Fear leads to Anger…

I have written before about my dislike of the intolerant, so this article will not come as much of a shock to those of you familiar with my way of expressing myself. To those of you unfamiliar with me, brace yourselves: this could be a bumpy ride.

I am a huge fan of the Star Wars universe (well, excluding The Phantom Menace, anyway) and I am also a believer in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights, so when a bunch of right-wing, religious lunatics like the Florida Family Association attack EA Games for including the option for same-sex relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I find my wrath beginning to surface. The Florida Family Association, a non-profit charity dedicated to “[educating] people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values”, wrote an article that accused Bioware, EA Games and Lucas Films of bowing to pressure from “LGBT activists” to include non-heterosexual characters in their games. They claim that “there were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars movies”.

"I beg your pardon?"

Have they seen the films? C3P0 is about as fabulous as you can get! Anyway, they are suggesting that LGBT pressure groups are forcing EA and their subsidiary companies to include same-sex relationship choices in the game. Jeff Brown, EA’s Vice President of Corporate Communications (which, in fairness, sounds like an Imperial job title), denies that any pressure was placed on them and denounces criticism as “political harassment”. Good for him! The American Decency Association joined the fight, claiming that the inclusion of LGBT options was an “attack on the hearts and minds of children” and accused Bioware of “social engineering”. They also state that the films were “family fare”, which they were – especially if you include incest as “family fare”.

Family Fun?

Quite.

The American Decency Association is also accusing EA/Bioware of “censoring” comments by parents who are opposed to the move, by removing them from the website. However, EA’s Jeff Brown simply said “we don’t tolerate hate speech on our forums”, which rather suggests that the complaints were not worded in an acceptable way. A quick glance at the American Decency Association or the Florida Family Association websites would certainly support this. Both websites refer to LGBT characters as “social agenda characters”, rather than focusing on the simple fact that the player can CHOOSE to play a homosexual character. This is not being forced on anyone, although the Florida Family Association does point out that Bioware will not ” create game rules that would allow regular players to prohibit entry into their games by these social agenda characters.  That would be discrimination (sarcasm.) [sic]” Helpful of them to point out the sarcasm there, we might have missed it otherwise. On the plus side, they won’t force you to play “social agenda” characters either. Because that would also be discrimination. They allow you to choose. Which isn’t.

The ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) has classified SW:TOR as T for Teen, recommending that only players aged 13 or over have access to it. This is because it may contain elements unsuitable for younger children, such as ” violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language”. Hmm. No mention of steamy, man-on-man action there. Maybe they didn’t notice it. Or maybe they don’t consider homosexual relationships to be something that children need protecting from.

Won't somebody please think of the children?!

Either way, if their children are playing these games, it means that they are bad parents. Simple.

This is, of course, a load of right-wing, extremist nonsense. Children don’t need to be protected from homosexuals, they need to be educated about them. They need to realise that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality so that those who are gay don’t grow up feeling the need to pretend to be someone else, with all the psychological pressure that entails. Groups like the American Decency Association and the Florida Family Association need to have the language that they use exposed for what it is: attempted brainwashing. They knowingly use phrases like “social agenda characters”, or “trying to capture the minds of our children”, or “force this offensive content on a captured audience of hundreds of thousands of children”, or “LGBT…activists”, or “radical homosexual extremists”… I could go on.

In fact, I think I will.

“Electronic Arts would shatter that family quality”, or “harassing the game community”, or “a lot of them expressing anger that their kids will be exposed to this Star Warped way of thinking”, or “propaganda”, or “these LGBT activists are pummeling Florida Family Association” (which does at least conjure up images suggesting the real reason behind their fears!).

"You got a real purdy mouth!"

