Happy New Year | 31.12.11
A happy new year, dear reader.
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Welfare reform revisited | 29.12.11
A report to the Department for Work and Pensions warns that welfare reforms may fail to get the work-shy off benefits if the marginal benefit to the individual is too small. This is obviously true. Presuming that this is a problem (and I do), the question is how to make the reforms do what they say on the tin. It seems to me that the proposals could be improved in three basic ways: 1) by removing incentives not to work; 2) by providing greater financial incentives to work; and 3) by providing more opportunities to work.
On the first point: it is currently difficult to revoke someone's benefit payments, even if they are clearly capable of work and simply refuse an offer of work. Why not say: you can claim unemployment benefit indefinitely, BUT after three months of unemployment, you must accept a public-sector work placement in exchange for payments?
On the second point: the government currently taxes salaries of over £8,000. Why not IMMEDIATELY increase the starting tax threshold to a higher sum, say £12,000, and increase the basic rate to make this change fiscally neutral?
On the third point: currently the government pays the unemployed to sit at home all day. Without spending a penny more, the state could offer public-sector work placements in exchange (all manner of things from upskilling, training, gardening, painting, sweeping -- the stuff you can never do too much of, and which has a minimal impact on the private sector). Such placements would also provide good workers with good references, making them more employable. So, why not?
I don't ask these questions rhetorically; I'm interested to know what countervailing considerations are prohibiting these proposals from becoming policy. I suspect, though, that the answers would embarrass the government too much for any ministers to risk articulating them in so many words.
No Minchin for Wossy | 22.12.11
Tim Minchin has been cut from Jonathan Ross's show this Christmas, because ITV is scared of the tears that may be shed for Baby Jesus by the Moral Majority and Jan Moir. He's not too happy. Admittedly, it's not a very good song, but that's not the reason it was cut.
Newfred, always happy to contribute in what small way he can to irritating such folk, and in the interests of subverting such crude censorship, shares the cut section with you here.
Intentions and practices | 21.12.11
Upon being charged for an alleged racially aggravated public order offence (a charge still to come before the courts), John Terry states
I have never aimed a racist remark at anyone and count people from all races and creeds among my closest friends. [...] I have campaigned against racism and believe there is no place for it in society.
Terry may or may not be guilty; a jury will decide that in due course. But his statement interests me for a different reason. The two clauses "[I] count people..." and "I have campaigned..." here serve as supplementary to, and supportive of, the first clause denying the alleged racist remarks. It is a slightly more formal version of the pub-table retort "some of my best friends are black".
The humour in the best-friends-are-black defence is precisely that it does nothing to defend the kind of remarks in question. I could be the most liberal-minded and inclusive fellow and still be guilty of racist practices; I can indeed be guilty of racist practices even when I do not intend them as such. We have seen this in the unwitting antisemitism of the UCU. Conversely, there is the unwitting homophobia of those who count LGB couples amongst their friends without ever being able to bring themselves to acknowledge the fact publicly, preferring to introduce them as "friends" or "flatmates"... but enough already about the church!
Jingle Bells in Stockport | 21.12.11
Drunk accordion player tackling Jingle Bells in Stockport. (thx ac)
Merry Christmas, dear reader(s)!
Kaunas X: Cathedral | 20.12.11
Kaunas IX | 20.12.11
Kaunas VIII: Riverside | 20.12.11
Edgar on KJV | 19.12.11
There is a huge irony here. Although Cameron drops a nod both to the Bible's radical influence and to earlier translations of the Bible, he underplays the extent to which King James's comfortable clerics stood on the shoulders of the radical Tudor translators who preceded them. Of the seven ringing biblical phrases quoted in Cameron's speech, only one is original to the King James (as it happens, it's "how are the mighty fallen"). And, far from being heroes of our island story, those earlier translators who didn't flee our island risked – and in one case, suffered – death at the stake. Four of the major Tudor bibles were – and had to be – published abroad. The first translator of a printed English bible, William Tyndale – who provided 90% of the King James new testament – was to die at the hands of the Catholic church in Flanders, after being betrayed by an English adventurer, probably in the pay of Sir Thomas More.
What was that about biblical values? Because whatever they were, the Catholic church didn't seem to pay too much heed to them in those days. (Or rather, perhaps they did -- but they weren't the particular biblical values Mr Cameron had in mind.)
Hitchens and Iraq | 18.12.11
Predictably, much of the commentary following Christopher Hitchens' death has focused on his support for the Iraq war. In a few minutes of reading around I have found various epitaphs bemoaning this fact, one of the more moderate of which is "belonging to a lunatic fringe of unabashed warmongers at the extreme Right who are keen on policies that would engulf the Middle East in a firestorm". People are entitled to think what they want of Hitchens, of course, and he delighted in their doing just that.
But his position on Iraq should nevertheless be defended for what it was, rather than what left-wing zealots mendaciously claim it to have been. He supported the Iraq war because it was, as he saw it, fulfilling a long-overdue responsibility of the international community to depose a murderous tyrant. That so many on the left regard such a duty as a cardinal sin says more about the left than it does about the Hitch. By way of illustration, take "Darkdaler"'s comments on an obituary in the Guardian:
I'm sorry. One apologist for the Iraq war praising another apologist for the Iraq war is stomach turning. Cohen has not a single word to say for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died and suffer as a result of a war he promoted.
Hitchens was a charlatan, and the world is better off without him.
To which the inevitable response must be that Darkdaler, like reams of other "anti-imperialists", has not a single word to say for the 800,000 Iraqi civilians killed at the hands of Saddam Hussein, or the million more killed in the Iran-Iraq war as a result of Saddam's aggression. I write as someone who opposed the Iraq war at the time, though if it was being debated today, I might well support it. Those who think that the costs were too high and that the chances of success were too slim, as I thought in 2003, hold a reasonable view. Sadly this pragmatic calculation has led many on the left into making unedifying apologias for a genocidal maniac.
RIP Hitch | 18.12.11
Christopher Hitchens passed away last week. A critic who was not without his own flaws, but whose ruthless independence must be admired. To me, his polemics were a constant reminder of why we religious folk must be our own loudest critics -- particularly when it comes to those in positions of power. One of Hitch's greatest polemics was against the cult of Mother Teresa, whose own power was hypocritically presented, by herself and by others, as powerlessness, humility, and simple "service". I implore you to watch it.
Lazy Tory Drivel for Squeezed Middle England | 17.12.11
David Cameron's speech about "Christianity", "moral decline", and "values" will no doubt be a screaming success with Daily Mail readers suffering from nostalgia for a fictional "Christian Britain of yore" and no capacity for independent, let alone rational, thought. Putting to one side the audacity that reading out this moralising drivel must demand of a non-churchgoing prime minister and former Bullingdon Club member, there is still much to be disagreed with in its "substance". The speech has been excellently debunked by Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary's, Glasgow:
Now, you say that the Bible gave Britain a set of values and morals which make the nation what it is and we need to actively stand up and defend them. You know Dave, life is just a bit more complicated than that. What values are we talking about? Those that people in our nation used to argue in favour of slavery? Those they used to argue against women’s suffrage? Those they use still to argue against accepting the full humanity and citizenship of God’s gay children? Is it those values that you’re keen on or others?
You referred to some of these things in your speech. Curiously, you seem to think that the Bible argues for human rights. Most peculiarly, you argue that the Bible has been at the forefront of the emancipation of women. Have you ever read it? (Oh, and by the way, did Samantha promise to obey you? Just wondering).
The point of recognising that people have inalienable human rights is that we do so because we are agreed that they have them not because we have a mandate from scripture.
