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May 05, 2011

Yes to AV: Vote for change

I don’t normally get overtly behind any particular politics on this blog, preferring instead just to snipe from the sidelines and call out any hypocrisy I spot. But today’s referendum vote is something I actually care about and so I’m going to have one last shot at convincing anyone reading this to vote ‘yes’ today.

What I’m not going to do, is explain why AV is better or First Past the Post (FPtP) is worse. I encourage you to look at some of the many explanations elsewhere on the net. The one with the kittens is particularly good.

Chances are that once you get a full understanding of how things work, your response will be “well AV seems slightly fairer but it’s so tiny it’s hardly going to make any difference is it?”

And you’ll be right.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but there’s a good chance that having AV wouldn’t have changed the result of any recent election. Nick Clegg called AV ‘a miserable little compromise’, a statement he’s now backed away from. Which is a shame, as he was right. AV does bugger all to reform anything in any meaningful way. It’s only minutely fairer and minutely more representative than FPtP. So why vote ‘yes’, hell, why vote at all?

The thing about things that are only minutely fairer than other things, is that they’re still fairer than the other thing. If I gave you the choice between being punched in the face 100 times, and being punched in the face 99 times, you’d choose the latter every time.

It’s a tiny, tiny step on the road to a better politics. There’s a few overwhelming sentiment from the media and the public these days when it comes to politics. Disdain. Apathy. Anger. Annoyance. Everyone on every side of the debate seems to hate politicians. Thinks that they’re out for just themselves, that they don’t represent them. From the student to the teacher to the factory worker to the doctor to the fascist to the anarchist to the hippy to the office worker… no-one actually respects politicians any more. The only ones that even like them are the rich city types and the bankers. And even then, it’s not respect but rather a patronising sort of appreciation.

AV is something the Tories are against. It’s something half of Labour are against. This is something that the vast majority of the people that have ruled us for the past fifty years do not want and we, the British public, have a chance to take it. That to me, is fucking awesome. That to me, is a good enough argument to vote ‘Yes’ right there. I’m genuinely baffled by people that have gone on and on about how much they hate politicians and politics and how they’re all the same and they’re all corrupt, and then happily inform me that they’re voting ‘No’.

I was going to say “it’s like a beaten wife crawling back to her husband and doing whatever he tells her to” but it’s not. Because in that scenario, she inevitably ‘still loves him’. No-one loves the Tories or Labour, but we want to go along with them because… I honestly don’t know. It’s one thing in a general election, because there really is ‘no other option’ – it’s group of twats A, or group of twats B. But here, for once, we actually get to choose the option neither of them want.

It’s unfortunate that Obama already bagged the slogan ‘Vote for Change’ because that’s what the Yes To AV camp needed. Voting ‘Yes’ is a vote for change. It’s a vote to reject the status quo. It won’t make much practical difference, but it sends a message: ‘enough of this shit, you don’t always get to have your way’.

It’s only a first step. Actual reform will take a long, long time. But it can happen. And if you don’t vote Yes, you give the politicians the statistics they need to deny us that change for another 20 years at least. Do not let that happen.

Sidebar:

I know some people actually want reform, they want a proper, proportional representation system. I’m in that group. But some people think the way to get that is by voting ‘No’. These people are delusional enough to believe that the media and the politicians will actually give equal weight to the idea that someone voted ‘No’ because they wanted greater reform than was offered, as they’ll give to the idea that they voted ‘No’ as they didn’t want any reform.

I won’t pass further judgement, other than to say that most of the small parties also want a proportional system as it benefits them directly, so they should know what they’re talking about.

Here are the ones that are backing the Yes campaign, as they think it’s the best way to get that reform in the future: Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, SNP, Greens, UKIP, English Democrats, Christian People’s Alliance.

And the ones backing the No campaign as they think that will get them the best chance of proportional representation in the future: BNP, Respect.

Your call


December 06, 2010

Wikileaks: Can we get one thing straight?

I could argue for hours about Wikileaks. I may well write at length about them in the future. But for now a short entry to just sort one thing out.

Wikileaks didn’t steal anything. They obtained and published stolen documents online. The only thing they actually do, other than host them, is go through to redact any information which they believe could cause loss of life.

That’s all they do.

Der Spiegel, The New York Times and The Guardian also published subsets of that same information. The only difference between them and Wikileaks is that those papers actually profited from revealing that information (in that having the scoop on the leaks helps sell more papers) whereas Wikileaks is a non-profit.

So by all means, if you want to condemn Wikileaks then that’s up to you. But don’t have double standards here. You want to prosecute Assange, then you should want to prosecute the Editor of The Guardian too.

Of course, people are a lot more reluctant to suggest that, as we have a small thing called freedom of the press which is pretty key to the whole nature of democracy. The same people that defend that right will try and make Wikileaks out to be an exception to the rule. Because they’re online, and because they’re not out to make a profit. Because they’re not playing the game.

That’s why this is dangerous. If we establish a double-standard now, that online publishing doesn’t get the same protections as traditional newspapers, then we’re totally screwed in the future when all publishing moves online.


November 26, 2010

More on student fees / riots

What I would have written yesterday were I less angry.

A few other thoughts on the riots

Violent protest has always been a part of direct action. It’s not big or clever, but boy, does it get people’s attention. The problem is that one gets the impression that when these student protests turn violent, it’s because somehow some students think “well, that’s what we do on protests, isn’t it?” and then start smashing things. Violent protest and destruction of property is a huge statement, and as such has to be direct with thought and in the right place. I genuinely don’t think that’s been happening here. People weren’t smashing stuff because they were angry with the government. They were smashing stuff because they were a bit drunk, wanted to smash something, and saw the protest and ‘direct action’ as a good excuse. That is simply not good enough. The bigger the gun, the more carefully it must be aimed, lest you accidentally hit something you didn’t mean to.

Claiming that the rising tuition fees mean that you can’t go to university is, in 99.9% of cases, wrong. Of course, the tuition fees shouldn’t be going up. The fact that it’s taken only 12 years to go from giving students money if they attend university to charging them up to £9000 a year is ridiculous. Students applying to university next year started school when grants still existed! The whole thing is a total travesty.

However.

The fees are not paid upfront, you get a loan for the cost of the fees and that is paid back later. The loan has an effective zero-interest rate, and repayments only kick once you’re earning more than 15k (shortly to be upped to 21k, and then at a flat 9% of income over that figure. I’ve only just started repaying mine, and while it is a loan, effectively it’s more like a tax. Most agree that a Graduate Tax would be a fair alternative to a fees hike, and really, that’s sort of what this is. The problem is that it’s unfair, as rich kids can have mum and dad pay the fees upfront and not have to worry about it.

Nevertheless, no-one is asking parents to stump up 9k a year for their kid to go to university. In fact, this system puts the onus for paying the fees pretty much entirely on the student themselves: there will never be a situation where the student has to make loan repayments and can’t afford them. As such, no-one is actually being prevented from going to university. You want to go do an Arts degree and spend your life eeking out a fun and fulfilling existence as an artist on the minimum wage? That’s fine, you get your fees paid for you and you’ll never pay them back. Unless you become Banksy or something and start making a fortune, and then you will.

The idea of that much debt is scary, and it can put potential students off. And to be frank, if it makes kids think twice about whether to go to university or not, then that’s a good thing I think. An end to the Blairite ideal of “50% of school leaves should go to university” is a good thing. It’s not for everyone and it’s something that people should consider at length before making a choice. But if it’s always been your dream to go to university, the fees hike doesn’t actually make it any harder, and the out of pocket expenses aren’t any greater. The only difference is that you’ll be paying off your loan for a lot longer than the generation before. That should give you pause, but it shouldn’t stop you.


