca (with Steven at her side). I was particularly interested in the way she described Plato’s influence on her work. She went as far as to say: “I write novels and short stories he would approve of. He is the father figure whose approval I want.” In the Q&A after the 35 minute interview, I asked her whether she saw Plato as her superego or as her muse. If she answered superego, then I would have wondered where her inspiration came from. If she answered muse, then I would have been inclined to alter my understanding of the role of the muse: not only called upon to inspire, but also to grant approval. Her answer was “both” so, in my understanding, the literary and psychoanalytic definitions remain distinct friends.

Other revelations Rebecca made on her insight into her own creative process included the reflection, “some issue compels me to write” alongside eulogistic anecdotes about how Plato awakened her when she was a girl. She made a valid criticism of Gertrude Stein: "Who wants to read Gertrude Stein? Fiction should be about enchantment." And she laid into Kingsley Amis: “I am not motivated by posers. I want to present characters for whom this is a life and death struggle”. Amen.

As for religion, Rebecca said it was much more than just belief. She said that, for her, religion was wrapped up in questions of self-identity, group identification, loyalty to a community and loyalty to historical narratives. She said she saw parallels within the academic world to the religious community in terms of its hierarchal structure. For example, a professor and his “disciples”; graduate students who hang on his every word, changing their opinion whenever he changes his. I can understand why an American academic might look to religion for examples of just about any working structure. Religion is so much more dominant in the US and is related to differently. In the UK, for instance, we can look to the monarchy for hierarchal parallels.

Then there was her argument that romantic delusion takes on from religious delusion. I am currently critical of clichés like “sex was her religion” or “romanticism was his religion”. It’s not really helpful to say, for instance, that “science is Dawkins’s religion”. It clearly isn’t or he wouldn’t attend an Anglican Church services.

I thought Rebecca’s observation that “philosophers are seen as heretics” was more interesting as it reminded me of Jonathan Sacks and his desertion of philosophy.

It was Steven, however, who made me rethink my attitude towards agnosticism’s present status as the comic fool. He retold a joke about how a Jewish couple consulted an agnostic chaplain for advice about their crumbling marriage. The husband goes to see the agnostic chaplain first. The chaplain listens to his point of view and his complaints about his wife. When the husband has finished his story, the chaplain says, “You know what, you’re right”. Then the wife comes to see him and he listens to her take on the situation. When she’s finished, he says to her, “You know what, you’re right.” The agnostic chaplain’s wife has been hiding in the wings and has heard the whole thing. She confronts her husband and says: “How can you say that?! How can you tell them they are both right? They can’t both be right!” And the agnostic chaplain says to her; “You know what, you’re right.”

I thought that was funny. Humour is a great peacemaker.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Equality Bill

The clergymen getting all hot under the collar over the fantastic events in the House of Lords yesterday should loosen up.

The amendment to the Equality Bill, which would enable gay couples to celebrate their partnership in a consenting religious place of worship, is a permissive piece of legislation. It will allow Churches and other religious groups the liberty to choose. The progress will be welcomed by the Quakers, the Liberal Jews and the Unitarians whose organisations already bless civil partnerships and want the freedom to be able to bless them in their places of worship. It’s a question of religious freedom, not enforcement, and there are still many legal issues to be addressed if the amendment forms part of the final Bill.

So, reading the front page of the Telegraph today that “clergymen could be sued if they refuse to carry out homosexual marriages in church” one wonders how the common good in this world might be furthered if traditionalists stopped knee jerking and started thinking.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Jose Mourinho

There is something extremely attractive about Jose Mourinho's deep, dark, brooding look.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A Single Man

My heart sank when I read Stephanie Thoebald's review of A Single Man in The Telegraph, yearning for life after the fashion of Julianne Moore's character, Charley, who works on nothing but her face and her booze all day long. If Stephanie is being ironic, then I can't quite hear her. I am writing this because I don't think she is.

