Staying with the bizarre concept of Christians who vote Conservative

I’ve been on a theme for a few weeks, and I’m staying for at least another week, only this week, I’m going more in-depth on the subject of healthcare provision.

I’ll start with the Beatitudes, the sermon on the mount, Matt 5:1-12.

This sets the tone for Jesus’ teaching, and marks a radical departure from what had previously been considered good, prudent and Godly. Jesus’ followers are told that God looks kindly on those who get the short end of the stick, on those who make peace and spread harmony, who show mercy, who yearn for what is right. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have “Blessed are the merciful” in foot-high letters in the Old Bailey. How about “blessed are the peacemakers” at the MoD?

More directly applicable to today’s subject, we find Jesus teaching in a small house, which is rammed full of people. Those who can’t get inside are crowded around the doors and windows, just to get an ear to this prophet. Mark 2:1-12 describes the situation and the determination of a man’s friends to get him close to the healer. In today’s terms, the ambulance can’t get through the traffic, so the paramedics cut a different path through to the doctor. This involves a certain degree of property damage. Sorry about that: people are more important than things, and this man needs Jesus. For his part, Jesus appears delighted to see the man, cures him and sends him on his way (and expounds a theological point while he does so). Jesus takes no payment, neither does he demand that the cured man go to his church, spread the word or even tell a gay person they’re going to Hell. Just “get up, pick up your mat and go home.”

Working weekends, Jesus stopped by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. John 5:1-15 outlines the scene. The story went that an angel passed by the waters of the pool from time to time and stirred them up. If you were first into the pool after this event, you were cured. The man concerned had been unable to make his own way to the pool fast enough and had been stuck there, begging, for nearly 40 years (in Bible-speak, this means “a very long time”, not literally 38 years but I digress). Jesus asks him if he wants to be well and cures him, again with “pick up your mat and walk.” No payment, no demand of any particular action, although, when Jesus and the man encounter each other later, Jesus does tell the man to live a good life.

In addition to curing people directly, Jesus also told stories to help people understand how to follow God’s way. In the hugely famous parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we begin with a legal expert bending Jesus’ ear about what it means to follow God’s way. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes at the questioner here – not even Jesus likes to spend much time with lawyers – and Jesus challenges the man to think for a moment. The lawyer’s final question is, more-or-less “whom can I ignore and still make it into God’s kingdom?” Jesus turns it around and says that it is by our actions that we show our neighbourliness. “Love your neighbour” is not an invitation to love only those nearest to you: it is an invitation to show how widely you love, by collecting as many neighbours as you can. Points not to be missed in this story are: the ambulance does not charge for its services; the man in need of care receives the care he needs; that care is funded by others; follow-up care is also funded by others; the man who receives the greatest praise in this story is an outsider, one whom the Jewish people would normally cross the street to avoid.

So, what do we do about all this generous giving that Jesus is showing us? Matthew 10 shows Jesus sending out his disciples with the instruction to heal the sick. They are not to ask payment for performing healing: they are to be supported by the community in which the healing takes place. That sounds like a very modern concept to me. In today’s money, that would be a bit like a town/region/country realising that everyone is better off if there are healers amongst the people, so everyone clubs together and chips in a few quid to support the healer in her ministry. That could look like funding healthcare from general taxation.

But what about follow-up? What about making sure that the cured person is grateful for being cured? What about people who really don’t deserve our help? What about freeloaders and scroungers? What about the idle or the lazy? Didn’t Paul say that those who didn’t work should not eat?

Jesus doesn’t seem to have too many concerns on that score. He seemed to think that love is enough. Luke 19:1-10 sees Jesus on tour in Jericho, where his fame had preceded him. Many people had gathered to get a glimpse of the rock-star prophet as he made his way through the town. I’m sure that many of the people would been thrilled to have the honour of making Jesus welcome in their home and sharing dinner with him. The great and the noble had come out, and would gladly have opened their homes to him; the ordinary people were there too. As was a much-hated tax man. It was widely assumed that all the tax collectors were on the take, and demanded rather more in tax than was legally required. They sent the legal tax to Rome and pocketed the difference. Zacchaeus had been drawn by the prophet too. He was up a tree, trying to get a glimpse of the great man as he went by, but Jesus stopped and told Zacchaeus to get the dinner on.

