I waited in vain for an invitation to the wedding. I think it must be because I look ridiculous in a hat. There are certain people with oddly shaped heads who just look strange in them. Wills is one, His uniform, resplendent red, was offset by this huge cap which looked as if it was borrowed from a friend with a larger frontal lobe. Others had similar difficulties. Here we see Princess Beatrice, wearing antlers, or is it a langoustine, a young lady with a blue canoe on her head with her friend wearing a stork’s nest. Mrs Parker-Bowles is either preparing for lift-off or reaching out for help and a spectacularly hatless Samantha Cameron, whose disregard for protocol was almost – but not quite – enough to make me want to vote for her husband’s party next time.

I enjoyed that. I really must get in touch with my feminine side more often. (That’s enough. Ed)

It’s You!

President Obama is seeking a second term in office. He would do well to consider the example of the Children of Israel before signing up. Jews have had quite a troubled first term as the Chosen People, which finally expired last night, in preparation for wholesale annexation of land by the Palestinians. They awoke this morning to find that they had once again been hand-picked by the Almighty. Synagogues across the globe declared a day of mourning and when asked if the descendants of Abraham shouldn’t be pleased about being tapped for an unprecedented second term, Jerusalem Rabbi  Shlomo Ben Gurion was non-committal – a trait honed by thousands of years of aggressive persecution. “Of course, you are right, we should be thrilled,” he said. “We should also enjoy being repeatedly kicked in the head, but for some reason, we don’t.”

Much of the world’s re-blessed Jewish community shared that feeling. A resident of Brooklyn, unnamed, said yesterday “It’s always been considered a joke with us. You know, ‘Please G-d, next time choose someone else. If only Samuel had pretended to be asleep’…” The young man was philosophical. “After all” he said “it’s only 10,000 years. Trust me, after a few diaspora, you get used to universal hatred.”
“God promised to bless Abraham and those who came after him.” he went on, with a rueful smile. “Who knows, maybe that sounded quite attractive, a positive option at the time, or perhaps ‘blessed’ meant something a little bit different back then, like ‘Short periods of prosperity interrupted by attempted genocide’. I think we can agree that back then people didn’t know what they were signing up for.”

According to a recent worldwide survey of faiths, not one group expressed interest in being chosen for the vacant slot. One application submitted before last night’s filing deadline, on behalf of Islam, turned out to be a fake. “Somebody filled out the form and signed our name to it, but I swear it wasn’t us,” said Imam Bader Al Shabab from Medina. “I’m not going to say who it was, but the application was filled out in Hebrew.”

As usual, the Anglicans were self-effacing. “No, we weren’t avoiding Him. We just told our parishioners that if a celestial messenger turns up on the doorstep we just tell him that we’re out,” insisted Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. William MacRowan, his popularity boosted by his beautifully modulated intonation during the Royal Wedding, thought by some to make the Anglicans front-runners. “Anyway, leaving perfect diction aside, I wouldn’t say we’re a ‘people’ exactly. Not really.”

In Jerusalem, Jewish leaders are to propose an amendment prohibiting a people from having to serve more than two consecutive terms. “Hopefully, G-d will hear our prayer,” said a spokesman. “No, wait, that’s what got us into this in the first place.”
Americans, meanwhile, were outraged, since they had assumed they were God’s chosen people. The Archbishop explained, with uncharacteristic candour, “It only seems that way because people don’t like you very much.”

