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2007: This Blogging Year

2007 was an interesting year, perhaps primarily because it was the year when a lot of things didn’t happen. That might seem an odd statement, because clearly most years lots of things don’t happen. But this year has been one of many unfulfilled expectations.

I didn’t discover what religion actually is, despite fairly extensive efforts. My readers and I did manage to have a pretty good debate on the issue – just never came to any real conclusion.

Rather than things improving as promised, the situation regarding junior doctor’s jobs reached new lows this year. I certainly expected that once such a low had been reached, the Government would be forced to get its house in order – how wrong I was.

Despite confident predictions, no-one actually faced charges in the Cash for Honours row, which was frustrating for many.

On top of that, the majority of teenagers didn’t pass their A-Levels this year, M&S didn’t move in a completely new direction (though did gain £3.5m), and mobile phones didn’t advance quite as far as we’d hoped. And the Queen didn’t storm out of a photo shoot.

As well as seemingly predictable things not happening, many unexpected did happen. Completely unexpectedly, even to me, I actually said something nice about Tony Blair, and he himself appeared on a hard news programme outside of an election campaign.

Floods devastated swathes of the UK, and the Church blamed the gays – like some many other people.

Celebrity Big Brother managed to spark an international race row, Sky and Virgin Media had a puerile fight which still hasn’t been sorted, and the world of premium rate phone-ins caved in on itself.

I did manage to have a bit of a guilty laugh at this poor chap’s expense, the Vatican published Commandments for Driving, and we mourned the death of Rose Tombe – well, a bit.

A terror attack on Glasgow airport shocked everyone, though didn’t lead me to the conclusion that terrorists are evil. The disappearances of Alan Johnston and Madeleine McCann generated acres of media coverage – to date, only one has been found. And I was shocked last week to hear of the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto.

Oh, and then there was the small incident of half the country’s bank details getting lost in the post.

And then, I guess, there were the predictable things.

Blair left office, Brown and Co came in, didn’t call an election (despite dithering), and the scandals and muddled thinking continued apace.

In terms of sjhoward.co.uk, you helped to generate over seven million hits this year alone – well over double the number achieved last year, and the first book of the site was published. I started writing for Trinity Mirror regularly, which was nice. And the site put on a little weight.

And that was, essentially, 2007.

All that remains is for me to thank you for sticking with the site throughout the year, and invite you to continue reading in the new year – I do hope you will.

This post was filed under: Blogging.

Benazir Bhutto has died

Benazir BhuttoEven days after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the impact for the homeland she loved so dearly is still far from clear.

The tragedy of her death is certain: A 54 year-old who had spent much of her life fighting for true citizen-led democracy in Pakistan silenced not through reasoned argument but through mindless violence. The first female leader of an Islamic nation in modern history killed whilst trying to improve life for her fellow citizens. Her three children left without a mother, her husband without a wife.

I only hope that the violence of the last two days in Pakistan is short-lived, and that people will continue in her tradition of arguing eloquently, powerfully, and persistently for true representation of the people of Pakistan and against dangerous extremism.

A full and detailed obituary for Benazir Bhutto is available on Guardian Unlimited or BBC News.

May she rest in peace.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

Wishing you peace and happiness at Christmas

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

So this is Christmas…

Nativity SceneYou can tell it’s Christmas, mainly because of the appearance Christmassy bits on this site, even though they’re new this year and completely different to every other year since the site’s inception.

Of course, it’s also clearly Christmas because of the sudden outbreak of peace, joy, and goodwill to all men. Granted, that might be difficult to spot in the overcrowded supermarkets full of harassed shoppers (not least of all me), but clearly in the good Christian churches of our nation, peace and joy have descended. Or not, as the case may be.

I always though that Christmas was the particular time of year when Christians spread messages of goodwill, love, and faith. Yet I’ve seen so little of this that I’m beginning to wonder if that’s what the Christian church stands for at all. Instead of welcoming new sheep to their flocks, the Christian message of recent years appears to have become a rather aggressive one.

