An awkward conversation

“Hi, this is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Could I speak to the Foreign Secretary please?”

“Ah, yes. Ah. That would be me. Boris. Fluster, fluster, affable grunt.”

“Boris Johnson?”

“Um, yes. The very same.”

“Boris Johnson, the journalist who first came to national attention for being sacked from The Times for making up quotes?”

“Yes, well, um, fluster, fluster. These things happen. But I’m very affable, and so let’s just forget about that, shall we? Thoroughly honest chap now.”

“But weren’t you also sacked by Michael Howard for lying about one of your many affairs?”

“Um, well. You know. Matters of sex. Keep it private and all. Not in the public interest.”

“Speaking of sex, didn’t you write a poem about me having sex with a goat?”

“Well, um, you know, defence of freedom of speech and all that.”

“Well you didn’t seem so keen on freedom of speech when you discussed with your friend Darius Guppy—a convicted fraudster and self-confessed ‘potential psychopath’—having a journalist beaten up for taking too close an interest in his dodgy dealings.”

“Ah, well, bluster, bluster, that was all a very long time ago…”

“Ah.” [Long pause.] ”So, do you think that freedom of speech extends to politicians blatantly lying to their voters? Because your fellow Brexit campaigner Penny Maudant repeatedly stated on the Andrew Marr show that there was nothing the UK could do to stop us, Turkey, joining the European Union despite the fact that the Treaty of Europe clearly states that accession to the union must be approved by all member states, and you condoned this and repeated the inference that Turkey’s accession was a certainty.”

“Well, um, I’m sure there’s some explanation which, if I fluster charmingly and affably you’ll think I’ve made when I’ve actually said nothing.”

“I’m afraid I don’t see your charm, Mr Johnson, nor your aff. Perhaps it’s just an English thing. Maybe you could clarify something for me. We’re not in the commonwealth, so I was wondering, do we count as piccaninnies or not?”

“Ah, um. Well. How about if I just flick about my blond hair amusingly?”

“I think we’re probably not, because wasn’t your great grandfather Turkish?”

“Um, well, yes the old boy was now you come to mention it.”

“And didn’t you once make a documentary lauding Turkey’s desire to join the EU?”

“Well now, yes. But, you know. Things change. Um. Realpolitik and all that.”

“You mean you thought you could get to be PM if you hung all your principles, your colleagues, in fact your entire country out to dry?”

“Oh, now, I say …”

“I don’t think I want to talk to you any more, Mr Johnson. I think you’re dishonest, dishonourable, bigotted, and solely interested in your own advancement. I think you’re a really nasty piece of work, in fact. I mean, you’re not in my league, that’s true. But for a British politician, you really are a quite a shite. So. I wanted to negotiate our post-Brexit trade deal. Perhaps you could put me through to Dr Liam Fox, I understand he is the Secretary of State for International Trade.”

“Phew, yes. That’s me off the hook.”

[A pause.]


“Hello, am I speaking to Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade?”

“Um, well, he’s not available at the moment. This is a highly experienced trade negotiation consultant acting for him.”

“Ah. Could I have your name please?”

“Why, yes. It’s Adam Werrity.”

“Ah. And exactly how long have you been a highly experienced trade negotiation consultant?”

“Oh, since Wednesday.”


On the nature of Evil

Ethics, theology, and belief seem to crop up a fair amount on this blog, and many of you may have formed the impression that I am a moral relativist, rejecting as I do the existence of any kind of absolutist law-giving deity, and remaining highly dubious of arguments attempting to demonstrate natural, intrinsic, moral norms.

In this you would be right, at least as far as the Good is concerned. But Evil is a different matter. I have a very, very clear concept of absolute Evil, and it is thus:


Let me be clear, I have no beef with sweet things (literally, as well as figuratively). Cake is fine. Biscuits, sure. We are coming to the part of the year where it is traditional to soak a wide range of confections in substantial quantities of whisky, rum, or brandy and of this I can but approve—though I frown slightly at the tradition of then burning some of it off, which rather defeats the point.