On torturing school children

I wanted to write a sort of even-handed article about how this whole protest thing has a lot of disingenuousness on both sites. But then I read this. Oh look, police torturing school kids. They’re detained for hours, in the freezing cold, with no food, water, or toilet facilities. Did you know they did actually get a pot to piss in at Guantanamo. The police call it ‘kettling’. I call it what it actually is: torture. Purposely inflicting physical distress in order to break the spirits of the victims. That’s exactly what torture is. Seems like an appropriate response to a peaceful protest doesn’t it? Because god forbid you let a peaceful protest actually happen. This kids are clearly now going to grow up with such respect for the police now. Ugh. Sometimes I have sympathy for police officers in situations like this. They’re just ‘following orders’ – that’s not really good enough but I get it, y’know. But in this case they’re clearly all cunts.

See, I can understand why some police chief, up in a nice office behind his desks, hears about an ‘angry mob’ moving towards Westminster and orders his men to intercept and detain them. Because he doesn’t know what the officers down on the street are seeing: that they’re bloody school kids. There comes a point where even police officers should be expected to track down that small still-working part of their brain and realise that their orders are ridiculous. The response is straight-forward: “there were also some hardcore radicals involved in that protest.” Okay. Maybe. In which case why don’t you, hmm, again, engage the brain and let the school kids out. It frankly baffles me that supposedly intelligent adult policemen could be so dense. It probably shouldn’t, but it does.

The kids involved in that protest are, frankly, heroes to our civil liberties. They deserve the upmost respect. The police officers involved deserve nothing but our scorn and disdain. If you’re unsure about that, ask yourself one simple question: you have a choice – you can either torture a 13-year-old child, or lose your job. What would you do?

Yeah.


October 22, 2010

A football–idiot looks at Rooney

I don’t understand Wayne Rooney.

Not in the same way most of you won’t. You don’t understand why he’s doing what he’s doing or whatever. I’m just too much of a football ignoramus to understand what’s going on.

But what I can tell you, is what it looks like to me.

A man isn’t happy with his job so he’s thinking of leaving and getting a job somewhere else.

For some reason, this is controversial. Surely the right to leave ones job any time one wants is a fundamental human right? I mean, if you can’t, it’s not a job. It’s forced labour. Obviously if you’ve signed a contract it might have a no-compete or such in it to make that a bit more difficult, but you just have to follow the rules of the contract. Which is exactly what seems to be happening here. Why is this a problem?

Oh yes, he should be showing ‘loyalty’ to his club. He plays for Manchester. Which is funny, as he doesn’t come from Manchester. Not many players there do. Lots of them don’t even come from the UK. Kind of hard to show loyalty to a club when it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a name. It could be called Ahfisashda for all it matters.

He also has the right not to put in the effort if he can’t be bothered. Of course, the club employ him, so have the right to fire him if he’s not performing well enough. But they won’t do that.

I’m not that dim, I know why. It’s just utterly fucked up. It’s because they paid someone else £millions for ‘him’ and want to be able sell ‘him’ after. And we all thought human trafficking was illegal.

The figures are arbitrary, players are assigned ridiculously high values which in no way reflect their actual worth, and pay them to each other for ‘ownership’ of the player. Only in team sport does this happen. You don’t see Google going to Microsoft and offering to buy their top coders or managers. Of course not. They go direct to the employee and make him a better offer. But for some reason, sport has to be different. We have to introduce massive sums of money in to the proceedings, probably to ensure that no other, smaller clubs can set themselves up and impinge on proceedings as they’ll never be able to afford it.

But as Rooney is so wonderfully demonstrating, these monies that the clubs exchange between themselves, and that the players never see, are utterly meaningless. If a player can’t be fucked to play for a club, he won’t be any good, and liable to just sod off. They’re a created fallacy.

Aside: why on earth would any player have any loyalty whatsoever to a club when the clubs can just buy and sell them like cattle.

Try and take a step back, out of football land, and see how ridiculous it is. Watch this video and imagine that he’s talking about anything other than football. It’s hilarious. No clue who he is, but he gets all angry and annoyed about the fact that he can’t just buy players and make them do what he wants. He’s probably still mourning the end of slavery.

Of course, I’m not going to waste an entire blog entry just talking about football. What’s interesting is this creation of a fake monetary economy based on nothing but invented figure is what we’ve all been chastising the bankers for for the past couple of years. Rooney is basically a human sub-prime mortgage, unwittingly drawing attention to the fact that the entire system is silly and people are panicking as they’re worried it might collapse.

The irony of course, is that those most vociferously attacking him and defending the system, likely also slagged off the bankers for doing the same thing.

Huh.


September 17, 2010

Why I care: The Pope

Anyone following me on Twitter or Facebook today may have seen me be rather uncomplimentary towards the Pope, and this whole visit. Some people think I’m taking it too seriously, that we should just live and let live and I shouldn’t be acting like a Dawkins militant atheist. Well sod that. This does matter. I’m even prepared to risk sounding like Lily Allen when I say that the open arms with which we’re welcoming the Pope to our shores is really not okay. And apathy and a lack of opinion and live and let live claims from friends that I otherwise have intellectual and moral respect for are not okay either.

This fucking matters.

The child-abuse thing is awful. But it’s a cheap shot and it’s a flimsy argument. One I made myself in a recent blog. Things happened. Awful things. But we don’t know how involved the current Pope was and things are happening to try and sort it. It’s too slow, too late and not enough but it’s something. There’s action. You go up to the Pope today and he won’t tell you that child abuse is okay.

Homophobia. It’s awful, it’s bigoted and it’s institutionalised. I can’t imagine how gay people must feel seeing their country venerate someone who thinks their entire life is a sin. But bigots exist. They just don’t like people who are different. And we can fight against that where we find it but we find it in a hell of a lot of places. It’s an uphill struggle.

But then there’s AIDS in Africa. Ben Goldacre covers the facts and the scale in heart-wrenching detail. The headline: 2 million deaths a year. A huge chunk of which could be prevented if people weren’t told that using condoms will send them to hell. Keep that in mind while you consider this.

Most developed nations, most huge multi-nationals, most religions, are in some way democratic. If we really don’t like something our government does, we have the mechanism to vote them out of power. Religions are generally fractured, with different holy-men reigning over different regions and different denominations. Those that make unpopular decisions see their followers wane and disperse to different flavours of the same religion. Big companies are run by a board of directors but they answer to share-holders who can number in their thousands and can oust them with enough votes.

This is all good, it means there are checks and balances. It also means change, real change, is slow. Things have to be done gradually else the backlash can destroy any chance of them being done at all. The price we pay for democracy.

For the Catholic Church, uniquely, this is not so. One man rules. His is the divine word of God and cannot be questioned. You don’t get fired from being Pope. You answer to no-one. You don’t get ousted. It’s a job for life and the only way out is death. That may well make him the most powerful man on the planet.

You see, the Pope could turn around tomorrow and decree that condoms were now permitted by God to fight the greater evil that is AIDS and save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in a second. All he has to do is say it. There is no down-side. It doesn’t encourage people to have sex; trust me, if a 6% chance of catching AIDS doesn’t stop people shagging, nothing will. It wouldn’t even be that controversial, Catholicism is one of the few religions that still oppose condoms. Even the fundamentalist Muslims are in conflict over the issue. And if there is a fallout, so what? It was the word of God and you don’t question it.

Millions of lives, present and future, could be saved in an instant. And not only does the Pope not act, he even goes out of his way to make it clear that condoms are a sin when he gets the chance. How? Why? This isn’t a toss-up like the Iraq War, where thousands will die if we do but thousands may die if we don’t. There is no downside. You lose what? I’m sorry but but if you want to preach abstinence, fine, but the threat of catching AIDS is not a fucking weapon in your arsenal. Jesus didn’t hold his people at gunpoint while he preached.

And yet the Pope does nothing.

One fucking sentence out of his mouth and a few million people in Africa live instead of die. He’s not directly responsible for what’s happening. But he could accomplish so much by doing so little, and yet he doesn’t. The way I see it, that makes him culpable. Enabling child abuse is bad. But at least he doesn’t still openly call it okay. Enabling what could ultimately be genocide? Well you can make your own mind up on that.

But if you honestly think the answer is spending 12 million quid (when the country is broke) on having him turn up to give a couple of speeches is the answer then you’re fucking retarded.

That’s why this fucking matters to me and why the whole thing makes me really, really angry. And it’s why it should make you angry too. And if it doesn’t then honestly, there’s something wrong with you.

It’s not okay. His inaction is not okay. Us welcoming him to our country is not okay. And us shrugging our shoulders and saying “well it’s just religious politics bollocks” is not okay either.

Care. Give a damn. Join the chorus of people mocking him either on the internet or protesting this for real. Let the world know that we do not approve and we expect, nay, demand more if he wants to be venerated like he expects.


September 12, 2010

Why the Pope is probably evil

I’m not a fan of politicians. Generally they’ll act in their own interests or the interests of a small group they represent. Protecting themselves and their political party/government is the overriding motivation, doing the right thing being only secondary.

It’s in that context that I can look at the actions of the Catholic Church over the whole child-rape thing and understand them. I get why the Church, and our current Pope in his old job in particular, opted to cover it up. It was the most politically expedient option. Obviously that’s not okay, not for any organisation, and one that basis itself on handing down moral instruction should be held to even higher standards. But it’s understandable. Deep down, when we all feign shock at the fact that the Church covered it up, a voice in our head is going “of course they did, they wanted to avoid a scandal”. It was a political move. Placing politics above what was morally right. Utterly reprehensible, but comprehendible in that context.

But something has been bugging me lately.

The cat is out of the bag now, the scandal exposed, we all know it happened, the cover-up failed. So what now? From a perspective of political expediency, one should publicly admit the mistake, apologise, fire a few people as scape-goats and promise to support the victims and do better in the future. That also happens to mostly be the right thing to do in this case, but that doesn’t matter. It’s also the correct move politically. Doing so moves on the debate. You admit you made an error and then those opposing you can no longer directly attack you on that issue “I said it was a mistake, I apologise, but it’s done now, what more can I do?” There are few answers to that that don’t involve moving on to a different topic entirely. “It’s easier to seek forgiveness than permission” is a fundamental rule of the political play-book. When something goes wrong you apologise and say you’ll try and stop it ever happening again and slowly the debate is recast and anyone still attacking you for it makes themselves look like a bully and you look like the victim.

Which is why it’s weird that the Pope hasn’t done this. He hasn’t taken the politically expedient path, and that’s scary. See, the cover-up is understandable if you accept the idea that he’s a politician. But his failure to apologise makes it clear that he isn’t. Which therefore means that he covered-up the whole thing because he thought it was the right thing to do.

Just stop and think about that for a minute and the true horror it implies.

From an atheist point of view, this is easy to reconcile. The Pope is wrong in the head and is unable to differentiate right from wrong. He’s no different to any other sociopathic criminal.

The interesting thing is how this must appear to other Christians. Generally most churches tolerate the Catholics as the slightly wacky cousins who wear funny hats and think they’re actually drinking the blood of Christ at communion. But essentially they believe the same things, more or less. The problem is, Catholics believe the Pope has a direct connection to God. Most Christians also believe you can have a personal connection to God. Thing is, many Christians, especially the more evangelical groups, believe the Devil and demons are real too. If you think you have a personal connection with God, and that connection is telling you something that is at odds with a given church’s teachings, the church is less likely to tell you you’re imagining things, and more to say that you’re actually talking to the devil or a demon, and you have to ignore it. Your prayers got the wrong number and you have to be strong and try calling again and hope you God picks up instead this time.

Extrapolating that, and assuming that a fair, just, Christian god would never want child-abuse covered up, the only conclusion is that the Pope is talking to the Devil. Which makes all Catholics devil-worshippers. Given this shocking revelation, I’m not sure why there isn’t also an evangelical Christian anti-Pope march going on, where they’re letting the world know that he’s a servant of Lucifer. But then, I guess that wouldn’t be politically expedient.


August 26, 2010

On faith schools

We’re going to talk about faith schools now, because I said I would. Again, I’m left-wing atheist liberal. You probably know my general opinion. This blog was inspired by the Dawkins documentary Faith School Menace last week and it’ll be of no surprise to you to know that I agree with him entirely. The arguments are straight-forward: it’s not okay to indoctrinate kids basically. I won’t repeat all that hear, instead I’d like to offer a few different angles on this.

Children are not property
There was a bit in that documentary where, frankly, Dawkins didn’t go far enough. One of his interviewees asked him if he thought a parent had the right choose how their child is educated. Dawkins skirted around the question. I wanted him to blow the guy’s argument to bits and say ‘no’.

I had it in my head when I was coming up with this piece that I’d point out that even if you home-school a child, you have to follow the National Curriculum and teach a child certain key things. You can’t teach them 1+1=3, so why should we choose what religious education they get. That seemed obvious. Then I did some research. Turns out you can teach whatever you want. The law just has a woolly rule that you have to provide your child with an education “suitable to their age, ability and aptitude”.

I was genuinely shocked and appalled by this. A parent can opt to home-school a kid, teach him anything they make up, and not have him sit any GCSEs. Yes, if you home-school, you don’t have to do GCSEs. Which basically means parents have the totally legal option to make their kid entirely unemployable for the rest of their lives. That’s abuse. I imagine that most of us would agree that this would be awful, and that any education also didn’t teach a child basic skills like maths, reading and writing should be a crime. But it’s not. That’s plain wrong. Parents shouldn’t have the right to choose their child’s education. Children are not the property of their parents. Parents will inevitably have a huge influence on their children in everything from religion through to social values and all sorts. Education, school… that should be the one area where we’re on an even playing field. Sure, if you can afford it get better teachers at a private school, or if you must send them to a faith school where they associate with children of the same faith and the non-educational parts of school (assembly, etc) are in-line with your religion. But the syllabus should be the same for everyone. You wouldn’t want schools to be able to choose to teach that 1+1=3 in Maths, so don’t let them choose what to teach in Religious Education either. And if we can’t reach a compromise on the syllabus for RE, then drop it entirely. Let parents deal with that and replace it with Philosophy. It’s not that important anyway.

If you want to raise a child in a given religion there’s nothing that can be done to stop you. But by ensuring that all our children are educated with the same material to the same level, we can hopefully give them enough knowledge to decide for themselves if they really believe in that religion when they’re older. Removing that level playing field of basic education should be a crime.

Selection is either right or wrong, you can’t have it both ways

I hate hypocrisy. I’m a hypocrite myself too, but that’s okay because… Anyway. I went to a single-sex grammar school. If you don’t know what a grammar school is, it’s a selective secondary school with an entrance exam, but once you get it, it’s totally free. Like a private school that only has scholarships. There’s not many of them left these days, as Labour were hugely against them and even the Tories don’t want to bring them back.

Now I mostly benefitted from that experience. I think grammar schools are good. They’re not perfect: it certainly left me socially stunted when it came to liaising with the opposite sex, and it took years to get past that. Some would say I still haven’t, but it turns out the combination of being in your mid-twenties, taking up stand-up comedy and blurring the boundaries between yourself and your on-stage character means that ‘creepy’ somehow metamorphasises in to ‘quirky’. Someone called me ‘a bit of a character’ the other week. Point being, grammar schools have their ups and downs, but if you’re going to argue that we shouldn’t have them as selection is wrong, and goes against the principle of a common education for all, then how can you possibly argue that faith school are okay?