This is the week when Archbishops have started insulting ordinary citizens, phone-ins are dominated by Christians bemoaning the fictitious sensitivities of ‘immigrants’, and every tabloid worth its salt wants to tell us how Christmases aren’t what they used to be.

Just today, the Archbishop of Wales has ranted about ‘atheistic fundamentalism’ leading to the ‘Winterval’ rebranding of Christmas – a perennial myth, which you’d hope learnéd church leaders would know to be false. He claims that ‘virulent, almost irrational’ attacks have been made on Christianity, leaving no room for debate – then cites the example of British Airways’ uniform policy.

He goes onto say that Christianity has a ‘message of joy and good news for everyone’, and that ‘rational debate about the tenets of the Christianity’ is an undoubtedly good thing – then mocks those who view Christianity as ‘superstitious nonsense’ – apparently, such a view is disallowed in his debate. We can only debate Christianity from a starting point that ‘God is not exclusive, he is on the side of the whole of humanity with all its variety’ – except atheists, or so it would seem. That’s not what I call a debate.

This comes in the same week as Rev Jules Gomes called Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee the King Kerods of our age, despite the fact that the latter is quite happy to ‘Hail the incarnate Deity’ along with the rest of us, and that neither could be fairly described as a child-killing tyrant. Clearly, the goodwill doesn’t extend to them. And yet Christian leaders frequently tell us that Christianity is supposed to be the very model of religious tolerance.

You may have seen the headline news that a third of 18-24 year-olds couldn’t say where Jesus was born. You’re unlikely to have noticed that almost two-thirds of regular church-goers were also unable to show a basic grasp of the Christmas story – a fact conveniently omitted from the Mail’s report. Perhaps the Church should get its own house in order before attacking the rest of society for its so-called secularism.

And, just to top it all off, the good Christians of the Diocese of Manchester have been grossly insulted by the council’s insistence on calling Christmas ‘Decemberval’ in a recycling promotion. Perhaps they ought to have a word with the local Christian vicar that wrote the promotion, then, rather than moaning to the Mail on Sunday about ‘political correctness gone mad’.

Yet the issue extends further than Christianity. Only this week, a Jordanian website censored a reader who chose to wish others a ‘Happy Hanukkah’, after complaints were received at the thought of wishing Jews happiness – and there was me thinking Eid was supposed to be about forgiveness.

I’ve previously made my religious views known in detail on the blog – essentially, we’re so incredibly lucky to be alive that we’d better make the most of it before we die – and so am in no position to offer Christian philosophy. But it has certainly struck me this year that the Christian church is anything but loving and welcoming to all, and is certainly not as tolerant of criticism as it often likes to claim.

I am, however, in a position to wish everyone – reader and non-readers, supporters and detractors, those who celebrate Christmas and those who don’t – health, happiness, and a truly peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Christmas Scene

This post was filed under: Miscellaneous.

A fab outtake from QI

This week, BBC Four showed clips of the bits edited out of QI – clearly one of the best shows on TV – in a special ‘Elephants’ episode (see below for next transmission time). If you missed it, you’ll have missed this gem… So let me present it to you as a pre-Christmas treat.

[flashvideo filename=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/qi.flv” title=”QI (BBC Four)” picture=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/qi.jpg” ratio=”16:9″ /]

QI » Season 5 Episode 13  » Elephants at LocateTV.com

This post was filed under: Video.


This post was filed under: Blogging, Notes.

X Factor

This post was filed under: Media, Notes.

At £3.5m, they’re not just teacakes…

teacakes.JPGYep, £3,500,000 of taxpayers money – your money – is about to be presented to Marks & Spencers for some teacakes.

You may have thought that teacake expenditure would have decreased now John Prescott is no longer in Government, but there really is a very good reason for the increase.

In 1973, M&S decided to start selling teacakes, and the VAT man decided that they were biscuits, and so insisted on collecting VAT on them. The clue was in the name, really. They’re teacakes, not teabiscuits.

