Friday, 29 June 2007

Quentin, The Lamb Of Gord

A short word on Quentin Davies, who has recently defected to the Labour Party from the Conservatives.

Some years ago, Mr Davies was fined for mistreating his sheep. A friend relayed this information to a senior Conservative, who reacted with even more horror than one might expect. The aggregate effect of Tory scandals had led this person to assume that Mr Davies’s transgression was of an amorous, rather than a neglectful, nature.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

I Just Died On My Arse Tonight ...

... in Newbury.
It was a competition and everything, and there will be a review. Bug*er, sh*t, p*ss, balls, sp*nk stain, frottage.
Oh well, onwards and upwards.
On a happier note, I enjoyed watching the Prime Ministerial handover today. Gordon Brown has played a blinder since it was revealed that he would be unopposed. It seems to me to be sensible to do no more today than wish him well.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Here I Stand

True to form, I haven’t done as much reading as I’d planned relating to my recent interest in religion.

I have, however, read both The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The Problem of Pain, which is by C.S. Lewis. Each was fascinating.

I had suspected Dawkins to be all bluster and boorishness. That seems to be the received wisdom amongst (many) believers and sceptics alike. It is also tempting to say that he is as mired in his own faith as anyone is in theirs. I don’t think that either of those is a fair assessment.

Sure, it came as a bit of a jolt - after reading through pages of clinical, empirical analysis - when he suddenly stated that extra-terrestrial life is likely. He is absurdly unconvincing when he compares the relative impacts of religion and atheism on human happiness. But I find him innocent on the charge of being humourless or hopelessly dogmatic.

Someone better versed in these matters would doubtless make a better fist of critiquing him, but I found the book highly stimulating and engaging. Moreover, the search for truth is not NECESSARILY best served by only listening to moderates (Dawkins would probably describe himself as one though), just as the search for truth in a court of law may be best served by opposing, partial advocates. I don’t agree with everything Ayn Rand had to say, but she sure gets the old cogs whirring. I suggest anyone remotely interested in this stuff at least dips into Dawkins.

The Problem of Pain considers a specific issue of monumental importance – the difficulty of reconciling suffering with the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God. What follows is not a comprehensive analysis of C.S. Lewis’s tome – I commend it to you in its entirety – but rather represents my personal response to it.

It is a highly intelligent work, all the more powerful for being superbly well written but also full of self-deprecation. Lewis freely admits that he doesn’t have all the answers. It strikes me as a pre-requisite of any remotely convincing theological work that the author(s) should take that position. (I suppose this prompts the question ‘Do you apply that test to the Bible?’. The answer is ‘Yes’.)

Lewis makes a persuasive case that God’s plans for us need not make complete sense to us for them to be right. He is surely correct to say that true love makes demands, for those who truly love us can never be indifferent to our transgressions. And perhaps some of the things we have to endure here on Earth could make sense if there is an afterlife.

I also quite agree with anyone who says that a life without challenges, struggle and disappointments would be no life at all. I am grateful for many of those that I have faced; I can conceive of reaching a stage where one day I will be grateful for all of them.

But here’s the thing: that’s me. I cannot even begin to defend some of the things that have happened, are happening and will happen to other people. (Some of which, I have to accept, could happen to me and my loved ones.)

It’s not obscene to say that good can come out of the most appalling events. Great crises enable people to show their mettle. Tragedy draws people together. Horrific events provide an opportunity for bravery. They can illuminate the existence of love.

The other night I was involved in a comedy show in Oxford to raise money for Darfur. It was a hugely enjoyable night. The standard was very high, and we raised a lot of money for an excellent cause, getting supplies to that bedevilled – I nearly wrote ‘godforsaken’ – region.

I joked in my act about how spending ten minutes making people laugh was a massive and noble sacrifice. Of course it was nothing of the sort. Other people had worked a lot harder getting the show together, and they would be the first to admit that their own efforts pale in comparison to those of people who risk their lives to help others. Nonetheless, I think we were right to feel pleased with ourselves and a little proud. Others can feel prouder still. And we can all take comfort from a renewed faith in humanity.

