Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Romney will Attack over Sandy

With the devastation whipping through the Eastern seaboard of the US, commentators have been waxing on how neither party is looking to politicise the response. However, this is simply not the case. Watching Romney speak at an Ohio relief rally, you could hear him spinning his own narrative into the effort to give help to people.

In a rambling analogy in a rambling speech, he said "If we all clear our own aisles" then the relief effort will be successful, bringing a message of self-sufficiency into a disaster-aid context. Whether tomorrow he will try to use a similar message, that everyone should clear their own drive ways, put out their own fires, save their own families and not concern themselves with their neighbours, I cannot possibly say. Mitt Romney has proved one thing during the course of this campaign; what he says one moment has absolutely no baring on what he says the next.

Another thing that form does show is that he will not shy from attempting to score the cheapest political points with the flimsiest of justifications, and has absolutely no sensitivity towards taste or moment. Look at his attack on the Cairo embassy for a press release: Romney called a press conference, the day after three embassy staff were killed, to criticise other embassy staff, while their embassy was being mobbed by riots. All as a cheap way of attempting to call Obama an appeaser.

It was possibly the most craven act of politicising I have ever witnessed. It is certainly among the most tasteless examples of campaign rhetoric there have ever been.

Those commentators who are saying that Sandy is not being politicised are wishing their own reality. The truth is, Mitt Romney will find a way of using this to his advantage, will attack the President's response whether that response is the height of competence or not. Romney only sees the end and does not care about the means.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

After The Debates, Wither Thou Goest, Empty Headed Undecided?

Forgive my fury, but the dumb eyes of undecided American voters who think themselves fair-minded contain an infuriating, vacuous arrogance.

No, lady, you're not fair-minded; if you can't separate these two candidates in your mind, you have precisely zero capacity for analysis. No, Sir, you're not weighing each argument equally, the truth is you have but two ideas about how politics affects you personally: Jack and Shit (oh, that reminds me: Jack left town).

The good news is: you're probably not a virulent racist.

The bad news is: fuck you.

Sweet Jesus! After an economic collapse caused by stock jockeys gone goofy and super rich arseholes who all got out ahead, you could vote for the goofy stock jockey super rich arsehole who specialised in getting out ahead, or you could vote for the other guy, who's been trying (and partly succeeding) to regulate that shit, whilst cleaning up the mess left by the last goofy super rich arsehole you voted for to be president.

Still undecided? How about the fact that one of them says that the best way to quell gun violence in America is by maintaining two parent, one home families - because, statistically, all children with single parents grow up to be 50 Cent. The other guy was raised by a single parent and became the President (presumably, he's secretly President Fiddy, and it says so on his gay Kenyan birth certificate that Acorn gave to drug dealing Mexicans to apologize for America). He thinks banning assault weapons would be a good idea - you know, to stop people carrying out mass killings with assault weapons, of which there have been several in recent years (FYI: mass killings carried out by people with assault weapons are more difficult without assault weapons).

Seriously, undecided voters in this election either have genuine problems understanding abstract concepts or are hopelessly nihilistic. In fact "Nothing has meaning, meaning is nothing" could be the internal slogan of the Romney campaign.

Yeah, I've got my horse in this race, but if you're not a hard-boiled conservative who genuinely wants a government with massive military spending and drastically cut welfare and regulations and a total ban on all abortions, and you see yourself as 'undecided' in this race, you don't know what you're talking about.

Or you're not going to vote and you're just lying to pollsters about being a 'likely voter'. That's probably it, you sly sons of bitches. You're just afraid of looking like indolent, disinterested, un-civic minded yokels who wouldn't know Republican from reptilian.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

G4S: The Almighty **** Up

Talking to a few soldiers last night was an interesting experience. They were stood on guard in Greenwich at midnight and wanted to hear a song (I had my guitar with me). I wanted to play them something, but wanted to talk to them more.

I have heard a lot about the army being called in to deal with the security shortfall at the Olympics, and how G4S underestimated the personnel they would need to staff all the venues and secure the Games. I wanted to hear the details of this experience from the squadie perspective.

The government called the army in to cover G4S, as British forces have been providing security for cities in Afghanistan and Iraq for ten years, so are experts at the task at hand. On a level, you can understand the decision to draft them in. But how has this been done?

