Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Papal pornography

I feel compelled to write this post because I could not stand to see its 'watch this space' linger aimlessly any longer. But brief, as I have just written one post and want to avoid indulging my opinions too much. (Comments to selves.)

Back when John Paul II died, we were treated to fetishistic, orgiastic coverage of the ensuing mêlée. "Look at the body!" "Doesn't he look peaceful?" "Doesn't he look holy?" 24/24h, 7/7j as the French unelliptically say. Frankly, a little voyeuristic. Prurient, even. People having faux-religious orgasms over the blow-by-blow news reports, from Parkinson's to death rattle to burial.

We gazed upon the news until we were sated. It's the same with much else, I cannot deny. But the prevalence of voyeurism elsewhere does not lessen the distaste I have for its manifestation here. I think some people enjoyed it all a little too much.

Later.

JPS.

The triumph of intelligent design?

First post for some time - I've been lax. It's not that I haven't been inspired to write, but just that coincidence of inspiration and presence at iBook has only occurred. Plenty of opinions, still.

Frankly, I'm at a loss with intelligent design. I cannot even believe we are discussing it. I know that this can be portrayed as liberal stifling of debate, but it's not really, since there's not a debate being held. There are accusations and triumphant assertions of divinity against science, but no reasoned scientific argument, thus no actual debate. For an ever-intelligent view, consult http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/28/opinion/28dennett.html.

Meanwhile, I think I can demonstrate where intelligent design is present, why it isn't really so intelligent, and why evolution should be accepted as a better process. In one field, at any rate.

Reading the above NY Times article, I realised that intelligent design suggests the implementation of a perfect plan, so good it cannot be bettered. Against this is the haphazard process of evolution, which we believe has brought us where we are - it's not perfection, but Darwinian natural selection ensures it's getting better every generation.

It occurred to me that there is one aspect of American life which is clearly the result of intelligent design: its political system and underlying Constitution. The signatories of the Constitution thought they had developed the perfect political system, with fairness and power, checks and balances, a ready parliamentary procedure (cribbed from the British Parliament, I've read). To a large extent, the basic substructure of American politics has remained the same since, and proudly so. No Rump Parliament or secession to the Aventine here - just a complete system, imposed from above, perfect and final. An intelligent design, with intelligent designers.

Except this is not entirely the truth. As we have seen, the American political system has evolved over the two centuries since its inception, first with the Bill of Rights and its ten amendments and latterly with every amendment and Constitutional reinterpretation the members of the legislative, executive and judiciary have promulgated.

Even where the most intelligent design, the most thought-out and balanced model, was adopted, the political system being a sophisticated amalgamation of current and previous political systems from across the world, it still needed amending. It is valid to say that the contents of the Bill of Rights were deliberately omitted from the Constitution to show that it was an evolving document which could be improved by intelligent trial and error. However, this admits of evolution. Especially if the Bill of Rights' contents were not purposely left out is evolution shown as the more refined and refining process. The intelligent design needed improvement.

This obviously has no scientific bearing on the intelligent design 'controversy' ('show', better), but I think it does suggest that even when an intelligent design is selected, evolution is the only path to survival.

Until the next time.

JPS.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Back to Black

All I remember from last night's karaoke bar opening...

video

Friday, April 15, 2005

Oh beautiful/ for spacious land

This is just a quick one, because I'm revising for my start-of-term exam (except I'm clearly not, because I'm posting here).

A couple of months ago, America banned executions on juveniles. I believe they should continue - not because I favour the death penalty (I certainly don't) but because I think they stopped them for the wrong reason. Let us leave aside all the reasons why the death penalty is inherently wrong (such as impossibility of avoiding error in conviction): that is not my argument today.

The decision as reported was based on the concept that juveniles are less responsible than adults therefore should not be treated as adults and executed in otherwise capital cases. In the first place, there is nothing about turning eighteen which suddenly opens one's mind up to the ideas of guilt, wrong and blame. Why should someone aged seventeen and eleven months live when someone eighteen and one day would die? Given that there is no fixed age for 'maturity' (or whatever you want to call the assumption of reasonable faculties), why not consider things on a case-by-case basis? Isn't a compos mentis eleven year old guiltier than a learning disabled nineteen year old?

