Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Exactly What It Says On The Tin

As Popes go, young Francis isn't off to a bad start. He seems likeable, and he's inclusive, going so far as to throw the Pearly gates open to Godless heathens such as myself (The answers still no thanks, by the way). I'm aware he's copped a bit of criticism for the suggestion that if you insult his mother he's likely to punch you, but I can forgive him that. And there's a definite bonus point for the simple fact that he's not evil, which couldn't be said for his predecessor Benedict (Is it me or was he the spitting image of the Emperor from Star Wars? - Hey, you never see them together in a room at the same time, right?)
All this said, you can't be a Pope without dropping the occasional howler, but let's focus on the positives for now. And so what if a picture of him with a Brazilian transvestite eventually turns up on the Internet. Some of them are very convincing, and a man cannot live on Nuns alone. You may note that I'm not in my most serious mindset at present, and I'm kind of glad. Those who've followed this blog through the 400 previous posts (Surely indicative of masochism?) will note that for the first couple of years I used it as a cathartic tool to vent my spleen having myself escaped the clutches of formal religion. I was angry, I was blunt, and with the benefit of hindsight I may have trodden with a little more restraint. But hey, it is what it is, and I was a wounded animal. Time healed and I came to realise that religion and I will never play nice together, and my coping strategy became one of active avoidance. In the last year I'd rarely touched upon it, and in conjunction with other positives I'd found a place of peace and acceptance.
And then last week Paris happened, and it really stirred the pot for me. I found all the old hostilities stirring, and I found myself reverting to patterns of behaviour that I thought I'd jettisoned. Joy and I were chatting this through in the car last night, and it occurs to me that for my own wellbeing I just have to steer clear of the entire thing. My past means I'll always be deeply suspicious of religion, and I continue to disdain the lies and the pomposity of people who claim to know things they cannot possibly know. But when all is said and done I want to focus on this world, this life, and making the journey unique and creative and stimulating. From time to time my tongue will get the better of me and my impulse controls will fail, and I may vent my spleen after another religiously inspired atrocity. But it will be a blip, a temporary relapse, a moment I hope will pass, beyond which I can revert to the business of being aloof, obnoxious, and generally disinterested in all but a few people. The ones that have something interesting to say, or with a perspective on the world that I find intriguing. There aren't many. I'm never going to try to impress you, because for one thing I'm not actually that impressive, and for another such an endeavour is invariably subject to the law of diminishing returns. I'll just be me. Sometimes interesting. Frequently a twat. But always, and boy do I mean this; always what you see on the tin.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Ched Evans - The Return Of Mob Justice?

I’ve been following this story for a while, and the reaction of the British public has made me increasingly uneasy. In the eyes of the law Ched Evans is a convicted rapist, for which he has served a prison sentence. My understanding is that once this has been done a person has paid his or her debt to society. Yet apparently this is not the case, as wherever Ched Evans tries to seek employment any chance of a deal is scuppered by a baying mob. A mob with absolutely no legal standing, and one making tacit threats to kick up merry hell should any club forge a deal with this young professional footballer. Now I do not know Ched Evans and I cannot comment on the content of his character. What I can assert is that we appear to be applying a different standard to him than we do to other convicted persons. I’ve heard the cries that as a role model he must be subject to a higher standard. Yet I think that we need to be very careful not to go too far down this track because all manner of moral pitfalls lie in wait. First and foremost he is a fallible human being, and we all carry that burden. Also, it is for the legal system to seek justice for the victim, and this has been done in the case of Evans. Irrespective of whether he continues to protest his innocence, or whether he is contrite, or even whether the victim herself has struggled to move on is not the point. Either we apply the same standard or we do not, and what I am seeing here is a kind of mob rule that troubles me deeply. In any decent society rights exist for both victim and offender, and it is for the courts reach a verdict. Sentence was passed, time was served. Does Evans now have to undergo further exile by virtue of the fact that his profession is high profile, or that his wage packet is likely to dwarf ours? Plenty of rapists have come from corporate backgrounds and earned a stack of money, whilst in the shadows they have manipulated and abused others. Are we preventing them from returning to work? As such, I ask for no more than a level playing field, or to be precise I’m asking for our judicial system to be respected. And I do not think we are doing this at present, and I’m reaching the point where I’m tiring of those trying to make a moral case when some of their actions appear to be adding additional punishment to a debt that has been fulfilled. For some reason I’ve hesitated about writing on this subject, because I know the way this goes. I’m branded a rape sympathiser, an enabler of abusers. I’m afraid you would be much mistaken should you seek to steer me down either path. I want our laws to mean something, and once a debt has been paid I want the guilty to be given the opportunity to move on.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Spreading The Risk

