Did you miss me?

I’ve not been posting much over the last couple of weeks. This is due to a combination of things. Firstly, I picked up a copy of Sid Meier’s Civilization III for a couple of quid, and that has eaten huge chunks of my life like a greedy cannibal. Secondly, I borrowed the first two series of Castle from a friend and have been enjoying that. And thirdly, and most importantly, my depression has flared up (or down) again.

I’ve been feeling very confused. My mood swings rapidly from manic to depressed, which hasn’t really happened before, and I have no idea how I’ll feel in an hour’s time. This makes it difficult to settle to anything. I have also been feeling very scared and I’m not sure why. I keep panicking and have to force myself to calm down. Crowds are affecting me more than usual as well (I’m not good with crowds at the best of times), causing rapid heart rate, shaking and sweating. I get scared and upset, which in my mind gets converted into anger and I curse and swear. This is obviously unpleasant behaviour for anyone to deal with, and Lauren (my fiance) has to cope with it, which is unfair.

I started smoking again. Only a couple a day, but it still makes me feel disgusted with myself. I’m quitting again as of today, so hopefully I’ll be off them for good this time.

I’m still waiting to get back to work. Occupational Health should be getting in touch with me, but they’re dragging their feet a bit which isn’t helping my nerves. I don’t know if I’ll be able to cope with getting back into the classroom and teaching, but I have to try. At least that way I’ll know for sure. The thought still terrifies me, but I’m not backing down from this challenge. Not yet, anyway.

So, that’s where I am at the moment. Hopefully, there will be more ranting and contentious opinions, mixed with pseudo-intellectual analyses and commentary, for your delight/interest/anger [delete as required] soon.

Thanks for your patience.

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Crime and Politics…The Situation is Always Fluid.

Our once great nation is sick. It’s not been healthy for some time, but we’ve been able to kid ourselves that the situation was temporary, just a glitch, things would get better.

But it’s not.

There is a serious problem in Britain today, and it is only getting worse. The chancellor, George Osbourne, on behalf of the ConDem government, has recently revealed a budget that relieves tax burdens on the rich, while increasing tax burdens on the poor, disabled and elderly. The ConDem government has just passed a bill in which the NHS, the greatest health institution ever created, is being broken up and privatised with £5 billion worth of savings targeted for 2015 (paid for by selling bits and laying off staff, thus creating a less efficient system).  Cameron is currently trying to deflect blame for a scandal in which the co-treasurer of his Conservative Party, Peter Cruddas, was caught on camera offering access to the Prime Minister in return for donations to the party of £250,000.

In May 2011, a referendum was held on changes to the electoral system. The current system, known as First Past The Post or the plurality system, is inherently flawed and yet nearly 68% of voters chose not to change to the AV (Alternative Vote). Well, 68% of the 42% of voters that bothered to vote. This suggests that the general public are just as at fault as the politicians. After all, we live in a democracy, right?

Right?

Well, not quite. A democracy, from the Greek demokratia – ‘rule by the people’, implies that the ‘rulers’ should be selected from the population rather than putting themselves forward for election. Douglas Adams, in his Hitch-Hikers Guide series, stated that anyone who wanted to be in charge should automatically be eliminated from the running. This was meant as a wittily derogatory remark about politicians and their motivations, but there is some sense in what he says. A system whereby individuals are chosen from the voting register at random to fulfil government posts for a set time is one possibility, but is obviously deeply problematic. Members of the public are not necessarily capable of fulfilling the duties of political office, nor should they be expected to. The running of government should be in the hands of people who are trained to do it. Unfortunately, politicians aren’t trained to do it. David Cameron was educated at Eton, school of choice for the moneyed classes, and won a scholarship to Oxford University (ditto). Eton almost guarantees a place in a prestigious university as it is, undeniably, a very good school.  And so it should be, as it charges over £30,000 per year (not including additional fees for music lessons and so on). That pays for a lot of good grades.

You can almost smell the smug, self-satisfied bastards sweating money, can't you?