While these comments are not in themselves openly homophobic, they do use the persuasive techniques and biased language in a blatant attempt to influence their audience. As their audience is largely comprised of (dare I say it) ill- or under-educated, right-wing, knee-jerk fundamentalist Christians, this kind of ‘subtle’ manipulation is often very effective. Political activists of all shades of opinion have been using these techniques for centuries – look at the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, John F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara. It is particularly effective among those who traditionally do not ask questions, such as fundamentalist religious groups (and I’m not deliberately having a go at religion again, just those who abuse their power over those less well-educated, such as politically motivated religious leaders and pressure groups). Of course, the pro-gay side has the right to use such tactics as well, but they face an uphill struggle, as they are going against the ingrained teachings of generations of homophobic morons. The fact is that homosexuality hasn’t been seen as a bad thing for as long as most people think. Plato (424-328BC) wrote about the way that same-sex relationships were a healthy part of any young man’s love life, although he changed his views later in life, possibly as a result of changing societal norms. Roman rulers were almost all bisexual and openly took male lovers and it wasn’t until Emperor Theodosius I (a Christian ruler) that homosexuality was banned. East Asian countries have long accepted homosexuality and transgender as equal to heterosexuality, especially in Thailand (the famous ‘ladyboys’) and Japan, where samurai warriors would often engage openly in same-sex relationships.

Samurai: Well gay.

It is almost always religion that suppresses, criminalizes and persecutes those people who do not conform to their expectations or belief systems. This includes followers of other sects, ideologies or lifestyles. Religious institutions see themselves as the moral and spiritual guides to society, even if (especially if) that society does not want them to be. Homosexuality is illegal in most Muslim countries, and frowned upon by extremist Christian groups in the West. It is these extremists that are attempting to force their narrow view of loving, and sexual, relationships on the general populace once again. I am by no means tarring all Christians with the same brush. It is not my intention to attack any religion for its attitude to homosexuality. I know some Christians who support same-sex marriage. I even know at least one openly gay clergyman. It is the fringe groups, like the Florida Family Association, the American Decency Association, the Westboro Baptist Church, that are trying to force their petty, narrow-minded and bigoted ideologies on the rest of us. They accuse EA and Bioware of giving in to pro-gay pressure groups, a minority that was trying to prevent the First Amendment rights of the anti-gay movements, which obviously ignores the First Amendment rights of the pro-gays. It’s all a bit confusing, isn’t it!

Well, no. It shouldn’t be confusing. It’s a fairly simple situation. Let’s go through it step-by-step.

Step 1: If you are offended by homosexual content in a video game, don’t play the video game.

Step 2: There is no Step 2.

Oh, well, I guess it’s not that confusing after all!

So, if you find yourself complaining about something that isn’t being forced on you, there is a simple solution: Shut the fuck up. The LGBT community has had your bigotry and hate forced on them for years – they have a right to complain. You have noticed that you could choose to have a gay relationship in a video game – you have the right to silence, please exercise it.

 

Bricking it…

Yesterday in the Daily Mail, a woman called Samantha Brick wrote an article bemoaning the cruel hand that fate has dealt her. She suffers from discrimination, the target of an orchestrated and institutionalized hate campaign. That’s right: Samantha Brick is hated by women, “for no other reason than my lovely looks”. That’s right. Samantha Brick has bravely opened the debate on the jealousy that women have for more attractive members of their own gender.

You can read her article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2124246/Samantha-Brick-downsides-looking-pretty-Why-women-hate-beautiful.html

This woman deserves your pity.

Twitter almost literally exploded. An outpouring of anger, hate and vitriol was aimed at this poor woman all day yesterday, just for having the courage to raise her beautiful, blonde head above the parapet. Some of the hateful rhetoric hurled at her is unforgivable, fueled entirely by base, petty jealousy. These hideous trolls should crawl back underneath their bridges and comb their matted beards. We don’t want to hear from these deformed gorgons, only pretty people should be allowed to voice their opinions.

The lovely Samantha assures us that “I’m not smug and I’m no flirt”, before going on to list occasions where female bosses have singled her out for her attractiveness or the clothes she wears. With male bosses it’s different, of course: “I have flirted to get ahead at work, something I’m sure many women do.”

So…she’s not a flirt, but has flirted to get ahead? I think we’re beginning to close in on the real reason that she has been treated badly. She appears to be a smug, self-centered hypocrite. She is claiming that anyone who doesn’t automatically like her is jealous of her looks. I’m not sure that is the case. In fact, I suspect that if you were to read the articles without seeing the (many) photographs of the “tall, slim, blonde and, so I’m often told…good-looking woman” you would form a distinct impression of her as being really quite objectionable. I’m sure many of us, as much as we would not like to admit it, do judge people on their appearance in the first instance, but I am also sure than many of us are also aware of this, and do our very best to move beyond this snap judgement and base our impressions of people on what they are like, not what they look like. Most of us understand the phrase “beauty is only skin deep”, even if we still like a pretty woman or attractive man. It’s why Hollywood doesn’t have that many ‘normal’ looking people in its films.