That was all that Jesus did. He saw that Zacchaeus was acceptable as a person, that Zacchaeus’ house was an acceptable venue for dinner, that he, Jesus, was willing to sit at table with a widely-hated figure, a sinner, a collaborator with the Romans, and just eat with him. Jesus did not demand that Zacchaeus repent before he took dinner; Jesus did not tell Zacchaeus that he’d been a very naughty boy; Jesus didn’t say anything at all beyond you are acceptable to God. It was this experience of being loved that transformed Zacchaeus. Jesus showed us the way to care for our neighbours here. He showed us that God’s love, spread by us, is enough. We are not to judge worthiness, we are to love, and to allow that love to do its work. Before we ration our compassion and help only those we think will appreciate our gifts and not waste them, we are to love, and love generously.

What is our reward, then, for all our generosity? For the times when we welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, cure the sick, visit the lonely, feed the hungry? Matthew 25:31-46 lays it out in pretty clear terms. We are to help those around us who need help, and if we ignore them, at our peril, we ignore Christ himself.

Still unsure? I’ll conclude with Luke 16:19-31. The rich man goes about his business, feasting and enjoying his wealth. Every time he leaves his house, he steps over Lazarus, the poor beggar who has been taking advantage of the fact that anti-homeless spikes have not been invented yet. Eventually, both men die, and the rich man finds himself in firey torment, where he can see Lazarus being comforted at Abraham’s breast. I challenge you to read this and continue to defend a party whose actions take away assistance from those who most need it and channel wealth into the hands of those who are already wealthy.

Just a quickie

It seems I managed to sleep a bit last night, so I only have a few minutes to get a post in this morning, so I will use that time telling you that I don’t have much time to write a post…

I had a moment of hope this morning when I saw an article that suggested that Labour had drawn level with the tories, but it dates back 12 months, so it’s not really a cause for celebration. They’re still ready to be thumped next month. I live in hope.

I engaged in a lively debate on Facebook yesterday about how Christians should vote. It was fun to speak to people on the other side who genuinely believe that it is possible to be a follower of a man who said “heal the sick, welcome the stranger and take care of the widow and orphan” and still vote for a party who is dismantling the healthcare system, fighting on a ticket to boot the stranger out of our country and defund the welfare system that is supposed to give the widow and the orphan food, shelter and a path out of poverty.

Their entire theology seems to be based around 2 Thessalonians 3 with a very specific, laser-sharp focus on a single sentence from verse 10:

The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.

Now, it’s nice that they have some kind of biblical basis for their argument, but to take a single sentence, on its own, from a letter from one of the early church’s leaders to a specific single church, talking about a specific problem that specific church had in the 1st century is stretching things a bit, particularly when you throw that sentence onto the context of the entire teaching of Jesus Christ.

I also heard the argument that some recipients of welfare don’t deserve it. Nicely played, asshole. You’ve just set yourself up as judge and arbiter of every welfare claim. I wonder if you have the time to get inside the lives of over a million people and really get to know their problems and to decide if they deserve our sympathy or are just taking us for a ride. Of course, no system is free of those who will play the system. I feel that we should acknowledge this and move on: the consequence of turning false-positives into false-negatives is that people die. It’s that simple. I’d much rather have some freeloaders on my conscience than some dead bodies. In addition, there are freeloaders at both ends of the spectrum. If you are getting uppity about benefit fraud, you should be getting eight times as uppity about tax fraud (source: Scottish CAB). Funnily enough, most people wailing about poor people getting more than they’re entitled to are very quiet about rich people paying less than they should.

