Monthly Archives: March 2017

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

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.


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.