Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year tomorrow

Tonight, Other Men's Flowers marches (staggers? crawls?) into its ninth year, having since January 2004 amassed (garnered? spewed?) 347,768 words in 1,213 posts, with 598 pictures, 1,290 links and 1,852 comments (not counting comment spam).

I know a dozen people who read every word of the blog, and there are perhaps a hundred more who glance at it from time to time. This is quite enough for me and the figure of 237,091 page views logged by one of my counters over the past eight years is of no interest, since the great majority of visitors will have stumbled on OMF when looking for something else, and there is no reason to suppose that more than a handful actually read any of it; I do not labour under the delusion that I am reaching out to a planet-wide community.

So why do I bother?

Well, actually, maintaining the thing is really no bother: I am committed only to publishing five or six posts a month (used to be fifteen) of any length, in any style and on any topic, and if I sometimes don't quite make it no-one will care or even notice. Also, only about 60% of the content is actually written by me: the rest is plagiarised or merely pasted wholesale from books, newspapers or elsewhere on the web, so there is no stress and little sweat involved.

The benefits to me are substantial:

First, it gives me something to do; Other Men's Flowers, a couple of websites and nine other blogs (rarely updated) keep me happily occupied and I am never bored.

Second, it brings me acquaintanceship with an extraordinary variety of people around the world: I never feel lonely.

Third, it is a modest intellectual exercise, helping to keep the mind alive.

Finally, after a few hours at the keyboard I have a sense of achievement, much more than I get from any of my other major activities such as emptying the dishwasher or watching old movies. I have done something, even if it was only drafting a paragraph of a post which I later decide is not worth publishing.

Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR to everybody. Fat chance, we are told.


Sunday, 25 December 2011

Twenty Questions More

This batch is intended to provide a refuge for those who find festivities and the current news equally depressing: not one of the questions is either seasonal or topical.

61   What would I rather do than join the army?

62   What ends "Shantih, shantih, shantih"?

63   The 1814 Treaty of Ghent ended a war between which states?

64   What links: Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Pasha, German invasion of the USSR?

65   Which wireless technology is named after a Viking king of Denmark?

66   Robert Hubert was hanged for supposedly starting what?

67   What became England's 10th National Park last year?

68   Which global issue was resolved by the Washington conference of 1884?

69   Which Wimbledon finalist in 1983 became a nun?

70   Who was it said, in 1932, that "the bomber will always get through"?

71   Variations And Fugue On A Theme of Purcell is better known as what?

72   Which country has world's largest proven oil reserves, according to OPEC?

73  In 1996 the Austrian Robert Kalina won a competition to design what?

74   Which chain now has more food outlets worldwide than McDonald's?

75   The "adulterous" Bible of 1631 omitted which word from the seventh commandment?

76   Which film star became US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia?

77   The Starlight Barking was a sequel to which novel?

78   "Yes, the surface is fine and powdery" - whose words?

79   What links Liliom, Green Grow the Lilacs, Sweet Thursday?

80   Who said "Twa piggles dinna mek a thrup", on what occasion, what was he prevented from saying, and by whom?


[Questions 41 to 60 are HERE] 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Secular Britain

As long ago as 2004, a survey of the religious beliefs of 10,000 people in ten countries showed that the UK was among the most secular nations of the world. More recent polls have confirmed this, with the UK coming sixth, being exceeded in godlessness only by Sweden, Japan, Estonia, South Korea and the Czech Republic.

So not a lot has changed in the last few years. David Cameron apparently believes that nothing much has changed since the Reformation, except that our society has had a moral collapse this century, which could be put right if we reverted to the application of Christian values.

This month's British Humanist Association's newsletter comments on Cameron's idiotic pronouncement:   

This week, in a speech celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible,the Prime Minister described Britain as 'a Christian country'. He claimed that Christian values could reverse British society's 'moral collapse', stated that he disagreed with the arguments of secularists, and argued that Britain is only welcoming of other religions because of its Christian heritage. We believe the Prime Minister is mistaken.

As a simple factual statement, what the Prime Minister said is incorrect. Only a minority of people in Britain are practising Christians, and we know from last week's British Social Attitudes survey that over half of the population sees itself as non-religious. Although Christianity has undoubtedly had a sometimes positive influence on the cultural and social development of Britain, it is far from being the only influence. Many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces have shaped our society for the better, and Christianity has often had ill effects. So, on the factual level the Prime Minister’s remarks are simply bizarre. 

