Monday, 30 July 2012

The First Baptist Church is a reflection of the future of homophobia.

Another day, another church doing something jawdroppingly backward and bigoted. Today we travel to Mississippi and the First Baptist Church in Crytal Springs. The First Baptist Church has taken the unusual step of refusing to marry a couple because they are black.

This is, rightly, anger inducing, and the fact that a Church like this exists in 21st Century America, even in Mississippi, is alarming. What we should remember, however, is that the vast majority of Christian churches in the world are as bad as this one, as they refuse to marry gay couples, fight against gay marriage and systematically work to undermine homosexuality across the globe and yet are subject to less outrage than someone swearing on TV at 8.55. The Church of England's view is that gay marriage would redefine marriage in an unacceptable way and marriage should be between a man and a woman with the possibility for procreation.

The Church of England; one of the nicest, most wishy washy moderate branches of Christianity that exists; is morally equivalent, on the issue of marriage exclusion, to a racist red-neck church in Mississippi (although I hate to think what the First Baptist's views on gay marriage are). Yet it's not generally seen this way. The outrage of which the First Baptist Church will justifiably become victim has no equivalent for the rampant homophobia of the Church of England, the Catholic Church or any other major Christian church that would not only refuse to marry gays, but campaign against their right to get married anywhere.

There has yet to be a plausible case put forward for why it's better to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation than their race, but the reason why organisations like the Church of England don't receive the outrage they so clearly deserve can be put down to homophobia being one of the final acceptable grounds for discrimination amongst large portions of society, again, thanks to organisations like the Church of England and the indecision of thick-skulled weaklings like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It may take a while, but in a few decades, maybe longer, I believe we will be in a situation where churches that discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation are as uncommon and newsworthy as the First Baptists are today, and religious organisations that discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation are shunned by society as if they were discriminating by race.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

100m Sprite

As anyone who has ever come within a hearing radius of me will know, I hate the Olympics. In fact, I hate the Olympics so much I've almost turned Olympic hating into a sport of its own. Not a proper sport though. Not a sport that people pay to see on a regular basis, but the kind of sport people only pay any attention to every four years when the TV is saturated with it. Like athletics.

Obviously the less public money is wasted on this awful event the better in my view, but the extent to which the London games has been whored to corporations who slap their logos on every available surface has gone beyond parody, particularly in contrast to the Beijing games. If you can say one thing for the Communists it's that they don't like advertising. Except propaganda. I digress.

You can purchase a bar of Dairy Milk declaring Cadbury to be the "official treat provider" of the games. Cadbury: the same Cadbury that was recently sold to German food giant Kraft and whose profit margins correlate with childhood obesity rates.

Does London 2012 have an official TV? Of course! Panasonic is the "audio visual partner" of the games.

Coca Cola is an official parter. A company whose ravaging of natural resources in developing countries is probably the reason they do so badly in water sports. Coca Cola are running the torch relay

Next is an "official supplier". Their website doesn't say what they're supplying, so I assume it's drugs.

Guess who the official restaurant is? MacDonalds! Personally I can't wait to see the athletes parade under the golden arches. Maybe they can get Usain Bolt to endorse Chicken McNuggets.

Now it gets funny. London 2012 has an "official oil and gas parter". Seriously. And guess who it is? BP! The ones with the massive gulf of mexico oil spill! I guess they're just in to piss off the Americans. 

The list of sponsors is a long one, with a host of increasingly inappropriate or irrelevant names vying for our attention. But perhaps this is a good representation of modern Britain. TVs, CocaCola, cars and fast food are what's important. Certainly not javelins and volley balls.

This wouldn't be so objectionable if everything wasn't emblazoned with Union Jacks. Why should I be forced into feeling "national identity" or care about the whole garish display when it's actually just a vehicle for corporate advertising? It would be easier if they flogged the entire thing off and called it "Pizza Hut 2012". It would certainly remove the politics from it. "Gay marriage and Lords reform aren't priorities", they say, as the Home Secretary is disturbed from her day to answer questions about Olympic security.

It would also help if the sponsorship wasn't so wholly inappropriate. One of the much trumpeted arguments for the Olympics was the encouragement of sport, but presumably the additional sales of MacDonalds, Cadburys, Coca Cola, cars and TVs created by these "partnerships" won't do public health any favours.

