A Jesuit response to the BNP

My favourite poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was born down the road in Stratford. Hard-peddling anti-materialist and English patriot, here he is in anticipation of Nick Griffin.

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.


All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

We ape humans

Humans are enormously sophisticated animals. We have enacted redistributive tax systems, social security and international law. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with the distinction between human and animal. It’s not that I don’t love humans best.

But our behaviour towards animals is a profoundly bestial throwback, our own darkest animal tendency. It’s no coincidence that when we savage each other in genocide or ethnic cleansing, we call each other animals to legitimise the act. We treat non-human life so appallingly that calling a group of humans ‘untermensch’ or vermin is groundwork for driving them out or killing them. Our treatment of animals is a wide-open loophole in our ethical system. It is inhumane; it retards our pursuit of humanity.

Human treatment of animals bestialises human society. How can we be coherent about human rights while those of us who are already well-fed consume steak, latte, cheddar and fish filet, while we break the backs of mice, kill badgers in the interests of dairy farmers and (if the Conservatives gain power) hound foxes to death? On what do we base our protections? A sheep is more worked-out, capable of forming relationships and capable of suffering than a human infant. Until we have a system of justice which extends to all species, justice for our own species will languish, dependent on mental contortions and the turning of blind eyes – most of all to the hideous suffering congealed in the meat, cheese and egg on our plates.

Either suffering, slaughter, enslavement and physical coercion matter, or they don’t. Justice in our dealings with animals is necessary (though not necessarily sufficient) to justice for humanity.

Until then we’re savages with coiffures, more like the primates-in-drag in the PG Tips adverts than our idea of ourselves.


This post has been brought to you by my weekly recoil from the BBC’s deathly cookery show, Saturday Kitchen. As I watched the phenomenally wasteful art-chef Heston Blumenthal lavish more tender care and emotional investment on the corpse of a chicken than most chickens receive in their lifetimes, I began to feel quite unreal. Matt says we’ll look back on Saturday Kitchen the way we look back on the Black and White Minstrel Show today. Meanwhile it helps to keep in mind Manna’s transition to veganism and Intellectual Blackout’s participation in VeganMofo.

For the picture, hat-tip, Daniels Counter.

In the short term, it seems we’ve had it

Update Ed Miliband informs supporters of his action on climate change that sceptics are trying to ban this public info broadcast:

Try to put aside for a minute the crying rabbits and the breath-taking weirdness and fucked-upness of adults encouraging children to feel compassion towards animals which those same adults then consent to be needlessly slaughtered for food. I think that appealing to parents on behalf of their children, and parents appealing to people who don’t have children, and children appealing to adults and policy makers is appropriate and necessary. Scepticism about conserving a habitable planet is so beyond me that it is the polar opposite of what I’m worried about below.

I have the sense of being at the zenith of human existence, on the verge of precipitous decline related to our activities as a species. I sense war, retribution and fatal poverty in my lifetime as those of us in the shrinking habitable zone are forced to slaughter and beat back the migrating hoards who are trying to enter it.  Whole civilisations will drown, ruin each other, or shrivel up and die, and the rest of us will find out the meaning of ‘Dark Ages’.

Here (via Matt) is Melvin Bragg trying to shrug off a conversation between his sedimentologist, paleontologist and paleoclimatologist guests after the recording of a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time.


Still golden autumn days in London. Left Broadcasting House to go for a meeting at BAFTA in Piccadilly. Down Regent Street, across into Savile Row, through Burlington Arcade and met friends strolling along Piccadilly with all the nonchalance and leisure of a family in a 19th century novel. Sometimes even the West End of London can seem like a village. By the time I got to the meeting I had just about shaken down into the real world of time, but I must say that trying to crunch the millions of years, not so much into a pattern but into a digestible reality, had been a tough one.