Ok, so there are exceptions to every rule.

Samantha Brick laid out her case in the Daily Mail and immediately found herself in the middle of a row, with celebrities and ‘ordinary folk’ alike throwing their hats into the arena. The MailOnline website received a veritable shitstorm of hits and comments (well over 4500 before they disabled the comments section of the web page), earning a nice pot of advertising revenue in the process. They were obviously so pleased with this result that they got Samantha to write a follow-up article, which, at time of writing, had already racked up over 600 comments before the option was again removed. So congratulations, Samantha. Over the last two days you have probably earned the Daily Mail the equivalent of the salaries of half a dozen NHS nurses. You must be very proud.

Her follow-up article can be found here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2124782/Samantha-Brick-says-backlash-bile-yesterdays-Daily-Mail-proves-shes-right.html

If one were feeling harsh, one could ask if a woman who was truly secure in her attractiveness would include thirteen photographs of herself in two articles. Seriously. Thirteen photographs spread across two articles totaling only three thousand words. That’s one photograph of herself every 230 words. That’s a level of narcissism that we mere mortals can only dream of. Way to raise the bar, Samantha.

Her follow-up article addresses the feedback she received on her first article, outlining the trending on Twitter, the responses of “women I know well enough to call friends” on Facebook, the “countless so-called comedians [that] have written unprintable things” about her. The comment printed from her ‘friends’ on Facebook is perhaps the most revealing: “What the hell does Sam think she’s on?” Yes, even her friends think she’s lost the plot. Far be it for me to denigrate someone’s looks (I’m no oil painting myself, believe it or not), but she isn’t actually all that stunning. Good looking, yes, in a slightly-above-average way, although that forced grin of hers does rather put me in mind of dour ex-PM Gordon Brown.

The demented smile of a child killer.
Possibly.

The majority of comments about Brick’s article seemed to focus on this point: why does she think she is so beautiful? Let’s be honest, beauty is a relatively subjective thing – what one person finds attractive isn’t necessarily the same as the next person. I, for one, believe that Cate Blanchett is a stunning woman, but Kim Kardashian* leaves me cold (and flaccid). Many would disagree, and that is their right. And confidence is an extremely attractive quality for anyone, male or female, to possess. But what Brick (and I must stop calling her that – it makes me think of the Fantastic Four’s strongman) is displaying isn’t confidence – it’s arrogance. It is the assumption that people dislike her because “women find nothing more annoying than someone else being the most attractive girl in a room”, pasting herself in the role of “the most attractive girl in the room”. Leaving aside the slightly disturbing connotations of a 41-year-old woman referring to herself as a ‘girl’, she is arrogantly assuming that everyone else is as shallow as her, that every problem she has faced in life – be it from co-workers, bosses, people on the street – is the result of the failings of others, the pure jealousy caused by her natural beauty. She suggests that if Brad Pitt referred to himself as good-looking, everyone would agree, but if Angelina Jolie did the same there would be a similar outcry as she has experienced.

No. Not true. I reckon that if Ms Jolie were to suggest that she was good-looking, most people would call her arrogant for saying so, but wouldn’t bother arguing that point with her because it is so self-evidently true. However, the point remains that Ms Jolie hasn’t said that, presumably because she knows it would be a hideously arrogant thing to say. Do you see my point here, Samantha? The same goes for many other women: Anne Hathaway, Aishwarya Rai, Charlize Theron, Monica Bellucci, Zoe Saldana, Sophie Dahl (before she lost the weight). None of these women have stood up and blamed everyone else’s jealousy for holding them back.

Compare Ms Dahl...

Or Ms Rai...

...with Ms Brick.

But she didn’t stop there. Oh no. The comments that she received after her initial article had one result: “my detractors have simply proved my point”. Wow! Chutzpah much? Yes, indeed. All you people who tried to point out that she was arrogant, or crazy, or misguided, no matter how rational and well formulated your response was, regardless of your level of intelligence or position in life, if you disagreed with her, you were jealous of her unmatched beauty. This really takes some balls. Samantha Brick singled out Lauren Laverne, BBC Radio DJ and presenter of Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live, for her Twitter comments about the article, including “Why do people WRITE articles like this? And why am I reading it?” The article suggests that Laverne was Tweeting about it all day, but as I follow her on Twitter, I can categorically say that this wasn’t the case at all. She certainly responded to the Tweets of others on the subject, but she seemed far more interested in the sex lives of the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo than Samantha Brick’s self-obsessed rantings (and who wouldn’t be? Pandas really are cute!)

