27 November 2009

The Church in Ireland (2)

Back in May I posted an article about the Ryan report, which had uncovered a huge history of abuse in church-run children's homes and orphanages in Ireland. Now there's another report, giving details of abuse perpetrated by priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin. Here's an opinion article from the Irish Times - but be warned that it includes graphic description of an act of abuse. For those who can't take it, a named priest has admitted sexually abusing dozens of children. Some years after the first complaints, he was moved and appointed as chaplain to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire (where children were among the patients). The hospital wasn't told of the suspicions against him.

Throughout, it's the same story of bishops and archbishops failing to investigate reports of abuse, much less take action to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The columnist, Mary Raftery, comments:
What emerges most clearly from the report is that priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals had the greatest difficulty in telling right from wrong, and crucially that their determination of what constituted wrongdoing was vastly different from that of the population at large.

These are priests, who are supposed to have higher moral standards than the rest of us, who are supposed to tell us what's right and wrong. I don't see how the people of Ireland - or anywhere - can continue to have any kind of respect for a Church that went so far from any acceptable standard of morality.

The report also shows the Irish police taking no action - treating it as an internal Church matter. This isn't covered in Mary Raftery's comments, but there is more in this editorial. It points to "the fundamentally rotten nature of relations between the Catholic Church and the State" in which the Church was effectively outside the law.

Atheists like me aren't keen on using the word "evil" - that's something religious people do. But what else can you call the Church in Ireland in the 20th century? A significant number of its members abused children on what seems to be a massive scale. A much higher number colluded to ensure that the abuse went unpunished and so continued. In the process they corrupted the system of civil justice.

I'm a fairly gentle atheist, and I try to recognise that religions can have positive effects, can be a force for good. Harder atheists will say that it is the nature of religions to oppress, to make rules for themselves, and to provide an unquestionable authority for anything they do. Looking at what's happened in Ireland, it's hard to disagree.

24 November 2009

Charlton 4 Bristol Rovers 2

A bizarre game on a blustery night. Charlton started off in absolute control. First goal within four minutes, and the second, from a rare penalty after 15 minutes. It looked like another big win was on the cards but then Kelly Youga, playing at right back and linking very effectively with Lloyd Sam, had to go off injured. The play really changed from then. Elliot Omozusi, his replacement, is very inexperienced and it showed. After less than 10 minutes on the pitch he was booked for pulling back a Rovers player who'd outwitted and outpaced him. Near half-time Rovers pulled one back, after (apparently) one of them had been pulled back in the penalty area.

The second half saw Rovers completely in control and it was no surprise when they equalised after 11 minutes. Last year's Charlton would have collapsed after this, but although they didn't take control, at least they kept fairly composed, and against the run of play Nicky Bailey scored - snapping up a chance after Mooney's header had hit the bar.

It turned the game around. Rovers then lost their confidence and Akpo Sodje scored the goal that settled it.

The officials were once again dreadful (but not quite as dreadful as they appeared, when it seemed that one player had been booked twice). There was an element of cynicism in Rovers' play and they fell for it. The away fans were more numerous than you might expect on a Tuesday evening and made a lot of noise. They ought to feel disappointed with the result. For Charlton fans, I suppose the key point is that despite not playing well for a lot of the game, the team was still able to hold on, and ride the crest of an unexpected goal.

22 November 2009

An apology

Back in August I shared my expert knowledge of underperforming first division football teams, suggesting that a bet on Spurs to be relegated might be tradeable - surely it was impossible that they could start strongly and stay near the top. With their 9-1 defeat of Wigan today, it's time to accept I was wrong, and that my stake is lost forever. I am sorry about this, because although I kinda supported Spurs when I was a kid, I'd love to see their manager get what's due to him.

On the other hand, if you paid heed to my tip and have lost money as a result, that really is your own fault.

Cheryl Cole and a racist

One of the conservative councillors in Bromley has turned out to be a racist. No surprise there. You can read about it in Anton Vowl's typically infuriated blog entry. Like me, he's not surprised at what the councillor said, or at the conservative party's condemnation, or even at the way the Daily Mail presented it. It's the reaction of commenting readers that gets him, but again, no surprises there. At least you know where you are with Daily Mail readers. I left a comment of my own, something like
So he is against prospective candidates simply because they have foreign-sounding names. That's simply racist.
I daren't go back to see the response. Loads of red arrows, no doubt. I think it is important to add comments on stories like this, and to recommend sensible (ie non-racist) views. But maybe the response of people judging comments is even less worth worrying about than the comments themselves.

