Albums Of The Year 2006

Hello groinkers!

It’s time for my traditional round up of the best albums of 2006. This year I’ve chosen 32 albums, one for every tooth in my mad, mad head! The shortlist was around 70 so every album below is a winner, no matter where it is on the chart. Buy them all!

32. Spinform – Bryter Tystnaden

Spinform Cover

It’s very hard with instrumental electronic music to communicate what it sounds like. I could try and describe the sounds of this album (bit guitarry, bit glitchy) but I think it’s better to say it sounds like a forlorn mouse in a rusty metal box playing a tiny guitar. Yep.

31. These Arms Are Snakes – Easter

These Arms Are Snakes Cover

‘Easter’ didn’t grab me instantly like ‘Oxeneers’ did but it’s a grower! Loud, proggy and defiantly idiosyncratic, it’s a sprawling, ambitious album. From the mantrarock opener ‘Mescaline Eyes’ through the worryingly-titled ‘Perpetual Bris’ to the flailing, hammering closer ‘Crazy Woman Dirty Train,’ this is an uncomfortable journey. But rewarding, if you stick with it.

30. Giant Drag – Hearts And Unicorns

Giant Drag Cover

Is Annie Hardy nuts? Has Micah just left the duo? Who knows? All I know is that this album is deliciously unhinged, veering from grungey singalongs to outright shrieking barminess. But always with some ultra-catchy melodies in there. Excellent!

29. The Knife – Silent Shout

Knife Cover

I remember DJing the title track in the Bless and seeing indie kids start tapping their feet. That’s when I knew that The Knife would succeed in crossing over where so many other electropop bands have failed. In the same way as every indie kid has Aphex and Boards of Canada tucked away in their collection, they’ll now have The Knife. And they’d be right to as this is simply a great album. Go on… stop being miserable, stick it on and throw some shapes in your front room!

28. The Ladies – They Mean Us

The Ladies Cover

What do you get if you cross Pinback with Hella? You get something that sounds like Dinosaur Jr. with Venetian Snares drumming and perhaps one of the most startling pop albums of 2006. This album is for all you jaded hipsters reading this: go and buy it and then tell me you’ve heard it all before. I dare you! This album isn’t a novelty, however, the songs are very catchy even if the framing is sometimes… challenging. Just listen to ‘Nice Chaps, Buddy’ – how great a song is that? Bizarro pop!

27. Belle & Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

Pursuit Cover

B&S deliver another seemingly effortless slice of pop pie. How do they keep doing it? Anyone who doesn’t feel like dancing when ‘Funny Little Frog’ comes on needs a hefty dose of anti-psychotic medication.

26. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale

Fishscale Cover

Is it really 13 years since ’36 Chambers’ came out? Bugger! In that time, the Clan have produced some of the finest hip hop albums in history. Think about it: how many rock bands from ’93 are still going and still cutting it? Just listen to ‘R.A.G.U.’ to hear that GK hasn’t lost the fire in his belly.

25. Les Breastfeeders – Les Matins De Grands Soirs

Breasfeeders Cover

Les Breastfeeders remind me of the much-missed Bristols. They make jumpy, speedy garage pop that is equally singy and dancey, no mean feat. Look how many bands try to aim for garage pop and fail miserably. Well, LB hit the mark song after song on this album. Definitely an album to put on when you’re getting dressed up to go out and fancy singing into your hairbrush.

24. Pascal Feos – Synaptic

Feos Cover

Have you ever wondered what it sounds like to be a tiny metal foetus in a robot’s womb? Then buy this album and stick on ‘Brooklyn Style.’ And while you’re at it, don’t start robot dancing round your front room forgetting that the neighbours can see you. Not that I’ve ever done that. Nope.

23. Steve Lawson – Behind Every Word

Lawson Cover

First a disclaimer of bias – I know Steve as a mate. That being said, if I didn’t like his music, his album wouldn’t be here. He is, of course, a fantastic player but what’s made me return to this record is the composition, melodies Satie or Debussy would have smiled at. Again, it’s hard to label his music, it’s solo bass but it sounds more like floaty electronic music (to my limited ears!). Standout track for me is ‘Jimmy James,’ simply beautiful. Buy this album and drift away.