In St Paul’s time, then, I wonder what he would have said if it had turned out that someone was taking £1 per week from the church’s shared purse that they used to fund an idle life, and then it turned out that someone else was withholding £8 per week from their contributions to the shared purse. I wonder which of these would have received sharper words from the Apostle.

I wonder.

It’s been a while, and now there’s a General Election

I was hoping to post something in-depth this morning, with dazzling wit and brilliance to lighten your Tuesday and to vent my spleen a little about the upcoming general election that our glorious leader called on a whim a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping to break my silence with a post that would be seen by fifty million people and convince them all to vote at all and, preferably, to vote for a party that isn’t going to turn our green and pleasant land into a toxic hate-filled wasteland built on the bones of nostalgia for a time where we could trade with the whole world, mostly because we owned most of it.

But the time I carve out of my week for blogging is currently filled with the delightful sounds of children and I find myself obliged to prevent them from killing each other. Such are the pleasures of parenthood.

So, Theresa May took a look at the polling data whilst she was out walking and decided that she was going to take the opportunity to utterly destroy Labour and cement herself a crushing majority in the House and claim a mandate to drive our country over the Brexit cliff unopposed. The polls at the time showed that she could be expected to walk away from the election with a majority of 100 or more, even making some gains in Scotland. The most recent polling suggests that Mrs May’s lead has tumbled dramatically. Of course, she is still set to win a crushing majority.

This depresses me.

It depresses me mostly because I am a Christian and I can see that most Conservative candidates also are, and a great many Conservative voters are also Christians. This is something I have never been able to comprehend. Jesus spent his life helping people with nothing, getting down into the dirt with them and giving them a hand up. He didn’t means-test his healing, he cured the sick without demanding payment. He demanded that his followers do the same. He told everyone who would listen that a true follower of God clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, cures the sick and takes care of the powerless (in his day, that was the widow and the orphan: today, we have many more categories of people who fit that description). Conservative governments have a long and gory history of doing exactly the opposite of all of those things. In recent years, we’ve had people dying of starvation in the wake of their benefits being sanctioned (the causative link has not been definitively established, of course, so I can’t say that the gentleman concerned died because his benefits had been cut off); we’ve had private companies taking over healthcare from the NHS (because the profit motive has been long-proven to improve service to those with no money to pay); we’ve had tax cuts to companies paid for by cuts to the most vulnerable (admittedly, the government were forced to back out of that one: it was more flagrant than usual); and we’ve had a constant stream of lies about how leaving the EU will be wonderful to us all because it will allow us to drop rules about how curvy a banana is supposed to be.

Over the last few years, I have been forced into the realisation that the English tend, as a majority, to be hateful people to whom nuance is viewed with suspicion. We prefer to be fed simple lies and outrage than given actual truths, projections and plans and asked to use our brains to select the best option. We hate brown people; we distrust gay people; we think that refuge should not be granted to those fleeing war; we think that desperate people must look a specific way in order to qualify for our sympathy and they’d better not be seen with a smartphone; we think that gathering in our diversity and talking peace and prosperity is overrated; we think that Britain should be Great because we used to be: after all, we invented cricket and turned slavery into a vastly profitable global industry.

I’ll be voting in the general election, and I urge you to do so as well. I will be voting for whichever candidate looks most likely to unseat the local tory and I urge you to do so as well.

My country depresses me. All I have left is hope. And an expectation that it will be dashed on the rocks of lies, propaganda and tribal fear.

I’m not deaf, I’m a politician

What’s the difference between a hearing politician and a deaf person? The deaf person will actually listen to you.

Theresa May continues to astonish me. I suppose that there is precedent. Margaret Thatcher famously used Scotland as a testing ground for the least popular local tax in living memory. I guess that she thought that she had so few MPs in Scotland that imposing a policy on them that actually caused riots couldn’t make her any less popular.

Our current PM met with Scotland’s First Minister yesterday. I have no idea what she’s been smoking, but she later told the press that leaving the EU will make the UK “more united.”

She actually said that.