It's a rainy sunday, and while looking for something else I found a story in the Times about Cheryl Cole's hair product adverts. Some people with even more time on their hands than me have complained that Cheryl's lovely hair is probably more to do with the extensions she has had fitted (if that's the word) than the conditioner she advertises. I've searched my heart and soul and find I can't give a toss about this. But someone has commented (and this is the full extent of his view):
Ceramides in conditioners are isolated from pig brains
Pointless and mad, probably, but considerably saner than the eleven people who have clicked to recommend this comment.

20 November 2009

José Saramago

José Saramago is possibly my favourite living novelist. So imagine how thrilled I am to see that he has a new novel out, called Caim (Cain). It's not yet been translated into English, but I am sure his regular translator, Margaret Jull Costa, is on the job already. The novel, as far as I can understand from coverage in Portuguese and Spanish websites, is the story of the Old Testament, retold by Cain after he murders Abel and is banished to spend a life wandering. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't give a very positive picture of God, and even less surprisingly, this has not gone down too well in Saramago's land of birth (Portugal) or his land of residence (Spain).
The Spanish newspaper Vanguardia has an interview with the great man. Obviously it's in Spanish but even I can understand the sense of mischief and humour in some of his replies. Of his attitude to the Bible, he says:
This has to do with my position that if we don't understand the other side of things, we don't understand them at all. [...] Even a book considered holy, like the Bible, permits - and demands - that we try to read it from the other side. And this other side always puts right some ideas we had, while it confirms some others.
It's very easy to condemn Cain for fratricide, and I don't absolve him. Of course not. What I do do is to put some of the blame on God: He, everyone should know, could have avoided this. His responsibility is that, when the two brothers offered him the products of their work, Cain, the arable farmer offered vegetables, while Abel, the grazier, offered him meat. God was delighted by the meat roasting on the hearth ... and deprecated Cain's offerings. What kind of God is this, who can only value one person by putting another down in such a provocative way? Cain is humiliated by God, and kills his brother because he can't kill God, which is what he wants.
To the comment that there is a lot of violence in the book,
Yes, but I didn't need to add anything to the violence that is in the original biblical texts.
In the retelling of the Babel story, it seems that the two original languages are Basque and Portuguese:
this will make my Basque readers happy, as it is an extraordinary proof of the antiquity of their language.
Asked if the message of the novel is about the destructive nature of belief, he says:
I never like talking about a message in literature. The message is whatever each reader takes from it, very different in each case. I am an atheist and I feel it impossible, even with mental effort, to believe in God or to get close to this sensation. And, for me I have never had any doubt of the enormously negative and harmful consequences of the existence of religions, which always set people against each other. Killing, killing, killing - it's what they have done throughout history ...
I'm putting this post into my regular blog, not the literary one, because no-one reads that. (Hardly anyone reads this.) Saramago's books aren't easy, but they aren't as difficult as they first look. The sentences are long, but have a rhythm derived from dialogue that soon becomes easy to read. Sometimes, as in Blindness, the subject-matter is almost unbearably hard to take, and you have to learn to trust Saramago as a guide through terrors. So, don't start with that one. I'd recommend The Double as a start, or maybe a more recent novel, Death at Intervals as good starting points. Both have a story that's fascinating (in fact, Death at Intervals has two; being structurally a bit lumpy, it's virtually two novels joined at the middle), and are a fairly smooth way into his unusual but addictive style. Do try.

(Shocking, certainly, but the question is - should we interpret it literally?)

16 November 2009


I can't help feeling unreasonably proud of today's bread. This is a bloomer, characterised by the diagonal slashes across the loaf, which are decorative (and would be more so if I'd got the distance between them uniform) and help the dough rise tidily.

At Blackheath Farmers Market one of the bread stalls serves something called a London Bloomer, with six slashes. They claim this was introduced during the war, and the slashes divided the loaf into seven portions, to see you through the week. This must be nonsense. Without preservatives etc this bread will be rock hard by Wednesday.

Bread-making can become an obsession, as the number of blogs about it shows. I don't think I'm becoming obsessive, but I will just note that this loaf is stone-baked, with steam, using Allinsons Seed and Grain flour.

