Month: May 2012

And this is why campaigning against me is counterproductive

I’m not a Christian. I’m an atheist from a pair of atheist parents.

With a love of drama and performance (you see where this is going, right?) I did, however, attend after-school Christian clubs when I was a child.

My best friend in the early 1980s (I moved around a lot, so best friends came and went) was Ellen, and she was from a very very Christian family. When my love of acting and reading became evident, her parents invited me to join Treasure Seekers, an after school club run by the Methodists in Thetford. My parents put up no objections, so I went.

I loved the theatre of it all. The plays, the musicals, the recitals – even a basic, dull Treasure Seekers involved someone (hopefully me!) being called up to the front to read something. Did I ever actually believe? Probably not. The Methodists tended to assume that, if they’ve got you there, the work is done. Kinda like the Sally Army, who pump time and money into feeding and sheltering the homeless THAT SHOULDN’T EXIST IN 2012 and take the singing of a hymn beforehand as the entire price they charge. The actual saving is left up to Jesus or their god to take care of: they just do the bits needed to get people within shouting distance.

The theology of it all didn’t touch me. This was A Good Thing really, because the theology of any religion makes the geeky scientist in me take a step back and start observing the anthropological specimens in front of me with ever more distance. When the BBC moved Doctor Who to a weekday night that clashed with Treasure Seekers, I stopped going to Treasure Seekers. The opportunity to act in front of an audience was nothing compared to the opportunity to watch Doctor Who and thus be the ideal person for the BBC to cast as the sixth (too ambitious), seventh (a teenaged Doctor? Yeah), eighth (they wouldn’t cancel it OBVIOUSLY) or most likely ninth (beware, Eccleston, you stole my role) Doctor. My big role, despite a lack of (a) drama school and (b) talent, was on the cards.

Clearly this didn’t happen, for the good of Whoers everywhere. I was left with a very shallow imprint of Christianity instead. This was enough to make me benevolent to all religions for most of my life. If you look at the headline rules that Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in (and, basically, all the other religions) then you get a set of rules that we should all work towards. Love, peace, integration, generosity, openness, happiness – every religion is based on these things. And so am I.

Time passes, with me generically benevolent to religion.

And then I’m invited to the Christening of Kate and Tim’s first child. My partner of the time was a Christian, as were Kate and Tim. The Christening was a Methodist one. Nobody batted an eyelid at inviting the atheist gay lover of a parishioner to take part in the audience/congregation/whatever. The thing I saw was that we were welcoming a new member of the human race into our society – a good thing.

It turned out that that day was also whatever the Methodists have as an equivalent of a Mass. Dealcoholised wine was passed down the pews. When it reached me, I took it and, with a small smile, handed it on. The woman next to me was SCANDALISED and made it very clear how disgusted she was I hadn’t taken part.

My respect for religion shrivelled in her glare. Exactly what part of her god’s plan for us all involved a look of sheer hate and disgust at someone who felt they couldn’t take part in their ritual? Suddenly, I started to see all religion as simply ritual – and rituals are by their very nature ridiculous. I said then I would never again go into a church voluntarily.

This is all a long way of saying how religion – ritual religion – decided to alienate me for not taking part. I was never really going to be caught, but the opportunity to keep me in orbit around religion existed; the opportunity to not make an enemy of me was there. People with religion didn’t take it – they would prefer that I indulge in an unfamiliar ritual rather than try to adapt even by a millimetre the ritual itself.

So they alienated me from religion. They pushed me from being “agnostic” (in this case, agnostic meaning “it’s bollocks, but it’s your bollocks so that’s fine”) to being atheist. And then they (you know who I mean) started saying that my atheism itself was A Bad Thing and that I was a “militant” and a “fascist” and a “communist” for being an atheist. Of course, it didn’t help when someone of limited metal acuity like Baroness Warsi tied her boat so firmly to that freak Nick Griffin’s mast in an attempt to unite religious people (which includes neither Warsi nor Griffin) with “normality” (which includes neither Warsi’s followers nor Griffin’s).

They have labelled me a militant atheist. And so I now am. Fuck your rituals, you sad deluded proto-humans. Fuck your religions too, despite the whole love-care-forgive-include stuff that they say but you don’t follow. And fuck your attempts to foist your insane, backward, racist, sexist, homophobic views on the rest of us in the name of what your so-called god requires of you. Fuck off, the lot of you. And then read this, from a man who is celebrating the holding back of the tide whilst admitting that you people have doomed yourselves.

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It is happening again

I’m so sorry.

