Monday, 30 December 2013

2013: The Year The Right-Wing Moralists Lost And The Left-Wing Moralists Won

Throughout 2012 the media fed us the, with hindsight, lies of opponents of marriage equality who assured us it'd be all but impossible to get marriage equality on to the statute books. 2013 revealed just how wrong they were and saw their campaign against marriage equality collapse under the weight of its own inconsistencies. 

Cardinal O'Brien had been a staunch, and often offensive, opponent of same-sex marriage (and pretty much any LGBT friendly policy). His downfall would've have been delicious if such joy was not tempered by sympathy for all those he hurt. But having one of the most visible opponents be brought down by scandal was not the only thing working against our opponents. 

There are some high-minded, intellectual debates one could have about the pros and cons of same-sex marriage. There are some interesting, thought-provoking issues that can be brought up by opponents of two people of same-sex getting married (see here for my review of the most compelling books from the opposition). Fortunately for those of us who favour such marriages, the opposition in this country didn't even touch on such issues. And their low-brow, scare-mongering served only to show how empty their arguments were. 

They thought they were on to a winning argument with the whole "teachers could be sacked for speaking their views" issue but were quickly undermined by the Catholic church threaten to sack pro-LGBT teachers. Their attempts to build bridges with LGBT anti-marriage radicals were misguided at best. And their briefings to Parliament were so full of strawman arguments and see-through attempts at misdirection that even I could rebut them

And when it came to the votes the Government's same-sex marriage bill passed. And it passed easily. Yes, the bill is flawed. But my how far we've come since this blogger started agitating for marriage equality in the UK.

The utter defeat of right-wing moralists would have been utterly sweet were it not for the continued rise of the joyless anti-sex left wingers who have slowly risen to fight the imaginary armies of the Patriarchy (and take out LGBT and other sexual minorities in the cross fire). 

These heteronormative campaigns against lad's mags, porn, sex workers and strip clubs have drawn some strong support and had some successes (such as with the Co-op and Tesco's meeting the demands of the Lose the Lad's Mags campaign halfway). And this is despite the campaigns being just as poorly thought out as the anti-LGBT rights campaigns earlier this year.

Next year... well... new challenges ahead. And huge risks. The EU elections and the Scottish independence campaign loom...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A Wonderful Year For Marriage Equality

The fight for LGBT freedom globally is one that is far from won. Just this week Nigeria and Uganda have tightened up their anti-gay laws, and Russia has highlighted how even relatively advanced nations are enacting some deeply worrying legislation. But this year one part of the LGBT movement has had levels of success that have astounded even the optimists among us; marriage equality has been one success story of which we can be proud.

Here in the UK, the fight for marriage equality turned out to be a lot easier than we were expecting. Throughout 2012 the right-wing press and activists had declared that the battle would be hard fought and everyone assumed the House of Lords would be a tough nut to crack. Yet when the votes of legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales went through both the House of Commons and House of Lords, the majorities in favour were overwealming. It was a very quiet revolution. The law itself is far from perfect but all the bleating in the world from respectable folks like Cardinal O'Brien couldn't stop it passing through Westminster. 

And in Scotland, a similar bill is currently working its way through the Scottish Parliament. It also appears to have near ironclad support from MSPs. Soon the vast majority of British citizens will live with same-sex marriage laws. Thank you 2013!

The USA has been quite the surprise. After last year;s massive wins for Maine, Maryland and Washington, we've seen a massive increase. Between May 17, 2004 and January 1, 2013 10 states and the District of Columbia legalised same-sex marriage. During that time Prop 8 ended same-sex marriages in California.

This year the Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California was overturned. Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii and Illinois legalised same-sex marriage, whilst New Jersey, New Mexico and, prepare the smelling salts, Utah had their bans on same-sex marriages overturned in court. The result in Utah is, inevitably, going to become the next Prop 8-esqe battle (though perhaps the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should learn a few lessons from that debacle). But this is an absolutely fantastic turnaround from the Bush era of constitutional bans and disappointments.

And it didn't end there for the hated "Defense of Marriage Act" was overturned on a federal level. Truly LGBT folk in the USA can say 2013 was a year to remember!


New Zealand, Uruguay and France (overcoming fierce opposition and cleric led hooligan riots) all legalised same-sex marriage this year. And with all these advances the debate has spread to more and more countries. With Ireland set for a referendum on same-sex marriage within a couple of years Northern Ireland may soon be the last significantly populated place in all north-west Europe one can't marry someone of the same-sex.

Well done 2013. What a fantastic year it has been!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Polyamory Now Legal In Utah

I wrote last year about the Brown's of "Sister Wives" fame and their campaign to end Utah's regressive laws on "religious cohabitation".

Utah has, I'm sure you'll know, a long and complicated relationship with both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and polygamy. In the 19th century polygamy was a central tenet of the LDS Church and they played a cat and mouse game with federal authorities to keep the "Principle" alive in Utah. By the 20th century the federal authorities had won and the LDS Church gave up the "Principle" in order for Utah and the church itself to commence normal relations within the Union.

By the middle of the 20th century the LDS Church was busy rebranding itself and, in so doing, sort to ever further distance itself from its polygamous past. It did this with the help of Utah state authorities and passed, in 1973, a law which banned living with more than one person as if you were married.

“A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.”
Not only did this allow authorities to intervene in some cases of abuse among fundamentalist Mormons, it also became a rod to beat those who were causing harm to no one else. A couple of years ago the Brown family themselves fled their beloved Utah home and settled in Las Vegas in order to avoid jail for the adult members and family separation.

Now the Brown's have won a victory that will allow others of their faith to practice non-legally binding plural marriage without fear. This is absolutely fantastic news, marking another step forward for freedom. It may be appealed however so fingers crossed this ruling is a keeper.

As predicted last year Lawrence v. Texas (which ended US state's anti-sodomy laws in 2003) played its part:

“Consensual sexual privacy is the touchstone of the rational basis review analysis in this case, as in Lawrence.”

Gay rights lead to human rights. Good times!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Scientology Orgs are a "place of meeting for religious worship"

In a ruling that shall be repeated ad nauseum on Scientology videos, posters and websites, the Supreme Court has agreed that weddings can take place on the premises of Scientology Orgs, as they constitute a "place of meeting for religious worship"

"Religion should not be confined to religions which recognise a supreme deity," said Lord Toulson as he made the judgement. Whilst this is clearly right morally and in terms of things we already accept as religions, this is going to cause a headache for a lot of people and not least the Charity Commission and the tax man.

The real problem is the very concept of a Government trying to define what it, and what is not, a religion. It is akin to attempting to argue what makes up Doctor Who's canon. What makes up my Doctor Who canon is not what makes up your Doctor Who canon. This is quite true for religions too. What I consider a religion, others will not. Some might consider certain religions as a "cult" whilst others just don't think it is a religion at all. Such arguments have raged for years and not just on small New Religious Movements like Scientology. Confucianism and Buddhism are both hard to define as a religion and even some adherents wouldn't describe them as one. Even some, mainly born-again, Christians will swear blind Christianity is not a religion but is (depending on who you ask) a "faith" or "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ".

And if one cannot truly define what is and what is not a religion it does seem somewhat silly to attempt to give religions tax breaks that other groups and organisations cannot expect.

The court's decision was the right one in allowing Scientologists, no matter how ridiculous one finds their beliefs and how dangerous one might consider church practices, to marry in their orgs but one would hope that one day someone will finally tell the emperor that he has no clothes and stop the whole nonsense that is attempting to define a religion in law.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Civil Partnerships: 8 Years Old Today

Let's face it... I've never been very nice about civil partnerships. Even now I feel the bubbling of rage just beneath my skin at the mere thought of them. They were introduced by Labour because of the obvious need for some sort of partnership rights for same-sex couples. That can, really, only be seen as a good thing. But the fact is that, at the time of their introduction, the debate internationally had already moved on to marriage equality. Civil partnerships were, in hindsight, doomed to be considered obsolete within a few years of their introduction. 