You ask me if I want to leave the club. I say that I absolutely do not want to lave the club: being in the club is a good thing and really. we should stay in the club. If we do not stay in the club, I will seriously consider telling you to go **** yourself so that I can rejoin the club. You are unwavering in your commitment to leave the club no matter what the cost. After all, the people have spoken. I remind you that I never wanted to leave the club and that I really don’t want to leave the club. You tell me that you are forcing me to leave the club. You then tell me that this will make us better friends.

You are completely deluded.

Sadly, the delusion doesn’t stop there. The text of May’s remarks beggars belief:

…when this great union of nations, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sets its mind on something and works together with determination, we are an unstoppable force.

That is why the plan for Britain I have set out… has as its heart one over-arching goal: To build a more united nation.

Because I believe when we work together, there is no limit to what we can do.

I think, at best, this is a choice of words that is desperately naïve; at worst, it is downright threatening. We are a nation that built an empire based on our determination to go to the ends of the earth, strip-mining autonomous communities of their people and physical resources, bringing disease, oppression and slavery to an entire planet. This is what we do when we work together with determination; this is the unstoppable force of Britain united. With Scottish ships and English arrogance, we conquered the world.

I think our prime minister should think very carefully before she drags Scotland into this sordid quagmire of imperial nostalgia.

Those [filthy] gays are going straight to Hell

https://www.flickr.com/photos/91035846@N05/9437702766/in/photolist-cs1Bgo-o32pGQ-uMajws-fnYGed-47f6dJ-tJo7NN-nQjDWb-cEeecy-f4iYGm-o3YrSY-4UmCs7-sq54oP-21z3Gi-cNE6fu-2xXsrc-6KiUNK-uUMyzJ-6NZ8Qt-341ju-fCXT9K-eDVhTt-ik1XV-2EGMN4-6HQi3y-2xXsoi-orb18V-krZdST-9YfCHT-g5Gd2s-fB6e8j-ik1XX-fkjR29-6JsRyN-nWTKN3-cjKq9N-f1ftDr-83yMnH-fsmq8p-JtRzNh-5ckRMg-4jQUjB-feRWkC-f48chf-9ZeuE2-2EGN7M-fP4Mnm-2EGMFc-csBrdu-5oaay1-5efUJ6

Some barley

A few years ago, I was a school governor of my local Catholic school. At one point, there was a vacancy on the board and we called for candidates and held an election. During this process, one of the other governors overheard one of the candidates saying that all the gays are going to Hell. They didn’t actually say filthy, but you could hear it loud and clear nonetheless.

I have to say that I was delighted when the other candidate was elected: they were much more accepting of all people.

So, why do so many self-identified Christians get quite so upset about whom we love? This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged on this subject, but it remains important, particularly with Mike Pence in the US White House rattling his sabre and trying to take away everyone’s rights.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the bible is an important document, even in the 21st century because many, many people read it, learn about it and use it as a moral compass when trying to navigate the modern world’s  many complexities. Contrary to what many people say, the bible has very few lists of commandments (there are only two really famous lists and most people forget about the second one because it is really inconvenient and somewhat socialist): what the bible is packed full of is stories.

This is part of its persistent staying-power. A list of commandments dates fast, where we can relate to a story, even if it is 3000 years old. Take Lot’s experience in Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. This is often cited by people suggesting that what we call homosexuality in this century is clearly and unambiguously prohibited in the bible.

Lot is living with his family in the city of Sodom. Two travellers arrive on his doorstep and he welcomes them into his home. At this time in their history, Jews were essentially nomads living in a hostile environment. Care for the traveller was built right into the core of their teaching and practice. If someone arrived at your camp in the evening, it was your divine duty to shelter them: after all, the next time someone needs food, water and shelter, it might be you. So, Lot invites them in. A few minutes later, a mob has gathered outside his house: men demanding that Lot turn out his guests in order that the mob might gang-rape them. Nice. Fine, upstanding man that he is, Lot offers his own daughters to the mob that they might gang-rape the girls instead of his house guests (as an aside, people citing this story rarely think that Lot’s example here is one they are religion-bound to follow). No, the mob howls: they want the men, thank you very much.