Julianne Moore's character is the most vapid, irritating and pitiful figure in the whole movie. Why is it that the leading female in a film about the gay male aesthetic has to be a kind of stuffed doll who comes out with robotic lines simmering with self-hatred? It's cliche and it's dull. The great joke of the movie is an anti-lesbian jibe delivered by Charley: "You remember that time in London when that old lesbian poured a glass of wine over my head because I asked her if she was hung like a doughnut?" (or something along those lines). Charley and George (Colin Firth) roar with laughter. Charley looks as if she might fall backwards off her chair. Drum roll.

Charley is cut in the style of a dysfunctional fag hag. She comes nowhere near Ann Bancroft in The Graduate or Bette Davis in Dangerous (see Stephanie's review). And as for comparing Julianne's role in A Single Man to the one she played in Boogie Nights - there is no contest. In Boogie Nights, the off-camera suggestions of Julianne's character are exciting. In Single Man, they are dull, predictable and unerotic. Women who have gay male friends are tired of seeing themselves portrayed in this way.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Death of Methodism - Not Quite

I was asked by Guardian Comment Is Free to do a piece on Methodist self-immolation - or the idea that Methodists and Anglicans are in some kind of sado-masochistic relationship...

Friday, 12 February 2010

General Synod

We heard that the press box was empty at General Synod yesterday so I drafted a press release to tell them what they were missing. Press Association (whose religious correspondent is always on the ball) picked it up and then it went crazy:

Wesley’s path to schism
The Times Comment

Methodists declare 'we're ready to merge' with Church of England
The Times Comment

Methodism offers to die, to rise again.
The Times

Church of England General Synod extends pension rights for gay partners
The Guardian (last paragraph)

General Synod: Methodists likely to merge with Church of England
The Telegraph

Leader signals end of Methodism
The Independent

Methodist Church prepared to go out of existence
The Daily Mail

Methodist Church ‘prepared to go out of existence’ for mission
Christian Today

Methodists affirm commitment to a covenant relationship with CofE

Inspire Magazine

God's kingdom more important than denominations, says Methodist President

Monday, 8 February 2010

Ecumencial Relationships

A course of events meant that I ended up at a small Catholic chapel in Hampstead half way through evening mass yesterday. When I walked through the door I was surprised to hear the Catholic priest talking about the Methodist Church. He was telling a story about a Methodist congregation that had forked out for a new carpet only to have two holes burnt in it by someone's misadventure with two candles a couple of weeks after the new carpet had been put in. When the Methodist minister heard what had happened, he reportedly said: “Don't worry, these things happen.” The Catholic priest reflected that he wasn't so sure he would have had the same reaction and it made him think about his own ability to forgive. I assume I was the only non-Catholic in the Church as only me - and two other people - didn't take Communion. My point is that, for me, the sermon was an example of ecumenical relationships working at the level that resonates the most.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

David Cameron On Theology

Ruth Gledhill (The Times) has done a fun breakdown of the David Cameron/Johann Hari interview, which was originally printed in Attitude magazine.

I notice how David Cameron’s take on theology is rather, er, “traditional”. Take a look at this for instance:

(David Cameron) was asked if the Tory party still has a problem with homophobia in its ranks.

“Honestly, conservative parties do always include some people of very strong religious faith, and that is true in the Conservative party. I think it's also true in some parts of the Labour party too, actually. It's always been the case, but I think the idea now is that there is a shared consensus bedrock view that this is a party for equal rights whether you are male, female, black white urban rural straight or gay. Actually I could find you quite a lot of relatively religious conservatives who totally agree that we must never go back.”

So a person of “very strong religious faith” is meant to translate as “bible literalist”. By this rationale, a liberal believer is “relatively religious” and less of a believer in God. That’s nonsense. Just because someone is a liberal it does not mean that s/he is less of a believer than a creationist. And isn’t the Tory party supposed to uphold liberal values? Someone should have a quiet word with Mr Cameron.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Martin Amis Ad Nauseam

Another day, another tiresome picture of Martin Amis on the front page of a national newspaper and another verbose interview.