The conclusion that all three of them came to in the chat afterwards was that the Earth will certainly cope. There’s no doubt that all the CO2 will be sucked down somehow or other and bury itself somewhere or other and, as happened about 50 million (or was it 550 million) years ago, things will change but continue. So, in the long term, the Earth’s great. In the short term, it seems we’ve had it. They agreed that it’s way too late to cut down CO2 emissions. There is a possibility of cleaning CO2 out of the atmosphere. For this we need nuclear reactors to power the scrubbers which will put CO2 back in the pits of Earth, such as those in the North Sea which were resultant from the oil industry. So there we are. That’s about as cheerful as it gets. When I challenged, or rather asked, Jane Francis how long she thought we’d got, she said a few years. But, as I said on the programme once or twice, what’s a few years to geologists? She muttered something about hundreds but refused to be committed on such a narrow basis.

Richard Corfield suddenly expressed a passion for the works of John Wyndham. He gave us a potted biog. It appears that Wyndham had written bodice rippers before the Second World War, but after the war came back to write what Corfield thinks are three great books based on science – The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos. I say based on science, by which I mean acceptable and even exciting to people who know a lot about science.

Jane Francis cheered us all up by saying that the ice sheets are melting, but there’s a sudden tipping point where the meltdown begins quite quickly – by which she means it takes a hundred years or so. I gather that she thinks we’re near that.

It’s just as well that I was going to have a bite and a glass with a pal for lunch.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Theories of behaviour change are quite clear: if you want people to change, you have to give us a mixture of hope, opportunity, reason and information. Tell us something unavoidable is on the horizon and we just carpe diem, hell for leather. But sometimes, on the other hand, we require something to focus the mind.

Porgy and Bess at the Royal Festival Hall

First ever night at the opera – the Cape Town Opera production was gorgeously and very moving; what was disappointing was that you can’t sing along (not done, and too far from the dot matrix display of the lyrics).

The story of Porgy and Bess is one of disadvantage, damage, hedonism and hard knocks. Crippled Porgy is an island of inner resourcefulness; around him nature and humankind fuse into an encompassing hostile environment which besets the community on Catfish Row. God is there, fortune is there, but inner qualities – principles, strength of character – are the only resources these people have to draw on.

Background to the production at The Independent, The Times, The Scotsman and The Guardian.

My favourite song is the mourning of Clara and Jake, ‘Clara, Clara, don’t you be downhearted‘ (be patient for the singing to begin).

Clara, Clara, don’t you be downhearted

Clara, Clara, don’t you be sad and lonesome

Jesus is walking on the water

Rise up and follow him home.

Oh lord, oh my Jesus

Rise up and follow him home, follow him home.

Jake, Jake, don’t you be downhearted

Jake, Jake, don’t you be sad and lonesome

Jesus is walking on the water

Rise up and follow him home.

Oh lord, oh my Jesus

Rise up and follow him home, follow him home.

Machiavellians at meetings

When I go for a meeting, it’s usually in a cooperative, facilitative, sympathetic and principled frame of mind, and I have had good experiences at meetings on the whole (with some notable exceptions associated with certain colleagues’ vanity or thirst for power).

Read Venkatesh Rao’s nasty, insightful piece on the 15 laws of meeting power, and from the bottom of that, a link to Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. This kind of thing:

“A meeting is a partly adversarial setting, and pure “active listening” is not enough. By the power of listening, I mean the power that lies in consciously keeping track of what was said and using it to make the points you want to make. The average short-term memory of a group stretches just to the very last thing that was said. Most people react only to this last thing, and don’t consciously attempt to remember anything before that. The canny listener tries his best to remember the highlights of everything he has heard and seen, for later use.

I learned this when I served on an interview panel interviewing high school students for a summer scholarship. A more experienced interviewer remarked that one of the signs of sophistication she looked for in a candidate was an instance of referring back to something that was said more than 10 minutes ago.

A corollary to the power of listening is the power of citation. Using what was said before gives you a lot of control. It is even more powerful if you remember who said it and what the exact words were, and can quote. Why? Because you automatically demonstrate that you were paying attention, making you more credible than others. Plus, you can temporarily borrow the “usual” supporters of the people you quote, because you did them the honor of remembering what their side said.”