To wrap up this little rant, I would like to say a few things. Firstly, I don’t care if Samantha Brick believes she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Seriously. Good on her for having that level of self-confidence in such an appearance-conscious age. But don’t assume that everybody shares this view. That’s just arrogance.

Secondly, don’t personally attack her looks if you are going to disagree. She isn’t ugly, let’s be fair. She may not be ‘your type’, but objectively speaking she’s closer to Angelina Jolie than Joseph Merrick. Call her arrogant, call her narcissistic, call her deluded, but don’t bother calling her ugly: you’re damaging your own argument.

Thirdly, I have included the links to the two MailOnline articles out of obligation, but I urge you not to visit them! Don’t give that fascist rag the satisfaction or the money. If you wish to check the quotations I have used, then on your own head be it!

That’s it. I’ll climb down from my soapbox now.

Have a nice day!

*I don’t even know who this person is!

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.

Hot Enough For Ya?

Man-made climate change is causing a little bit of controversy. Some idiots say climate change is a myth, or if it is happening, it’s not the result of human activities. Scientists, on the other hand, are pretty much unanimous in their support of the theory of man-made climate change.

I suspect that my even-handed and non-judgemental introduction to my subject for today’s rant will tell you on which side of the debate I stand.

To give you an example, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a scientific body set up and endorsed by the United Nations to assess the risks of climate change) states that there is “new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last fifty years is attributable to human activity”. The IPCC is further supported by independent scientific establishments around the world as being representative of scientific opinion. Even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists refuse to outright deny the existence of man-made climate change, although they have admitted that a number of their members have resigned due to this policy.

So what are the dangers of climate change, either man-made or natural? Well, the obvious one is the increase in global temperatures caused by the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Even the most die-hard climate sceptic cannot deny that we are pumping these gases into the air in huge quantities. We have known for decades the damage that is being done by industry, traffic and so on, but still we do it.

It certainly wasn't the dolphins that caused this

Global increases in temperature can easily lead to changes in the landscape, as plant life is less able to react to drier or wetter conditions. Plants could therefore die out in some areas, or migrate, following the cooler temperatures away from the equator. As habitats change, animal life will have to move as well, following the vegetation that forms their diet, or the animals that feed on the vegetation in the case of predators. Some species will simply die out, forced into extinction by the destruction of their habitats. Rising temperatures will also affect the oceans, killing off coral reefs and the creatures that live on them. Small creatures, such as plankton and krill, could be severely affected, and they form a large part of the diet of some of the most massive creatures in the sea: whales. Unbalancing the food chain from the bottom up could have devastating effects.

Rising temperatures will also lead to rising sea levels, with some predictions putting the rate at thirty-six inches in the next century. A rise of that magnitude would be devastating, as over 100 million people worldwide live within three feet of sea level. It would entirely swamp the East coast of America, much of coastal Europe, the vast majority of Pacific islands. London, New York and Bangkok would drown.

Ironic doesn't always mean funny.

Rising temperatures will inevitably lead to droughts, which (odd though it may seem) lead directly to an increased risk of flooding. Droughts cause more moisture to be evaporated from the ground, drying it out and killing crops, eroding soil and killing livestock. This evaporated water then returns as heavy rainfall, increasing the risk of flooding. We are already seeing a rise in the severity and frequency of drought and flood, especially in Asia and Africa. In addition, dry conditions lead to an increased risk of forest fires, something that America and Australia have experienced in recent years.

The next problem is the increased severity of storms. Warmer oceans change weather patterns, creating much more violent hurricanes and tropical storms. The eroded landscapes will be unable to withstand this increased battering, damaging them further.

"Aunty Em! Aunty Em!"

The damage to property and human life that could be caused by these storms is incalculable. Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast of America in 2005, killed nearly 2000 people and caused between $80 and $110 billion in property damage.