Today's Independent:

The digested Amis read: “Once upon a time I had a mind-blowing affair with a feminist. I have never got over it. It was the only time in my life that felt like a novel. See if you can guess who she was.”

This theme runs through Amis ad nauseam. I actually feel sorry for him.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

David Cameron on Gay Rights

A great PR coup for the Conservatives today: David Cameron grilled by Johann Hari in The Independent - and coming off well:

But is he for real?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Martin Amis Overkill

Could the press stop falling over backwards for Martin Amis just because he has a new novel out? I don’t see why he merits being plastered all over the front pages of the national press day in and day out. The Telegraph is so enamoured that it has printed a picture of him smouldering into the camera as a young man next to one of his recent quotes: “Have looks ever been more important? There’s a great tyranny of looks now.”

Yesterday we had to suffer him in The Guardian saying that Gloria Steinem turned him into a feminist during one single day in New York: “It’s the rhetorical device she uses throughout, and it’s very effective.” He is never going to say Andrea Dworkin turned him into a feminist is he.

(Gloria Steinem:
(Andrea Dworkin:

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Afro

Isn’t Jasmine Munting’s hair just absolutely fabulous:

I was delighted to see a model with an afro hailed as the next big thing when I opened The Daily Mail today. I have been working a huge brown-grey Russian hat this winter, partly because I think this is the closest I will ever get to having an afro myself, and I've been really pleased whenever someone has mistaken my hat for a wig.

There is just something so warm and magnetising about an afro hairstyle. Best of luck to Jasmine :)

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Passage Through: A Ritual

I have an idea for an antidote to present to those people who have been so seduced by James Cameron’s 3D Avatar that they would rather take their own lives than be denied a world where you get chased by killer rhinos, are subjected to the rule of a supreme leader, wear the same clothes every day and can never read a book or watch a movie.

I suggest nationwide screenings of Stan Brakhage’s Passage Through: A Ritual, which was screened in London for the first time ever last night thanks to Close-Up and The Dog Movement using Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club as a venue.

It intensifies the film experience by taking away much of what you would expect, i.e. images. Five minutes will pass during which you’ll see nothing on the screen except the visual equivalent of white noise, like white fire flies dancing around a dark light. Then there’ll be an image – a haystack, a dandelion, a kitchen, a glow of red above black card – which disappears after a couple of seconds, and the fire flies start dancing again. All the while, Philip Corner’s music (Through the Mysterious Barricade, Lumen I - after F. Couperin) sustains the experience, but what’s stayed with me are the images.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Biologically Moral?

Baroness Susan Greenfield was dragged through the press last week for knocking up debt at The Royal Institution through her ambitious renovation project. Reports said she was “escorted off the premises” and locked out of her grace-and-favour flat:

I have to say The Royal Institution is looking fabulous (I’ll admit I didn’t see it before its revamp) and I have never sat in such a conducive lecture hall as the one I sat in last night. They should build more lecture halls after the fashion of anatomy theatres, fit them with purple cushioned seats and allow for plenty of leg room. (I don't mean more anatomy theatres at The Royal Institution, though, but elsewhere.)

So, Dr Guy Kahane, Research Fellow at The Oxford Centre for Neurotics, gave a lecture on evidence supporting a neural basis for morality at The Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, London, last night. He argued that a radically different picture of morality has been emerging since 2001 and that it is still too early to determine whether ethics will be revolutionised by the findings of neuroscience.

Dr Kahane showed us images of activity occurring in different areas of the brain when people make moral decisions based on Utilitarian principles (Mills and Singer) and non-Utilitarian principles (Kant). To give an example: a Utilitarian would be interested in the consequences of an action; so a Utilitarian would lie if it were for the greater good, forming a decision based on counter-intuition. A non-Utilitarian would not lie under any circumstance; a non-Utilitarian’s morality is intuitive.

Dr Kahane said that neuroscience does not favour one way of thinking over another, but there was vocal support from some audience members for Utilitarian principles and James Crabtree, managing editor of Prospect Magazine, who chaired the lecture (and did a great job), added his magazine’s support to Utilitarianism.

