Sunday, 30 November 2014

Disillusionment

My emotions and behaviours appear to be extremely cyclical. Case in point: the release of the Jurassic World and Star Wars trailers in the same week triggered off my "geeky obsessive" cycle which will eventually peter out to be replaced by a Mormon history or a Scientology obsessive cycle.

A similar thing happens when it comes to my political outlook. I've been quiet on here because, right now, I'm in my disillusioned phase. Our Government is trying to destroy freedom of movement (ironically 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell we're busy trying to put up barriers again) and threatens our relationship with the European Union. UKIP is surging on a wave of anti-immigrant, anti-Westminster, anti-anything sentiment. Labour can't quite decide whether it is still as bad as it used to be or whether it wants to be even worse by becoming UKIP-lite. And the Lib Dems, my beloved Lib Dems, languish at the bottom of the polls (occassionally even overtaken by the Greens) whilst those Lib Dems in elected office have allowed legislation such as this to get passed.

Some bizarre form of feminist, leftie theology is running strong among progressives (who I usually look at pretty benignly) which has turned them into censorious, conservative and aggressive haters against anything that might make a human being smile. Meanwhile much of the right are dribbling over their keyboards typing "EUSSR!". And in Scotland some crazy nationalist creature known as "the 45%" seems determined to tear our country apart despite the outcome of the referendum there.

Where are the good people? The sane people? The nice people?

Where are our leaders? Cameron's current foreign policy is making Britain look stupid in front of the whole world whilst he has failed to stop the gradual removal of our individual freedoms started by Labour. In fact his Government has gone further than Labour dared (not that Labour's complaining).

It is nearly enough to make me resign from the Lib Dems and join the Pirate Party in some sort of last ditch idealistic, but utterly futile, gesture.

I'm British. Get me out of here!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Why I'll Still Vote Liberal Democrat at #GE2015

For idealists like me the last 4 and half years have been deeply unpleasant. Compromise at every turn. Disappointment on so many fronts. Proportional representation deep in the long grass, House of Lords reform stalled, removal of tuition fees scrapped. The list of things I thought (and still think!) are important which failed to come to be is long (and covered in unhappy smileys).

Of course very well-meaning (and mostly correct) Lib Dem loyalists with tell you how the Lib Dems didn't win the 2010 election, had to compromise in Government, made tuition fees less onerous and did lots of amazing things as part of the Coalition. All this is very good, but I've yet to see any unconvinced person who's frown gets turned upside down by those arguments. 

Those arguments are rational. But they don't appeal to me. And despite my gratitude for the income tax changes and for the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act they aren't reasons for me to vote Lib Dem in 2015.

It is what is happening right now that leads me to continue to support the Lib Dems. The Tories and Labour are currently suffering from extreme weakness. Polling shows they are nearly neck and neck once again and they are desperate to gain any extra votes they can. Meanwhile both parties suffered shocks in recent by-elections at the hands of surging UKIP support and, rather than standing up to them, both have let the tail wag the dog by beginning to contemplate policies that will attract UKIP voters. David Cameron is leading the Tories back on an anti-EU campaign whilst Labour have decided to throw away any pretense of being a progressive alternative by hardening their stance on immigration.

How did the Lib Dems react to UKIP? Well MONTHS ago Nick Clegg challenged Nigel Farage to debates on national television. Clegg put forward our case for free movement of peoples and for Britain within the EU. Sure, it didn't have any effect on the subsequent EU elections but at least someone stood up and gave an alternative to UKIP's message.

Whilst Labour and the Tories try to out UKIP each other, the true believers of UKIP aren't going to be convinced. Why would they vote for the two parties who have so utterly failed to do anything about their main concerns? Meanwhile Labour and Tory voters will find themselves with "I can't believe it's not UKIP" after the next election if they aren't careful. Voting for the Lib Dems allows me to say: Not in my name. I don't want any part of an attempt to undermine the freedom of movement of EU citizens nor do I want to see us out of Europe.

Worse... Labour seem to have completely failed to learn the lessons of their 13 years in power and continue to support anti-liberty "surveillance state" initiatives whilst the Tories are eagerly planning to repeal the Human Rights Act (just keep reading that, it only gets worse with each re-read). No, the Lib Dems have not been perfect on the liberty agenda in this current Parliament. But they are streets ahead of the two main parties. They blocked the "Snooper's Charter".

And Labour and the Tories are engaged in self-interested attempts to ensure that any future constitutional arrangement for England, following devo-max in Scotland, falls in their favour. Labour won't support English votes for English laws because it'd mean they'd struggle to maintain a majority on English laws if they were in Government. The Tories oppose regional devolution because of ideological "little Englander" reasons as well as because it doesn't favour them in several regions. The Lib Dems plans for a federal United Kingdom might be wishy-washy at the moment but at least they are trying to be consistent to all constituent parts without self-interest.

