Diary

The stoning to death of women convicted of adultery. Now there's something that we're pretty much all against, don't you think? So what response might you expect if you were to write to the government of Iran protesting about the sentence of stoning that was passed two months ago on two women - 30-year-old Saba 'Abd 'Ali and 38-year-old Zaynab Haydari - under the Law of Hodoud and Qesas in the small western Iranian town of Ilam Harb?

The answer is a letter from S Raja'i Khorasani, chairman of the human rights committee of the Majlis of the Islamic Consultative Assembly in Tehran. In it he will thank you for your kind letter and suggest that you might instead write to the British government about gross violations of human rights perpetrated by Serbs in Bosnia and demanding the lifting of the arms embargo on Muslims. How's that for a quantum leap in moral equivalence?

Determined to make my contribution to the great national Oasis/Blur debate, I began this week to speculate as to where the great and the good might fall on the issue. I resolved to contact members of The Establishment - you know the type, the permanent under-secretary at the Ministry of Defence, the Bishop of Chichester, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, the editor of the Times, and so forth. But my plans were scuppered on Monday night when I went, in the interests of broadening my knowledge of popular culture in general, to a concert by Take That at the mighty Earls Court.

Whom should I see there, wandering the corridors in a state of mild mystification, clad in pinstripe suit and clutching a bucket-sized cup of Coke, but the editor of the Thunderer himself, one Peter Stothard.

The concert was musically derivative in the extreme (and I don't just mean because they did garage-band versions of bits of Pink Floyd and, can you believe it, Nirvana, at the centre of the show in which they played all the instruments themselves - wow!). It was also enormously spectacular, with explosions, swirling gases and tens of thousands of pinprick lights - in which settings the band, who seem to have employed the same voice coach as Jimmy Clitheroe (ask your grandmother), went through all the tested techniques of panto: this half of the audience singing louder than that; we've got the words up on a screen - We don't need no ed-u-kay-shun; and let's get a punter up from the audience.

What would be the great man's verdict on all this? Before I could find out, he asked me what I thought. "Stupendously banal," I replied. "Oh, I thought it was rather good," he said. No wonder they're having to give it away free these days.

Footnotes to Plato: An intriguing addendum to my piece in Section Two yesterday about whether philosophy holds the meaning to life. Ted Honderich, the editor of the new Oxford Companion to Philosophy, began preparing the 2,000-entry leviathan by making a list of all the entry headings in existing dictionaries of philosophy and then purging from it "everything that seemed to be not alive and well in the late 20th century" before enriching the list with some more modern notions of his own.

So what kind of things went? Archaic expressions such as argumentum ad baculum, he replied, and when I asked what it meant, he answered, with gratifying frankness, "I've forgotten". Being a chap of insatiable curiosity, I then went to the full 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Baculum, it said, was "the penis-bone - os priapi - found in all insectivores, bats, rodents, and carnivores, and in all primates except man". Argument from the penis bone. What can this possibly mean? A copy of Prof Honderich's admirable tome for the reader who comes up with the most fantastical suggestion - or a bottle of the usual Bollinger if the winner insists s/he is an Epicurean (advocate of a "way of life directed at worldly happiness and an atomistic account of the exclusively material nature of reality", since you ask).

Strange practices in the Church are not confined to Anglicans. Spotted above the photocopier in Cardinal Hume's office is the legend: "Flogging will continue until morale improves." Has he hired a naval man? Or have Opus Dei infiltrated?

Readers' entries to my competition last week to come up with suitable modern equivalents of Victorian tombstone vengeance were dismal. I hold off from a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (I don't see why it shouldn't investigate unacceptable behaviour by readers, between its deliberations on the tabloids and the young royals). It is, after all, still the holiday season.

Which perhaps explains why entries to my previous competitions are still trickling in. I have had a suggestion that I should buy all 8,572 copies of my soon-to-be-remaindered book on Third World land reform and then sell them en masse to the Tate Gallery as "Pile of Books". And I have had such an enterprising suggestion from Tim Allen, in Liverpool, in response to my National Lottery Equilibrium Fund that he wins last week's bottle of Bollinger instead of the tombstoners.

Tim, it has to be said, seems to think my Equilibrium Fund is not entirely serious, and suggests what he calls a "viable alternative". Tim is the regional organiser in Merseyside for the Catholic aid and development organisation Cafod, which, in common with most charities these days, sells promotional mugs with its name emblazoned across. He suggests the launch of a Cafod Mugs' Game, in which unsuccessful Lottery punters bring their losing tickets into church on Sunday mornings, write their name and parish on the back, pay another pounds 1, and drop the ticket into a diocesan raffle. The winner gets pounds 100 and one runner-up in each parish gets a special Cafod Not the Lottery Mug. Those who do not succumb to Lottery fever are not excluded; they can pay their quid for a special I'm No Mug ticket.

Will those who dream of millions be tempted for a mere ton? Tim thinks they will, in an attempt to win heavenly brownie points. "We will put up displays at the back of the church to show how the Mugs' Game money is being spent." He is now looking for a couple of parishes in his diocese to pilot the scheme. If the National Lottery had a sense of humour, it would fund his start-up costs.

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