I was interested to know what the work of neuroscience would mean for the subconscious. Dr Kahane asked me what I meant. I said I meant the subconscious in terms of its psychoanalytic definition. There was an immediate default to Freud (which irks me slightly as psychoanalysis has had mothers since Freud). “We are studying the subconscious, but it is not necessarily in the way Freud would approve,” Dr Kahane said. Hmm. I can’t see why he would disapprove. Freud worked on a scientific model for his theory. I am interested to know whether neuroscience will ignore it or not. I hope that the origins of emotions won’t be oversimplified in researchers’ pursuit to identify their neural locations.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Women Bishops - Where Does the Church of England Go From Here?

I imagine the fight for women to be accepted as bishops across the entire scope of the Church of England attracts only a niche pool of interest in the wider world because it isn’t the sort of issue that concerns or affects many people - and those people may view a progressive result as ultimately meaningless anyway. But I still find it amazing what reactions a relatively uncontroversial question can spark among a distinguished theological panel debating: Women Bishops – Where Does The Church of England Go From Here?

Bishop John Gladwin, Bishop Martyn Jarrett, Revd Dr Michael Ovey and Revd Lucy Winkett were at Westminster Abbey last night discussing the question in a debate chaired by Revd Dr Jane Hedges.

During the debate, audience members were invited to flag down a steward for a piece of paper and a pen to write a question for the panel to answer at the end. There was no request for questioners to identify themselves so I remained anonymous.

The anti-women bishop debaters used the word “traditionalist” a lot in their arguments, but didn’t push the lingo further than that. So, my question led on from Revd Dr Michael Ovey’s fear that liberals and conservatives may not be able to find a fabric to hold their fellowship together. I asked whether conservative evangelicals were worried – not just that fellowship would be jeopardised – but that patriarchy in the Church is in danger.

Revd Dr Ovey turned to the audience and asked whether the questioner could help define what they meant by patriarchy. I kept silent because I think patriarchy has a definition that is pretty much self-explanatory. When no one said anything, Revd Dr Overy raised a laugh by saying, “Ok, I’ll just waffle”. But his answer got me a bit closer to the lingo. He said that 1 Timothy 2 was an “inconvenient text” and conservative evangelicals fear disobedience to God.

Revd Winkett said that she dealt with 1 Timothy 2 through the story of Jesus telling Mary Magdalene to go and teach disciples. Revd Winkett also told us that she has experienced people telling her that she is “spoiling the church of my youth”. (Why is it that since time memorial, humans have always thought things were so much better when they were young?)

Bishop Gladwin said patriarchal cultures create matriarchal cultures and both are disrupted by the Gospel. I was hoping that someone might say something about the idea of women bishops reflecting the female face of God, but it wasn’t really that kind of debate.

I’ll leave you with the cold light of day from 1 Timothy 2:

1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
5For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
6Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
7Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.
8I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
9In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
10But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
11Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Greta Garbo Came To Donegal

This is a great play, superbly acted and not "overly long" as some critics have charged.

But just one thing: If someone had wielded a gun anywhere near Greta Garbo, I don't think she would have stared at the weapon as if it were an obscure flower that could bring God down from the sky. I think she would have thought it was an omen of bad luck.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Excitement at the British Library last night: All of a sudden the PA system went into overdrive and the same automated voice that booms “the reading rooms will soon be closing” repeatedly told the building manager to “report to reception immediately”. Then the fire alarm went on, then off, then on again and a security guard shouted “evacuate the building!” while the siren continued to scream. So we all got up and made for the front door of the reading room but another guard shouted “the backstairs!” and we were led down a hidden passageway. If a crook had been plotting to rip pages out of a valuable book and sell them on the black market, now would have been his golden moment.

Outside in the cold, library staff handed out thermal silver foil body wraps and we all huddled together.