That is just one reason why this decision is flawed. The other, most important one, I believe, is that America has not disavowed belief in the death penalty altogether: in 38 states, it is still seen as a justifiable punishment. State-sanctioned, judicially-approved murder is one of the most heinous things known to this planet and is more in place in tyrannies than in civilisation. At least in America the death penalty is not applied as randomly or wickedly as in Iraq under Saddam, but both still have it.

Instead of declaring the death penalty wrong, it has merely been postponed until you are eighteen. On a philosophical level, while you continue to approve its use elsewhere, you may as well continue to sentence children to the death penalty. This ban is patronising to children, giving them special exemption from something which ought not to exist anyway. How does this set a good example? Children can get away with things adults can't because they are seen as less than adults even though they may well not be.

We face this situation not because America has come to its senses and realised if anything is cruel and unusual punishment, it is the retributive taking of a life in following the Biblical tit-for-tat doctrine. (My views on religion influencing the world are not hard to discern.) We are here because they think children need special treatment - children who may be as deserving (in this scenario) of capital punishment as adults.

The ban may save some lives, which can only be a good thing, but it has been enforced for the wrong reason, and thus any moral value it might have is destroyed.

Who should I vote for?

According to a nifty website (whoshouldyouvotefor.com), I should vote Lib Dem, and definitely not Tory, which is pretty much what I suspected. But at the risk of seeming to take a website's advice, I'm actually going to vote UKIP. Kidding.

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:

Liberal Democrat


Your actual outcome:



     Labour 14
Conservative -43     
     Liberal Democrat 56
UK Independence Party -17     
     Green 17


You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Friday, April 01, 2005

Don't ask me how I feel

I haven't entirely discovered how I feel about the death of Pope John Paul II, but I think I'm approaching an understanding.

Yes, death brings grief and loss, and I am sure that the billion-plus Catholics around the world will keenly feel his death. But am I upset that he is dying? No - I think he is finally facing the fate he has inflicted on so many others, except with the top consultants in Rome at his bedside and with priests reading him Scripture. His life should not be mourned as the passing of a great humanitarian, rather the death of one who brought death to others.

We cannot consider the model of piety a man who has again and again banned the use of condoms for Catholics, causing countless unwanted pregnancies (of course, abortion is forbidden too) and hastening the spread of Aids. It is no surprise that there are now 42 million people (and growing horrifically) in Sub-Saharan Africa who have Aids, since to many of them (via their churches, heeding the Pope) condoms are forbidden. I would not argue that the Pope is entirely responsible for Aids - that would be facile and incorrect, since there is much evidence that cultural consideration also frown on condom use - but he has not helped; he has, in fact, made things much worse. The legacy of no other pope can be blamed: Aids was discovered in his papacy, and has spread in his papacy. If the Pope had taken a view which would help humanity rather than one which accorded with dogma and antediluvian doctrine, the problem might be less serious, less widespread.

When the news announcer said that "the Pope's closest aides were by his bed," finally I felt that his legacy had come home to him. Unfortunately, the Pope will be shielded from the mortal consequences of his actions by his mortality. You can feel sorry for the Pope and his death, but don't be blind to his actions, which have hurt so many.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Don't hit me...

...but you're not going to like what I have to say.

But first, hi, how are you doing, good to hear, yes - that is unfortunate, me?, oh I'm fine.

I do not think I express a view outside of the mainstream when I say that - in an ideal world - there would be no natural disasters, such as (of recent note) the tsunami and earthquakes in Asia. However, they have happened: sic transeunt motus mundi.

People are saying that this is the worst possible timing for the latest earthquake (8.7 Richter-wise), the earthquake which fortunately lacked a tsunami. The peoples and countries of South-East Asia are suffering (and will suffer, for the foreseeable future) from the last natural disaster: hundreds of thousands died, and all we can see is the physical damage. There could be no worse time for a natural disaster than fresh on the heels of another one.

But (and here comes the don't hit me bit) isn't this actually the best time for another natural disaster? [Remember: I said above no natural disasters would be best, but that's not reality. I'm not cheerleading for tectonic disturbances here.] If another natural disaster, of whatever form, magnitude, provenance, is coming to South-East Asia, I think it is far better that it comes now for two reasons.

