Monday, September 28, 2009

storks on a lamp post

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

george orwell titled

Not, of course that Orwell was titled in the ennobled sense of the word. He made clear that he had no time for that sort of thing, and as the establishment of the day was decades away from trying to garner any Cool Britannia relevance by giving honours to edgy people, they were unlikely to have offered him it in any case. Governments of the 1930s didn't suffer anything like the Benjamin Zephaniah OBE debacle.

I have a deep love of George Orwell's writing. His shining clarity of mind, his articulate bluntness, his fearless radical perspective, the way that most sentences of his journalism seem like they start with a silent, 'oh for fuck's sake, any idiot can see that...'.

The early novels are interesting, and there is much of his social analysis and commentary in ones like Coming Up for Air and Keep The Aspidistra Flying, but it's his non-fiction that really dings my bell, especially the essays and journalism.

It wasn't written for posterity but to make a clear topical point and it's that freshness and fire - so familiar to us in an age of broadcast media and blogging - that makes it really shine.

Additionally, he was a highly educated person who turned his attention not only to the highbrow topics but also to then-ignored areas, pioneering what we'd now call cultural criticism. His essays on boys comics and The Art of Donald McGill (about the norms and implications of scenes depicted in saucy seaside postcards) get the same incisive thought and illuminating opinion as his writing on Gissing.

So on the occasions when I've been asked where someone should start with Orwell, I recommend an anthology of his essays. But it recently occurred to me that there is a side of his writing that's pretty rubbish. His titles.

Early books have, at best, drab and uninspiring ones like A Clergyman's Daughter, Down and Out In Paris and London or Burmese Days. The title of his reportage of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, is pretty odd when you think about it. Indeed, there's a letter from Orwell to his publishers conceding that he couldn't think of a title and at least that choice lets them put something on the cover.

The only ones that seem smart, intriguing and clever are Keep The Aspidistra Flying and The Road to Wigan Pier.

Even late on, Animal Farm is another dull and functional one, whilst 1984 is such a potent book that any number of evocative superior titles readily suggest themselves in place of the peculiarly vague one he actually chose.

At least he did better picking a name for himself. He was born Eric Arthur Blair, and seemingly chose a pseudonym so he wouldn't be too closely associated with what he felt was his awful first book, the superb Down and Out In Paris and London. (I know someone who worked in a bookshop who was once asked for George Orwell's 'Dining Out in Paris and London', a very different image).

After rejecting publishing it under the name X, he had a shortlist of H. Lewis Allways (surely ludicrously stuffy even in the early 1930s), Kenneth Miles, PS Burton and George Orwell. Imagine if we were having to refer to Allwaysian ideas.

Worse still, imagine if he'd been proud of Down and Out in Paris and London and kept his legal name.

Britain has a quarter of the world's CCTV cameras. We have a government trying to get us used to ID culture by encouraging the absurd Challenge 25 policy for buying alcohol. It amounts to us blithely sleepwalking into, er, a Blairite nightmare.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

god hates amputees

For Christians, prayer is an important part of communicating with God and asking for help. Some of them are quite happy to have Pray At The Pump meetings in American filling stations, and they take credit for the lowering of gasoline prices.

Lots of Christian churches, not just the far-out ones, have healing services. Even more commonly, Christians pray to God to heal sicknesses in people they care about.

Leaving aside the arrogance of presuming that God doesn't know what he's doing and shouldn't have let anyone be ill, I'm more interested in another issue it raises.

Many Christians really believe in God's power to heal the sick, and a sizeable proportion of them believe they've seen it work. So why doesn't he ever heal any amputees? I've been searching the interweb for answers.

amputees don't need to be healed. removing the limb is often what saves a persons life. People are born missing limbs and live content successful lives. Why should we be " healed" when prosthetics and other devices allow us to live successfully.

I know a lot of amputees and none of them have prayed for their limbs to grow back. If anything when I lost my leg my family prayed that it would come off taking the cancer with it.

Yes, amputation can save their life, as it did with the cancer sufferer who wrote that reply. Which brings us not only on to why God would let them get cancer, but why he can't get the cancer cured without the need for amputation.

Yep, we now have prosthetics. But that only applies to a minority of amputees even today. What about the ones not rich enough to buy those, or all those who lived before the advent of prosthetic limbs, why didn't God help them a bit more?

Even if there were universal access to prosthetics, it's rather like the Alf Garnett line about God being benevolent by blessing the poor-sighted with two ears and a nose so they could wear glasses.

The idea that all amputees are having lives just as good as if they had all their limbs - well, excuse me while I rush off to get my legs taken off then. Praise the lord and pass the landmines.

There's a Christian who guesses

perhaps God doesn’t restore lost limbs (or other body parts) for the very reason He doesn’t raise people from the dead – it’s not time (yet)... The raising of the dead and the restoring of limbs (whether for those who lost them due to injury or birth defect) is for the resurrection.

I don't think we're looking for the exact same leg to be stuck back on, surely growing a new one would do. Certainly the resurrection of the long-dead is a hell of a thing to achieve, but as living people can readily and automatically regenerate blood, skin, hair, fingernails, bone and many other bodily tissues, there's no reason why it couldn't come from the living body of an amputee.

Another Christian suggests

Perhaps God chooses not to convince the world of his existence through acts of power

Not only does God bang on in both testaments with exhortations to prayer and his power to answer them, but, for fucks sake; sending the messiah! Having that messiah go round publicly healing the sick, then raising that messiah from the dead! If that's not a show of power - and specifically medical miracles - what is?

Our man also suggests that perhaps

he reveals miracles to those who already believe, and to those who disbelieve he never reveals more than they are able to explain away

Are we saying no true believer amputee has asked for a limb back? Or are we saying that it's happened but they've kept quiet about it?

In which case, why have so many other miraculously cured people been very vocal about their good fortune and used it as leverage to try to make suffering humans turn to the lord? He only ever cures blabbermouthed blind people and secretive amputees?

Then I found As well as having a page patiently, clearly and convincingly covering all the arguments about amputees and why it leads us to the conclusion that god is imaginary, it's part of, perhaps the best anti-monotheistic place I've ever come across. It doesn't just lob bricks from outside, it takes the stated beliefs, the bits of bible we get quoted, and then walks us through all the reasons why they don't make any sense at all.

There's something wonderful about setting out to uncover an idea only to find that somebody's done it with greater clarity than you could ever have managed.