We see two interpretations of the Prime Minister's remarks. The most hopeful reading is that Mr Cameron doesn’t really mean it. His statements may be intended as a way to pacify the increasingly strident lobbying of a minority of Christians for more influence in our public life. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Prime Minister repeated the myth that those of non-Christian religions are best off in a Christian society – a claim unsupported by history and logic, but one of the favourite arguments of activist Christian groups against a secular state.

If this is indeed the motivation behind the speech, it would at least give us less reason to fear any future policy initiatives shaped by these destructive ideas. But the far more concerning possibility is that the Prime Minister is serious. 

A politician and a government that tried to make Christianity and Christian beliefs the foundation of British values or a social morality would be building on seriously unstable foundations. All the evidence shows that religion makes no difference to a person’s social and moral behaviour – the same percentage of religious as non-religious people do volunteer work, for example. And people certainly don’t want to see it have more influence in government – in a 2006 Ipsos Mori poll, ‘religious groups and leaders’ actually topped the list of domestic groups that people said had too much influence on government. 

However you look at it, whether as a sop to appease increasingly aggressive Christian lobbies, or as a serious proposition to change public policy, his remarks are deeply concerning. We value reason and evidence in public policy, and fairness and secularism in our political life. The Prime Minister's remarks show why our work is so important.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Saturday, 10 December 2011

E-cards are AWFUL's an insult to send them: it shows that you can't be bothered to select a card appropriate to the recipient, write in it, put it in an envelope, address it, put a stamp on it, and post it by Royal Mail (or mail it through the US Postal Service). And the kind you find on the web are GHASTLY: repellent cartoon figures, twee pictures, revolting sentiments, pathetic doggerel, unfunny quips and often, worst of all, a bit of unutterably vile music. Yuck!  Poo!  Delete it before it befouls your inbox.

Yes, but there are exceptions...

There is a British company which produces charming and witty e-cards. It was founded by artist Jacquie Lawson in 2000, and she now leads a team of talented helpers—mostly her friends and family—including animators, a watercolourist, a musician and a web designer, based in Devon, London and the US.  They have a range of 196 cards for various purposes: you can see them at their excellent website,

There is still time to send out some of these for Christmas, or better still their magnificent 2011 Advent Calendar, a bit more expensive but very good value. If you don't want to buy this or anything else from them, you can pass a pleasant hour previewing their stock.

Other Men's Flowers is, of course, widely known for its venality; it will happily publish a plug for any product, however tatty, overpriced or downright fraudulent, provided the fee is right. But I can make an honest declaration of disinterest in Jacquie Lawson: I have no acquaintance with her or any of her associates and no financial interest in their company. I rather regret this, for they are clearly an agreeable bunch of people and have a deservedly successful business.


Monday, 5 December 2011

Nothing to add

It's not surprising that very few of the posts in OMF evoke any comments. The explanation could be that its most assiduous readers are diffident about expressing fulsome praise, or are merely stunned into admiring silence by OMF's forceful arguments and subtle analyses, or the erudition and percipience of its content.

My own view, however, is that after their biweekly perusal of the latest posts these readers simply have no time to spare to set out their own viewpoints, most of them being fully occupied by such things as chairing multinationals or ecumenical conferences, running major law practices, fulfilling their ministerial responsibilities or studying for their doctorates.

However, there are exceptions, and it is interesting to note that it is the posts dealing with the least interesting topics that seem to attract the most comments. For example, a boring and
facetious item I posted about an opinion poll some years ago attracted some two thousand words of comment. After a brief and relevant comment from an old friend, two other ladies joined in with lengthy dissertations on feminist issues. I felt impelled to insert some hot news about gastro-oesophageal reflux before drawing the stimulating discussion to a close.

I suppose all this happened because the word sex had cropped up in the original post; similarly, a
rather feeble post in which Jehovah was mentioned inspired a bit of tedious chat. Yet what I thought was a fascinating piece - lavishly illustrated - about the theatre in North Korea evoked no comments at all.

So you really can’t tell. Perhaps there are keywords other than the two I have mentioned which are bound to elicit a reaction from readers; I might try a few.