With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the Conservatives see everything in terms of money. The NHS being privatised isn’t about providing a better service, it’s about making money. We know that privatisation doesn’t improve services. The Tories tried it in the 80s and it didn’t work too well then either. The banks and the big businesses (easy targets, I know) are making money hand over bastard fist, and yet they escape having to pay too much tax because they are in bed with the government (hopefully only metaphorically).

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats (the other party in the current coalition government), has betrayed his party and his supporters. The Liberal Democrats are the opposite of the Conservatives. They should be progressive, socially responsible, instead Clegg has turned into Cameron’s lapdog, constantly agreeing with his boss’s ideas, regardless of their impact on the country. He saw the chance for a little bit of reflected glory and a whiff of power and went for it, damning the consequences and binning his principles (assuming he actually had some to begin with). He needs to do the right thing and dissolve the coalition, forcing a general election.

I should pause at this point and admit something. I don’t often talk in detail about politics, because I don’t really know that much about it (as anyone who does will no doubt have noticed). I know enough to bluff my way in pub conversations, but not enough to go on Newsnight, which is only one of many reasons that I’ve never been invited on. I am in no way the ‘voice of the average man on the street’ either, because I am fairly representative of the liberal middle-England (raised in Hampshire, father was an officer in the Royal Engineers, I’ve worked mainly in white-collar industries, I have a degree and I’m a teacher – you don’t get much more middle-class). I am a liberal and proud of it. I believe firmly in all of the good things that progressive governments have done for this country. Our education system used to be second to none, our healthcare was superlative, our benefits system was fair and genuinely helped some of the neediest people in our society. We used to have industries in this country, men and women working hard (albeit not always in the safest or healthiest environments) and making world class products: steel, ships, cars. What do we have now? Call centres. And even those are being outsourced.

Britain has become a nation of consumers, not producers. Creativity is not valued. Passion is not valued. Only money is valued. Success is measured by the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house you own. We have no say in the running of our own country. Cameron’s government suppressed a report into the risks of the NHS bill, preventing it from being read by the very people who were supposed to be making an informed choice about it. If politicians in the Houses of bloody Parliament don’t have a fair say in the political arena of Britain, what chance do the rest of us have? Even when protesters take to the streets of our nation’s capital, they are almost invariably ignored.

"Go back to sleep, Britain! Your government is in control!"

Well, you could always become a religious spokesperson. That way you’ll be able to have your views listened to by government all the time. It was revealed today that three MPs have decided to try to force the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) to reverse its decision to ban a religious advert that suggests that prayer can heal illnesses. A Christian cult…sorry, Christian GROUP in Bath were banned from using advertising leaflets featuring these words:

NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!… We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.

Apparently, those knee-jerk liberals at the ASA decided that this was misleading, and could potentially stop some people from seeking medical advice. I know, crazy fools! The clever and insightful MPs (Conservative Gary Streeter, Labour’s Gavin Shuker and Liberal Democrat Tim Farron – see? All three major parties represented These guys must represent the majority, right?) ask a very serious question of those facists at the ASA:

On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?

Excuse me, I just need some air. You may have noticed the slightest hint of sarcasm about that previous paragraph, but I swear that quote is genuine. These three fucking lunatics have genuinely asked for ‘scientific research’ and ’empirical evidence’ to prove that prayer doesn’t heal people. My initial response would be ‘oh, do fuck off’, but, on reflection, I think we can do better. How about the fact that we need medicine? Or doctors? Or the fact that people still die from illness? Or the fact that prayer DOESN’T FUCKING CURE SICKNESS?! The burden of proof in this case is quite clearly on those who claim that it has an effect, rather than on the people who claim it doesn’t. If you want prayer included in the list of acceptable and effective medical treatments, then you have to prove that it does work in a statistically significant number of cases.

The letter to the ASA also includes some anecdotal evidence. Sorry. Not good enough. You were the ones that mentioned ‘scientific research’ so you can go away and perform clinical trials with control groups and placebos and all the rest, to try and prove that prayer can heal. At the very least, it will shut you up long enough for doctors to actually heal some more people, rather than mumbling in Latin at them before demanding their cash to pay for more shiny hats.

