Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On giving up my pipe

I have stopped smoking my pipe despite having a good stock of tobacco. The reason is that since I hads my scare in June with shortness of breath leading to three days in hospital, I have gone off it. It does not taste so good anymore. But if I am offered a cigar I will smoke it and see.
Why did I smoke a pipe? As a teenager I worked in a filling station where cigarettes were sold but they never appealed to me. Too slight a pleasure and too expensive. Starting a pipe when I was about 16 I found it pleasurable and it made one look older and different. I gave up when I was 18 and a student in London. Harold Wilson's government put up the price to over five shillings an ounce and I deemed it too expensive. I did not start again until working for a church in Nigeria which forbade both alcohol and tobacco. Unbiblical legalism brought out the rebel in me and when visitng a Christian Reformed missionary I joined him in the enjoyment of a cigar. After that I went back to a pipe from time to time to the disgust of my wife who had married a nn smoker. I found the pipe pleasurable. It gave one something to do while reading or driving. I would give it up for a while, particularly when depressed, and then resume. With friends often travelling from overseas, particularly the USA, I rarely paid the iniquitous level of taxation paid on tobacco in the UK. I enjoyed the liberty to smoke and detest the nanny state which bans smoking in public places.

Having given up I see three benefits. No more holes burned in my clothes. No more early morning expectoration of something most unattractive. Best of all, my singing voice has improved for hymns in church. But I do miss the pipe and its illustrious history.

So may thy votaries increase,
And fumigation never cease,
May Newton with renew'd delights
Perform thy odoriferous rites.
While clouds of incense half divine
Involve thy disappearing shrine:
And so may smoke-inhaling Bull
Be always filling, never full.

I look forward to a pipe with these three in heaven and a cigar with Spurgeon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Queen [2006]Dvd

I really enjoyed this film and found it better than I expected. Everyone knows Mirren was superb, but Sheen had Blair's voice to perfection and I thought all the actors did well, particularly the unsung heroes, four corgis of Her Majesty. Other reviews set the scene of unresponsive, out of touch queen versus the people's new prime minister. But I did not find this to be an anti-monarchist film at all. Blair is an instant convert to royalism it seems and the film faithfully portrays why the Queen behaved as she did. One does what one perceives to be one's duty and does not wear one's heart on one's sleeve. I confess all my sympathies were with the Queen in her distance from the gushing emotion and pseudo-grief of Joe Public. I think the story about the stag was to show the Queen had more feeling for dumb animals than a dead princess, but then the stag had not given her any distress in the past. I think the message portrayed was that it was not merely that the Queen did not show the emotion of grief over Diana but that she was not really feeling her loss, apart from her concern for the two boys. Of course one knows that a lot of what was portrayed here is mere speculation but the one historic thing I question is the congregation in Westminster Abbey applauding Althrop's speech. Did they? If so I must at the time have been so disgusted by his speech that I missed the applause. Thankfully the parts of his speech in which he criticized the royal family were left out. Message of the film.? The monarchy must modernise. Personally I am happier with the monarchy than with pseudo-emotion from the great British public.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Clear blue water?

It is reported today that a Conservative think tank will recommend the abolition of inheritance tax. I hope Cameron heeds their advice and adopts the removal of this iniquitous legalised state theft. As a Christian I believe that Scripture teaches God approves of two ways of receiving wealth, hard work or an inheritance. Our government discourages the latter by this taxation of assets yet encourages gambling by promoting a lottery and making gambling gains non-taxable. The average house owner in London now has to employ advisers to avoid inheritance tax at death. This tax should go. Tax gambling winnings instead. Easy come, easily taxed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

BBC reaches new low

I have given up all hope of the BBC ever pronouncing properly the name of the new president of Nigeria, Yar Addu'a. But today on their website they hit the pits with this gem.

"People who get bored coming to the north-east are bored because their are boring."

BTW the Nigerian president's name has two glottal stops, one before the Y and the other at the apostrophe. Their Hausa department should have advised them. What is a glottal stop? It is what you get instead of the tt in butter when spoken with estuary English pronunciation. Bu'er.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Absent fathers

BBC reports,"Black boys need positive role models from within their own communities to tackle underachievement, a report says. The Reach panel of experts, from fields including education and business, says too often role models for young black men include rappers who glamorise guns."
Nowhere does the BBC report mention the need for a father as the first and most important role model for any boy. The silence speaks volumes. At present the boys merely follow the example of their delinquent absent fathers.

Now on 21 August we hear sense from Straw. "The "continuing problem" of gang violence is due to the absence of fathers in black communities, Justice Secretary Jack Straw says.
He said young black men needed their fathers as role models, otherwise their development suffered.
Black girls from similar backgrounds had different attitudes and succeeded more than black boys, he said.
He was responding to US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson who said inner city violence was an economic problem. "

So reports the BBC. Jackson is an American problem.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Books read in August 2007 (5)

1. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

When I started reading this book travelling on the London Underground, I found myself laughing out loud with other passengers looking at me. It really is that funny in places. I have enjoyed Bryson's travels in America, England and through out language in, Mother Tongue. He is a gifted writer who brings a fifties, mid-America childhood to life but one is left wondering did it all really happen or how much is like the Thunderbird Kid zapping his enemies with his death ray.

