Saturday, March 31, 2007

An assault on freedom of expression

The chocolate Jesus exhibit has been cancelled following an orchestrated campaign by the Catholic League, who called the piece an "assault on Christianity". The league, which boasts some 330,000 members, bombarded the hotel due to host the event with complaints, calls for a boycott and, inevitably, death threats. As I commented in yesterday's post, the exhibit looks poor: boring and devoid of meaning. It's not something I would choose to see, but the fact that it has been pulled in response to thug tactics is sickening.

The scary thing is the way such a response was so quickly generated, like some sort of SWAT team for religious sensibilities. From The Guardian:
On Thursday the league sent emails to 500 other religious groups - including Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist with a combined reach of millions - calling on them to boycott the Roger Smith hotel in which the gallery, the Lab, is based. Within 24 hours the hotel was so inundated with calls and visiting protesters that it pulled the exhibit.
I've written to the hotel myself, threatening to boycott them unless they put the exhibit back on. Alas, no response. One man cannot make a difference. Not unless he's Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, who went on to say, in something of a veiled threat:
"All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don't react the way extremist Muslims do when they're offended."
Perhaps, but the net result has been the same. A piece of art (bad art, in my opinion, but that is not the point) has been withdrawn to protect the feelings of a minority. Another smack in the mouth for freedom of expression from the proponents of fairy tales. It's like the Danish cartoons all over again. There may not have been riots, flag burning or calls for jihad, but it's still religious zealots playing the offence card to get their way; it's still setting a hideous precedent.

"We're delighted with the outcome," said Kiera McCaffrey, a spokeswoman for the League. Yes, I bet you are. It's a delightful small victory for you. But the question now is: where's next?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sweet Jesus!

An art gallery in New York City has stirred up controversy with its latest exhibit: a naked Jesus made entirely of milk chocolate. Predictably, some Christian groups are outraged by this stunt - conveniently happening over the Easter period - and have called for a boycott.

Why is it always Jesus? I’d say that’s a subject pretty well covered by the arts over the last couple of thousand years wouldn’t you? Not that I would consider this to be ‘art’, incidentally: more a hackneyed stunt designed to ‘provoke’. Well, it’s certainly provoked a response from me: an overpowering yawn. The ‘artist’, Cosimo Cavallaro, is known for making use of food in his work, and once famously decorated a hotel room with mozzarella cheese. What creativity! Da Vinci would be jealous. What is the likelihood that Cavallaro will also be depicting Mohammed using Halal meats during Ramadan? That would certainly push a few boundaries and create a stir. Highly unlikely though. Because while Christian groups are likely to complain and be offended, they’re not very likely to kill him for his art, are they? They’re generally a much softer target.

Lady Sane and myself are going to be in New York City over the Easter period ourselves…. I think we’ll give this one a miss though.

Oh, the Devil will make work for idle hands to do...

Allow me to introduce you to Theo Hobson, an occasional contributor to the pigsty that is Comment Is Free. Theo announced in a post a couple of days ago, without a trace of irony, that he “believes in Satan”. How quaint.

I’ve never really understood the whole Satan thing. I suppose if you must believe in the existence of fictional characters then he’s as worthwhile as any other (up there with Zeus, Thor and, I don’t know, Champion The Wonder Horse). But how do Christians reconcile the existence of Satan with their belief in an omniscient, omnipotent God? The very existence of Satan contradicts the concept of an ‘almighty’ doesn’t it?

The medieval philosopher St .Anselm set out to prove the existence of God with his ontological argument. It’s rubbish: a question of semantics rather than anything demonstrative. Basically speaking, he posited that if you can conceive of (i.e. agree to the theoretical existence, but not the actual) some being “than which nothing greater can be conceived” and accept that such a being would be ‘God’, then nothing can be imagined that is greater than God. But if God does not exist, then you can imagine something that is greater than God – namely, a God that does exist. Ergo, God exists. Like I said: a rubbish argument. Couldn’t we perform the same mental exercise with anything? Sausage rolls, teapots, leopards, rocking chairs…

I wonder if Mr Hobson followed this reductio ad absurdum to come to the same conclusion about Satan? “I am capable of conceiving a being (or a beast!) so vile, so vicious, so dripping in pure undiluted evil. What could possibly be worse than that? Why, such a thing that exhibits all the same qualities but really does exist. Therefore, Satan is real! Eeek! Lock up your chickens! Hide the Black Sabbath albums!”

