Monday, March 31, 2008

Why Richard Dawkins Is Right

For as long as scientists have attempted to make sense of the world the church has tried to prevent them. It's only in recent years that the Vatican has conceded that, yes, maybe that Galileo guy was onto something.
It's therefore no surprise that the God Squad is resorting to its customary chicanery as Parliament debates the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (HFE).
The Independent on Sunday yesterday reported that an organisation called Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE) is financing its members as they masquerade as interns in the House of Commons ( ).
This none-too-subtle attempt at osmosis has its undoubted advantages, according to the IoS report:
"As research assistants, Care's interns can go unaccompanied to nearly all areas of Parliament and are allowed free access to documents that are out of bounds to journalists. Their passes also allow them to interact with all MPs in Portcullis House, the main meeting area of Westminster."
CARE's activities are not confined to Westminster, it transpires:
"Besides Westminster, interns have been placed in the Scottish and European Parliaments, the BBC and Whitehall."
Any puzzlement at the BBC being on their list should be dispelled by the thought that said interns may wish to work their way up in BBC journalism; editors & sub-editors dictate the agenda & tone of the Corporation's reporting.
As befitting its subject, the HFE is a complex piece of legislation, & I readily accept that there are valid reasons to question key areas of the bill. However, this is just the latest in a long line of squalid & intellectually cowardly attempts by the religious zealots to impose their own curious version of morality not just on society generally, but on the field of scientific advancement. Research in this field may yield immeasurable steps forward in tackling Alzeimer's, Parkinson's Disease & other hitherto untreatable conditions. It's time to face down these bigots.

The HFE debate has its local angle. Ian Hernon, Westminster reporter for the Liverpool Echo, remarks on the divisive nature of the Bill & the problems it poses for some local Labour MPs: .
Hernon writes:
"Gordon Brown was forced to back down and permit a free vote on hybrid embryos, the need for a father before IVF treatment and the creation of 'saviour siblings'-allowing the parents of a child with a serious medical condition to use IVF to create an identical brother or sister who will be an ideal donor.
Or did he? The free vote will only be allowed in the early stages of the bill's progress. When it is nearing completion, whether or not amendments have been passed, MPs will then be under a three-line whip.
And there will be no concessions on equally controversial clauses to allow parents with a history of genetic diseases to screen out embryos carrying the same condition, or to extend the rights of lesbian couples to access IVF treatment.
Bootle's Joe Benton fumed, 'It's a sham. It's total hypocrisy. What sort of free vote is this?'"
Ah, Joe. Yes, we all know that when it comes to matters such as this, you've always put your own views ahead of the constituents you're supposed to represent. Granted, the legacy of Irish settlement in Bootle & the north end of Liverpool has been a large Catholic factor in local politics down the decades. However, here's one Bootle constituent who thinks that the medical advances which could accrue due to this legislation far outweigh the agenda of the unthinking, mean-minded moralistic mob in their clamour to oppose the bill.
So, Joe, are you going to go with your "conscience", or are you finally going to remember the reason for your presence at Westminster?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free, But You Can Keep Them For The Birds & Bees

"90 grand? Jesus Christ! How did you fix that?"
"With A Little Help From My Friends!"

Tony Parrish continues his excellent digging on all the nefarious doings in Liverpool City Council's chambers (check out the latest news surrounding Paul Clein's departure from Bradley's sinking ship): .
Earlier this month Tony shed some new light on the true cost of Ringo's wobbly warble on top of St. George's Hall in January: .
Phil Redmond decided against giving the voice of Thomas the Tank Engine the £30,000 ($60,000 for any transatlantic readers) originally requested. Instead, Redmond, appearing to believe he would save council tax payers a shed load of money, offered only expenses. Ringo cottoned on to what he could conceivably claim & and agreed.
A suitably large entourage arrived with the "cute" Beatle (cute being the word) for a 10 (yes, ten) day stay at the city's Hope Street Hotel.
I do hope Ringo & pals were told they could get a decent pint for under £3.00 in the nearby Casa. Somehow, though, I doubt it.
Total cost (according to Tony): £90,000. Great thinking, Phil, a city thanks you.