Call Me El

The genuinely thoughtful scientific atheist has a problem because the most basic approach to science is a process of creating a null hypothesis (God doesn’t exist) and performing an experiment that falsifies that hypothesis. Like Galileo, the father of empiricism, and Newton, the secret dogmatist, I am a believer in God.  I don’t think I can prove his existence, or indeed, disprove it – particularly with “scientific”, empirically valid evidence.  I believe he existed before the stuff of this world – the stuff, the philosophy, the jurisprudence of science.  In fact, He brought into being both the space into which the stuff was to go, and the time of its existence.  He exists… or existed… or will exist… or all of the above, since I don’t really know how to speak without time-referencing but his existence is not relevant to time or space since these are merely elements of his creation. He has been kind enough to tell us this, our predisposition to nomenclature descends from Eden, he simply said “…just call me ‘El’.”.Screen Shot.png

There was a first day and will be a last day, in my particular frame of reference and using odd, familiar little numbers.  Ultimately, there will no longer be any ‘place’ for the earth or the sky and it will all just not be anywhere.  I guess they (space, time, stuff) could all be considered “temporary” relative to a dimensionless eternity, an infinity of universes in which he exists.  All of space-time, all of the rules inherent within space-time, which we have discovered with such labour and sweat and all the stuff inside space-time are elements of his creation.  Furthermore he can and does interact within this microscopic time-capsule, this bubble of creation, tweaking this, inserting that, or cancelling the other thing at his discretion.  So no set of natural experiments will require me to ‘believe’ in God – he is present outside of the world-lines that I am able to experiment on.

The image is as far away as we can get –  about 13.82 billion light years away, at the edge of our little bubble we call the Universe.


Not Tonight, Will

The Embassy staff here, along with all the other potential recipients of the OBE (other buggers’ efforts) for services to international relations, are throwing a wedding bash on Friday. Wall-to-wall coverage of the Big Day, plus beer. I could’ve got a ticket but didn’t in fact apply since I have rather too many dark Republican tendencies and the cucumber sandwiches would doubtless have turned to dust and ashes in my mouth. I have nothing whatever against the estate of Matrimony – indeed if familiarity be any guide, I might count myself quite an authority on the matter. Neither do I bear the young helicopter pilot any ill-will, he’s a dead ringer for my son – if balder. And she seems a pleasant enough little filly, if a bit skinny for my particular taste. I rather doubt however that the Palace would have resounded with undisguised whoops of merriment had Wills chosen differently.

There’s an extra large facility on my image editor which I’ve actually avoided using.

What always amuses me is the curiously conservative attitude of the British population. Whenever they get a chance to flag-wave and show a bit of solidarity for the House of Windsor, they do so with almost immoderate gusto suggesting they’d prefer them to carry on gallivanting at vast expense to the Exchequer and opening hospitals than not and this time, they get a day off as well to do it. 
The Langham, alert to a PR opportunity and self-proclaimed inventor of Afternoon Tea, shamelessly plagiarised by the Ritz, is offering the following:

Freshly made finger sandwiches including:
Lobster and cucumber with fennel pollen;
Scottish salmon poached in pink Champagne with green peppercorns;
Castle of Mey beef sirloin with horseradish.

Delicate speciality pastries, scones and desserts including:

Westminster Abbey chocolate cake; 
Apricot and raspberry Royal Crown; 
Royal Champagne jelly; 
Warm wild lavender and honey scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserve. 

…and the little shortbread wedding dress is particularly tasteful.

All this, plus a glass of Laurent-Perrier NV for just over a hundred quid for two. Lovely. I could get a new hard drive for that.

The last time we elected to dispose of a monarch, barely ten years later, after a decade of cancelled Christmases and compulsory worship, his successor was welcomed back with a few muttered words of apology. The French, on the other hand, set about  aristocratic genocide with far more determination and the cleansing was so radical that we now have Sarkozy instead. Brits like having a monarch. It’s like owning a pedigree cat, but more expensive.
i do rather feel sorry for Miss Middleton, however. The pressure to conceive will be enormous and no excuses will be tolerated.

Buses and Belief. Business Class Upgrade.

It’s always the same.You wait for ages for an atheist bus campaign, then three come along at once. Must have missed off the word ‘alone’. Oops. Sorry, Iowa

Are there free bus-miles for signing up, d’you think?

