Friday, 29 January 2010

Driver fined for blowing his nose

A businessman has been fined £60 and had his driving licence endorsed for blowing his nose while stuck in a traffic jam.

Michael Mancini, a furniture restorer from Prestwick, Ayrshire, was given the fixed penalty and docked three penalty points after leaning over and pulling out a paper handkerchief to wipe his nose when stuck in Ayr High Street. Mancini said that his van was in neutral with its handbrake on, and that he was flabbergasted when he was signalled into a parking bay by an approaching policeman.

Matters became “a little bit surreal”, he said, when he wound down his window and was promptly charged by the stern-faced PC Stuart Gray, a man known locally as “Shiny Buttons” in recognition of his zealous attention to detail. “I honestly thought it was a joke,” said Mancini, 39, who was booked for failing to be in control of his vehicle.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding’. But he was absolutely deadpan. He’s a policeman, so you’re not going to start shouting abuse at him. I thought, ‘What is the world coming to?’ You pick the papers up every day and they are full of horror stories — but this bloke has nothing more to do with his time.”

PC Gray earned notoriety for doling out a £50 fine to Stewart Smith, another Ayr man, who dropped a £10 note from his back pocket. Mr Smith was charged with littering. Read more
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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Iran executes two men arrested in presidential election unrest for 'waging war against God'

Iran has executed two men arrested during June's presidential unrest and convicted of 'waging war against God'.

The executions appear to be the first of people tried in the Islamic courts in connection with the bloody election protests that gripped the country last year.

The two men were hung today at dawn.

They were among a group of 11 people sentenced to death on charges including waging war against God, trying to overthrow the Islamic establishment and being members of armed groups, Iranian media said.

The lawyer of one of those executed said 19-year-old Arash Rahmanipour was detained before the election.

Nasrin Sotoudeh described the charges as 'political' and the verdict as 'illegal and unjust.'

Read more

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Notes from the Future: Evangelical Liberalism in the UK

The Lord Jesus called me into his kingdom in April 1974 in a Baptist church in Southampton, England. He had blessed me with a Christian family, and my conversion was very much a humble acceptance in my heart of truths I had long known in my head. Then, almost immediately after my conversion, I found myself (as a 15 year old) having to resist liberal theology from my fellow pupils at school, and even more so from my teachers.

I've used the word "liberal," though it felt very different from the liberalism I now see and sense. To get a grip on where things might go in the future, as far as human wisdom allows, I want to think about the difference between liberalism then and now (typical Englishman, looking at history to see the future!). This is my personal perspective, limited by place (England and part of Australia), and by ignorance of much work going on in those places. And, despite the problems outlined here, there is much that is thoroughly encouraging.


Back then, theological liberals inside and outside the Church of England were very clear they were not evangelicals. I found them often intelligent, frequently generous, and oddly tolerant of my views, although sometimes patronizingly. For them, my evangelicalism betrayed my personal immaturity and, God willing, I would outgrow it. They set great store on the human intellect. What did not commend itself to their intellects could not be true, even if said by Scripture. With the benefit of hindsight I see this was the legacy of the nineteenth-century "liberal catholic" theological school, led by Charles Gore.

Five things strike me about this legacy. First, I'm struck by the legacy's conservatism. That sounds odd. But on the ethical issues of the day (abortion, drugs, promiscuity) and on much theology (Is there a God? Did Jesus rise? Is sin a real problem?) it returned conservative answers. That disguised both to them and us the gulf that lay between us. Read more
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The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

A few years ago I edited a volume of essays on the doctrine of Scripture with Paul Helm. Just before the deadline for submissions, the project was "named and shamed" by a speaker at an influential evangelical theological conference as being a modern attempt to reaffirm B.B. Warfield's doctrine of Scripture. Within days, one of the contributors emailed me, concerned that his name was going to be associated with such a project. I was able to reassure him that the project was not intended as a defense of Warfield's position but as an exploration of the notion of trustworthiness as it connects both to God and to his Word. The gentleman was reassured and remained on board, but the incident simply served to confirm in my mind what I had long suspected: too many evangelical academics want to have their cake and eat it too. They want the piety, and perhaps the platform, which evangelicalism provides them, but they also want to be accepted by those who hang around the senior common room in the university.