2. How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World by Nigel M. de S. Cameron

Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic co-authors this book with ethicist Cameron. It is written to awaken ordinary Christians to the ethical questions raised by IVF, cloning and other bio tech developments. The authors seek to base their ethics in Scripture but not all who share their views on the authority of the Bible will share all their conclusions, but they do raise the contemporary questions and encourage Christians to be involved in the contemporary debates. Their history of early last century eugenics programmes in the USA is horrifying as it was the precursor to what was done in Nazi Germany. It is a stern waring against human cloning and the manipulation of life from the embryo.

3. William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-slave Trade Campaigner by William Hague

"A beacon of light which the passing of two centuries has scarcely dimmed". This is Hague's concluding assessment of Wilberforce. This fine biography should keep that light blazing. I think it will probably be the definitive biography of the great abolitionist for quite some time to come. Hague writes well and keeps one's attention throughout a long book. He is masterful at setting the historical scene. No doubt his previous biography of Wilberforce's friend Pitt was a great help in researching the period. One is given a real feel for a very different world where only men of means could afford to enter politics for getting elected, except to a rotten borough, could mean huge expense. It was a time when party allegiance was not so well developed and Wilberforce maintained his independence as a member of parliament for Yorkshire. He was a friend of Pitt but opposed him over the war with France as he opposed a later government over Queen Caroline. Hague does not fall into the trap of judging an historic figure by more modern criteria. Contemporary critics of Wilberforce disliked his social conservatism. His radicalism was aimed at stopping an evil trade not promoting cause of the poor close to home.Hague explains it. Wilberforce would give no support to those who would be socially disruptive and those applauding the French Revolution. His detestation of what had happened in France, Hague rightly identifies as Wilberforce's opposition to all things against religion.

One expects Hague to be good on the politics of Wilberforce's life but I was pleasantly surprised by his understanding of his subject's Evangelical faith. Christian faith we know transformed Wilberforce from a pleasure seeking young man into an ardent reformer. It was the motivation in all his subsequent life. As well as abolition it also moved him to seek the opening of India to Christian missions. Hague seems to have a sympathetic understanding of Wilberforce's Christianity as well as a great appreciation of his political achievements. here was an MP who was most diligent in his duties though he never held an office of state. There is also admiration for the personal character of his subject. He was a man who made friends, was hugely charitable and a loving husband and father. Here was a notable orator and a man of wit, welcome at the tables of the great and the good. His character was indeed that of a joyful Christian as Piper writes in his short biography. He died impoverished by his own personal charity and the foolishness of his eldest son. He declined ennoblement and wanted a quiet burial place but was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey for his contemporaries judged him to be great as well as good.

4. God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis by Philip Jenkins

Jenkins is a dissenter from the opinion of many author's that Europe faces such a demographic onslaught from Muslim immigrants that the continent will become Eurabia where Islam dominates and all non-Muslims are mere dhimmis. He thinks the demography will change and immigrant families become smaller. He also thinks that Islam will change and adapt in Europe. He is also an optimist about the future of Christianity. He thinks Christianity is far from a dying influence. It will adapt though numbers will reduce. This is the judgment of a liberal academic. I would not be so rash as to prophesy but I do not share his optimism over the future as regards Islam . But as to the present facts of religion in Europe, Jenkins paints with a broad brush but I think he is fairly accurate, with the glaring exception of the assessment he gives to John Calvin. He certainly gives a balanced picture of Islamic diversity in Europe and also good reasons why European governments have been extraordinarily tolerant of the kinds of activities and organisations which Islamic governments persecute and ban. This is a book informative on now. As to the future, we shall have to wait and see.

5. The Walking Dead by Gerald Seymour

Seymour is for me the best writer in the genre of topical thrillers. I have read all his books. Once again he gives you a gripping read and keeps one's attention to the end. Mastery of detail is superb, especially on the training and life of armed police, The only flaw i saw was the one quotation error spotted by an earlier reviewer. Good though he is, I think there is some room for improvement. I did not find his Muslim characters terribly convincing when the two main player are motivated by revenge and hatred not religion. Their young British helpers do not seem to have any depth to their characters. What is superbly done is the development of the ethical question as to how far the forces of the state should go in the interrogation of those who may be part of an imminent terror bomb threat as well as the dilemmas faced by our armed police.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132 by thirteen monks was to become the largest and richest Cistercian abbey in the country. The abbey operated until 1539 when Henry VII, following his break with Rome ordered the dissolution of the monasteries. At the time, these huge buildings were probably home to a mere 30 or so monks. So it was used for worship for 407 years and has been a ruin for 468. This is the view of the west door.
Looking to the east window along the nave.
The east end of the abbey. The tower is 15th century.
The abbey was built by and over the river Skell.

Friday, August 03, 2007

No more tram plan?

Ealing Council reckons they have an agreement with Livingstone for him to scrap the tram if Crossrail proceeds. This will be good news. A mere £30,000,00 wasted on Ken's crackpot scheme. He should be sent the bill. I suspect the Labour establishment has pointed out to him that it has also cost their party control of two London boroughs.

I may now be a Magpie

So Alan Smith may sign for Newcastle. When he left Leeds as they left the Premiership I said I would support whichever club he went to with one exception. So following Murphy's Law he went to the one club I shall always execrate. Now he is leaving the Red Devils I may again show interest in a premiership club. I tried to enthuse over Spurs with their former Leeds men and a Christian from Korea but I really have no passion for London clubs, especially when some are hard put to field even one Englishman. Arsenal are a French team, or rather French Africa. Smith though is a Yorkshire Terrier of a footballer, the sort of dog who is very snappy and irritating to people.