Praying for Japan is imbecilic – donate, too

(This is an article for next week’s QMessenger, QMSU’s fortnightly paper: www.qmsu.org/qmedia)

The world according to Johann Hari is a sweeter place. This month, at the AHS Convention in London, he took a few minutes of a speech on religious privilege to rail against the #prayforJapan hash tag on Twitter which has recently gone completely supernova. Two weeks ago, he came under attack for a tweet which criticised those praying for survivors of events in Japan. ‘Don’t pray for Japan, #donateforjapanhere’, he said. ‘Other humans will do a lot more than a fictitious supernatural being.’ For believers, praying for help from God (or, equally likely, the Flying Kitchen Ornament of Doom) can, I imagine, be comforting. It may feel like you are helping. But praying, short of making you feel better, has no value. Donate, too.

If you believe in God, you presumably believe in his omnipresence as Creator of the Universe and, at the very least, in his omniscience and omnipotence. The Epicurean paradox nicely shows this as an impossibility: 

‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?’ 

The point is that if God were able to prevent the earthquake in Japan and chose not to, then we have a serious moral problem. Is God right? Are thousands of deaths acceptable if they are part of His plan? Alternatively, if He was not able to prevent it then how can He be the master of fates, of time and space? If He cannot control events like this, why pray for His help? The only justification for prayer alone is self-gratification or delusion.

For believers, I have no doubt that praying to God may allow them to feel as if they are communicating with Him, that He is listening to their hopes and compassion and they may hope that, in His mercy, He will protect the people of Japan. However, there is no empirical proof that prayer achieves anything short of a boost in comfort for the person praying. If God exists and if He listens to prayers (spoiler: He doesn’t), is this the kind of God we want? One who will only be satisfied by calls for Him to act, one who causes an enormous natural disaster and waits for pleas for mercy, one who kills thousands of innocent people and who will only be placated if he trends on Twitter. 

It is a little rude to call those who pray idiotic. But even those most steadfast in their faith, most devoted in their religious convictions, cannot truly believe that prayer and prayer alone will aid intervention. It is also a little childish to be so sneering towards those who choose prayer as action. However, such apparent churlishness serves to illustrate a point: the immunity that religious ideas, actions and institutions are afforded in our society allows them a unique and dangerous opportunity to cause an immense detriment to that society. Whether it is the primacy of prayer, the intolerance of homosexuality or the cover-up of institutional paedophilia, religions having been getting away with too much for too long. More should (and will) be done to redress this balance, but we can start by making appeals to common human interests – not false deities.

The earthquake in Japan was a natural disaster which can be explained by plate tectonics, by geological research, by the natural order of things; by empirical, rational proof. And survivors can be saved not by divine intervention – not by the late entrance of a lackadaisical/capricious fool/bully – but by humans. Equipment, volunteers, aid, administration, dedication, hard work, compassion and the base values of humanity will help save hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Pray if it makes you feel better. Dance a salsa, kill a pig. Do whatever feels like helping. But donate, too. 

To give to the Red Cross’s Japan Tsunami Appeal, go to http://www.redcross.org.uk/Donate-Now/Make-a-single-donation/Japan-Tsunami-Appeal

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Hate… Banter

(This is a piece for a forthcoming issue of Cub, the Queen Mary Students’ Union magazine. The other half is an article in favour of ‘banter’.)

Nobody hates banter. That’s ridiculous. Likewise, nobody hates taking the piss with friends, making jokes, bla bla. But ‘banter’ is like a wipeaway word for spectacular arseholery – as long as it’s good banter, nobody gets hurt. If it’s just a joke, you can justify the objectionable scat you fling. Right? 

A few weeks ago, the BBC had to apologise to the Mexican ambassador for jokes made on Top Gear about Mexicans being ‘lazy, feckless and flatulent’. If you’re the kind of fetid blood clot who watches Top Gear and, while pounding your knuckles into your chest in delight, you gurgle excitedly at national stereotypes, then you probably think that James May absolving blame on air by saying ‘people shouldn’t take what we say seriously’ is happy days. The BBC apologised to Mexico by claiming it was all a bloomin’ great joke. ‘Our own comedians make jokes about the British being terrible cooks and terrible romantics, and we in turn make jokes about the Italians being disorganised and overdramatic, the French being arrogant and the Germans being overorganised,’ the BBC said. The Mexicans don’t understand. In Britain, we make jokes about other countries. Holland, you are a bunch of c*nts. And don’t get us started on the Albanians. (Actually, they’re all car-stealing mafia stooges, apparently. Thanks, Hammond.)

