Posts Tagged ‘Culture’


Arguing for God

December 2, 2007

It’s (or he’s) a hot topic these days, what with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens weighing in for the negative. Does God exist, and why should we believe in him, her or it?

There was an interesting debate a couple of days ago in the US at The Tufts Freethought Society, between Daniel Dennett, atheist (whom I admit I’d never heard of) and Dinesh D’Souza, Christian, of whom I had, but generally vaguely bad stuff.

It’s about God. The nominal topic of the debate was “God is a manmade invention.” (Rather along the lines of Voltaire’s aphorism that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”) Daniel Dennett argued the affirmative, and Dinesh D’Souza the negative. But the debate did not really address that question. It was more about whether it was rational, or not, to believe in God.

You can catch all the whole thing at Richard Dawkins’ website. It’s worth the hour or so it takes to watch all 15 YouTube videos.

Or there’s audio of the debate here (thanks to Solomonia, who was there, and with whose readout of the debate I agree).

I didn’t take too much to D’Souza’s megaphone style, but I’d say intellectually he won the day and the debate. For the first time since I read St Anselm of Canterbury, I’m thinking there may be a compelling philosophical case for the existence of God.


Sexier than heaven

December 1, 2007

Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering in the 1979-81 sci-fi TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Sexier. Than. Heaven.


How to win a Nobel Prize

October 14, 2007

Or rather — how to react on learning that you have.

Doris Lessing’s response on being told she had won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature was a muttered, ‘Oh crap’.

Helen at Umbrella Blog gives a good appreciation of Lessing’s work here (after hammering the decision to give the Peace Prize to Al Gore).

I’ve always been a huge fan of Lessing. About 20 years ago I happened across the first of the ‘Children of Violence’ tetralogy — Martha Quest — and was instantly hooked. I hunted down the other four volumes straightaway and consumed them (I think that’s the right word for it) in a few days. The marvellous ‘Canopus in Argus: Archives’ science fiction series followed, as did Memoirs of a Survivor (which I struggled with a bit), The Good Terrorist, Mara and Dann and The Sweetest Dream.

She is one of the greatest writers of this and the previous century. Or any other.

Update: Lessing is getting some flak for this interview. Hmm.


RIP John Inman

June 25, 2007

John Inman, who played the engaging and overtly gay character of Mr Humphreys in the 1970’s British sitcom Are You Being Served (at a time when it wasn’t that easy to do it), has died at the age of 71.

The Guardian marks the occasion with the sourest obit I can remember ever reading.

This is the sort of thing that failed to amuse the The Guardian’s obituarist:


Sir Salman

June 16, 2007

Salman Rushdie has been knighted.

Having a bit of a problem as I do with the imperial honours system, I don’t know if this is the best reward for being a great writer as well as one of militant Islam’s most courageous and indomitable adversaries.

But congrats, Sir S.

One thing I will always remember from his work is the concept of the


which is a

Process Too Complicated To Explain.

(from Haroun and the Sea of Stories, one of his best books).

A most convenient alibi for almost anything.

Update: Here’s an irony: in 1989, Mr Iqbal Sacranie, of the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, said of Rushdie:

Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him .. his mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah.

Iqbal Sacranie was knighted in 2005 for services to the Muslim community. The persecutor was rewarded before his victim.


3 or 4 things you should know about Asterix

June 16, 2007

And they’re all bad.
Check them out.

He’s —

But, worst of all, he’s —


The gall!


Africa: dying of aid, not AIDS?

June 11, 2007

The G8 summit at Heiligendamm has wrapped up with even more promises of even more aid to Africa to assuage the world’s conscience by turning the continent into even more of a charity sink.

THERE were more smiling African leaders in the final G8 “family photograph” than ever before.

The promise from the world’s eight richest countries to pump $71 billion into tackling HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other health emergencies was certainly eye-catching.

The G8 leaders also “recommitted” to doubling aid for Africa by 2010, the ambitious goals of the Gleneagles G8 in 2005.

It’s worth recalling that Kenyan economist James Shikwati had an uncomfortable message at the time of that Gleneagles summit:


SPIEGEL: Mr Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa…

Shikwati: … for God’s sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there’s a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program — which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It’s only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it’s not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa …

SPIEGEL: … corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers …

Shikwati: … and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It’s a simple but fatal cycle.

I’m no economist, but this looks persuasive to me. 30 or so years ago, Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin and other (generally Marxist) economists proposed a new paradigm for understanding the economic relationship of the first and the third worlds. It was known as dependency theory – the argument that the provision of Western aid led not to the hoped-for ‘the take-off to self-sustained growth’ and consequent propserity, but merely bankrolled indigenous kleptocracies and cemented underlying inequities and supervening tyrannies.

Plus ca change.