The problem, of course, is that one cannot serve two masters: as someone once said, one ends up hating one and loving the other, or being devoted to one and despising the other. Read more
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Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Guardian/ICM poll: Conservatives show vulnerability in class battle

The Conservatives are losing the battle over class, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today, which shows a third of voters see the Tories as the party of the upper classes.

Overall, Labour has failed to dent the Conservative poll lead despite a month of political skirmishing, with voters apparently still ready to give David Cameron a narrow majority.

The poll will give some reassurance to opposition leaders, with the Tory lead widening slightly to 11 points thanks to an increase in the Liberal Democrat vote at Labour's expense. It also shows voters back the party's proposals on marriage and think Gordon Brown's leadership made the recession worse. They agree overwhelmingly, too, that it is time for a change of government.

But there are signs that Labour's attack on Tory toffs is sticking with a substantial minority identifying the party with the upper classes, even though almost no one in Britain admits belonging to this group. Read more
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The Edlington boys are not beyond redemption

What does the judge know, after all? In passing sentence on the Edlington boys last week Mr Justice Keith described the case as “exceptional”. But in a speech in Gillingham, David Cameron appeared to suggest that it was anything but. Citing a small number of not completely similar instances, including Baby Peter and Ben Kinsella, the Conservative leader argued that it was a sign of the “social recession” — the more think-tanky way of talking about “Broken Britain”.

Mr Cameron asked: “On each occasion, are we just going to say this is an individual case? That there aren’t any links to what is going wrong in our wider society, in terms of family breakdown, in terms of drug and alcohol abuse, in terms of violent videos, in terms of many of the things that were going wrong in that particular family?”

That Mr Cameron should make a blanket reference in the same speech to “rising violent crime” just when the murder rate has fallen to its lowest for 20 years (including a drop of 102 deaths between 2007-08 and 2008-09, suggesting that medical advance is an inadequate explanation) reminds us that this is a highly politicised moment in our discussion of family. As did the decision of the Home Secretary to announce the extension of the popular Sarah’s Law, allowing parents to check if anyone in contact with their child has a sex offence conviction, just a few weeks before the general election is called. Read more
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Church of England counts cost of New York property deal

The Church of England has suffered a £40 million loss on a disastrous investment in a New York apartment complex that was acquired by a consortium in 2006 for $5.4 billion — the biggest single residential property deal in the United States.

A spokesman for the Church Commissioners said that it had written off the entire value of its investment and added that the commissioners were “looking carefully” at the lessons to be learnt. “The investment was made in June 2007, which, with hindsight, was at the top of the property market and immediately before the credit crunch,” the spokesman said. He added that the Church had undertaken detailed due diligence in conjunction with external professional advisers.

The loss amounts to nearly 1 per cent of the total £4.4 billion assets held by the Church Commissioners to sustain the nationwide ministry of the Church. It follows a 19.6 per cent fall in the value of the commissioners’ investments in 2008 and comes as the Church faces criticism for allowing the build up of a £352 million shortfall in its pension fund, which is invested entirely in equities. Read more
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Monday, 25 January 2010

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: The cloak of darkness is no exercise of civil liberties

It is gratifying that so many white British liberals have come out to defend shrouded Muslim women. Their generosity of spirit and messianic belief in liberty makes them recoil from a state ban on the burka.

France under Sarkozy is set to take this step to be followed swiftly, I am sure, by some other EU countries. In Egypt too, top theologian, Sheikh Tantawi, of al-Azhar university is pushing for an anti-burka injunction, and Turkey remains ferociously divided over the militant secularism instated by its founding fathers.

Here, we are reassured, such a ban would be impossible. OK, the bonkers UKIP lot and rabid BNP bang on about it; noisy nuisances, easily ignored. Liberals say it just isn't British to prohibit and limit the personal choices of freeborn citizens.

