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.