22. Ellen Allien & Apparat – Orchestra Of Bubbles

Allien Cover

Well, I can’t go wrong here, innit? I love Ellen Allien, I love Apparat so what does the collision between the two sound like?

It sounds like some of the finest electronic music I’ve heard. There are songs, there are more abstract pieces, it’s the kind of album that you find yourself returning to. I even re-ripped it at a higher bitrate just in case I was missing any clicky goodness. Funky, poppy, classical. Lovely.

21. Swollen Members – Black Magic

Members Cover

If you’re a hip hop fan and haven’t latched on to Swollen Members yet, you’re missing out on some bloody good music. They haven’t ever delivered a less that impressive album and ‘Black Magic’ continues that track record. I love the production, I love the loops (immaculately arranged with an almost Prince Paul deftness) and the rapping matches up to the other ingredients. ‘So Deadly’ should be on the radio. Fab.

20. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness – Fear Is On Our Side

Darkness Cover

I don’t know why this album isn’t more highly regarded. It’s a goth classic! Not modern, rubbish, panto goth but proper goth, you know 4AD, existentialism, Herman Hesse. Relentessly bleak, powered by icy, chugging guitar riffs, FIOOS melds brooding lyrics with scintillating melodies. Scintillating in the sense that dark stars also shine. If you’ve ever danced or sung along to The Cure, This Mortal Coil or Modern English, this album is an essential purchase.

19. Sparks – Hello Young Lovers

Sparks Cover

Sparks. How do I review a new Sparks’ album? This band made some of the most fantastic, widescreen pop records ever!

Well, if you’ve ever been a fan, there’s a good chance you’re going to love this album. From the opener, ‘Dick Around,’ it’s got those classic Sparks trademarks: operatic looniness, amazing harmonies and lyrics that are never easy. For a band to be producing material of this quality so far into their career is stunning. They could easily just be milking their old standards on karaoke tours. But, nope, they’re messing with our brains instead! Mad bastards.

18 Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country

Obscura Cover

This is a lovely little poptastic indie album. From the opener, slyly nodding to Buxton’s finest export, through to the end, it’s a singalong fest. Is there anything wrong with that? Nope!

17. Islands – Return To The Sea

Islands Cover

Yep, there are links to The Unicorns (although that’s less now Jamie’s buggered-off), yep the album has guest appearance from indierati like The Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. But ignore the hype and the hipness, this is simply a great pop album. Inventive and melodic, whimsical and often downright contrary. Give it some of your time and it’ll give you a big lick on the face.

16. Kelley Stoltz – Below The Branches

Branches Cover

Along with the Islands album, this has been one of the most sunny, Beach Boys-y albums of ’06. Stoltz has an unnerving command of melody, winding it round till you think it’s going to snap but instead it resolves like sinking into a warm bath. A top pop album from a supremely accomplished musician, singer and songwriter. ‘Ever Thought Of Coming Back’ is pure gold, that descending bass part in the last few bars is a sprinkle of stardust.

15. Durutti Column – Keep Breathing

Durutti Cover

What can I say about Vini Reilly? I’ve been listening to his heavenly music for the last 20+ years and he continues to surprise and charm me with his art. Liquid guitar lines weave through KB, bound with Reilly’s elegiac melodies. Beautiful!

14. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor

Fiasco Cover

Lupe has deservedly got a lot of coverage this year. I watched him progress from being a net hype to appearing on telly and it was good to see him get that exposure because this is someone who needs to be in the pop charts. This is a rapper who isn’t afraid to show he has a brain and a heart. His breakthrough hit, ‘Kick Push’ crossed over because it’s a glittering hip hop song with lyrics that connected with millions of people. His album proves that song wasn’t a fluke: tracks like ‘Sunshine’ and ‘American Terrorist’ showcase Lupe’s immense flow and lyrical flourishes. He’s a star. A true star.

