Whither Canada?

I should have turned over and had just another six months in bed when David Bowie died back in January. It was not a good start and the year only went downhill from there. Since then, we’ve lost Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, Terry Wogan, Frank Kelly, Paul Daniels, Ronnie Corbett, Prince (artist formerly known as), Carla Lane, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Caroline Aherne and Gene Wilder. And there’s still three months to go.

Then our idiot Prime Minister delivered what will surely go down in history as the biggest political fuck-up since Bonnie Prince Charlie chose Cullodden as a great place for a party with the English. It will take me a very long time indeed to forgive that utter plonker.

The scales have come down from my eyes, I guess. I used to think the English were nice people. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, I boggled at the coverage coming out of the US. They know how great they are, do they? Well, the rest of the world sees you quite differently. I confess I felt a peculiar superiority knowing that, as a British person, I could see the US from the outside and know that their superiority was visible only through American eyes. I was smug in the knowledge that I was not like that. Wrong wrong wrong. The English are just as bad. In fact, we’re probably worse, because the US, at the very least, can back its smugness up with enormous political and military power. All we have is the memory of the slave trade and of Empire.

Long ago, when Britain was “Great” and ruled the waves, we explored the world. Not in search of culture and knowledge. No. We went all around the planet, killing the people we found there and enslaving them. And taking over their countries. And stealing their mineral wealth. And imposing rule from London. And exporting toffs to live there and look down their noses at the local cultures. Anything not English was savage; the only way to move away from savagery and towards civilisation was to become like the English. It’s a legacy that remains across much of the world. In the Caribbean, to have lighter skin tones confers a social advantage; in India, there is a thriving market in “beauty” products that lighten the skin. Because being brown is to be savage, of course.

This is our legacy.

And, stupid me, I thought we’d grown up. No. It seems that we’d just stopped listening to people. And when the PM decided to ask them, they spoke up, loud and clear.

It could still get worse, of course. The US could follow the UK in voting for a pack of lies, for bigotry dressed as patriotism. HM the Q might pop her clogs and Charlie 3 could ascend the throne. And Boris Johnson could assume his native form as a twelve-tentacled brain-eating slime monster from Vega VI. And the British government could decide to spy on every single one of its citizens every hour of every day.

What could possibly go wrong?

Please, God, make it stop. I’ve had it with 2016, and I want a rest.

Tired

I am tired.

There is too much going on. Too many people want my attention. Too many affairs demand my time. Too many idiots on my radar. I’m not going to be able to push out a thousand words today.

It turns out that parenting is hard. Who’d have thought. And you don’t get a holiday. Sure, you can take the kids somewhere different, but they still fight each other 12 hours a day and remind you with every passing moment that they are more important than you are.

It also turns out that schools are run by people who want to run the school their way and if that means that they are entirely happy with the service they are providing to you, there’s nothing you can do to request an improvement. Nothing short of an outright confrontation, that is. And I no longer have the energy for that.

Here’s a video about parenting.

Here’s a cartoon about consent.

And here’s one of my all-time favourite web comics.

Have a great day.

Mid-September

Fifteen years and two days ago, a bunch of nutters pointed out that the IRA were small-time amateurs and that, if you wanted to do terrorism properly, you do it with style and go for impact.

I’d argue that the attacks on the USA that took place on 11th September 2001 were the most successful terrorist attacks in our history. Not because 3000 people were killed that day (four times that number were killed, in the US alone, with guns in 2015; ten times that number died on the roads), but that it plunged the world into paranoia. George Dubya Bush launched the War on Terrrr, which hasn’t formally ended. The Patriot Act led to mass spying on US citizens by the US security forces (and similar laws on this side of the Atlantic too). The Department of Homeland Security was created, along with its agency the TSA, in charge of intimidating Muslim women, breastfeeding mothers, transgender people and pretty much anyone already pushed to the edges of society.

Over here, Home Secretary Theresa May (who is now the Prime Minister) has been desperate to get ISPs to retain internet metadata for ages. Even if you are “doing nothing wrong,” if you think that you are being watched, your behaviour will be radically different. Glenn Greenwald specifically says that your behaviour will be “more conformant, more compliant” with what is expected of you by society. Maybe this is why top politicians want these laws, actually.