So yes, it is the Lib Dems still for me. A party that defends free movement, the EU, human rights and constitutional stability.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julie Scheeres

Julie Scheeres had a shitty childhood. Now you might think you've had a shitty childhood and feel you could hold your own in the Shitty Childhood Championships but, unless you have a particularly harrowing story or were her brother David, it is unlikely to be as shitty as Scheeres. She grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household with parents who she paints as unloving and scary. Her father beat her adopted brothers brutally. Her mother had an intercom system set up so she could monitor conversations anywhere in the house.

She also experienced sexual abuse from her older adoptive brother, Jerome, who made her young life a living hell. Meanwhile her brother David suffered racist abuse on an almost daily basis growing up in "Hicksville" as a black adopted member of a white family.

And what did the two of them get for their troubles? They got sent to Escuela Caribe, a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic, where they were subjected to emotional and physical abuse "for their own good".

Sounds like a depressing book right? But instead Scheeres manages to maintain a balanced look back on her youth weaving in humourous episodes and giving full and balanced perspectives on all involved (rather than the deeply bitter perspective one could reasonably accept from someone who has been through what she went through). But above all else the love she had for her brother David shines through and this book is really a story about how they stuck it out together dreaming of a better life.

This is a story of religious excess, abuse, racism and of family. And it is one I'll admit to shedding a tear over in the final pages. Scheeres really doesn't hold back much detail on what happened to her which gives this book the credibility that many memoirs I've read recently desperately lack.

There's more on the abusive atmosphere at Escuela Caribe here.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julie Scheeres

A Thousand Lives. What an absolutely excellent book. Julie Scheeres has a real talent for bringing history to life. Whilst Reiterman's "Raven" (which I read a couple of months ago) gives a detailed history of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple this book gives us an insight into the people of Jonestown and how they fell in love with the Peoples Temple and how it turned out for them on November 18th 1978.

You follow the lives of people like Hyacinth Thrash who was with Jones from his early days in Indiana all the way through to that last evening when she managed to survive the massacre in her cottage. You see how she changes from true believer to disgruntled resident. Unlike other books you get a real sense of the humanity of the Jonestown residents.

Another person who the narrative follows is Edith Roller. An intelligent, middle class former college professor she truly believed in the project. She also kept an incredibly detailed journal describing life in the colony and honestly discussing some of its drawbacks. She died that tragic November evening.

But the true tear-jerker story is that of teenage rebels Tommy Bogue and Brian Davis. They were desperate to escape the Hell that was their life in Jonestown. They were inseparable. Except on the final day when Bogue finally got his wish and fled with his family. Davis, a minor and unable to leave without his family's permission, was murdered that night. You can read Bogue's moving tribute to his friend here.

If you want a blow-by-blow account of the rise and fall of Jim Jones, go read "Raven". If you, however, want to really understand (as close as anyone so far removed from the events can anyway) what the people of Jonestown went through and how they were led to the slaughter this is the book for you.

Some may just mock the victims of Jones and put it all down to them being crazy cultists. But they were so much more than that and Scheeres really brings home to you that each one of those people who died were individuals. All undeserving of their fate.

Scheeres ends the book with words that have haunted me for days after finishing it. "They believed in a dream, how terribly they were betrayed."

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Ervil LeBaron & The Extremes Of Religious Conviction

I've just finished two books which detail the bloody history of two Mormon sects headed by two very different brothers. The 4 O'Clock Murders gives a very well-written overview of the history of the LeBaron family, their Mormon fundamentalist faith and the events leading up to and following the religious split that would lead to a great deal of misery. Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement by Irene Spencer, a personal memoir of her time as the plural wife of Verlan LeBaron. As a (then) member of the family and someone who was privy to the internal politics of the sects it is an interesting insider account which complements The 4 O'Clock Murders and also contains a few moments of light relief.


The history of the faith journey of the LeBarons is far too convoluted (comprising as it does a few different claims to Mormon prophethood) to go into here. However the short (comparatively) story is that in the 1950s Joel LeBaron founded the Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times claiming to be the "One Mighty and Strong" that the founder of the Latter-day Saint movement Joseph Smith had claimed would arrive to put the affairs of the church and the world in order. Many of Joel's brothers, including Verlan and Ervil, quickly accepted his claims. However Ervil hungered for power and eventually split the church. He and his followers, believing Ervil to be the true "One Might and Strong" founded the Church of the Lamb of God.