I hope the Church of England rank and file don't fall into this Tory honey trap, doting on Cameron's speech simply because it is a public mention of their faith. His words are empty, cynical, and wrong. (thx n)
Styles of argument | 16.12.11
Norman Geras analyses two styles of argument in the gay marriage debate.
Kaunas VII: Facade | 16.12.11
Kaunas VI: Sunset | 15.12.11
Kaunas V: Facade | 15.12.11
Kaunas IV: V. Kuzmos | 14.12.11
Kaunas III: Finches | 14.12.11
Kaunas II: Kaunas Antifa | 14.12.11
Kaunas I: Facade | 14.12.11
Come out of your extravagant churches to see the reality | 13.12.11
The reality, that is, in the Philippines:
The Philippine's only political organisation for LGBTs has urged Catholic priests, who oppose the anti-discrimination bill, to "come out of their extravagant churches to see the reality – that some LGBTs are not hired to work, some are being harassed and violated and some 144 killed because of their sexual orientation and gender identity."
Poser | 13.12.11
A certain Revd James Gracie of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) recently posed the question "If the homosexuals, and these people, want to be treated equally, then what about paedophiles? What about polygamy?" Questions of this kind are asked as if they had no answer; as if they were just rhetorical flourishes supplementing a self-evident truth.
Except, of course, there is an actual answer to the Rev's question. But before considering it let's spell out what his question really asks. I understand it as follows:
[Premiss:] The principle of allowing gay people to marry expands the types of person eligible to marry one another. [Question:] That being the case, what grounds would we have for not expanding marriage further, to those who would like to marry minors and multiple partners?
Put it like this, and we see that there is a straightforward answer: we can justify not expanding marriage further on moral grounds. On the paedophilia front, it's not as if the law hasn't crossed this bridge before. There was a time when children were indeed routinely married to adults. And, whaddayaknow, those were heterosexual marriages too! But child marriage was outlawed because it was deemed immoral and a violation of children's dignity and rights. We accept as legitimate this constraint on marriage, because we accept the moral reasoning governing the constraint. Similarly with polygamy: society does not on the whole view polygamy as morally valuable, and so it remains outside the constraints of marriage.
The gay marriage question is arising in western democracies precisely because people increasingly see moral and social value in gay relationships where they previously saw (or rather were told to believe in) their moral depravity. What Gracie inadvertently draws attention to, then, is the fact that the debate over gay marriage rights is also a debate about the good. I would venture to suggest that public opinion has in recent decades been moved that gay relationships are of the same potential value as heterosexual ones. The legal norm of "equal treatment" Gracie mentions is a reflection of this prior belief in moral equality.
The three things Gracie namechecks (homosexuals, paedophiles, and polygamy) are associated with substantially different moral considerations. The fact that gay rights are increasingly considered a good thing implies nothing about the rights of paedophiles and polygamists. We thus see that Gracie is engaged in a slippery slope fallacy.
Blacks and gays | 1.12.11
I would be interested to hear whether the Church of Scotland also sees a problem with interracial marriage.
Black Coffee | 29.11.11
What a great song.
Williams against (some) prejudice (sometimes) | 29.11.11
Notwithstanding the underlying constitutional problem of having unelected clerics in government -- a situation which afflicts only the United Kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- Rowan Williams is to be admired for going out on a limb and saying women bishops should be fast-tracked to the House of Lords. The sooner sexism is removed at least from the Church's institutional arrangements, the sooner it might also be removed from people's attitudes.
However, given Williams's contrasting record on the subject of gay bishops, and given that women's ordination is just as contentious, I can only conclude that Williams regards homophobia as in some way a lesser form of prejudice than sexism. No doubt he would have an eminently moderate way of explaining why this is not the case. But sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Cameron on higher education funding | 29.11.11
David Cameron answered a question from film-maker Mike Leigh a few days ago:
Mike Leigh, film-maker
What is your moral justification for the state not providing free further education for everybody, and for the principle of student loans? And I do want to hear your moral reasoning: not any economic, political or historic excuses.
"I think there is a strong moral case for this, which is the evidence that going to university brings a benefit to that individual person over the course of the rest of their life. Therefore, I think it is morally right that they make a contribution to the cost of that course, which is what our fees policy does. And I think it would be morally wrong to ask the taxpayer to bear all of the burden of that cost, not least because there are many taxpayers who don't go to university who don't have that benefit."
As I've said before, anyone is at liberty to disagree with Cameron's moral reasoning here. But more often than not, those who do disagree try to claim that there is no moral reasoning at all in the government's position. Cameron's answer shows that claim, at least, to be untrue.
Squeezed pensions | 28.11.11
There are many things to say about public sector pension reform and the many spurious justifications for striking on Wednesday. But one thing that is not said so often is just how regressive the funding model for public sector pensions is, reform or no reform.
Currently, minimum wage earners working full time pay just over a thousand pounds a year in tax and national insurance contributions. Minimum wage earners generally have no private pension provision; and yet they are taxed in order to pay for the pensions of civil servants earning their salary several times over. Social contract considerations go a certain way to justifying an arrangement that would otherwise be patently unjust. But only a certain way. In this light, the government's demand -- that individual public sector employees take greater personal responsibility for their pension provision -- looks just that bit more reasonable, wouldn't you say?
Of course, the credibility of this line of defence for government policy would be reduced if low earners were taken out of income tax altogether. This would be achieved by (say) raising the tax-free personal allowance to about £12,000, a figure which is at the lower end of a spectrum of figures being asserted as a "living wage". But that would necessitate a substantial hike in the basic rate of income tax -- something to which leftwing public servants should readily assent. But, were such a redistribution of the tax burden ever to happen, I'll eat my hat if the unions don't complain about the "squeezed middle" and start bashing a banker.
In short, public sector unions want generous pensions, but they don't think that their money should pay for them. I would suggest some possible names for this school of economic wisdom, but this is a family restaurant.
Ranty racist | 28.11.11
But this one appears not to have considered that people like her are going to increase the appetite of employers for migrant labour, rather than reduce it. Indeed, I wonder if she does still "work", after being arrested?
A scandalous verdict | 25.11.11
Brandon McInerney was found guilty this week of the second-degree murder of his 15-year-old classmate Larry King. King's effeminate behaviour and choice of clothing enraged McInerney to the point that he brought a handgun into school and shot King twice in the back of the head during a class.
There are three scandalous things about this verdict.
This was a hate crime in which the hate element became a mitigating rather than an aggravating factor. The only relief is the harsh second-degree murder sentence: McInerney will serve 25 years. However, if he had been convicted on all the initial charges, he would now be facing a sentence of over 50 years. The jury has failed Larry King.
Mugabe an authority on Satan | 24.11.11
When Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, describes as "Satanic", "diabolical" and "stupid" the British government's new policy of tying foreign aid to the regime's record on human rights, we should be reassured that the policy is a right one.
The Occupy movement and the need for public space | 20.11.11
An inaccuracy has been repeated ad nauseam amongst the mainstream press in recent months. Namely, that those involved in the Occupy protests are "anti-capitalists". On the part of some this is innocent parroting of something that is assumed to be true; on the part of others it is a deliberate attempt to marginalise all of the concerns expressed, however imprecisely, by the protesters.
It is an inaccuracy because, of course, many of those involved in the protests, and a larger number of those sympathetic to them, are not anti-capitalists at all. You do not have to be an opponent of the capitalist "system" in order to take exception to high levels of wealth inequality in society; and you do not have to be an opponent of free markets to criticise the entanglement of powerful financial institutions with government and other important civic institutions. Quite the reverse, in fact: many involved in the Occupy protests want markets to be free of such cronyism.
