Holy smoke

His congregation numbers 50. His ‘church’, such as it appears to be one, is called the “Dove World Outreach Centre”. That sounds more furry than fury to these ears at least. He is Terry Jones, a Pastor and current international media focus for his wheeze – “International Burn a Koran Day”.

It should not be right that searching for the word “Qur’an” – I prefer that spelling – returns dozens of results for Pastor Jones and his unbelievably successful promotional drive for the most leaden-footed act of symbolism since the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest. Seriously, give that a YouTube drive, every arms-around-the-new-Europe anthem will have you craving the return of communism before the voting starts.

Pastor Jones is not standing down from his plan to mark the 11th September anniversary with a Qur’an Bonfire, with bouncy castles, clowns and Pin A Beard on the Infadel competitions to boot. It is certainly clever marketing – only by creating another Waco would this religious fringe loon have gathered further attention. Probably more support too: when Sarah Palin advises you to think twice about an idea, that idea is doomed.

Frankly, I have little time for most religious books and teachings. I have been led to understand that the word of whichever deity is being followed lives in the heart and mind; the idea of collating the teachings in book form occurred for less benign reasons than ease of reference. Thousands of students from times past and present will tear up the more tedious bits from Kings or Acts for joint material without FOX News knocking their schedules into an outraged hat. There may be somebody right now – right at the moment your eyes fall upon these words – using a torn page from Little Book Of Zen to snort whichever hybrid legal-high/washing powder has arrived in the post.

I almost wish Jones well. His publicity trick has worked. People feel aggrieved and irate, as though the books prepared for turning into ash are the only symbols of the Islamic faith. This entire event is fed by ignorance, on both sides of the argument. Islamic extremists use their cherry-picked cuckoo-bananas version of their faith to justify mass murder, while right-wing nutjobs who only just qualify as “Christians” blather from their pretend churches on the purity of their own specific thought processes. To have garnered so much attention for what, basically, cheapens all sides of the argument is one pretty impressive feat.

It was always going to take something to beat the hysteria around the “Ground Zero Mosque) – which is neither a mosque, nor at Ground Zero. Well, smack my mouth and call me kafir, here’s one just round the corner. If the word and teachings of a particular faith really do exist in more forms than just the written word, then both Jones and the crowds against him are partaking in utter wastes of effort. Symbolism is not a one-way argument.

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bog books, pitbulls, bus stations

With Max Clifford such a big name in PR, why is the general consensus that he is a complete twunt?

Sorry, that is quite beside the point. Just getting it off my chest.

So, now, then, being a bloke, eh? For most tabloids in the 90s, it seemed easy to divide men of a certain age into two groups; the Loaded generation with all the chest-beating (and away fans clobbering) that went with it; or the Homebase loyalty card crew, happy to explain why azaelias and roses need different sized climbing frames. Then before Johnny Vaughn could even consider another career saving comeback, the century changed, and such slapdash divisions appear to have vanished completely.

Well, okay, flicking through Men’s Health gives the impression that the editorial team have found a convienient wormhole to 1996 to fill any leftover double page spreads. “How do you rate in bed?” articles in 2010, I ask? I thought Men’s Health was the magazine to which you upgraded after becoming aware of the beer gut you perfected while reading Nuts.

Anyway, ‘bog books’, then. While bar-flying a few weeks back, the general consensus was that no man ever outgrows the need for – as it was so expertly phrased – “an arm’s reach library”. If you have a significant other, it is obviously best advised not to keep a top shelf classic inbetween the hand-towels. That rule aside, pretty much anything goes, although I must stress that struggling to come to terms with a Polly Toynbee classics whilst otherwise struggling is only for real experts in the ‘behind closed doors’ field.

But yes, as though my magic, a segway from gentlemanly secrets to rightwing pin-up Sarah Palin. Not my particular kind of lady – well, slackjawed rent-a-quotes aren’t my thing, truth be told – but seemingly very fondly thought of amongst American teabaggers.

Go on, click the link. Dare’s you.

Palin has been setting up her Presidency bid since failing so badly in 2008. It’s a non stop rollercoaster for the hockey-mom/pitbull hybrid. I was merely quite bemused by the sight of the walking sloganiser standing behind a podium marked the word “GAYLORD”. Given she was talking to a bunch of teabaggers – go on, click it – I wasn’t surprised to see the BBC move the on-screen caption as far up the image as they could. They wouldn’t have to use any on-screen captions if the same company sponsered the Labour Conference this year…in at least two cases. Maybe three.

The fact that Palin seems to be the only credible voice of the American right fills me with despair. Exactly how she has done this seems to be the result of following the advice that ‘she who rants loudest and dumbest gets the Fox slots at Prime Time’. One only assumes that eventually her brain will run out of words, leaving the next Tea Party convention stuck with Scott Brown running over blacked-up actors with his truck.

No, wait…That sounds like something they’d actually consider doing…

The 20th Century Society are to appeal against Ben “boy” Bradshaw’s decision not to list Preston Bus Station. Not that I want to go on a pro-bus station rant at this present time, I fully support the appeal. The decision to scrap Preston’s iconic bus station in favour of a John Lewis just stinks to high heaven of short-term profit chasing and long-term ignorance. The new station would be smaller than the on in Sunderland. SUNDERLAND! SMALLER THAN! Is there any other reason to give for the retention of the one we’ve got than that?

Right-wing America is bankrupt

Reforming healthcare is not a black-or-white issue, much as commentators in the US would have us believe. Indeed both sides of the debate in America have been making basic footfall errors, the liberal/left not quite as often as the conservative right.

“Racist” claims from both sides do not help, of course. The left-wing need to be careful of their own form of racism, not helped by appearing to project onto America’s black population what they should feel now their nation’s President looks and talks like they do. In her column for the Guardian, Bonnie Greer says;

We on the left need to change. Change our tired, ideologically driven responses to events. Change our moth-eaten rhetoric. Change our demands on what people of colour, women, disabled people, gays and lesbians ought to be when they attain positions of power

Left-wing commentators have to concede that Obama has yet to present a single Health Reform Bill. Additionally he did not persuade many doubters – if any – to his cause following his joint-house speech. However what Obama does have is time, and clear objectives, and the will among his many supporters to push over the stubborn wall of “for the sake of it” opposition. And there’s the clear, stark fact of so many millions without access to affordable healthcare in the “land of the free”.

Over amongst the conservatives, there is a shallow puddle of argument and a bankrupt account of alternative options. Painting a picture of Obama pushing a socialist square peg into a capitalist round hole is to create a work of scaremongering fiction. Sarah Palin, the failed Republican vice-presidential candidate, was roundly ridiculed for suggesting healthcare reform would mean “death panels” for the elderly. She remains one of the most often suggested lead candidates for President in 2012. When this list for the GOP includes Rick Santorum and Rudy Giuliani – discredited names from the past both – the sheer uphill struggle of the right is made all the more clear.

Obama needs to deliver on his promises, some things he has done already, but there’s a lot to do. Expectation is massive, not all of it fair. Some of it comes from the over-eager support from the left attempting to turn him into some symbol for “overnight success”. Those on the right trying to paint the White House as a life-threatening cult are not succeeding – how few people know of the Twitter craze of ending messages with “impeachobama” could be counted on one hand? – with only one thing seemingly going in their favour. As long as populist media networks speak with a unified cynicism against Obama doubts will remain.

Like the British Conservatives post-1997 the American right cannot quite understand why they are out of power or why the man at the top is getting an “easy ride”. It has taken the UK right years to get to grips with the changing country. Clearly the American right have a similar journey of their own before coming up with an opposition with clarity and credibility.