Finally, the increased temperatures will have a direct effect of health, as warmer temperatures allow diseases and disease-carriers to spread into new habitats, bringing such delights as malaria, Dengue fever, River Blindness and Ebola. The World Health Organisation has estimated that more than 150,000 people died as a direct result of climate change in 2000 alone. It suggests that the figure will rise dramatically in the future, as tropical diseases and pests move into new areas where the climate was previously too cold to support them.

Now, I should point out that climate change is just a theory (rather like the Theory of Evolution is ‘just’ a theory), but it does have the support of a huge section of the worldwide scientific community. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is happening, and it is our fault, to motivate world leaders into serious action, wouldn’t you think? Even the Met Office in Britain is currently warning of drought conditions due to a lack of rainfall during winter. I’ll repeat that: the Met Office in BRITAIN is currently warning of DROUGHT conditions due to a LACK OF RAINFALL OVER WINTER! If that doesn’t suggest that the climate is well and truly fucked, I don’t know what does!

My childhood holidays were often spent like this

The British comedian David Mitchell, in his Soapbox series of ranting weblogs, discussed the idea of the burden of proof relating to climate change. He suggests that surely the burden of proof is on the people who say it isn’t happening, rather than the ones who say it is (see his rant here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI5ulKiZAoE). We definitely should be doing something about it, because if the people who say it isn’t happening are right and we act, then we’ll have spent a lot of money on developing renewable energy, improving sea defenses, cleaning up our atmosphere and so on. On the other hand, if the people who say it is happening are right and we don’t act, we all die a horrible, drawn out death, starving and suffocating while bleeding from our eyes and shitting our internal organs out.

Which would you prefer? I’d prefer a world in which my children (if I ever have any), and their children (likewise), can step outside and breathe the air without immediately dying.

There are many ways in which we can try to put pressure on our governments to take action on this, because it is desperately important for us to do something. Write to your MP, join or donate to charities who work on this. If you’re a scientist, please let me know if I am just spewing out knee-jerk, liberal, reactionary bile. If you don’t, I’ll assume the worst and start building my personal bio-dome in which I’ll live like a king while you all choke on the toxic smog.

Who’s with me?

 

Religion – Shit it!

I have no objection to any person's religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that person doesn't believe it also. But when a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him - Herman Melville

Religion is always going to be a dangerous subject to discuss openly. People get very defensive when they think that you are attacking or denigrating their deeply held beliefs, but should they? Shouldn’t their faith be strong enough to withstand a logical and frank discussion? You would think so, wouldn’t you?

I am an atheist, an admission that is fairly meaningless to me. The majority of my friends are atheists too. I was raised in an atheist household but encouraged to be respectful to the beliefs of others and I have tried (not always successfully) to do so. To not believe in God, or a god, or gods, seems to me to be the logical choice. I see no evidence in any sort of divine creator, and the idea that this world was brought into being by a loving god would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

I like to think that I have a fairly scientific mind. I like things to be explained, measured and categorised. I also like asking questions and that seems to be anathema to those of a more religious mindset. To ask questions seems to be the opposite of having faith, and to test faith is to weaken it apparently.

The Science Vs Religion argument is an old one, first really rearing its ugly head with the Catholic Church disagreeing with Galileo over the theory of heliocentrism first put forward over fifty years previously by Copernicus, whereby the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. This appeared to be a direct contravention of the Bible, and so Galileo was convicted of heresy and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. An early and well-known example of the Church persecuting those who voice ideas that are true.

This has gone on throughout history and continues to this day with the Evolution Vs Creationism arguments. As we all know, evolution is only a theory. But ‘theory’ doesn’t mean ‘guesswork’. Scientifically, theory means that something is a ‘comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence… so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially’ (according to the United States National Academy of Sciences). It is not a hypothesis. It is not a guess. It is a scientifically tested and supported system that is accepted as fact.

Creationism, on the other hand, is just making up fairy stories. Fairy stories that some Christians want to be taught exclusively in schools and others want taught alongside evolution in science classes.

No. Creationism can certainly be taught in Religious Education lessons, but Science classes are for science. You know, things that can be examined scientifically. With evidence.