However—and I cannot stress this enough—the combination of sweetness of taste and gooeyness of texture is the nub, the pole, the lodestone, and the very epitome of Evil. That so many of you seem not only ignorant but actively in denial of this fact is a clear demonstration of the Fallen state of humankind.

Every nation commits this sin, in their own way. The British, of course, not satisfied with raping and pillaging the world through centuries of empire, made ourselves irredeemable by the infliction of custard thereupon. The Italians compound their popery and frilly shirts with panna cotta. The Germans gave us operas that last for whole weekends and Schokoküsse. The Turks and the Greeks compete not to deny but to lay claim to the eponymous delight of the former, and the French tauntingly burn a crust onto their puddles of sweetened cream, rather than committing the entire work of heresy to a justly-deserved auto-da-fé.

But Brazil! Oh Brazil! If the brigadeiro, the pudim, and canjica were not sufficient barbarisms to thrust upon your good, God-fearing people, the horrors of horrors of doce de leite alone place you at the height of the list of offenders. It is little surprise that so many of your folk devotedly attend church on Sundays and top up on Wednesdays, for you have much, much to repent of.

And the travesty pictured above? On a flight from Rio to Paris, some hideous, unforgivable individual, some spawn of Satan, some execrable inexcusable excrement of humanity had decided to celebrate this joining of nations by contorting together their greatest evils, and placed before each and every innocent passenger a doce de leite crème brûlée.

That the plane was not struck from the sky by a retributive bolt of divine lightning is the greatest evidence one could ever seek for the non-existence of God.

Punctuated model of inebriation

punctuated model of inebriation (phr.) theoretical model of consumption which proposes that, over an extended period, inebriation should occur due to short bursts of intensive consumption, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. Differs from the graduated model of inebriation, which proposes continual and uniform consumption of small quantities.

Being narcoleptic, the punctuated model works best for me, as it allows downtime for a recuperatory doze mid-session. As yesterday was a feriado here, it seemed rude not to have a couple of after-lunch caipirinhas, a trajectory which clearly could not be maintained through to the small hours of the morning. Careful application of the punctuated model resulted in, twelve hours later, a pleasantly woozy end to the evening on the beach with a bunch of friends, a guitar, and a bonfire, singing those slightly saccharine but catchy tunes which seem to fall off the pens of Brazilian songwriters almost as if—well, almost as if carousing sentimental melodies on a beach till the small hours of the morning was one of the simplest but greatest pleasures of life.

The Facebook Catechism

To be memorized and repeated at least five times a day, as a minimum before going online.

I saw this really cool thing on Facebook the other day. It said that if you—

No. Don’t. It’s not what it says it is.

But it’s on Facebook! Everyone reads Facebook, it must be trustworty.

No. You are confusing ubiquity with respectability. It’s precisely because it’s on Facebook that you have no knowledge of the real source, only what they themselves say they are.

But, look, loads of my friends have already—

No. Your friends might be smart people, but even smart people can be fooled sometimes.

OK, so it’s almost certainly not true: but what’s on offer is so cool and all I have to do is—

No. That’s exactly the gamble they want you to take. They exploit our natural cognitive bias to presume that things to our advantage are more probable or reliable than they really are. They offer something fantastic for apparently almost nothing, but then you find they’ve actually taken far more than you intended. And even if, once you’ve taken the apprently harmless gamble, you realize you’ve been conned, you’ve added your name to the millions who have taken it, and it looks more and more convincing, such that other people are less likely to realize it’s a con.

Once you have mastered this, you may progress to the Advanced Level, in which you repeat the entire exercise substituting the words “the Bible,” “the Qur’an,” or “the Torah” for “Facebook.”

In which Fat Martin comes for lunch, and a theological debate ensues

Fat Martin Luther came for lunch here in Rio the other day. I served vermicelli, as I always do for him. “Why do you always feed me this rubbish?” he asked, after pushing it around his plate for a while. “Oh sorry, Fat Martin,” I said, “I forget you’re not so keen on a Diet of Worms.”