On the back of the latest Islamic atrocity there has been a lot of chatter about spreading the risk. That is to say, if everybody speaks out then the target base for the extremist followers of Islam becomes so wide and deep that it essentially reduces the risk rather than increases it. This is a marvellous idea. Indeed, one that should require no prompting. Alas, as I have said before I consider most people to be reticent when faced with such prompts and I have some concern that whilst we would see increased persons stepping out, the majority will remain in the background. I’m not keen on cowardly behaviour. I don’t like people who will speak in the shadows but not in the light, and I do not intend to deny this. Cowardice takes subtle forms, and you’ll encounter it daily if you play close attention. Case in point; I’ve had colleagues express strong opinions regarding situations in the workplace, but when asked if they have spoken out I often hear the standard responses like “What’s the point?” or “Nothing’s going to change”. And they may be right, but if people don’t stand up then the message never get’s heard as plainly as it could. Now I cannot force people to be something they are not, and we come in all shapes and sizes. But courage is a quality, even if it might sometimes render us a bit clumsy. There’s no feeling in the world like standing unified in the face of adversity, able to trust that others have your back and won’t leave you abandoned. I have to be honest; when I look around me I don’t see many that give me that feeling. Lots of verbosity, lots of big words strongly ventured. But stepping up when it matters? Not so sure. This saddens me. It saddens me that we have become so risk averse, so afraid of ramifications that we remain mute. As an aside, I happen to think that if we had to go through a WW2 like scenario again I think we would be defeated. I just don’t see the strength and depth in our national identity to get us through something like that. Perhaps I’m incorrect. Perhaps when the chips are really down then fight wins over flight. I have been encouraged by some of the responses in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and I’d love this to be the beginning of a culture change. I’m sometimes told that I say the things that others think, and this makes me groan inside. Why won’t they say it themselves? Why won’t you? From a personal viewpoint I’ve no desire for popularity; any respect I earn I’d like to get from being known as a person who speaks plainly. Not always correctly, but honestly and with passion. With a desire to step out of the shallows. And I think a plainer speaking world is a more genuine world, and I think we must be very careful that we do not foster a culture in which our freedom to express our sentiments is inhibited by fear of causing offence. I don’t mean pointless and cruel offence, but rather the criticism of ideas. That’s the world I want to live in. A progressive world. Come join me if you’ve got the balls.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Paris. A New Kind of 9/11.

The world changed in Paris morning. And it has nothing to do with the body count. I'm going to suggest that the ramifications are greater than that of 911, so please bear with me. What we witnessed was an attack on our fundamental freedom to think, to speak, to say things that challenge and offend. Like all acts of terror we can take some comfort from the 0% success rate that extremists enjoy in terms of achieving their ultimate goals, but make no mistake that if we let this one slide then things are going to be tough. My primary concern is based on an observation that the majority of people are actually cowards, and when it comes to the punch they will be crouching down out of site. If this is you then you're just the person that radical Islam is aiming for. They will silence you, make you fearful to speak out, and continue to advance a culture of offence that has already gone way past asinine. But I'm happy to buck that trend, and intend to continue to frown at the absurdity of all religion, and in particular Islam and its pedophile prophet. You see, I'm not prepared to be told what I can and cannot say by a group that advocates the kind of society where gender equality is despised, homosexuality is a crime, and when young girls are denied basic access to education, quashing the myriad astonishing gifts femininity has bought to the world. I happen to think that route one to a better world, a kinder and more compassionate world is via the increasing empowerment of women, and there is no force on Earth as opposed to this as the patriarchy of radical Islam. Even mainstream Islam, dare I say it. At root, Christianity and Islam share the same basic fabrication, and deviate based on cultural geographical impulses. It's all made up, all a grand fairytale, and from false roots they've gone on to develop in their own unique, grimly inferior ways. And as long as people are afraid of the dark and of mortality then we will have to deal with this nonsense, and I'm ok with that so long as it doesn't seek to shit on my cornflakes.
Believe what you want, just don't force us to inhale the intellectual stench. Live out your life as you please, but do it without dragging the rest of us into your own tawdry nonsense. Christianity is a corpse of a religion now, and even in America it is happily in decline. But Islam is a danger, not least because the moderates appear unable to bring the radicals under any meaningful control. It seems the desire for a supreme caliphate is burning up huge swathes of the Middle East, and the poison is seeping horribly into the west. Today cartoonists were murdered. Fucking artists. Do you want to let those responsible enjoy even one iota of success?
I don't. I won't. And I think as a society the hour as come to join battle. Only the battle for us is one of ideas rather than violence, our artillery freedom and humour and irony and critical thinking. Not for us the bullet or the bomb. At least not outside of military circles. And we need to remember that in order to succeed we need only to continue on our path, to seek greater freedom, to empower generation after generation to innovate and explore, and to reject violent response to what I have previously referred to as The Cult of Bearded Goons. And after all, all religions are ultimately cults. As a modern society I long for the day when we grow up and grow out of this ancient folly. We've suffered long enough under its yoke, and we should be shedding this veil of deceit.

