Monday, 31 May, 2010, 06:39 AM - Not TFTDAbdus Salam was one of the giants of 20th century physics. He won the Nobel prize for his work in helping to unify the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces. He made outstanding contributions to teaching science in his native Pakistan and throughout the world.
After his death, his body was returned to Pakistan. The inscription on his tomb initially read "First Muslim Nobel Laureate", but because he was an Ahmadi Muslim, declared "non-Muslim" in 1974 in Pakistan, fanatical clerics had the word "Muslim" removed to leave the ridiculous inscription "First Nobel Laureate".
Ahmadi Muslims have their passport stamped "non-Muslim" so that they, just like the rest of us kaffirs, can never visit Mecca or Medina and can never fulfil their religious obligations.
The madness continues.
Sunday, 30 May, 2010, 07:21 AM - Not TFTDI have mixed feelings about this "affair". David Laws is clearly an intelligent and industrious man: a first in Economics from Cambridge, vice-president of J.P. Morgan before he was 30, managing director of Barclays de Zoete Wedd. He gave up what would undoubtedly have been a highly lucrative career to go into politics.
On paper he was the ideal candidate to act as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He had considerable support from his Conservative coalition partners, perhaps even more so than among the traditional, tree hugging Liberals of the left. His economics and banking background ensured that he was well placed to appreciate the impact on the financial world of any cuts in services or increases in taxes. But I'm not so sure that he was so ideal. The treasury is stuffed full of economists, mathematicians, statisticians and computer modellers. The benefit of one more is hardly likely to make much of a difference.
On the other hand, everyone knows that painful cuts are on the way, cuts that will affect everyone, except perhaps millionaire bankers. Personally, I would prefer someone in the post who might feel some of the pressure of those cuts, who has to rely on their local GP rather than a Harley Street specialist, who has at least one friend who relies on housing or incapacity benefit to make ends meet.
The manner of David Laws' defenestration from government seems particularly curious. As one commenter on the Guardian put it, many MPs were standing behind the "it was within the rules" argument last year while merrily ripping off the taxpayer at every opportunity. Laws' case is the exact opposite. He claimed far less than he was entitled to but did so in a way that was a clear breach of the rules. His lover benefited from taxpayers' money when the rules said that only a stranger should benefit. In this case, the taxpayer isn't actually out of pocket.
I can't help wondering just how much of a state of denial Laws was in? Did he still feel guilty, thanks once again to an upbringing in the Catholic Church, about his relationship with his landlord? I'm not someone who thinks outing the rich and powerful is a legitimate pastime. People have to to feel comfortable with who they are and have to come to that in their own time and on their own terms. But did David Laws really believe that he could keep his personal life private while occupying such a high profile position in government?
He had to resign. There was no way that a millionaire banker who had broken expenses rules could lecture the country on the painful cutbacks they had to endure. I hope he manages to enjoy his new life, free of guilt and living openly with the person he loves and I hope in due course he can rejoin the government where his intelligence and hard work can be put to good use, but not as number 2 at the treasury.
As a little side issue, we're left pondering why the government was so desperate that Laws shouldn't appear on Question Time on Thursday night with Alistair Campbell?
Seventy years ago, 300,000 British troops were evacuated from Dunkirk via an armada of small ships. They were welcomed home as heroes despite their crippling military defeat at the hands of the German army.
Churchill took to the radio. The country hoped he would tell us things were not as bad as they seemed, but far from giving us good news, Churchill emphasised the immensity of the task ahead. Invasion was imminent. The odds were heavily stacked against us. There would be nothing but blood, sweat, toil and tears ahead, but no matter what the cost, we would never surrender.
We had been optimistic at the start of the war, but this sudden dose of reality gave the country a new vigour, a new determination. As the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend said, the truth will set you free. The comfort blanket had to go. There was to be no more wishful thinking, no baseless optimism about a long and blissful future, no dreams that some magic solution would help solve our problems. Just like the visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend said, this was stark reality now, time to face facts. Our fate was in our own hands from now on.