But consider this. Had any of us at the comedy earnestly said that we were glad for the crisis in Darfur because it had given us a chance to put on a show, that remark would have been universally held to be spectacularly distasteful. Even as a joke it might well have gone down badly.

I think this applies across the board. People who have the courage to spend time helping people in war-torn countries often gain a great deal. But would you think better of them if they told you that they wouldn’t swap those experiences for peace?

We are, of course, imperfect beings - both morally and in terms of our intelligence. It makes sense to me that we should face privations and obstacles. It does not make sense to me that God – if He is all-powerful – has to make so many (or even just one) of us suffer so massively in order to afford us an opportunity to do good, or show our love for Him.

Conquering a phobia is a proportionate challenge. Facing down a rival on a tennis court is a proportionate challenge. Much stiffer challenges than that can be justified. Learning that your family has been wiped out in a car accident is not. Being sent to a concentration camp is not. Enduring a punishing disability – or watching your child do so – is not.

Here a religious fellow may counter that suffering is a result of Man, and that attaching any real meaning to the concept of Free Will necessitates the possibility of evil actions.

That doesn’t explain why God has to allow people to go mad. It doesn’t explain why He has to allow men to be so astonishingly cruel. The kind of unpleasant things that mankind gets up to are well documented, but let’s briefly remind ourselves that they include murder, rape, bullying, assault, fraud, theft, warmongering and derivative comedy. Why would God allow us to be THAT venal, and why would He fashion us so that we could choose to be?

(Free Will and the concurrent existence of a God as He is typically described trouble me for logical reasons. If we truly have Free Will, then surely God cannot determine what we choose to do. But of course if He is omnipotent, then He can. Arguably He could choose to suspend that power. Yet how do we make sense of His supposedly flawless ability to predict what we will do? It’s one thing to be very predictable. But doesn’t being UTTERLY predictable mean that we are not ultimately in control? I haven’t made my mind up about this.)

Man’s cruelty is finite, however. No matter how cavalier we may be about our impact on global warming, I’m unaware of scientific evidence that shows that tsunamis and earthquakes are man-made. I continue (ironically?) to call them acts of God. You can’t inject the condition of muscular dystrophy into someone. Blaming such events on the Fall of Man or explaining that God gave us dominion over the Earth (whatever that means) doesn’t cut it. I agree that even a baby is imperfect. I will not accept – morally or logically – that it is just to make her perish in a disaster for her sin or future sin, or for the sins of others.

It may be risky business to ascribe human characteristics to God. But if He once took corporeal form it seems all the more reasonable to say that causing chaos and unhappiness in order to give us the chance to show our love for each other – and for Him – looks like the actions of an appalling maniac.

Can everything be made right in Heaven? I don’t think so. First of all, if everyone sits around in a state of beatific calm, that sounds pretty boring and meaningless. If such a life doesn’t lack meaning, that begs the question why we don’t simply have such a life here on Earth. Secondly, one of the few things that I never doubt is that this life has meaning and importance. It is not merely a waiting room for somewhere else. What happens here counts. We cannot, then, be expected not to care passionately.

I’m stumbling along in my quest for spiritual enlightenment, and I find it of very limited use to identify myself as an anything (I’m happy to call myself a conservative and a stand-up comedian and a Greeves, and that’s about it.) But at this moment in time, I do not have faith in an all-loving, all-powerful God.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

David Sooby and John Lean

Lean. Sooby. Sooby. Lean. John Lean and David Sooby. John Lean and John Lean. David Sooby and David Sooby.

YEAH!

Paddy Ashdown

Why on Earth would Brown ask Sir Menzies's permission before approaching Lord Ashdown? The Liberal (sic) Democrats (sic) should be flattered that one of their number has even had a sniff of Government.

I met Paddy Ashdown once. I rather liked him.

With Extra Special Analysis From Our Man

BBC News Online

21 June 2007

Tributes at Blair's last Cabinet

Tony Blair promised "unswerving support" for Gordon Brown as prime minister at an emotional farewell Cabinet meeting, Downing Street said.

And Mr Brown told Mr Blair anything he achieved in the future would be because he was "standing on your shoulders".