And so, from this violent scene, we infer that the loving relationship between two people of the same sex is prohibited by God himself and that any such couple sharing their love in a sexual manner will bring down divine retribution upon the whole town (specifically, a rain of burning sulphur to wipe the town off the map forever). Again, I don’t usually hear these people offering their daughters to they gay couple in an attempt to stave off God’s wrath.

Understanding and interpreting the bible is difficult, particularly given the huge temporal and cultural separation between us and the many people who wrote it. Interpretation can be helped immensely if there are explanations within the bible itself that can guide us. Of course, for most passages, there are no interpretive passages but, for Sodom and Gomorrah, we are lucky. The prophet Ezekiel speaks directly of the cities and lays out exactly what, in God’s eyes, were their sins and the reason for their firey destruction:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

What about the loving gay sex between two consenting adults?

No. The thing that fired up God’s wrath was that the mob at Sodom ignored God’s commands to welcome the stranger and to feed and protect the traveller and wanted, instead, to harm them for their own pleasure. I wonder what the Republican administration would make of that as they seek to withdraw healthcare cover, legal aid and many other compassionate-aid schemes from millions of poor Americans.

I think the term Sodomy needs a new definition.

With thanks to Kristin Saylor and Jim O’Hanlon and their fine TEDx talk.

Grab ’em by the pussy: it’s the Republican way

Once a week, I work with a bunch of boys aged ten to fourteen. We spend most of the time running around like mad things, building things from junk (and knocking them down again), hiking in the dark and generally learning how to get outside even when the weather is not perfect.

As a rule, they’re good lads, and I hope they will go on to become fine, upstanding members of society who truly believe that we are all created equal. Actually, now I’m thinking about it, I am sure that they do believe we are all created equal. At least in their minds. Watching and listening to them interact, however, I can see that there is a disconnect between what they know is the right answer and what their actions betray about how they actually think. The way we think is often quite different to the way we think we think, and this, I hypothesise, is where evil is permitted to enter the world.

Bold claim?  Maybe. Our schools invest much time and effort in teaching our children what it means to be a fine, upstanding citizen where we are all created equal, where men and women and everyone else can live out their lives with equal dignity and value. Where we all eat Doritoes washed down with Coke whilst scraping a beautiful woman off a beautiful car before we drive it at 150mph to impress a whole crowd of beautiful women to a sports game where we run quickly, kick hard, hit hard, throw far, showing off our testosterone-soaked manhood before winning the game and waking up next to another beautiful woman.

(Incidentally, why are breakfast cereal adverts usually with a wholesome family, not a couple who have obviously just met before spending the night dirtying the sheets and not getting much sleep?)

And then the US electoral system presents us with the new king of the world. A man who boasts about men grabbing women by the pussy. A man who boasts about trolling the women’s dressing rooms at the beauty pageant he owned (it’s 2017, why do we still have beauty pageants? Single-sex beauty pageants?).

And here is my problem. My boys know the right answers in any written test about equality that I would care to give them. They would be right at the top of the class when it comes to saying the right things. What I am less certain about is whether or not they would actually demonstrate what they know to be right in an actual on-the-ground situation. They’ve got all the intellectual knowledge that we think they might need to get by,  for the next generation to be better than mine, for women to be able to walk home in the dark, too drunk to stand up straight without fear of assault.

The causes are complex and run deep. One of the larger roots is toxic masculinity, but that would not survive in the absence of a thick insulating layer of I’m a good guy, so this doesn’t apply to me. The same mind-set works on the level of the nation state: We don’t need strong human rights laws because we’re a good nation: those laws are for the other, bad, states. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Notable in Mr Trump’s boast is that “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” They let you do it. His choice of words suggests he was waiting to be stopped. He knew that he was doing the wrong thing and was simply seeing what he could get away with (the same way that young children do), and nobody stopped him.