This has reached new levels of madness with the announcement that police; that is, public servants who aren't even working for corporations; have been instructed to empty snacks of non-official partners into unbranded packaging. Aside from the impracticality of this (do police have to carry an empty bag at all times in case they get peckish during the day?), it seems to run somewhat contrary to the principle at the core of capitalism: that of competition. If rival brands that have been selected by individuals; voted for with their money, if you will; are banned from a certain area, it becomes a virtual monopoly. And what about bringing money to local businesses? Luckily there was a climbdown on this particular matter, but surely the fact this was even considered by someone for long enough for it to be suggested is a sign that something's wrong.

In a similar vein, it has emerged that the crude "Wenlock" and "Mandeville" Olympic mascot toys are being made in Chinese sweatshops. I'm not precisely sure why this is a newsworthy revelation. If something is as cheap, poor quality and mass produced as I assume these toys are it's usually a fairly safe bet that they're made in sweatshop conditions. In this case, staff were being paid just £6 a day and forced to work with dangerous chemicals. This, again, shows the Olympics to be not a pageant of everything that's great about Britain and the world, but a festival of consumerism, as people buy disposable toys made by virtual slaves. As the mountain of discarded jubilee flags is joined by piles of Wenlock toys and happy meal boxes, the Olympics show themselves to be nothing more than another fleeting, disposable gimmick.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Lie: A Prayer

"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Give a man religion and he will die of starvation praying for fish."

My abrupt return to unemployment has been, unsurprisingly, accompanied by an abrupt return to blogging. Today I bring you a video I found called "Why pray?". I know what you're thinking: prayer is so obviously useless that this will be an atheist video giving you all the reasons why prayer is stupid. Alas it isn't. Give it a close watch (it's only 2 minutes) as I'm going to be doing that thing where I talk through it and criticise every second in detail.

Have you ever wondered why so many people pray?

Albert Einstein said there are two ways to live. As if nothing's a miracle or as if everything's a miracle. Either life's a fluke and we're just a bunch of highly evolved animals (cartoon of smoking monkey on a rock) on a big rock lost in space, or there's a creator behind...creation. A god behind goodness.
Now, this is of course both a false dichotomy and a misuderstanding of Einstein. I also have a bit of a problem with saying that if science is true we're top hat wearing monkies on a rock with "satellites" (said sarcastically) that appear only in the video's "science" world view. Presumably the maker of this video has never used a piece of technology that uses satellites. This is contrasted with "animals" in the "god" world view (this is me being sarcastic now. If "god" created "animals" why can't I see any "animals" right now??). They also include polar bears and penguins at this point, two animals whose creation is never referenced in the Bible. Because it was written by humans in a part of the world where humans couldn't have known about animals from cold climates.

And if so then connecting with him in prayer is pretty much the most mind numbing thing you can do.
Ok, so I'm not a smoking monkey on a rock. I like animals. So there must be a god. With you so far. And connecting with him in prayer is awesome. True. Except the first premise, that there is a god, is still pretty shaky, and even if we accept that there must be one because I'm not a smoking monkey and satellites don't really exist, it's still a bit of a leap to believe we can connect with it. Although props to the makers for their honesty in showing God touching what appears to be a naked child at 0.27.

Archaeologists keep digging stuff up that shows we've always prayed.
Hmm. Thin on the detail here. Archaeologists also dig quite a lot of stuff up that shows we evolved from lower life forms. This section is helpfully accompanied by a cave painting, because if anyone's theological beliefs should be listened to it's people who had yet to discover fire. We're then treated to images of a variety of religious buildings. The polytheistic religions kind of damage your "creator", "one true god" claims, though, don't they? A better conclusion I would draw from this is that people have always made up religion.

Even atheists admit to praying sometimes.
Hmm. Accompanied by an image of a plane crashing. A religious organisation promoting the image of a crashing place? Awkward. Also, the fact that people pray when they're at their least rational, i.e. about to die, doesn't really help the argument. "Even pacifists might kill you in self defence" the mocking voice chimes "so why not just kill someone right now?"

Real prayer is a two way conversation... it? Really? Reallllllly? (Plus, another picture of God touching a child. I'm just sayin'...)

Jesus said "Ask anything in my name and it will be done".
So no-ones been praying for an end to famine, cures for diseases and all that stuff? I must say I'm judging Christians a little now. Oh, you do pray for those things? So Jesus was lying? NEXT!

We have a chance to ask for peace, healing, help or whatever we need.
Why don't you do it then?? People are dying!

Life matters, you matter, your choices, thoughts, prayers and actions echo in eternity.
Stoned much?

But in case you hadn't noticed, God is pretty much invisible and not always easy to hear.
Almost like he doesn't exist..

24/7 prayer does stuff to help thousands of people in hundreds of places...
Actually, that sounds really good. I guess if they do charity work and stuff we can excuse all the lovely, fluffly lies.