'Makes a change from standing on my throat.'

Mr Blair received a standing ovation from colleagues at the end of an "extraordinary" hour long meeting.

He was presented with a print of the prime minister's country residence, Chequers, as a leaving gift.

Signed: ‘You don’t live here any more. Love, Gordon’.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who is also standing down, was presented with a print of Admiralty Arch, where he has one of his official residences.

At least he won’t have to worry about the council tax on it.

'Right moment'

Mr Prescott said he was "immensely proud" of what the government had achieved and would "leave office with his head held high".


Should make it easier to get a direct shot with an egg.

Mr Blair hailed Mr Prescott's intelligence and shrewdness and said he had been a "wonderful colleague".

Blair's not even left office and already he’s getting high.

He said Mr Brown, who takes over from him next week, had all the qualities to be a great prime minister and he offered the chancellor his "unswerving support".

'When we meet on your journey, I promise not to swerve.'

"It is the right moment to go," Mr Blair told the Cabinet.

As opposed to telling them that it was the wrong time, and that he desperately wanted to stay.

Commons leader Jack Straw led tributes to Mr Blair, saying he would be remembered as one of the most successful prime ministers ever.

No need to suck up to this one any more, Jack.

'Historic' changes

He said Mr Blair had faced up to the tough decisions that needed to be taken for the country and had made it a better place.


What a shrewd insight.

He had tackled racial and gender prejudice and created a society "at ease with itself".

'Which explains why crime has all but ceased.'

Mr Straw also paid warm tribute to Mr Prescott, praising his "courage" and saying he had transformed the country's infrastructure, with projects such as the Channel Tunnel rail link.

Punching Welsh farmers isn’t THAT brave.

In his farewell tribute to Mr Blair, Mr Brown said people would "look back in 100 years time and see the achievements that Tony Blair has made".

He crossed his fingers under the table and said silently to himself ‘I’ll still be PM even then’.

The changes he had made would be "historic and enduring", added Mr Brown.

'Tony Blair will be long remembered as the man who preceded me.'

He pointed to Northern Ireland, the way Mr Blair had responded to the 7 July bombings and terrorism and securing the 2012 Olympics as examples of Mr Blair's lasting achievements.

No comment.

'Wonderful colleague'

He also hailed civil partnerships, the way Mr Blair had "transformed public services" and his leadership on global poverty and climate change.


'No-one can possible deny that the health service and education are invariably and utterly excellent. And no-one’s poor any more, and it’s nice that it’s sunnier more often.'

"Whatever we achieve in the future it will be because we are standing on your shoulders," he told Mr Blair, adding he had been "proud" to serve with the prime minister and deputy prime minister.

May as well retire now Gord, as that’s such a great achievement.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister was given a standing ovation which only ended when he left the room.

Although John Prescott kept clapping, whooping and cheering like a five-year-old child with ADHD.

David Miliband later described the meeting as "extraordinary", as he apologised to Commons Speaker Michael Martin for his late arrival in the chamber for environment questions.

The Speaker hadn’t noticed that Miliband was late. Because the Speaker is a moron.

"I hope you will allow me to thank you and the House for allowing me to be a few minutes late for today's question time given the extraordinary nature of the Cabinet meeting that's been happening," the environment secretary told Mr Martin.

'Plus I had to take a mega dump.'

"The tolerance of the House, I'm sure, is related to the fact that it understands it takes a very long time to enumerate all the achievements of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister."


'Although we did our damnedest. And then we released those platitudes to the media, in the hilariously mistaken belief that anyone would take them remotely seriously.'

It took "still more time to cross the floods of tears that are now trailing down Downing Street", he added.

That’s actually quite funny.

'Better leader'

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, for the Conservatives, said Mr Blair had "amazing" political talents and had been "good at winning elections".

But he added: "I think he has been a much better party leader than prime minister.

"He wouldn't get a standing ovation from most of the country."

He said Mr Brown faced a more difficult job, as he "struggles with the fact that he has been in office for the last 10 years" and "has often tried to obstruct many of the good things that Tony Blair has tried to do".