Then, a little over twenty years later, another VAT man realised that the teacakes were, in fact, cakes, and that VAT shouldn’t be collected on them. But between 1973 and 1994, £3.5 million pounds of VAT had been wrongly paid to the Government.

In its infinite wisdom, the government decided that this £3.5m shouldn’t be given back. They reasoned that people had paid for their teacakes, not to give a donation to M&S, and so to give the money back to M&S would be deeply unfair.

So they gave M&S a cursory 10%, and kept the rest for themselves.

Now, a further thirteen years later, the European Court has decided that this was a little unfair, and insisted that the government give the wrongly collected taxes back – costing us all £3.5m.

But then again, they weren’t just teacakes – they were M&S teackes.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

Missing The West Wing

Browsing YouTube tonight, I feel an acute sense of loss at the ending of The West Wing. It was a truly great show – and which other would make this kind of point on prime time US telly?

[flashvideo filename=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/bartlett.flv” title=”The West Wing” picture=”http://sjhoward.co.uk/video/barlett.jpg” ratio=”14:9″ /]

Video credit AnAmericanGentleman

This post was filed under: Media, Video.

Any Question Answered by AQA 63336

Any Question Answered by AQA 63336One of my seemingly many lives involves answering questions for AQA 63336, and as well as being a question ‘answerer’, I’m also a reasonably frequent question ‘asker’. As part of their business, AQA 63336 have brought out a couple of books – the second of which, Any Question Answered, has just been released.

I’d like to state for the record that I have not been asked to review this book by AQA 63336, and my review is as impartial as ever, and fully compliant with the review policy of the site.

The book essentially consists of questions as texted to the service, and responses to them. The latest book is divided into eleven chapters, covering all manner of topics from animals to arts to etymology. In addition, and quite different from the first book, some questions have been put to a number of celebrities – notably Stephen Fry, who is known to be particularly fanatical about the service. It also contains a page of questions it challenges the reader to answer.

This isn’t one of the world’s greatest literary works, but it’s a wonderful little book for entertaining yourself or others, full of interesting and amusing facts. Who knew that Queen Victoria banned the colour black at her funeral, or that the Royal Mint issues 4.1 million coins per day? The beauty of printing the text-message answers is that they are all so short and pithy, and avoid the tendency of many books of random facts to wander off into boring irrelevance. In fact the humour displayed in some of the answers is what makes the book particularly great.

Of course, the book can also be enjoyed from another point of view entirely – it really is fascinating to see what people have texted in, and sometimes to wonder exactly what possessed them. Who cares what model number the Tardis in Doctor Who is, or how many atoms make up a beer mat? It’s very addictive reading.

AQA 63336 have been particularly clever as regards the time of publication of this book – right before Christmas – as it’s the perfect stocking filler for pretty much anyone. That said, some of the questions are probably a little unsuitable for children, but all-in-all, it’s great for friends and relatives alike. It’s definitely recommended.

Win a Copy

I had a copy of Any Question Answered to give away to a lucky UK reader of the site, who correctly answered the following question from the book:

Who was the second man in space?

  1. Yuri Gagarin
  2. Alan Shepard
  3. Neil Armstrong

The correct answer was Alan Shepard, and the lucky winner was Jonathan Rothwell – I’ll be in touch shortly to arrange delivery of the prize.

Thanks for all the entries – more than ten times as many as last time I ran one of these prize draws. Don’t forget that those of you who didn’t win can still get hold of a discount copy of the book in the site’s shop.

Look out for more prize draws soon!

Buy a Copy

If you’re not feeling lucky, Any Question Answered is available to buy at a reduced price from sjhoward.co.uk/shop, as is the first book, The End of the Question Mark.

Ask a Free Question

If you’ve never used AQA 63336 before, you can test them out by asking a completely free question here.

This post was filed under: Book Club, Prize Draws, Reviews.

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