...connect with God in new ways.

People are learning to pray by just praying. Why don't you take on the challenge...of a 24/7 prayer room. Just gather your friends, find a place, pick a week, get creative in the space, and fill every hour of the week with a chain of prayer.
You're literally suggesting that people lock themselves in a room for a week and pray. Do you have any idea how crazy that is? millions are discovering God's real. Life's a miracle.
At this point we see someone literally being cured of illness. A bold claim.

And the most powerful thing you can ever do is to pray.
Short of actually doing something. Are you honestly suggesting that all those scientists looking for cures to diseases would have been better off praying? I'm fairly sure mortality rates were a lot higher a few hundred years ago when almost everyone was religious, and, I assume, prayed rather a lot. 

This video isn't saying "prayer can be nice and comforting" or "prayer can help you come to terms with your problems" it's literally saying "prayer is a two way conversation with god", "prayer can cure disease" and "prayer is the most effective way of tackling any problem". The organisation behind the video, 24/7 prayer, believes this so strongly that they're devoting time and resources to encourage people to lock themselves in a room and pray non stop for a week.

There are quite a few problems with the notion of prayer. An omniscient god knows what you want and how much you want it, rendering the act of asking him pointless. The idea that praying for a week somehow increases the likelihood of the god responding is strange at best. There's an episode of South Park, "Do the handicapped go to Hell?" where the children are worried about their friend Timmy, who is unable to go to confession (or, to transplant the example, pray) due to a disability, is going to hell according to what they have been taught at Sunday School. Does God prefer those more able to pray? 

If prayer had any effect whatsoever, on the scale it takes place its effects would clearly be visible. We would know what the true religion was, for one, as its followers were delivered from evil, were cured from disease, and were better off in every way. Religious people would presumably have longer life expectancies than atheists, and be more prosperous. In actual fact religion is often more common amongst poorer people.

Even if it had just some mild psychological consequences as a result of communication with God but general inaction on his part there would be some measurable differences between the religious and non-religious in, say, rates of depression, mental illness or suicide.

If prayer worked in any way that is implied by this video we would know about it.

It's a remarkable convenience that every test we can apply to religion, religious belief and practice always receives an answer that it can't be tested in that way, the effects of prayer aren't literal solving of problems, we need to have faith, don't tempt God and so on. Always the answers we would expect if, shock horror, there was no god and religion was made up by people looking for answers, or people looking for power.

Prayer is the most testable example of this. If it worked in any way we would know about it. It doesn't. Grow up. That's it.

As for 24/7 prayer, to dishonestly promote something demonstrably useless is one thing, but to actively encourage inaction for a week or more, with the promise of divine intervention, seems to be morally questionable at best. Of course, this will only work on people lacking certain key critical faculties or who have been severely brainwashed, but the same could be said of scams like payday loans or late night phone-in quiz shows which are routinely attacked for defrauding people. Prayer isn't a solution to your problems. It might feel better to share, but until you realise that action is the only way to affect the real world, nothing's going to change. Organisations like 24/7 prayer pretend to being doing something proactive to make themselves feel better while actually doing nothing at all. If they devoted their time and resources to something, anything, that actually helps people they might be able to justify some of their nauseating smugness.

"Two hands working are more useful than a million clasped in prayer."

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

John Terry hurts someone's feelings and ends up in court

So this is really stupid.

John Terry, who I believe is a footballer renowned for his questionable conduct, is currently on trial for being mean to another footballer. It is alleged that Terry called his fellow footballer a "black *expletive*".

It's absurd for this to be a crime. Why should the insult employed effect its legality? Who's in charge of deciding which insults should be banned? If he had hurled abuse at someone based on height, weight, intelligence, hair colour or anything else, there would have been no problem. Of course, this is still unpleasant behaviour, but does something being unpleasant now warrant a ban? For some reason if race, and to a lesser extent religion and possibly sexual orientation or disability, are involved it becomes worse in the eyes of the law. If John Terry had called Anton Ferdinand a "stupid *expletive*" this would surely have been more insulting as "stupid" is actually a word people can take offence at. But even if it's not, the idea that whichever is the more offensive should be banned is ridiculous.

People are mean to each other. It happens. But we can't possibly regulate every instance, or even a fraction of a percent of instances of this happening. If you did you'd have to arrest David Cameron and Ed Miliband every Wednesday. If I "racially abuse" a friend in a heated argument, I might be an idiot, but no more of an idiot than if I insulted her based on any other characteristic, and is a court case really going to solve anything?