War after war has been fought since then, mostly using Western armed forces and mostly in far-away lands with Muslim majorities. This, naturally, stirs up resentment amongst the populations of these nations, which forms rich ground for organisations like Daesh to sow its seeds and reap the reward in power, land and threat-level. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions have been forced out of their homes which has, in turn, moved us rich Western people from compassion-as-a-lovely-Christian-ideal to compassion-is-best-left-for-someone-else-we-don’t-want-those-filthy-brown-people-in-our-country.

The world, currently, stinks I can see no end to the stench. Nobody seems remotely interested in human compassion and nobody seems remotely interested in peace. And that is the lasting legacy of 2001-09-11. The world is feels more terror now than it has since the end of World War II, and that is what makes those attacks the most successful in history.

Open letter to Heidi Allen MP

We interrupt this blog to bring you a letter to my MP

Dear Heidi,

I was rather alarmed to read, in the Independent, that Mrs May intends to invoke Article 50 without the consent of Parliament.

In the run up to the referendum, the Leave campaign laboured long and hard about sovereignty and how we’ve given too much of it away. I wonder, then, why the British people should be asked to sit back in silence whilst the sovereignty of Parliament is swept under a rug for the Prime Minister to walk rough-shod right over.

In House of Commons Briefing Paper 07212, Elise Uberoi observes that the European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16 is a “type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions” and that it “does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum.”

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not sovereign. Parliament is sovereign. The PM cannot simply say, one day, that it would be lovely for same-sex couples to get married and lo, they can. No. The PM must go to Parliament and make her case and the members of Parliament debate the idea and make an Act of Parliament (or not). It is a crucial check on the power of the executive which means that it cannot just change the law or the constitution because it wants to. It is what Parliament is for.

If the PM cannot just introduce a law that affects the lives of about 10% of the population without an Act of Parliament, I am utterly dumbfounded at the notion that she thinks she can take a steaming dump on Parliamentary Sovereignty and on the Constitution and, for that matter, on the “United” part of the United Kingdom without the explicit consent of Parliament.

We are told, over and over again, that we live in a representative democracy; John Bright described England as The Mother of all Parliaments (a phrase that has been repeated often in the 150 years since he did); the Leave campaign emphasised sovereignty. In light of all of these things, I find the arrogance of the PM to be breathtaking. Do we live in a parliamentary democracy or do we live in a dictatorship where the Prime Minister normally makes a show of consulting Parliament for little laws but decides to run rough-shod over our sovereign law-making body when she wants to.

I will summarise with one simple question for the Prime Minister, which I urge you to ask her with great urgency: Which Act of Parliament gives the Prime Minister authority to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty? And I ask you to keep asking the question until she gives a straightforward answer. I cannot invoke Article 50; you cannot invoke Article 50. I would submit that the PM cannot invoke it either without authority from the sovereign law making body of this country, and I implore you to prevent our PM from acting outside the law and from treating Parliament with contempt.

Yours sincerely,

I Am A Person

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A question of identity

To quote the Vorlonwho are you?

It turns out that this is a difficult question to answer, with all attempts feeling unsatisfactory. God side-steps this question with a rather cryptic (on might say Vorlon-like) I am who I am, and nobody since then has made much of a better job of it. When faced with this question over and over again, Delenn finds herself falling back on her relationship with others: “I am the daughter of…”.

Yes, one of my identities is that of a fan of Babylon 5.

I say “one of” because each of us exists at the intersection of many distinct tribal memberships and identities, the combination of which is unique to ourselves and contributes to our individual identity yet, somehow, still fails to completely define it.

I am a Christian. In fact, I am a Roman Catholic Christian. There are some Christians who would take issue with my second statement there, and say that Catholics are not Christians, they will go on to give many reasons why Catholics are different to real Christians and do not deserve to stand under the same umbrella. Conversely, there are Catholics who think that the Reformation was a waste of time and merely served to distract millions of people from the revealed truth that came through Jesus Christ and to reject certain fundamental truths left to us by the man who was also the son of God. That debate will not be resolved in a single thousand-word blog post, and I will leave it to those more qualified than I to do the arguing.