And that is what really rankles me. In the years after their introduction Labour acted as if the matter was closed. My attempts to discuss equal marriage with LGBT Labour members were dismissed. Chris Bryant called me a numbskull for asking why he didn't even mention marriage as an option during the debates (and why he argued against equal marriage during them). Stonewall were so pleased with civil partnerships that they fought, briefly, tooth and nail to protect their uniqueness against any attempts to pursue marriage itself. And that was despite the multiple problems civil partnerships have

And now here we stand... the last anniversary of the introduction of civil partnerships that will fall before same-sex marriage comes into place in England and Wales. Isn't it time I just let it go? Forget it ever happened? I wish I could. 

But in their weird ideological defense of the obsolete Stonewall and Labour showed that LGBT freedom is nothing but a political game to some. Our attempts to seek liberty will be stymied by the self interest of political organisations and parties. We must never settle for second best and, when we accept second best as better than third best, we must at least state "this is not what we really want". No more politics, no more muddles like the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, we must continue to argue for what is right. 

Civil partnerships were a sham. And whilst some may argue they were a stepping stone to same-sex marriage, I'd say that by becoming an idol (one that was to be defended at all costs) of the Westminster LGBT set it actually served to make this years hard won victory just that little more difficult.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tom Daley: Label-Free

I know, I know. Tom Daley's announcement that he's in a relationship with a man will fill enough column inches this week to reach to the Moon and back (twice). "Isn't he brave?" "Isn't it about time we stopped caring?" etc. etc. And there will be article after article about the difference between homosexuality and bisexuality. Plus, of course, you'll have the homophobes on social media (or "trolls" as the media will erroneously call them) who will I'm sure get a column or two devoted just to them. Just look at them go already.

So before tomorrow's papers are published I thought I'd just get in my own little comment. I don't need to say the above, because it is all so predictable as to be irrelevant. But what I do what to discuss is Tom Daley's distinct lack of labeling himself. Though some were quick to label him, such as Pink News briefly identifying a man who likes both men and women as gay, he did not do so himself.

It might seem strange that someone like me, who openly calls himself gay, would be so happy to see someone NOT refer to themselves as "gay" or "bisexual". I remember the very moment I first accepted my sexuality. My first thought was "I'm gay". It was a powerful talisman, a way to ward off the demons of some imagined future homophobia. Some people like to say "I don't define myself by my sexuality". Not me. I was happy, proud and overly eager to label myself and consider my sexuality an open and shut case.

But life is so much more complicated than labels. And "gay" is definitely a label that no longer says what we want it to say.

I'm not just thinking of the campaign to keep gay "gay" launched by Will Young and, ever conservative, Stonewall. Their aim to stop the evolution of language is not just doomed to fail because its nigh impossible to do that, but also possibly because "gay" no longer does what it says on the tin.

I feel like I've straddled two distinct periods of "gay culture". When I headed out on to the scene at the age of 14 (but the height of 6" so easily avoiding those ever vigilant bouncers) there was still a bit of secrecy about the whole affair. Gay bars were listed in the back of Gay Times, some with instructions on how to get in (Ring the Doorbell). There were gay clubs here in Kent that were hidden out in the countryside where no one not in the know would find them. Gay bars were GAY bars and woe betide anyone else trying to get in (due to my height and choice of rather butch dates, I was often counselled by wary bouncers that the establishment was a gay bar *wink wink* *nudge nudge*). And then I met Jim and I stepped back from the scene. And whenever I've put my head back into it, I've found it radically different. Gay guys who'd never heard of Section 28. Heterosexual people taking over the bars (my Mum even tells me about her trips to what was Folkestone's gay bar). Bars closing and cruising moving from set defined spaces to mobile phone apps. It is a whole different world.

Mark Simpson wrote on this phenomenon in "End of Gays". It really is a revolution and it is still going on. It pleases me to think that young guys today can just "be". They don't need to label themselves, they don't need to limit themselves with labels.

Tom Daley has stated he's in a relationship with a guy. But he's said that if things changed in the future, so be it. That seems so much more realistic than pretending relationships can only be based on some rigid unchangeable sexuality. Sexualities do change. And relationships can transcend sexuality. The world is a complicated place and labels can just over-simplify things to the point that they just cause confusion.

All power to Tom, and shame on those who want to label him. If he decides to label himself in the future, so be it. But for now Tom... just be who you are.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Flowers "Scandal" Is Just Moralising Nonsense

Now there is some real debate to be had about Paul Flowers suitability for the chairmanship of the Co-op Bank. And there is some investigating to be done by the police, whether one feels it is right or wrong, into alleged criminal activity (drug dealing etc.) by Mr Flowers. But these two things are actually quite unconnected.

Paul Flowers oversaw the rather serious decline, and near collapse, of the Co-op Bank. The fact he admits he was put in charge due to a "power struggle within the co-operative movement" is something that really beggars belief (even if it is all too common). Questions must be asked.

Alas. Instead of asking these important questions the media is obsessed with a man choosing to do drugs (OH NOES!) and, heaven forbid, pay for sex with some young scally type (all a bit sad really, but then I'm not a big fan of drugs nor scallies so I'm just being judgmental). Yes. Awful stuff indeed. The dodgy political motives of his appointment and his terrible legacy at the bank pale into insignificance compared to what he puts in his body (or puts in others, depending on his preference). Well they do if you are more interested in puerile gossip stories about some silly aspects of a more serious scandal.

Worse than his role in bringing a bank to its knees, he broke the rules by watching legal adult material on a council laptop and had to resign from being a councillor and then, shock horror, became a governor of a school!
Yes, a man who once looked at porn was allowed to be a school governor. Imagine. Let us ban all people who've looked at porn from having any such connection, no matter how far removed, with children!

He also once sent a smutty joke around as an email. This man needs to be locked up...


In other shocking news:

David Cameron's official Prime Ministerial Twitter feed followed an escort agency! Won't somebody think of the children?? Hopefully his Twitter feed will be blocked by the Great Firewall of Cameron.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Have The Remaining #Section28 Supporting MPs Changed Their Ways?

Before the last election I made a list of the 48 Clause/Section 28/2a supporting MPs remaining in the House of Commons and their election prospects. 48 have become 28 and on this 10th anniversary of the repeal of that nasty piece of legislation I thought I'd take a look at them again. David Smith made a comment on Twitter which I thought I'd explore some more:
Shall we see if these 28 men have changed their ways?

The first opportunity to see if they had really changed their views (or stopped toeing a disagreeable party line) we get is the 2003 vote to repeal Section 28. Only two of our 28 took that opportunity and voted in line with its repeal... Step forward Andrew Mitchell and Tim Yeo.

And, in keeping with David's suggestion, I then looked at their votes on same-sex marriage. Here we see a slightly bigger switch over.

Alistair Burt, Ken Clarke, Peter Bottomley, Stephen Dorrell, Patrick McLoughlin, Francis Maude and Nicholas Soames joined Mitchell and Yeo in voting with the minority of Tory MPs who supported same-sex marriage. So 9 out of the 28. An improvement but there is still a rump of MPs who just haven't changed:

David Amess
James Arbuthnot, who at least seemed to be contemplating the issue in a serious manner.
Julian Brazier
Simon Burns, some interesting correspondence between him and a constituent here.
Tony Baldry, whose arguments were worryingly lacking.
Henry Bellingham
Bill Cash
Christoper Chope
David Davis
Greg Knight
Michael Fallon, to give him credit, conceded his failure to win the argument
Peter Lilley
Roger Gale, who managed to make us smile with his silly opposition.
James Paice
Gerald Howarth, who was concerned about the aggressive homosexuals out there. (No not Dennis Nilsen, those of us who want to get marriage. Violent act or what?)
John Redwood
David Tredinnick
Richard Shepherd
Peter Tapsell

These men remain unrepentantly opposed to LGBT freedom. Let's not forget that. Sure everyone gets the right to change their mind. But sometimes being eternally optimistic about people's capacity to change is a waste of time.