13. Miwon – Pale Glitter

Miwon Cover

’06 has been a bumper year for electronic music, there’s a load of albums I had to leave out of this list to keep it short. But I had to include ‘Pale Glitter’ as it’s kept me company for many hours. Whether it’s the supreme whisper-along of ‘Brother Mole’ or the clicky ambient sky-trails of ‘Rain Or Shine,’ this album hits the spot. Mmmm… I’m expecting to hear this album over loads of BBC gardening / house progs in the next year or two.

12. Dresden Dolls – Yes, Virginia

Dresden Cover

Why don’t Dresden Dolls get more acclaim? Is it because they’re too poppy, too talented? I haven’t seen this album on any hipster best-ofs so I’m guessing it’s unfashionable to like it? Well, fuck fashion! YV is a glittery, over-the-top romp. Whether it’s the piano-down-the-stairs stagger of ‘Alcoholic Friends’ or the genius lyrics of ‘First Orgasm,’ this is a band both enjoying themselves and connecting with the listener.

11. Braintax – Panorama

Braintax Cover

Now, here’s an artist that lives in the now. While British rock music continues to fuck the ghost of some dead decade, Brit rapper Braintax tells us about the real world. If this album just consisted of one track, ‘Syriana Style,’ it would piss all over any of the angry punk / metal albums released this year. They have zero content, 100% bluster, Braintax has an irrefutable flow and lyrics that burn you as they amaze you.

And while crappy pop r’n’b / hip hop continues its escapism, Braintax continues to confront the fucked and fuckers, real life.

If you’ve ever, ever, liked any hip hop whatsoever, you must purchase this album.

10. Euros Childs – Chops

Euros Cover

Gorky’s were one of my fave ever pop bands. Fabulous songs! So, I’m sad that they’re gone but I’m happy to have Euros’ first solo album in this best-of. It’s poppy, it’s mental, it’s partly in Welsh, everything you’d expect from Mr. Childs. Please, let’s have another one soon!

9. Mikkel Metal – Victimizer

Mikkel Cover

Another artist that I played when I was DJing. I was amazed at the response. As minimal and uncompromising as ‘Align’ is, every time I played it, someone would come and ask who it was. Pure electronic music like this rarely gets that response.

‘Victimizer’ is dark and wide, you have to give it a bit of quality time. It isn’t as immediately infectious as, say, ‘Silent Shout.’ But when it gets its claws into you, it’s vicious. The music is hypnotic (without ever being trancey), open without being empty and very, very tuneful.

8. The Tyde – Three’s Co.

Tyde Cover

I know The Tyde used to get slagged-off for wearing their love of Felt perhaps a little too prominently on their sleeves but this album escapes those shrewish critiques. Songs like ‘Too Many Kims’ are deceptively simple-sounding but it takes a great deal of skill to make pop this breezy, this infused with summer. It’s a great singalong album. And come on, anything with Ric Menck drumming on it is worth buying. ?

7. Victor Scott – Happy Days

Vic Cover

The story goes…

I download an album, totally illegally. Then I fall in love with its majestic pop oddness, the clash of genres and the sublimely addictive melodies. I investigate and discover that I can buy the album for about 2p. And another! Then I get in touch with the creator himself who turns out to be as witty and friendly as he is insanely creative. Here’s a word about the album from the man himself that he kindly emailed me yesterday:

“Its been an amazing year since I released my record. I was worried when I was mixing the record that it would be too varied, but that hasn’t happened at all and I’ve been overwhelmed with all the support I’ve gotten from folks all over the world … especially all the love and kisses I’ve gotten from Jyoti.”

Isn’t music (and the cyberwent) wonderful?

6. Jeans Team – Kopf Auf

Jeans Cover

Jeans Team scored highly in last year’s best-of. And ‘Kopf Auf’ keeps that up. I only bought this album from iTunes this morning but it’s vaulted nimbly into my top ten, leaping over other albums I’ve lived with for months.


Because it’s great pop. Because they’ve got a whole song about pooping:

“Take your time to… SHIT!”
“He can’t shit in Paris, he can’t shit in Rome, the only place for him to shit is at home.”

Who said German electropop was all dour and funless, eh?

