Saturday, 19 July 2014

Straight Men Are Not Our Enemy

Maybe it is a hold over from bullying at school, or maybe it is just some sort of collective myth, but some gay men seem to have a rather disturbing fear of straight guys.

Straight men, especially white ones, are the current Big Bad for every "progressive" (self-described, I'd call them backward and divisive shadows of true progressive and inclusive movements). But this focus on smearing people based on their colour, gender and sexuality just doesn't sit right with me (an evil white man myself, so I suppose it figures). We are meant to be above this sort of thing but, almost at every turn, LGBT people happily try to insult straight men and even use underhand tactics to hurt them.

Take, for example, the recent approval for a "straight" lap dancing club in a "gay" district in Liverpool. Ignoring the fact that bisexuals are a part of LGBT politics, LGBT "leaders" opposed this new business based on fears it might bring an increase in homophobic violence. Why? Because straight men would be about. Some, in comments I've seen, have also used feminist arguments to oppose this "degrading" enterprise.

This is little different to the opposition to gay bars, clubs and other facilities which focus on all sorts of scare stories involving children, drugs and crime. It is little different to those who think gay bars are a "wretched hive of scum and villainy". At a time when a new rave of anti-sex puritans from both the left and right are fighting to undermine freedoms fought for by LGBT people for the last few decades, some LGBT folk seem unwilling to spot the connections between heterosexual sexual freedom and our own. LGBT "leaders" should be providing a refuge for those businesses ostracised elsewhere not joining in with the Christians and feminists.

And then we have this odd obsession with opposing anyone, regardless of whether they are truly nasty or just a bit eccentric, who even discusses a "straight pride" event. As if a straight pride event must automatically be oppositional to gay pride.  See this recent story. An all age event where everyone is welcome? Sounds just awful. Perhaps it'd be more acceptable to the LGBT glitterati if it had corporate sponsorship, some lacklustre and often insultingly awful campaigning organisations marching and some truly directionless political messages? Or should we just leave that to pretty much every gay pride march in the Western Anglosphere? They do seem to have it down to a fine art now.

Straight men aren't our enemy. They are our fathers, brothers, friends and colleagues. They are mostly decent people. We simply must stop tarring them with the same brush (the one we created with our teenage traumas, leftie political leanings and dodgy alliances with people who actually hate us). We need to start dealing individuals and not making wildly outrageous claims about entire groups. You know doing what we've been asking people to do for us for the last 100 years.



Sunday, 6 July 2014

Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People

Tim Reiterman's "Raven" is one of the most compelling and complete histories of a New Religious Movement that I've ever read (up there with Atack's Scientology history "A Piece of Blue Sky"). His book follows Jim Jones' life from his birth to his death and captures the parallel track of the life and death of his Peoples Temple.

This odd man, who seemed to move from sincere Christian belief to atheism and back in his early years, evolved into an atheistic con man who lead over 1000 people on a journey from Pentecostal worship at his faith healing meetings in Indianapolis to communal "socialist" living in Guyana.



He, and his close aides, conspired to deceive his followers, critics and neutral observers at every turn. Fake attempted assassinations, claims of hate crimes, imaginary miracles and over-egged promises of a paradise in Jonestown are just a few of the lies he put out (and it was the fear of those lies being exposed to ultimately lead to the exodus to Jonestown and the ultimate end for over 900 people).

He was a utopian who seemed to believe the ends justified the means. Though it is an age old story, he was just one of many such men who left the 20th century littered with bodies in their wake. He raped women and men, he instigated "catharsis" sessions where members of the Temple were forced to confess to sins and take abuse (sometimes physical) from other members (a similarity with Scientology's Int Base antics) and ran fake suicide drills.

Reiterman had the misfortune to be in Jonestown on its last two days and was among those shot as Congressman Ryan's party tried to shepherd to safety those Temple members who wished to escape the growing madness of Jonestown . His narrative of the end days, however, remains as neutral as possible and with interviews with the handful of survivors and members not in Jonestown that weekend he manages to paint a near complete description of the horror that unfolded as Jones directed his people to die (some of whom did not go willingly).