Friday, 2 January 2015

No Matter What

"I don't care who you love, or how you love, just so long as you have a heart filled with love."
I wonder what difference these words would have made had they come from the lips of Carla Alcorn, the mother of transgender teenager Leela Alcorn, born as Joshua some 17 years prior. Alas Leela will never get to hear these words as she took her own life further to the refusal of her parents to accept her choices due to their religious convictions. Now whilst you probably expect me to lay into religion itself at this point that isn't the purpose of this post. I'd rather focus on what seems to me a very simple and obvious truth, namely that Leela was doing no harm in wanting to transition from male to female, and that as the latter she may have lived a richer and fuller life free from internal struggle. Yet those closest to her could not see this, instead deeming her desires, which incidentally had been evident to Leela from the age of four, as merely a phase.
I don't even want to condemn the parents, because right now they are grieving, and I do not doubt for a second that they loved their child. Isn't it sad that they held convictions which actively damaged her, corroding her fledgling teenage mind to such an extent that she felt suicide was the only way out. I see only victims here, although we cannot entirely disregard the silly and nonsensical views of the mother and father, blinded as they were by their religion, placing the dogma of church teaching above the desire to see their child become the truest version of themselves. This to me seems to meet the textbook definition of tragedy. They must be grieving awfully, and perhaps their faith may give them some comfort. But we shouldn't be blind to the fundamental truth that it was these teachings, or rather the abject lack of compassion inherent within them that served as catalyst for the ensuing chain of events.
I don't want to live in a world where parents are so deceived. I don't want to live in a world where a child feels so rejected and misunderstood that they seek to take their own lives. As the proud father of two daughters I just want it known that I fully intend to live as per the very first sentence of this blog. Girls, I do not concern myself with the gender of the person you love, nor the manner in which you choose to express this. I will delight in the fact that you have love, that you wish to bestow love, and that you live in the riches of that.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Why Obesity Is Plain Self Harm

So, GP's are now required to report patients that are gaining excess weight. At least according to the Telegraph. At risk of inviting unpopularity, which incidentally is no risk at all because I have no fear of it, I actually agree with this idea.
Let's be clear; over eating is self harm. Self harm in the same way excessive alcohol is. The ramifications are so self evident; increased risk of diabetes and other health problems, reduced mobility, additional burden on an already overstretched NHS. People, please please learn to regard obesity as self harm. Assuming of course the weight gain isn't due to existing medical conditions. That's simply how it is, and until we face up to this with honesty and candour I don't think much will change.
So, as a former "Self Harmer", what would I suggest? Well sorry to be boring, but actually nothing new. Self accountability, self control, additional exercise, and above all recognition that you have a problem. Your are self harming. You are harming yourself, and quite possibly those who love you by seriously reducing your lifespan. Nobody is saying that food cannot be enjoyed, because I love it too. But as with all issues the solution starts with personal honesty, an acceptance that you have a problem and that you take ownership. Thing is, if you're anything like me taking responsibility is the highest hurdle, but only when we reach this point can we propel ourselves towards a solution. Another thing that occurs to me is the role true friends play in this enterprise. If we value those closest to us then don't we owe them some honesty when we see a person self harming? I suggest yes, and my inspiration for this is a little book written by my intellectual hero, Sam Harris. It's called simply "Lying" and it can be read in under an hour. If you really care about someone then I think we need to be prepared to be unpopular with them from time to time. To be otherwise is to be a coward, isn't it?
There will be Self Harmers reading this. You may be bristling at what I have to say. Well bristle away. I'd much rather you disliked me and were prompted to examine this matter. If I can add a few years to your life by being the pantomime villain today then I'll ride that wave. I'll do it gladly. You see, your wellbeing is more important than what you think of me. I wouldn't stand by and watch you cut yourself, or walk out in front of a car. So don't ask me to be quiet about this.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Another Taliban Acid Bath

In the West, we can generally live freely, with a fair degree of democracy and our rights to think freely preserved. Christianity has been rendered largely spineless in its power to influence policy, and we are required to curtail it only rarely. Not so with Islam, or rather the fanatical sub section of it that continues its murderous rampage wherever it's tendrils gain traction. 132 children are now corpses thanks to the latest act of divine inspiration, and the world reels in shock in its wake. Only we shouldn't, because these bearded goons have been doing this for many years, and the only difference with yesterday is one of scale. Now I recognise that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, thoughtful, and fine people, yet theirs isn't the voice being heard. And I think this needs to change. I think the moderates need to step up, to influence the disenfranchised youths before they mutate into the genocidal monsters capable of walking into a school and carrying out these acts. I'm under no illusion that this is a simple fix, nor a quick one, but any change for the better will come from the inside out. Successive western governments have lit the touch paper through our own acts of aggression, and whilst on occasion these may have been justified no such policy could succeed in the long run. No, to change hearts and minds it needs to happen before these young men and women reach the point of no return, because once you pass that the fundamentalist is usually there for good. What also seems obvious is that we must not prejudice the good and kindly Muslims whilst we watch the story unfold, because that would be perhaps as destructive as any course we could take. I dislike Christianity, and I dislike Islam, but I have a lot of time and warmth for many who count among their number. But then perhaps this is the difference; the majority of us will critique the ideas, but would never seek to cause harm. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could live in a world where the free exchange of ideas came without running the risk of violent repercussion? Where all genders, all races, all creeds could settle alongside each other and just get by? Is it really such a big ask? So beyond the realm?
I hope not. I guess we can only live by positive example, rejecting violence and embracing those values which enable society to grow together. Nobody expects people to agree all the time, but surely we can foster a society that's better than the one we have today?