The Royal Fusileers have just come back from a tour of Afghanistan. The story goes, they were on the plane back, and got told they were on duty in London and had two days to turn around, see their families, then go and fill-in for the dishonest, useless G4S.

Six months in Afghanistan and its horrors, its torments, its discomfort, then one night with the wife and kids, then to London to stand around on twelve hour shifts (with the other twelve hours on stand-by).

Our soldiers are damn tough. And damn good. The guys I spoke to last night were also damn nice. But asking them to do this seems almost sadistic. "I hope you're getting paid well" I said, assuming there was some serious bonus for those on Olympic duty.

No. No there isn't. They get a £6 bonus, Lance Corporal *** said - "Oh, hourly?" I asked. "Daily" he replied. That's on top of a £3 hourly salary for Lance Corporal ***, which beats the hell out of Corporal *****'s £1.85 p/h.

If this isn't a bloody scandal, what the hell is? A private security firm fail to live up to their commitments, leaving our best and brightest and stretched to pick up the pieces on a pathetic wage. They are doing the jobs of G4S, for less than a quarter of the wage of even it's temporary employees.

This ain't right. G4S are getting fined huge volumes, but the process of selecting them and any future contracts with them should be reviewed and then torn up. The ministers responsible should be called to account for this almighty injustice.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Occupy Movement: Best Buddy of Bastard Bankers

The Occupy movement is seeing something of a resurgence in pockets across the globe. I feel this can only be a good thing for bankers who want to maintain a 'laissez-faire' regulatory environment.

It is a matter of personal conviction that my generation have been totally ignored and pilloried when it comes to the most contentious issues of our time. The protests against the Iraq war were vast, passionate and, perhaps most importantly, right.

Britain had no reason to invade another country, in the process causing the deaths of over 100,000 people. The reasons we were given for this invasion have been proven to be lies and/or distortions of the truth. It is generally felt these lies were deliberately fed to parliament and to the populace in order to justify what would otherwise be unjustifiable. All the talk of WMD and the 40 minute warning took the centre of debate away from the central issue: that this invasion was an illegal act based on a colonial morality (nb: nothing 'neo'-colonial about it).

We were out on the streets before it happened, saying "don't invade Iraq" and "you're lying to us". We were told to pipe down, that we were naive and didn't understand what was at stake. Turned out: we were right and they were lying to us.

The other great injustice of our time has been the banking collapse. Through deregulation and worship of the financial sector by chancellor Gordon Brown, Bush and Clinton, the conditions were set where some areas of trading became one great big game of bluff. It got so bad that the traders themselves had no idea if the assets they were buying and selling were toxic or not. It was like they were playing poker without being able to see their own hands.

Occupy started, in essence, as a reaction to this catastrophe. The time at which the Occupy movement was at its most popular was when the message was simple: "regulate the financial system so this stuff can't happen."

It was at this time I was seriously considering taking my tent to LSX and joining the movement. This now seems a very long time ago.

As happened at the Iraq war demonstrations, the left-wing crazies came out and took ownership of the entire movement. I remember those pathetic creatures trying to push me to buy 'Socialist Worker' and join their sordid little group. "But I'm here to protest the Iraq war," I said, "not to commit intellectual suicide."

The anarchists and the Marxists had the loud-hailers and the big banners and they freely claimed to speak for everyone there.

No-one told me that you had to become an avowed anarchist to attend the demonstration.

Last year, when a vast body of people came to the conclusion that the financial sector shouldn't be run like the worst
casino in the world, the little Lenins got all excited again and started to bleat their claptrap with visions of armed revolution and storming Parliament and an end to capitalism.

The movement's message became diluted, going far beyond 'regulate the financial system' to the outer reaches of Slavoj Zizek's non-reality-based imagination. All sorts of rubbish was thrown around about remaking the world and abolishing countries and re-writing property law. Some of it was sensible, some of it was quixotic, some of it was deeply divisive.

Ultimately, the little Lenins still had the loud-hailers and the big signs. It is they who drowned the Occupy movement in a sea of anachronistic utopian hot air and self-importance.