I really don’t mean to be rude, but a literal interpretation of Genesis is idiotic. To believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that the earth is only 6000 years old and was created in a week by a divine being is insane. It also suggests that you believe God is messing with our heads, trying to fool us and thus earn us a place in eternal torment for believing in evolution. Loving God, my arse…

I don’t want to fall back on the standard anti-religion arguments. I could write for hours about the fossil record, geological ages and so on. I could argue that religion has been the cause (or at least the excuse) of more conflict than anything else in the history of mankind. I could point out the horrors inflicted by religious extremists (from all religions) throughout history. But that seems somehow lazy. Instead, I’ll post this picture:

Pigf*ckers

Ah yes. The Westboro Baptist Church. I realise that it is unfair to tar every Christian with the same brush as these bigoted scumbags, but I’m going to. Let us not mince words: these people are shits. They preach a message of hate and intolerance based on their twisted and morally deficient belief system. ‘God hates fags’? If so, I’m fairly sure I don’t want to meet the fucker. If they are right, I will gladly lead the march into Hell with pride (or possibly Pride).

It is the silence of the moderate religious majority that allows these extremists to exist and spread their messages of hate, the vast majority of religious people being generally sensible and normal (despite their crazy belief in big beards in the sky and so on). And obviously it isn’t just the Christians who exhibit these anti-social, borderline psychotic tendencies. Jihadist Muslims, the far-right Jewish Kach party and so on, all willing to insult, dehumanize or murder in the name of their own religious ideology.

The fundamentalists and extremists often pervert their religion for their own ends. The message not to kill tends to run through most religious teachings, and yet it seems to be acceptable if you are killing non-believers, heretics or just people who are somehow different to you. In the West, we tend to hear mainly about Islamist fundamentalism and extremism, so we develop an inherent prejudice. Our media seems to largely ignore the actions of Christian extremists, a tacit approval of their actions. We need to fight this. The War in Iraq had its roots in Christian versus Muslim conflict, but it was the Islamists who tended to make the news as ‘the bad guys’, rather than the right-wing Christian governments (AKA ‘the good guys’) that were busily bombing civilians. The Isreali-Palestinian Conflict is essentially a conflict between Judaism and Islam, with a little Christianity thrown in for good measure.

I could go on, but I will withdraw from this section of my rant while I still have a little dignity (largely because I have pretty much exhausted my knowledge of the religio-political situation in the Middle East).

Intelligent design is another ‘theory’ that pseudo-scientific religious ‘thinkers’ often put forward. Basically, this runs that some things (usually the human eye is inserted here as an example) cannot have evolved a little bit at a time and must therefore have been created in one go by an intelligent creator. It is described by its followers as “an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins” despite being, quite clearly, not scientific in the slightest. It was thought up to try to circumvent American laws about teaching Creationism in schools and was about as successful as its predecessor.

Perhaps one of the most well-known, and certainly the most outspoken, atheist is Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene. He has been a critic of creationism for years (check out his various TV series and interviews). He has said that ‘The list of things about which we strictly have to be agnostic…is infinite. If you want to believe in a particular one of them — teapots, unicorns, or tooth fairies, Thor or Yahweh — the onus is on you to say why you believe in it. The onus is not on the rest of us to say why we do not. We who are atheists are also a-fairyists, a-teapotists, and a-unicornists, but we don’t have to bother saying so.’

"By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out." - Richard Dawkins

So why is religion still so popular, despite the fact that it ignores fact? Probably because it ignores fact. An atheist has to face the simple truth that life is all there is: there is no paradise, no pearly gates or seventy-two virgins waiting on the other side of death. This is all we get. That is a scary notion, but also an enormously liberating one. What we do while we are alive matters! By working together for the good of all we can change the lives of many, rather than waiting to be rewarded after death for not being bad. The ‘dangerous notion that death is not the end’ (Dawkins again) allows the religious to sidestep their responsibilities in life, or worse be prepared to end their life and the lives of others to make a religio-political point.

Shortly after the horrific events of 9/11, Bill Maher said that ‘we have been the cowards, lobbing Cruise Missiles from two thousand miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, that’s not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly’. I agree in part, except that to the terrorists, it was the beginning of a beautiful afterlife, according to the garbage that they had been fed by people who were quite clearly not on the plane with them! Perhaps that should have been a warning sign to them.

Religion messes with people’s heads. It divides them. It makes them small-minded. It can make them bigoted, murderous, evil. We have outgrown religion. We don’t need it any more. We need to move on.