However, recent incidents such as police brutality at Berkeley and the dispute over tents outside St Paul's Cathedral in London also demonstrate a shortcoming in our countries' democratic arrangements. Anglo-American liberalism/libertarianism generally has a far weaker concept of public space than the democracies of our continental neighbours. At best English liberalism views public space as the domain of the state, while at worst American libertarianism would prefer all land to be privately owned. Both attitudes impoverish the positive liberties to freedom of expression codified in the Human Rights Act and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this area, classical liberalism is firmly on the wrong side of history, and we see it in the brutal stance taken towards many peaceful protest groups occupying what should be public space.
None of which is to say that the Occupy groups' tactics are good and considerate ones, or that they will ultimately be effective. But it is to say that those groups have the right to pursue such tactics in public space without being evicted or harmed, for as long as they pose no threat of harm to others. It is up to others to persuade them to pursue their cause using less obstructive methods. But to persuade, not to force.
By authorizing the use of force in this manner, governments not only breach the human rights of their citizens, but ultimately send the message that the political status quo is one they are incapable of defending through the medium of language. If the Occupy movement chooses to be in the business of claiming victories, alerting people to this fact would be their first.
Chillingworth supports gay marriage consultation | 13.10.11
David Chillingworth, head of Scotland's episcopal church, has come out in support of the government's consultation on legalising gay marriage. He writes
I believe that the church must and should be an unequivocal supporter of marriage and family life. But Jesus did not call the church into being as a citadel of orthodoxy. He was constantly criticised because he spent time with people who didn’t fit the conventional patterns and were deemed unacceptable by others. He told stories about nets and fishing, about lost sheep and banquets where the guests were to be gathered from the highways and byways.
More on Uganda | 12.10.11
Child sacrifice rife in Uganda. Will church leaders again fail to say anything? Are the human rights of children also "unafrican"?
Fox hits the bottle | 12.10.11
No, not that Fox. It's Kate Fox, with a sensible article about alcohol consumption. *Rubs eyes*
Ebagum persecution | 12.10.11
It's not really surprising that a meeting with Robert Mugabe as naive and futile as the one Rowan Williams recently attended should have been hijacked by slander against gay people. Williams was right when he said "The issue of homosexuality is a distracting tactic aimed at covering up the real issues." Real issues indeed -- of state-sponsored murder of opposition politicians, government thuggery, illegitimate rule, and religious persecution.
All the more disappointing then, that Williams did not have a better response prepared than "The church does not allow same sex unions and the allegations are entirely fictitious." The allegation from the distractors was that the Anglican Church is not as homophobic as it used to be, against which Williams reassures everyone that, don't worry, we're still plenty homophobic. And he's not wrong.
If this misguided visit has achieved anything, it should at least have reminded Christians in the democratic world what religious persecution really is, and how the democratic passing of laws allowing gay marriage and adoption are not quite the same thing as being turfed out of your church buildings and beaten up. Don't try telling Mario Conti that, though.
RIP Steve Jobs 1955-2011 | 6.10.11
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
More Sentamu cowardice | 5.10.11
Remember John Sentamu, that Archbishop dude who refused for several months to comment on the murder of David Kato in Sentamu's native Uganda, and who issued only a few weasel words under duress when questioned about the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and who was one of only a few bishops who refused to sign the eminently uncontroversial Cambridge Accord? Turns out he also has form from the Damilola Taylor murder inquiry of 2000.
Reich on US joblessness | 29.9.11
American economist and politician Robert Reich writes in the Guardian today about the US unemployment problem. J.M. Keynes, he says, was right: the only economic actor that can pull America out of its employment slump is the state. His line of argument is that, since the "Great Recession" has catastrophically stymied capital flow within the US economy, the state should stimulate consumer spending (and thus private sector growth) by dishing out the dollars in the form of public sector jobs.
I post with a certain hesitation on this subject, since I have a very limited understanding of economic theory. But I am struck by one or two commonsense objections to this view. Foremost amongst my objections is this: Reich seems to think that America's economic problems are only problems of growth. But they're not. Like Britain and the eurozone, there is also a debt crisis. Any state spending on public sector jobs would likely be financed by more borrowing. That leaves a lot riding on the multiplier effect (the Keynesian principle whereby increased state spending generates, through stimulated growth, tax revenues larger than the initial spend). Reich's column sounds lovely and squishy because it is basically a promise of free money for everyone, if only we would follow the Gospel of Keynes. As the electorate well knows, however, Life's Not Like That.
As our financier friend slightly hyperbolically indicated a few days ago, a debt crisis of this scale can ultimately be resolved only one way -- namely, through a painful period of debt repayment. This may mean decades of low or non-existent economic growth and high unemployment. No sane politician, Robert Reich included, would openly admit this. But it may well be true.
Forgiveness | 12.9.11
Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who "forgives" you -- out of love -- takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.
The notion of forgiveness has been exercising me on and off for the past year or so. Last year the former Khmer Rouge jailer, Duch, was found guilty of war crimes after a tribunal at the Hague. But remarkably, during that trial, Duch pleaded for "forgiveness", and furthermore, he told the trial that
I told Nic Dunlop [a journalist], ‘Christ brought you to meet me,’ [...] I said: ‘Before, I used to serve human beings, but now I serve God.’
The New Testament has a fair bit to say about forgiveness, mostly along the lines of Matthew 6:14-15, although there is ambivalence about whether repentance is a prerequisite for such forgiveness, as indicated by Acts 3:19:
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord[.]
I'm not really interested in the "proper" interpretation of conflicting scriptural passages here. Rather, I wonder what are the ethics of forgiveness -- and can the various possible Christian interpretations of forgiveness really be considered ethically sound? Let's suppose there are two basic Christian formulations of the forgiveness ethic:
F1. We should freely forgive the wrongs of others as an expression of God's mercy and grace.
F2. We should forgive the wrongs of others only as a response to their repentance.
What is striking about Duch's plea for forgiveness is that it was directed not at the victims of his crimes -- most of whom are, of course, dead -- but rather at a judge. My instinctive response to this situation is that it is not within a judge's moral power to "forgive" a wrong of which s/he is not the victim. Indeed, even if those victims still alive and capable of delivering such forgiveness chose to do so, they can surely only forgive their "portion" of the wrong, and not the whole lot. It strikes me as a conceptual truism that only the victim of a wrong can forgive the wrongdoer, which renders F1 morally implausible except as an attitude taken only towards wrongs done personally to the forgiver. Norman Geras also finds F1 forgiveness morally problematic:
[F]orgiveness involves abandoning any 'resentment, indignation or anger' over some offence. Now, let us assume we are faced with someone guilty of mass murder but who is completely unrepentant about it. They reaffirm that they are at ease about what they have done, even that they would do the same thing again. Can it be right to forgive such a person? [...] It is, in effect, a willingness to forgive everything in advance; which seems to me a bit like condoning it.
So on the one hand, we have the absurdity of "forgiving" what is not yours to forgive, and of "forgiving" acts which have not been disowned by their perpetrators.
But on the other hand, there is a further absurdity to F1 forgiveness -- and that is the absurdity of trying to "forgive" things for which the person being "forgiven" is entirely blameless. For example, the idea that the "church" should "forgive" things it regards (doctrinally speaking) as sinful -- such as homosexuality, or divorce -- can make sense only if we take forgiveness not to mean the pardoning of a wrong but to mean instead a non-judgemental attitude of mind (ie, forgiveness in the sense of "being a forgiving person"). The absurdity (should I say hypocrisy?) here is of being sufficiently judgmental to identify sinfulness in others, while simultaneously claiming not to engage in the very act of judgement that causes you to identify the sinfulness. For this reason, when a "Christian" tells me (as has been known) that "I am forgiven" for my homosexuality, I am inclined to laugh in their face (as has also been known). Furthermore, I imagine that someone who divorces a violent spouse, upon being told that "s/he is forgiven" for the sin of divorce, might deliver an angrier riposte.