Clogging Up The City's Lungs

In Happier Times

It's easy to mock the middle class denizens around Liverpool 17 when they write to the local press under the aegis of civic worthiness, calling themselves the Friends of Sefton Park, or organise activities based around the rejuvenation of the park's impressive Palm House.

Aigburth may have its less salubrious aspects, but Norris Green it ain't. To compare & contrast Stanley Park with Sefton Park is to compare & contrast in microcosm the marked & persistent gap between the north & south ends of the Liverpool area, including towns such as Bootle.

However, as Liverpool Confidential ( ), to its civic credit, reveals, the city council's policy of "maintenance" in the park looks more like an ugly attempt to concrete over one of the last great spaces of greenery in the city. I'm no horticulturist, but I accept that some trees need to be felled. However, the array of sorry-looking stumps where said trees once stood is tantamount to an eyesore.

The LC article takes a sarcastic & sardonic view of the park's condition. The lakes have been drained, leaving large areas of mud & silt, while the ducks have been replaced by pigeons & rats. A display of before & after photographs of different areas of the park shows the scale of deforestation & loss of flora & fauna. All this, the article drily notes, has been caused by the impact of a crashing asteroid.

Almost a quarter of the way into this year of "culture", Liverpool City Council is happy to bathe in the stagnant, toxic waters of ineptitude & cack-handedness.

Rumours that one of the rodents pricked up its ears when the name Jason Harborrow was mentioned are not confirmed by the Liverpool Confidential piece.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Broken Link

Here's the correct link for James Lawton's Independent piece: .

Headless Chicken Syndrome

It took me a day or so to compose my thoughts in something approaching a measured, dispassionate manner after Sunday's events at Old Trafford.
The reality is that, for all Steve Bennett's officious & pompous performance, Mascherano was the author of his own misfortune. His yellow card was warranted. A late lunge at Scholes with no possibility of winning the ball was reckless. However, instead of getting the message that he was on thin ice, the Argentinian went loco.
His command of English is accompanied by a knowledge of one of the oldest anglo-saxon epithets, something he was keen to demonstrate within earshot of Bennett. Added to this dubious linguistic facility was a penchant for sardonic observation of Bennett's inept handling of a powderkeg fixture.
There were harsh words for Mascherano's antics from James Lawton in today's Independent ( ), some of which were valid, others not. However, Lawton is spot-on when he observes:
"A pro's most basic obligation is to keep his head under any kind of circumstances. By looking for trouble, for abandoning self-control to such an extent, Mascherano effectively betrayed his team. He obliged them to face an entire half with only 10 men against the reigning champions, who were already a goal ahead."
This fixture is always difficult enough. What should be recognised, after the pathetic refereeing of Bennett has been dissected, is that one player's stupidity ended the match as any kind of contest.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Reds Wedged Out

"You do realise you'll be responsible for New Labour, don't you?"

A sharp intake of breath was to be heard across what used to be the Left last week with the revelation by David Cameron & other senior Tories that they loved The Jam's music. One of Cameron's entourage, Ed Vaizey even admitted to having a soft spot for The Redskins, who were SWP members.

A Guardian piece by Jude Rogers (,,2266773,00.html ) alludes to this as part of a wider examination of "political" music in the 21st century. Rogers refers to the political material recently produced by REM & Sheryl Crowe. However, as well as noting Cameron's risible statement (& Paul Weller's indignant response to it), Rogers identifies the obstacles for political songs these days: "The worst thing about our nimbyish, hard-to-satisfy society is that we think of proper passion in song turning into cliche in the blink of an eye."

Rogers also highlights a syndrome which will be all too familiar to anyone with an activist past: "These days, we think of political songs as products of nostalgia: politically engaged music is something from the past. To us, the songs that mattered so much are now often nothing more than idealistic receptacles for our youthful whims, songs that have formed who we are, but have no relevance to what we do today."