But that was December, when Occupy also died of natural causes: winter. No serious revolution has ever succeeded in cold weather with the exception of Russia (which I think actually proves my point, for reasons too long to go into here): July 4th is American Independence Day; July 14th is Bastille Day; the English Civil War started on 22nd of August and effectively took the winters off; the Arab Spring is called the 'Arab Spring' because it happened in the spring.

I think if OWS had got traction in May of last year instead of October, it would have been a more effective movement. Unfortunately, this year's resurrection is a confused mess of lefty anarchists, demanding an end to capitalism (no-one in their right mind actually wants an end to capitalism).

I still want financial regulations, but I don't want to stand next to signs condemning Barrack Obama for being 'a fucking traitor' written by some middle-class child called "Magpie" (real name 'Michael') or "Hunter" (Henry) or "Raven" (Lizbeth to her parents) whose morality is as transitory as it is purist.

So that's how these imbeciles are helping the financial sector to maintain their death-grip on our economy - by driving intelligent people off from what was the movement to regulate it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Queen, 9/11 and Guys Called "John"

This weekend's Jubilee celebrations brought into sharp relief the strange, perhaps anachronistic, constitution under which we live in the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt that the monarchy has its detractors - a glance at my Facebook feed shows posts of strident support for a Republic to be instituted in the UK, among the affirmations of Royalist sentiment.

However, as the Guardian/ICM poll suggests, there is no serious possibility of the monarchy being decommissioned any time soon. 69% of all respondents felt the country would be worse-off without the royal family.

These sort of numbers are unimaginable for any President (except Putin, of course, who has the universal support of Russians, no matter how they vote). In 2012, the Jubilee and its flag-waving crowds of all political and social persuasions, stand in stark contrast with the bitter divisions of the election happening in America.

I want to lay out how this all happened; how one Head of State unifies a country while the other divides it.

As so often is the case, we go back to 11/9/2001 to find our starting point. After the twin towers were demolished and thousands slaughtered in the terrorist attack, the American media focussed on George W. Bush, and looked to him to provide some sort of unifying message about the assault and where the country would go from there.

Bush responded willingly, standing atop the rubble promising that the "evil doers" would pay for their deeds. It created a media storyline straight out of an action flick, with GWB cast as the John McLane, the John Wayne, the John Conner, the John Rambo, the John Matrix, the John Cutter (Passenger 57? Anyone?); he was the every man hero, fighting against the terrorist mastermind.

GWB rode a tidal wave of goodwill, achieving an approval rating of somewhere between an ice-cream and a blow-job for about a week after the attacks he failed to prevent. He was the focus of patriotic feelings; he was the voice of the nation's anger; he was the embodiment of America.

That is part of the job for any Head of State.

Unlike in the cinema, however, this storyline had to stretch for more than an hour and a half, and much of the audience became dissatisfied with the supposed hero. The bodies that he left behind weren't simply thrown to the ground and forgotten; they lay there and festered.

The country became divided as the Bush administration suspended Habeas Corpus, demonstrated unsophisticated morality and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2004, the election went his way thanks, mostly, to an uninspiring candidate on the Democratic side and a populous still petrified by the thought of another terrorist attack.

Thereafter, the rhetoric of the liberal media and some very few Democratic politicians was ratcheted up to present GWB and his brain's trust as war criminals (nb: as point of fact, they are war criminals).

The Republicans had to convince their support that water-boarding was not torture, that permanent imprisonment with no trial was justice and that the administration who failed to protect them on 11/9/2001 were the only one's qualified to protect them in the future.

Initiatives to redefine black as white, up as down and the world as flat stalled in committee because they lacked for ambition.

So the Republican politicians and support base had to either accept these policy positions and tactics, or tolerate them for what they saw as the greater good. Or they had to stop being Republicans.

Democrats could not support such an agenda, either because of their shared moral commitment to peace and civil rights, or because they didn't like their intelligence being insulted.

To support George W. Bush through this period necessitated that one bought in to his philosophy, his rhetoric and his policies. The Head of State, who's job it is to provide a focus for national unity, became not just 'The Decider', but the divider.

His attitude, and the attitude of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, was "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists". GWB himself said this to the international community, but this sentiment was repeated throughout his homeland.

