Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Short Science-Fiction Story

"He put the object into the gleaming white, metallic receptacle. He operated the controls, bending the machine's actions to his will. It started to hum in a long, droning buzz, and slowly but surely, the object inside began to turn. He paused. Had he done it right? The slightest error could be catastrophic. He peered in nervously. An ethereal mist was rising up through the central chamber. As the machine's process continued, a strange, artificial odour reached his nostrils.
Finally the rotation ended, and a series of electronic beeps informed him that the process had terminated, as the inside of the machine went dark. He opened the door and cautiously removed the highly-polished white disc, setting it aside. He extracted two metallic implements from a sliding compartment, sat down, and ate his dinner, wishing he had paid more attention in cookery lessons."

Saturday, 29 January 2011

10 Worst Popes

It's fair to say that Popes having...issues while in office is not a new thing. In fact current Pope Ratzinger doesn't come close to being the most controversial Pope, despite protecting paedophiles, clear anti-Semitism and continuing the Catholic Church's modern conquest to spread not religion, but AIDs. Even with these things he is still a progressive visionary compared to many of his predecessors. But that's only like saying someone's the least-obnoxious contestant on The Apprentice. It's not really a compliment.

For the list of '10 Worst Popes' follow this link:

Reading that list it's really hard to believe what went on. And impossible to judge who is the worst. The website decides Stephen IV is worst, but really, exhuming a body is a victimless crime. Benedict IX's behaviours are certainly surprising, but again, selling the Papacy is not that immoral compared to the others on the list. It's like lumping Bernie Madeoff and Stalin in the same category. Madeoff is bad, but ultimately his crimes were only financial. John XII is probably the worst in the list on religious grounds, due to the amount of sex he had, and I think worshipping pagan Gods and toasting the Devil are frowned upon in the Church. But don't quote me on that. However, Popes rejecting their own moral rules and having lots of sex while in power is actually quite common (, several have actually died during sex). In the list, I think Alexander VI's sexual morality was the worst. Fathering a child with his daughter is...well...needs no comment, nor does the whole orgy, naked boys in cakes thing. Urban IV and Innocent VI were also quite bad, with the amount of murder and torture they were responsible.

Thank God our morality doesn't come from religion, eh?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Am I not Conservative?

I just signed up to David Cameron's weekly email. I also signed up to be punched in the crotch once a week. But seriously, I get my regular Lib Dem emails about the wonders of the coalition, but became a little suspicious. The most recent one sold the benefits of the AV referendum, civil liberties and the NHS reform (which I've yet to decide my view on) but curiously mentioned nothing of the spending cuts, which are probably the most talked-about things the government is doing. So I decided to join the Tory mailing list too, which will presumably give me the other side of government policy; the Hyde to the Lib Dem emails' Jekyll, if you like. I could have just 'liked' the Tories on Facebook, but I care what people think about me.
Had a bit of trouble finding the mailing list on their website at first. Probably serves me right for stupidly looking for a 'mailing list' button. Of course in this age of spin it's called 'Exclusive Emails'. It's like an exclusive night club, but instead of mixing with the rich and famous, you're sent a tedious list of massaged government policies. Although maybe my judgement is unfair. I have yet to be exclusively emailed by David Cameron.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Obama: compromise is not the way to go

Bless him for trying, but he should really give up.Obama has used his annual State of the Union Address to call for co-operation between parties in a divided congress.[] If this sounds familiar it's because it is. Clearly Obama decided a long time ago he was going to take the high road no matter what, and has persistently spoken the rhetoric of co-operation.

The problem with this is that he embarked on a programme of legislation that was wholly unsavoury to any self-respecting Republican. To expect an opposition party to work with you you have to offer some kind of compromise. Do I think Obama should have made his policies more Republican in the name of cross-party co-operation? Of course not. Because even if that had been desirable it wouldn't have worked. He should know that Republicans aren't reasonable people. He's trying to compromise with people who think cross-hairs on a map of political opponents is an appropriate way of getting support. They have tried to block every single bill Obama has introduced. They are not good losers and do not understand the language of political co-operation.

Obama's attempts to take the high road are admirable. But I think he might as well try and beat the Republicans at their own game: petty, selfish, aggressive politics; because the right-wing media will accuse him of it whether he does or not. He should have done this long ago, when he had both houses. His recent calls for co-operation seem more than a little futile.

The USA is in a dangerous situation. In 2 years we may have just seen the inauguration of the first female President. Unfortunately this may also be the inauguration of the first Fox News pundit President. The early signs don't look good for Palin, but the likelihood is that we'll have a Republican White House in 2013, and who knows how long it will take for the Democrats to claw their way back in, and what damage the Republicans will do in the mean time? And they can't count on having another Obama moment. That was once-in-a-lifetime. The harsh reality is they're going to have to stoop to the Repulicans' level eventually. They might as well do it before they lose everything.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Look around, Mr Clegg. No-one else is smiling.

Let me be the first to say that if there is even the faintest, remotest whiff of a discussion or consideration of a Tory/Lib Dem merger or even some sort of electoral arrangement, I will leave the party immediately. Luckily it's only the Telegraph that seems to think this could ever be a possibility. If any Lib Dem MPs got re-elected under some sort of coalition banner, they would probably leave the party anyway.

This is a long way off. Thankfully.

I think that a more pressing problem for the party is Nick Clegg. When you are trying to convince the public that you're only doing what's necessary, it's hard enough when all the ministers in your party have to whole-heartedly endorse government policy. But it becomes harder when your leader looks absolutely thrilled to be in government.

Being able to convince people that he genuinely believed all of what he was saying and was honest to the core was one of Clegg's strongest abilities in the general election. However, whether deliberately or not, he now applies the same style of speech to coalition policy, which is, for the most part, a thousand miles away from what he was supporting before. Perhaps he has genuinely changed his mind on everything. Or perhaps he can't help but appear enthusiastic about everything he says. Either way he should take a leaf from Vince Cable's book. Vince has struck the perfect tone of endorsing policy, but looking like Theresa May is hiding under the desk pointing a gun at his genitals while he's doing it. It wouldn't kill Nick Clegg to look like he finds it difficult once in a while. But it might kill his career if he doesn't.

It started on that sunny day in May when Cameron and Clegg were beaming at each other in the garden of Number 10, looking like it had been part of their plan all along. Clegg was the minority parter in a coalition with his political enemy, but was grinning from ear to ear about it. Cameron, admittedly, looked the same, but he was and is in a more secure position. While it might have been nice to see a bit more sincerity, the merry, jocular tone worked for that day, as they tried to create the illusion of a bright future under a progressive new government. And to be fair to Clegg, he was now a government minister; a position he probably never thought he would achieve. He was within his rights to be pleased.

But 8 months down the line, Clegg's frequent and enthusiastic endorsements of policy that should make any Lib Dem squirm is beginning to become problematic. Unless he starts to become distinct from the Tories he is working with, the party is going to have no choice but to go into the next election under a new leader, or face the consequences. Wipe that smile off your face, Mr Clegg. And try and look like someone's force-feeding you  a crocodile penis, or in 4 years you could follow Lembit Opik and be doing it for real.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Why I'm not a nationalist.

I've never had a very comfortable relationship with nationalism. When it comes to international sporting events I take a 'who cares?' 'I don't know them so they're nothing to do with me' approach, and I don't take a particularly positive view of British soldiers currently fighting in foreign conflicts. And as for the inevitable flag-waving and kitschy nostalgia that will surround the royal wedding...

The main source of my lack of nationalism  is the times when our country is united in collective shame. A recent example of this is in 2007, when we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. There was talk of the British Government apologising for slavery. This is clearly a ludicrous request as it would be extremely difficult to discern who is a descendent of a slave, and do people descended from both slaves and slave-owners have to apologise to themselves? But crucially, I thought that the current British Government had nothing to apologise for, as they were nothing to do with the slave trade. Apologising would imply they felt some kind of guilt, but how can you feel guilty for something that you haven't done?

This is true at a personal level too. I don't think I should feel guilt for slavery just because I'm British. I also don't think I should feel guilty for the British Empire and Colonialism. I resent when people say 'we enslaved people' or 'we dismantled India's economy'. British people were guilty of these things, but not all British people. I had nothing to do with it. More recently, the war in Iraq. I was personally not at all guilty of that catastrophe. I protested against it. This is not to take anything away from what happened. Most of Imperial Britain, including the slave trade, is a regrettable blot on our nation's past, as is the War in Iraq.

I don't believe all the citizens of a nation should be guilty of their government's actions. And presumably many of the people who feel guilty for things their country has done, and call for an apology for slavery 200 years on, would also agree with this in the case of foreigners. How many of these people, who are so liberal and critical of themselves, would expect modern Germans to apologize for the holocaust? Or expect Iraqis who opposed Saddam Hussein's regime to share in its guilt?

Now, so far this might sound like I'm working towards a nationalist conclusion of taking pride in being British, and not feeling guilty. On the contrary, in the name of consistency, I believe that if I don't want to share in the guilt of my country's actions because it was nothing to do with me, I should also not share in its pride at its achievements. How can I justify feeling pride at a Briton having invented the steam engine, when I don't also feel the guilt of a Briton having invented the concentration camp? How can I feel pride in winning the Ashes or getting 3rd most medals in the Olympics when I don't also feel guilt for the BP oil spill, or the invasion of Afghanistan? If a British swimmer wins a gold medal, they are no more connected to me than the French person who came second or the Russian who came third. In the age of globalisation, tribal differences are irrelevant.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to the idea of 'nations'. They have been tried and tested as a system of political organisation. A single global government may be better, with the absence of war, fairer distribution of resources, the diversion of arms spending to better causes and the end of currency speculation. However, this isn't, and probably never will be, a practical possibility. Therefore the world needs to be divided up, and it's clearly better to do this along cultural and historical lines than slicing up the globe, like was done to Africa and the Middle East, which has caused endless conflict. So I support the system of having nations pretty much like we do at the moment (although maybe stronger supranational organisations would be nice). I guess that means that I am a liberal nationalist in the most broad use of the term. I would never condemn the likes of Guiseppe Mazzini or Garibaldi for their desire for a free and independent Italy, for example. But having 'pride' in my nation is something I can't do, without shouldering the enormous guilt that goes with assimilating the nation with my own conscience. Perhaps this would be easier in a country which clearly has had a more positive than negative impact on the world, but I'm not sure that the UK has. I would also endorse some occasional nationalistic energy on strictly Machiavellian grounds, for example the propaganda of the British government in the world wars was crucial in encouraging people to work towards the war effort. But even this well-meaning nationalism can lead to xenophobia and should be used sparingly.

If anyone can think of a way of me being able to appreciate national pride without bearing the massive guilt of Britain's numerous crimes, let me know.

Friday, 7 January 2011

"Amn't"- the revolution begins here

Call me pedantic, but I’ve noticed a gap in the English language which I feel needs to be filled, for the reasons of consistency and grammatical correctness.
To say someone is not something in the second person, you can say “you’re not” or “you aren’t”, likewise in the third person singular you can say “s/he’s not” or “s/he isn’t” or plural, “they’re not” or “they aren’t”. However, in the singular, there exists only “I’m not”. What happened to “I amn’t”?
This covers the consistency point, but wouldn’t bother me too much in itself if it wasn’t for the fore used when asking a question. When clarifying if someone is not what they say they’re not, generally we would say “aren’t they”, “aren’t you” or “isn’t s/he?”, or the more formal “are they not?”, “are you not?”, or “is s/he not?”. However, when it comes to the singular the only correct option in use is “am I not?”. In informal conversation people tend to use “aren’t I?”, the error in which is revealed when we remove the negation and are left with “are I?”.  This is where “amn’t” is really needed, as “amn’t I?” could replace “aren’t I?” as the informal first person singular.
There is one word in English which comes close to “amn’t” and that is “aint”. However, while they may have originally meant the same thing, “aint” is now too colloquial to act as “amn’t” and has too wide usage, often acting as “haven’t” in a past participle, as in “I haven’t eaten yet”-“I aint eaten yet”.
Here begins the campaign to get “amn’t” into everyday usage, where it belongs, and to put an end to grammatical inaccuracy.

If you see any errors in this please comment below.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

What is Hell like?

Last night, for no reason other than boredom,  I Googled 'What is Hell like?'. The first result I got was on the interesting-sounding ''.( However, it proved to be the usual melange of rantings from people who bunked off science classes to read the Old Testament. It was so absurd I have decided to share it with you.

Firstly, the page I was sent to had rephrased my question, from the inquisitive 'What is Hell like?' to the more threatening 'What will Hell be like?', emphasising inevitability. It begins with a few examples of the Bible's description of Hell:

Bible's Description of Hell
fire and brimstoneburning windfiery oven
flames of firejudgment by fireunquenchable fire
furnace of fireeternal fireeternal punishment
fiery hellpits of darknesslake of fire
Ok, fair enough. I get that it's gonna be warm (although 'pits of darkness' seem unlikely with all that fire around). But then the article takes a peculiar turn. The next thing it says is: "Since there could possibly be a lot of party people in hell, one might think that it will be one big party. " Erm...what? Why will there be a lot of party people in Hell? The Bible forbids a lot of things, but I didn't think partying was one of them. Unless 'party people' is a euphemism for gays or something... It proceeds: 'However, the problem is that the likes of Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and other unsavory characters will be there also.' 'Unsavoury characters'? I associate 'unsavoury' with the man on the bus who smells funny and keeps looking over his shoulder, or the cat-in-wheelie-bin lady. To describe the two greatest mass murderers in human history as unsavoury seems like an understatement. Although I suppose compared to the dude who has a special place full of fire to send 'party people' to for all eternity, they don't seem so bad.

It continues:
"In order to keep those people from tormenting their neighbors excessively, all the inhabitants will be restrained through punishment (with the amount increasing with the degree of restraint required). This list below tells of some of the things that the inhabitants of hell will be going through:
Punishment in Hell
smoke of their tormentno rest day and night
weeping and gnashing of teethtormented
deaththeir worm does not die
I like how in Hell, place of 'eternal punishment', Hitler and Stalin will be prevented from 'tormenting their neighbours excessively'. I now have an image of the devil going up to Hitler, who keeps tormenting his neighbour, and saying 'ohhh, give it a rest, he's only here for coveting his neighbour's ox'. To be fair, some of these punishments seem to be designed for minor offences. 'Their worm does not die' doesn't sound so bad and 'death', once in Hell...They haven't thought that one through. When I die and I'm sat before the throne of judgement, and God says 'YOU have sinned! You shall be punished by....DEATH!' I'm thinking my response will be 'Err...but aren't I already..?..I shit! Not death! Anything but death!'.

So what would one have to do to end up in Hell? answers this with another list:

What Sends You to Hell?
discordjealousyfits of rage
dissensionsfactions and envyorgies
sorcerysexual immoralityhomosexual offenses
slanderhatredselfish ambition
I think I've done 13 of the above. Although I'm not sure about 'abomination', and some of them are really up for interpretation. Slander is on the list, so Piers Morgan is in Hell. Sorcery and Witchcraft are on there too, which doesn't really need any comment. Jealousy is on the list as well, which, according to the Bible surely means God should be in Hell?

The page sums up:
"If you have committed any of the violations of God's laws listed above, you should expect to go to the lake of fire. "
Now the certainty with which the writer condemned the reader to Hell in the title is justified, as based on that list everyone is in Hell. That surely makes the 'Hitler/Stalin' deterrent irrelevant, because if everyone is in Hell, you will be in pretty similar company that you were in on Earth. In fact, if you want to catch up with your loved ones, committing sin is probably the way to go. Also, I can't help but think that God has set the standard for good behaviour too high. Maybe Heaven's not finished yet so he can't let anyone in. Most people will have committed some sins before they've been made aware what the sins are, so you end up thinking 'why even try'? The punishment is the same for murder as it is for everyday things like lying or having an orgy, so why bother to put the effort in? Although to be fair, arriving at Hell it's going to be pretty embarrassing when Pol Pot or Phalaris asks you what you're in for and you have to say 'orgy'.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Atheists dying out?

Derren Brown informed us this week ( that those who worship at least once a week have 2.5 children, compared to the 1.7 of those who never worship. He puts this down to religious people being encouraged to reproduce as a religious duty.

I think that there are other factors too. Catholicism, for example, has a set of beliefs which seem to be designed with the purpose of breeding more Catholics. Hang on a sec while I get a condom. What was that? We're not allowed contraception? Well that's ok, we'll just have to have more abortions. Er...what? Why not? Oh, you have got to be kidding. And the stereotypically huge Catholic family is born... [see Monty Python's 'Meaning of Life']

I used Catholicism as an example because it's the largest religion in the world, but most of the others have a similar attitude to these things. And once the kids are born, the have to be baptised ASAP, before they have any say in the matter. No wonder the religious out-procreate the non religious. Or perhaps religious people just have better sex lives.

Also, the condemning by the majority of the world's religious folk of homosexuality is telling, because, let's be honest, it's not a pursuit well-designed for creating offspring. So that leaves us with only allowing naughty business between a man and a woman, without contraception, and no abortions, and when the kid is born it has to join the church IMMEDIATELY or else! How can the non-religious possibly keep up? I guess we just have to rely on people changing their minds once they're old enough to know better.