In this particular case, Terry faces a fine of up to £2500. He earns sixty times that in a week. Also, it's transpired that Ferdinand wasn't even aware of what Terry had said. He didn't believe Terry had "racially abused" him until he rewatched the footage. He wasn't even offended by the actual incident. Ferdinand told the court he would have been ""very hurt" if he had heard John Terry racially abuse him." So now it's a court case based on the possibility of someone being offended, had they heard what someone else said. Is there really so much free court time that they can be used to settle disputes between footballers who have hurted each other's feelings?

I lose patience with people invoking Orwell, but when someone can be in court because someone else may have been offended if they had heard something someone may have said, we're beyond parody. And if the problem really is offence, re-watching the footage and making it famous through a high profile court case is surely going to offend more people who wouldn't have originally seen it. But all this is irrelevant, as being mean to someone because of their race shouldn't be a crime.

One of the top rated tweets on the issue was:
"John Terry who earns £150k a week could be fined up to £2,500 if found guilty of racism. Feels a bit like putting Hitler on a naughty step"
Not really. It's like someone who hasn't committed a crime being fined £2,500, not like someone who committed genocide having a slap on the wrist. What a complete failure of common sense and logic.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Pizzed Off

Written 2/7/2012
This isn’t a blog, it’s a letter of complaint. It’s not addressed to anyone because it’s addressed to the world.
Firstly, the institution of saying “have you tried x?” when it’s really fucking obvious I will have tried x. Allow me to put this in some context.
I recently moved house. Upon arriving at my new house, I was disappointed to find the keys didn’t work. I tried to open the door for roughly fifteen minutes. Keys can be tricky, and I believe the appropriate amount of time to persevere until giving up or seeking assistance is until your fingers are sore, so this is what I did. I didn’t seek help lightly, either. Unlocking a door is one of those things, that when you fail to do it after trying for ages then seek assistance, the person who assists is guaranteed to do it in one go and think you’re a fucking moron, like opening a jar or cumming. Add to this the fact that I will do almost anything to avoid making a phone call and you see that I wouldn’t have sought help unless absolutely necessary. I called the estate agent, who said “have you tried pushing the door and turning the key?”. HAVE YOU TRIED PUSHING THE DOOR AND TURNING THE KEY? “Oh my god! I tried turning the key quickly, I tried turning the key slowly, I tried pulling the door towards me and turning the key, I tried lifting the door handle, I tried pushing the door handle down, I tried turning the key back on itself, I tried putting the key in the hole, twisting it a little, pulling it back and twisting it again, but I forgot to try pushing the door! I’ll just try it and call you back if it’s still not working”. It’s the “have you tried turning it off and on again?” of the key world.

Secondly, preachy packaging. Today, as a result of having just moved, I broke my golden rule and bought a readymade pizza. The golden rule being never pay for borderline inedible shit. Aside from the fact it was like eating cardboard smeared with “topping flavour edible substance” that tasted of death, assuming death tastes of absolutely nothing, what enraged me most was that the second instruction in the “cooking guidelines”, after preheating the oven, was “remove all packaging and recycle the carton”.
For starters, who calls a pizza box a carton? No one. Not even twats. Even a twat doesn’t call a pizza box a carton. San Marco, you are worse than twats. This instruction also annoyed me because it reminds me that there are people out there stupid enough to put a pizza in an oven in a cardboard box, and that we have a legal system that allows these very very stupid people to sue companies that haven’t painstakingly explained every minute commonsense detail who then have to pay for the stupid person’s stupidity. “I’m suing San Marco cos I got hurted when I tooked the pizza out of the oven with my bare hands”. But the main thing that I object to about this instruction is “recycle the carton”. Don’t get all preachy with me. Do you recycle everything possible in the making of this pizza? Do you minimise your carbon emissions? The fact that this pizza was made in Ireland suggests you don’t, but even if San Marco make their pizzas on a fucking hippy commune out of recycled organic aubergine piss, I still don’t want to be told to recycle their fucking packaging. They’re just hoisting the moral burden on to me to make it look like they care. I say this as a committed, almost pedantic recycler. I’m not going to change my behaviour as a result of what I’m instructed to do on a pizza box. Everyone knows that you have to separate you cardboard from your other rubbish. If I’m the kind of person that doesn’t care about recycling, I sure as hell amn’t going to change my behaviour as a result of a bossy, preachy pizza box. Why should the fate of the box be decided by the “cooking guidelines”? They try to disguise it as a relevant instruction for the stupid people mentioned above, who will probably think their pizza won’t cook unless they recycle the packaging. It’s patronising and unnecessary.
Now, I’m going to go and throw this box in the rubbish. Fuck you, San Marco, fuck you.