Tatchell on gay blood ban | 10.9.11
The blanket ban on gay men donating blood was lifted last week, and replaced with new rules which restrict gay men from giving blood within 12 months of their most recent sexual encounter. In yesterday's Guardian, Peter Tatchell welcomed the end of a blanket ban, but argued that a 12-month limit is still unjustified.
There are two considerations here. The first is statistical: it is true that more gay people than straight people have HIV/AIDS in the UK, and if the risk assessment is made on that basis alone, gay people would present a greater risk to the blood supply. However, this approach presumes that it is gay men as a group who donate blood, rather than individuals within that group, whose practices vary widely in their riskiness. The second consideration, then, is personal conduct; and it is this factor that shows the irrationality of a purely statistical approach. Gay men who practise safe sex with a single long-term partner are at a much lower risk of contracting HIV/AIDS than women who have unprotected sex with multiple male partners. Does it make sense to allow these women to donate to the blood supply without restriction, while preventing monogamous gay men from doing so? Clearly not, and this is Tatchell's point.
In a system which already relies on people's honesty not to donate under circumstances where they are forbidden from doing so, I don't see why every individual who wishes to donate blood should not simply be given a questionnaire about their sexual practices over the past 12 months. This would end the discrimination that Tatchell rightly identifies, while making the blood supply even safer.
Auckland Synod supports gay ordination | 6.9.11
That this Synod
 Holds that sexual orientation should not be an impediment to the discernment, ordination, and licensing of gay and lesbian members to any lay and ordained offices of the Church; and further
 persons in committed same-sex relationships likewise should not be excluded from being considered for discernment, ordination, and licensing to any lay and ordained offices of the Church.
 commits to an intentional process of listening to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, organized by the Archdeacons in consultation with the gay and lesbian community.
 commits to an ongoing discussion with the ministry units, asks the Archdeacons to facilitate this, and invites responses to those discussions to be submitted to Diocesan Council by 31st March 2012; and
 commits to support the process and work of the Commission to be appointed by General Synod Standing Committee, as resolved at its meeting in July 2011.
The motions was proposed by Revd Glynn Cardy and seconded by Margaret Bedggood, both of the parish of St-Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland. This is a good day for the Church in Aotearoa New Zealand. (There is a sermon by Glynn Cardy on these issues here.)
Blair on riots | 22.8.11
Much of what former PM Tony Blair had to say in yesterday's Observer was welcome to those who have despaired at the bland predictability of commentary on the recent riots in England:
The left says they're victims of social deprivation, the right says they need to take personal responsibility for their actions; both just miss the point. A conventional social programme won't help them; neither – on its own – will tougher penalties. [...]
This is a hard thing to say, and I am of course aware that this too is generalisation. But the truth is that many of these people are from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, either middle class or poor.
This is a phenomenon of the late 20th century. You find it in virtually every developed nation. Breaking it down isn't about general policy or traditional programmes of investment or treatment.
This sounds about right to me. Yet, in an example of the sleight of hand Blair made his trademark, he goes on to explain that he attempted to address these problems while in office:
The agenda that came out of this was conceived in my last years of office, but it had to be attempted against a constant backdrop of opposition, left and right, on civil liberty grounds and on the basis we were 'stigmatising' young people.
Blair speaks as if the riots somehow deliver a logical defeat to his opponents. This is specious reasoning, and he must know it. That there exists a social class "operating on [...] different terms from the rest of society" does not entail that Blair's proposed "solutions" (such as ASBOs, etc.) were the right ones. Indeed, the kind of opposition that we liberals made to Blair's authoritarian policies was often based precisely on a conviction that disaffected people will not be brought back into mainstream society by curtailing their civil liberties, particularly when it is only theirs that are curtailed. Neither does the conviction he mentions -- that Labour policies stigmatised young people -- prove him "right" now that a few stigmatised young people are causing trouble. Indeed, that evidence would lead many people to reach a quite contrasting conclusion about Blair's record on social cohesion.
When the state trumps conscience | 18.8.11
There is a slightly odd article in today's Graun by Andrew Brown, editor of the newspaper's belief section. It seems to have been transcribed from the back of an envelope. Nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong with this plaintive inquiry:
Defenders of the present situation would claim that it is enormously unwise and tyrannical for a government to presume to override the conscience of any individual. We allow conscientious objectors in war; why not in peacetime? Opponents will surely claim that we can't allow just anything to be claimed as a conscientious right. There are people who believe it is their religious duty to smoke immense quantities of marijuana. The law dismisses this opinion. Why should it take more account of the opinions of Roman Catholics?
And he just leaves it at that. But there really is much more clarity to be had than the "on the one hand this, on the other hand that" formulation Brown provides. We all routinely accept that the state can legitimately curtail individual conscience where individual conscience would violate the rights of others. The classic example is the case of Fred Blog's "conscientious" belief that slavery is divinely ordered. The law legitimately prevents Fred Blog from acting according to his conscience, because to do so would violate the negative rights of whomever he might enslave.
While current controversies about religious liberty are more nuanced than the slavery example now seems (though it was not ever thus), the same principle still holds. If, as a society, we assert in law that everyone has a negative right against discrimination on grounds of sex, sexuality, race, etc., then the state acts legitimately in curtailing conscientious acts which would violate that negative right. So it is with the abortion question.
Lesley Crawley on sexism in the church | 18.8.11
When co-workers told me that a woman should not be an engineer I either suggested that they judge me on my work rather than on my gender, or encouraged them to talk to the managing director, knowing that he would give them short shrift.
The Church of England is different, because the sexism is institutionalised, and that makes it more oppressive. Parishes can vote to opt out of discrimination legislation, and this compromises the whole church, as sexism is seen as tolerable. In fact, we aren't meant to call prejudice against women "sexism" at all: it is meant to be called "legitimate theological difference". For me, if it walks, swims and quacks like prejudice, then it is prejudice.
Sometimes people think that religion grants us a "get out of jail free" card when it comes to unethical practices. It allows us to shift the blame – "I'm not sexist – God is: read your Bible" or "I'm not sexist – the Catholic church is, but we can't change until it does". I see this as a perversion of the radical equality that we find in the gospel of Christ. I am grieved that the church, of all institutions, is the one that compromises justice and equality.
When people say that they don't want a female priest, because it makes them "feel odd", I can't respond by saying that the institution of the church supports the equality of women. It is also difficult to say "judge female priests on what we do, not on our gender", because "being" rather than "doing" is a large part of priesthood. Fortunately, the vast majority of churchgoers are not sexist and my own bishop couldn't be more supportive of equality.
In fact, I notice institutional sexism much more frequently than sexist attitudes among individuals. Other than the obvious bar on women being bishops, there are day-to-day events. For example, in some places, if a woman presides at the Eucharist, her name is published so that those who wish to avoid her "taint" can do so. Another example is in appointments: when I was interviewed for a post, some of the interviewers panicked because they hadn't foreseen the possibility that a woman might interview well. My experience of secular life is that these things would be utterly unacceptable – illegal, in fact.
A depressing statement that I heard on this topic recently was at the press conference announcing the appointment of the two new "flying bishops" (bishops who oversee those who will not accept the priestly ministry of women).
Rowan Williams said the flying bishops would be a permanent fixture in the Church of England, even though the draft law on women bishops does away with the positions.
Williams said: "I have two new suffragans and General Synod can't simply take them away. The pastoral need will not go away."
Imagine if we were talking about black priests and Williams had said: "Racism is a permanent fixture of the Church of England. The pastoral need to care for priests who do not accept the ministry of black people will not go away." Not cool. We need to see sexual discrimination in the same light as racial discrimination – they are both unjust and dehumanising.