5. Mystery Jets – Making Dens

Dens Cover

Mystery Jets have been a beacon for me in an otherwise totally dark and benighted English indie land. They have the songs, they play like absolute bastards and they have a live energy that, having seen them twice, I can tell you is rare. Whether it’s the Betjeman wistfulness of ‘Dennis’ or the Monochome Set-ish stomp of ‘Zoo Time,’ ‘Making Dens’ features some of the best guitar pop around.

There’s something magical about this band and I don’t say that lightly. I only hope that they convert their previous underground and current NME-cred into huge pop success. Because this is a pop band who should be in everyone’s collection.

4. Vapnet – Jag Vet Hur Man Väntar

Vapnet Cover

When I got this album, I thought Vapnet had recycled a melody from one of their earlier singles. So I went through them and realised that they hadn’t – I’d remembered it from last year when I was lucky enough to play a gig with them at Cosy Den in Gothenburg.

This album is that poppy. ‘Thoméegränd’ alone is worth buying it for, soaring indie pop with a melodic sense that just doesn’t exist in the British indie scene any more. Yeah, it’s all sung in Swedish but don’t let that make you miss out on hearing some of the poppiest pop ever.

3. Murs & 9th Wonder – Murray’s Revenge

Murs Cover

This collab between rapper Murs and producer 9th Wonder has produced a mischievous, happy little baby. Where a lot of other rappers are merely pretenders to someone else’s throne, Murs appears to not give a shit about all that:

And you say I’m backpack, cause I don’t have a gat
Man I just love life, and I’m dealin with the facts
I’m young, I’m gifted, I’m beautiful and black
And my momma didn’t raise no fool like that

There are simply too many great lyrics on this album to quote all the buggers. But the thing I most love is that, unlike some self-consciously “conscious” rappers, Murs never comes over as preachy or holier than thou. Yeah, he fucks up, yeah he isn’t perfect, that’s all there in his lyrics.

There’s also tremendous heart here. I can’t think of any other rapper that could pull off a track like ‘Dark Skinned White Girls,’ a tribute to those, both black and white, who don’t fit into their ethnic niches neatly:

Now she like The Smiths, The Cure, really into Morrissey
Heavy into rock, never fooled with the Jodeci
Notice she was never really welcomed by the others
Hard to find a date when it was only 10 brothers
In the whole damn school
And they thought she was weird
Cuz she wore her hair different and she never joined cheer
But girl it’s okay
Ya black is beautiful
No matter how you dress
Or what you think you like
Forget what they say, you doin it right
No more grabbin on ya pillow as you cry through the night
Stand strong, hold ya ground at any cost
And know that everyone who tries to put you down is lost

What else do you need to know? Just a great hip hop album.

2. Akir – Legacy

Akir Cover

I’ve ranted on about Akir here. Please read that first.

Back? Okay.

Having lived with the album, I can tell you that it just gets better. ‘Politricks’ is, of course, the monster track, a juggernaut of precise fury rolling over Bush’s Empire while standing up for its victims, both home and abroad. Here’s a snippet from the final verse:

I got a letter from my brother
Said the media confuse ya
The Army Navy game
Was slippin’ Quarters from Fallujah
No proper armor when they move us
Damn we trapped
Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis surround us in Iraq
Kerry lost
Colin Powell threw in the towel
Ashcroft assed off
The shit is even getting more foul
Network, of elected delegates
Are all derelicts
Look how shiesty Kerry get
Damn it’s all relevant
It’s never how they tell it is
So I gotta get my shit straight
And handle my biz
The next time we have to go vote
I might go
Plus I heard there’s a lot of jobs
And lot of fine ass hos, in Ohio

‘Politricks’ has some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s a brutal mix of humour and horror, despair and hope. Reading them above doesn’t do them justice – you have to hear Akir’s incredible flow. His timing is immaculate, surreal. And it’s set in a spooky, oppressive beat that frames it perfectly.

But it’s equalled by songs like ‘Mood Music,’ which just rocks along over piano and Akir’s perfect flow. And ‘Kunta Kinte’ and… well, you get the picture.

This album isn’t easy listening hip hop. It’s relentless and often disturbing. But in a world of lush videos and empty hype, Akir is the real deal, an artist who is as uncompromising as he is talented.

1. Kante – Die Tiere Sind Unruhig

Kante Cover

Full review of the album here.