The first is that in the current general state of terror which was created by the first tsunami, people are much more responsive to and much more aware of the dangers of the condition, meaning they know better any security procedures or when and how they should evacuate. If you compare a similar state of terror - London when the IRA was operational and murderous - people were more likely then to be aware of what to do should a bomb go off than they would be after twenty years of peace. Such awareness should only lead to more informed and better responses. Or examine the world today: we have a far greater knowledge of what to do in case of a terrorist attack than we did on 10th September 2001.

I'm not equating the deliberate murder of terrorism to the vagaries of natural disasters - but they do both create greater awareness of catastrophes and the appopriate responses to them. In a climate of heightened sensitivity to danger, we react better and more knowledgeably. Put it this way: a crisis climate means we are aware - after long periods of peace, we are complacent. No-one would say those in South-East Asia are complacent about their own safety now if another earthquake strikes, so it is better that it does when they know what to do - i.e., soon after the first one.

The second reason is that because the earthquakes and tsunami both affected the same area in quick succession, there has not been a chance to progress significantly with reconstruction. This is both good and important. Consider how much more dispiriting it would be to have rebuilt the entire of the affected areas only for them to be knocked over again. If Oxfam and all the other agencies with their volunteers had completed their regenerative works, surely there would be greater grief when they were all knocked down again? Ignore the cliché: hit a man when he is down - he's got nowhere worse to be.

This is not an ideal situation, but this is not an ideal world. Better we are attacked in our awareness than in our complacency. Better we lose nothing than our rebuilt fortunes.

--

Please let me know your feelings - I'm interested to know.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Removing the tube

Morning

I am beginning to wonder whether we have woken up in some parallel political universe, where what established parties traditionally stand for has been overturned by vote-grabbing, publicity-seeking or (just perhaps) new beliefs founded on sane reasons. (Actually, I doubt the latter.) (Other political parties at some point - the Republicans have me thinking at the moment.)

So why am I saying this? The case of Terri Schiavo, the Floridian who has been in a "persistent vegetative state" (according to court-appointed doctors) for fifteen years, has prompted Republican leaders to attempt to rush through Congress emergency legislation which will cause Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube to be reinserted. The President has even flown back from Crawford to sign the bill - should it pass.

The actions of the Republicans are government interference in the lives of individuals, the sort of action the Republican party was founded to oppose. The Republicans claim 'big government' will not supplant individual freedom, but here a private matter has been turned into a political pigskin. More than this, the government is trying to overturn the independence of the judiciary, first with the Congressional sub poenas for Mr. and Mrs. Schiavo to appear in Washington (i.e. she would have to be kept alive), now with the putative bill. The Republicans use the hateful phrase "activist judges legislating from the bench" to describe any interpretation of law by judges which they disagree with (to wit, gay marriage in Massachusetts, Ten Commandments scupltures in government buildings, et al); I suppose this activist Congress legislating against judges is acceptable.

So why would the Republican party interfere, when their theoretical guiding philosophy has demanded non-intervention? (And we're not talking international non-intervention, since Central and South American and Caribbean governments have felt the gentle revolutionary touch of Republican governments - and Democratic ones too, in fairness [but Democrats at least do not stake a claim to non-interference].) They interfere for the same reason as their policies have shifted even further to the right: religion. From the supporters of Terri Schiavo's parents (who oppose the tube removal), who are "prayerfully excited", to Republican senators who "had been provided with talking points about how to respond to requests about the Schiavo case, which was described by party aides as a "great political issue" that resonates with Christian conservatives" (NYT, 20.3.05), we find the malign hand of God in action, manifest in Republican policies. (I'm amazed their manifestos aren't written on two stone tablets.)

The influence of God on Republican policies is evident, just as the Democrats too make a show of divine allegiance. This case is no longer about Mrs. Schiavo but about God and betrayal of political beliefs for said Almighty. Forgotten are the circumstances of the case, which are now in a religious nexus, inextricable, intractable. From an atheist's point of view, it all seems rather unhelpful.

A bientôt,

JPS.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Welcome to my space

Welcome.

I'm going to be posting here from now on about anything that moves me to write. I can't promise you'll always agree with me (in fact, I can virtually guarantee the opposite), but that's not the point - I want to provoke and to challenge. You'll learn about me, I'll [hopefully] learn about you, and we'll all come away thinking around whatever we're discussing/I'm rambling about.

So, as Bette Davis said in 'All About Eve', "Strap yourselves in - it's going to be a bumpy night."

Till the next time,

JPS.

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