I am a member of the Scout Association. This is the newest of my identities, and I find myself fiercely proud of this membership. For reasons best known to themselves, a group of children and their parents trust me (and the other leaders) to provide a stimulating environment where they can learn new things, do new things and experience a slew of activities that are hard to come by in any other environment. I’d be happier if they paid more attention when I’m trying to teach them how to tie a knot, but that’s kids for you. The Scout Association has been working for over a century to provide youngsters with friendship and adventure in the (well-founded) belief that being a part of a wider movement with a focus on helping others and having as broad an experience of life as possible will produce well-rounded and mature adults and be a force for good in the world. We try to show the Scouts the world from as many perspectives as possible, and to instil respect for all people and for the planet. It’s not perfect, of course, LGBT Scouts can have a wide range of experiences, not all of them good.

I am a member of the World Tang Soo Do Association. They have been teaching me Tang Soo Do for a good number of years, and I am moderately not-bad at it. Their belief is in self-improvement through martial arts training. You don’t have to go out and fight everybody to get better at martial arts: the main focus is on doing better each week. That thing you couldn’t do last week is the thing you look at this week and, through practise over years, you get to the point where you can not only do the thing, but do it well. This approach works for things outside of beating seven shades of shit out of a plastic breaking-board, and the discipline of martial arts training serves well in wider life.

I am an engineer. This is one of my core identities. Since I was seven years old, I have wanted to become an electronic engineer and it was with some trepidation that I started my first job fourteen years later. You see, I had pinned all of my hopes for life on this single career path and my focus throughout my time in full-time education was on obtaining a suitable qualification and entering the electronics profession. Having completed that education, I found myself staring at that first job with considerable trepidation: what if, after fourteen years of slog, it turned out that I didn’t much like electronics after all. I am fortunate indeed that, upon starting work, I discovered that I do enjoy electronics and I am actually quite good at it.

I am an engineer. I know I just said that, but engineer is a personality type as well as being a job title. I think in certain ways, I enjoy certain activities, I value intellectual rigour and clearness of thought. I can be quite arrogant and can be unpleasant to argue with. The sum of these traits means that I am an engineer even when I’m not at work. At church, I am an engineer; at home, I am an engineer; at Scouts and at TSD, I am an engineer. Other words for this identity are geek and nerd. It is an identity I embrace freely, because it provides a shorthand to describe the way I think and the way I relate to the world around me: it also provides access to a community of like-minded individuals with whom I can have stimulating discussions that would leave non-geeks bewildered.

I am a fan of Science Fiction. Most hard-core fans would dismiss me as an amateur. This part of my identity has never been huge or all-consuming. I do not think that Star Trek is all that wonderful and I can take or leave Star Wars. I also do not spend every waking moment devouring the work of Peter F Hamilton or Frank Herbert. I find Philip K Dick to be completely impenetrable. I do, however, appreciate the thinking-outside-the-box approach that makes good SF a great read. A decent SF story is not all about talking computers or epic space battles, it is about people and what happens when you put a bunch of people (people, in this case, doesn’t exclusively mean human beings) in a certain situation, throw in a bit of narrative tension and see what happens. Put a hundred people together in a closed environment on an island and it’s mainstream; do it on a space ship and it’s SF, but the tensions are the same.

I am a man who wears skirts. I see no reason why these hugely comfortable garments should be limited to people who look a particular way, and I have no truck with those who conflate sex with clothing.  Take a peek at the Oscars (or any other glitzy event) and you will note that all of the men look exactly the same, and all of the women are wearing dazzling clothes. (The fact that the men are judged by their abilities and the women are judged by their wardrobes is a discussion for another day). I think that the notion that exciting fabrics and beautiful garments are reserved for women and that a man wearing such an item is compromising his masculinity is completely ridiculous. My favourite skirt is box-pleated blue taffeta and resembles the bottom half of a ballgown. Can’t wear it because I’m a man? Balls to that notion.