There's a big Buddhist festival today. Happy Wesak everyone!
Buddha was just an ordinary bloke who was fed up with life. Life was difficult, life was a struggle, for most people it was nasty, brutish and short. He tried all the existing religions. They recommended a good bit of self-flagellation or starvation, thus making normal life seem relatively pleasant, but this didn't make him any happier.
So he invented meditation. I'm not going to call it meditation, or even mention the word "meditation" because there are some people who think that's all we Buddhists ever talk about. Well it's not true. We talk about all sorts of things, like chanting and beads and incense and sandals, a wide range of contemporary and interesting topics.
So Buddha was busy
Wouldn't it all just be nicer if people were nicer to each other?
You know it's monotonous, when a famous writer, celebrity and Christian improvises an absurdly clumsy attempt to mix poetry and prose.
You know it's pedestrian, when a Thought For The Day presenter turns to the one subject that's even more interesting than religion.
You know it's repetitive, when people start shouting the name of some country called Ing-a-laand and singing "La-la, lala la la-la" to the tune of Colonel Bogey.
You know that it's coming, when the quote "They think it's all over... it is now," is repeated on every major news programme for a month.
You know it's predictable, the inevitable recriminations when they lose.
You know it's unbelievable, when they say this is a tremendous opportunity for Africa and will do far more to help that stricken continent's problems than Live Aid and Glen Eagles combined.
You know it's exploitative, when some kid from Rwanda proudly wears an Arsenal shirt bearing the name of a player who earns more in a week than they will in a lifetime.
You know it's hypocritical, when players pray to the Invisible Magic Friend for victory in a game instead of for those who really could benefit from such a thing as divine grace.
You know it's ridiculous, when someone uses words like "transcendent" to describe a sporting event.
You know it's a lie, when those who don't speak in hushed and hallowed tones about football are dismissed as cynics.
You know you really do need to get a sense of proportion, it's only a bit of fun.
You know it's the World Cup.
Limited freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. Recently, Britain's libel laws have been tested in two prominent cases. Dr Simon Singh (no relation, even though he's also a Dr. Singh, just like me) was eventually cleared of libelling the British Chiropractic Association. His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj (also called Singh, but this one's not a Dr. like I am - still no relation) attempted to sue Hardeep Singh (not a Dr. like I am - no relation).
The libel laws are there to limit freedom of speech by protecting individuals and institutions from factually inaccurate defamation, but these cases illustrate that they're too strong. Limited freedom of speech will have to be a bit less limited from now on. As Voltaire said (even though no one can actually find where he said it) "You may be a blithering idiot sir but I will defend to the death your right to limited freedom of speech."
One of the Sikh Gurus actually did defend to the death the right of Hindus to limited freedom of speech. That's right, he actually defended limited freedom of speech for people from a completely different religion (which just goes to show what a wonderful religion Sikhism is).
Many brave people have fought and died to give us the limited freedom of speech we enjoy today. So what should you not do with your limited freedom of speech? Well you certainly shouldn't defame the weak and the helpless. And you shouldn't set out to hurt other people by, oh I don't know - as a random example - mocking their religion by saying it's all either silly or obvious. We need stronger libel laws to prevent that sort of thing.
While you must certainly never yield your limited freedom of speech to those who would try to intimidate you into silence (and I have no particular religion in mind here), you shouldn't go around irresponsibly criticising silly things.
I'm so glad I live in a country with limited freedom of speech.
Mother Theresha May'sh changed her mind about homoshexlity (hic!). And y'know what, sh'been amazin what'sh happend (hic!) in the lasht few years. It'sh become quite normal to be homoshesual now. 'N where shivil shociety goesh, the church, wif it'sh great moral authrority (hic!) and leadership, followsh. Did you know? No lishen t' thish. Did you know we've got a thespian bishop now? Ishn't that nice?