Section 28 is gone. Hopefully one day soon so will all its supporters in the House of Commons.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

You Won't Get People Interested In Politics By Berating Them

After finishing a full day's work and a 3 hour stint manning the phones for Children in Need I got in the car for the journey home tired but satisfied with a good day's hard labour. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond the understanding of us mere mortals, LBC was on the radio.

As there were 5 of us in the car we were all, at first, too polite to ask to have it turned over. And so we were forced to listen to some very miserable men discuss why so many people were not interested in politics and especially not interested in voting.

The consensus, it would seem, came to be that young people are awful citizens who are more interested in fun than in politics and that this was a crying shame. Ultimately, they felt, the elderly good citizens would die out leaving a rotten population of do-nothings. It was at this point I piped up and suggested we turn the radio over to be greeted with sighs of "Thank God, YES!"

How many generations do we need to get through before we realise that older people always think young people are interested in the wrong things and will never be as good as they are? I look around me today and find there are plenty of young people who don't remember "Trapdoor", "Fun House" nor even "Knightmare". It's the bloody end of civilisation as we know it, and no one seems to care.

The political class need to remember some important points.

1) Politics is not the "real world" to most people. We all have lives, interests, personal dramas and life goals that, in terms of personal importance, far outweigh the fleeting careers and promises of politicians.

2) The citizens of this country are not meant to serve politics. Our political system was not designed as a prison from which no one has the right to escape. Our political system is meant to serve the needs of the people.

3) None of the non-political folk in this world (for which read "most people") care one iota about the debates, policies or dramas that us political folk obsess over. I know people who don't even know equal marriage passed or even know about the income tax changes that have happened in this current Parliament. And that is just fine. It is not the end of the world. Our debates are often unconnected to reality anyway, just think about how often the Israel/Palestine issues are discussed over the far more damaging events that have been ongoing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We're delusional and most people know it.

If you want to engage with people then criticising them for doing things that satisfy them or are important to them (like having fun or living their lives peacefully) is not going to win you many converts. How about, crazy idea, we accept politics is not the most important thing in the world and move from that position in thinking of ways to help improve this country and help those who need assistance?

The arrogance and the self-entitlement of the snobs who think politics is the be all and end all of life in this country is probably the many reason it isn't the be all and end all of life in this country.

Now I'll stop berating people and instead return to obsessing over the next episode of Doctor Who. The really important stuff in life.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday 2013

Next year will mark 100 years since the start of the First World War. Though those British members of the Armed Forces who died before then are no less worthy of respect and commemoration than those who came after, it is usually those who have died since 1914 that we remember on Remembrance Sunday. The First World War was a watershed moment in world history, in British history and in terms of recognition of the horrors of total war. So many families were affected, my own no exception, that there was no way the sacrifice of our troops could be forgotten easily.

Unlike in past years where I post a poem in Remembrance of those who have given so much for our country, I thought I'd post this recent video made by my other half to remember those who died during the Falklands War. We remember them.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The "Lad's Mags Are The Same As Rapists" Meme Is Getting Old

A 2011 report on a correlation between some statements taken from lad's mags and some statements made by rapists is rearing its ugly head once more on Twitter.

And when I say report I mean this synopsis of it and this Jezebel article about it. As stated therein it shows men identify more with the statements made by rapists than with those from lad's mags when they were unaware of their origin. Yet this small piece of information seems to be overlooked or, I'm assuming, lose the lad's mags campaigners actually think lad's mags are worse than your actual rapist.

Surely the fact men, overall, choose one over the other shows there is actually a difference between the statements. I'm, of course, assuming the researchers have made allowances for statistical probabilities when making those claims.

So before we start banning lad's mags because sometimes they say things rapists say, perhaps we need to lock up every man as a more immediate solution to male on female rape? After all, they identify more with the rapists than they do with the lad's mags!

This study is often brought out to back up supporter's claims that they aren't anti-nudity or anti-sex. They aren't prudes! No, they are simply disgusted by the words. Of course this is itself just word play. Being a prude over pictures or being a prude over words doesn't change what it is. It is still "prudery", though that doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong to feel that way. I find those statements rather objectionable but I accept that is because I simply don't like them, they don't represent a culture I've any part of and they are "beneath" me. I embrace the prudery. I also don't really like random naked people, I'm British and it makes me feel awkward.

But I've accepted a lot of things I don't like. Rude and/or aggressive people are all around us. I dislike them intensely but I've no right to demand they never be rude again. I can certainly express my opinion of their rudeness, and I do so more with each passing year, but that is the limit to my ability to change them. I thus treat lad's mags the same. I find them puerile, unimaginative and derogatory. I think that anyone who reads them is an idiot. But, unless they say something like Danny Dyer whereby they actually incites violence, then they should be free to keep on saying it. Those quotes don't, in my opinion, actually incite violence.

There are two things lose the lad's mags could do to win me over.

1) Show me there is a causal link between reading a lad's mags and sexual violence.
2) Show me what benefits they'd expect to see 1 year after lad's mags are removed from shop shelves, 5 years, 10 years etc.

Right now they are just hoping we all get so disgusted with the content that we forget to ask: what do they hope to actually achieve?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Puritans' Perfect World Will Be Built On Police Raids And Human Misery

If one were to believe the "Lose the Lad's Mags", "No More Page 3" and generally anti-porn types, you'd think that the banning of "objectifying" or "sexualising" images would have no negative effects. In their perfect world everyone benefits from the removal of such images and everyone is happy.

Of course what they tend to forget is what happens to those who still try to view their "banned" materials. As we head towards web filters in this country and an outright ban on internet pornography in Iceland, it really is time to remember what happens when a country bans porn. We get police raids, trials, public shaming and a suppression of various "erotic" forms of free speech (be it feminist books, LGBT materials etc.). How can I claim this? Because it has happened before.

We can get a glimpse of the future thanks to the recent, so-called, "Twink Trial" in our own country. Here, of course, internet porn is not illegal. But images of child abuse are, thankfully (as someone who believes in individual freedom I believe that a child cannot give consent and thus any such sexual abuse is rape). However even this justifiable and necessary ban leads to unintended consequences. At the Twink Trial a gay man was arrested and charged because he had viewed "Twink porn". Twink is a word used to describe a man of youthful appearance, usually 18 - 21. Despite the fact he was viewing a "legitimate" porn site with all the correct US standard forms of age checking, his life was turned upside down and he was accused of being a paedophile. In this case no offense had actually been committed and, eventually, the case has been dropped. But it does provide an example of just the sort of thing that will happen if we continue down the path we are going on.

People will have their lives ruined. We will force those porn companies who keep records and abide by current legislation out of business and leave porn to an underground criminal element who won't have such scruples. The police will become ever more adjudicators of morality. Who will decide what constitutes porn in the brave new world some seem to want to bring about?

Many debates I've engaged in on this argument have been with people who see it as a purely "intellectual" exercise. They are feminists or Christians (or both) who see the world through their ideological eyes, but when I confront them with the results of previous prohibitions, of the effects on women's groups and LGBT people, and on individual liberty they have laughed it off as "interesting" information. They seem to be unable to accept that they are heading towards supporting a state enforced moral standard which will be backed with real force and have real consequences. Accepting that seems harder for them than accepting porn can sometimes be harmful is for those of us who support liberty (but who know liberty is imperfect and messy).

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Swansea Student Union Bans Pole Fitness But Allows... Naked Calendars.

As we know, I've a little thing this year about puritanism and especially its reappearance among feminists. Yet another example comes to us from Swansea University's Student Union.

They had allowed a pole fitness society to form however in the last few days it has been reported that they have rescinded this decision on the following basis.

Although 'pole fitness' is sold as an empowering activity, we believe that women have been deceived into thinking that this is a way of taking charge of their sexuality and their own decisions. Moreover, we believe that it is just a further debasement of our culture and another sign of a creeping backlash against women's true empowerment.
Isn't it horrific how organisations such as Swansea Student Union and Object think whenever a woman does something they disagree with it (be it strip naked or, heaven forbid, work out) that that woman has been "deceived"? It is becoming more and more like a religion (where us gays have been "deceived" by Satan into thinking our "lifestyle" is acceptable). Funny isn't it how organisations supposedly with women's best interest at heart seek to undermine their free choices and independence "for the greater good".