Thus it was that Barrack Obama inherited a divided nation. Despite his principled and intelligent attempts to be the President for all Americans and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the nation remains sullenly divided. Republicans cannot admit the horrendous and illegal nature of Bush's policies because if they did they would lose all legitimacy.

This means that 45% of the American populous is in denial over the Bush years, and that delusion feeds in to their nomination of Mitt Romney, whose lies on the campaign trail are bewildering. It is as if he lives in a different universe. He states things that are factually wrong as if they were true and the audience accepts it, because they have already accepted far bigger lies.

If they didn't they would be left with the awful reality outside of the planet Conserveranus. Obama cannot reach these people, cannot be their president, because the fissure torn through the country is between fact-based reality and bizarro world.

"What the hell", I hear you ask, "has this to do with monarchy and the Jubilee?"

This is what: I don't believe that GWB could ever have hoped to maintain the unity of the nation. I'm not giving the guy a pass on the catastrophic series of decisions he made, but the office of the presidency is one of policy and decision making. If Obama had been president then, the result would have been similar. Making decisions and pursuing agenda items is inherently divisive.

His role as Head of State is compromised by his role as leader of a political party and ratifier of policy. Bush could have done a better job; he could have kept the pursuit of Bin Laden and the destruction of al-Queda out of the political arena - but the President himself still could not have continued as the unifying face of America.

The Queen is burdened by no such responsibilities. Her position as Head of State demands only that she fulfil functions such as welcoming other Heads of State, making a speech at the opening of Parliament, and again to the cameras at Christmas and living a dignified example of a life between times.

She fulfils her role in ceremonies, dines with presidents and kings and gives private counsel to her own Prime Minister. She does not have to push a plan to sort out the budget. She does not send our troops overseas. She does not have to defend ministers who are caught with their fingers in the till, or with their trousers around their ankles.

She represents Britain and the Commonwealth without making any decision on any matter anywhere but in her own household. Thus her role is not an inherently divisive one. Whether there should be a monarchy or not may present a divergence of opinion, but not many things that the Queen actually does can be a matter for debate beyond "should the tax-payer pay for it?"

She presents a focus for feelings of national pride and unity without having to make divisive decisions. That is how the monarchy works in the modern age. That is the benefit of separating the role of Head of State from the democratic process.

The price? To be represented by someone appointed, supposedly, by God, and not by the people.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Christian Vandals

Stephen Tompkins' article "How much Christianity is hidden in British society?" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17112688) for the BBC website's 'News Magazine' section, was written as a reaction to the recent appearance of Richard Dawkins on the today programme.

It is a classic example of BBC conservatism that they publish an article affirming the state doctrine, at a time when it is challenged by Dawkins and his secularists. I don't see an article in their 'Magazine' section, or any other section, making an even vaguely secularist point.

This is not a case of equal time for both views, as the Rev. Giles Fraser gave as good as he got on the Today Programme. This is a case of over-correction.

The problem I have with this article (which is featured prominently in the 'News' section of the website at this hour) is that it confuses Christianity for religion as a whole.

It assumes, for instance, that if a festival has a Christian name, it has a Christian origin. The article explains the British calender of seasons and holidays almost as if there were no time prior to Christianity being forced, by the sword, on the local pagans.

Tomkins writes "Trying to take all the religion out of it (British Culture) would be not so much like taking the raisins out of a fruitcake as like taking the chocolate out of a chocolate cake.

So here are some of the places in British society where Christian heritage can easily be uncovered." (italics added)

The word "religion" does not mean "Christianity" - a distinction he fails to make throughout the article. Taking Christianity out of our culture would be more like stripping the paint off a wall - everything would be exactly the same, but we'd call certain things by different names.

For instance, we'd admit that it's damn stupid to think Caesar would have ordered a census in December, so we'd stop pretending Jesus was born then. Henceforth, we'd call Christmas "The Winter Solstice", a festival that celebrates the birth of hope on the shortest day - hence why it was re-branded "Jesus' birthday" - and hold it four days earlier. Nothing else about it need change.

Instead of the annual confusion as to when exactly Easter is, we'd celebrate the regenerative powers of the Green Man, or John Barleycorn, on May 1st. We could take our pick from a range of different pagan folklore that has a lot more to do with eggs and rabbits than the limp 'stone' excuse Christians try to sell.