To quote from the article:
Christian faith, in my experience, is all about engaging with Satan, arguing with him, and, above all, trusting that God has defeated him, crushed him. Faith is knowing that, thanks to Jesus Christ, Satan is finished. He might be strong in the short term, but in reality, he is a spent force. Through faith, one can defy him.
Erm. So Christian faith is about engaging with somebody that has already been destroyed by the power of your faith? That can’t be easy. If Satan has been defeated and crushed, what is there to engage with? If, thanks to Jesus, Satan is finished, who are you arguing with? And if your faith is so very powerful, why did Satan ever exist in the first place? For Hobson, belief in evil is intrinsically linked to a belief in Satan – the personification of evil. Again, an argument without legs. I believe in the existence of ‘sleep’ – that crusty build up that forms in your eyes overnight. Am I therefore compelled to believe that the Sandman put it there? What a truckload of gibberish.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"It just works".... Mmm, I just wish I understood how

So I've bought a Mac. A 20" Intel iMac to be precise. I'm not totally sure what made me decide to take the plunge. Maybe it was the adverts (although I really don't think so). It certainly wasn't this article by Charlie Brooker. No, it was just finally losing my patience with PCs. I've had my fair share of them and it seems that for every hour of use you get from a PC, you spend another hour tinkering with the damn thing to get it to work: scanning for viruses or spyware, or defragging the hard drive, or downloading yet another ton load of Windows security updates, or restarting it for the third time in an hour because somebody walked past it and sneezed, or trying to get your wireless router to talk to it until, eventually, there's just a weird clicking noise coming from inside and it stops working altogether. Enough! So, needing a new desktop computer and not fancying more of the same, I thought I'd see what these Apple devotees have been going on about.

Well, it looks great, and I'm really enjoying using it but by Christ it's confusing. Having been reared on Microsoft and knowing my way around the Windows environment as well as most people, suddenly making the change to an entirely different operating system has proven to be a bit daunting. No right click on the mouse? No CTRL short cuts? No Start bar menu system? Where is everything? What's the short cut to copy and paste, or italicise or make something bold? Confusing. All of a sudden I feel like an old woman using a computer for the first time, terrified that if I touch anything an air-raid siren is going to go off and the whole machine will just melt in front of my eyes. Even blogging proved a challenge: usually I write in Word, then past it all into Blogger. Obviously cannot do that. Then it turns out that Blogger doesn't work properly on Safari (the default browser on a Mac) either, so I've gone scurrying back to Firefox (having first downloaded the PC version in error, of course).

This is going to keep me busy for a while....

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Tale of Three Piggies and other horror stories

It's encouraging to know that common sense still, occasionally, prevails in this country.

Honley Junior school in West Yorkshire are due to stage a performance of Roald Dahl's adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs. However, the committee responsible for the production decided that the swine should be replaced with puppies instead, in case the depiction of pigs ‘offends Muslims’.

Utterly ridiculous of course. And, once again, the only really offensive thing here is the idea of someone second guessing what might cause ‘offence’ to one particular group of society, as if some people are so sensitive they require constant protection from anything that might fire them into a tailspin of sheer outrage, then altering it to ‘protect’ them. Deeply patronising and inverted racism to boot: “Well, we’d better drop any references to pigs – it might offend, you know, that lot.”

Thankfully, the local council stepped in and reversed the nonsensical decision. In the words of the education spokesman Jim Dodds: “There is something barmy going on here.” Quite, quite. Reports that the sale of sausage rolls in the interval will also be banned in consideration of the Muslim community, the Jewish community and the vegetarian community could not be confirmed.

Meanwhile, at Leeds University, a lecture on ‘Islamic anti-Semitism’ by Dr Matthias Köntzel was cancelled at short notice on ‘security grounds’. A somewhat spurious decision considering that the talk, clearly a controversial subject, was planned sometime in advance. More likely, it seems that the university capitulated to a vocal minority of Muslim students who complained about the nature of the discussion. As Dr Köntzel himself remarked:

“I have lectured in lots of countries on this subject. I gave the same talk at Yale University recently, and this is the first time I have been invited to lecture in the UK. Nothing like this has ever happened before – this is censorship.”