So because of its representation of "raunch culture", the pole fitness society has been banned. Fine, obviously they are consistently against representations of "raunch culture" in all its forms then. Wait a minute...

Last year the Swansea University's male rowing team stripped naked for a calendar. This year women from the Swansea University's Equestrian Society have stripped naked for a calendar! Of course these are all just a bit of fun (whereas pole fitness actually involves some skill and effort) so these can't possibly be part of raunch culture! Can they? Stripping for cash for charity is quite clearly a derivative of stripper culture and I for one am disgusted that this sort of thing is allowed! ;)

Of course I'm not. It is all good fun. But I have a feeling Swansea University Student's Union's policy is not just silly, which it undoubtedly is, but completely inconsistent. Sigh. That is the way of these things. The Co-op opposes lad's mags but helps support gay magazine award ceremonies and here it is clear this Student Union opposes a keep fit programme whilst allowing people to strip for cash.

Oh well... at least us men still have our freedom. And in keeping with this please check out this rather impressive display of fitness and talent. It's like dancing in the air! Impressive.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Atheists: Don't Be Those Guys!

I'm a confirmed atheist. If you believe in something supernatural I think you are a wrong. I'm not flinging insults here, I even think I'm wrong.

Somethings I particularly hate about most religious folks are their attempts to suppress art, free expression and enforce their worldview on the rest of us. However I have come to realise that religious beliefs are just a human construct and, thus, getting rid of religious belief doesn't really stop puritanical campaigns against art and free expression. Being boring puritans is obviously something that dwells deep within the human psyche, and thus (it turns out) atheists can be killjoys just like anyone else.

Which takes us to the 9/11 Cross argument. Many people will have seen the pictures, or at least heard about, the 9/11 cross (bizarrely some beams that were in a cross shape stayed in a cross shape, it's a miracle!). It is a silly, silly thing and I have to say it was somewhat insulting to the memories of all those who died in the terrorist attacks in New York to have even a small part of their stories overtaken by news of this cross. But they always say funerals are more for the living than the dead, and I suppose that holds up for clean up operations at Ground Zero in the days after 9/11 just as well. And, I'd accept, it probably gave some comfort to some people (the ones who weren't dead and quickly being forgotten as 9/11 was hijacked for political and social purposes).

Whatever one may feel about it, it was a part of the narrative of the post-9/11 cleanup and thus the fact it gets included in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum's collection should be fairly uncontroversial. Not for David Silverman of American Atheists who, after losing a court fight to have it removed, had this to say:

"We are confident that we will eventually win this case and that cross will be removed, or atheists will be allowed to have our own symbol in there,"
Fascinating. What symbol did we have? Did the image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster appear in some shattered glass bringing comfort to atheist rescue workers and clean up crew? There is no doubt atheists died in 9/11 (at the hands of religious nutcases no less!). And they will be remembered by their families and by everyone with a heart. Everything that reminds us of that day should be enough of a memory jog of the horrors that befall so many innocent people (of many different beliefs). The whole rest of the collection in that museum is for secular people. I think we can allow Christians a small token of remembrance of an event that happened after 9/11 that meant something to some people.

"What would Jesus do?" guides many believers (supposedly, though I never feel they quite get it right). I tend to follow the far better guide to moral living "What would a professed believer in Jesus do?". Once you know the answer, do the opposite (which is often actually what Jesus would do, but with less Jewish apocalyptic undertones). Don't be those guys. We shouldn't be launching lawsuits or protests because someone, somewhere has two metal beams stuck together in their museum display.

There is a headteacher (sorry, Principal) in the USA currently suggesting Halloween themed celebrations at school are prohibited due to the separation of church and state. Can you imagine how joyless a life it would be without celebrations and fun? School is horrific enough as it is without the need to take away those small moments of fun we allow kids.

Surely I'm not the only atheist pissed that the Statue of Zeus at Olympia is lost to us? When I went to Thailand I was all over their temples, spirit houses and statues. Accepting religious art, holidays and even their expressions of grief doesn't mean we accept their dodgy beliefs or even accept that one can't have inspiring art, holidays and expressions of grief without religion. It is simply a matter of accepting that beauty, horror and fun are part of the human experience and expressed by EVERYONE. So we atheists need to stop pretending that religious history and culture does not exist and accept that it will always be part of humanity (even if religion itself finally disappears).

Once we accept that, we can enjoy that which is to be enjoyed whilst pointing out to anyone who thinks Zeus is/was a real god that they are very wrong.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Hypocrisy Of @TheCooperative Over #LoseTheLadsMags Astounds Me

Yesterday The Co-Operative group advised a gathering of Lose The Lad's Mags supporters in Parliament of why they supported the campaign to remove lad's mags from shops.

This follows their active removal of certain lad's mags from their own shelves. At almost the exact same time as the gathering in Parliament, Attitude Magazine was holding its annual awards ceremony. I was rather staggered to see this little gem (and not just because of the futility of such an empty gesture...)
Yes, you read that right. The same group who have removed lad's mags due to customer complaints feel no sense of irony in supporting a gay magazine's awards ceremony! "But they aren't the same thing!" I hear heteronormative folks scream (especially those who think us gays are nothing but fluffy desexualised little bunnies here for their amusement).

Please do tell me how Attitude Magazine ISN'T sexualising, objectifying and, if you believe the rubbish about sexualisation of adults, "dehumanising" models (NSFW links follow, which I think says a lot!) here or, even more so, here. The front page headline "McFly Go Frat Party Wild" is, of course, a sign of the world of difference between Attitude and Nuts "Real Girls Of Sports Undressed".

Now this isn't to say I'm criticising Attitude magazine. I used to be an avid "reader", but our politics have drawn quite far apart and I don't read it anymore. It serves a purpose for part of our community, just as lad's mags serves a purpose for some young heterosexual and bisexual men (and a few lesbian or bisexual women).

The Co-Operative must be quite right. Their move against lad's mags is not a puritanical campaign (though it has puritanical outcomes), it is instead an ill-thought out move against certain depictions of women with no thought given to why the same sort of depictions of men aren't also treated in the same way. Many supporters of lad's mags state they just want to protect their children from early sexualisation. But they never seem to worry about their kids getting sexualised by gay mags. Funny that... almost as if they haven't really thought this all through....

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Tommy Robinson's Change Of Heart Leads To... More Muslim Apologetics

I've never met Tommy Robinson, but I have a feeling we wouldn't get on. He's spent the last few years leading a bunch of thuggish, football hooligan-esqe malcontents from protest to protest and not saying much when they chant racist slogans. And I'm a unionist snob who dislikes outrageous displays of "Englishness" (you know, where they deface their own flags and treat them like rags... so patriotic!).

So, no, Tommy Robinson may have decided to stop supporting a bunch of yobs but I'd guess we'd still not have that much in common. And speaking of changes of heart... I've not got much hope for Quilliam Foundation when it is led by former Islamist extremists. I'm quite an unforgiving sort really I suppose...

However... Tommy Robinson's recent linking up with the Quilliam Foundation has not brought relief to Muslims it would seem. Far from it. Rather than being relieved Robinson has gravely injured the EDL (perhaps mortally, but I'll believe that when the deface St. George's flags are thrown in the bin) they are angry that he's linked up with a group that they see as opposing Islam generally (rather than just extremism).

Yvonne Ridley compares the tactics of the Quilliam Foundation to McCarthyism, because they keep a list of Muslims they feel are extreme. And Ridley queries their definition of extreme with a ready example of Salma Yaqoob (I can't argue there, Yaqoob seems like a rather decent and principled person) and... Haitham al Haddad. He's just some decent natured guy who wants to criminalise homosexuality. Yes, he would like to "punish" me for falling in love with another man. He's not extreme at all! And that is just one of his rather dodgy positions. So forgive me if I think that having a go at Quilliam Foundation for having a go at al Haddad is a bit like criticising the Stasi (to use a description from her article) for capturing a murderer. I'd say it was a fair cop, even if one disagrees with Quilliam, and it is a very poor attempt at making them seem evil.