Now THAT'S a shiny fucking hat!

These so-called Christians In Parliament should not be bringing religion into politics. There needs to be a complete divide between the church and the state. We are not a Christian nation. It is difficult to accurately measure the number of religious people in the UK, as was proven by the Humanist Society. When people were asked “What is your religion?” over 53% responded ‘Christian’. Fairly easy to measure, I hear you say. Well, hold on, because when those SAME people were asked “Are you religious?” 65% said no. More interestingly, it was found that less than 10% of the population attend a place of worship regularly. And that 10% includes all religions in the UK, not just Christians.

From this we can deduce that Christian churches represent the views of about 6% of the population of the country, or about half the population of Greater London. From that, we can further deduce that they have ABSOLUTELY NO SAY IN THE RUNNING OF THE COUNTRY! They do not get to dictate morals or laws any more.

But who does? We have already seen that Cameron’s government is morally bankrupt, willing to take under-the-table ‘donations’ in order to gain access to the Prime Minister. Why would someone want to do that? Well, access to the PM allows an individual, or a representative of a ‘group of concerned citizens’, or a pressure group, to make suggestions to the leader of our country. These suggestions will come from someone who is clearly a supporter of what Cameron stands for, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t have such privileged access… You see? It is clearly an unacceptable and corrupt way of doing things, which is why Cameron was so quick to damn his treasurer when the news came out, quick to condemn his actions, quick to distance himself from a situation that he, in all probability, was entirely aware of.

We need to take the power back.

We need to refuse to have our voices ignored any longer.

We need to demand transparency and involvement in the politics of our country.

Maybe then we can make Britain great once again.

Sink or Swim

I have been thinking again about my depression, and since I have been on the tablets for a couple of months and have been attending counselling sessions, I seem to be able to think about it in a more rational way. I have therefore decided to try to examine the way that my depression has affected me.

I have always been prone to depression, although I referred to it a ‘cynicism’ and was terribly proud of it. You see, a cynic (as far as I am concerned) is someone who rejects blind optimism and reacts to the world in a more realistic manner. He (or she, obviously) recognises that the world is in a bad way, and that any change is likely to be for the worse, rather than for the better. I would call my cynicism ‘realism’ and quote the old cliché that ‘a cynic is what an optimist calls a realist’. This mindset served me well – or so I thought – from my mid teen years until my early thirties.

This current cycle of depression probably started about two years ago. I was trying to get work as a supply teacher but I was being messed around by a couple of agencies and not getting any work. I was therefore not getting paid. I was struggling to get my Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit sorted (the main reason that I tend to side with benefit fraudsters – if they can get money from that system, they deserve it!) and as a result I was very short of money. Fortunately, I was flat-sharing with a very good friend who was willing to loan me the money to survive. Unfortunately, that situation played host to a horde of other issues that weighed heavily on my mind and caused me to slip further into the depressive cycle. My mood swings – usually from depressed to angry to self-obsessed to manic – were, understandably, placing a heavy burden on my friendships.

When I eventually got a new job (and a new girlfriend – the lovely Lauren who is now my fiancée), my mood began to improve, but it wasn’t long before the depression started impacting on my work life. I have always been terrified of failure, so much so that it often prevents me from trying. My cynicism rises to the fore and tells me that I am so likely to fail, there is no use even attempting things because the feeling of failure will be terrible. It tells me that there is nothing worse than failure, that one failure eradicates the total number of previous successes in my life. If I fail once, I fail completely. Of course, logically I know that this is utter bullshit. I know that failure is part of being human. We all fail occasionally, just like we all need help occasionally, but in my depression I cannot see that. I refuse to ask for help, or admit I need help, or even admit I find something difficult, because that is an admission of failure and I would rather be accused of laziness than incompetence. Even though I got a decent degree (a 2:1 in English and Education) I still feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m waiting for someone to burst into the classroom and denounce me as a fake, an imposter. I feel like I don’t belong, like a kid playing at being a teacher. My subject knowledge is good (it’s the one thing I feel confident in), but I don’t believe I am able to pass that knowledge on to the children in my care. I don’t feel that I deserve to be there. That obviously has an effect on me. When I am observed by a member of management, I automatically assume I’m going to fail, so the standard of my teaching drops. I know that my teaching is far better when there is no observation happening, but obviously that is a subjective view, and therefore useless. Without observation, it cannot be proved.