Scientia non habet inimicum nisi ignoratem

Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Snobbishness

Science fiction and Fantasy (and we may as well take a leaf from the booksellers and lump Horror in with them as well) have always been seen as a lesser cousin to ‘proper’ literary fiction. Many articles have been written on the subject and many words thrown into the arena.

So why am I bothering to add my own?

Well, it’s simple. I’m a fan and an aspiring writer of so-called ‘genre’ fiction, and I therefore feel the need to defend my chosen form of escapism.

Last year the BBC hosted its World Book Night, a celebration of the written word, with copies of 25 titles to be handed out to thousands of people. A noble intention that I am sure none of us would take issue with. This was their choice of titles:

Kate Atkinson – Case Histories

Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin

Alan Bennett – A Life Like Other People’s

John le Carré – The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

Lee Child – Killing Floor

Carol Ann Duffy – The World’s Wife

Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Seamus Heaney – Selected Poems

Marian Keyes – Rachel’s Holiday

Mohsin Hamid – The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Ben Macintyre – Agent Zigzag

Gabriel García Márquez – Love in the Time of Cholera

Yann Martel – Life of Pi

Alexander Masters – Stuart: A Life Backwards

Rohinton Mistry – A Fine Balance

David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas

Toni Morrison – Beloved

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun

David Nicholls – One Day

Philip Pullman – Northern Lights

Erich Maria Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front

CJ Sansom – Dissolution

Nigel Slater – Toast

Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Sarah Waters – Fingersmith

These titles are, no doubt, all exceedingly well written and worthy. But are they representative of the type of books that people actually read? Or is it an elitist list, designed to tell us what we should be reading? Is it descriptive or prescriptive? Only two of these titles (Cloud Atlas and Northern Lights) could be classed as Science Fiction or Fantasy, and Cloud Atlas is more of a philosophical journey and literary exercise than a true SF novel. But a glance through the best selling lists for last year will throw up names like Stephanie Meyer, George RR Martin, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling and so on. Statistically, the ‘genre’ fiction market represents far more than 8% of book sales. So why isn’t this represented?

Fantasy author Stephen Hunt, along with 85 other authors, wrote an open letter to the BBC complaining about the ‘sneering derogatory tone’ adopted towards genre fiction. The BBCs reaction? Fairly predictable. Read it (and Stephen Hunt’s well informed rant, at http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/articles/news/2011/One-Genre-to-bring-them-all-and-in-the-darkness-bind-them-15938.php

Margaret Atwood would, possibly, disagree with the sentiments expressed by Stephen Hunt et al, if the oft-repeated comments about The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake are to be believed. She is repeatedly quoted as having denied writing science fiction (calling it “spaceships and monsters”), preferring instead the sobriquet ‘speculative fiction’. It is usually suggested that she was refusing to be classified as a Sci-Fi author in case it damaged her standing as a serious writer, but she has since claimed that she uses the terms speculative fiction and social science-fiction to differentiate her work from those stories that contain “things we can’t yet do”. Well, she won the Arthur C Clarke Award for The Handmaid’s Tale. Read it and decide for yourself. In my opinion, it is science-fiction, similar in some ways to Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World. Just not as good. And more than a little preachy…

So what is it about SF&F (and Horror) that eludes mainstream appeal? When you consider that some of the high points of the genre in over the last few hundred years are so well-known that they have become part of the English language and are firmly embedded in popular culture, it seems doubly strange that an interest in or affection for SF&F(&H) is still seen as an adolescent fascination at best, just plain weird at worst. Think about Dracula, Frankenstein, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, War of the Worlds, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and so many others. Think about the way that SF&F has embraced the new technologies – early genre films include the classics Nosferatu, Metropolis, and the early short A Man In The Moon. SF&F films today include some of the highest earning films in history. According to Wikipedia (and therefore probably wrong) eight of the top ten grossing movies in history belong within the SF&F genre bracket (assuming we accept the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise into that group).

I would like to think that the majority of people enjoy the genre, and could class themselves as fans but choose not to. Why is that? Well, let’s be honest, SF&F fans have a certain…reputation, don’t they?

I know! I’m treading on thin ice a little, but hey! I’m a fan too! These are my people I’m insulting here. But it’s true. Fanboys (and they are mostly male) take ‘weird’ to a whole new level. They redefine what it is to be a social outcast and have suffered for it. Of course, some of them kind of deserve that suffering…

Spandex: it's a privilege, not a right!