The wrong answer

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Image by Coventry City CouncilCC-BY-NC-ND

Amidst a low turnout, the people of the English cities have largely rejected adopting a London-style Mayorality system.

The basic reason for introducing such a system is that local government is broken in England. Councils have either got permanent, unmovable majorities on one hand or shifting, unstable coalitions on the other. Neither is working well: permanent majorities lead to a lack of dynanism in councillors and stodgy, slow-to-react councils.

Shifting coalitions and their cousins – councils swinging between one party and another each election – mean that councillors spend their time fighting (sometimes literally), backstabbing, playing to the gallery and otherwise being very insular and political. This results in council policy forever changing and the council services being disrupted.

The Mayoral system is meant to stop that. Instead of such poor extremes, you get one man (almost always a man, alas) with the power concentrated in his hands for four years and the councillors act as the check and balance on him. This sounds great in theory but in practice it’s the same again – either it’s permanently the same man or it swings back and for between two wildly opposing men, albeit only once every 4 years rather than every May.

The solution is obvious to all politicians at all levels, but they don’t like it. They don’t want to let the solution in through the door because when people discover how well it works, they start wanting it for everything. The solution is the supervote, also known as the single transferrable vote (STV).

The supervote put all of the power in the hands of the electorate. The parties no longer have the power of patronage; there is no longer a need to vote for someone you dislike in order to avoid electing someone you dislike more; there are no permanent majorities; there are no dramatic swings. And above all there’s no tactical voting. Because of that, the need to punish or reward the distant national government in London via a local election disappears.

What the individual votes for, the council gets. Your party’s candidates are all elected together but you get to chose between them. Suddenly you have all the power over the parties and the councillors. If you’re on the left of Labour, you can vote to push Labour locally to the left. Ditto if you’re on the right of the Tories.

Supervote does result in more coaltions, but they are more stable – councillors don’t have to guess what people want, they already know. Political infighting doesn’t work because the public will use the supervote to punish it. We get more responsive councillors and a more responsive council. Turnout goes up because the vote means something. If your councillor is rubbish, you have another one to turn to. If they’re all rubbish, you have the power to remove them – even without changing what party you vote for.

The power of the supervote is truly awesome. And that’s why the politicians don’t want you to have it.

The chocolate fireguard

Newspaper

When the above headline appeared on the front page of the Sun yesterday, I contacted the Press Complaints Commission.

Today they replied, dismissing my complaint out of hand. This is why the Leveson Inquiry is bound to recommend they are abolished forthwith – they almost always do this (the exception being when complaints are levelled against smaller newspaper groups like the Independent and the Grauniad)

Here’s what I said:

The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. 

Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story. 

Cruelly mocking a man for his speech impediment and thu s mocking everybody with a speech impediment is a material breech of the Code. I don’t speak for the man himself, but I do speak for others with problems speaking. This headline and the general mocking tone of the coverage will lead to more bullying, more shame and more embarrassment. 

The chocolate fireguard replied:

Thank you for writing to us to express concern regarding The Sun’s recent coverage of Roy Hodgson. The PCC has received over 1,500 complaints on this subject.

We contacted the Football Association yesterday to discuss how Mr Hodgson might like to respond and whether he wished to register a formal complaint with the PCC. The Football Association later released this statement on Mr Hodgson’s behalf:

FA STATEMENT

The FA and Press Complaints Commission have today received a large number of objections relating to the front page headline in The Sun newspaper, regarding Roy Hodgson’s manner of speech.  On this occasion, we will not be making an official complaint to the PCC but we have raised it with the newspaper and made it clear that their front page is unacceptable to us.

With regard to the above, FA Chairman David Bernstein said:  “We are delighted at the media response to Roy’s appointment but are disappointed with the headline in The Sun, which we consider is in poor taste and disrespectful.”

Given the nature of the story and the fact that Mr Hodgson has made clear he does not wish to make a formal complaint, it appears that it would be difficult for the Commission to investigate this matter; we would in any case require Mr Hodgson’s consent for the publication of the outcome of any Commission investigation (for example, an apology or adjudication) to avoid intruding into his privacy.

If you believe that there are nonetheless exceptional public interest reasons for the Commission to formally investigate this matter without Mr Hodgson’s involvement, we would be grateful to hear from you in the next ten days. The Commission will then be asked whether it wishes to take the complaint forward in these circumstances.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you need further advice.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely

Simon Yip

Of course, I have replied forthwith. The PCC only ever reply just before they shut for the day, giving them a good 24 hours to delay matters consider things carefully:

Dear Simon

Thank you for the response I expected from the PCC.