But shum people aren't ash moral ash ush are. Shum bitsh 'o the church are shtil talkin like we did in the 1980s. Show we've told them Afrcin churshes, we've made it (hic!) made it absholutely clear to them that if they (hic!) if they can't be nice to homeseleshuals then they can jusht bloody well shtay Anlicans (hic!). Know what? They wanna throw out all the cuddly toysh!
'N shumn places shtill put gay people'n prishon. Shnot fair! The Bible'sh all 'bout love 'nd we're gonna lead the fight fur gay rightsh, jusht like we did here in the UK.
Y'know what? I've changed my mind about homemadesexinthecity. I'm the ex-bishop 'o Shrofork, shwat I do (hic!).
The Conservative idea of the Big Society didn't go down too well among voters. This could simply have been because it was badly explained, or possibly it was too technical and confusing for ordinary people to understand. So, in an effort to clear up the confusion, I will now explain it to you.
When we say "Big Society" we actually mean "small society", or what sociologists call "civil society" or Liberal Democrats call "being liberal" or Catholics call "being Catholic". It is a plan to fix our broken society. People, and I include secularists in this, have values, which is why they join things like scout groups. (Unless you're a secular atheist of course, in which case you may want to join a scout group but you won't be allowed to on account of you not having any values.)
Churches, charities, political parties, scout groups, trade unions, Greeks, the Hebrew Prophets and families are all part of it. Churches, especially Christianity and Islam, who love everyone, are particularly good at being part of it. Businesses that want to make a profit are bad and they're not part of it. Bad businesses, bad. Free market economics is bad, which is why the Conservatives have always been against it.
We Catholics, with our ethics and our bell wringing, regard being part of it as our religious duty. We remember the famous quote "never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.".
Many people, and I include secularists in this, don't have religion any more and so don't have values. That's why they don't understand what "Big Society" means. Thankfully you have me here to clear things up for you. So that is what it is.
Saturday, 22 May, 2010, 08:20 AM - WinterRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Wasn't the previous item, about not having finished the translation of the bible into Patois yet, just fascinating? I'm sure the vast majority of Today Programme listeners were delighted to find out that the project had been started and had now reached the significantly newsworthy stage of being over two years from completion.
And now for my Thought For The Day, a small reflection from a faith perspective in an otherwise cold and ruthlessly secular news programme.
People often say things that they regret. Henry II accidentally asked why no one would rid him of this troublesome priest. He was most terribly upset when someone did.
Lord Triesman, the famous Labour peer that everyone had heard of before last week, accused the Spanish and Russians of match fixing, thus hoping to win their support for the English 2018 World Cup bid. He was most terribly sorry too.
Then there was Gordon Brown with his bigoted woman comment that he hoped was just going to be a private insult but turned into a very public one. He was so sorry that he spent 40 minutes in her house apologising with all the sincerity that a politician can muster.
Somewhere in the Big Book of Magic Stuff it says we should watch what we say. Somewhere else in the Big Book of Magic Stuff it says something very similar, which just goes to show what good advice it is. Jesus, the second lump and visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, was called "The Word" because he said a lot of things and every single one of them was right because he was the second lump and visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend.
So say the right things in public and don't say the wrong things.
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow
The first abortion advert will appear on TV on Monday. Packaged like a new breakfast cereal or washing up liquid, the Mary Stopes Clinic will be introducing their "buy one, get one free" abortion offer.
Abortion is a complex moral issue. No, honestly, it is! So rather than discuss this I'd like to concentrate on advertising instead. You get adverts for everything these days: breakfast cereals, washing up liquid, DVDs, electrical gadgets, sofas, clothes, wine, abortions. This isn't really going anywhere, is it? Let's broaden the subject again.
The media - they do like to show things don't they? And we can either be interested or not interested. It's a bit like religion, isn't it? They have so much in common, such as church bells and calls to prayer from the minaret.
So, in summary, as Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow, let me just assure you that those of us with an Invisible Magic Friend have meaning in our lives. The rest of you don't. So there.