A school’s primary function is to educate. Yes, it serves secondary functions in a child’s general development, but it’s main purpose is as a learning institution. Grammar schools select pupils based on their aptitude for learning. It chooses those that learn quicker to better cater for their educational needs. There is an unfair element to that but it makes logical sense. Schools educate, so we select kids based on their ability to be educated.

The Labour government would have us think that that is wrong. While at the same time, encouraging selection based on the religion of the child’s parents. There’s a vague argument for that somewhere. In assembly and such religion comes in to play and religion is a small part of a child’s school life. But it’s tiny compared to the actual process of learning. Yet selecting based on a preference for that tiny little bit of school life is okay. Selecting on the basis of the whole rest of it is somehow wrong.

Again, I can see the argument against grammar schools. I can see the argument for faith schools. I can’t possibly see how you can hold both at the same time. Either it’s okay for schools to select their pupils (on any metric other than geographic location), in which case aptitude for learning is surely the first thing you’d go for, or education should be equal for all and selection is always wrong, in which case there’s no justification for faith schools at all.

Faith schools are racist

Controversial one last then. There are now a few Muslim faith schools dotted around the place. There’s been a bit of consternation about it but mostly they’ve gone ahead with little opposition. The reason for this is that no Muslim faith school has yet topped the local school league tables. This will happen eventually, and when it does the Daily Mail will go insane. “How dare they?” they will ask, “How dare they stop our white Christian kids attending the best school in the area!”

See, the thing about Catholic, CofE and other Christian denominational faith schools is that, to white person, they’re all much of a muchness. I don’t like the system, but I’m no fool. If I’m living in an area where a faith school is the place my child will get the best all-round education, then I’ll play the system. The Dawkins documentary had an interesting fact: 30% of schools are faith schools, 3% of people regularly go to Church. Lots of people are playing the system. As a white, middle-class male, I can do that. It doesn’t matter the denomination, any Christian school and I can just start turning up at the local Church a few years before. My general engagement with religious matters, the fact that I’ve studied the Bible so I can be confident in my atheism, that all actually means that I can probably fake it better than the family that self-identify as Christian but only go to church twice a year and don’t really think about it too much. Being able to engage the priest in a complex religious discussion is more likely to get you noticed and your kid a recommendation than someone that just shows their face.

But like I say, I can do that, because I’m white. And because I’m an atheist that doesn’t have to worry about making my god angry by switching religion. Your average Muslim family can’t do that. Partly because religion is often so tightly ingrained in their culture that they can’t just switch, partly because they don’t want to, and partly because even if they did, they’d probably be regarded with suspicion and face accusations of converting just to get their kids in to the good CofE school. And those accusations would probably come from the white parents doing the exact same thing.

The white non-practicing-christian middle-class mostly ignore this, as there’s no shoe on the other foot. No Muslim faith school is the best school in the area yet. So they don’t have to worry. When that does happen, it’ll raise some interesting questions. In theory religion is something you choose, in practice it’s often something you’re born in to.


August 24, 2010

On the "Ground Zero Mosque

Given you’re probably aware that my liberal leanings are so pronounced that I almost fall over, you may be surprised to hear that I’m against any plans to build a Mosque at Ground Zero.

Let’s get one thing clear before you run off in disgust: the thing you’re reading about and seeing in the news, the thing being referred to as the “Ground Zero Mosque” is in no way a plan to build a Mosque at Ground Zero. The media are trying to pull the whole “piracy is theft” thing on us again. Namely, saying something so many times in the hope that that will simply make it true, while ignoring a few small things like the definitions of the actual words they’re using. In this case it’s a) not at Ground Zero, and b) not a Mosque. It’s a few blocks away and it’s a Muslim community centre.

I’d hope you already know this, and for the record, I have no trouble with that whatsoever. But.

When I first read the story, I had a different reaction. Like most people, for a few seconds, I thought the headlines were true. And the idea annoyed and upset me. Some liberal commentators have taken the whole “even if this story were real, it still wouldn’t matter” approach. Yes it would.