Whatever the BBC ‘represents’ aside, it is remarkable that they gaily stepped forward to define to Mexico and the world what British humour is. It’s banter. It’s xenophobia. It’s offensive cliches. It’s flat-out racism. It’s homophobia, sexism and tactless, macho baiting and foul insults. And they were silly to complain. IT’S JUST A JOKE. Top Gear is just about twenty-first-century man cutting loose, freeing himself from the shackles of that nasty PC racket, from feminists and Muslims, from health and safety inspectors, from Harriet Harman and from basic fucking decency. a ‘Banter’ cannot be loosely defined as taking the piss – or everything is OK and everyone is due a whack. Society determines what and who we can take the piss out of, but the boundaries are unclear – and ‘banter’ cares not for who it ridicules. Ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the disabled: no. (‘Booooooo!’, yells Clarkson.) Fatties, gingers, the lanky, the poor, the rich, the ugly, the poorly-dressed: yes. Have a right good go, mate. Before the PC brigade get you. Before a basic attempt at common courtesy and respect thwarts your erectile ambition to be an unparalleled dick. 

George Lucas: Shit or get off the pot

Goodness me, George Lucas’s hands must hurt. The cavernous abrasions on his palms from wringing every, damn last drop of cash from his Star Wars legacy must now be so deep you could fly X-wings down ‘em. This week, he announced that along with the Blu-Ray re-releases of all six films in 2011, we’ll be getting all six in 3D at some point in 2012, making 2010’s forthcoming Red Wings the only film in sixteen years that Lucasfilm has released which isn’t part of either the Star Wars or Indiana Jones series.

 

Now. I am a giggling twerp when it comes to Star Wars. I first saw the original trilogy when I was 10, was too young to hate The Phantom Menace on first viewing like everyone else and despite the relentless, stabbing-in-your-eye-with-a-compass wretchedness of the prequels, I remain a fan. The Empire Strikes Back is a genuinely brilliant movie – dark, smart, moodily shot and beautifully imagined (Bespin, anyone?) – which stands so far above the rest of the canon as a standalone piece of art that the subsequent films, Ewoks and Jar Jar aside, suffer from the ecstatic heights reached by this masterpiece. So with the announcement that the complete canon will be revisited in 3D for UK audiences in 2012, I experienced something of a tingle dans la dingle.

 

This does little, however, to satisfy detractors who (rightly) criticise the never ending ladder of re-releases on VHS, on Betamax, on Laserdisc, on DVD, on Special Edition DVD, on Widescreen DVD, on Complete Collector’s Edition DVD, on Prequel Trilogy Boxset DVD and now Blu-Ray. No other director in recent history has pissed on their own bed quite as much as Lucas. Except that is, in the alternate galaxy far, far away where all filmmakers are equally as feckless: a war sequel to The Apartment set in the Vietnamese jungle or Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II On Ice!…  

 

In fact, no director has managed to so successfully ruin their own movies by simply making more movies. Episode III of the Star Wars prequels probably plumbed new lows, especially for Lucas’s ludicrous inability to write dialogue, including these stormers:

 

“Hold me, Ani. Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo…where there was nothing but our love…”

 

“You’re so beautiful.” 

“That’s only because I’m so in love.” 

“No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.”

 

Wow. HEAVE. More than that, he crippled his creation with his own thoughtless, whimsy politics. His permanent moralising over the light and dark sides of the Force (it still, still sounds ridiculous) to the point where you just wish the good guys would all bugger off and get their heads stoved in without preaching some stoic, pseudo-philosobollocks. In fact, Lucas has created an arse-clenchingly saccharine image of the universe. Who farts? When do they wee? Why aren’t they drinking themselves silly? Or smoking? Why is everything shiny and everyone so bloody clean? The only point of the whole series when anyone looks anything other than airbrushed to within an inch of their tits is when Anakin is crisping up in some lava (and, incidentally, smoking), but by that point you’re so damn irritated with how rubbish the whole thing is, you’d be quite happy to kick him back down the slope and watch him melt like a grilled cheese slice. Incredibly, even worse than Episodes I-III was Indy VI, a film so facebatteringly awful it was like spending 112 minutes trying to pass a chilli-covered Bop It but where Shia LeBoeuf ACTUALLY swung through trees with monkeys and where Indy ACTUALLY survived a point-blank nuclear explosion by getting in A FRIDGE. 