There’s nothing that I can add to that. I’ve listened to this album far too much this year. It’s been cathartic and inspiring, disturbing and calming. Everything that great art should be. Kante are probably the finest rock band on the planet at the moment.

Please buy their album, email them and tell them you love them. We need more bands this sharp, this involved.

Hussein Dead

Saddam Hussein Dead
Hussein meeting ally and fellow murderer Donald Rumsfled

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been executed by hanging at a secure facility in northern Baghdad for crimes against humanity.
(Source: BBC News)

I’m against the death penalty. I think any society that punishes murder with murder is fundamentally illogical and flawed. Also, there is always the question of whether an innocent person is executed in error.

However, I think it’s safe to say Saddam Hussein wasn’t an innocent. He was a despot, a tyrant and a murderer. With the support of the USA and UK, he presided over a brutal regime in Iraq. As the West often does, it shored up a dictator at any cost simply so it would have an ally against a perceived enemy (in this case Iran). The West even supplied Hussein with chemical weapons to use against Iran. Only when Hussein tried to grab the Kuwaiti oil that the US wanted was he re-branded as a villain by the US government (prodded along by Margaret Thatcher).

This is also the period that the US starting caring about the Kurdish murders:

On March 16, 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, killing 5,000 civilians, and maiming, disfiguring, or seriously debilitating 10,000 more. The attack occurred in conjunction with the 1988 al-Anfal campaign designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of areas of northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, but Saddam’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attack and the US supported the claim until the early 1990s.
(Source: Wikipedia)

You see, when a friend of the US or UK carries out mass-murder, that’s perfectly justifiable. Regrettable but justifiable. Friendly dictators are always welcome at the White House or Number 10. Look at Thatcher’s love for Pinochet or the US government’s love for… well, anyone who they thought useful. Only when they don’t play ball do they become evil incarnate.

So, what is the lesson of Hussein’s execution? Is it that you shouldn’t commit mass-murder? Well, since Bush and Blair have killed 655,000 Iraqis, considerably beating any of Hussein’s achievements and they walk around free, the answer has to be no.

This execution points out one truth only: fall out of favour with world powers and you will have no safety-net. No US-high-up or former Prime Minister will protect you when the families of those you tortured and murdered come calling.

I hope the death of Hussein has brought some form of closure to all the survivors and victims of his reign. But I also hope that one day the people who supported his reign of terror will be held accountable for their part in his crimes.

Heaven 17

Heaven 17

When you see TV programmes about ’80s music, inevitably, they’re shit.

Instead of interviewing people who were actually kids then (like me) or the musicians who were making the music, they wheel on the usual list of twentysomething rentagobs who waffle on about Wham! and Flock Of Seagulls’ haircuts. Thus, the casual viewer receives a distorted, impoverished version of history. And grumpy old blokes like me are left shouting our frustrations at the telly.

Of course, all history is a negotiation, an interpretation. I’m not claiming that those who were there own some indisputable truth. We’re still subject to our own biases, slave to our own prejudices. But at least we were there, we witnessed those events first-hand. (For a more scholarly and accurate account of the Brit electropop scene, try this DVD.)

One of the bands excised from popular TV histories of ’80s music is Heaven 17. If they are included, it’s only for ‘Temptation’ which, while it’s an utterly brilliant pop song, isn’t their best. It isn’t even the poppiest!

I first heard Heaven 17 in 1981. Here’s an excerpt from an interview I recently did with about that time:

In the late 1970s, the Nazi right in Britain was on the rise. The major group, the National Front, even had TV political broadcasts. Asian families like mine were being petrol-bombed in their homes and the police did nothing. I remember lying awake at night, trying to listen out in case we were attacked. I was 12 or 13: a kid scared shitless.

In 1981, I heard a record by a new band called Heaven 17. It was called ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.’ Even though it was banned by the BBC, it got to 45 in the charts – a song that was anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-Thatcher and anti-Reagan.

What was important to me is that H17 turned out to be three white blokes. You see, if they’d been black or Indian, like me, although the song would have still been brilliant, it wouldn’t have been that surprising: you expect racial minorities to be anti-racist. But because they were white, I felt a little less isolated, a little less fearful of the white population.