It gets much more manipulative and ruthless than this. This is seductive stuff, but it’s also rotten. I mean, if a group has a poor collective memory then find a way to compensate for this which keeps concepts and arguments alive in its consciousness. Don’t exploit people’s weaknesses when those weaknesses may be serious handicaps for reaching the optimal decision for your organisation. Don’t be so arrogant as to assume that you’re not the bad apple. Don’t toy the deficits of meeting participants for your own amusement. Don’t be contemptuous of people with smaller intellects than you.


On the night of Nick Griffin, I watch Cosh Omar

Cobbled together an evening out for a few friends – we went to the Theatre Royal Stratford East to see the The Great Extension by Cosh Omar, who wrote The Battle of Green Lanes.

The cast is a refined tranny of Indian origian, a Sufi Turkiish landlord called Hassan, his son, Hassan, who suffers from alcohol-related amnesia, a couple of Bradford Salafi Islamists with an embarrassing Sufi grandad, their sister fugitive from an arranged marriage, their big-minded father, an ex-trade unionist native-Brit racist Conservative voting next-door neighbour, a diversity-trained police officer who is so enraptured by this multicultural tableau that he overlooks the crime scene behind the sofa, and a builder (of the eponymous extension) with something under his hat.

The play was a very enjoyable farce centred on prejudice and bigotry. Meanwhile, life was imitating art on Question Time, where a man leading a party whose constitution illegally excludes non-caucasians from membership got his chance to squirm under public scrutiny.

While Nick Griffin was given a voice, mine fell victim to an unprecedented throat infection and I remained practically mute for the after-show drinks. Now it’s gone completely.

10:10 – the ethical purchase of a microwave is not straightforward

I’m a car- and plane-avoiding, local-holidaying, good energy-buying, recycling, ecos paint-using, FSC-buying vegan, currently sitting in a sleeping bag to write this because I feel bad, in the knowledge that national domestic emissions far outstrip the individual ones I’ve just outlined above, that I haven’t done the recommended draught exclusion (I will!).

Interested readers will have followed my tribulations trying to live up to my 10:10 campaign pledge to cut my emissions by at least 10% by October 2010.

Well, this weekend our faithful old microwave went crunk and a burnt smell invaded the kitchen. We have a small baby, just on solids, and a little girl coming to stay next weekend, and no way of hanging round the house waiting for a weekday delivery, so we wanted to move fast. How were we going to choose a microwave?

Here’s the problem: the ethics-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Ethical Consumer, Good Shopping) don’t care about quality and the quality-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Which) don’t care about ethics.

A further problem – Ethical Consumer’s Ethiscore for microwaves is at least three years out of date, and doesn’t tally at all with the Good Shopping score.

A further problem – the most recent issue of Ethical Consumer mag had a sunny ‘Boycott Israel Special’ news roundup, in which the only dissenting voice was a tiny expression of dismay from David Miliband. In this jolly little special, they promoted the academic, social and material boycott campaign without setting out what they hope to topple with the boycott (end Israel?), nor the ways in which they expect the boycott to effect this (clerical fascists win?), nor the endpoints for the boycott (Israel is cancelled), nor the difference between avoiding helping the settler movement on the one hand and boycotting all of Israel on the other (the difference is enormous), nor any history of the conflict (i.e. that there are two sides). I found Ethical Consumer deeply unethical, and am almost certain that they would have been promoting a boycott of Jews in 1930s Germany, simply because it was going on at the time and consumer boycotts make them happy. So I find this unsettling, as would you if you were trying to buy in such a way that you did the right thing by people, animals and the planet, and the organisation you turned to for serious input revealed some rather squalid practices of its own. To put it another way – I no longer have confidence Ethical Consumer’s judgement. Good Shopping’s write-ups are undated. Incidentally, I haven’t analysed the difference between Ethical Consumer and Good Shopping. Perhaps they split back in the day… rivalry at the top or something.

