Tuesday, 29 June 2010

What's God Got To Do With It?

It's time. In fact it's long overdue. The Church of England and the Presbyterian Church in Scotland have been part of our social and political establishment for far too long. Not only is this unfair upon all the other denominations and religions in this country (of which there are a great many), it is also unfair upon the large population of secularists (i.e. those of faith and without who don't attend organised religious meetings) and atheists that live in this country.

For the sake of fairness, we must end the privileged relationship of the state with the Church.

For the sake of the Church, we must end political interference in it's freedoms.

For the sake of sanity we must call for a secular Government at all levels, free from religious discrimination.

We should not have Lords Spiritual sitting in the House of Lords. It's just as bizarre as having the Lords Temporal.

Why on Earth do we have chaplains for our MPs and councils? The Lord Mayor of Leicester made a stand against this... by installing a humanist chaplain (which is nice, but still not quite right) and banning council prayers. The idea of Christian prayer at a council meeting that might involve councillors of other/no faiths is quite disgustingly privileged.

In a stunning example of political meddling with Church affairs, the Speaker of the House of Commons went against Church advice and appointed a different candidate to the post of Chaplain the Commons. 1) The Speaker shouldn't be choosing chaplains for MPs. If they want a chaplain they can go see them on their own time. 2) The Speaker shouldn't be getting involved in Church affairs.

I'm a royalist, but I think it's time for our Head of State to cease their function as head of the Church. We must remove our links and break politics and the Church apart for the good of the country and the Church.

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Sunday, 27 June 2010

England Plays Footballs, Whilst The Gulf Burns

I've not seen any video quite as disturbing as this, outside the context of war. 

More coverage can be found here

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Religious Civil Partnerships: Muddlesome

I think one of the key duties of any "liberal" Government is to keep our legal system as simple as possible. After years of Labour adding new Acts and amendments to our legal structure, I would've thought we'd learnt the lesson: simple and streamlined is better than complex and bulky.

Sadly, if the Coalition's attitudes to things are anything to go by, yet more layers of complexity are being added to existing structures on top of already complicated systems.

So as it stood: religious marriage was different to civil marriage and civil partnerships were different to both. The latter two could not be performed with a religious character.

So... obviously straight people who were religious but not keen on organised religion were discrimated against and religious LGBT people/organisations were discriminated against. On top of this came the fact religious transgendered people were also discriminated against as, for example, a male and female couple could get a religious marriage. If the man realised he wanted a transition to reflect his female side and his wife was fine with that, the couple would need to completely divorce, lose several accumulated rights, and then engage in a brand new civil partnership. Let me make this clear: SAME people, DIFFERENT laws dependent on how they identify!! Imagine the pain and upset that must cause.

So we have a confusing situation already. What to do? I would suggest a complete overhaul of the system, introducing a new contract that was amenable to all the scenarios above (and several more I suspect) and allow the individuals and organisations concerned to make up their own minds as to what sort of ceremony or lack thereof they required. Alas, the Coalition has decided to add ANOTHER layer of complexity to the situation.

Chris Bryant, Labour, asked a written question which was answered yesterday (They Work For You). It, in itself, was a question aimed more a complicating the process rather than simplifying it:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will bring forward proposals to allow civil weddings and partnership ceremonies to include religious readings, music and symbols."

Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Equalities) Lib Dem, answered:

Currently, same-sex couples can enter a civil partnership under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 which gives them the opportunity to obtain legal recognition of their relationship. Couples who register their civil partnerships gain vital rights and protections, similar to married couples. Civil partnership registrations are entirely secular in nature and, as with civil marriage, prohibited from taking place on religious premises, or containing any religious language. An amendment made to the Equality Act 2010 removed the express prohibition on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises.

This Government are committed to supporting civil partnerships. This week, the Prime Minister launched Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality, an ambitious programme of work to tackle outdated prejudices and ensure equal chances for everyone, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity. It contains a commitment to talk to those with a key interest in this issue about what the next stage should be for civil partnerships, including how some religious organisations can allow same-sex couples the opportunity to register their relationship in a religious setting if they wish to do so.