I got talking to two academics from the States, one of whom was a professor with a special interest in romanticism. As Ayn Rand was on my mind from these blog posts I asked him his thoughts on the Romantic Manifesto. He said he thought Ayn was a fascist - or a phase you go through when you're a teenager. He said he and Ayn approached romanticism from opposite directions. So there you have it: Ayn Rand, the rational supremacist oozing contempt.
But just watch this clip of Ayn talking about her husband as interviewer Mike Wallace smokes his cigarette:

Anyhow, the fire brigade arrived and after about 10 minutes another voice, a live one this time, came over the outdoor PA system and said we would soon be able to go back in. It turned out there was smoke issuing from a lift because of an electrical fault.

I kept the silver cape and took it home with me.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Romantic Manifesto

I have been asked to recommend a work by Ayn Rand, so I recommend The Romantic Manifesto, which would stimulate anyone with an interest in the arts.

It has a purist thrust and an intellectual vigour and integrity that is admirable. I do not agree with everything she argues, for instance, her disapproval of the historical novel, which she dismisses as a work by a writer who does not possess volition; a writer incapable of abstract projections and confined to "representations of concretes" because of his (she uses the male pronoun throughout) crippled intellect. This is not a universal truth that should be applied to a historical novelist, or playwright for that matter. Any historical figure acting as a muse becomes an abstract projection; it does not necessarily follow that a historical novel denotes a biographical or journalistic style that will diminish both its subject and the reader, offering only second rate metaphysics.

The Romantic Manifesto doesn’t discuss the make-up of the imagination at length, but Ayn does talk about a subconscious process of emotional abstraction that gives man his individual sense of life. If his value judgements develop in the integral, rational manner Ayn believes they should, then this sense of life reaches maturity in the form of a conscious philosophy where the mind leads and emotions follow. This should have happened by the end of adolescence. Sadly, Ayn believes only a few of us achieve a conscious integration of reason and emotions, of mind and values. All sorts of neurotic afflictions cloud the minds of those who don't. Many of us are walking around tortured by contradictions or guilt or delusions. An example of a work of art created by a man whose mind has not reached a normal, fully focused, mental state with a clear-cut identity is the recreation of a fog of feelings in which A is not A but any non-A one chooses; where nothing can be known with certainty and nothing is demanded of one’s consciousness.

I have challenged the idea that a rose is a rose is a rose, or A is A is A, in this blog before by pointing readers in the direction of Rachel Campbell-Johnston's review of this year's Turner prize winner (Ayn would have loathed Richard Wright’s work anyway because she despised all genres of modern art). Yet you can even find the building blocks of the “A is B” argument played out in The Romantic Manifesto. In an anecdote, Ayn writes that when she was 16 she attended an art class where she fell in love with the artistic style of her teacher who taught that every curve must be drawn, not as a curve, but as broken facets of intersecting straight lines. So, a curve is not a curve, but a tapestry of intersecting straight lines; A is B.

Read this book for its attack on mysticism, its insightful definitions of art forms, the images used to describe literary experiences, its love of America, but most of all for Ayn's definition of love.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Ayn Rand

I have just discovered footage of Ayn Rand in conversation with American talk show hosts which I recommend watching because Ayn is charming and beguiling.

Aside from that: Ayn believes in the superiority of reason over every other faculty of the mind. So it would be evil, in her understanding, to place emotions and desire over what your mind actually knows (this would include the idea of God existing) or let yourself be guided by emotions. Would this mean, then, that imagination is governed by reason? Reason may act as a translator of the imagination, but, in my understanding, it is not the origin of the imagination. If it does precede the imagination, then it is in agitation.

Equally, it follows in Ayn’s philosophy that reason governs love. So we love someone based on our understanding of the value of that person. If we love someone at first sight, for example (Ayn was attracted to her husband by his looks in the first instance), then how does reason explain this? I can only think that reason would explain the psychological motivation for that aesthetic judgement.

Perhaps she has addressed this apparent conflict between creativity and reason and I have yet to come across it.

Monday, 4 January 2010

A Word In Time

My background is literature, not theology, but I have had a go:

There's a week's worth of posts running from December 27 to January 2.