I'm afraid sexism runs deep in the Church of England, but I hope it won't be permanent.
Unjustified context | 9.8.11
Just when you thought the Graun couldn't get more predictable, behold! Nina Power comes to the rescue. Of course all events have a "context", but a context does not a justification make.
Gay Bishops | 1.8.11
On 4Thought last week, Peter Crawford explained why we need openly gay bishops as role models in the Anglican church. (Ironically, Peter and I once sang together in a group called "The Bishop's Consort"; I'd be rather more hesitant about going by that name these days, given the conduct of Anglican bishops in recent years...)
The denial of homosexual love, and condemning of relationships... I see that as sinful, because God is love, and in order to live with God, you have to live with the love that you experience in your everyday life. And the love that gay people experience for one another... God is part of that love.
Hancock's half-liberal | 23.7.11
Mike Hancock, Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South (UK), signed two Early Day Motions in parliament last week: one opposing the (claimed) right of Christians to opt out of equality legislation; the other supporting the (claimed) right of Christians to opt out of equality legislation.
Now that's democracy!
Oborne on Cameron | 7.7.11
It is essential this information be placed in the public domain because of the shocking decision made last week by the Coalition government to allow Mr Murdoch to entrench his monopoly power over the British media by purchasing the 61 per cent of the satellite broadcaster BSkyB he does not already own. This decision now stinks, and must be reversed.
Yesterday, David Cameron muttered some vague phrases about the possibility of a public inquiry into phone-hacking – showing that he has not woken up to the fact that the world has changed utterly over the past 48 hours. The horrifying revelations that Mr Murdoch’s journalists hacked into the phone of the missing teenager Milly Dowler and even into those of the families of our war dead have opened up a new level of horror about News International illegality.
The burning question now is whether the US tycoon Rupert Murdoch – whose journalists have shown such open contempt for ordinary decency – is a fit and proper person to own any British publicly quoted company, and whether it is not time that his media organisation itself should be forcibly broken up.
Here's hoping that the BSkyB decision will indeed now be reversed. It is clearly a Bad Thing for so much power to be concentrated in a single media organisation, let alone one as nefarious as Mr Murdoch's. Ironic, though, that it was the Telegraph's own unethical sting on Vince Cable which led to the News International takeover of BSkyB being approved in the first place.
Ed Miliband, or, how to make the public hate you (even more) | 2.7.11
Did you miss the world's most absurd interview with a Leader of the Opposition, aired across all the major news networks before this week's public sector strikes? If so, please enjoy it below (you HAVE to watch the whole thing). The interviewer has written of Miliband's "professional discourtesy" in conducting himself this way:
If news reporters and cameras are only there to be used by politicians as recording devices for their scripted soundbites, at best that is a professional discourtesy. At worst, if we are not allowed to explore and examine a politician’s views, then politicians cease to be accountable in the most obvious way. So the fact that the unedited interview has found its way onto YouTube in all its absurdity, to be laughed at along with all the clips of cats falling off sofas, is perfectly proper.
Given the PR controlfreakery behind all this, more's the irony that Miliband simply ends up looking completely stupid. Now, why could that be? Oh, I'm sorry for posting in such a reckless and provocative manner.
UCU in trouble | 2.7.11
The University and College Union is at last facing legal action over its repeated attempts to force a boycott of Israeli academics. Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, writes in the Jewish Chronicle:
The UCU, however, is a most unlikely champion of free speech. It has been boycotting visits by Israeli academics for a number years. Much like the Scottish councils which have banned the purchase of Israeli books in municipal libraries, their actions suggest that their true goal is not, and cannot be, to secure freedom of speech, but to silence dissenting opinion.
In fact, this is only the most recent decision by the UCU that has left many Jewish academics and students feeling uneasy. In 2006, it rejected the findings of the groundbreaking All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, putting it at odds with every one of Britain's main political parties. In 2009, the UCU invited a trade unionist, who had called for Jews in his native South Africa to be stripped of their citizenship, to speak at a conference.
When seen in this context, the latest resolution is in fact sending out a chilling message. It says that Jewish academics and students who perceive that they are being harassed or bullied should understand that they will be held to a different standard. It says that they should expect to be fair game for invective, and learn to live with feeling more vulnerable. Little wonder that the UCU has already seen many members of the Jewish faith, other faiths and none, vote with their feet and leave.
No-one's education should come at the cost of intimidation. I am calling on the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as the national champion for equality and good relations, to investigate.
Meanwhile, academic Ronnie Fraser has written to UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt threatening legal action against the UCU under the Equality Act 2010.
That the UCU's actions over the past five years or so are driven by antisemitism (albeit often an unwitting antisemitism) has become absurdly self-evident in recent months. The UCU's latest tactic is to reject the definition of antisemitism used by the European Union and the National Union of Students. The reason they have rejected this definition is that their actions would be unequivocally antisemitic on its terms.
One of the other defences given by apologists for the UCU's actions is that, since the boycott is not antisemitic in intent, it cannot be antisemitic in character. This is such a narrow idea of racism as to exclude almost all of its forms. If I act out of non-racist motives (say, out of a desire to protect my children from harm), but my actions subjunctively victimize a single racial group (say, by keeping my children away from all black people) is my action therefore not racist?
Here's hoping that the legal action against the UCU is successful. For any of my colleagues who have not seen fit to leave the UCU already, perhaps now is high time.
Economist's sham marriage statistics | 25.6.11
There is an uncharacteristically bad article in the Economist this week. It has clearly been written by a social conservative whose agenda is to bemoan the "decline" of marriage. There's no intrinsic problem, of course, with a social conservative writing for The Economist, any more than there's a problem with a social libertarian doing so. The problem is that, because the newspaper fails either to attribute its articles or, in this case, properly to acknowledge the biases within it, the reader must try to discover these biases by reading between the lines. Here such biases are evident, as they are so often, in the unnecessary use of evaluative adjectives. For example, "Less titillating are revelations about the sorry state of marriage across the United States".
Unacknowledged bias is one way in which this article is bad. Another is its handling of statistics. Case in point #1:
In every state the numbers of unmarried couples, childless households and single-person households are growing faster than those comprised of married people with children, finds the 2010 census. The latter accounted for 43% of households in 1950; they now account for just 20%.
The article goes on to connect this to the "decline" of marriage previously claimed. However, it fails to take into account certain factors. For example, young adults now tend to move out of the parental home at an earlier age, and to marry at a later age. This results in a decrease in the number of "traditional households". However, this doesn't necessarily tell us anything about marriage; only that people are living longer and have the wherewithal to live in their own house before marriage. Case in point #2:
And the trend has a potent class dimension. Traditional marriage has evolved from a near-universal rite to a luxury for the educated and affluent.
Here the varying value of marriage is overlooked. Historically, rich people have tended to marry and stay married out of choice. Poor people have tended to marry and stay married out of necessity. Millions are the women who were unable to seek divorce from their dysfunctional or violent marriages because 1) the law stood in their way and 2) the sole means of financial support for themselves and their children was through their husband. Is a marriage like this of the same value as a marriage made and sustained out of choice? In short, The Economist fails to see that "traditional" marriage was underpinned by a division of labour which no longer exists. I, for one, am glad that this sexist, involuntary division of labour is at an end. Case in point #3:
“Less marriage means less income and more poverty,” reckons Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She and other researchers have linked as much as half of the income inequality in America to changes in family composition: single-parent families (mostly those with a high-school degree or less) are getting poorer while married couples (with educations and dual incomes) are increasingly well-off. “This is a striking gap that is not well understood by the public,” she says.