I’d’ve liked to reproduced this, but remembered where I live, so you can look at the link instead

Andrew O’Hagan, a journalist comments on a bus journey from Hampstead to Waterloo…

At Mornington Crescent, I saw a bus coming the other way that said something a bit intriguing up the side: ‘If you’re not religious, for God’s sake say so.’ This was an ad paid for by the British Humanist Association and it was meant for people wondering which box to tick on their census form. According to the Humanists, the government justifies the funding of faith schools with statistics saying a giant proportion of British people are Christian. It’s only since 2001 that our census form has popped the religion question. It took me about three seconds to realise I wouldn’t be ticking the box marked ‘Roman Catholic’. This might sound like a no-brainer to some of you, but not to me: it was a long three seconds. Even 40 years after my baptism, 25 years after my confirmation, those three seconds of renunciation were a glimpse into the howling caverns of Hell.”

Godlessness on public transport in Ft Worth and Dallas is apparently sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. 

In London, this one is a favourite.

I think it ought to say..’There’s probably no bus. Now stop waiting and enjoy your walk’.

Tradition – in other words things we learned at our mother’s knee when we believed everything we were told is a powerful and misunderstood lever. Most of us rarely bother to question what we were told then, either abandoning it thoughtlessly or embracing it fully. The middle ground where half-truth is reconciled in one’s own mind is more difficult to achieve. In the 2001 census, nearly 400,000 people in England and Wales – including an impressive 2.6% of those living in Brighton – replied that they were ‘Jedi’ or ‘Jedi Knight’, which is not a religion in the strictest sense but you have to admire the instinct. Not sure what I’d write.

Down Terrace

Brits do kitchen sink drama better than anybody else.  Ben Wheatley’s “Down Terrace” tells a rather rambling story about a son and his father, (real life Robin and Robert Hill) boss, it would seem, of a small-time Sussex crime family, who in the beginning are acquitted for unspecified offences. All seems not well, however and webs of suspicion fall on one or other of their associates who are coldly and unemotionally bludgeoned, stabbed, shot or poisoned for allegedly informing on them to the police.  Psychopathy mingles uneasily with family loyalty which garrottes each cold soul, slowly and relentlessly as the family structures disintegrate. Critics called the outbreaks of violence comic and absurd – I found them creepy, appalling and darkly realistic. One particular murder – almost everyone seems to end up dead – involved the quite neutral dialogue of the son asking his ‘friend’ if he’d mind holding up a large transparent plastic sheet against a wall, for no discernible reason. The friend, amiable and bovine, agrees, and is fatally bludgeoned  once with a hammer for merely falling under suspicion and is then wrapped tidily in the sheet which he once held. The sheer lack of remorse, repeated in various other terminal scenarios, including an old lady, mother to one of the suspects, being casually pushed in front of a moving car lends undertones of undiluted evil. This isn’t Coen Brothers in Bermondsey, Eastenders, nor the Sopranos in South London. Much, much  worse. We are left to wonder who will be left standing at the end.
The soundtrack is, paradoxically, full of simple beauty such as “Babes in the Wood” by the Copper Family and a dark rendition of the mountain gospel song “We Shall All Be Reunited”
Eight out of ten, as long as you have a strong stomach.

Prayer and Politics

Thousands of Jews gather at the Western Wall plaza, on the second of the Intermediate Days of Passover (the first such day for Jews abroad), for special holiday prayers – especially the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:23-27). It has become traditional since the Six Day War in 1967 when the Temple Mount and the Old City was recaptured, occupied or liberated, depending on where you stand. It commemorates the Biblical obligation to visit the Temple on the three festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. In particular, the descendants or Aaron – the Kohanim – fulfil their obligation to bless the nation and for non-Kohanim also to be blessed. The holiday prayers emphasise the goal of not just returning to the Wall – the outer perimeter – but to the Mount itself.