Absolute madness. Here's an idea. Instead of the Government legislating for or against which type of "partnership" a couple should or should not be allowed, how about letting those involved decide individually as and when required???

The Government's attempts at compromise on this issue between those of certain sexualities and those of certain prejudices leads to leaving no one happy.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Reasons To Want A Republic Cannot Be Found Here

Liberal Conspiracy has just put up an incredibly lazy article which is little more than an anti-monarchy piece. What's wrong with that? I hear you liberal sorts cry. Nothing except it doesn't really advance a positive case for a republic does it? If we start choosing our systems based on which one isn't the one we've got, we're in trouble.

Of course, full disclosure is required. I'm an unabashed royalist. But in keeping with the style of the original piece, I'm not going to defend that position (mainly because I find it hard to, I think the Royal Family is this atheists version of "God". It's a faith thing ;) ) and instead shoot down the lazy arguments held within it. Before I do, I just want to say this isn't an attack on republicans, so calm down!

It starts off with this quote:

On my trip to England I noticed something obscene
People there still actually give a shit about the Queen

Oh God, an incorrect premise. A trip to England? Did he travel back in time? Last I check that historic country ceased to exist in 1707 (alright, alright, I'm moving on...)

It goes on

"The arguments for a monarchy in Britain today are as follows:"

Hmm.. interesting. I'm sure they wouldn't then go on to mention just the rubbish one's only foolish "patriotic" numpties sprout would they? They wouldn't descend to the intellectual level of the Sun when they asked the question of "Should gay people be allowed to be Ministers?" Sadly... they do...

She’s our queen, and having a royal family has always been a part of Britain.

Untrue. We have been ruled by French, German and (much further back) Roman monarchs/emperors. The current set are more German than anything. There is nothing less fundamentally British than the Royal Family.

There was me thinking that being "fundamentally British" would mean a descent from immigrants, from the Celts, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans ("French" as the author so callously refers to them as, nothing "fundamentally French" about them I'd argue) etc. etc. etc. And the fact is, at least since the times of the Kings of Kent, the Royal Family tree keeps coming back to these islands. I find this "xenophobic" argument rather disturbing. Are they saying that if we were a republic they'd not want to give us a free vote but limit it to those of "pure" British stock??? As someone who is of Anglo-Saxon and Viking descent am I to be cast out with all these other foreign types??

The Royal Family make money from tourism, and if they were gone we would lose the massive amounts of income it provides.

Tourists love the crown jewels, the palaces, and the exhibitions of royal paraphernalia. In a republic we could still maintain these items as historical anachronisms that can be viewed through a glass cage. Of course, we all know how terribly badly off our republican neighbours do without a monarch but with all the glitzy effects that they left behind. France’s income from tourism: 66 billion €, centred on chateaux, art collections previously owned by royalty, and palaces formerly inhabited by their unfortunate aristocracy.

Whilst I think this in itself is a lame argument for keeping the monarchy, I also find the suggestion that the fact they still exist with all their pomp and ceremony doesn't add something to the tourists experience a little bit difficult to believe.

"The Queen doesn’t have any power anyway
Symbolism is important. Look at the Catholic church. The use of icons has allowed the Catholics to put a little piece of religion into homes, schools, and workplaces in religious countries. If symbolism doesn’t matter, then presumably the whole of Britain would be content if we put a copy of the Qu’ran in every classroom in the UK? There would be uproar, of course, because objects have a symbolic afterlife. The queen’s head on a coin says “you are my subject, whether I have any real power or not”. In modern Britain today, we do not need to be the subjects of anybody. The symbolism implies that British people agree with paying for and supporting a family who make Britain look laughable in an international context."