14 November 2009

Charlton 5 MK Dons 1

Some things are hard to explain. Why do they bother fitting indicators to black taxis? How can one size ever fit all? Who keeps giving Piers Morgan work?

But how, I ask you, can the team that plumbed the depths of ineptness last week, causing Charlton fans to almost use up the world's supply of words ending in -less (gut, feck, hope, clue, guile, spine, feck, feck, feck), turn on a performance like today's, when in the second half they simply tore apart a decent MK Dons team, lying just one place below them in the table?

It's obviously why we love football: for every 90 minutes of utter misery, there's maybe 45 minutes of bliss.

It was a windy day at the Valley. The ball was swirling around among the leaves and plastic bags all over the pitch, and it seemed like the horror was continuing when MK Dons - actually, I can't continue to call them that - when Franchise FC took an early lead - a well-taken lob over the Charlton 'keeper. But Charlton equalised almost immediately, and the rest of the first half was a great game to watch, with both teams committed to attack, and the uncertainty caused by the wind just adding to the fun. Charlton took the lead on 21 minutes with a fine header by Nicky Bailey, and the score at half-time could easily have been much higher.

Paul Ince escorted the referee off the pitch, moaning about penalties he thought his side should have been given. Pointless, of course. He'd have been better off exploiting the sense of grievance within the team to bring out a stronger performance. But the second half was all Charlton's. Commitment and confidence grew and 12 minutes in the middle of the half saw Charlton take an unassailable lead. Bailey took increasing control of the game, and was undoubtedly man of the match.

Franchise FC are probably everyone's second most hated team, so it was especially good that this return to form should come against them.

03 November 2009

Coming soon, to a constituency near you

Just finishing Roy Porter's Flesh in the Age of Reason and found this nugget.

Thomas Love Peacock's novel Melincourt (1817) features a character called Sir Oran Haut-Ton (say it out loud).
This higher primate has been taught to dress in human clothes, and despite - or rather precisely because of - being utterly silent, Sir Oran makes an impeccable backbench Tory MP.
But, seriously, just imagine the quality of some of the Tory MPs who'll make it into parliament next year. All the useless second sons and brothers-in-law, who've been given seats presumed unwinnable to keep them quiet or return a favour, will just have to turn up in a blue rosette to get elected.  They'll make Jim Dowd look like Abraham Lincoln.

02 November 2009

Simply racist

I was talking to a friend on Friday night and was astonished to find that she thought the BNP's definition of British is the same as hers. She considers herself British, and so does everyone else apart from the far right. The BNP has clearly failed to get its message across, so I have to do it for them.

Here's what the BNP's website says:

(a) The British National Party is a party of British Nationalism committed to the principle of national sovereignty in all British affairs. It is pledged to the restoration of the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It believes that the indigenous peoples of the entire British Isles, and their descendants overseas, form a single brotherhood of peoples, and is pledged therefore to adapt or create political, cultural, economic and military institutions with the aim of fostering the closest possible partnership between these peoples.
(b) The British National Party stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples. It is therefore committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white make up of the British population that existed prior to 1948.

It's hardly hidden away. There it is, in the statement of principles. The BNP wants to restore the overwhelmingly white make up of the British population, by 'legal changes, negotiation and consent'. That means, of course, that a lot of non-white people will have to stop living in Britain.

Someone always says, at this point, that if the government was willing to pay for them to go and live in the West Indies, they'd do it. But we would be talking about millions of people being paid to leave. And where would they go? My friend has no obvious place to go: her background is complicated, and her home is here. The cost of facilitating such a mass migration would be crippling - not just in the funding of the programme but in the consequences for the depopulated country left behind.

And what about mixed-race children? Presumably, they'll have to go too, as products of some 'form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples".

Basically, the aim of restoring the overwhelmingly white make up of the population by negotiation and consent is not a serious political proposal. It's an outright expression of racism.

And what happens when people don't agree to leave: when 'negotiation and consent' fail, what are the 'legal changes' that could be introduced? How can you possibly reduce the number of unwanted people in a country if they don't want to leave or there's nowhere for them to go? The answer's too horrible to consider. The BNP's constitution only offers protection to 'British people'. And that doesn't include my friend.

The BNP is founded on this simple racist principle: that white people are better and non-white people should have no rights in this country. We need to remember that. Beneath the sweaty, gross, slightly ridiculous public image, there's something much much worse.