Really? The British never accept any curtailment of individual preferences? So how has it come to pass that in this green and free land, we have more state surveillance and imposed restrictions and regulations than any other EU country ? Why, we can't even take snaps in the streets without a hand of authority falling on the shoulder. Could it be that authoritarianism is not resisted because the British are naturally obedient, following social rules and legal sanctions? From queuing, to drink-drive laws, most of us do what is expected. We surrender personal autonomy, sometimes for reasons that are clearly for the greater good – the anti-smoking laws – and sometimes because our rulers, like all rulers, wish to grab more power.

Naturists would love, I'm sure, to wander down Oxford Street, just window-shopping of course. They can't, because for most people that would be too much out there. Women in the full burka are the other side of that same coin. They give too little out there and, using passive violence, disconnect from the humanity around them.

Then the creed of liberalism, that passion for freedom and choice which sustains and vitalises Western civilisations. Ever more precious and fragile in today's world, I can see why it must be honoured and sheltered from the armies of repression.

However does liberalism have any duty to those who use liberal values as weapons to promote illiberalism? Is it obliged to become a suicide bomber, to self-destruct to prove itself?

We Muslims worldwide are engaged in ideological struggles against the Saudi Wahabis who have the cash and cunning to lure disenchanted middle-class and impoverished, powerless Muslims into their caves, where light itself fears to enter. Yet some liberal Westerners take dilettante positions on freedom because their own lives are unaffected. Instead of standing with modernists, the staunchest defenders of freedom, they defect to the enemy. The retrogressive Muslim Council of Britain is now back in bed with the Government. Read more
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Haiti earthquake: religion fills the void left by aid agencies

A fierce gust of wind lashes across the sprawling camp, carrying with it the ­bitter aroma of pepper spray and faeces. Above, Black Hawk helicopters clatter through the cobalt blue sky. On the ground clusters of homeless Haitians with hammers and rusty saws set about cobbling together improvised shacks out of corrugated iron and shreds of plastic sheeting.

Welcome to Pont-Rouge, a refugee camp for about 15,000 displaced people, and one of Port-au-Prince's most recent shanty towns. It is here, on waste land near the city's international airport, among rickety shacks and smouldering campfires, that an evangelical revolution is gathering speed.

With the government's presence all but invisible, and humanitarian agencies and the UN struggling to cope with the demand for aid, groups of preachers are moving in to fill the void.

"I've started a school and we are trying to give people food and clothes," said ­Reverend Sauverne Apollon, 75, whose church – the Eglise Mission foi CaribĂ©enne Independence d'Haiti – was one of the first to be constructed in the slum after its ­headquarters was destroyed in the quake.

"The people need hospital help, food and homes. I'm trying to do what I can," Apollon added. Read more
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God celebrates saving, says Church of England priest

The Rev John Strain said savers are being “ignored” and “neglected” and that is was time for justice.

Mr Strain is launching, which is calling for a range of measures including greater rewards for savers, better pensions and greater support for a savings culture in Britain.

He said: “Savers have been the prudent ones but they are simply being ignored. We’re not banks but we’re being punished.” Read more
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It’s as if they want me executed, says culture chief enduring hate campaign

The letters and emails come in a daily tide. “Filth!” they cry. “Shame on you”; “You are a very sick person”; “The soul that sinneth shall DIE”. For the past six months, the head of Glasgow’s museums and art has been under siege from Christian fundamentalists, who have vowed to oust her from her job.

Dr Bridget McConnell, head of Culture and Sport Glasgow (CSG), the £100 million charity in charge of the city’s culture, says she is alarmed by what she describes as a “personal witchhunt” against her.

“It is almost like being phsyically abused,” she said. “You get knocked down by it every day and you pick yourself up, but then you come in the next morning and it happens all over again. It’s attrition.”

Since July, when a row broke out over an art exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) featuring homosexuality and religion in which comments were written on a Bible, Dr McConnell — whose organisation funded the exhibition — has been targeted by an organised group of protesters. Read more
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