The idea that this is an argument in favour of the monarchy is a little far fetched. This is a lazy argument against change, at best. The Queen doesn't make us look laughable. She speaks other languages, she always shows us in a good light when abroad. You need only look at the FEAR on the face of ol' Dubya when she popped by to see him to know she is held in high esteem by many. Of course not everyone agrees, they don't here and they don't in other countries. How a President would change this, I don't know. They'll be liked by some, hated by others. Symbolism is also overrated (and I'd hope there is a Qu'ran in every decent school's library if not every classroom).

How would we go about getting rid of them? It would be impossible.

One of the perks or flaws of our democracy, depending on how you look at it, is that a simple Act of Parliament can change anything. In 1911, many powers of the House of Lords were removed by David Lloyd George. The Lords had to vote for the abolition of their own strength, or face even more stringent penalties. The monarchy will have to sign their own (metaphorical) death warrant, and just like all unemployed people the family can of course get Jobseekers allowance (at the time of writing), return to their jobs in the military, and get on the property ladder.

I have never, ever in all my years of arguing in favour of a monarchy come across this argument. Are arguments against the monarchy so weak that you need to find pretend arguments in their favour to argue against???

Finally the writer mentions the actions of the "future monarch" reflects badly on the institution. Of course, that argument can be shot down easily with "Dubya". Does he reflect badly on America's republic because of his actions? Or was he just a bad President?

I'm a royalist but I could, quite easily, come up with hundreds of positive reasons why we should have a republic. I could even argue in favour the monarchy. Liberal Conspiracy seems unable to argue sensibly for either! Their article is nothing but distortion, propaganda and downright disturbing nationalism.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Coalition: Not In My Name

This time last month, I delivered a pretty positive piece on why I was, broadly, supportive of the Coalition. It's only been a month, but I've downgrading my status to "neutral". I'm not AGAINST the Coalition as such, but I certainly can't treat the Coalition like I would a Lib Dem Government. I'd be happy to defend a Lib Dem's Government's mistakes because I'd trust they were just that. However I find myself unable to defend the Coalition's and must thus say I'm not a supporter. Here's why:

Well firstly, it's not because of cuts! Since the General Election my liberal beliefs have solidified and I am even more in favour of a small Government and a sensible Government. Sure, some cuts I disagree with, and some others will disagree with others. That's the nature of the task. We all need to accept that. And it's not about the Coalitions LGBT policy. It's disappointing but I'm generally resigned to not being an equal citizen any time before I retire. There's just no appetite for the LGBT equality agenda.

So... with that out of the way...

1) Niggly issues from the agreement have become more and more annoying to me as I've found my beliefs firming up. The marriage tax break, though small, is symbolic of the sort of interfering, social engineering type of Government I despise. The cap on immigration is an illiberal measure that helps only to make our country less competitive even as other countries continue to pull ahead of us in the manufacturing sector (and they had already lapped us several times). These would be defensible but...

2) This is not a grown up Government. The moment David Cameron announced the St. George's flag was going up over Downing Street, I knew he really was just a Blair clone. The day John Barrowman was invited to the LGBT "Inequality" Reception, I knew David Cameron and Nick Clegg were media whores and political lightweights.

I had hoped, naively I suppose, that this new type of Government would have the balls not to make stupid, headline grabbing gestures. That this would be a mature, sensible administration. We have a monarchy, who's sole job is to represent this country, to shake hands, wave flags and meet celebrities. They do this very well, and do not need our politicians to try and steal their last remaining roles. I want our politicians to be intelligent, reserved, inventive. Not loud, brash and stupid. Alas.

Worse are the idiotic decisions, that at face value seem good. The idea of ministers not using ministerial cars for financial and environmental reasons is a good one. Certainly appears to show them taking an austere approach to things. Unfortunately for security reasons, understandable ones at that, it was felt the Red Boxes needed to be transported that way. So we have a ludicrous situation of paying for ministerial cars that our ministers can't use!!! They just drive around Red Boxes!! RIDICULOUS!