I am bisexual. Yes. It exists. It doesn’t mean I can’t make up my mind between Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley: I simply think that you shouldn’t have to. They are both aesthetically appealing and I would not feel my identity had been compromised were I to wake up in bed with either of them. It doesn’t mean that I would particularly want to wake up in bed with both of them, either. In fact, the person I most like waking up next to is my wife and I’m not going to dump her for the next good-looking guy either (even Johnny Depp).

I carry other identities as well. I’m a man, I’m tall, I’m white, I’m British (I’d prefer to be Scottish, but I was born and raised in the Midlands), I’m a father, I’m a husband.

All of these identities put me in relationship with other people yet, alone, I still carry them with me and none of them defines who I am. Some identities must be validated externally by membership of organisations, others can be claimed simply by stating “I am this”. There are people who will take issue with my claim to certain identities and others who seek to impose identities on me from outside. In order to be fully and freely human, however, my identity must be my own, and I must be allowed that identity.

I am a person.

Pope fucks up

It’s a strong headline, but it works on two levels.

During his trip to Poland for World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis had a meeting with Polish bishops. The transcript of this meeting was released last week. The bishops spoke of various things, but one thing the pontiff highlighted was gender theory. This has been reported in various places, but here are the articles from the Washington Times and the Catholic Herald. He spoke of this last year, too.

I really don’t know what is causing the pope to get quite so exercised about this. The only conclusion I can draw is that he has never spent very much time around transgender people. In my limited experience, most people who oppose the rights of others have many theories about those others, but no experience of actually knowing them.

Let’s hypothesise. Sofia is a transgender woman living in Buenos Aires, attending Mass regularly at the cathedral. She attends social gatherings and speaks to bishop Bergolio on a regular basis. In turn, he learns much about her life, how she knows that she has always been a woman, regardless of what her parents, her brothers, her priests, the media and the whole church have told her her entire life. This is a fundamental truth about her existence. There is nothing in who she is that challenges the notion that men and women are different from each other: she acknowledges that they are different: she simply demands that the world sees her as the woman she knows herself to be. Over the course of several years, Bishop B learns more about her life, and about the huge obstacles that the world has placed in her path, that she has had to fight to overcome. Sometimes, she has the strength to climb over or tunnel through them, sometimes not. Every day is a struggle just to be alive. Sofia’s family threw her out when she was young; she has found it very hard to find and hold down a job. Everywhere she turns, people reject her because her face doesn’t look right, because her voice is too deep, because she is too tall, because she doesn’t fit the mould. Many of her transgender friends have taken their own lives, either because they have been forced to live lives in the wrong gender, or because constant rejection by everyone you love takes its toll over years: they simply could not face another day and took the only road left open to them.

Bishop Bergolio’s heart breaks every day when he thinks of Sofia, of the hardship she faces simply by being who she is. He has known her several years and has really listened to her. He knows how she ticks, and can see the full journey she has travelled: she and her transgender sisters and brothers. He can see how their society, their laws and the church all conspire to rob her of the very essence of her humanity, of her dignity as a child of God. He can see all the forces of the world ranged against her, simply because she chose to stand up and be the person God created her to be. She decided that to live as a man was to die a little more every day. Sure, it made the people around her comfortable, but Jesus never, ever, changed who he was simply to make those around him more comfortable. He delivered his message in clear, often shocking, sometimes scandalous ways wherever he went. She is fully aware of what they did to Jesus because of this: she has weighed everything in the balance and has decided that, if she is to die, it will be at another’s hand, and not her own. She will no longer pretend just to pander to those around her. He sees this in her and he understands her.

When Bishop Bergolio becomes Pope Francis, he brings this friendship with him to Rome. He sees how his church systematically snuffs out the God-given light in so many people’s hearts. He stands before the bishops of Poland and gives the example of his predecessor, Pope St John Paul II, who as a priest in Poland would go on trips with the university students in his care, taking them to the mountains and playing sport. He would listen to them, he was with the young people [from the Catholic Herald article]. He tells the bishops to listen to people, to understand their lives, and to stop forcing identities onto people from the outside and to fight injustice against LGBT* people the world over, because that injustice, so long perpetuated by the church, is driving these little ones to stumble [Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2].