(Hmmm… quoting myself feels quite… strange!)

Heaven 17

I can’t emphasise how much that one song reached out to me. When I got the album it was off, ‘Penthouse & Pavement,’ I listened to it over and over and over. I was fifteen years old. I bought all the 12″ versions of the singles and played them to death too. I even made my own C90 mixtape of them, joining the 12″ versions together by artful use of the pause and record piano keys. Six minute mixes weren’t long enough – I made one mix of ‘Play To Win’ that lasted around 15 minutes!

‘Penthouse & Pavement’ remains one of the finest albums of all time. I think for music to be good, it has to check at least one of the following boxes:

1. It makes you want to dance.
2. It makes you want to sing along.
3. It makes you think (either via lyrics or pure composition).

Heaven 17 checked all three of those boxes. From the start of their career up till today, they’ve been making intelligent, catchy pop. They’ve also come out with some of the most astute, well-observed political lyrics I’ve ever heard and yet they’re never mentioned in the same breath as Billy Bragg or other ’80s lefty songwriters.

It’s because they make pop music.

Rock critics have always despised the accessible, the popular. They want to be keepers of the secret flame. If Heaven 17’s music had been wilfully unlistenable, like so much “experimental” or “challenging” music, the rock critics would have been lining up to wank them off.

As it is, like Depeche Mode, they’ve never been treated with proper importance by the British music press. Here’s a band who’ve sold millions of records and pushed lyrical and sonic boundaries, a band that always tries to connect to your head as well as your heart.

‘Penthouse & Pavement’ and other classic H17 albums have recently been remastered and re-released. Any of them are well-worth listening to if you like your pop both shiny and deep.

Heaven 17

And just so this doesn’t seem as ’80s-retro as an “ironic” student party, Heaven 17 continue to record and release wild, new pop music, as you can hear for yourself by clicking here. How many other pop bands have been as consistently inventive over such a long period?

Ian Craig Marsh, Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory, I salute you! Thank you for some of the sweetest, most scintillating pop songs in my life! 😀

The Real Criminals

Tony Blair War Criminal

“To initiate a war of aggression … is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany – 1946

Forget about people fiddling a few quid on the dole, when are real criminals like Tony Blair going to be arrested?

Artwork by Keyvan Minoukadeh.

It’s A Commie Life!

It's A Commie Life!

FBI documents from 1947 show that government officials once believed the Christmas movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” was Communist propaganda. About the FBI memo titled “COMMUNIST INFILTRATION OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY,” Blogger Will Chen writes…
(Source: BoingBoing)

Read the full article, linked above for some yuletide giggles. Finished? Good.

What I find surprising is that the tone of it is surprised, as in ‘Look how loony the FBI was back then! As if Capra was a Red!”

The point for me is that ‘IAWL’ is, of course, Commie propaganda. Or, to be more accurate, it’s socialist propaganda since I don’t remember much in it about the liquidation of the Kulaks.

But if you take the tirade aimed at Mr. Potter, the importance of community and communal values and practically everything but the enormous dollop of Christian mythology, you’ve got a film that Marx and Engels would probably have shed a tear at.

‘IAWL’ is a film that would never come out of America now. Post-HUAC, the USA was denuded of the creative lefties that powered Hollywood before. Stalin purged the old Bolsheviks, Hitler purged the Jews, gays, disabled and anyone who didn’t like Wagner, America blacklisted and purged many of its most creative, most passionate humanist writers. A few of them ended up in Britain, writing for our films and telly, much as the US ended up with a lot of Jewish scientists during Hitler’s reign of stupid. I always find it hilarious that lefties in America are called ‘liberals’ whereas that’s our term for middle-of-the-road thinkers. They painted their lefties out of even their linguistic history.

If you’ve never seen ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ now is the perfect time to nip out to a video shop and get a copy. It really is the best Christmas film ever made. I’ve sat and cried through the end of it countless times.