3) This is an illiberal, inconsistent administration. Banning a "hate preacher" from entering the country because we don't like what he says about other religions would be fine if we were also banning the Pope from visiting because we don't like what he says about families. Alas it seems it's okay to support institutional paedophilia and homophobia but not for one religious person to criticise other religions. Oh wait, the Pope does that too!!

I can see the writing on the wall with the drip, drop feed of stories starting to come out: this administration is a "two parent family", Christian, immigrant hating, army loving one. I.e. this IS a Tory administration.

And thus I declare, I'm out, I do not see Lib Dem ministers defending a liberal agenda and see them floundering around as Tory spokespeople instead. Sorry to be harsh, I love this party, but there's no other way to put it.

Thankfully Labour is so much worse than the Tories, slipping back into the hard left, immigrant hating, socialist model, that I have no other choice than to continue to support the Liberal Democrats.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Thursday, 17 June 2010

"Working for LGBT Equality": Coalition Doublespeak

So no surprises with the LGBT rights document released by the Coalition yesterday. It simply confirms what was in the original Coalition Agreement.

However I must say the name is rather disingenuous. There is nothing in the document that is truly about making LGBT people "equal" citizens. It seems to all be about tackling specific issues that LGBT people might face, which is worthy but hardly inspiring or much different to the previous Labour Government's take on LGBT rights.

1) Tackling homophobic bullying. Very good, as long as we continue to focus on dealing with ALL types of bullying as well. I really don't see a joined up thought process with this. How can one directly deal with homophobic bullying when LGBT people are still not on a level playing field with straight people in terms of rights? If you tackle the issue by just trying to stamp out bullying without tackling underlying social and political causes of it, then it's never going to work. In my opinion, of course.
2) Workplace discrimination. Given the legislation now in force, I find it rather annoying that the Government wants to interfere further with businesses. An education campaign about workers rights for everyone might be a better idea. So many are ignorant of their rights, which allows unscrupulous businesses to get away with all sorts.
3) Family. Religious civil partnerships. Well it's got the right idea. Sadly, however, this is yet another regressive step, cementing the separate but equal status of civil partnerships. Certainly good news that the Coalition respects LGBT's right to freedom of religion. Bad news they don't support our right to be equal citizens.
4) Civil society. What utter nonsense. Educating people in general as to how to get involved with civil society would be a good idea. What silliness are they playing at in trying to encourage LGBT's in particular to get involved??? Grr... special rights are wonderful but are NOT equal rights.
5) Public Services. "This would mean that public bodies such as hospitals and local councils would need to involve the LGB and T communities" I did not know I had elected an LGB and T representative to this "community" to represent me. Be interested to know who they'll decide represents us (better not be Stonewall!)
6) Crime and justice. I welcome move to better record hate crimes and remove out of date and irrelevant convictions for things that are no longer crimes.
7) Promoting rights internationally. I trust this is as a part of an ACTUAL "ethical foreign policy" and not just a sop to us. So many different groups/individuals suffer under repressive regimes.
8) Additional action for transgender equality. I'll be interested to see the promised report on transgender rights when it comes out next year.

So yes, all this is "nice" stuff. I don't want to come across as being unduly harsh on the Equalities Ministry. They have their hearts in the right place, as it were. But this is still very disappointing. Instead of being about individual freedom, it's all about offering "special rights". The ban on giving blood, and the continuing ban on marriage equality, are not mentioned.

A opportunity to move beyond "LGBT rights" to a bold "equal citizenship" agenda has been missed. It's 2010. We've come a long way since the dark days of the Thatcher and Major Governments. But true freedom remains ever elusive.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Coming Out Is Never Over

Your parents know, your friends know, your employer knows, the local village shop owner knows. You've come out! Hurrah! Get out the rainbow flag and start a parade! Thank God that's over...

Of course, it's never over. Almost every new person you meet will require you to go through the same old routine again, and again, and again. It's something that drives me potty.

I'm a walking contradiction. I'm an openly gay man who has no problem with people knowing I'm gay. At the same time I'm a private person who doesn't feel the need to tell everyone I meet about what I get up to in the bedroom. This makes these encounters rather annoying for me.