So, my headline for the week? I believe in my heart that the pope has fucked up with his comments about gender theory. I believe that he simply has not taken the time to understand what gender theory actually is before rejecting it as a symptom that we are living in an age of sin against the Creator [Benedict XVI].

I also believe that the pope is fucking up the lives of every transgender person whose lives are affected by Catholic teaching. He should look at the statistics for suicides of transgender people, the number people murdered each year simply for being who God made them to be, the number of teenagers thrown out of their homes by their families for the same reason.

The church doesn’t have to hold onto ancient laws in the face of new evidence. The church has accepted (after a century or two) that the earth is not at the centre of the universe. It does not have to cling to the theory that all humans are born with unambiguous genitalia and that those genitalia clearly and unambiguously reveal fundamental truths about who that person is as a person. The only way to determine someone’s gender is to ask them. People are usually pretty sure of their own gender, at least from the age of 2. Sometimes the answer you get is not what you expect. It may even be “some days I’m a girl, but today, I’m a boy”.

If we are to hold, as Christ taught us, that God loves each person wholly, fully and passionately, we must give each person the right to be a person. And in this, I believe, the pope has fucked up.

Human rights are for far away places

After the second world war, the United Kingdom put together a team of legal experts to draft a document that would, they hoped, put an end to the senseless suffering and slaughter of millions and would prevent a recurrence in the future. The result was the European Convention of Human Rights, the ECHR. It lays out basic human rights granted to everyone living in territories controlled by the signatures of the Convention, and establishes the European Court of Human Rights to oversee the application of the Convention.

It’s pretty good stuff (see here for a summary).

The problem, really, is that the UK wants to withdraw from it.

Yes, you read that right. The country that wrote the rules now want to withdraw from being bound by them.

The motivation for this is different depending on which politician you ask, but it boils down to a combination of the following:

  • Article 5 links security and liberty as a single concept. This is inconvenient for politicians, particularly current Prime Minister, Theresa May, because she wants to delete large quantities of liberty in the name of “security”.
  • Article 8 gives us the right to a private life. Again, inconvenient to Mrs May, because she wants to spy on all of our internet traffic, both Web and E-Mail. Article 8 will stick right in her throat.
  • Article 2 gives us the right to life. This includes the state taking steps to avoid unnecessary deaths.

The first two of these relate to the Investigatory Powers bill currently limping through Parliament, which I have covered elsewhere.

The third is more relevant, and links to the UK’s obligations both under the ECHR but also under the UN rules because it relates to the Conservative government’s drive for austerity.

The theory given is that the UK economy is heading towards bankruptcy: we have been borrowing money year-on-year for a long time, and our national debt is growing. At some point, we’ll be borrowing money to pay interest on borrowed money and the whole thing is going to vanish down the plughole. In order to fix this, the government, under the sensitive direction of former chancellor George Osborne, has been slashing public spending on unnecessary things like public health, education, legal aid, libraries, housing and welfare. But we’re all in it together, he said. That must be why he cut corporation tax and inheritance tax, because those taxes tend only to affect those with large amounts of wealth.

The UN disagrees that the UK has done its best to keep things equitable, however. In a damning report published on 14th July, it repeatedly urges the government to amend laws and policies that are actively causing hardship to those least able to look after themselves.

This has, of course, not been widely reported across the kingdom. We’ve had our head buried in the shitstorm surrounding the vote to leave the EU, but this report does exist, and it does highlight the fact that our government doesn’t give flying coitus about its poorer citizens and wants, in fact, to further erode their footing. I suppose if poor people all starve to death, they cease to be a problem for government, but that model has, historically, proven to be unreliable. Poor people have a nasty habit of clinging on. And, truly, if all the poor people went away, who would do the washing, cooking and moat-cleaning for the rich?

Ooh, it makes me mad.

Who needs privacy anyway?

We have a new prime minister. The Right Honourable Theresa May MP took on the UK’s top job last week. Oh dear. It could have been worse, of course, her only serious challenger was Andrea Leadsom, a person who is on record as saying that marriage should only be for straight Christian couples. Delightful.