And that’s (not) funny because it’s true.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Ouch

That’s gotta sting.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Edinburgh Preview At The Free Beer Show

Tonight sees an Edinburgh Free Fringe preview for If Not Comedians. Alas, Nick cannot join us tonight, but Rob and myself will strut our stuff at the the Free Beer Show.

This now legendary night is hosted in Oxford at The Cellar, on Frewin Court (off Cornmarket Street), near the Oxford Union. Doors open at 8pm; the show starts at around 9:15pm.

It would be grand to see you there.

Monday, 11 June 2007

A Word Of Thanks

To: The Arse Clown who dropped the chewing gum that I stepped in this evening
Many thanks for having the wit to litter the pavement. A normal human being would have disposed of their gum in a bin or lavatory once it had served its purpose - how fortunate that you should ignore such social norms. Following a very disappointing stand-up comedy gig where I never achieved any momentum and where even solid material received a muted response, it was a real joy to spend quarter of an hour trying to remove your waste from the bottom of my boot.
It's nice to think that the gum will never be completely cleaned off, and that you and I will thus share a bond for as long as my boots endure. Perhaps you would be so kind as to leave more litter on the streets of Oxford in the coming months. There is no need to restrict yourself to chewing gum - whilst its adhesive properties make it a particularly noxious substance, dog shit, human shit, discarded food and semen all have their merits. You have already proven yourself a maverick with little regard for civilised behaviour - knock yourself out and fill your boots. Or rather soil mine, again.
As a mark of my gratitude and respect, I have decided not to carry a donor card. The notion that there is the merest chance that you could benefit from my organs after your being involved in a car crash or similarly gruesome (and, one can only pray, painful) accident is a thought that I simply cannot bear.
Happy chewing, and do remember that gum can be swallowed liberally with no ill effects. It is best accompanied by liver-shrinking quantities of alcohol and unfiltered cigarettes.
May your death - which will be mourned by no-one - be both earlier than you had hoped and follow a protracted illness,
TG

Sunday, 10 June 2007

I Pronounce It 'Bow-no'

The increasingly splendid Rod Liddle has handed Bono his arse:


Bono, the people's moaner

The G8 might be better rechristened the G9, since an inevitable presence at these convocations is the People’s Republic of Bono. Perhaps he should have a seat on the United Nations security council, too.

The incalculably pompous Irish singer in the perpetual wraparound shades was in Heiligendamm “holding private meetings with G8 leaders”. Why was he? What convinced them of the necessity to turn up and listen to his interminable, faux-humble, faux-naive “Oi’m only a rock star, but . . .” schtick?

Why didn’t they tell him to get stuffed, or punch him? Or just do what the rest of us do and ignore him entirely?

His eminence carped at the fact that the world’s richest nations are giving only £30 billion to fight disease in, primarily, Africa. The countries holding out were, he alleged, Italy and Canada: well, good for them.

There is no respite from this man’s megalomania, induced by the mysteriously impressive record sales from his lumpen rock band. One day soon he will announce that he is developing nuclear weapons. Perhaps then he will have at last found what he was looking for.


UPDATE: A friend has pointed out something that I briefly considered and forgot about. 'Bow' can be pronounced in more than one way - as in the thing that you tie, and as in the thing that you (might) do if you meet the Queen. I should have written, as James points out, "I Pronounce It 'Beau-No'".

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Hello Again

Sorry I’ve been away for so long! More posts soon.

In the meantime, a couple of things. Last night’s gig was one of my best ever, and raised a lot of money for a good cause. It was smashing to see so many of my friends perform - some of them doing (excellent) sketches for the first time.

Also, isn’t the academic boycott of Israeli universities appalling? Whatever one’s view of Israel (mine is that for all the faults of its leaders, Israel is a democratic, sovereign nation surrounded by people who wish extermination for it and its people), surely progress is achieved in part when intelligent people make common cause. How that is served by seeking to shut off and hurt those from a country whose government one dislikes? And why pick on Israel - and not China, Zimbabwe, Iran, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc?

This revolting campaign is supported by a collection of idiots and bigots. Please, please, please do not join them.
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