 

It is galling that Lucas has suggested a return to Indy for a fifth money-spinner, more so that it coincides with a future Star Wars TV series and over three straight years of re-releases of old material from his production company. Lucas hasn’t directed a movie that isn’t Star Wars since 1973 and one that hasn’t blown since 1977. With his empire and his influence, it’s a lazy output from a filmmaker who has lost ideas and lost his legacy. Stick or bust. George: shit or get off the pot. 

In defence of John Terry. Sort of.

In defence of John Terry. Sort of.

After days and days and days and bloody days of tabloid back-slapping, scandal and champagne-cork-poppery, the media finally bumraped Fabio Capello into submission and he sacked John Terry over allegations about his private life earlier this afternoon. Now, let’s get something sorted up top. John Terry is a bellend of unbelievable proportions. He is an end of such bellish quality, a preening twat of such low integrity, class, wit, style, morality, respect, intelligence, human decency and basic fucking awareness that the vast majority of us wouldn’t flick piss at him from our jacuzzis of piss if the whole world was an ocean of piss and he was crackling nicely in flames before us like a chestnut roasting on an open piss. As much as we may dislike him, even before we all knew he had been adulterously popping his 3-inch in the ex-girlfriend of his mate and work colleague, there are much deeper issues that are evidently at play here which are not necessarily Terry’s fault. So I’m going to bloody stick up for him.

First of all, the role of England captain is a bit of a pile of tug, the equivalent of being, say, the person who has to give out the handouts in a class because the lecturer is busy doing other, more important stuff like proper teaching and that. Terry is merely there to repeat what Capello said in the team-talk ten minutes ago in a barks-orders-on-the-field-like-a-good-old-fashioned-English-centre-half-like-Terry-Butcher-with-the-bandage-round-his-head-blah-blah kind of way. In Italy, the captain of the national side is simply the one with the most number of caps for his country and they did pretty bloody well at the last World Cup without bricking a bumload about whether their captain could be like fucking Henry V.

Of actual interest in this scandal is the stuff about privacy laws and Terry’s failure to place a ‘superinjunction’ on the leak of the story. (By the way, what the Christ is a ‘superinjunction’? The alter ego of a regular, newspaper-reporter injunction? ‘Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a…’ No, you’re right, that joke isn’t funny…) Just because being the England captain is a relatively public role does not mean that we automatically have a RIGHT to know everything about John Terry’s private life. There is a fine line – but a big difference – between ensuring the freedom of the press and giving The News of the World the legal licence to effectively pull your bum out and check for evidence of a kinky, spanky sex life. And who the hell gave you the right to think that, just because he is England captain, John Terry represents you? Or that the FA, or Capello, or Chelsea, or FIFA give a shit whether you think he is an adequate role model? It’s sport for goodness sake. He doesn’t have to answer to you. Quit moaning.

Also, nobody seems to have considered that this ‘news’ story boils down to a story about the questionable fidelity of a footballer. (Shock! Horror! Exclamation mark!) Footballers are not really the moral Aristotles of our fractured Britain. In fact, how can any of us relate to the moral realities of being a Premiership footballer? From the age of about 7, you are constantly told how special and talented you are, and how you will play for Manchester United and earn millions and be the most wonderfulest football kickerer in all the universe and that you are more special than any other boy your age, blah blah. Then, you earn more money than you will ever be able to spend at the same age your mates have just discovered handjobs and driving Citroen Saxos into lampposts. And with all the money, all the free time, your dream career sewn up, the pick of attractive women, the jealousy of blokes all over the world and a belief that you are the greatest human that’s walked the Earth since the Lord God Stephen Fry himself, is it really surprising if you have a slightly blurred world perspective? John Terry may well be a quite remarkable tosser, but it’s easy to judge when we cannot say for certain we would have done any differently if we were him.