Leadsom dropped out, leaving May as the only contender, so the Conservative party didn’t bother to hold an election, and we now have our third unelected PM in my lifetime. Now, I don’t have a particular problem with this: we have a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, and the PM is the leader of the party that can “command the confidence of the House”. Theresa May is the legitimate PM and that is how the system works. The thing I do have a problem with, however, is policy.

In recent years, as Home Secretary, May has been pushing for mass surveillance of the entire internet-using population of the country. She has been guiding the Investigatory Powers bill through parliament which, amongst other things, imposes a duty on all internet service providers to log (using deep packet inspection) every single HTTP request (website visit) and the SMTP headers (every e-mail you send or receive) of every single user and retain the data for 12 months. Just in case.

Now, why does she want the UK to pursue surveillance powers only used by North Korea, China and Iran? Well, it seems that she doesn’t much like encryption. Modern cryptography is pretty good and it means that UK citizens can communicate with each other without the intelligence services being able to tap the line. She neglects to mention many problems with this, of course. Having the data is not the same as being able to find the data. The challenge faced by the security agencies is a considerable one. Going from not much data to having all the data turns it from trying to get hold of the relevant data to trying to find a needle in an entire nation of haystacks. Except that these haystacks are made of needles.

When the Paris attacks were analysed post-fact, it turned out that the people who arranged the atrocity weren’t actually using encryption at all, and that the security services probably had all the data they needed: they just didn’t know it until after the fact. Giving them terabytes of irrelevant data for every day of the previous year isn’t really going to help.

Then there is the problem of information security. The only way to properly secure a computer is to disconnect it from everything, encase it concrete and bury it in a very very deep hole. Then back-fill with more concrete. This has obvious disadvantages, of course. If the ISPs spy database is to be made available to police services, it is going to have to be accessible. This data is going to be the target of the large body of computer crackers who seem to relish the challenge of grabbing hold of data that others want to keep safe. At some point, at least one ISP’s database is going to be leaked. I wonder which ISP the PM uses at home. I’d put money on that ISP being the first to go.

But it’s OK. I have nothing to hide.

After all these years, it looks like time to turn on TLS on my mailserver. Sorry, Mrs May. Years of effort thwarted by a two-minute change of configuration. Now, if only there was a way to do that for outgoing web requests. Or a cheap and easy project that made the whole thing trivial.

Pointless and counterproductive laws anyone? It’s what we do best. Welcome to the United Kingdom.

Christianity, in a nutcase^H^H^H^Hshell

Douglas Adams pulled out a fundamental truth about Christianity right at the beginning of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…”

Ah, but it’s more complicated than that, I frequently hear people argue. Usually the people who keep a hammer and some nails about their person, (it pays to be prepared, after all).

Case in point: I recently commented on a Facebook posting about a fundamentalist “Christian” woman who was whingeing about those nasty gay people getting married and how, as a Christian, she felt obliged to condemn, loudly and publicly, people who fall in love in a manner she disapproves of. I’ve lost the FB thread now (in the seconds-long news cycle that is modern social media), but the gist of it was that I said that I get annoyed by people claiming the name “Christian” using it as fuel for hatred of others. As is pretty much standard, someone replied quoting Leviticus 18:22. As is also standard, I replied alluding to Leviticus 19:19, and also Leviticus 11:12 for good measure (tl;dr: polyester-cotton is an abomination unto God, as is prawn cocktail). I was feeling restrained, so I didn’t push forward into more uncomfortable territory with Deuteronomy 22:2829 (tl;dr: if a man rapes a virgin and they are discovered, they must marry, with no hope of divorce).

Christianity gets its name from Jesus Christ, who commanded his followers to emulate him, and to disregard Jewish practice that oppresses people. His teaching on the Sabbath was shocking to those who heard him. Jewish tradition, compliant with the written word of God, was that you should do no work on the Sabbath day (in modern terms, the Sabbath runs from sunset each Friday to sunset on Saturday). This included helping people who need helping, or rescuing your animals. Practice at the time, it seems, had got a bit rigid. Jesus argued that the Sabbath was created by God so that his people could get a bit of relaxation time in. He points out that it is not particularly relaxing to ignore the needs of others, or to watch your livestock die before your eyes when you could quite easily lend a helping hand.