Over at the Guardian, Matthew Goodwin engaged in another attempt to use this story to whitewash genuine concerns about Islam in general and especially its more extreme adherents. It stinks, as ever, of the strange way left leaning folk in this country have of putting Islam on a pedestal above the criticism that they they would see as perfectly legitimate when thrown at any other religion.

Lennon plans to establish a new anti-Islamist movement, which we assume will adhere to his slapdash generalisations of sharia law and misinterpretations of the Qur'an.

Goodwin doesn't elaborate on this. Is it really Robinson's (Lennon's) generalisations that are slapdash or al Haddad's? Because I'm pretty sure Robinson would oppose al Haddad's views... and I'm pretty sure al Haddad would claim to be quite in line with both sharia law and the Qur'an. Goodwin goes on to smear those who repent of their views as becoming equally radical in the opposite direction.

This helps explain why so many ex-terrorists and ex-extremists never manage the transition. Instead, they hurl themselves to the other side of the spectrum, becoming just as fanatically obsessed with the promotion of democracy, fighting their former extremist brethren – or selling their latest book.
You know what... I'd quite like more ex-terrorists to become obsessed with democracy, fighting terrorism and selling books. It sounds absolutely DELIGHTFUL. I'm not sure exactly what is wrong with any of those propositions. Apart from the selling books stuff I think Goodwin's just described Peter Tatchell.

Ultimately it seems that Goodwin just doesn't like the concept of anyone being anti-Islamist. He should avoid us secular atheists. We just like to extend our reach and be anti-extreme religious people of all descriptions. What will Goodwin dislike next? Anti-Scientology protesters?

It is quite possible to hate fascism, dislike the tactics of Quilliam, find Tommy Robinson repellant AND dislike Islamists. Unfortunately both Ridley (understandably) and Goodwin have bought into a strangely illogical position of thinking that ANY criticism of a Muslim or Islam is unacceptable and that to oppose racist yobs one must support allsorts of dodgy religious dogma.

Well I wouldn't accept a Christian supporting the stoning of adulterers or the locking up of homosexuals. And I won't be accepting that sort of stuff from any other religion either. All religions should be open to criticism and there should be no special protections for whichever one is flavour of the month with the left.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are! #nationalcomingoutday

Yes, Dear Constant Reader, the USA's "National Coming Out Day" has arrived again. I've already told my own coming out story, over at the other place, and talked here about how coming out is never over,  how coming out shouldn't be glorified and how marriage equality might ease the coming out process.

But Harvey Milk is still, all these years later, the last word on coming out.


Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.

Harvey Milk. He knew his stuff.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Whitstable Times Has A Timely Reminder For Us Homosexual Sinners To "Take Heed". Yes, Really.

You know local newspaper letter pages. Filled with witty/godawful attempts at poetry, insightful local comment and completely moronic witterings (yes, I've had the occasional letter published). And sometimes, just sometimes, you have some letter that is so offensive as to leave you a little speechless.

Well in this case I'd class the following letter in the Whitstable Times as in the "completely moronic" category. Hey, it criticises Stonewall so I'm almost sympathetic!

It isn't as offensive as some letters I've seen, though I'm not really a fan of bronze age magic books. But what is offensive is the header, written by some sub at the Whitstable Times,

"Take heed, all you homosexual sinners"

It boggles the mind as to what was going through that subs head at the time. It really does. Absolutely unbelievable.

It is a silly thing to get annoyed over, but it has really pissed me off. I don't mind your average Christian moaning about all those people falling in love and being happy (MONSTERS!), but I do mind having Bible quotes editorialised to send a message to readers that is quite unacceptable in a local newspaper!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Student Unions Opposing Atheist Freedom Of Expression

Students just aren't what they used to be. Maybe they never were the rebellious, course work shy, last minute crammers stereotypes portray. I remember my brief stint at university being fairly memorable, involving the removal of bras in record time (undefeated champion, I'll have you know) and a disturbing game known only as "Nervous". Good times, good times. 

Alas such fun seems completely beyond the comprehension of the stony faced union enforcers who rule at fresher's fairs. 

Last year the University of Reading's Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society was kicked out of their fresher's fair for naming a pineapple Mohammed. It is hardly the most sophisticated way to start a conversation but I can see what they were aiming for. But they didn't just provoke a debate about blasphemy, they were basically accused of it (blasphemy is showing contempt for that which is held as holy which, by definition, upsets believers and the RAHSS was accused of upsetting people). The Reading University Student Union has now forced out the RAHSS by attempting to get them to agree to not upset anyone ever again ("Just shut up you blasphemers!"). 

Meanwhile, in another rather unsophisticated move, the LSE atheist group decided to wear "Jesus and Mo" t-shirts to their fresher's fair this year. I find the Jesus and Mo cartoon strips pretty boring and don't really see the attraction. But different strokes for different folks and all that. Well it hasn't gone down too well. Even when they covered up the t-shirts with censored stickers today they appear to have been intimidated by student union officials and security whilst leaving the fair.  

Having your beliefs insulted isn't nice. We all accept that, and understand it. But having my relationship dismissed and insulted by other's beliefs is also not very nice. That is the world we live in, one where grown ups have to put up with some people not being nice. We can moan about it, shout about it, but silencing others just because you don't like what they say isn't a sign of a healthy free society. It is the sign of a disturbing authoritarian mindset that is creeping into a lot of "progressive" thought (again).

One Law For All's excellent document "Siding with the Oppressor" shows how the left are starting to move from preaching tolerance for all beliefs into actively siding with the more extreme wing of Islam over pretty much everyone else (including Muslims and ex-Muslims alike). 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Scottish Nationalists: Religious Freedom Only For Some On #EqualMarriage

Gosh, it has been a long time since my last marriage equality post!

The Scottish Health Secretary, SNP's Alex Neill, has confirmed registrars will be able to refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, though local authorities will have to ensure same-sex couples can get married.

All very "liberal" you might say, with his use of "common sense" to explain how local authorities with deal with such refusals. Except, of course, fundamentally there is no common sense here because it is giving registrars the right to refuse only one sort of marriage. Why just one sort? Erm... well... the gays aren't very popular.

Fantastic. It'll all be sold under some spin on the concept of "freedom" yet it flies fundamentally in the face of freedom. When will gay registrars get to refuse to marry Christian or Muslim couples? When will white supremacists get to refuse black couples (or interracial couples, heaven forbid!)? Never. Because both scenarios would be deemed unacceptable, offensive, yet they would be actual freedom in action.

What the SNP has proposed is offensive to common sense. It is the freedom to hate for a few, and everyone else will just have to lump it and keep their own opinions on whether other couples should marry to themselves.

Disgusting. Illiberal and unjust. Come back to me when you have a consistent policy rather than a "same-sex couples upset some people" excuse.

Stephen seems just as angry as I am, but has even better points...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Can Jehovah's Witnesses SURVIVE? - Trevor Willis

Ok. Ok. I'm ending my run of Jehovah's Witnesses books on this one (I've moved on to Christopher Hitchens' The Missionary Position). 

Can Jehovah's Witnesses SURVIVE? is a very decent guide to the beliefs, practices and errors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. It is truly disturbing that such a malignant religion has grown so common place. Lots of us know where the nearest Kingdom Hall is. Many of us share the same "Oh God, the Jehovah's are at the door HIDE!" experience. They are not your tiny band of Scientologists or your less harmful group of Latter-day Saints. This is a creepy, controlling organisation that treats its members incredibly badly. 

Sure I remember when I was younger hearing my family discuss someone they knew who had been converted in the sort of tones one discusses someone who has died. I know lots of people are aware that this is a dangerous group to get involved with. But too many still fall for their lies. 