This is a big book, and it is very thorough going over every detail of the rise and fall of this man and his movement. The people, good and bad, who rose and fell with him get their stories told as fairly as possible. If you want to understand where religious and political ideologies can go wrong and how normal people can be lead to their deaths by a con man, this book gives you plenty to ponder. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

One Bloody Afternoon and 102 Minutes

Sometimes you have to wonder about people. They do surprisingly silly, horrific and weird things every single day. And then sometimes you just have to admit to yourself that, given past examples, you really shouldn't be wondering about the little oddities of humanity anymore when we have plenty of examples of humans doing truly evil things with a depressing regularity.

I'm back on the book wagon and in the last few weeks I've devoured my way through two horrific accounts of human brutality and suffering.

One Bloody Afternoon tells the story of the Hungerford massacre. Michael Ryan, after a failed rape turned to murder and his attempt at escape foiled by a broken down car, terrorised the residents of Hungerford as he murdered and injured his mother, neighbours and even an ambulance crew and police officer sent to the scene. People going about their everyday business, tending their gardens, washing their car or walking their dog, lost their lives so suddenly and needlessly that it is difficult not to shed at least a few tears when reading this book.

And yet among these sorry tales there are stories of bravery, the off-duty soldier who followed in Ryan's wake tending the wounded is one of the stand out moments. But, in typically British style, it is the brief one line mentioning one of Ryan's elderly neighbours berating him before being hastily dragged inside a house that really brings home how this massacre wasn't some Hollywood production and how truly, frighteningly real it was.

102 Minutes is the story of what happened inside the Twin Towers from the moment the first plane hit on September 11th 2001 to the moment the North Tower collapsed. Like the Hungerford massacre, this event occurred on just another ordinary day to ordinary people going about their business. Attending meetings, taking telephone calls and just generally settling down for another day at work, thousands of people's lives were destroyed in such a short space of time. And again for no reason whatsoever.

The sliced bodies, the trapped, the burning and the jumpers are proof positive that humans can be the most awful of creatures. And yet again, among the tragedy stand stories of sacrifice and bravery that almost redeems our species. The colleagues who stayed with those with disabilities (even when they were just acquaintances), the Port Authority employees in the North Tower who spent the entire time rescuing those in the area where the plane hit and who didn't make it out, the people who went running in when others were running out.

Humanity is just one confusing mess of virtue and horror. Right now my reading of "Raven", the story of the Peoples Temple, is not helping me find much of the virtue unfortunately.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Youngest Bishop In England: Beneath The Surface Of Mormonism

Robert Bridgstock's book is in part a memoir of his religious life and in part a polemic against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bridgstock's anger, and far be it from me to suggest it isn't justified, is a running thread throughout the narrative as he attempts to explain how he came to believe the LDS church was a fraud and how it came to find it completely unforgiving of any sort of independent thought.

The parts where he delves into the problems with church history and theology will be no surprise to any seasoned watchers of the LDS church but he still does a very good job of making some complicated topics easily digestible even to the uninitiated. Bridgstock manages to avoid getting too bogged down in the minutiae and his real strength is getting across his anger, upset and despair at his treatment by a church he gave many years of his life too. 

He is still a believer in some sort of God, but even there he didn't manage to lose this die-hard atheist because he is extremely clear that he might be wrong. A very refreshing change from your usual supernatural believer. 

He certainly finds polygamy far more repugnant than I do (I see it as a very grey area with much pain in some scenarios but joy in others) but overall I found him to be an extremely engaging and honest writer. He is extremely open about some very painful personal episodes in his life, especially towards the end of the book, and this makes him very easy to empathise with. 

One of the better personal narratives written about leaving the LDS church I've read, and I've read way too many. I'd recommend it for anyone wanting to understand a little more about the church and the current apostasy problems which are causing it quite a lot of difficulty right now. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Roger Helmer Finally Says Something Pretty Clear On LGBT Stuff

Roger Helmer, a candidate for a party with the silliest policy on same-sex marriage, has finally stopped muddying the water on LGBT issues after the tweet below came back to haunt him...
3 and a bit years later, he has finally decided that (instead of asking silly unclear questions) to be a bit clearer about his position after an interview with the Mail on Sunday went a bit wrong.  His response to that interview is, I will admit, the very first thing I've EVER seen from Ukip that actually 1) appears to be a libertarian position and 2) sets out clearly that he doesn't seek to intrude on people's personal lives. He's on the same page as me on this one.