This turned out to be too much for my mind to cope with. I collapsed at home a couple of times, had panic attacks, constant dizziness and weakness, was exhausted all the time. My joints ached, I had chronic headaches and felt nauseated. I spent several nights sitting in the dark, in tears, holding a knife to my wrists, desperately trying to think of reasons not to end it all. After a whole bunch of tests it was decided that I had suffered what the medical profession no longer refers to as a nervous breakdown (apparently it’s a ‘medically unhelpful’ term). They tend to use the terms ‘stress-related disorders’ or ‘neurasthenia’. So that was it. I was ‘stressed’. My depression had finally broken me.

I was a failure.

Well, not quite. I finally realised that my depression was a thing. It was an illness that I could recognise and accept. It wasn’t just cynicism, or ‘feeling down’, or ‘being a miserable sod’. When I accepted that I had depression, it was a turning point for me. It was surprisingly liberating. I’m still depressed, but I can acknowledge that the depressive thought processes are a symptom, rather than an accurate portrayal of the world and my place in it. However, I still – for the moment – see myself in the black and white terms of ‘success’ and ‘failure’.

This is essentially the whole basis of my depression. I would love to be a writer, but my depression tells me I will fail, that I will be judged harshly, that I don’t deserve to be a writer. Because of this, I never seem able to complete a piece of writing. Whenever I read over what I have written, it fails to live up to my own standards, and therefore it cannot live up to anyone else’s standards either, so it gets buried on my hard drive with every other piece of writing. I am desperately trying to break this vicious cycle, to get writing and keep writing, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to show anyone else. I hope I can get over this hurdle. I enjoy writing and exercising my imagination, and I would love for my writing to bring pleasure to others. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s quite enough whining for now!

Toodle-pip!

Unleash the Rage…

I woke up this morning with the intention of writing about things that make me happy. Then I walked down the High Street and came into contact with people. All feelings of goodwill promptly vanished and were replaced with a boiling pit of violent fury, lightly flavoured with a sprinkling of deep contempt for all humanity. This changed my plans somewhat.

Therefore, I am writing a short list of some of the things that really piss me off.

Rage Cause #1: Ignorance

Ignorance is probably my most common trigger for anger. I mean ignorance in the truest sense of the word, before people get their knickers in a twist. Ignorance does not necessarily imply a lack of intelligence, although that may be a part of it. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge or information, but shares a root with ‘ignore’. This suggests that the ignorant person refuses to ‘see’ information when it is presented to them.

For example, fundamentalist religions are often ignorant, in that they refuse to accept the theories and facts put forward by the scientific community. They may refuse to even enter the debate on subjects such as evolution (beyond denying it). This isn’t a(nother) rant about religion though, so I’ll skip over this example…

This refusal to engage in discussion, which is a clear message that they assume that the other person has nothing important to say, is hugely insulting, especially coming from someone who would probably have difficulties dressing themselves in the morning. Despite the fact that I know their opinions don’t matter (if they aren’t willing to engage, who cares, right?), it still really, REALLY gets on my nerves when people simply don’t listen to explanations. Bastards.

Ignorance is also responsible for the behaviour of people in the street. When walking on a crowded pavement, the sensible person is generally aware of the people around them, avoiding collisions by making constant corrections to direction and speed. If they need to cross the flow of people, they will judge their crossing so as to inconvenience the least number of fellow pedestrians, and should they need to stop they will do so at a point that does not cause an obstruction.

A statistically significant proportion of people are arseholes. Fact.