Next time you open your door to the Jehovah's Witnesses beware. But also do as Trevor Willis suggests and offer them an a friendly face and try to let them know you want to help them if they ever need a person to turn to. There is no good to come of trying to argue theology with a Witness (though I did enjoy it when I did it back when I was a smug A-Level student. I nearly turned one! I'm certain of it). Try instead to be their ticket to freedom. 

A decent book on a worrying subject. 

Monday, 30 September 2013

"Porn Trolls" Or "People Who Like To Take Pictures Of Themselves Naked"

There are quite a number of reasons why someone might want to take pictures of themselves naked and post them to individuals, or anyone who happens to pass by, online. Few, however, would send naked pictures of themselves from a personal account (one that can be traced back to them) for malicious purposes.

So to hear Benjamin Cohen (someone I have some respect for thanks to his work with Pink News and on marriage equality) help propagate calling them "trolls" is a bit sad. Now don't get me wrong, if you receive an unwanted naked picture (especially of someone you wouldn't be attracted to even if you were into receiving naked pictures) it's something you'll want to stop happening again. Block them, certainly, and report if they harass you on the social network. It is certainly a social network faux pas to send naked pictures to someone who doesn't want them. Whatever happened to a good old fashioned "Wanna see my cock?"?

The lazy labeling of such socially awkward people as a "troll", that modern day boogey-man, does nothing to help educate people and is likely only to make them more socially awkward! The word "troll" is becoming increasingly used to slur those we don't like, as I said back in July.

If we forget about that, as the troll word was being quoted from (Scientologists look away now) a psychiatrist, the tone of the article is all very prudish. The conclusion, better sex education, is one we can all agree on. But the problem is not that people are posting naked pictures of themselves. There is nothing, intrinsically, wrong with the naked human form. The problem is that they aren't engaging with others in a way the person they are engaging with wants them to. It is poor communication. Plain and simple.

The implication by the psychiatrist that there should be consequences for posting naked pictures on your social media feed (which people can choose to follow or not) is left unchallenged, as if we'd all agree that people shouldn't ever express themselves in that way. Though Cohen says he isn't a prude, leaving that hanging at the end of the article seems a little prudish.

"Eww... naked bodies" isn't going to dissuade a teenager from publishing a naked picture of themselves. Explaining to them that sending them directly to those who might not want them isn't on, and that there are risks involved with posting yourself naked online, would be a whole lot more useful and less Victorian.

Cohen's unfortunate encounter with someone who didn't quite get he was on Facebook rather than Gaydar (showing my age there) could've have ended with him blocking the person or him trying to educate said person about why offering a threesome to someone you don't know would be receptive is not really on. Instead it ended with him having that person's account closed which educates no one, shames someone who was probably already a bit socially awkward and is the ultimate expression of "prudery". Cohen went on to say on Twitter that what that person did was "wrong" so, to him, that means it is okay to have his Facebook account removed.

That is like the "lose the lads' mags" approach to combating domestic violence and sexual abuse. I.e. it achieves nothing.

Sad really. Just another sign that the New Puritans continue to make inroads back into our lives. Cover up folks, nanny is back.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Kent County Council And Two Illiberal Things

The first potentially illiberal thing is a worrying move by the Kent on Sunday to invite the leaders of Kent County Council and Medway Council to join an editorial advisory board. Others on this board include the Bishop of Dover and Anne Barnes, Police and Crime Commissioner.

Whilst it might be a wonderfully inclusive decision to get ideas and feedback from some of Kent's most important people, it is deeply concerning given one would hope Kent on Sunday has, like most newspapers, a wish to hold "the great and the good" of this wonderful county to account. If they are helping advise on editorial issues surely this is one huge conflict of interest?

Deeply worrying.

Meanwhile... KCC itself is thinking of restricting advertising by payday loans. Whilst this itself might be considered acceptable, they are also considering blocking access to payday loan websites from Kent libraries. This is all very worthy, but it restricting access to web pages (and services) for people's "own good" is generally a good way of forcing them to seek even less reputable sources. In this case loan sharks or other dodgy set-ups. The BBC has today a little insight into the operations of a payday lender.

Unfortunately the above proposals came from the Lib Dem group leader, Trudy Dean.

What would perhaps be better is if KCC did more for local credit unions and publicised the benefits of saving with them and having access to their other services. Rather than restrict choice, help increase awareness of a "better" choice. We aren't here to tell people what they shouldn't do, but if we can help promote worthy organisations than I'm totally behind that.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

This Leftie/Liberal Love-In For The Pope Has Got To Stop

I can't claim to be an expert on Catholicism. I've grown up a cultural Anglican (though thankfully I've been spared a religious upbringing) whose interest in other religions has never stretched to the Roman Catholic church. I think this is perhaps because the Roman Catholic church is so complicated and has so many different organisations, styles and, above all, saints that it would require a lifetime's study to do it justice. And as I believe it is all make-believe I'm not interested in expending the time on it that I instead give to New Religious Movements (those are the things evangelical Christians call "cults"). So this post isn't really about Catholic doctrine, it is instead about the weird and rather disturbing reaction of some needy liberal types out there to media reports on Pope Francis. 

I've got to give Pope Francis credit. He's certainly shaken up the media's perception of the Papacy. Pope Benedict's reign was overshadowed by the child abuse scandals. Pope Francis has managed to change the narrative ever so slightly. Feel good pieces about him responding to an Italian teenagers letter by picking up the phone and having a chat. Stories of him shunning some of the more obvious trappings of wealth normally reserved for the Pope abound. But what the media are really lapping up are snippets of conversations, press releases and interviews that hint at some sort of "liberalising" of Catholic doctrine.

When I say "hint at" what this actually means is "if you read them out of context" or "if you read them and don't quite understand religion at all".

Just take this week's stories on Pope Francis suggesting the Church should "obsess" over gay marriage, contraception and abortion. These stories sprung up from this interview and, more specifically, this paragraph:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.
What Pope Francis was saying is the Church has a more important mission, preaching the Gospel, and it shouldn't get bogged down in a strict focus on certain moral issues. That isn't to say it is changing its mind on those issues, just that it needs to ensure the main message of the Church isn't overshadowed. This is, from a Christian perspective, a bit like saying "I believe Jesus is the Son of God" (sorry Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, I know you don't quite support that...). I.e. this is a no-brainer, a given, a non-story.

But the reaction on Twitter, both on my personal feed and on my saved "Gay Marriage" feed, was overwealming positive from non-believers and liberal sorts. You'd think he'd come out in support of abortion and marriage equality if you judged by the tone of some of these folks. And some actually believe he did!!

This has got to stop. @michaelcarre described this as people willing to "accept crumbs" and I have to agree. And, this will be controversial I'm sure, it wouldn't matter to me if the Catholic church suddenly supported every social issue I support. It is still NOT TRUE. The Pope is the head of an organisation based on a false belief. Just because a homeopath supports marriage equality I wouldn't suddenly welcome medical assistance from said homeopath. I'd still think they were mistaken.

Whilst you've all been having your love-in over the Pope, the Catholic church has ex-communicated a former priest for setting up an organisation that supports the ordination of women and equal marriage.

Wake up and stop being taken in by poor reporting of a media-savvy Pope. The Pope is, still, a Catholic. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Truth About The Truth - Tami Dickerson #jehovahswitnesses

Whereas "Journey To God's House" was mainly a view from within the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society's main headquarters, this book is a tale of one woman's life as a Jehovah's Witness and her journey out (and into a Christian church). It gives a good overview of life in a North American congregation and showcases the "humanity" of members of the Society; the good and (to a greater extent) the bad.

Through her story we learn more about the basics of being a Jehovah's Witness from the importance of baptism, through the grind of door-to-door missionary work (something the author was very uncomfortable with) and to "disfellowshiping" a form of clannish shunning equivalent to Scientology's "disconnection" policy. It is something that obviously causes create heartache for members.