This is a non sequitur. It does not follow that less marriage means less income and more poverty. Cohabiting couples are capable of materially providing for their children in exactly the same way as married couples (notwithstanding tax breaks for married couples, but to rely on this in a defence of marriage is simple question-begging). Sawhill also makes a connection, apparently, to the education level associated with different marital arrangements. This runs the risk of confusing cause and correlation -- a basic statistical fallacy. If fewer poor parents than rich parents are married, and fewer poor people reach a good level of education, it does not follow that it is poor parents' failure to marry that causes low educational attainment. It could be that a lower rate of marriage and a lower level of education are both caused by low background income.
A shame. I've come to expect better from The Economist. I would think more highly of them if they'd just attribute their bleedin' articles rather than persisting with this quasi-Communistic first person. (thx SC)
More Manchester City Council | 24.6.11
Mancunians may be interested to see this Freedom of Information request made to Manchester City Council. It confirms that the Council, while claiming that it is being forced into frontline cuts, continues to spend annually £500,000 of taxpayer money making direct contributions to union activity within the Council. (This on top of a £250K CEO and many millions in the bank.)
Meanwhile, they haven't collected rubbish on our street for three weeks. Right on!
Glynn Cardy response to Philip Richardson | 24.6.11
Published in Anglican Taonga:
[...] There have always been gays and lesbians in our house, serving, building, leading, and contributing to what and who we are. We Anglicans seldom talk about our diversity, including sexuality, so it’s been easy to ignore the faithful and continuous presence of gays and lesbians who are seen but not seen, here but not heard.
This de facto policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has allowed the foul weather of prejudice to get in and rot our house of hospitality. We have a leaky building. It needs fixing.
The rot has so eaten away at our ethos that ‘Jane’, a chalice bearer in her parish, can no longer offer the cup of hope because her Civil Union is not mentioned in the rulebook, and according to her bishop only what’s in the rulebook is allowed.
The rot has so eaten away at our ethos that ‘Sam’, called by his Shared Ministry Unit, could not answer that call because his Civil Union is not mentioned in the rulebook, and his bishop was worried other rulebook bishops will be upset.
The rot is eating away the grace until only the rules are left. Now, alas, homosexuality and Civil Unions, not mentioned in our rulebook, are purported to be ‘illegal’ by church law. Since when did we ask lawyers to hold our ethos of hospitality and grace? That’s the vocation of bishops.
Our big old rambling Anglican house has weathered many storms and leaks. Hopefully it will do so again. I am not gay but I am diminished when we discriminate against gay and lesbian Anglicans.
Such discrimination is wrong. And we know it. And it’s rotting our house.
Russell T Hyperbole | 23.6.11
Oh dear, Russell T Davies. Thanks for the brilliant Queer As Folk -- a masterpiece in so many ways. But Cameron and Clegg are "evil" for reducing the BBC's budget a bit? That seems to leave our moral vocabulary somewhat exhausted when it comes to things like... you know, genocide. "The Holocaust sure was bad, but freezing the licence fee? That's just evil!" And how ironic that QAF was commercially funded.
Field on welfare reform | 19.6.11
There's an article today in the Torygraph worth a read. It's by Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, and chair of the coalition government's review on poverty.
I'm not quite clear what Field's views are on some of the things he mentions. For instance, he points out that
voters reject the idea that the right to welfare should be decided on grounds of need. A vast majority insists that welfare should instead be earned. Voters are deeply uneasy with the direction of policy, begun in the early Sixties, that has seen Britain move away from its insurance-based system, where benefits were awarded only to those who had paid in, to a means-tested system that gives a universal right to benefits to anyone whose income is below a certain level.
Is Field insinuating that we should abandon the principle of need in welfare distribution? I'm uneasy with this view. Whatever the bad side-effects, guaranteeing all citizens a basic income is, I think, one of the hallmarks of a civilized society. Welfare should indeed be provided on the basis of needs and not contributions.
But this is not the same as saying that welfare should be provided unconditionally. A basic income could be guaranteed to everyone in times of need, but this entitlement could become conditional after, say, six months out of work. After six months on jobseekers' allowance, people could be compelled to accept a public-sector work placement in exchange for welfare payments. The government has moved towards this policy recently, with its introduction of mandatory short-term community work placements for those claiming jobseekers' allowance.
I suppose a big problem with expanding this policy is that the government would have to provide quite a lot of these placements. It would be hard to provide, say, a million public sector placements in a manner that would not intervene negatively in the commercial job market. And such an intervention could, counter-productively, worsen unemployment.
Supposing that problem could be worked around, making people work in return for welfare solves the need vs. contributions dilemma. Nobody would be prevented from receiving welfare payments when they need them, but those payments would not be tied to people's employment history or any other measure of historic contributions.
More Church of England cowardice | 19.6.11
A person's sexual orientation is in itself irrelevant to their suitability for episcopal office or indeed ordained ministry [but the Equality Act] allows churches and religious organisations to impose a requirement that someone should not be in a civil partnership or impose a requirement related to sexual orientation ... to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers.
There is nothing here NOT to disagree with. 1) The Equality Act 2010 does indeed allow the Church to be excepted from its general provisions. If the Equality Act is to deserve its name, it should not allow this. Principles of justice must override religious convictions.
2) Even though the Equality Act does allow these exceptions, it does not compel them. So this legal advice can in no way serve as guidance for the church's policy on the matter. Deciding whether to impose special restrictions on gay priests remains a question of moral substance that must be settled independently of legal provisions pertaining to it.
3) That this guidance has been sought at all implies that such a judgement has in fact already been made. The Church does not demand celibacy of its straight clergy; neither is the matter up for debate. So demanding celibacy of its gay clergy is already to place them in a different moral class, and hold them to a different standard of personal conduct. This is, whaddayaknow, unequal and unfair.
4) I love "to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion's followers". This sentence must be the Ground Zero of moral cowardice. So not only should people of a minority identity or a minority opinion refrain from living their lives, expressing their opinion, or challenging others about theirs. They must also be excluded from their vocations for the sake of "avoiding conflict". Matthew 10:34 springs to mind: "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword."
It all reminds me of that great vacillator, Jim Hacker. "I am their leader," he once said, "I must follow them!" I think Rowan Williams (who commissioned this legal advice) may have been watching a bit too much Yes, Prime Minister. Oh, for the Archbishop to make a "courageous decision"!
Nichols in a twist | 17.6.11
“Marriage, as a permanent, exclusive commitment between this man and this woman was welcomed, applauded,” the archbishop said in a homily at a Mass for married couples in Westminster Cathedral.
“There was rejoicing in what the newlyweds had just done,” he said. “Marriage, then, is a public good.
“Marriage is not simply something done in church by a few. Marriage is not a private arrangement,” he said.
“Rather marriage expresses our deepest longings and expectations for ourselves, for our children and for our society,” he continued.
“Marriage is of our nature. It is not created by the Church, but blessed by her. Christian marriage is a sacrament,” he added. “In celebrating marriage, in "defending" marriage, the Church seeks to promote that which is good for us human beings, for our human nature and for our society.”
[...] “When relationships are provisional, with an understanding that each can walk away, there is a sense in which each of the partners is always on probation,” Archbishop Nichols said. “They are never fully accepted.”
I find nothing to disagree with here. My only curiosity is this. If marriage is such a good thing -- for society, for the persons who commit to one another by it, for the children who are raised in it -- why would we want to perpetuate the barriers that prevent a significant minority of the population from making such a commitment? Nichols' answer, of course, must have nothing to do with marriage, but rather with his view that homosexual relationships are of an inferior quality.
Since that is the presupposition of his argument in "defence" of "traditional" marriage, it would be nice for him to explain exactly why he thinks homosexual relationships are indeed inferior ones. My guess is that it might have something to do with their perceived instability and superficiality. In this we see the absurdity of Nichols' conservative position, since it relies on ambivalent claims:
1. Marriage is a social and personal good because it allows people to commit to one another and deepen their relationship.