Take yesterday as an example. I had a job interview, which went quite well. During the interview we got on to my "other half". The man interviewing me made the assumption that I was straight and began talking about my other half as a "she". Which leaves me with three different dillemmas:

1) the niggling feeling that he might think less of me if I corrected his rather impertinent assumption. I might be out and proud but homophobia is only uncommon rather than rare.
2) the annoyance caused by his assumption. Why should I HAVE to correct him? How dare he assume who I enjoy intimate relations with.
3) my desperate urge to shout "I'm GAY!" as a way of correcting his heteronormative way of thinking.

I, of course, chose politeness and discretion and let it pass. I know us LGBT's are in the minority. But one doesn't assume someone's religion. One doesn't assume someone's political beliefs. So why is it okay to assume the gender of the one I love???

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Thursday, 10 June 2010

Flags, Flags, Flags

Late last year I wrote "For The Flag", at which I bemoaned the upcoming World Cup as I knew it mean seeing two things I hate: 1) disrespectful display of flags and 2) St George's crosses everywhere. (Declaration of interest... I'm human first, British second, Kentish on the outside and sometimes, when it suits, European. English does not feature)

I was not wrong. I have returned to my home town since that post (a move that I must say is possibly the best decision ever made) and here, in deepest, darkest Kent, English patriotism is strong.

Sadly this patriotism is not of the deep, respectful and reserved kind. No British stiff upper lip allowed. This is the loud American patriotism that believes displaying the flag at every available opportunity is the only way to be patriotic. Sadly the American respect of their flag has not transferred across at the same time.

When did people start thinking that they could be proud of the flag and deface it with letters and graphics at the same time? It irks me greatly. I know, I know. People are free to treat their property however they like, and to pledge allegiance to whatever "country" they so wish. But as I said in For The Flag, that doesn't mean I can't moan about it.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

We Are Alone

I, stupidly, flicked my TV over to BBC One just as last night's Panorama special on the Derrick Bird shootings in Cumbria began. Seeing that it might actually provide a clearer time line of what happened (and that it did) I decided to watch it.

Alas, interspersed with a run through of the time line of Bird's horrendous activities came BBC commentary on how the emergency services let people down. This came with on the scene witnesses understandable complaints along lines of "I can't believe the police didn't stop him."

The emergency services do a necessary and sterling job. The police are there to catch and punish those who break our laws. The fire service are there to rescue us when something monstrous occurs. The ambulance service are there to mend our wounds and get us to the hospital as quickly as possible. Wonderful stuff and I am absolutely in favour of supporting their work. The following is in no way a reflection upon the effort or thought they put into their jobs.

However, it's time people understood something: they cannot protect you. There is no way the police, fire and ambulance services can be with you 24 hours a day, nor much chance they can get to you in time to stop something awful happening. They'll do their best. But they won't be able to keep you safe. It's scary, I know. But it's a fact.

Panorama suggested ambulance crews should have been allowed into the shooting area, instead of held back until the all clear was given. Tell that to Hazel Haslett, a paramedic who was injured when she drove her ambulance into the killzone during the Hungerford Massacre. Of course the emergency services should expect some element of risk in their jobs, but would YOU drive willingly into a killzone? I say I might, but I'm a fool... and I'd NEVER expect anyone else to do the same on my behalf.

They also suggested that some unarmed police, who were in pursuit of Bird, were somehow in the wrong for ACCIDENTALLY losing his trail. 1) these things happen. 2) it was probably best that people who weren't armed avoided Bird. PC Roger Brereton was killed when he arrived on the scene in Hungerford. Shot, he crashed his car and died as he radioed in his condition to dispatch. He was just doing his job. I wonder if the reporter on Panorama would be prepared to die by confronting an armed MADMAN without any protection. I doubt it.