So as Terry has gone, who do we present to the angry proles as our new captain? Another argument in his defence is the wave upon wave of unrelenting moral vacuums in the England team who might step up as fabulous ‘role models’. At the moment the favourite is Rio Ferdinand (drink driving, three other driving offences, made homophobic comments on live radio, missed a drugs test) over Steven Gerrard (punched a man in a nightclub, stood trial for ABH, persistent and high-profile diving) and Wayne Rooney (cheated on his girlfriend by sleeping with a prostitute, stamped on Ricardo Carvalho’s balls, at least three red cards for violent conduct, persistent and high-profile diving). And these are not three radical examples. Of England’s best lineup – minus Hargreaves who will probably miss the World Cup with injury and excluding good eggs David James, Emile Heskey and Aaron Lennon – the rest of the eleven includes Glen Johnson (alleged theft of a toilet seat from a B&Q, no, honestly…), Ashley Cole (Jesus in a Prius! Where to start? Fined for swearing at a police officer, speeding fines, nearly ‘crashed my car’ at Arsenal only offering £55000 a week instead of £60000, illegally met Chelsea representatives ahead of a move without the permission of Arsenal, also cheated on his wife, Cheryl Cole), Gareth Barry (stripped of Aston Villa captaincy for publicly attacking the club, promises to join Liverpool and switches to Manchester City for more money) and Frank Lampard (filmed a sex-tape with Rio Ferdinand, Kieron Dyer and an unnamed girl in the resort of Ayia Napa in Cyprus in 2000). You see the problem with the ‘role model’ argument?

So let’s not applaud John Terry for being a tricksy little hobbit, but consider the basis on which we want an England captain to be selected. Yes, there are footballers who are not niggling little bumtards like the majority of the England squad, but we need to appreciate the reality of football a little more – John Terry doesn’t deserve to be punished for the ugliness of that reality.

Making sense of the ahistorical Michael Owen myth

From Phil McBulty’s blog (‘Anfield’s day of destiny’, Friday 23rd October) on the BBC Sport website:

‘If Rooney comes up short, what price the intriguing inclusion of Michael Owen in Manchester United’s line-up against Liverpool at Anfield? The once unthinkable prospect.

Owen admits he is braced for a hostile reception given his perceived treachery in crossing this barrier of hostility – but how about some respect from The Kop for a magnificent servant to Liverpool?

It is not too great an exaggeration to say Owen won the FA Cup for Liverpool on his own against Arsenal in 2001. Is it too much to ask that this should be an abiding memory, not acrimony based on a perfectly logical career decision to join United after it became clear Liverpool boss Benitez did not want him back at Anfield?

Owen was not disloyal to Liverpool. He took a chance he could barely believe when Ferguson came calling.’

Football journalists are paid to know lots of interesting stuff about football and to write lots of interesting stuff about football. The Michael Owen will-he-be-booed-won’t-he-be-booed is an utter non-story and here’s why. The football media seems to have forgotten that Owen signing for Manchester United in 2009 is not the only reason he has his twatty face on the toilet paper at the Kop.

Owen left Liverpool for Real Madrid in 2004 for only £8m, a scandalously tiny amount for a world-class striker, owing to him entering the final year of his contract at Anfield. There is little doubt that had he been sold a year previously, or had he been two or three years away from the end of his contract, his value would be in excess of £20-25m (160 goals from 300 appearances for Liverpool, 24 goals from 26 international appearances is pretty bloody shiny). And not only was this shortfall a direct hit on the Liverpool finances – let’s not forget, these are the days prior to the Gillett and Hicks investment when Liverpool had only twice spent over this amount for a player, Emile Heskey in 2000 and El-Hadji Diouf in 2002 – but it was also a desperate sell in order to get some kind of financial compensation for Owen leaving the club.

With his contract due to expire in June 2005, Owen had repeatedly assured the club throughout 2003 and 2004 that he would sign a new contract and would not allow his contract to run down which would mean Liverpool losing a key player for free under the Bosman ruling. It was Owen’s failure to sign a contract, despite machinations of his intentions and repeated offers from the club, and the resulting cost to Liverpool that caused Reds fans to feel betrayed.

Owen was roundly booed at Anfield in 2005 when he returned for the first time with Newcastle United (see, for example, http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2005/dec/27/match.sport13). Yet the football media is content to forget recent history and pretend that his transfer to Manchester United is the cause of what will probably be a pretty nasty reaction. Even worse, the media seems to suggest that this is the result of a niggling tendency of modern football fans to boo any of their former players, no matter the circumstances of their departure nor the colours of their new employers. On the contrary, the collective memory of boyishly pretty, seventeen-year old Michael Owen bursting into the Premiership in 1997 and skinning Roberto Ayala for that wonderful goal in France in 1998 adds only to his veneration amongst the football media and Owen-apologist, face-like-balls, geezery fucknuts like Harry Redknapp who are supposed to know a thing or two about the game. Thankfully, Benitez, Fabio Capello and Liverpool fans can see sense.