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…