So, after toying with a Whirlpool model which cost £100 more and didn’t seem to promise any extra quality, we ended up going for a simple £64 Sanyo model. Sanyo’s a good company according to Good Shopping, and a medium scorer according to Ethiscore back in 2006, with a good score on the environmental side of things. Although Which said ‘Don’t Buy’, that was because the Reheat function wasn’t achieving 70% in the required time, or without considerable loss of the food’s volume. We figured that you’d only care about that if you are worried about being poisoned by the water-injected animal flesh you shouldn’t be eating. If we want to find out if something’s hot enough, we tend to put our finger in it.

We got the new microwave from Curry’s because they recycle our old one – less car trips (should we have waited and recycled via council facilities, though?).

All this took a while. I’m not happy. Do I really have to check everything in this life? In the absence of good ethical international law about manufacture, distribution and investment, can somebody sort out a merger between, for example, Which and Good Shopping?

In other news, when we gutted our house I kept a working fireplace so we could eat and keep warm in the event of the power cuts I predict. This year, because of 10:10, I have finally got a draught-excluding chimney balloon. (Why not a bin-bag filled with bubble-wrap, you ask? Too dirty when you take it out and hard to store when you want the drafts in summer.) Pathetically, half of my procrastination was down to a dread of putting my hand up the chimney to take its dimensions. To do – end the drafts in our still-gutted kitchen, including the terribly windy keyhole. Get sausage dogs for the doors (but are they too much of a trip hazard?)

10:10 is living proof of the power of a pledge.

Update: I should mention work too. Last week I prevented the purchase of a laminator by lending ours (which is mostly unused). A setback though – a new colleague prints out emails for me even though I’m one of the addressees, and uses fresh paper as scrap paper, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Well, I offered to do his recycling (it’s on my way). Maybe if he realises somebody is concerned about such things he’ll also be concerned, out of natural supportiveness. It’s easier with my other colleague – I just use his daughter’s future well-being as a stick to beat him with (we have a very married-couplish relationship, so I can get away with it, moreover he is a big-minded kind of bloke who rises above the discomfort of a guilt trip and considers the issues at hand). Also at work I successfully suggested a recycling scheme for a certain type of oil-based product which, though very durable, is thrown away nearly-new on a horrifying scale as if it were disposable, but which is always in demand. It went to the top, they liked it and apparently there will now be boxes for these objects in each department. It remains to be seen how long it will take (I’ve been warned). But it feels very urgent… landfill tax…

How is this national news?

Tell of this on a BBC Radio 4 10 a.m. news bulletin was weird. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why reporting it was felt to be of national importance.

The nastiness of the case in question aside (and indeed, the BBC didn’t really go into that) how did it happen that this community gnat fight made national news?


  • The news (for racist thickos) is the earth-shattering fact that some Jews wish to challenge the financial sector, while other Jews have a significant vested interest in the financial sector.
  • The news is that Jewish capitalism has so corrupted the Jewish faith that they’ll even get the knives out for their own if they stand in their way
  • The news is simply that Jews fight. The BBC is titillated by internecine squabble in the organised Jewish community. But then again they didn’t really report it. So, alternatively, the BBC simply considers it news that Jews do not share a common purpose.

So, the BBC is reporting something unworthy of report. And in doing this strange thing in such a stilted way, it opens the story up to interpretations which are racist or are based on racist views (if you can tell the difference). You can’t afford to do that these days.

“The belly which has no ears”: Saturday Kitchen, sex, and institutionalised violence

As Matt and I lumpenly watched Saturday Kitchen on the BBC this morning, I felt the familiar feeling of living in ill times.

The Hairy Bakers served up confectionery-studded portions of rich chocolate cake as big as your head to tiny eager children and amused themselves by breaking eggs into a wheelbarrow of wedding cake-mix. Rick Stein boiled up some corpse on the bone and garnished it with bird’s egg. Some wild food man competed at the Women’s Institute with an under-collagened jelly. James Martin, the host, served up an egg and butter pie with two sorts of cow cream. And eight male finalists cooked for the homecoming British troops at the Imperial War Museum with contorted animal parts or derived substances in every course of every menu. Basically, the programme was a piece of institutionalised violence against animals (and in the background, between the troops and their adversaries) in the almost total absence of women.

