Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Religion

Just got back from watching On Religion at the Soho Theatre a collaboration between the playwright Mick Gordon and the philosopher A C Grayling.

I went expecting a theatrical essay on the current vogue for debating the God Question (or Delusion), but what I saw was actually a quite touching play about love and family as well as faith. The intellectual arguments are there. Anybody who has read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion will recognise many of the arguments (and even one anecdote) that Grace, the evolutionary biologist and atheist/naturalist Mother, puts forward in her fights with her son Tom, a lawyer who has decided to train to be a priest. This ongoing fight between mother and son, naturalist and supernaturalist, forms the dramatic centre around which the rest of the play revolves as the family is torn apart by both by Tom's death and Grace's reaction to it.

Although full of polemics it never feels polemical. Although one suspects that the playwrights' sympathy's lie with Grace (in fact in the case of Grayling his book What is Good? makes his position quite clear) it is in fact Tom who is the more sympathetically drawn character, espousing a progressive theology that appealed at times even to this committed heathen.

Its not a great play or production, but a very good one. The acting is competent rather than sparkling (save Gemma Jones as Grace who is never anything less than riveting), and the sparse staging and direction is professional but not particularly memorable. However at £7.50 for the matinee and only £15 full price I doubt there is a better value straight play on the London stage at the moment, and few better at any price.

Cocks Win! Cocks Win! (University of South Carolina 44 - University of Houston 36)

I spent a year at the University of South Carolina as an undergraduate and it left me with an enduring love of both baseball and american football, and I've been following the fortunes of the South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks in both sports ever since.

It was therefore with some measure of excitement that I paid my 14 bucks last night for the PPV stream of the Liberty Bowl and spent five hours alternating between peering at my laptop's screen and jumping around the room in excitement/frustration.

Suffice to say the Cocks hung on for the win in a shootout, and to cap it off Clemson (Carolina's arch rival) got whipped. I'm sure there are going to be plenty of people waking up in Columbia SC with hangovers this morning, I wish I was one of them.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Forwards win matches - not at Worcester (Worcester 20 - Harlequins 27)

Harlequins beat Worcester in last nights bottom of the table clash, leaving Worcester adrift and looking at their messageboards this morning without hope.

I wasn't at the game so can't really comment, but looking at today's coverage in the press and the comments on comeallwithin this morning it seems like we got stuffed up front. Now one thing I've had drummed into me since I started watching rugby seriously is that "forwards win matches", the backs merely decide by how much.

It appears that Worcester, however, are trying to turn this maxim on its head. When they played at the Stoop earlier in their season their backline looked slower and more laboured than many of the ones we faced in division 1 last year. Now it appears that they have given up completly, gifting quins two of three tries last night through ineptitude and offering paper thin defence for the other. This in a game reduced to uncontested scrums after both of Quins props buckled under/took a dive due to (delete as appropriate to your level of cynicism) the pressure the Worcester scrum was putting on ours. If I were in the Warrior tight five I would be having words with their backline on Monday morning.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And people slag off the boundary commission

Whilst researching the last post I reacquainted myself with the Illinois 4th congressional district. It s without doubt the most beautiful piece of creative electoral geography I have seen. The US is indeed a shining beacon of democracy.

Rham Emauel - not someone to take home to meet mother

This profile of Rham Emauel in the US version of GQ caught my eye. Congressman Emauel is the outgoing chair of the DCCC, the body charged with getting Democrats elected to the House of Representatives, and as such can take a fair bit of credit the whipping the GOP got back in November.

The article is well worth a read for anybody who owns a West Wing box set, for a insight into how US politics really works.

Two things surprised me.

1) That no mention at all was made of the Congressman's home district (IL-05), he appears to not have even bothered going there on polling day. In the UK I can't believe that even the most arrogant Tory squire would take his seat that for granted, it shows what a decent bit of gerrymandering will do for you.

2) The fact that Emauel was willing to let a journalist portray him as a bit of a bastard (true a bloody effective one) and lay bare the splits in the Democrats so obviously. To me speaks of just how low politics has fallen in the esteem of cousins across the pond that such a top-drawer operative isn't worried about reputational risk of being seen like that. If they already think you are all bastards it doesn't matter if you act like one. I'm not sure whether to admire the honesty or to worry that some people are trying to drag UK politics the same way.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

One battle in the war on christmas we can all rally behind

As has been discussed infinitum around the blogosphere the "War on Christmas" is a reacurring myth cooked up by lazy columinists on right wing rags and news channels and dragged out every November/December when there aren't any gays/foreigners/poor people in the news for them to bash.

However, it appears that USDAW have decided to end the phoney war and go over top in a full frontal attack on christmas music being played in shops (Guardian story). Ok at the moment its more like a small skirmish, but quite frankly anything that brings the day when I can walk into a shop in December and not imediately want to rip my ears off closer is a good thing.

Build on backgardens not greenfields

If one was to believe everything that comes out of Cowley Street you might be forgiven for thinking that the Government was about to build a tower block on your back lawn. Only the brave Libdems are willing to stand in the way of this rape of our green and pleasant land. Except its bollocks.

According to the hands off our backgardens campaign site "The Government’s current planning policies treat your back garden as a “brownfield site” - like an old industrial site - which means they are vulnerable to infill development." (my emphasis).

Now I have two problems with this campaign.

First its a misleading scare story, I can see argument in policy terms but the way the petition is worded is to be kind a little over the top. Your garden is not vulnerabinfillfil development unless you sell it to a developer. Now I will accept that with a close reading of the statement above one could argue that the statement is factually correct, but it has be a bloody close reading.

Second given the state of the housing market in the south east we need to build more homes somewhere (or a radical rebalencing of the economic landscape so as to drive up demand in the north and cool it in the south, not something that is likely to happen soon). So the real policy choice is where.

The market will push you towards virgin greenfields, its cheaper to build on, and people like to live close to the countryside and will pay a premium to do so. However, the people already living next to the countryside tend to dislike having their views spoilt by bulldozers (and they tend to live in marginal constituencies); and the more green amongst us dislike the thought of people having to drive miles to get to work or the shops.

In many areas there aren't large tracts of industrial land waiting to be recycled, and where there is it will often be uneconomical to bring it back into use (see the billions the Government is throwing at the Thames Gateway). So often the only choice the council will have is to push development towards voids within existing settlements, that may involve using some backgardens, if they don't want to see the local greenbelt built on and provide for local housing need.

This isn't an argument for widespread building on backgardens, but that sometimes it will be the lesser of two evils. It certainly not something worth running a scare campaign on.

Beginning again

After an hiatus of over 3 years I have decided to start blogging again (my previous brief foray in 2003 is still available to laugh at).

Why? I hear the voices in my head ask, two reasons:

1) because I need to find a better way to work out my frustrations at yet another Harlequins/England loss than throwing a week long sulk

2) sometimes what I read on other blogs makes me what to bash the writers head against a brick wall until they promise to at least visit the real world occasionally

Obviously blogging about this won't help but it may just serve to spread the misery around.