We have to build bridges in youngsters’ minds between what they know to be right and their actions. This woman is trying but, so far, good men are doing nothing.

Now, how to incorporate this into the programme without getting eloquently-worded complaints from their parents…

Little Miss Consent

Little Miss Hug book cover

Little Miss Hug book cover

Roger Hargreaves, much beloved author and illustrator of the Mr Men and Little Miss books died in 1988 leaving a much-loved legacy. His son Adam took over, somewhat reluctantly, but soon got into the swing of things. Bizarrely, I think, the name Roger Hargreaves remains on the front cover even of the books created long after Roger’s death.

I will make a passing mention that the Mr Men are “Mister” and “Men”, while the women characters in the series are explicitly “Little” and “Miss”. I am going to have to put that down to the fact that Roger was born in 1935 and had some specific views on the proper relationship between exactly two sexes.

Fast forward to 2014 and the publication of a book with the very round and very pink Little Miss Hug.

Miss Hug can work magic with a little bit of intimacy and a bit of touch. Touch and intimacy are wonderful things for most of us, and most people respond warmly to genuinely selfless, self-giving hugs. It seems that Miss Hug is just the right sort of person to give out these things. Maybe Little Miss Codependent was already taken, but she does seem to thrive on raising people’s mood. She’s a firm believer that hugs can fix anything that doesn’t need an ambulance (and a hug would go down well there too).

In the book, we see her helping Little Miss Tiny, Mr Small, Mr Bump and Mr Greedy. Little Miss Quick gets a birthday hug. It’s all very happy and lovely.

But then, as we segue from the introduction into act two, Miss Hug encounters a very grumpy Mr Grumpy. Poor Mr Grumpy is grumpy because the sun is out, and he’s having a right royal rant about it. At this point, I put down the book and have a quick discussion with my young children about the whole issue of consent. Because what Miss Hug does next is clearly and unambiguously assault and battery.

Quick as a flash, Little Miss Hug ran around the hedge, stretched out her arms and hugged Mr Grumpy…

Mr Grumpy pushed her away.

“Get off me!” shouted Mr Grumpy.

It could not be laid out any more clearly than that.

Here, I talk again to the children and get them to notice that, not only has Miss Hug grabbed onto Mr Grumpy without his prior consent, he has now explicitly told her not to touch him. It was not OK for her to grab him in the first place, and his actions and words have confirmed this in no uncertain terms. She has no moral nor legal authority to touch him at all.

So, what does she do? She hugs him again.

Facepalm.

She hangs on to him in spite of his continued protestation. There is even a picture of a very grumpy Mr Grumpy clearly in shock at having his personal space invaded over his clearly stated wishes, with Miss Hug clinging on for dear life.

It all ends well, of course (in the book, anyway): Miss Hug’s magic hug slowly melts through and Mr Grumpy ends up smiling and he even returns the hug. But that really is missing the point. Miss Hug assaulted Mr Grumpy and had her actions affirmed by the narrative. It sends the message to our children that a) they have a duty to touch people who do not wish to be touched and that b) if someone wants to hug you, then you are wrong if you do not want them to: you have to suck it up and allow the assault to proceed.

I guess it’s a tricky concept to convey in 16 pages of toddler-friendly text, but it really should have been presented differently. If Miss Hug needed to hug Mr Grumpy so badly, she should have spoken to him and presented her case for the benefits of her own hug therapy and invited him to try it out with no pressure on him to accept her offer. Even if the therapy is guaranteed to work, and a person is going to feel better for it, it is not acceptable to force that therapy onto someone who has not asked for it. It is doubly not acceptable to continue to force the therapy onto someone who has asked you to stop.

It’s all about consent. Regular readers of this blog (there is one, I am assured) will know that I am trying to teach my children what consent is and that they have the right to refuse consent at the beginning of an interaction, and that they have the right to withdraw consent at any point during an interaction. Miss Hug allows Mr Grumpy neither of these options. Her tried-and-tested techniques are guaranteed to make people feel better and they’re damn well going to feel better whether they want to or not.

“I know what you’re trying to do,” said Mr Grumpy… “I am grumpy and I like being grumpy…”

If that’s not clear, I don’t know what is. Miss Hug must have cotton wool in her ears.

So, by all means, read this book to your kids, but please use it as a way to teach them about consent and assault, and point out that, even though Mr Grumpy is happy at the end of the story, that doesn’t begin to justify the initial assault. I like to imagine one more page that goes

Then the police arrived and carted Miss Hug away for a well-deserved rest.

Be well, and I hope nobody invades your space without consent today.

Infection

Whilst certainly not one of the best episodes of classic sci-fi series Babylon 5, season 1 episode “Infection” is astonishingly prescient. In the episode, an archaeologist working on far and distant planet ends up merging with some alien technology he finds there. The planet has been dead for a thousand years or more and, during the course of the episode, it becomes apparent why.

It turns out that the Icarans have been invaded so many times from outside that they decided to make a new weapon. Twelve of them, to be precise. These weapons bond with a person to turn them into a hugely efficient killing machine designed to destroy anything that isn’t a pure Icaran. The next time they got invaded, the Icarans activated these killing machines and sat back to see the results.

It was very efficient: the invaders were repelled and destroyed and there was much rejoicing.

But the machines didn’t stop. They were programmed to destroy anything that wasn’t pure Icaran. The ensuing bloodbath was planet-wide as every single living Icaran discovered that they did not match up to the standard of purity laid down by those who had created the machines. Over the years of migration, the species had mixed and had picked up DNA from outsiders; the social standards had drifted; they evolved slowly. The machines didn’t care about that: they had been given a standard of purity by their creators and it soon turned out that nobody, not even the creators, were pure enough to be permitted to live. And thus a thriving civilisation was wiped from the face of the galaxy by its own ideology.

The parallels with our own planet are obvious. From the Holocaust to Rwanda, Daesh, and the rise of far-right groups in Europe and the USA. Farage’s Breaking Point poster and the Republicans’ Build a wall chant are examples of the same thing.

The reality is that humans are a single species, and have been so for at least 60,000 years as the various other human species died out. It’s probably worth noting that they didn’t die out before interbreeding with Homo Sapiens – in Western Europe, we are about 2% Neanderthal – but they did die out. Leaving us. All alone in the night. And we have been arguing about who is the purest ever since, through conflict, war and genocide.

We must be very careful indeed when we are pondering taking steps down the path to isolationism, to cleanse our societies of the other, to retreat to tribalism, protectionism and exclusion. Down that path lies a river of blood and, as Lady Macbeth discovered, it can be very hard to wash your hands clean once they have tasted that river.

Oh Lord, forgive me, I agree with Tony Blair

In 1997, oh so many years ago, Tony Blair’s Labour party swept the Conservatives from power. I admit to being delighted, as I had grown up under Margaret Thatcher’s government and it had not been a particularly wonderful experience. I had never particularly liked the Labour leader: he always came across as greasy and wheedling, but I was desperate for a change at the top. I guess I was young and naïve: pretty soon it became apparent that the only substantive change had been the names on the office doors.

It took the Tories a decade to get themselves back together again and they crept back in in 2005 in a surprising coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The rest is history, as they say, but Tony Blair was gone and largely vanished from the public eye except for the occasional appearance to comment on the Palestine peace process.

And then a desperately insecure prime minister made a manifesto promise to have a referendum on EU membership because he needed to cement his position in a party that was disinclined to support him against well-placed threats from within the party. It was a promise he’d never need to keep, of course, because the polls all said that he’d need another coalition to form a government, and that would mean he could quietly ditch the promise. Except that the Conservatives got a majority in the 2010 election and could form a government by themselves. Oops. The referendum duly took place and, again, the pollsters were confounded and David Cameron ran for the hills with his tail between his legs.