These days, being a fan is slowly losing its pejorative status due to the commercial success of a raft of Marvel and DC comic characters, but for a grown man to admit any more than a casual knowledge of comic-dom is still akin to admitting a bizarre sexual fantasy. In fact, I suspect more men would prefer to admit a penchant for being buggered than admit that they know why Issue #38 of Detective Comics is important (answers on a postcard!).

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But people will happily sit for two hours, watching a bloke in spandex fight bad guys on rooftops, yet still claim that comic books are for kids. Obviously, these people should be forced at gunpoint to read Watchmen but that may be a rant for another day.

Some of the earliest stories ever written down are fantasy. Myths, legends, religions and other fairy tales (I know, that was a cheap shot) all rely on the frankly unbelievable for their appeal. The Scandinavian Sagas are the precursors of The Lord of the Rings. And what is Superman but a retelling of the Jesus story? Only with more laser death beams than the original, obviously.

Let’s be honest – the human race is moved forward by those individuals who are capable of seeing what doesn’t exist and making the dream a reality. We need these people. Without the nerds and geeks, our computers wouldn’t work. There would be no internet, no space program, no mobile phones. We would still be sitting in caves, eating raw meat and dying at twenty of toothache.

So let us work together, ladies and gentlemen, to usher in a new dawn. A world where genre fiction is celebrated as the true saviour of the human race. A world where you can wear your Starfleet Academy uniform to the pub and not be kicked in the beer garden. A world in which all things are possible.

Even if they aren’t plausible.

Britishness (Oh dear…)

I realise that I may be entering a world of hurt with this, but it is something that I have been thinking about recently.

What is Britishness? How do we define it? Does it need defining? Does it even matter?

With the looming prospect of Scottish devolution, courtesy of Alex Salmond, is Britishness even going to be a necessary concept within the next few years? Or has it already outlived its usefulness? Should we really be asking ‘what is Englishness/Welshness/Scottishness/Irishness etc’?

Is it more important to ask why the political scene has been obsessed with questions like these for the past few years (decades?)?

So, let’s try and define some terms. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Politicians, despite calling for ‘Britishness tests’, or bemoaning the decline of the ‘British way of life’, seem strangely reluctant to qualify exactly what they mean by ‘Britishness’ beyond a geographical location and mutterings about history.

I’m British. There, I said it. And I’m not ashamed. I’m not really proud either though, and that presents a problem. Many people across the world take great pride in being from whatever country they happen to have been born in, but the Britain isn’t really a country, is it?

So, I’m English. Hmmm. Don’t really feel comfortable saying that I’m proud to be English. Images of St George’s crosses, shaved heads and Doc Marten’s boots leap to mind. Enoch Powell and his ‘Rivers of Blood’. Brixton in 1981 and so on. Can a middle class, middle aged, liberal white man safely say that he is proud of his country, when his country has such a history of division, tension and violence? Especially with the recent resurgence in support for the right-wing parties.

I grew up in a predominantly white and middle class area of Southern England. I only knew a handful of non-whites in the first twenty or so years of my life. The majority of my friends today are white. However, as a teacher in Birmingham, many of my students are non-white and from a working class background. The cultural gulf between us is quite large (and the subject of much amusement to the students). But here’s the thing; the difference between me and the non-white kids is far larger than that between the white kids and the non-white kids. The difference between me and all of these kids is pretty large. Essentially, these kids are all from the same background, regardless of the colour of their skin and it is a very different background than mine. Despite the physical or religious or cultural differences between us we are all British.

Kids are kids, whatever their racial background may be, and when racism does rear its ugly head, it is very easy to hear the voice of the adult generation coming through. It is the voice of the right wing tabloid press, condemming immigrants, despite the fact that the kids saying these things are themselves the product of immigration. “But I was born here” is the oft-given response when challenged.

And a dog born in a stable isn’t a horse…

…but that doesn’t mean it has no right to be in the stable. Britain is a nation of mongrels. Wave after wave of immigrants and invaders have shaped this land into what it is today – truly multi-cultural. Surely we can be proud of that? Britain is a country where a Pakistani can sit on a train with a Croatian, an Italian, a Pole, a Scot, a Somalian and an Iranian, and they are all British.

Racism is bullshit. It is not welcome in my country.

There are so many better reasons to dislike people…