I’m going to say it now, a new rule that we should adopt that I think is pretty fair: if someone commits an atrocity in the name of your religion, you don’t get to build a holy site right next to the place it happened. Now I know the people that did it don’t represent your views, I know you’d never do anything like that, you’re a sane person that actually reads your holy book and obeys the whole “do no harm” principle that they’re all based around. But they’re your people, they’re part of your religion and it’s down to you to evangelise and preach and talk some sense in to them. Stop trying to convert us agnostics and atheists. Sort yourselves out first. Honestly you have to convince us that a god exists at all first, them you just need to convince that said god meant something slightly different. And where your religion is being abused by people of power, you need to fight against it and stamp it out. If you’re part of a religion which preaches evangelism at all (and that’s 95% of them) then that’s your job.

I actually see the appeal of the Catholic system here, by the way. There’s one guy that has a direct line to God and everything he says is treated as God’s own word. It’s pretty handy, as if anyone does anything bad in the name of Catholicism, he can just say that God told him they were evil and going to hell and aren’t real Catholics. He won’t, of course, as the church only elects utterly gutless cretins that are too scared to condemn people for kiddy-fiddling let alone wake up one morning and go “hey guys, God says condoms are okay now.” Still, it’d be an awesome system if it worked.

I’m not attacking Islam here by the way. At least, not exclusively. No holy buildings on the sites of atrocities. So no Catholic Churches near primary schools (and certainly no Catholic schools but that’s a whole other blog), no Synagogues near paediatrics wards (ritual circumcision is an atrocity) and no Scientology centres near filming locations used for Battlefield: Earth.

That’s perfectly reasonable to me. Those of us that aren’t religious don’t want to be reminded of what people did in your name. By all means, keep your faith and practice it wherever you want, just don’t build monuments to it that the rest of us have to look at right next to where someone killed a few thousand people in your name.

On the other hand, if you want to build a centre devoted to building community bonds between your religion and the local people a few blocks down the road, then have at it.


June 08, 2010

I haven't been as lazy as it looks

I know, a month, no new blog, but I have been writing elsewhere and shall collect those pieces right here. Then the next few days I’ll throw up a few bits and pieces I did for other places that never got used. Deal? Yeah I know, you like the exclusive stuff written just for you. But I like the increased exposure and clicks I get from writing for other more popular sites.

I’m sorry if that makes you feel unloved, I do like you really, but we’ve been at this for over five years now, and secretly I’ve always wanted you to watch me do it with other people. But I promise, I’ll save the really sick and twisted stuff for you, not like I have much choice, you’re the only one filthy enough.

Top Ten: Sci-Fi Politicians
This has my by-line though I only wrote about 80% – didn’t do the bits about The Doctor or The Mayor. I’d have gone with John Simm’s Master for the Doctor Who one to be honest, but then I’m a little twisted.

Review of Flight of the Conchords at Birmingham
This was fun. I’m still struggling with music writing (after all, you can’t pull off the make it all about your break-up instead trick very often). But this let me cheat, by basically treating it like a comedy review while also playing a bit with the tension between and comedy, theatre and music gig, and exactly what this show was. It was a music gig, ultimately. Hence being published on a music site.

Review of The Divine Comedy at the London Tabernacle
Awesome night, and the best of the three pieces I’m linking to here. If time is short, and you only read one, read this one. As I mention, I’m still struggling with music writing, but I think I got the balance right with this one and it’s probably the piece of writing I’m most proud of from the past few months. It covers the gig, makes observations on the songs, drops a few quotes, and wraps it all in a tasty narrative of indie-rock kid out of his element in a posh fancy muso gig. I think it works.

That’s me for now. Not going to say what I’m writing up next, but do have a few pieces lined up just for the blog, but it seems if I ever blog about writing something, it’s like a curse and it never sees the light of day. Plus it’s fun to tease you all. You know you love it.


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