Her realisation that the Society was not "true" came through a rather interesting finding regarding, of all things, the United Nations. Jehovah's Witnesses denounce all "worldly" organisations and their publications quote their absolute disdain for the United Nations. When Dickerson discovered that the Society had registered as an NGO with the United Nations, and signed up to defend the aims of the UN, she discovered the Society's frequently used ability to downplay it's past actions, and fabricate what really happened, and she was eventually disfellowshiped.

Dickerson writes well and the appendices for the book contain a sizeable amount of information refuting several Society doctrines. And. despite being a Christian still, her book is far from preachy and very much evidence-based. I liked her approach and her thoroughness. And I enjoyed her personal story too.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Autumn #LDConf Leaves Me Feeling Better About Being A Lib Dem

For Lib Dems it has been a tough few years. That pretty much goes without saying. After the failure of Lords reform I became very disillusioned with the Lib Dems direction, and about the only thing that has kept me in is my own damn stubbornness in the face of the hate being flung at the party by the left. "If Labourites hate us that much, we must be doing something right" might not be correct but it sure feels right.

This conference has had moments that reminded me that the Lib Dems are the party for me. Tim Farron's speech was good (and I'm saying that from someone who isn't a great fan). The votes for nuclear power and fracking aren't ones I'd particular support but I think they are necessary and were best expressed in the "limited" way they were presented. The decision to provide school meals to all young children may not exactly play into my liberaltarian nature, but it is way better than most other things Government gets involved with. And the agreement on support for a reduced nuclear deterrent is very welcome.

Whilst I enjoyed Nick Clegg's speech, the stand out speech of the conference was, of course, on the topic of porn. Well not just porn. It was about the Government's extremely ill-advised web filter plans. And it was also about fanfic. I mean, this was a speech practically written for me! After some awful, scaremongering speeches from the likes of Floella Benjamin (who I still love anyway) and some good speeches against, this one truly reminded me of how being a Lib Dem can sometimes be truly bloody awesome. Enjoy!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Women! Put On Some Clothes! No, Not That Many!

We know I've been following the #losetheladsmags debate for a while. "No it's not about nudity!" scream supporters as they continue to quote parents saying things like "I don't want my little one seeing those pictures when I go shopping!" (because who can turn down an opportunity for a proper "Won't somebody think of the children?" scare quote, even if it undermines your stand that it isn't the pictures that are the problem?). I'm currently playing a game of pointing out objectifying comments made by people who support #losetheladsmags. Great fun, almost as much fun as "spot the puritanical Christian supporter".

Well now that the New Puritans are winning a few battles there, we have a new front in the war against women getting to choose how much clothing they wear opening up. Again. "Ban the burkha" has now become "We should have a national debate on the niqab". I totally agree with Simon Jenkins who hopes we can be spared such horrors. Absolutely the niqab shouldn't be a "get out of doing anything a reasonable person should be expected to do" card and individual organisations should discuss how it may effect the way they work (as we've seen today with a judge ruling, relatively fairly, on whether a woman could testify in her niqab). But the idea that the Government should help police bans on what clothing someone can wear is not just absurd (though it definitely is that) it is fundamentally disturbing. 

I do not understand this urge people have to control what people (mainly women) do with their bodies and what clothes they wear. We need people to stand up against these disgusting campaigns to undermine women's right to choose. Look at this update from a #losetheladsmags/Labour meeting today

Wasn't feminism about freeing women from having decisions made FOR them rather than letting them individually decide? Deciding how many clothes a woman must wear before she can be let out of the house should be something we left in the last century. Sigh.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Journey To God's House - Brock Talon #jehovahswitnesses

A light-hearted but bitter look at the (then) Jehovah Witness headquarters in Brooklyn, New York in the 1980s, Journey To God's House can't help but be interesting.

The HQ, known as Bethel, is described in grim detail in a series of vignettes. For all its claims to godliness Bethel seems very "worldly" (which is how we unbelievers are described by followers of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), with its very corporate way of working and instances of very human power struggles and jealousy.

Talon's (not his real name) writing style is jokey and sarcastic. He writes well but his style isn't really my style. That said he does come across as believable and his insights into the flawed humanity of those who profess to be holier than others is something that is often missed in more academic or clinical descriptions of religious institutions.

This is not a chronological memoir, and it jumps about a lot as Talon explores individual aspects of life at Bethel (such as alcoholic consumption or "Watchman duty"). And Talon's perspective, whilst interesting, is that of (and I don't mean this offensively) someone who wasn't part of the decision making processes at Bethel which is what I really want.

The similarities between his experiences and those of Scientologists working at Int. Base are fascinating. The poor pay, the isolation and the physical labour expected of even those who are injured or sick are all there.

Despite not meeting my hopes, Journey To God's House helps remind everyone that even the most "godly" are human and that all authority should, at the very least, be questioned and never blindly accepted.

"Religious Sacrament" Doesn't Mean What Shirley Williams Wants It To Mean #equalmarriage #ldconf

At the Lib Dem Conference Shirley Williams has decided that voting against LGBT freedom wasn't enough. Now she needs to defend her views with ridiculous statements.
It all sounds so reasonable doesn't it? I don't think LGBT people deserve liberty because marriage is a religious invention. Well it sounds reasonable if you lack the imagination to think outside of your tiny little cultural box.

The word "religion" is often used in society as a shorthand for whatever flavour of religion dominates in your country. Here we tend to use it to mean "Christianity" (itself a word that means different things to different people). But religion, as a word and concept, is far too wide-ranging to be used for a limited concept. The diversity of religious thought and belief, just in my small little town, makes a mockery of any attempt to present a "religious sacrament" as some sort of monolithic thing.

Religions have a wildly differing views of sexuality, sex and gender. Some religions, I kid you not, have been founded by gay people! Yes, religions are pretty diverse.

And LGBT people are pretty diverse too. Some actually believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Mad, I know.

So what could Williams mean? Could it be that she meant to say "marriage is a Catholic sacrament"? Because that is the only possible thing that makes sense in the light of the fact she, as a Catholic, is unlikely to describe it as a "Mormon Sacrament" (which would actually be communion because sacrament is also a word with lots of meanings) and Catholicism (ooo.... another open word I accept, I mean the Roman variety) is very much opposed to LGBT freedom. And what does that really boil down to? She didn't vote for same-sex marriage because she believes that her God doesn't approve of it.

Of course if she said that, she'd sound pretty disturbing in our secular world. Instead she implies LGBT people aren't religious, and that some religions don't consider same-sex marriage just as much of a "sacrament" as opposite-sex marriage. Sigh. Failing at religious freedom 101.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Memoirs Of A Scientology Warrior - Marty Rathbun

Well this was quite different to my usual Scientology reading material. I wasn't really looking forward to this memoir mainly because Marty Rathbun has been the "villain" in many other memoirs I've read. He has been accused of some nasty stuff.

He was, according to Lawrence Wright's "Going Clear", involved in the recapture of Annie Broeker who was fleeing the Church to be with her husband. After her recapture her husband never saw her again (she died in 2011). When I first read that my heart broke a little. He was also involved in a "gang-bang sec-check" of Jeff Hawkins. Of course others have also been part of the unhealthy practices of the church and finally come to their sense so it is perhaps unfair to hold such things against him.

Another difference is that Marty Rathbun is still a believer. He may have left the Church of Scientology but he still believes in the efficacy of Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard's "tech". This makes him an unusual animal (if no longer a rare one as other people like him, such as Mike Rinder, are adding their voices to the criticism of the church itself whilst maintaining a belief in the benefits of LRH's teachings) as so many who have been hurt by their time in the church have given up their faith along with their church.

Rathbun was the sort of person Jeff Hawkins described, in his book "Counterfeit Dreams", as a seeker. The ideal candidate for Scientology proselytizing. His youth was troubled by the early death of his mother and dealing with the psychological troubles of his two older brothers (these, no doubt incredibly painful, incidents can be seen as yet more reasons that Scientology would appeal to him). He sought ever greater spiritual understanding from various traditions until one day he finally agreed to take the infamous Communication course offered to so many people who've encountered a Scientologist "body router".