Basically, we'd stop pretending that Christianity has anything to do with the formation of our calender.

Christianity is like graffiti over the pagan painting of British culture.

Tomkins doesn't seem to understand this, or else he wouldn't have gaffed so hard with clangers like "Fear of the number 13 may have stemmed from Judas being the 13th member of the Last Supper."

Numerology is not a strong point of mine, but 13 has long been held by many different cultures as being magic in one way or another. That there are 13 cycles of the moon every 3 years or so, and therefore 13 menstrual cycles for the women folk probably has more to do with it than arbitrarily deciding Judas was number 13 at a table one time.

This explanation, from the author of "A Short History of Christianity", cannot be dismissed as merely lazy or uneducated. He must realise he is equivocating with his use of the terms 'religious' and 'Christian', that he is affirming a Christian interpretation of British history and culture; a history and culture that is deeply pagan.

This interpretation feeds from the Christian imperialism of the Middle ages and the renaissance, which sought to co-opt pagan tradition and re-brand it in order to tame and Christianise this country.

Back then, they didn't just burn the witches (doctors), they re-told the story of the year as a Christian fable and gave songs words about Jesus in place of the May Queen. They gave spurious and unbelievable explanations for why black cats and 13 are unlucky.

That the BBC is still paying people to carry out this work makes me sad. That Tomkins' article is so paper-thin in its deception offers scant consolation.

For future reference, please note: the word "Religion" does not refer only to "Christianity".

But you knew that, didn't you?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Climate Change victim of climate change

Today's Guardian contained an article by Science editor, Robin McKie, which is essentially a lament of the power that established businesses have over the public discourse:


In it, he sums up the anguish felt by many that the climate debate has been sidelined, blaming big business interests who want to protect their market share and business model. I want to try to show the method of this madness.

He says "university and government researchers are hounded... Their emails are hacked while Facebook campaigns call for their dismissal from their posts, calls that are often backed by right-wing politicians... Rick Santorum insisted he should be the presidential nominee simply because he had cottoned on earlier... to the "hoax" of global warming."

That's here:

It is matter of record that Climate Change was a consensus issue in US politics, with John McCain co-sponsoring carbon-capping legislation that was supported by Alaska's very own Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich getting together with Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on behalf of Al Gore's project to combat global warming. This stuff is all on tape from 2006/2007.

It has moved from this unarguable, apolitical subject into a highly partisan, culture-war issue. The political climate has indeed changed. This seemed to happen under cover of the financial crisis and the tumultuous, world-gripping election of 2008.

Global warming, a subject upon which there is a broad consensus amongst scientists on all but the extent of the damage and how much we can do about it now, is treated as if it is as abstract and subjective as 'rights' or 'religion'.

In '08, McCain had to convince the right-wing that he was one of them by embracing one of their more crazy ideas: that scientists are "elites" who want to grab power by terrifying everyone with global catastrophe. In Robin McKie's thinking, I assume it would be the energy company lobbyists who sold - or, perhaps, bought - him on this issue.

If you want an example of the sort of mind-jarring non-sequiturs that make up a right-wing argument against global warming, it is a target rich environment. Just today, there was this from Rick Santorum's Press Secretary, Alice Stewart, who tied up a whole jumble-sale of bewildering right-wingery in one 40 second blast:

She later said she "misspoke" when calling Obama's sparse environmental achievements "radical Islamic policies". It doesn't matter: what she was saying is devoid of any sense. However, this 'mistake' exposes what language she was speaking: a language of symbol over sense, where words have no meaning other than in relation to 'good' and 'evil'. They are locked in to the world of faith and moral absolutes.

"Islamic", "secular", "environmental", "socialist", "welfarism", "class warfare" all mean exactly the same thing. It didn't matter which order she put the words in, they all refer to 'the evil'. They are all suitable substitutes for one another in this language. While of course it is preferable to match issue to terminology, it is barely a necessity and it wouldn't surprise anyone if this 'slip' was planned.