Forty-seven Jewish intellectuals yesterday signed a petition calling for a unilateral settlement involving autonomy for Judea, Samaria, the West Bank, and, of course, East Jerusalem. The UN will in all probability vote for unilateral declaration as requested by Mahmoud Abbas in the summer. If such happens, Jewish settlers will doubtless be driven out, including those in the City.
In Rabbinic literature: ‘Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, Jerusalem took nine
The final Pesach toast is: “L’Shana Haba’a B’yerushalayim”. (next year in Jerusalem) Oh, yes.

Heavy Metal

In “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” the Mad Hatter was in all probability mad indeed. Victorian hatters spent their working lives inhaling mercury the use of which was a necessary process in curing beaverskin for men’s hats, the consequent heavy metal poisoning leading to paranoia and insanity.  In a strange, paradigmatic twist, the San Francisco Chronicle today reports an unprecedented rise in mercury levels in Pacific seabirds, speculating on the consequent rise of mercury in the food chain and acknowledging that its effects cannot be predicted with any certainty. 
By analogy, the Internet is becoming all-pervasive and ubiquitous – people know where we are and what we’re doing as if we all live in a village again, our privacy has been surrendered as well as our cultural identity, eliciting a cold shiver of paranoia. Facebook has 600 million members and the gravitational momentum on the human psyche of such pervasive, rapid and far-reaching technological invasion cannot be calculated with any certainty – we may all be driven mad by the technological equivalent of mercury poisoning.

Walking Forwards to Go Backwards

What, I wonder does it do to a Kuwaiti soul when one is outnumbered four to one in one’s own land? There’s a British proverb  -“A Hindu comes into the house to serve, but a Chinese to become its master”. Isn’t it the reason why our “companions in fortune”, the Middle East oil monarchies employ mostly Indians and Pakistanis, but never the Chinese, as migrant workers? Perhaps the Chinese met here are the new Australians – savvy, quick-thinking and can turn a hand to most tasks from pedicury to prostitution.
It’s noticeable that cultural groups stay together, buttressed by the in-words, the uniqueness of body language and imperviousness to surroundings, secure in the cocoon of familiarity that such huddling provides. Brits tend not to do it as much – the BLS notwithstanding – and the concept of British multiculturalism has run the experimental gauntlet, emerging bruised and battered at the other side with no more idea now of how to persuade different cultural groups to assimilate as when, bright-eyed and optimistic it began to welcome first Jamaicans, then  Pakistanis, Ugandans, and all others with strange eating habits, festivals and customs to its shores.
France has banned the burqa in public and sent the Romanies home. Holland has Geert Wilders, the Pope has made it his mission to return Europe to Christianity. Some have been saying for years that the cultural soul of Europe has been spiced too highly for most tastes and a return to the familiar is becoming a political imperative; the preservation of identity a psychological necessity. Perhaps every expat here ought to have ‘just passing through’ as a bumper sticker.

Eat My Shorts

Canada. An interesting place to live. The cold must be responsible for quite a large number of notable behavioural peculiarities, evidenced by that most reliable of publications, the Red Deer Advocate.

A gentleman from Alberta, having soaked himself in the good stuff with rather too much enthusiasm, quite rightly called it a night and drove himself home, extensive quantities of the cream of the barley plashing behind his tonsils. His subsequent erratic manoeuvrings in his motor vehicle brought unwelcome attention from the RCMP. Realising he was blotto, and with remarkable presence of mind, he did what any sensible person would do, removed his cotton-rich underwear and stuffed them into his mouth, in the belief that their qualities of absorbency might soak up the booze. Absolutely. Entirely understandable.

A couple from Cambridge, which I gather is also in Alberta, curiously,  took a trip last July to Flying Mission Ministries, Botswana with suitcases laden with – yes – underwear for orphaned children, which is something of a luxury for them, it would seem. “We are going to Botswana to cover little Botswanan bottoms,” said Mark Boughan. “God brings lots of surprises into people’s lives.” 
Mr Boughan is a Baptist.

Quite so. Hopefully the recipients will not be tempted to eat them for breakfast.