With some personal "wins" (i.e. spiritual moments) and the hope he might one day learn how to cure his older brother Bruce he fell deeply into the church, eventually signing up as a member of the Sea Org. A traumatic event, a murder of a fellow Scientologist by her deranged husband who he was escorting home, which he valiantly tried to stop brought him to the attention of L. Ron Hubbard himself and he went "over the rainbow" which is Scientologese for heading to the bases LRH had based himself in.

What follows is a fascinating account of the internal workings of Scientology's legal troubles towards the end of LRH's life as Rathbun moved up to one of the highest positions in the church. Though much of it was things we already learnt, we hear more about the motivations and emotions of the key players in events such as the Battle of Portland. But the narrative ends with the death of LRH and the more interesting stuff (the slow death of the church under Miscavige) is sadly not covered in detail.

And I was expecting Rathbun to offer some insight into the mentality behind some of his angry or morally suspect actions whilst in the church. Though he does give a little insight into his belief that he was a "warrior" for Scientology and that he did have reservations about how the church was run, he doesn't really get into this much. And his leaving the church is given little more than a paragraph when it warrants far more illumination. This he may well have done on his blog or in one of the other books he has written but it was deeply annoying to hear how, whilst assaulting Mike Rinder, he finally realised he needed to leave when Rinder plead: “Marty, I don't want to play this game anymore.” without much further elaboration. I wanted to know more, how Rathbun really felt, was he ashamed? Did he regret his actions in the church? It was hard to tell.

But it was another piece of the Scientology puzzle and a worthy addition to the historical record. And Rathbun writes well and keeps you engaged as he spins his tale. But I can't help feeling it was missing that little bit extra.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Schism Of Skeptics

Back in 2008 I discovered skepticism. I was, by then, an unbeliever but I hadn't really been introduced to any thoughtful considerations of atheism or real useful criticisms of religion, quack medicine and the paranormal.

Though I'm sure my growing interest in Scientology and the Latter-day Saints plus research for then latest blog on the paranormal played some part in moving me towards seriously questioning things, it was really my need for more podcast listening material for a recently extended commute that lead me to first discover the Skeptics Guide To The Universe. I loved it.

The reasoned debate was interspersed with hilarity and fun. I always looked forward to the next episode and soon supplemented the unbearably long waits (A WHOLE WEEK!) with other skeptic community podcasts. Skeptics. They seemed awesome. I started reading more science based books, and found myself reading Richard Dawkins.

I was never a paid up skeptic. I was, and am, a non-conforming atheist but I loved them skeptics. Then Elevatorgate happened. Oh Elevatorgate. There's a history of the dispute here.

This was the event, as the martyrdom of Joseph Smith was for the Latter-day Saints, that began the skeptic community on a road towards a schism.

Many religious critics of atheism (usually the insane ones) like to claim that atheism is a religion. I don't accept this description (and that's despite being someone who is open to things like Communism being considered a system of belief and perhaps even a religion of sorts) but the events that have occurred since Elevatorgate certainly given some ammunition to this claim.

Peering back into the skeptic and atheist "community" once more recently I discovered that what was some very violent disagreement over feminism had turned into a definite (and perhaps permanent) schism.

Extremely harsh words have been spoken. Bridges burnt. And there seems like no turning back.

Atheism+ has spun off from what I'd call the New Atheist tradition to pursue more political (of the left-wing variety) aims than the main body. It is the new home of Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers and Richard Carrier. Whilst they seem to have tried to brand themselves as the lovely, anti-hate version of atheism you only need to read some of the comments left on their blogs by supporters to see hate for those who disagree with them pour out. In a worrying move akin, I'm obsessed I know, to the Scieno Sitter someone has even created @the_block_bot which blocks those who are offensive and/or critical of Atheism+, women, etc automatically from your Twitter feed so you don't have to even think about it.

As an individualist, freedom lover I won't condemn it but, like all forms of censorship, it does send a shiver up my spine. This really does back up my Suppressive Persons analogy from July. Creepy stuff.

Meanwhile... the rump of the New Atheist folks who haven't been won over to Atheism+ are trying to get by but they often seem unable to respond to their rhetoric with anything more than swearing (though there are still plenty of thoughtful responses such as this out there). If it wasn't for the invective from this side I'd probably stick my flag to their mast but... I can't. Take this series of videos for example.

There are some extremely good points in there, some bullseye take downs of some of the darker, nastier clannish and cliquey type shenanigans that are occuring with Atheism+. BUT... it is a polemic and far from the reasoned, iron clad criticism I am desperate for.

Sigh. Certainly if I'd ever once described myself as a skeptic, I certainly don't now. I'd say I grow ever more sceptical by the day on a whole raft of issues but I want to cry out "NOT IN MY NAME!". Rape accusations and infantile internal politics have destroyed something that could have been beautiful. I mourn for what could have been.

But disbelief is not going to go away. We are growing stronger. Hopefully we'll also grow up soon too.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

When Did LGBT Folk Become The People We Hated?

Last month marked 36 years since Mary Whitehouse took Gay News to court for publishing a blasphemous poem. 29 years ago Gays The Word was raided for obscene materials. Right now attempts to filter the internet and ban "sexualised" images in public are likely to lead to more attempts to stifle free speech by LGBT people (see, for example, the way mobile phone companies block legitimate LGBT websites). 

We've been fighting for freedom for decades. I'm thankful, very thankful, to those who came before me that I came of age in a time when things have been less difficult (the only really homophobic incident I can think of is having stones thrown at me for holding hands with my then boyfriend). But even so the history of the struggle still influences the way I think. 

Unfortunately this history of oppression, for daring to say and do things of which mainstream society didn't approve, has singularly failed to stop some LGBT people becoming just as EVIL (and I do not use that word lightly, but use it I must) as Christians ever were (and are). 

We've had cases for the last ten years or so of preachers being harassed and arrested by police for doing things of which mainstream society does not approve. Be it speaking in public (Adrian Tippetts brilliantly defends the right of Tony Miano to be horrid in public here), leafleting (Stephen Green, shudder) or emailing (see the latest instance involving Alan Clifford here) it would seem religious nutters are getting a bit of a hard time. 

Anti-gay public speaking is offensive, to me at least. I remember one particular instance of a guy with a megaphone in Trafalgar Square that left me so angry and hurt that he could say such things in public. But I didn't do anything because I believe in live and let live (and the looks on the faces of the many other random people in Trafalgar Square showed me his message was not winning any hearts and minds, quite the opposite in fact). 

We have suffered police interference in our freedoms for many, many years. We should be standing side by side with anyone suffering similarly. But, as it would seem with the Alan Clifford issue, it is now LGBT people colluding with the silencing, shaming and persecution (for even though this is not quite at the levels of persecution faced by Christians elsewhere it is persecution nonetheless) of others. 

I remember when the LGBT group at a company I worked with was chastised by the company after a gay employee reported us for using the word "queer". When I attended the next meeting everyone was deeply apologetic towards this person (who had never, and did never, attend a single meeting of our group). I never attended another meeting, finding this cowardice in the face of idiocy to be too much to bear. When did we become the bad guys? When did we think that policing other people's thoughts and speech was in anyway acceptable? 

I understand the hurt these people cause. I really do. They deserve to be shunned by society and ignored by decent people everywhere. But we cannot silence them because we don't like what they say. The way to beat them is to defeat their arguments and win over more people to the side of sanity. 

I've spoken of the boot being on the other foot now. We've won so many battles that the power truly is in the hands of those on our side. But we must remember what the boot felt like from the receiving end and never use it. 

We have an opportunity to show just how superior we are to those who killed, persecuted and hurt LGBT people over the last few centuries. We can be the better people. We must be the better people. 

If that means I stand in support of Alan Clifford, anti-gay hatemonger that he is, then so be it. Freedom isn't just for those we agree with. It isn't just for us. It cannot be. Don't let us become the people we hated.