He gave me a long stare. “Nearly five hundred years, and that’s still funny?” he asked irritably. “And why must you always call me Fat Martin?”

“Well to be honest, Fat Martin,” I replied, “it’s because I’m amused by the contrast between your obsession with sin and the overt evidence of extensive indulgence in at least one of the seven deadly ones.”

“Popish superstitious nonsense,” he countered. “We are saved not by our works but by our faith.”

“That sounds suspiciously antinomian to me,” I admitted, “but actually that’s kinda what I wanted to talk to you about. This whole sola fide and justification business.”

“What of it?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking a bit about the Euthyphro dilemma—”

“—The what?” he interrupted.

“Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know, Fat Martin. You did the scholiast stuff before you got all vernacular and protesty. Euthyphro, where Plato points out the definitional problem of an all-good omnipotent deity. Either good is defined by Him—that whatever He wills is necessarily good—in which case we can know nothing of Him, for His acts can be entirely arbitrary; or He simply always acts according to what is good, in which case there would seem to be something ontologically prior to Him—goodness—and His actions would appear to be bound.”

“Greek rubbish, fit only for the Schools.”

“Well you have to admit he has a point. And what I’ve been thinking is that your ideas about justification and freedom of the will seem to be somewhat inconsistent on this point: that as far as the workings of justification are concerned you sit on one horn of the dilemma, but as far as its distribution is concerned you sit on the other.”

“How so?” Fat Martin was interested now. He may not have time for the Greeks, but he loves a good wrangle.

“Well, the whole concept of being saved by faith alone kinda requires that we know that God will act in a certain way. That is, He has promised, through His Son (who is also Him—always confuses me, that bit), that He will save those who believe in Him and His promise. You bang on about this quite a bit, you know, and often emphasise the nature of the promise. He has promised something, so we can have certainty that He will do it. This only really works if we accept the secondary horn of Euthyphro: because otherwise God could entirely renege upon His promise, and that would be fine because He is God and if He reneges on His promise then this is necessarily good. For sola fide to work, and for us to be able to know it will, God must be bound by what is good, and what is good must be accessible to human reason.”


“Well, there’s a problem, then, when we get onto the distribution of this. Because not everyone believes, not everyone will be saved. Fair enough, but you also insist—actually, quite correctly—in the absence of freedom of the will. You got into quite a spat about this. The saving belief in God is not taken by the individual as a freely-willed act, but is granted, by the grace of God. But then we come into a problem, because of the apparently arbitrary distribution of this. It seems resolutely unfair, doubleplus ungood, that people are not saved by their merits, or by their works, but by the whim of the deity. All people are necessarily equally deserving of hellfire, yet God selects some but not others to be given the saving grace of belief in Him. Doesn’t this require the exactly opposite view of the dilemma? We can only reconcile God’s goodness with this arbitrary allocation of grace if we accept that whatever He does is necessarily good, and that we should not attempt to reason about his acts using the human understanding of goodness. So which is it? If I cannot rely on God not acting arbitrarily then I can have no grounds to believe His promise; but if He cannot act as He pleases, how can we understand the random allocation of grace?”

Fat Martin was silent. He’s well known for his temper, and I worried he might be building up to a paddy. But eventually, slowly, he spoke. “I never thought of that,” he admitted. “You kinda got me there. I suppose I’d better take it all back. The whole shebang.”

“It’s a bit late for that now, you know,” I said as I passed him the bread.

He chewed it thoughtfully. And then suddenly gagged, coughed, and, red-faced, spat out two Brazilian coins which were buried in the dough. “What is this?” he shouted, perhaps relieved of an excuse to rant. “Are you trying to choke me?”

“They’re a gift for you,” I answered.

“Do you usually give gifts like this?” he inquired furiously.

“I’m sorry, Martin. I thought you were a fan of the Real Presents.”

Fat Martin stared at me again. “Fuck you,” he said, eventually. He does have a potty mouth on him, does Fat Martin.

Fat Martin is not amused

Fat Martin is not amused.