It's easy, in the wake of something so incomprehensible, to try to find some sense in events by blaming those "in control". But it's pointless. These random actions make no sense. Human beings make no sense. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can move on to the bigger questions (such as "How do we stop someone like Derrick Bird before they go off the deep end?"). Knee jerk reactions such as criticising the police for minor mistakes, that are ALWAYS going to occur when something like this happens, and calling for more gun controls do nothing to help stop another massacre.

Of course, I'm not saying there shouldn't be an independent review of the emergency service response. That would be useful anyway. The authorities should be held to account and lessons should be learnt. But stupid complaints, made off the cuff by people who are obviously confused and hurt by the events they experienced, should not be the basis of questioning of police chiefs by a professional journalist.

It was mostly certainly a BBC Panorama FAIL.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The News In Brief

Dear Constant Readers may know that I've been moving house from London back to my home town of Folkestone for the last couple of weeks (all for good reasons, I can assure you!) and thus I've had little time to blog on any of the stories that have broken recently. Here are my, ill thought out and knee jerk, opinions.

The Resignation Of David Laws

What is it about the Liberal Democrats (and the Liberal party before it) that attracts closeted gay men to seek high positions within the party? That's not a judgement on the men nor the party, but a question one should ask given our parties clearly liberal stance on LGBT rights.

David Laws sought to have his privacy, but decided to fund it with taxpayer money. Whilst I clearly detected homophobia in a lot of the coverage of his downfall (Should gay people be allowed to ministers? asks the Sun. Should Sun writers be allowed to vote? asks everyone else), I must say it was an ill-advised move to mix our money with his personal life when he clearly wished that his personal life was not known to us. And for that singularly stupid mistake, I think it was the right decision for him to resign and make a clean break so that he can return in the future with his "skeltons in the closet" debt clearly repaid and beyond reproach. The press can't really hound you once you've made the move Laws has, and thus I think he did the correct thing. And next time he wishes to have a non-spouse non-partner, or whatever silly phrase he wants to use (when did boyfriend become a dirty word??), he can make sure he doesn't get them mixed up in a scandal involving public money. Simples.

The Israeli Attack On An Aid Flotilla

I'm one of those few people who doesn't care strongly for either case in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as far as I'm concerned they need to remember they are all simply finite human beings, who need to learn to get along.

The Israeli attack on the flotilla was horrendous, but no more horrendous than the hundreds of other such actions the Israeli Government has been allowed to get away with. The international community seems to regard the Israeli's as a "special case" (and there's clearly something in that after the horrors of the Holocaust) but it's time to stop giving them the latitude to kill and harm citizens of their country and others without punishment.

However the blind support of many westerners for some "pro-Palestinian" groups can be quite disturbing. By all means set up aid groups, fight the good fight to get the people of Gaza what they clearly need. But perhaps it's time for those who simply care to put themselves in a different boat to those with a political and religious agenda. Aid without crazy, loopy woomeisters would be a start. More food, less rhetoric.

Derrick Bird - The Cumbria Killing Spree

Okay, time for a confession. One of my less well known interests is the psychology of serial killers and spree killers. I find their actions truly fascinating, as I feel they teach us more about our species than we'd like to admit and have a grizzly book collection on just that. But I take no gruesome pleasure in their actions, and feel truly sickened by yet another pointless series of deaths committed by a deluded fool.

Of course, even before his dead body had been found, the media was starting to talk about the need for more gun control. My liberal beliefs obviously make me opposed to unnecessary controls but there is certainly a case for a review. However, I find those calling for harsher gun controls miss the point. Do they believe that simply not being allowed to own a gun would stop this sort of person? It wouldn't. They might get guns illegally (a trade unlike to be stopped completely however strident we are), or more likely take out their rage using other weapons, or their hands. Sure, less people die but that doesn't really solve the problem. We need to understand the causes of this sort of behaviour more clearly and understand how our actions and communities can help prevent such behaviour being formed. That's a far harder task than gun control but it's not impossible.

So... I've settled into my new home and have internet access. Normal service shall now resume.

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist