Tag Archives: christmas

Team Brown and the spirit of Christmas

Nick Brown’s choice of Christmas card is, I suspect, quite revealing about the mindset of the gang of people that Gordon Brown surrounds himself with. Earlier this year of course there was the whole Red Rag debacle and Labour has been at pains to insist that everything has now changed with the departure of Damian McBride.

But seriously, what does it say about the psychology of someone who chooses to ridicule a political rival as the subject for his Christmas card? It isn’t even as if the Lib Dems are the big threat to Labour at the moment. Or perhaps Nick Brown has been looking at those opinion polls which have put the Lib Dems within the margin of error from beating Labour and decided that the real game during the general election is ensuring that Labour doesn’t completely disintegrate?

Gordon Brown is in some ways a lot like John Major but there is one very important difference. For Major, the “bastards” were the numerous people in his own team who were constantly plotting behind his back. Brown’s bastards on the other hand were hand picked personally by him to plot on his behalf. I suspect this distinction speaks volumes and explains why it is that while most people remember Major with at least some degree of affection (a man out of his depth doing his best), Brown will simply be remembered as a bad prime minister.

Performance -> Feedback -> Response

Just got back from Robin Ince’s Nine Carols and Lessons for Godless People which you, dear reader, may recall I attended last year as well and I am delighted to be able to report that all three of my suggestions were taken on board and as an overall package it was a massive improvement on an evening which I enjoyed immensely. Now I know what it feels like to use Windows 7!

What did I learn this evening? Well, apparently things really can only get better after D:Ream – Brian Cox’s science bit was easily the most mind-blowing of the evening. I got to experience another aspect of Alan Moore’s genius – in this case as an incredibly funny, thought proviking and self-effacing stand up comic. I learned that Ben Goldacre can speak incredibly fast and still make perfect sense. And I learned that rap is the best medium for explaining how evolution works (although Monty Python managed to make it even simpler).

And then there was Johnny Ball. After the previous evening, where Ball was reportedly booed off stage, there was a bit of a squeaky bum moment in anticipation of his act. I would guess that like around 50% of the audience, Johnny Ball was one of the main reasons why I was there that evening, a childhood hero whose absence on childrens’ television has been sorely missed. And it is a real problem when it emerges that your heroes have feet of clay.

From what I’ve read, Balls’ arguments belittling anthropocentric climate change don’t really add up. Wisely he decided to drop this material this evening. Instead his piece focused on how Newton’s theory of gravity largely built on the work of Gallileo and Kepler and that a genius was only really someone who read more than one book and managed to join the dots. His message for the evening was that in the 21st century we have thousands of people out there doing what was regarded was genius-level work a couple of centuries out there and that we shouldn’t give into despair but instead be inspired by human ingenuity.

This resonated with me, mainly because of the way it so strongly contrasts with the basic message of George Monbiot’s Guardian column earlier this week. Monbiot’s argument could not be more different; as the subeditor writes “survival depends on accepting we live within limits”. Monbiot has a point; we can’t assume we can simply keep digging up more and more oil other natural resources and that somehow something will just come along and make it all right. But in dividing the world up between “expanders and restrainers” (which, ironically, does explain the great True Blood / Twilight controversy; something which I’m sure Monbiot will be delighted to discover), he asserts that for humanity to survive it must essentially give up that which makes us most human; the need to strive. In place of that, we should be content with mere survival.

“The summit’s premise is that the age of heroism is over” he asserts. What? Really? It seems to me that the one thing Copenhagen needs more than anything else is a bit of sentimental, schmaltzy, Hollywood-style heroism. If the world assembled world leaders were prepared to be a bit heroic, they could set in train a process which would avert possible catastrophe. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of ruling out any meaningful progress before the talks even began, Obama came back from Copenhagen with a wildly ambitious plan that the rest of the world agreed with and made it his mission to get the US to accept it? He might not succeed, but he’d almost certainly carry the debate far further than it has gone in the US thus far.

The problem is not that world leaders are obsessed with being heroic; anything but. Are we really about to cede heroism to the denialist right? Is the anonymous bureaucrat really going to be our future role model?

Monbiot has set himself an impossible task: he wants to remould humanity in a way that is not only uninspiring but would be both incapable and undeserving of surivival. As misanthropic narratives are concerned, that’s quite an achievement. It is manna from heaven for the denialists who seek to present climate change activists in precisely the light that Monbiot is now basking in.

One way or another, humanity is going to survive the 21st century; of that I’m quite certain. We might do it by having a collective change in consciousness over the next five years and changing our current path of destruction. Alternatively, we might do it in an extremely painful way by witnessing catastrophic climate change, social unrest, entire populations literally walking into less climate ravaged parts of the world (i.e. Europe) and the destruction of 90% of life on earth. To avoid that, we will require ingenuity (Performance -> Feedback -> Response) on a heroic scale. By contrast, the Malthusianism that Monbiot seems dangerously close to here diminishes human endeavour. And once you start down that path, you start valuing human life as extremely cheap.

Johnny Ball is almost certainly wrong about the science behind climate change and George Monbiot is almost certainly right. But when it comes to inspiration and basic humanism, I’d rather have the former batting for my team any day of the week. Let’s not make him our enemy.

In the name of all that is decent – don’t let X-Factor steal the Christmas Number One!

Just watched Alexandra Burke’s massacre of Hallelujah on YouTube. What a travesty of a debacle. Is it too much to ask to have just a handful of songs not rendered into lowest common denominator soul pop pap? Why does everything have to be Mariah Careyised? Good gracious. This is how it should be done:

If there is any justice in the world, Burke will be denied the Christmas number one. Now, I’ve looked into this, and apparently you don’t rig the singles chart these days by charting an expedition down to Woolies any more (good thing too, all things considered); you do it through use of teh wireless interwebs. And at 79p a time, its like rummaging through the remaindered singles in Woolies but with a reasonable expectation that you can get something rather better than Doop.

The only question is, which record? Personally I will be limiting myself to two, taking part in the predictable Rickroll (go with the Zeitgeist) and helping to support the effort to get Jeff Buckley in the top spot. I figure it can’t hurt to back a couple of horses – getting X-Factor down to number three would be soooo sweet.

You have your instructions – hop to it!

Who says atheists don’t give money to charity?

I donated my tenner this morning, but I’ve been keeping an eye on the Atheist Bus’ Just Giving page all the same.

When I donated, the £5,500 target had already been met. At the time of writing, the target had hit £20,300 and counting.

My only concern is that with this coming in the run up to Christmas, it will almost certainly be used as a hook to pin the “atheists want to ban Christmas” annual story on the media donkey once again. Can I suggest that a small footnote is made at the bottom to the effect of “* And have a happy Christmas, too!”?

UPDATE: I’ve since been informed that the poster campaign is due to start in January, so that kills that idea.

Cardboard Conservative

Coming in late I know, but I’m amazed no-one has referred to Grant Shapps’ homelessness escapade the other day in the context of being a cunning stunt. “Cunning stunt” is a collection of letters I have repeatedly associated with the brains behind the Tory’s Ealing Southall campaign this year, and it’s nice to have a reminder in this period of goodwill to all men.


Who is closer to the heart of the nation – Bowie or God?

Brian Eno and Nick Clegg with da yootI find these so-called Clegg gaffes rather perplexing. I’m not a great believer in either Bowie or God, although I do at least respect the former.

It’s interesting to see that as far as the Telegraph is concerned, the Bowie and Pogues gaffes were far more serious than admitting to atheism, which only goes to show how times change (note also that while the Telegraph feels the need to point out who Nick Clegg is in the caption accompanying their photo, they take it for granted that everyone knows what Brian Eno looks like, even though he is rather less hirsute than he used to be).

I have to admit – I’m human – that I find it rather odd for the fan of a recording artist to list a greatest hits compilation as their favourite album or for a non-Martian to have never heard Fairytale in New York. The latter provoked an immediate reaction from one of my friends listening to him on the radio who texted me immediately (while I was sitting next to Clegg in fact, and I was planning to ask him about it if he had stuck around for a bit longer).

What’s most confusing though, is that painting Clegg as a young fogey simply won’t do. Young fogeys don’t set fire to cacti collections, drive around America with a Fistful of Theroux or hang out with Christopher Hitchens dressed as circus freaks. It just strikes me as odd that he wouldn’t have been able to answer those questions without trouble. My personal theory is that it was down to stress.

But casting Eno as a “youth” adviser? I’m not sure about the efficacy of having a youth adviser at all, but getting a man six months off from his sixtieth birthday strikes me as particularly odd. Eno strikes me as a pretty positive spokesperson for his own generation, the boomers who are slowly waking up to the fact that mortality applies to even them. Why not make him an adviser for that generation?

On God, I have to say Clegg’s first answer was better than his second. In this respect, it is a moot point whether we have made progress from Ming Campbell, who always seemed to get his answers correct on the second attempt.

His first answer, on Five Live, was a straight “no”. The follow up, a statement coming from his office, gushed about his agnosticism and emphasised that his children we being brought up Catholic. Without the clarification, this story would have had far fewer legs. With the clarification it makes him look like the epitome of the vacillating, anything-you-want-guv career politician. It would seem that Clegg’s instincts remain sharper than his office’s. The same office that nearly plucked defeat from the jaws of victory earlier this week (it’s called a P45 Nick).

It does put all this Christianophobia guff into perspective. Why should a politician feel the need to bend their knee to the pope in this way if we live in such an anti-religious society?

Another MP, who shall remain nameless, sent me their Christmas card. The front of it is a perfectly charming nativity scene. On the back, there is a still more endearing and funny picture of a polar bear which came runner up. I can’t help but feel that this polar bear lost out purely due to political correctness rather than any artistic merit, but where are the likes of Mark Pritchard denouncing it?

I’m a political Christian!

I realise I offended some Christians last week with my pledge and many people felt that I “crossed the line”. I don’t accept that and would argue that my target in such things are people who wallow in the politics of identity (on which long time readers will appreciate I am an equal opportunities offender) not Christianity itself.

In light of the fact that Richard Dawkins has today outed himself as a “cultural Christian” allow me to go one step further: I’m a political Christian. Or more precisely, I’m a Jesusite.

Speaking personally, I find the historical figure of Jesus compelling. He was a true radical and deserves to be recognised as such. My reading of the Gospels is that his mission was primarily political, not religious (although since even Mark was written at least 30 years after his death, things got given a religious twist later), and his main target was hypocrisy. You won’t hear a peep of criticism from me for his turfing the money changers out of the temple, which is ironic given the fact that most Christians seem to have far more trouble with his opposition to usury than I have.

The narrative I see in the Gospels is of a man who strongly opposed the pharisaism and exhorted as an alternative a way of life based on values and core principles rather than rules. His was a liberation theology. The problem was that after his death, others including Paul – a pharisee – turned his message into the founding stone of a religious cult and in turn reinstated the rotes of laws that Jesus spent his life attacking.

This is of course a massive oversimplification and ultimately little more than speculation. But it is this tension between the liberators and the legislators that been the source behind much of the struggles within the Christian church and Western society in general. I happen to think that secularists ought to reclaim Jesus the politician as one of their own. Much of my contempt for Christianity is directed at those who see it as little more than bells, smells and conspicuous piety, and this contempt is shared by many believers.

Complaining about Christianity being taken out of Christmas is a case in point. It is ultimately a pagan ritual and Christmas was an attempt to subvert this (although to what extent Christianity subverted paganism and paganism subverted Christianity is a moot point). There is very little to be proud of here, and all the foot stamping demanding that we remember Christianity at this time of year is frankly insulting. If the Church and the religious are so keen for us to remember Christianity at this time of year how about spending it talking about its message and reaching out to people from where they are are rather than denouncing us as all politically correct secular extremists? That is how Jesus would have dealt with the situation and I suspect he would have resented what has fast become an annual finger wagging ritual being done in his name at this time of year.

At the heart of this Graeco-Roman death and genitalia obsessed sun god cult there is a powerful message which has resonated almost in spite of the vessel that has carried it for 2000 years. All too often I get the sense that so-called Christians would be happy if we forgot this fact so long as we kept up the nativity plays.