It’s difficult to disagree. How dispiriting that a university of all places suppresses debate and discussion within the confines of its own buildings on the grounds of a subject being deemed too controversial to be offered for public dissection. This was meant to be a conversation about the extremes of Islamism and the origin of its inherent anti-Semitism, but at the first whiff of dissent and ‘offence’ the whole workshop is scrapped. Could there be a better way of doing extreme Islam’s work for it, when it is not even possible to identify and comment on the nature of its philosophy at the extreme end? Depressing in the extreme.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It was 750 days ago today.... the Liberal Elite biennial

Can it really be a year ago that Liberal Elite celebrated its first anniversary? This can only mean one thing: today is the blog’s second birthday. Happy birthday to Liberal Elite, happy birthday to Liberal Elite, happy birthday dear Liberal Elite… and so on.

Reading back over the old posts makes me misty eyed. Ah, them were the days, when The Realist and myself could happily churn out a few posts each every week, when the pressures and demands of work and life allowed the time for such indulgence. When we were a bit younger and a bit more feisty. When the comments sections were alive (at least, by relative standards) with debate and disagreement.

Happy times, happy times.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Hot Jiminy! Two weeks without a post! Empires have risen and fallen in less time. Some have even fallen then risen again. While others still have risen, fallen, risen a bit then fallen again before finally rising back to their former glory. It’s a long time. Fourteen days. A fortnight. Half a lunar month (give or take). A goddamm eternity in blogging terms.

It used to be customary on this blog to fill the vacuum created by a lengthy absence with a catch-up post, consisting of bullet points on various events that have occurred in the interim. Here then, in recognition of said custom, are some of the news nuggets of late, plus whatever else happens to be on my mind today.

  • Firstly, happy new year to you all. As you may be aware, I do not recognise January and February as components of the calendar. Instead, after December 31st, we descend into a two month period of ghastliness known as ‘Helluary’. This period has finally passed. We are now in March, the days are getting longer and the year can finally begin. Rejoice.
  • The official population of London is approximately seven and a half million people. Am I the only one convinced that it must have risen to ten million in the last year with an extra 2.5 million brought in to try and thrust free newspapers into my hand? You can’t walk more than about two metres in this city without someone shouting “London Lite!” or “London Paper!” into your ear. Here’s an experiment: walk out onto any street in central London with a brick in your hand. Close your eyes, spin around for thirty seconds to lose all sense of direction, then chuck the brick anywhere you choose. I guarantee it will hit somebody handing out a free paper. They’re everywhere! I often find myself taking one of the damn things just to roll it up and use it as a baton to keep the others at bay. Walking to Cannon Street station after work is like doing a news vendor slalom. Fuck off!
  • In breaking news today, Mohammed Al Fayed has been successful in his efforts to have the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed be presented to a jury. If this is what it takes to put this whole tedious saga to bed once and for all, then let’s have it. But what a waste of taxpayer’s money and court time. And why, when the man is convinced that it was all a conspiracy by the ‘Establishment’, does he think that putting the case through one of the machines of said ‘Establishment’ is going to produce an outcome more to his satisfaction? Surely the jury would be handpicked by Prince Phillip and made up of agents from MI5, MI6, Mossad, CIA, The Elders of Zion, CI5, ITV, MTV plus perhaps Agent Smith from The Matrix? Deluded fantasist.
  • Speaking of deluded fantasists, did anyone else read these pieces by George Monbiot on Comment is Free taking on the pea brained, conspiracy peddling fuckwits who refuse to accept the actual version of events concerning 9/11? I don’t usually much care for Monbiot’s opinion pieces, but on this subject he is so obviously correct it’s barely worth listing the arguments. If you want to depress yourself, read through some of the comments. Whilst there are plenty of sane people amongst them, the number of commenters who actually believe all, some or even any of the ludicrous accusations is genuinely alarming. I’d put 9/11 conspiracy theorists in the same category as creationists who deny evolutionary theory: daydreamers who think that wheeling out a couple of contrarian ‘experts’ lends some validity to their specious and deluded fantasies. My favourites are the ones who list dozens and dozens of ‘sources’, as if the sheer volume of their reference points makes their case more convincing. Kind of like living in a palace made of poo, then adding a new poo tower and thinking that it makes the place more habitable when, in fact, it’s just adding to the sheer amount of poo that you’ve constructed.
  • Speaking of poo and Comment Is Free, our old friend George Galloway is currently generating the most comments with this piece about how everyone’s being so nasty to his good friend Hugo Chávez, the ‘president’ of Venezuela. The biggest section in Galloway’s address book must be under the heading of ‘Despots, Tyrants and Ideologues’. Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Assad, Chávez: do you think the day will ever come when George prostrates himself before a national leader who was, I don’t know, actually democratically elected? Neither do I. A plague on his house.

That is all.