But, just look at this religious right three-minute-hate on environmentalists:

This video is compiled by a liberal poster, but is still instructive. It is a compilation of speakers who make it seem like all that is right and good in the world is under attack from environmentalists. The first speaker, Cindy Jacobs, listing first and foremost "human prosperity" as being under attack by the "Green Dragon". 'Human' of course is supposed to mean Joe Sixpack, Anywhereville, USA. Disturbingly, it seems to actually mean 'fossil fuel based businesses and their executives'. Well, corporations are people now.

They all, of course, say that the gospel of Jesus Christ is under assault from environmentalism. This is justified by tying environmentalism with humanism, a point I will return to another day.

Who are these guys? Jacobs is a 'pray-away-the-gay, homosexual-exorcist'. The second speaker, Bryan Fisher, is a say-anything madman ("gays are nazis", anyone? No?) and Tony Perkins is head of 'The Family Research Council' who are a powerful lobbying group with strong ties to oil billionaires, the Koch brothers.

The language they use is bald-faced re-education. "Environmentalism is no longer your friend" they say, these party elders, religious leaders, community icons, respected figures of the conservative community, over and over again.

With this sort of unity, the majority of their flock will, quite understandably, begin to agree with them, or at least use these same words. Church going folk are swayed by their pastor - that's his/her job, after all - and party underlings affirm the attitudes of their candidates. These are people who are looked to for spiritual guidance and they are dispensing an anti-environment message under the guise of movement conservatism.

What I am trying to say is not that climate change is the single greatest threat to human civilisation and life on this earth - that's for another venue, I'm not a climatologist. Rather, I wanted to show how the business interests in the US have used faith and the unity of the conservative community to block any serious discussion of this subject.

They have, very effectively, turned an issue on which 77% of Americans agreed in 2006, into a 57% - or partisan - issue in 2009. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/22/most-dangerous-global-war_n_330614.html)

The trick, I feel, is in arguing in faith-based abstracts: Texas is suffering from increasing drought, but Texans are not convinced global warming has anything to do with a gradual upward trend in temperatures in many areas of the globe - including their own. Hell, last year Governor Rick Perry held a state-wide day of prayer for rain. The drought worsened considerably thereafter.

Christian thinking places 'pure' spirit over 'sinful' body, so to get these Texans to ignore the drought and vote for the eco-holocaust, framing it as an issue of spirit raises it above worldly concerns like water and crops.

It is my observation that American Conservatives don't tend to vote their interests - they vote their beliefs.

So long as you can influence the beliefs espoused by leaders in the religious right, you will have a large measure of power in Washington.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Richard Dawkins: Spell-Checker

Richard Dawkins appeared on the Today program on Radio 4 today, in an ill-judged attempt to head-off an imagined Christian power-grab:


He argues that, whilst a majority of people in the UK self-identify as Christians, they are incorrect about the classification of their own beliefs. He is of the opinion that if someone cannot name certain books of the New Testament, or if they do not think that Jesus was the son of God, they cannot really call themselves a 'Christian' at all.

Dawkins' narrow definition of Christianity seems to exclude all but the most fundamentalist zealots, a fact that belies his own atheistic fundamentalism.

He cannot see the vast and plentiful broad-lands of spiritualities and private faiths, or the accommodations for religious sense cosseted within a matrix of reason common in academics and children alike; he cannot see that reverence of a religious tradition can actually breed ignorance of it (think of Latin in Churches) and that apathy about one's spirituality is so widespread it would qualify as the Great British pass-time, if only it passed any time.

He seems to think that you are only a Christian if you kill people for working on the Sabbath, stone people for saying 'Yahweh', would send your own daughters out to be raped rather than see men get buggered and can recite all the Psalms from memory.

Dawkins, as a fundamentalist atheist, has so caricatured 'The Christian' that he will only accept his own fundamentalist version as being the true Christian. To be fair to him, there are plenty such wack-jobs in Americaland and he spends a lot of time over there. But here in Britain these creatures are a far rarer sight, which is why what he's saying is so self-defeating.

Telling someone that they are not what they say they are is calling them 'a liar' or 'stupid' or 'a fake'. People don't react well to these sorts of insults. Dawkins might say, with some justification, that to be a Christian requires some core beliefs and knowledge. To say 'Christians generally believe Jesus is the son of God" is defensible and sensible. It is quite another thing to say, to the man (lets call him 'Syd') who thinks Jesus was a great guy who lived a good life that Syd wishes in some ways to emulate, that he cannot call himself a Christian.