Unfortunately, crowded pavements often seem to be made up of less-than-sensible people. These ignorant morons walk in a completely straight line, either unaware of the other people trying to use the pavement, or uncaring that their progress along the pavement is causing massive problems to the people that get shoved aside or have to contort themselves to avoid such a fate. These people lurch out of shops directly into the stream of traffic, causing multiple person pile-ups, or stop dead in the middle of the pavement to have a conversation with a friend, becoming a clot in the blood flow of society.

This attitude extends to the road as well, where the ignoramus in question is suddenly in control of two tonnes of speeding metal. I humbly suggest that this is not a good thing. The sense of pure arrogance that these people barge through life with gives them an inflated sense of confidence, which in turn leads to them choosing to ignore basic rules, such as ‘Give Way’ signs, or rights of way. Unfortunately, when these people cause accidents, it is often other people that get injured or killed.

As a teacher, the subject of ignorance comes up a lot. ‘Why do we need to read a book? Why can’t we just watch the film?’ is something that is often asked in the classroom. A fair question? Well, no. A book is far more than a written version of a film. For a start, it invariably covers a lot more ground than a film, including examining the internal thought processes of the characters. Secondly, watching a film is a passive experience; you are watching someone else’s interpretation of events, characters and locations, rather than exercising your brain in coming up with them yourself. Thirdly, reading is a learning process. The more we read, the wider our vocabulary grows, the more our grammar improves, the greater our store of knowledge. All of human emotion and experience exists within the written world, and we would be fools to allow that to die out.

And speaking of teachers…

Rage Cause #2: Michael Gove

Michael Gove MP, Tory Secretary of State for Education. This will be a difficult section for me to write, because every time I even think the name ‘Michael Gove’ I have to go and lie down until the urge to kill passes.

Michael Gove, MP: Ventriloquist's Dummy of the Damned

Gove is a former journalist who is now in charge of the education of the next generation. This would be funny if it weren’t so scary. Gove has never been a teacher, never had to deal with the immense workload that teachers face, and yet he is dictating how they should do their jobs. He has moved the goalposts several times in the last few years, most notably in regards to the OFSTED inspections that all schools must endure.

To be clear, I am not saying that schools shouldn’t be inspected – obviously there needs to be accountability in education – but the removal of any kind of acknowledgement of the socio-economic background of the students is a ridiculous decision for a start. In areas of lower social class and lower incomes, education is often not valued at home, so the students see very little worth in education. This has a majorly depressive effect on results, one that is very difficult for teachers to counter. Parents have far more influence over children than teachers do (which is exactly how it should be), and this influence often extends to a lack of importance placed on education. But, under Gove’s plans, this is not accepted, so children growing up in affluent areas of the Home Counties are treated identically to children growing up in economically depressed, inner-city sink estates. This is an obvious idiocy, or should be to anyone with half a brain. Of course, all students should be treated equally in theory, but in practise this doesn’t work. A student brought up in a home which is stable and supportive, where they are encouraged and interacted with, where their academic achievements are praised, will naturally do better in school than a student who is raised in a home where they are not valued, where their education is an excuse to get them out of the way for the day, where their primary care-giver is having to work all hours just to keep a roof over their head. I am not being judgemental, merely pointing out that this is the reality for many children in Britain today. The General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers said that it was important to “accept that the job of teaching is made more difficult depending on the home circumstances of pupils. No increased amount of haranguing of teachers or head teachers will alter this fact”.

The reality of teaching for far too many.

The previous OFSTED grades were simple: Unsatisfactory (for schools that were not meeting the appropriate standards), Satisfactory (for those schools that were), Good (for those schools that exceeded the standards) and Outstanding (for those schools that far exceeded the standards). However, Michael Gove, in his infinite wisdom and supported by Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of OFSTED, has decided to change the English language to suit his political needs. Satisfactory is no longer Satisfactory, apparently. Satisfactory is now Requires Improvement. Satisfactory means ‘not trying hard enough’, ‘coasting’, basically ‘unsatisfactory’. If a school gets a Satisfactory grade they will be revisited within eighteen months and will be expected to have shown some improvement in that time. They will be inspected again within a further eighteen months and, if no improvement is shown, will be placed in Special Measures.