Too true; I have fond memories of the Red Wedge gig at Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre back in '87, but in retrospect, it was a campaign doomed to fail. Like countless others, I still have the Clash, Billy Bragg, The Jam, et al on vinyl, but wouldn't play much of it today.

Monday, March 17, 2008


After last week's heroics at Stadio San Siro Tony Karon ( ) let me know about a YouTube clip which any Liverpool supporter will find irresistible:
That is the link for the first part of the video; parts 2 & 3 are in the related videos category.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Into The Cauldron

Liverpool Football Club is in the news this evening for the right reasons, & also, alas, the wrong ones too (more of which anon).
Tony Karon emails me with a link to his Rootless Cosmopolitan blog in the wake of a welcome return to form ( ), noting that "the reason Liverpool is winning again is that the 4-2-3-1 formation allows each of them to play his best game".
It might be recalled that I wasn't too optimistic before the first leg at Anfield. The Jeremiah in me feared the worst, but those qualms were well & truly dispelled by a stirring 2-0 victory.
Going into the second leg at San Siro, Liverpool's recent form fills me with a cautious confidence.
As Tony notes on his post, "Finally, Liverpool fans have reason to believe again, even if our beloved football club is currently the object of a bizarre game of chicken between rival billionaire investors."
On the subject of which..........
The news wires began to hum this afternoon on the news that Tom Hicks has decided to "terminate" talks with DIC:,,2263987,00.html .
After yesterday's Texan tirade against alleged & perceived leaks to the media from DIC's corner over some of the negotiations, Hicks has now cited his chief reason for ending the talks:
"DIC made it clear that if they invested in the club, they would want it to be managed by committee. Based on my 13 years of successful experience as an owner of professional sports teams, and based in particular on the situation at Liverpool Football Club over the past year, it is clear to me that such a committee approach would not be in the best interest of Kop [Hicks' holding company], of the club or of the club's loyal and passionate supporters."
The fans' loyalty & passion was, of course, made evident to Tom Hicks Jnr. last month at the Sandon pub.
It's worth observing that much of the US sports media doesn't share Hicks' assessment of his 13 year involvement with sports Stateside as "successful".
The news will undoubtedly anger most fans after a growing belief, based on briefings to the media from both sides, that a deal was if not imminent, then well on the way to completion. Indeed, it was presented to some reporters as a fait accompli. I suspected that DIC saw their mooted 49% stake in the club as a stepping stone to full control. Hicks probably saw things that way, too, albeit, I'd wager, late in the day. Hence today's unexpected news.
Chaos still reigns; Gillett is as hard to track down as a virgin in a brothel & the whole ownership issue is even more of a mess than before.
What will further anger most fans is the timing of the announcement. Then again, Hicks has form here. On the eve of last year's Champions League Final in Athens he gave an interview in which he compared his & Gillett's Anfield takeover to his acquisition of Weetabix. It was a glib, dismissive & insulting analogy which was, pardon the pun, hard to swallow.
It's difficult to divine Hicks' deeper motives at present. Mind games are to be expected from this latterday JR Ewing figure, but, as his son's seemingly inexplicable decision to walk through the Sandon's doors indicates, this is a family which either doesn't know that it's exacerbating relations with the fans, or knows it only too well, but is inviting a disastrous rift with the supporters.

Monday, March 03, 2008

From A Distance

Saturday's edition of the Culture Show on BBC2 ( ), which is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer until next Saturday, included a feature on the changing face of Liverpool by the architecture writer Tom Dyckhoff. Focusing on the Big Dig in the city centre, Dyckhoff swooped over the waterfront in a helicopter as he waxed lyrical about some, though not all, developments on the city's skyline. The helicopter shots were impressive, if a little heavy on the panoramic angles. A pity, then, that Dyckhoff should fall into the metropolitan hack's default mindset by juxtaposing images of the Toxteth riots in 1981 with footage of the marches & demos from the Militant years. Dyckhoff allowed himself an extended rant about Hatton & Co. without delving into the political context of the time. Next time you're up here, Tom, let's meet up for a discussion on what was generalised & glossed over in your piece, placing it, too, in a cultural context.