The point to which I am sidling is that Christianity should model itself on the life and practice of Christ. Christians should not get too obsessed with picking out single verses from the Old Testament law and clinging on to them. Particularly verses that contradict utterly the way Christ modelled his life in God. (I am often called a “Cafeteria Catholic” because I pick and choose my practice as one picks and chooses choice morsels in a café. This accusation ignores the fact that all Christians pick and choose: I just admit that I do.)

When faced with some obnoxious ancient command from the Old Testament, my first port of call is always the life of Christ (I am a Christian, after all). The way Jesus treated those different from himself is telling.

  • When asked “whom can I exclude from my love”, Jesus turns it around and says that you are defined by those whom you include (Luke 10:25-37)
  • A non-believer asks Jesus for help and he helps, asking nothing in return, not even that said non-believer converts, nor even takes home a pamphlet explaining why the only way to salvation is through him. No, he holds up the non-believer’s faith as an example to all. (Luke 7:1-10)
  • When a righteous man invites him to dinner and the local woman-of-disrepute barges in and makes a spectacle of Jesus, Jesus points out the shortcomings of the righteous man and sends the woman on her way with his blessing (Luke 7:36-50)
  • He invites himself to dinner at the house of one regarded as a huge public sinner (Zacchaeus had enriched himself by being a corrupt tax collector). He does not condemn Zacchaeus’ life, nor does he highlight his sin. Jesus simply goes to dinner with him. Tellingly, Jesus loves the man and allows that love to do its own work in his life. The conversion of Zacchaeus comes from within Zacchaeus in response to Jesus’ acceptance of him (Luke 19:1-10)
  • He reserves his harshest words for those who turn others away from God (Matthew 18:6)

So very often, I observe people who call themselves Christians clinging on to that verse of Leviticus I began with, yet utterly disregarding the actions of Christ. When a man falls in love with a man and they devote their lives to each other in a love that lasts longer than many heterosexual marriages, and someone outside that relationship strolls along and condemns it because of Leviticus, that person is not imitating Christ and, in my book, cannot legitimately claim Christianity.

When someone stands in a pulpit and declares that those youngsters in the congregation who feel same-sex attraction are sinful (or objectively disordered), they drive those young people away from God.

When people demand that others change themselves before encountering Jesus, or demand that they change themselves in a particular way having encountered Jesus, they are simply disregarding Jesus’ example.

Jesus told us to love one another as he loved us. He told us that the defining characteristic of his followers would be love.

And that is why we nailed him to a tree.

This surreal fortnight in politics

The thing that makes me most upset about the events of the last two weeks is that none of this needed to have happened.

Here’s a quick summary.  It begins long ago, of course, but in a galaxy much closer to home.

In the 1980’s, Margaret Thatcher presided over a huge industrial decline in the North of England, in Wales and, basically, everywhere that isn’t London. The miners’ strike was the most visible manifestation of this, but the industrial backbone of the UK was broken in many places by the time the Tories, finally, got kicked out in 1997.

Fast forward a few years and we have a posh bloke, educated at Eton and Oxford (where he was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club) facing a general election. He’s already been Prime Minister for five years and now he would like another five. The only thing in his way is the former city banker and all-round xenophobe, Nigel Farage, who has been stirring up racial hatred around the country and inciting people in the aforementioned post-industrial wastelands to blame “immigrants” and “the EU” for their plight. Farage has no real chance of making significant electoral gains this time around, but he looks a lot like he’s going to take a big bite out of the Prime Minister’s vote. A bite that is going to cost him enough seats that he’ll lost the top job.

Here’s a brilliant idea: let’s promise to hold a referendum to ask the people of the UK (and Gibraltar, it turns out), if they want to remain a member of the EU, or if we would rather go the way of the UK Independence Party (Farage’s UKIP) and leave the EU. It was all far-off in the future and very abstract, and all the opinion polls predicted a hung parliament anyway. In short, PM David Cameron never expected that this would be a promise he’d have to keep. He fully expected to be in coalition, or some form of minority government, which would give him just enough wiggle-room to announce that he was unable to keep that promise.