The mixture of sexist slight and revolting display of death and dismemberment had me mentally reeling and a memory came of a vegan academic friend of mine talking about the ecofeminist Carol Adams – here she is through the eyes of a Harvard student who attended one of her lectures. Carol Adams authored The Sexual Politics of Meat. I went to look at it on Google Books to see if I could get a little insight. In common with my friend, I am wary of the views of Carol Adams because I don’t think her vegetarianism hangs together with her feminism to my satisfaction. Also I don’t want to “negate the dominant world” as such, and I don’t think her premises are borne out in actuality. For example, “eat rice, have faith in women” is not going to cut it, and the current woman-free vogue for baking on Saturday kitchen spoils the virility=meat argument (p16), notwithstanding our collective male-hunter / female-gatherer past. And I’m not convinced that it is inherently patriarchal to believe that the end justifies the means (p23). Yes, people with power have always eaten meat – and the first thing poor people do when their circumstances improve is improve their diets, usually with meat, and to ascribe this to status-seeking is missing out a hell of a lot. And I don’t think you can tell all that much about contemporary society from cherry-picked Greek myths, and have never understood why so many critical theorists attempt this. And though I have a very womanly lack of self-belief which I think resides in poor gender role-models who themselves had poor role-models, in combination with neglect by the men who have professional and political power over me whose decisions circumscribe a lot of mine, I have law on my side and am not inclined to consider myself as oppressed by men.

And while I’d shun the comparison which does most of the work in the following from Isaac Bashevis Singer, maybe I shouldn’t if I accept the implications of his point, and I think I do.

“As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he had always had the same thought: in their behaviour towards creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme of racist theories, the principle that might is right.”

Which leaves me where? Humans are a menace? Is that what I think? I don’t think I think that. So is the comparison wrong? It feels right… It’s not the same as comparing George Bush to Hitler. Perhaps I think of humans as sophisticated animals with tendencies we recognise as needing to be restrained – by each self, preferably, with the law as a protection against that failing. Would somebody care to respond? Besides my friend, who is in the throes of her thesis and can’t talk much, Norm and Eve Garrard (I should read that book) are the only people I’m aware of with my kind of politics who care much about this.

However, the following points are worth thinking on:

“Justice should not be so fragile a commodity that it cannot be extended beyond the species barrier of Homo sapiens” (p22).

“When one lacks power in the dominant culture, such disempowerment may make one more alert to other forms of disempowerment” (p22).

Apparently 80% of the animal advocacy movement is women (p21).

True, I lack power – but it’s because I don’t find it right to seek it in a hierarchical system, knowing that I’d only be climbing it to flatten it takes a lot of character, brain and energy. Still, maybe this sheds some light about why I often wonder about how it happened that Al Gore could make a seminal film about climate change which passed over the huge climactic problem of farmed cows, his family’s business. And why I also often wonder about the time a single-issue campaigner, who thought so hard and argued so eloquently for the rights of one social group, smacked his lips over my Guardian supplement on the ill treatment of pigs, the cover splash of which was a large close-up image of fried bacon. And, not to let him off the hook, after my cold wordless anger had subsided I acknowledged that I consider more social ills to be connected than most people do, and that this makes me vulnerable to totalitarianism which I so far recognise and avoid, but maybe over-aggressively and to the detriment of making arguments for change. And maybe it’s part of the reason why I spend so much time troubled by how it came to be that so many of the most prominent totalitarian socialists are unrelatedly a) men and b) eat animal parts and substances.

And that’s as far as I’ve got.

“It is a difficult matter to argue with the belly since it has no ears” is attributed to the Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato.

Preserve us from law-making clerics. One Law for All rally, 21 Nov 2009

To set the scene for what comes below: religiously-motivated law-making in action – Hamas bans women from riding on motorcycles.

Via Facebook:

Why November 21 is an important day for you

The One Law for All campaign is organising a rally against Sharia and all religious-based laws in Britain and across the world and in defence of human rights and secularism on November 21 in London.  Rally organisers are calling upon those who cannot get to London to organise rallies or acts of solidarity in various cities across the globe.