San Marco is a trademark of Green Isle Foods Limited

Sunday, 1 July 2012

No tests please, we're British

I've made my views on nationalism clear before. It's impossible to define what constitutes a "British" person, such as by culture, religion, ethnicity and so on in a way that applies exclusively and universally to British people. It's the same with any other nationality, too. This is why the concept of changing nationality is so difficult, and we end up with the infamous and ludicrous Britishness test.

The Britishness test taken by potential Brits is widely recognised as being post ridiculous. It implies you need to have knowledge of British history, institutions and customs in order to be British, something which clearly isn't true of all native Brits. I can see the case for an English language test for citizenship as this is at least something which, if not held by everyone, is necessary in order to be a productive member of society. But above and beyond this it's difficult to say what standard should be met to gain citizenship. New citizens are currently required to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Queen. I can assure you if that were required of current citizens I would be out of the country in an instant. However, it does make a kind of sense. We have no codified constitution so don't have any universal values to swear allegiance to. The Queen represents the sovereign of this country, so an allegiance to her (and to democracy, as is also required) at least acknowledges the government of the day and some kind of recognition of British institutions. However, it's counterintuitive to some not make migrants jump through hoops to gain citizenship which is where the test comes in.

Finally Theresa May, who herself has jumped head first into British society after being left behind by the other astronauts, has decided to reform the test. She has decided to make the test "more patriotic". Now I can personally guarantee you that you don't have to be in the least bit patriotic in order to hold a British passport. You can, in fact, blog about how unpatriotic you are, publish hate-tweets about the royal wedding and jubilee or describe the London Olympics as a tedious, over-hyped garish money pit and continue to call yourself British.

Perhaps the best solution is to take a leaf out of the Judean People's Front's book. "If you wanted to be British you'd have to really want to be British" "I do." "How much?" "A lot!" "Right, you're in".

You could even have different versions to make it comprehensive:
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really hate the Germans"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to have a really irresponsible attitude to alcohol"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really enjoy talking about the weather"
"If you wanted to be British you'd have to really like Richard Curtis"
and so on.

The good thing is that Theresa May has gone for a slight variation on this. The bad news is I was only joking. From the 146 page "Life in the UK" handbook given to potential Brits she's removing information about how to read a gas meter, how to claim benefits and details of the Human Rights Act and replacing it with information about historical figures, knowledge of British inventions (including the structure of DNA) and an ability to recite the first verse of God Save the Queen.

Let's think about that for a second. The practical information that might actually be of benefit to people living in the UK is removed and replaced with information about historical figures. What we test people on is fairly arbitrary as, like I said, there isn't any range of questions that could be correctly answered by all British people, but if we're going to have questions, it at least makes sense to have ones which give the new citizen practical information about living in the UK. The HRA is perhaps unnecessary, but it's removal is probably more a reflection of the fact the Tory party hates it, and knowledge of DNA structure? Last time I looked DNA wasn't a British invention, and if we're going on British discoveries, why not have a test on America? An ability to recite God Save the Queen is of little practical use, as when British people are in that rare situation where singing is compulsory we scarcely move our lips while mumbling as quietly as possible so the person next to us can't here. Maybe that would be a more useful skill to teach potential Brits.

Not telling people about benefits, getting people to swear allegiance to the Queen, forcing British history on people and getting them to acknowledge Britain as a Christian country seems less like a positive reform of a shoddy system, more like an attempt by Theresa to impose her socially conservative values on people. It's once again a case of the party of small government being keen to use government to push its values on people when it feels like, which suggests small government is not an ideological part of the Tory party, but simply happens to temporarily reflect the economic interests of its voters. Shocking revelation, I know.

But what's the solution? I don't know, I'm just shouting from the sidelines. Obviously I'd prefer the abolition of the nation state to be replaced with a single global federation, but assuming that's not going to happen any time soon, I suppose there should be some kind of language test, but not much else. British "values" can't really be said to exist, and even if we could agree on some liberal democratic principles which potential Brits should share, there would be no way of knowing if people actually hold them. "Do you support liberal democracy?" "Sure, why not?" and this again has the problem of native British people who DON'T support liberal democracy. Although maybe this could be a way of getting rid of all those pesky fascists and communists. Maybe this isn't such a bad idea after all...

It has been brought to my attention that the relevant Judean people's resistance group is the People's Front of Judea, not the Judean People's Front. After misquoting Monty Python I will now be renouncing my British citizenship.