In a shock to everyone (especially Paddy Ashdown’s hat), the Conservatives came out of that election with a (wafer-thin) parliamentary majority. It was here that Cameron’s plan began to unravel, and it was here that a courageous and decent man would have stepped up and taken responsibility for making such a rash promise.

David Cameron is not a courageous and decent man.

He went on a tour of the EU, cosying up to all of the other leaders in the Union, and begging them for crumbs to take back to the UK in the hope that he could pat them together and say “look, this is cake: vote for cake.” He announced a date for the referendum: 23rd June 2016. A date that will live on in infamy.

The battle lines drawn, the campaigning begun, and descended almost immediately into a cesspool of lies, misdirection and xenophobia. Enter Boris Johnson, another bloke from Eton, Oxford and the Bullingdon Club who, incidentally, thought that the EU is a pretty good thing, to lead the campaign for the UK to leave. Yes, that’s right. A guy who thought that the UK should remain in the EU decided to lead the campaign to leave the EU.

This was never about the EU.

Within the Conservative party, it was a bun-fight between two rich old-Etonians. Cameron had the top job; Johnson wanted more power than he had enjoyed as Mayor of London. Let’s have a big jolly on the telly and get all the poor people to line up in the rain to cast their ballots and we can get back to business as usual, thank you, only you give me a good job in the government. For his part, Cameron thought this would be a jolly jape too, and seemed to concede that he’d have to put up with Boris.

Neither of them, it seemed, were prepared for a third party to take their little game and use it for his own advantage. Nigel Farage, frustrated at getting 12% of the votes in the general election yet only scoring 0.15% of the seats in the Commons, came storming in with a campaign consisting mostly of blaming Brussels for everything and pointing the finger at “migrants” for the economic problems of that post-industrial wasteland. Neither the EU nor migrants were responsible for the mess, of course, that was all about UK government policy over forty years, but they made a photogenic scapegoat.

It truly didn’t matter that the people on that poster weren’t from the EU, and it also didn’t matter that the UK has obligations, under international law, to accept refugees (who just happen to be fleeing a brutal and deadly grinding civil war).

This was not about the EU.

It was about Cameron’s spinelessness and a big game between him and Boris Johnson that was being exploited by Nigel Farage (and newspaper giant Rupert Murdoch, but that’s another story) for political gain.

Anyway, neither side covered themselves in glory, and lies and fearmongering characterised both sides of the debate. Actually, there was no debate. There was a lot of shouting and a lot of restatement of lies, but no actual debate.

Then came 23rd June. And 24th June.

And the horror that Cameron and Johnson’s little tiff, their little game to sort out whose dick was more manly, their viewing the British population as nothing more than pawns for their amusement, had produced the result that neither could accept.

The UK voted to leave.

So, on the Friday morning, Cameron told us he was quitting as PM. In the fortnight since, thousands of people who voted leave have announced that they never actually wanted to leave they just wanted to give the “establishment” a bloody nose; every promise made by the Leave campaign has been exposed as a lie; a Tory leadership fight has erupted; Michael Gove (Johnson’s right-hand man) knifed him in the back; Johnson announced that he would not, after all, be running for the PM’s job; Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Scotland will be remaining in the EU, even if that means that Scotland leaves the UK; Michael Gove has all-but vanished from the running for that same job and Nigel Farage has also resigned as leader of UKIP.

In summary, David Cameron was scared of Nigel Farage, so he made a promise that he never thought he’d have to keep, in order to cling on to political power. His old mate, Boris Johnson, thought it would be a jolly jape to jump into the party and wave his dick around and see if he could have some fun, and maybe pick up a couple of free drinks. Nigel Farage saw an opportunity to pop in his crowbar and gain maximum leverage. Michael Gove slipped in behind Boris Johnson in the hope that he’d sail back into a powerful position (he did such a fine job in the Department for Education, you see) in his wake. And it all went horribly wrong.

To summarise the summary, a spineless Prime Minister created a clusterfuck, and now every single one of the people involved this disaster has decided to walk away and leave the sorry mess for someone, anyone, else to fix. Because they never wanted what they asked for and are too gutless to face the music.

Politics, anyone?