Now that he's articulated a libertarian position on ex-gay therapy, perhaps he might want to help David Coburn come up with a libertarian response to the equal marriage debate rather than the codswallop that is currently masquerading as Ukip party policy.

And then he can move on to perhaps suggesting to his fellow Ukippers about respecting actual religious and individual liberty.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Ukip, David Coburn Is Not The Gay Man You Were Looking For

There have actually been people suggesting that, because David Coburn was elected as a MEP for Ukip in Scotland, Ukip can't possibly be a homophobic party. If you can remember David Coburn is a gay London-based member of Ukip who was instrumental in their opposition to same-sex marriage.

His fact-free attacks on it (suggesting it is some sort of unnecessary victory roll despite there being some very real need for marriage equality) have been looked at before on this blog.

And, just as he struggled to think of one example of EU interference in Scottish business today (audio here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-27575204), he has always struggled to point out how banning religions and individuals from performing legally recognised marriages protects their religious and individual freedom.

He likes to claim to be a libertarian but he is dead set against individual and religious freedom on LGBT issues. He is not a libertarian, and quite clearly Ukip is no libertarian party. The fact he is gay in no way makes him any better on LGBT liberty than equally wonderful and kind-hearted people as Roger Helmer.

You can never convince me, of all people, that just having a gay person in your organisation makes you any better on LGBT rights. Just look at Andrew Pierce at the Daily Mail, Nigel Evans in the Conservative party and those wastes of spaces who work for Stonewall.

Ukip represent a fundamental danger to liberty and freedom of LGBT people in this country. They oppose same-sex marriage, they have candidates who support the efficacy of ex-gay therapy (as opposed to supporting just the freedom to seek it), they have candidates who support criminalising LGBT people. The general moral climate that their victories create is oppositional to sexual freedom and individual liberty.

So no, don't try convincing me that having a man who engages in painful circular arguments in order to harm the freedom of others is somehow a get out of homophobia free card.

NEXT!

We Should Stand With Nick Clegg... And Not Stab Him In The Back

The last 4 years have been pretty tough ones for the Lib Dems (and the years immediately preceding them and following Charles Kennedy's departure weren't exactly awesome times if you take out the two months of Cleggmania).

We are not liked. Hated by the left, mocked by the centrists and, as ever, despised by the right. Nick Clegg acted as the lightening rod for appreciation during the 2010 general election and continued his lightening rod role into far less fun times when he experienced hanging in effigy and cruel (and daily) personal attacks. His ancestry, his choice of life partner and just about anything else have been criticised and sneered at by the usual hard-nosed unhappy folk who stand in opposition to liberal values and general nice things.

Anyone surprised by the party's repeated defeats following the tuition fees fiasco really needs to check their ability to understand what attracted a large number of people to our party. We presented ourselves as something different and ended up being just the same as all the other disappointing compromisers. Compromise is often a good thing but you don't get many people who think it is desirable or attractive.

But that doesn't mean we stop and change course. We got ourselves into this mess and we need to get ourselves out of it. And I'm very pleased to see that Nick Clegg, the man who lead us to great heights and through some very dark times for the party (though hardly the worst given our historically low number of MPs over the last century), is not deserting us when things have gotten difficult.

We need to stand with him. He has put up with a lot of abuse and heartache whilst trying to do what he thinks is right. We don't all need to agree with every decision he has made (though I've become convinced what happened over tuition fees was hardly the greatest betrayal in history as it has been played by the left, it was still foreseeably politically disastrous especially so early into the Coalition). I also believe he has allowed the Tories to play us like fools and they've done it very easily too. But he isn't what is wrong with the party. The party has lost its way. Obsessed with its accomplishments within this Parliament (ones which the Tories are getting all the credit for, alas) it is failing now to paint a picture of what a Lib Dem future looks like and why it is radically different to the bleak visions of the Tories and Labour. That is what we must focus on and not be distracted by some pointless and damaging leadership contest.

Nick Clegg needs a stable party in order to fix the things that have gone wrong. And we need a stable leadership to allow us any hope of securing our strongholds for the bitter storm that will be the 2015 general election.

If you believe in liberty, in fairness and in Europe join the Lib Dems. I'm going to renew my membership next month (10 years in the party now I think) and I'm going to contact my new local party and see what I might offer in aid. The fight against the clearly defined vision of Ukip must begin now, to secure our freedoms and our country from their nasty plans.