Oh, but he can, Richard. If Syd says "I'm a Christian because I think Jesus' message was a good one, but I don't believe in supernatural powers or an afterlife or God" then Syd's a Christian. Admittedly, Syd's a very difficult Christian to argue against using science, because he's not making truth claims that can be verified or shown to be absurd. Syd's opinion of a man and his teachings is not quantifiable data, not a pillar of the all-American culture war; it is too elusive a target for Dawkins' barbs.

This is a direct result of Dawkins' own literal interpretation of the Bible. He seems to believe that this, or any other, text can be interpreted in one way alone. The ridiculousness of this view is amplified as it is applied to parables - stories that are expressly meant to be open to interpretation.

Dawkins has no background in the philosophy of religion, so I am well used to his re-hashed and mangled arguments against the existence of God from circa-1760, but I didn't know his idea of textual analysis went no further than a spell-check. He is, in that regard, no more sophisticated than the mega-church charlatans he battles in the US.

Please, Richard, tell the Americans that they can keep their culture war. If you want any further reading, look up 'hermeneutics' instead of reading the results of a study you wrote, carried out by an organisation named after you, that just so happens to produce data that backs up your point of view.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Catholic Contraception Kerfuffle - Obama Trolls the Right

How in the world do you make your opponents make themselves look like religious zealots and use massively overblown rhetoric, while making yourself look like the adult in the room? While, I might add, risking nothing?

You need to be an expert in political jujitsu. You need to be able to have control of the narrative all along without showing your puppeteer's hand. You need to pick an issue where there is a 98% consensus behind you, that surrogates can point to, while your opponents rally against you with all the fire and brimstone at their disposal.

This is the recipe Barrack Obama put together in a recent debate over Catholic-backed employers providing contraception through health insurance.

Recap: 98% of Catholic women use or have used contraception. Obama says to Catholic hospitals "pay for contraception" (while, importantly exempting churches from the same rule). Catholic hospitals say "that's against our principles."

Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney et al jump in gleefully screaming "this is an attack on religious freedom, this is an affront to America, this is war on the Catholic Church! And the constitution! And babies! We hate contraception! Obama will take your religion away!" The debate is had - pundits weigh both sides, while right-wing commentators can't believe their luck and join in, screaming "WAR ON RELIGION!".

Three or four days of this follow, with polls broken down and analysed showing slim majority support for Obama, who is cast as standing up for women, albeit politically foolishly.

Then, on Friday, the cake is baked.

Obama comes out and says "OK, this is a complex issue, but here is how everyone can win: women will get free contraceptive coverage on their health insurance through Catholic hospitals/scools/colleges, etc. BUT those institutions won't pay for it. NO. The insurance company will pay for it." Catholics (tending to be independent swing voters) feel they have been listened to, respected and served. Women (53% of voters) will get free contraceptive coverage on their employer's health insurance (and are made aware of this as policy in general). Insurance companies don't mind because the number of women actually at work in Catholic backed institutions in the US is minuscule and the cost of their contraception is not even a rounding error. Thus, a cent on the general cost of insurance will more than cover them.

Meanwhile, there's Obama being the compromiser - the reasonable guy - who the right has been screaming about. Romney et al look like a bunch of zealots who hate contraception (Santorum especially). They look unreasonable, paternalistic and anti-women - as, indeed, they actually are.

The brilliance of this political strategy does not end there. Through raising contraception and seemingly attacking religious freedom, Obama gave no-hoper Rick Santorum a bump in the polls. Conservatives rallied to his anti-contraception message (it's true, he is on record as being against all contraception - 99% of women use contraception - hence 'no-hoper'). He wins three (pretty meaningless)races, putting Romney on the defensive. Romney feels he has to ape Santorum's rhetoric - match his craziness - thus creating more videotape for the general election. Romney looks weaker having lost three states to a nobody, the conservative base have got all wound up for Rick Santorum, and so Romney's march to the right continues apace, with the middle, where general elections are won, a distant memory.

A brilliant piece of trolling by Obama and his team, aided (wittingly or not) by his HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who actually did all the dirty work.