Ervil couldn't believe that many had failed to accept his claims and had stayed loyal to Joel. Hungry for power and desperate to take over Joel's church Ervil had Joel murdered by his followers. When this act failed to bring many converts (with the Firstborn members being quite understandably rather terrified by the events and scared of Ervil) he ordered an attack on Los Molinos, a Mexican colony of the Firstborn church. Drawing a crowd to fight a fire they had lit, Ervil's followers (hoping to catch Verlan, the new Firstborn leader) opened fire killing 2 and injuring dozens. Growing dissent and "disobedience" within his own church lead Ervil to order the murders of others including his own daughter.

Ervil's downfall came when he planned once more to ensnare Verlan. He decided the only way to draw an understandably paranoid and elusive Verlan into the open was a major funeral he couldn't fail to attend. Rulon Allred, then leader of one of the largest Mormon fundamentalist groups in the USA, was the target. Two women, one Ervil's plural wife Rena, murdered Allred at his place of work but a large police presence at his funeral meant the attempt on Verlan's life was aborted. Rena was acquited of the crime but later admitted it in an autobiography.

Ervil, however, finally faced justice for orchestrating the murder of Rulon Allred and died in prison in 1981. Unfortunately that was not the end of the horrors. Ervil left a list of people (mainly followers who abandoned his church in the aftermath of Allred murder trial) who he wanted "blood atoned" (murdered). And he also left over 50 children among whom a number were willing to carry out his orders. Many have died since (including 4 people all at once in the "4 O'Clock Murders) and some of his children and followers remain on the loose even today.

What on Earth possessed ordinary Americans and Mexicans to turn into cold-blooded killers? A mixture of unquestioning faith and tribalism allowed them to follow the orders of a crazy man preaching discarded Mormon principles. Both books give different insights into what drove Ervil (power, money and attention mainly) and how his followers were completely unable to see that (or, in some cases, embraced it). The events are a warning of where extreme belief can lead us.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Anti-#EqualMarriage Minister Gets Stonewall Staffer As Special Advisor

Imagine... A Stonewall head of education working for an anti-marriage equality Tory Minister.Who'd of thought it? Everyone? Oh.

But Jae, I hear you say. The debate is over. We've got equal marriage. Let's move on and work together. It is about helping end bullying (well if its homophobic anyway, otherwise the kids are on their own). Blah blah blah. Won't somebody think of the children? Etc.

Well it isn't over. And it isn't right. We still have plenty of work to go before we achieve actual marriage equality. And the idea that Luke Tryl, who probably had a fair bit of input into this piece of sex-shaming, will somehow make Morgan's positions more acceptable is laughable.

I'm no radical queer here. You guys often tell me off for holding things politicians did 30 years ago against them today (because being anti-LGBT youth turns out to have an "unacceptability" expiry date). But this is something she did last year! We haven't even got marriage equality yet, and instead of opposing such an incredibly awful choice for equality minister people at the very top of the "leading" LGB charity in this country are choosing to help her (though I hasten to add Tryl has left his position at Stonewall to go and aid Morgan).

Does nobody else find this infuriating? Am I the only person just aghast at this whole rubbish chain of events? I don't really agree with much of what Peter Tatchell believes but I'm thinking I need to increase my £5.00 monthly donation to him just to bring back some balance.


"Them: Adventures with Extremists" by Jon Ronson

A bit of an oldie now but, given the increasing rise in profiles of extremists of all ilks, "Them" provides a really interesting insight into the odd mentality of holders of some of the weirder political outlooks in the Western world.

From Omar Bakri to Alex Jones we see the odd dissonance (something I see in most "believers") between living ordinary lives with ordinary problems whilst holding onto beliefs that seem to oppose the very concept of living ordinary lives. If I truly believed in the New World Order I'd either try and keep my head down or give up my ordinary life and become a die-hard opponent. This "Having our cake and eating it" malarkey seems to fly in the face of their own beliefs, with their ability to live a normal life seemingly unimpeded by the evil NWO.

You also get to see a human side to these people that helps you remember that they aren't madmen or geniuses but just flawed people like the rest of us. They live "exciting" lives full of paranoia and faux intrigue, playing out fantasies like tricked out role players.

Oddly, given my line of work is fairly mundane, I speak to similarly paranoid people all the time. I spend a lot of time trying to convince them I'm not out to get them before they'll finally let me help them. And I regularly encounter people with extremely odd beliefs regarding conspiracies, aliens etc. I've come to believe these "extremists" are little more than just the tip of a large iceberg. Humans, in general, easily and readily give themselves over to crazy beliefs, easy (if elaborate) explanations for what are really rather mundane events and to a blinkered worldview that defends their viewpoints regardless of any counter evidence.

Skepticism has a long way to go in changing human behaviours for the better.