A public show of opposition is crucial at a time when Sharia law is on the rise in many places and is being touted as a ‘right’ and a ‘choice’ when it is anything but these things.

Contrary to the misinformation peddled by their proponents and the far Right, Sharia courts are the demand of the political Islamic movement. They are not the demand of ordinary Muslims or those labelled as Muslims (since there are just as many differences of opinion and belief in all so-called Muslim communities as among others).  Do not forget that these very “Muslims” are the first victims of and dissenters against Sharia law.

If it were really the desire of “Muslims” to be stoned to death for sex outside of marriage, hanged for being gay, executed for being apostates, flogged for eating during Ramadan, forcibly veiled and segregated from childhood, Islamic states and the regressive Islamic movement would not need to resort to such indiscriminate violence and brutality.

Only recently, this ‘cuddly’ Sharia law convicted Lubna Hussein of ‘indecency’ for wearing trousers in the Sudan, sentenced a man to be flogged for drinking alcohol in Malaysia, and sentenced a 75 year-old woman, Khamisa Sawadi to four months in prison, 40 lashes and deportation in Saudi Arabia for meeting with two young men who were not relatives who brought her bread. Just today, on October 11, 2009 – a day after the International Day against the Death Penalty – the Islamic regime of Iran executed juvenile offender Behnoud Shojaee; there are at least 160 juveniles on death row in Iran, including for homosexuality, apostasy, sex outside of marriage and involvement in school or street fights that have resulted in murder.

In this year alone, MPs in the Indonesian province of Aceh unanimously passed a law which stones adulterers to death and Sharia was introduced across the country in Somalia and in Pakistan’s Swat region. And as if Sharia law were not enough for ‘liberated’ Afghanistan, its parliament recently passed a new “rape law”  for ‘Shias’ which requires, among other things, that women submit to sex with their husbands at least every four days, with few exemptions.

And it is not just men, women and children who are targeted by Sharia; even mannequins (wax models) are.  This week, again in Iran, the police warned shopkeepers that they should not display female mannequins without a hijab or showing bodily curves.  The list goes on and on.

Of course, when it comes to Britain, Sharia councils and tribunals do not issue stoning sentences but that is not because they think it is wrong to do so – it is because this is the ‘duty’ of Islamic states.  (Even here, though, Sharia judges have been known to advocate stoning.)  And whilst there is a significant difference between letting Islamic courts and councils decide on civil matters and giving them jurisdiction in criminal cases, this difference is a matter of degree only; the fundamentals are the same. In fact, discriminatory family and personal status codes are important pillars in the oppression of women in Islamic states. Losing custody of your child at a pre-set age irrespective of the child’s welfare, being told to remain in an abusive relationship or having your forced marriage rubberstamped with the approval of these sham courts can be just as destructive.

Whether in Pakistan, Somalia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Britain, Sharia law concerns us because we are concerned about human rights and peoples’ freedoms.  Sharia and religious laws in general do not belong to the 21st century.  We will not let the political Islamic movement drag us back to the Middle Ages.

So November 21 is an important day for all of us to oppose Sharia and all religious laws and defend human rights and secularism.  Join us in London’s Hyde Park from 1200 until 1400 hours.  If you can’t come to London, why not organise a rally or act of solidarity in the city centre where you live on the same day?  If you coordinate it with us beforehand, we could upload photos and film footage of your acts on our website.

We will also respond every day beginning Monday 12 October to one question or comment emailed to us or posted on our website here: http://www.facebook.com/l/62551;www.onelawforall.org.uk/universal-childrens-day-and-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-violence-against-women/ until November 20 so that we can help to draw attention to this important campaign.

And please don’t forget to donate to One Law for All.  We urgently need money to do all that still needs to be done to get rid of Sharia.  Every bit helps so please do take the time to send us a cheque made payable to One Law for All or by donating via Paypal by visiting http://www.facebook.com/l/62551;www.onelawforall.org.uk/donate.html.

Thank you.

We look forward to a successful rally in London and elsewhere.

Warm wishes


Maryam Namazie
One Law for All
BM Box 2387
London WC1N 3XX, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 7719166731