Enter Theresa May with her “Brexit means Brexit” bullshit, which sells well in the right-wing newspapers but actually just translates as “made-up-word has no defined meaning”. Her slogan is quite an effective club, though, and she is not shy of swinging it about whenever she is asked to explain how leaving the EU will benefit anybody. Seeking clarity on what kind of exit we should be looking for, she gladly gave us much more detail.

With the colour scheme decided, then, it was time to get down to detail. It turns out that you can’t leave the EU and remain in the Single Market unless you … well … carry on paying the same subscription fees and allowing the same freedoms as you had to when you were an actual member. You get all the rules, regulations and costs as if you were a member, but you don’t get a seat at the table deciding what those rules should be. Mrs May decided that this is a bit ridiculous. If you’re going to leave the EU, you should do it properly. Unfortunately, this means abandoning access to the largest free-trade area on the planet. Well, Brexit means Brexit, and the fact that this is going to completely fuck over our entire economy, causing us to lose a huge stack of jobs and lose our position as the anglophone bridge into the EU and generally lose any relevance we might feel we deserve on the world stage is just a minor detail.

Re-enter Tony Blair. In a speech he made, last week, he called on Remain type people to keep fighting for the future of our country, to fight to remain in the EU. We are convinced that the referendum result was less about the actual effects of EU membership and more about xenophobia, funding public services and Rupert Murdoch vying to retain unfettered access to government.

As a dyed-in-the-wool Europhile, I find myself strongly agreeing with Tony Blair. I hate myself for it, but I agree with him. The government is taking us straight towards a cliff edge, both feet pressed down on the accelerator, and they’re unwilling to consider, even for a moment, whether or not this is a great idea. Or even a good idea. Or even that the idea is one that can be considered. After all, Brexit means Brexit. The people gave a clear mandate (because squeaking a tiny majority in a poorly-debated referendum is a huge mandate), and it is not for us to consider whether or not this is a good thing to do. No. We must exit the EU at any cost. Even at the cost of the livelihoods of many millions of turkeys who voted for Christmas.

Stop continental drift: I want to get off.

ps. This article is very interesting.

Shock event

I got up late this morning, so I’ll be brief.

Donald Trump and his regime are sounding ever more like China or North Korea. I’ve got used to my own government sounding like those two beacons of free-speech whenever someone is talking about spying on every single one of us because that’s the only way to stop terrorism.

Anyway, I read about the “shock event” yesterday: the article makes perfect sense to me. With one possible exception: I am not sure that Donald Trump has the intelligence to plan anything like this, so I am unsure he is trying to use the shock event to cover anything up. That said, Mike Pence and other veteran politicians are not stupid: it’s entirely possible that they have something up their sleeve and that their puppet is dancing in just the way they want him to.

In the meantime, the shock is still operating in full force. Acting attorney general Sally Yates was on the sharp end of Trump’s “You’re fired” yesterday, for suggesting that the president’s blatantly unconstitutional executive order was, well, blatantly unconstitutional. The venom issuing forth from the Administration, as I said, sounded much more like a totalitarian regime than an alleged democracy.

Ms Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.

It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.

White House Press Secretary’s office

It seems to be legitimate policy to blame the brown guy for everything right now.

Of course, the fall-out is immediate and ridiculous. The USA is embarrassing itself on the world stage and the top dogs don’t seem to care. Top research scientist? Sorry, Iranian. We don’t need your God-damn Islamic genetic research. The fact that this has utterly screwed an eminent academic is irrelevant.

The fact that it is utterly screwing many people, both vulnerable and not, is irrelevant.

The fact that the first terrorist attack since Trump came to power was committed by a white “Christian” against a group of Muslims who made the fatal mistake of practising their religion in peace has not received much of a response from the White House.

What is most important is that the US is seen to be ripping up the very Constitution that it has been worshipping for the last 228 years, and everyone outside can see that. The man-child in the big seat doesn’t care, though. Because he’s a narcissist, and those closest to him are using this fact to get what they want. Regardless of the cost.

It’s an unfolding tragedy.