2. Gay people should be excluded from the institution of marriage because their relationships are short-lived and shallow.
Nichols may of course have other reasons to oppose gay marriage too. But if he does he should spell them out, since the argument he suggests here in "defence" of "traditional" marriage is... well, pretty thick.
UN Resolution passed | 17.6.11
A few minutes ago the UN passed its first resolution in explicit recognition of gay rights. It
affirms that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms … without distinction of any kind.
Interesting | 17.6.11
Interesting, that is, that it's people who say things like "[it is our] belief that everyone at the school is equal and made in the image of God" who end up treating some more equally than others.
Keynes vs. Balls | 16.6.11
Today the shadow chancellor Ed Balls calls for emergency tax cut to stimulate consumer spending. My understanding of the Keynesian argument underpinning Balls's proposal is as follows. In an economic downturn, consumer spending reduces, which causes lower growth, which in turn reduces consumer spending further, etc. The result is that a recession gets much worse before it starts getting better. To avoid this, the state, which is the biggest actor in an economy, can inject more capital into an economy, stimulating consumer spending and promoting growth. Now, I'm no economist, and even if my summary is accurate, it is no doubt a criminally simplified version of J.M. Keynes's economic theory.
I understand that the Keynesian theoretical view is a respectable one to hold, although it is not one that fiscal conservatives share. But as a layman, I imagine that for a stimulus like a VAT cut to be effective, there must be general confidence in the nation's fiscal situation. In other words, if the state is going to inject large amounts of stimulus capital into an economy during the lean years, that must be financed by money put away during the fat years. I'm pretty sure that Keynes would agree with this.
But it is here, of course, that Balls's plan comes unstuck. Because Labour let spending run out of control for years before the banking crisis, any stimulus package now would have to be funded by further borrowing. (Bear in mind that the amount of UK borrowing is still growing now, in spite of the allegedly "savage" cuts.) This would likely give businesses and homeowners the heebie-jeebies, as well as threaten the UK's credit rating, which could in turn make the stimulus ineffective anyway.
For these reasons, I find Labour's argument -- that the depth and speed of cuts is ideologically driven -- to be empty. Labour's post-2005 economic policy in government was not Keynesian; it was simply profligate. If the government followed Keynesian principles now, there would still be the problem of reducing the deficit (as David Miliband, Alistair Darling, and Tony Blair all openly admit), and the only way of reducing the deficit in the medium to long term is to cut spending.
Bagehot's notes on Williams | 14.6.11
[Williams] adds that bit about the government needing to know how frightened people are, and that:
It isn't enough to respond with what sounds like a mixture of, "This is the last government's legacy," and, "We'd like to do more, but just wait until the economy recovers a bit."
In case we missed the inference, a New Statesman blog helpfully provides the gloss that this last swipe is "an implicit criticism of The Chancellor, George Osborne".
This is Mr Osborne dressed up as Aunt Sally, though (an unfortunate vision, sorry). The coalition does talk a lot about the financial mess left by the previous government, it is true. But that is not their one and only response to questions about child poverty, poor literacy or helping more children to enjoy educational excellence. You can disagree or agree with the reforms being proposed by the coalition on this front—Mr Duncan Smith's universal credit which he hopes will encourage millions back to work by freeing them from the unemployment traps which currently imprison them, the school reforms and so on. But it is plain sneaky to pretend that these policies do not exist, and that the coalition only ever talks about its lack of money.
Tatchell on Hasnath conviction | 13.6.11
Mohammad Hasnath has been convicted under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which prohibits causing "harassment, alarm or distress". Peter Tatchell responds, excellently as ever, by condemning the use of the Public Order Act 1986, which he rightly describes as "a discredited, authoritarian law". Tatchell also asks why it is Hasnath's relatively minor offence that has provoked a response from LGBT rights campaigners, when they have let many more serious incidents pass without comment:
Moreover, why did the Hasnath stickers provoke howls of rage from the LGBT community, when far worse homophobia in the same area of East London stirred hardly a murmur of protest? I don't recall any campaigns by LGBT groups or anti-fascist organisations in response to the wave of horrific queer-bashing attacks in the East End. Surely this actual physical violence - which left at least one gay man permanently disabled - is much more deserving of protests than a few stickers? Where is the LGBT outcry over homophobic assaults?
Nor can I remember any protests when the East London Mosque / London Muslim Centre hosted a series of virulently homophobic speakers, including Uthman Lateef and Abdul Karim Hattim. The latter gave lecturers in which he invited young Muslims to "Spot the Fag." Watch here.
The East London Mosque / London Muslim Centre helped create the atmosphere of hatred that has poisoned the minds of many Muslim youths, probably including Hasnath who worshipped there. They have never apologised for hosting homophobic hate preachers and have never given any assurances that they will not host them again in the future. Apart from OutRage!, no LGBT groups have publicly demanded that they do so. Why the silence from LGBT organisations that are supposedly dedicated to fighting homophobia?
Equally, there were no protests when Abdul Muhid openly incited the murder of gay people in East London and when the Crown Prosecution Service refused to bring him to trial. In my opinion, encouraging murder is many times more serious and dangerous than calling for a Gay Free Zone. Again, no protests by LGBT groups.
When OutRage! stood alone in challenging Muhid and the East London Mosque /London Muslim Centre we were denounced by some people as racists and Islamophobes. This is nonsense. We never attacked anyone because of their race or religion. We condemned their homophobia, in the same way that we condemn the homophobic bigotry of fundamentalists of all faiths.
Many LGBT campaigners are now terrified of similar false, malicious allegations of racism or Islamophobia. To avoid such smears, they shy away from robust responses to homophobia when it comes from religious and racial minorities. This inaction is de facto collusion with homophobia.
I cannot agree with Tatchell more. Homophobia is homophobia regardless of who the bigotry afflicts. Yet another reason why liberals must at all times uphold the primacy of the law over religious doctrine, and campaign against exemptions for religious organisations from equality and incitement laws.
Judge What Is Right | 12.6.11
Glynn Cardy preaches today on why Christians should support equal rights for LGBT people. You can also sign St Matthew-in-the-City's petition to NZ bishops to end their discrimination against LGBT priests.
If only this kind of moral coherence was more than an occasional surprise amongst Christian congregations. Again we are reminded of how superior liberal society is to the church on this issue.
Moore on Williams | 10.6.11
In my view, this makes his political contributions all the more disappointing. Like most Anglican attacks on modern social and economic policy since the war, his are conservative in the bad sense of that word: they refuse to contemplate how things have changed. Even keen believers in the welfare state should acknowledge that it is not working. In the New Statesman, Dr Williams dismisses the "seductive language" of the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor, and speaks of "alleged abuses" of the system. Surely he should recognise that abuses are not merely alleged but actual, on a huge scale, and that this undermines not only the cost but also the virtue of the system. As Iain Duncan Smith said in response, a system of benefits that encourages families for generation after generation never to work is wrong.
Churchmen should be leading these inquiries, not obstructing them. Many of David Cameron’s Big Society ideas are, in origin, religious. One of the historic glories of the Church of England is its parish system. This enabled it to be close to all communities and to minister to all. Out of this ministry grew other public benefits – building societies, mutual associations, youth clubs, visiting the sick and old, and, above all, education.
Nowadays, the parish system is much decayed and Dr Williams’s church is top-heavy with diocesan bureaucrats and thin on the ground in the parishes. If Dr Williams is right that the term "Big Society" is already "painfully stale", shouldn’t he be refreshing it with action in every diocese and parish in the land?