This whole procedure seems designed to add to the stress of teaching. Currently teachers get 10% of their teaching timetable for PPA (Planning, Preparation and Assessment); in other words, 10% of their teaching day is for the planning of all lessons and the marking of all work. Obviously, this is ridiculous. Most schools have around a 6 hour teaching day (although that varies from school to school – let’s go with the averages). This means 30 hours of lessons per week, of which around 27 hours will be classroom time, leaving 3 hours a week for PPA. It can take up to an hour (easily) to plan a lesson and prepare resources to the standard expected by OFSTED (and thus many members of senior leadership). That means it can take 27 hours a week just to plan. Marking takes even longer, with a class set of books needing an investment of 2 to 3 hours a week. An average teacher might have seven or eight class sets to teach, requiring a further 14 to 24 hours a week. That means a teacher can realistically be expected to work up to seventy-eight hours a week, not including break/lunch duties, meetings, assemblies, form tutor duties, detention duties, parents evenings and so on. Yes, teachers do get longer holidays than most other workers, but many of those holidays are spent feverishly trying to catch up on the things that get left behind during term-time, like having time to spend with loved ones and rebuilding the relationships that are crumbling because you are constantly stressed out about the amount of work you need to do.

So when Michael Gove says that ‘Unsatisfactory’ teachers will be forced to leave the profession, one is filled with a sense of awe for his reasoning skills. Because clearly sacking loads of teachers makes far more sense than, for example, TRAINING AND SUPPORTING them, so that they can become BETTER TEACHERS. Because that’s just silly.

Rage Cause #3: Intolerance

I appreciate that I may be on slightly thin ice with this one, as I am basically writing an article about what I am intolerant of, but I’ll try and justify it as best as I can while retaining a modicum of credibility.I don’t mean intolerances like lactose intolerance, obviously. The intolerance I mean is the type that is simply pointless. Call it intolerance, call it prejudice, call it whatever you like, it’s the dislike/distrust of a group of people over something that is usually meaningless: race, sexuality, social class, gender and so on. Quite often, the target of the intolerance has no control (race, gender, arguably sexuality) and so the intolerance is doubly stupid. The intolerance is usually based on a stereotype, most of which are just wrong: Women belong in the kitchen, gays are immoral etc.

What a massive KKKunt

Racial intolerance is a typical example. Why? What is the point? I live in Britain, which is, genetically speaking, pretty much a mongrel race. We are not a ‘pure’ example of anything. White Britons can trace their blood back to the Celts, Normans, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Norsemen, Romans, and any race that had influenced any of them, like the Persians, Greeks, Egyptians. Our language developed from Germanic roots, with healthy influences from the Romance languages, specifically French (our Arch-Enemies – worse even than the Germans!) Britain has traditionally maintained an open-borders policy, welcoming all races, creeds and colours into our country. I’m not suggesting that there has never been racial tension before this generation, but recently I have been dumbfounded by the idiocy of it all. A common argument you will hear is the ‘Britain is full’, and even fairly well-educated people have put this view forward. Well, that’s quite easy to counter. Look at this:

UK Population Density map

The red areas on the map show where lots of people live, the green areas show where virtually no people live. See? Plenty of space left. We don’t need to operate a ‘one out, one in’ system of immigration just yet. Besides, a lot of people coming to this country come here to work, thus stimulating the economy and paying taxes. This is a good thing. And yes, some of them are committing benefit fraud, just like lots of British people are. Mind you, I have been on the dole myself, and I lean towards the opinion that if they manage to actually get any money out of the government, they fucking deserve it! They obviously worked bloody hard for it!