Folks, this is a case of Deus ex machina.

PS So the insurance companies pay, eh? The evil insurance companies, eh? The one's that Obama's base hates and no-one can defend, eh? They pay, do they? How nice.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Stupid people saying stupid things

I could give a full response to Joan Smith's article in the Independent:"Strong religious belief is no excuse for intimidation". I could point out all the things she fails to mention in order to make her case more convincing. I could point out the fallacies inherent in her argument which, properly dealt with, would undermine any inclusion of a discussion of religion in her article, and reveal her thoughtless prejudices.

I could, but there is no point. Read through the comments on that and every other article that tries to engage in serious secular/religious dialogue and you will find entrenched positions being thunderously repeated. Stupid people saying stupid things. No sense.

The scary thing is that these opinions on the behaviour outlined in the article are reducible, not to any deeply humanist or religious view, but to political inclination.

There is an uneasy truce between religion and politics in this country. We have a state religion, The Church of England, that theoretically holds most sway in the halls of power. However, the C of E is a generally progressive church, with comparatively enlightened attitudes towards evolution, homosexuality and tolerating other world views. There is little or no tension between the C of E and, say, the scientific community.

In this respect, we brits are lucky. We are also lucky that the influence of the church on politics is seemingly minimal

However, other religions (Catholicism, Islam, Dawkins Atheism) are far more strident in their views, far less interested in tolerance, far more likely to inspire bellicose rhetoric and far more likely to take a side fervently supporting one political interest over another.

With the advent of the internet, attitudes are globalised - meaning that someone who self-identifies as Catholic and wants to be a really good Catholic will find a wealth of fundamentalist Catholics to copy the attitudes of. Thus the Louisiana fundamentalist affects the thinking and language of the try-hard fundamentalist from Stoke-on-Trent.

The separation of the religious and the political has been a reality in this country for the last few decades. However, Catholics across the globe are encouraged to take a side in elections to support 'issues' - abortion and homosexuality being the obvious examples. The GOP in America has co-opted these issues as hostages in the electoral college. Across the globe political parties champion religious issues as a way of drawing support from the pulpit.

Our boy in Stoke-on-Trent is privy to their attitudes on issues and takes them as his own.

Believers are voters too. They are told on Sunday that abortion is wrong and on Monday that one party will outlaw it and the other will protect it. Thus on Tuesday they vote as if against abortion and one political party, with an agenda that is about far more than abortion rights, is given power over far more than just abortion rights.

This is a simplified explanation, by necessity, and I acknowledge that voters are more sophisticated than this. However, let's say that 30% of religious voters will never vote for a party that supports abortion rights, and that the other 70% is undecided and evenly divided - that leads to a 65%-35% split - a demographic landslide in an election where the educated populace are unconvinced by either party.

Social issues such as these are, in fact, apolitical. Abortions happen anyway, regardless of legality. Homosexuality is a fact and will continue regardless of legality. Voting for and against 'issues' as if your vote will somehow change these realities is an empty gesture leading to unintended consequences - viz. the Iraq war, a stratospheric budget deficit, corrupt officials siphoning billions into interests (Cheney and KBR). All because "issues voters" are willing to pay the ransom for these ideological hostages.

As a consequence of this, that 30% learn the language of their political captors, taking their positions on a wide variety of issues. It's a form of Stockholm syndrome.

So in Stoke, our boy has not only learned that gays are cursed by God, but that socialised medicine is wrong, that Obama is a Kenyan who hates whitey and that welfare is a crutch for those who should be crawling.

The poisonous influence of religion on politics, religion in power, is becoming a real danger, as these attitudes are globalised.

I'd like to predict that in the next election there will be attempts, probably from the right, to reel-in these issues-voters waiting to be born - they are now just a set of nonsense attitudes without the outlet of the GOP. The Tories will make a play for their support by speaking the language of the mega-church. They might even win.

And so we will have religion firmly back in politics and all the hatred and intolerance that has led to time and time again. Religious beliefs are fine - I like them, think they might actually be beneficial for many individuals. Religions, on the other hand, are organisations with vested interests - the most obvious being self-enrichment. Politics are more boring without religious rhetoric, but I like it that way.