If you could now refer back to my original complaint, you will find it is about the Sun’s incitement to bully 4.5 million British people who have speech impediments rather than about Mr Hodgson (a man who dare not in his position take on that newspaper, as the PCC is clearly aware given recent events), I would be grateful if the Commission could fully investigate this matter rather than dismiss it out of hand. 

Clearly Clause 12 has been broken. The last time that happened (the Clare Balding/Adrian Gill case), the PCC censured the newspaper concerned exactly because of the bullying and shame such prejudiced language causes.

I expect the PCC to do the same this time. I don’t expect that it will make any difference, but nevertheless it’s about time that the PCC stood up to the press before Lord Justice Leveson inevitably recommends you be abolished for continually failing to do so.

And I wrote to Sir Brian Leveson too:

The inquiry has now moved on, but I still thought it worth asking if Sir Brian would be interested in the recent headline in the Sun newspaper which took the opportunity to mock 4.5 million British people with speech impediments and incite others to bully and shame them.

The Press Complaints Commission have reject the complaint, despite of the clear breach of Clause 12 of the Code, because Mr Hodgson is unwilling to make a complaint himself – someone in his position not being able to afford to make an enemy of News International.

This leaves 4,499,999 other people in the United Kingdom without a right of reply and allows the newspapers to get away with naked prejudice against a minority – something Lord Justice Leveson has expressed an interest in earlier in his inquiry.

It won’t make the slightest fucking difference – the chance we had to stop such appalling behaviour has gone past, thanks mainly to Louise Mensch doing a (frankly excellent) rearguard action job to protect News International for reasons that must forever remain her own.

Ah well.

Let’s play "change the minority"

The game, for all the family, of “change the minority” has for a long time been seen as a bankrupt argument. I think this is because it makes those who prejudge uncomfortable due to it being unanswerable.

But I believe it still works and is still valid along a whole line of prejudice. After all, just because someone isn’t prejudice against, say, British Asians and Jewish people but is prejudice against LGBT people doesn’t mean they’re not prejudiced.

Let’s rotate the panellists, clear the scoreboard and play “Change The Minority!”

  • Same-sex marriage would destroy the institution of marriage
  • Jewish people marrying would destroy the institution of marriage

Five points! Marriage is about love, not about your opinions. If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a gay.

  • People claim to be disabled to get benefits
  • People claim to be Christians to get benefits

Four points! There are a lot of benefits to be had for claiming to be part of an oppressed minority, especially if you’re not. But we’ve docked a point because the price of actually having a disability is greater than the money on offer from the government, as anyone with mobility problems will tell you if you mention kerbs, trains or shop doorways.

  • Gay people shouldn’t adopt
  • Black people shouldn’t adopt

Another five points! Children without parents need parents.

  • Muslims oppress women
  • Christians oppress women

Only two points for that one – at the last count, every section of society oppresses women, including other women (have you read what women write in the Daily Mail about other women? No? Well, don’t).

  • Gay people are promiscuous
  • Christians are promiscuous

Ten points for that one! Some gay people are indeed promiscuous. And some Christians are promiscuous too. Indeed, it’s a human trait, whether you think it’s right or wrong.

  • Gay people are too loud about their way of life
  • Tory voters are too loud about their way of life
  • Labour voters are too loud about their way of life

Five points! And a bonus point for being politically neutral on polling day! People with strident beliefs will be strident about their beliefs. The more you ask them to shut up, the louder they will get.

  • There’s a link between homosexuality and paedophilia
  • There’s a link between being a Catholic priest and paedophilia
  • There’s a link between being from Cleveland and paedophila

Five more points! This is not an issue that will be resolved by pointing fingers at any one section of a society.

  • Women shouldn’t make decisions about their reproductive health on their own
  • Car drivers shouldn’t make decisions about their reproductive health on their own

Five points, plus two bonus points for noticing that women and car drivers are both slightly in the majority!

I can keep playing this game for as long as you want with literally every view you might have about a subsection of the human race that’s not based on rounded experience. And yes, that does mean it can be done with murderers, rapists and pederasts. And it still remains valid.

That’s because prejudice is built into human beings, a racial trait that all 7 billion of us have. But so is tolerance, understanding, open-mindedness and love. That’s the message of all of the world’s religions, and also the message of humanists and atheists.

My message is a bit simpler: the next time you open your mouth, engage your fucking brain first. Okay?