Zuzu’s petals…. 😀

Bad Religion

More people in Britain think religion causes harm than believe it does good, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today. It shows that an overwhelming majority see religion as a cause of division and tension – greatly outnumbering the smaller majority who also believe that it can be a force for good.
(Source: The Guardian)

Well, I think anyone who reads this blog even occasionally knows that I’m a materialist and a rationalist. I guess, therefore, I’m an atheist in common parlance. (Although I’ve always had a problem with that word in that it makes theism, the belief in spooky ghosties, the norm. It defines the discourse in favour of supernaturalists.)

There are, of course, many millions of good, kind-hearted people who happen to be Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, pagans or whatever. That isn’t the problem. Indeed, since religion, as Dawkins points out, is largely an accident of birth, those people would still be good and kind-hearted even if they’d been born into a different religion.

When religionists assume that all human good derives from irrational beliefs in ghosties, they do the greatest dis-service to human nature. And they also put the cart before the horse: the best, most noble, most loving parts of all religion come from the great good that is naturally within all humans. Or were all people evil before the birth of Christ / Buddha / Isis?

Similarly, while I broadly agree with the poll results, I think that the capacity for great evil is also within most humans. It doesn’t take a Pope or a mullah to create evil, evil does not spring from organised religion alone. Or were all people perfectly good before the birth of Christ / Buddha / Isis?

But, the pernicious nature of religion is in the way it survives and spreads. Look around you: we’re about to enter a festive binge based upon an ancient Middle-Eastern cult. For the next few days, all our media and a lot of our daily activities will be organised around the birth of a man in Palestine 2000 years ago. That’s a pretty ferocious meme.

In order for religions to flourish, they have to promote themselves. The basic rules for any religion are these:

1. This is the only true faith. All other faiths are blasphemies and their followers heathens.
2. You must indoctrinate your children into this faith (and perhaps mark them as true believers by mutilating their genitals).
3. You must spread this faith. Or you will be punished by the head ghost.

If the members of a religion don’t follow the above rules, that faith will inevitably wither and die. Once a faith gets too liberal, too wishy-washy, too optional then it starts atrophying, much as Anglicanism has in Britain. Yes, most people call themselves Christians but that’s reduced to a cultural background, they’re probably only in church three times in their lives, if that.

Think of faiths as being like bacterial cultures on a petri dish. The dish is the world and its human inhabitants. Although population increases, there is only ever the one dish. If you want more followers, to spread your colony type, you either have to convert un-occupied areas (humans who don’t believe in anything) or subsume an existing colony.

Now, that conversion could be peaceful. But, in practice, it is often violent and confrontational, no matter how allegedly peaceful the deity being worshipped. In fact, if you actually read most of the central religious texts, they often justify genocide of non-believers as God’s work.

It’s only a short hop from there to crashing planes into skyscrapers.

You see, once you believe one irrational thing, your mind becomes capable of being fed more. You’ve relaxed your rationality, you’ve become subservient to a religion which, of course, always demands obedience and defies logical critique. The old men who generally run all the worlds religions don’t take kindly to having their authority questioned. Your job is to shut up and give them your money / your life / other people’s lives.

Merry Saturnalia everybody! 😀

Archbishop: Iraq Worse Since Invasion

Archbishop Rowan Williams
Archbishop Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury has accused the UK government of placing Christians in the Middle East at risk through its actions in Iraq.

Dr Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican church, said there had been a growing number of attacks on Christians.

Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was “no doubt” that life for Christians in Iraq had become more difficult since the invasion.

“What we have seen in the last year or so in Iraq has been attacks on Christian priests, the murder of some Christian priests, and the massive departure of large numbers of Christians from Iraq,” he said.

“The situation has got worse since Saddam fell.”
(Source: BBC News)

The government has already dismissed Williams’ comments, the same as it dismisses (or arrests) every other dissenter. Williams is lucky: at least Blair’s stormtroopers haven’t locked him up. Yet.

Williams has merely stated what every other non-insane commenter believes about Iraq, that the illegal invasion and occupation has been a tragedy for the Iraqi people. The evil dictator Hussein was removed but the result has been a brutal civil war, not democracy.

And 655,000 Iraqis have been killed in the process.

How will Butcher Blair respond to this message from the Archbishop? Will he still have God whispering in his ear, like Dubya does, telling him all that killing is just dandy?