I share Moore's frustration with the church's contemporary priorities. Most churches in this country are now permanently locked, apart from two hours on a Sunday (and, if you're lucky, the occasional midweek service). A business which operated in this way would expect to go into liquidation. Until we in the church realise again that it is our availability and attentiveness to the lives and needs of real people that counts -- and not the bits of metal in our church buildings, or the pervasive, spurious, and theologically dubious moralising about people's gender and sexuality -- it will remain on that road to receivership.
More on Williams in New Statesman | 10.6.11
Here's the text of Rowan Williams's leader in the New Statesman. Thankfully it's not as partisan as I'd feared, but I hold to the criticism I implied yesterday: namely, the curious way Williams bemoans the lack of public argument concerning education and health reform (in spite of there being vigorous public argument which has resulted in policy shifts from the government), while systematically failing to deliver anything resembling this kind of public argument or procedural transparency in his own church. Indeed, according to Colin Slee it is Williams leading the moral obfuscation over issues such as gay bishops.
Other than this, my response to Williams's article is as follows. I think religious leaders contributing to political debate is a Good Thing. For a start, it is their duty to speak truth to political power; in the case of Williams's faith, quiet complicity in an unjust status quo is not defensible within Christian norms. But Williams is too uncharitable towards government policy. Making work pay, reducing long-term benefit dependency, raising the personal tax allowance, establishing a more diverse school system allowing pupil mobility: these policies are not plausibly accounted for by the "deserving and undeserving poor" trope that Williams cynically invokes. They are at least partly inspired by a vision of empowerment for the poor, and it would have been nice for Williams to acknowledge that there is authentic moral reasoning underpinning these policies as well as the policies of the left.
Burchill going bonkers | 9.6.11
Is it just me, or does Julie Burchill get more unhinged by the week? Today half her article is in capital letters (you'd never catch me DOING THAT.) After saying something incomprehensible about Sandi Toksvig, she moves on to this:
Last week in Brighton, 200 people attended the funeral of Tony Magdi, a local shopkeeper killed by a cyclist after Mr Magdi had accidentally knocked another cyclist off his bike while opening his car door. The killer – a paranoid schizophrenic who saw fit not to take his medication – was sentenced to 18 months and will probably serve only half that due to the Government's curious, almost kinky policy of forgive and forget – forgive the criminal, forget the victim.
Exactly how many stereotypes does Burchill manage to name-check here? There's plenty of people out there doing idiotic things while riding bikes, and I've been one of them more times than I should. But it still feels a little unfair to take the actions of a paranoid schizophrenic as representative of all us mere idiots.
Ferret on Williams | 9.6.11
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s highly politicised and biased criticisms of the Coalition lessen the dignity of his office. But here’s the key point. This is displacement therapy, designed to take Dr Williams’s mind off the shocking crisis of morale in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.
He can’t hold his Church together. His authority diminishes by the day. So what does he do? He retreats to the comfort zone of guest editing the New Statesman and Left-wing scaremongering over the Government’s modest reductions in planned spending.
It’s one thing to dismiss the Big Society as a meaningless slogan (though I don’t think it is). It’s quite another to suggest that it’s an “opportunistic” excuse for spending cuts. Do you remember Dr Williams protesting when Gordon Brown was hosing down the public sector with money, fundamentally weakening the economy – and the weakest people in it? Me neither.
Compare and contrast | 9.6.11
Williams says the "anxiety and anger" felt by voters is a result of the coalition's failure to expose its policies to "proper public argument".
[Colin Slee] concludes that the problem of secrecy is “endemic: it is essentially created by a system of overwrought confidentiality which no commercial organisation would use.”
In answer to a question in the Synod last November, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the Fritchie inquiry had been concluded. “It would not be appropriate to give this a wider circulation.”
In short: hahahahahaha! Lol jk ABoC
Society leads the church | 5.6.11
Finally! Someone said it! And that someone was Colin Coward:
Secular employment best practice sets an example that the Church of England would do well to adopt.
Much ecclesiastical reasoning seems to take the following form:
Church should do stuff that society stopped doing cos it was wrong!
God is not a Christian | 4.6.11
To speak bare truth would try a faith that was not weak.
"God is not a Christian" -- that's the title of Desmond Tutu's new book. And here are some of Tutu's characteristically incisive words:
if God is one, as we believe, then he is the only God of all his people, whether they acknowledge him as such or not. God does not need us to protect him. Many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded. It is often said, half in jest, that God created man in his own image and man has returned the compliment, saddling God with his own narrow prejudices and exclusivity, foibles and temperamental quirks. God remains God, whether God has worshippers or not.
That's a great way of putting it. But I must challenge the next passage a little:
Our conduct far too often contradicts our profession, however. We are supposed to proclaim the God of love, but we have been guilty as Christians of sowing hatred and suspicion; we commend the one whom we call the Prince of Peace, and yet as Christians we have fought more wars than we care to remember. We have claimed to be a fellowship of compassion and caring and sharing, but as Christians we often sanctify sociopolitical systems that belie this, where the rich grow ever richer and the poor grow ever poorer, where we seem to sanctify a furious competitiveness, ruthless as can only be appropriate to the jungle.
First, let's deal with the simple claim. It is not true that "the rich grow ever richer and the poor grow ever poorer" in liberal societies, and indeed in the world generally (since this is clearly Tutu's implication). It is in economically liberal societies that the lot of the poor has, historically speaking, been most dramatically improved. It is true that the rich are growing richer at a faster rate than the poor; but according to long-term trends, and in real terms, the poor are indeed getting richer. A retired Anglican priest -- an authority on Christian socialism -- once said to me that "nothing has done so much to end poverty as the free movement of capital".
Second, Tutu quite rightly criticises the sowing of hatred and suspicion. However, I am myself suspicious of what some people would want to count as "hatred and suspicion". There are many in the church, Archbishops being the most senior culprits, who think that the way to avoid sowing hatred and suspicion is to say nothing substantive about any moral question whatsoever: fence-sitting is thought to be a virtuous, "peaceful" thing to do. But if there are those in our midst, in the name of the Christian faith, sowing hatred and suspicion (for example, against gay people in Uganda), is it not the duty of the compassionate Christian majority to actually CHALLENGE those sowing hatred and suspicion? It seems to me that this aversity to challenging others is an even more serious problem than the minority who indulge in hatred and slander. Indeed, it is only because we fail to challenge these marginal voices that they get any airtime at all.
Third, he implies that the fighting of all wars is a Bad Thing. There's a nice moral hygiene to that position, I suppose, but it is surely an illusory one. If the foreseeable consequences of your not going to war are far worse than your going to war, for example to fight a tyrannical or genocidal enemy, how is not-going-to-war a morally admissible course of action, let alone a morally optimal one? I have not heard a cogent answer to this problem from any pacifist. That leads me to the conclusion that absolute pacifism is ultimately morally bankrupt, as it would have us abandon our neighbours in the world to violence and murder at the hand of tyrants, even when it is within our power to protect them.
Private schools for all | 2.6.11
Oh look, here's some complete nonsense on Labour List! (Can you hear the lack of surprise in my voice?)
The thing that stops poor students from getting into Oxbridge is that they don't get good enough grades at school. They don't get good enough grades at school because they don't have access to the best schools, all of which are fee-paying, and none of which the poor can afford to attend.
Jones picks the wrong target. I say: undertake a radical overhaul of the schools system, and let the government pay private school fees (on a means-tested basis) for anyone who can get a place. We'd need to pass some legislation mandating that private schools take these government-sponsored pupils, and we'd need a powerful regulator to prevent artificial fee inflation. But these are considerably more practical and non-insane proposals than Jones's. He would take away the best thing in the education sector in order to bring everyone down to the same level, rather than abolish the thing that is holding the poor back -- namely, state education -- and allow everyone a more equal chance to excel.