I have, in the past, been referred to as a misogynist. This is not true. I hold no particular loathing for women. I am a misanthropist: I am an equal opportunities hater. Gender politics is a tricky field to skip through, as some angry feminists will assume the worst no matter what you say, and some misogynists will ascribe views to me that I do not hold. I am all in favour of equality and I support the move towards equal gender representation wholeheartedly. However, some radical, extremist feminists do not seem to want equality. It’s an oft-repeated argument, but worth mentioning in this context. It would appear that some of these radical extremists want to invert the gender relationship that has existed for centuries, rather than settle for equality. They are out for revenge for their sisters, women who struggled against male oppression and often died for their beliefs. I am not, in any way, belittling what women have gone through, but many of the inequalities are now gone, and the majority of men alive today were not involved in it, and many are like me, in that they support equality. So don’t tar all men with the same 17th century brush.

On the flipside to that there are the men who truly believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, that women don’t have the same rights as men, that they should stay at home, pleasuring their men and popping out babies. Obviously, these people are wrong too. There is a move on the internet at the moment whereby a certain type of deeply insecure male will make constant mention of kitchens, sandwiches and ‘bitches’, and while some of the comments are clearly made as a joke (and often quite funny ones), there are many that are just a thin veneer over hatred and the suggestion of violence. These ‘men’ need to get their heads on straight. All they are doing is reinforcing the stereotype of oppressive and violent masculinity, which has no place in the 21st century.

And somehow that makes them more interesting...

And speaking of something that has no place in the 21st century, I’m back on one of my favourite soapboxes: Homophobia! Seriously, if you are offended by two men kissing, or two women making out, DON’T WATCH! Simple. Just because gay marriage is legal, doesn’t mean you have to have one. It’s legal to have a cock ring too, but that doesn’t mean you have to rush out and stick a 1lb lump of steel through the old chap. It’s all about choice. The arguments against homosexuality are always idiotic. ‘It’s unnatural!’ So are clothes, living in houses and driving cars. ‘It’s immoral’ So is preaching hate, but that hasn’t stopped you. ‘It’s against God’s law’ So are tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), shrimp and crabs (Leviticus 11:10), the handicapped (Leviticus 21:16-23) and shaving (Leviticus 19:27). I like Leviticus. It’s pretty much where the whole ‘God Hates Fags’ idea comes from, so it’s always worth having a few other verses handy for throwing back at homophobic religious nutters.

OK. I think that’s probably enough ranting for now.

What makes you angry? Let me know in the comments below.

The Tyranny of Tolerance

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the highest ranking Roman Catholic in the UK and the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, has unfortunately decided that he has the right to preach morality to the country and in doing so has exposed his unacceptable levels of bigotry and intolerance. How has he done this? He has criticised the government’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage (as opposed to the civil partnerships that are currently allowed in law). These plans WILL NOT force churches to allow same-sex religious ceremonies. They DO NOT have any effect on the religious institutions in the UK. Surely, I hear the logical among you cry, that means it’s got nothing to do with the church then!

Apparently, he disagrees.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien: Really doesn't approve of the cock.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, O’Brien calls the proposition “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Let me highlight what I see as an important part of that sentence: “a universally accepted human right”. Unless you’re gay, in which case the implication is that you don’t have the same human rights as the rest of us. You are somehow less than human. He asks “what will happen to the teacher who wants to tell pupils that marriage can only mean – and has only ever meant – the union of a man and a woman?” The answer, of course, is that nothing will happen, because teachers are currently not allowed to tell pupils that. Teachers have to teach the curriculum, not their own personal opinions. Teachers aren’t even supposed to talk about their own personal political views, in case they unfairly influence the children in their care. He suggests that teachers and pupils will be “the next victims of the tyranny of tolerance, heretics, whose dissent from state-imposed orthodoxy must be crushed at all costs”. Well, as a Catholic cardinal, he’d know all about crushing dissent from orthodoxy.

O'Brien would really hate this.

The cardinal continues by considering “the point of view of the child”. He suggests that same-sex marriage would rob the child of the right to start life with a mother and a father. Much like prison. Or death. Or divorce. I don’t want to get onto the whole “when Catholic priests stop raping kids I might listen to their views on morality” trip (there’s already plenty of that on the internet already), but there is an element of logic to it. Until the Catholic church has its own house in order, they have no place interfering in the running of the country. The Catholic church has a long and despicable record of child abuse within its ranks, so it is repugnant that they would dare to consider “the point of view of the child” or dare to take the moral high ground on issues of childcare. I know that not every Catholic priest is a child molester, but the record of cover-ups is as long and despicable as the record of abuse, and it is unlikely that a high-ranking official (such as cardinal O’Brien) was not aware of such behaviour. I am not for a moment suggesting that O’Brien was involved in either abuse or cover-ups, simply that they existed, as O’Brien’s apologies to the victims over the last decade have proved. In fact, one of His Eminence’s Irish colleagues, Cardinal Seán Brady, was revealed to have been involved in an official church cover up of Father Brendan Smyth’s sexual abuse of dozens of children in the 1970s.

At this point in his article, O’Brien’s prose blossoms into full fantasy as he asks if marriage can be redefined from a man and a woman to a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, what is to stop three men all getting married to each other, or two men and a woman?

“Sex between a man and a woman can be wonderful, provided you can get between the right man and the right woman.” - Woody Allen

Well, so what? If three people decide that they love each other and wish to live like that, who’s to say they shouldn’t be allowed to get married? It may not be your cup of tea, but it would be a bloody boring world if we were all alike, wouldn’t it? Some people find that swinging keeps their marriage fresh and exciting, some people have their marriage ruined by swinging. It’s swings and roundabouts (sorry – couldn’t resist). As long as it is done with the informed consent of all parties, whatever people choose to do to/with/for each other is entirely their business, and if they want to show their commitment to several people at once, why should anyone want to stop them? It isn’t morally degenerate to admit that you are able to love more than one person, so why should it be frowned on? Bigamy is illegal, but why? There is no reason that it should be as long as all parties are aware of, and agree to, the situation! It’s certainly less morally objectionable than rape, or abuse, or using your position as a leading member of a prominent religious group to preach hate and intolerance in an attempt to dictate government policy. There is, or should be, a separation of church and state (especially between the Catholic Church and the state – Just ask Henry VIII). Religious groups can certainly comment and offer their opinion on government decisions, but O’Brien is as guilty of preaching intolerance as Abu Hamza, after all, both used religion as a basis for their messages of hate. Ok, this may be a slight exaggeration. O’Brien has not, at time of writing, shown support for a medieval theocracy determined to subjugate women, homosexuals, other religions… Oh, hang on…

O’Brien claims that the fact that churches would not be required to perform same-sex marriages if they did not wish to is “staggeringly arrogant”, and states that “no Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood   meaning of marriage”, presumably because the “moral authority” belongs to him. As I understand it, as far more than the “small minority of activists” that he alludes to understand it, marriage is the union in law of two people who are willing to publicly declare their love for, and ongoing commitment to, each other. I’m sure that you have noticed the lack of gender-specific terms in my definition. Cardinal O’Brien, on the other hand, is adamant that marriage has “only ever meant the legal union of a man and a woman”. Tradition is obviously important, especially to such a venerable institution as the Catholic Church. After all, they have not changed anything for many centuries. Except their attitude to slavery. And the age of the earth. And that atheists and heretics should be executed, as should anyone who translates the bible into English. And a few more things, now that I think about it.

This man is entitled to his opinion, of course, but he should be very careful about the message he is conveying. It is very easy to read his article (available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/9121424/We-cannot-afford-to-indulge-this-madness.html) as a direct attack on homosexuality, rather than an attack on same-sex marriages (although this is a largely semantic distinction). He describes marriage as a universal human right, before going on to explain why he thinks homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to have that right. O’Brien has never been afraid to court controversy, and this may simply be a way to convince his followers that he and his institution are still relevant in today’s society. And so they may be, to their followers, but they are not to me. They have no right to preach morality to me: I do not live in a Catholic state. I do not subscribe to their dogma. I do not believe their stories. I do not want them to try to tell me what i can or cannot do, who I can or cannot marry.

And neither should you.

UPDATE: The Coalition For Equal Marriage (C4em) has a petition to sign if you are in favour of same-sex marriages. Please take a few minutes to sign up at http://www.c4em.org.uk/. Thank you.