York's quietism    (31.12.13)

Last year, I wrote to the Archbishop of York asking why he wasn't making public statements about the vile laws being debated in his native Uganda. He replied and said that there are ways of applying pressure other than "shouting from the rooftops". Now that these other ways have failed (the vile laws having been passed by the Ugandan parliament), I wonder if Sentamu will re-evaluate his attitude towards rooftops? If the last two weeks are anything to go by, it would seem not. I feel justified in asking, then: is Sentamu, and all of his episcopal colleagues, merely following a policy of quietism, possibly tinged with post-colonial guilt, and rationalizing that acquiescence with weasel words spoken behind closed doors?

The problem is, of course, that fewer and fewer people are minded to continue wondering and asking on such topics. More and more are simply reaching conclusions about what this approach means.

Whataboutery and Turing   (27.12.13)

Yesterday, Peter Tatchell posted to his Facebook page explaining some important questions which need answering concerning the British secret services' interest in Alan Turing early in the Cold War:

Referring to Turing's recent pardon, a commenter asked a question, which I paraphrase here: what about all the other people who have been convicted, throughout history, of offences which are no longer offences? Should they be pardoned, too?

My answer is that it depends. In a previous post I explained that there are many ways to codify just principles into law. I gave the analogy of there being different legal speed limits in different countries. Another example would be taxation. An upper rate tax payer who paid 40 per cent of their income to the government would, in 1944, have been guilty of a crime. In 2013, they are obeying the law. Should 1944's tax evaders be pardoned? Clearly not, for the law to which they were subject, while different from the law today, was not intrinsically unjust.

This returns us to the difference between just and unjust law. There is a class of historic legal restrictions on human beings, including but not restricted to laws which enforced the subjection of slaves, laws which prevented women from voting, and laws which criminalized gay people, which were unjust tout court, because these laws violated the basic moral rights of certain persons. The injustice of these laws is, moreover, not mapped out from the moral fashions of our day, but rather from an ideal -- which can be traced throughout history and across cultures -- of the physical and moral autonomy of persons.

Tautologically, Turing had a legal duty to observe the unjust laws to which he was subject. Legally, then, Turing was entitled to expect his conviction. But, in my opinion, there is no *moral* duty to obey unjust laws, since the very apparatus of law presupposes certain basic principles of justice which it must not itself violate. The Queen's pardon, to my mind, does not rewrite the legality of Turing's conduct, but rather affirms the immorality of his conviction.

Turing pardoned at last   (24.12.13)

Many people, myself included, have been involved in the campaign to pardon Alan Turing's 1952 conviction for homosexuality. Today, the Queen has formally issued the pardon. Attention will now rightly turn to the question of why the rest of the 75,000 people similarly convicted should not also be pardoned. Indeed, it is a question I raised a couple of years ago. Others make the same point in a different way.

Don't Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves   (23.12.13)

This is probably the best piece of television I've ever seen. It's a three-part true story about how HIV/AIDS struck through the Stockholm gay community in the 1980s. Released on DVD just after Christmas. (All three episodes are embedded below, but I'm not sure how long they will remain on YouTube.)

Another Mancunian Sunset   (16.12.13)

It's been a good autumn for sunsets.

Sunset in Edinburgh   (16.12.13)

From a business trip back in November.

Bad education (heads)   (15.12.13)

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of teaching inspectorate Ofsted, says that grammar schools are stuffed full of middle class children and don't do anything for social mobility.

First, there are (at least) two kinds of grammar school in England and Wales: state grammar schools, and private grammar schools. Second, the reason that there is little social mobility into private grammar schools is because the Blair government cut all funding for poor children academically able to gain admission to good private grammar schools. Third, as Farage correctly pointed out, the reason there is little social mobility into state grammar schools is because the only grammar schools which Thatcher and Blair didn't close down are in almost exclusively middle-class shire counties.

In short: the reason that grammar schools do not *currently* help social mobility and equality of opportunity is because successive governments have purposely and arbitrarily removed their potential to do so. There was a time when the story was different, which is why the socio-economic backgrounds of MPs (and former MPs) over the age of sixty is so much more mixed.

That the head of Ofsted can't appreciate even these basic historical facts is profoundly troubling. Presumably he also thinks that comprehensive schools do the job a whole lot better.

Mancunian Sunset   (6.12.13)

Clouds over Manchester   (1.12.13)

The delusions of Russell Brand   (6.11.13)

First came the Newsnight interview, then the reaction, then the defensiveness, and finally the attempt at an all-things-considered, rehabilitative opinion piece. Whatever else we might be tempted to say about the stages of Russell Brand's intellectual progress, it is undoubtedly rapid; and such speed is but one symptom of his error.

Let's begin with what is probably broadly agreed. For example, nobody worth listening to would contest that socio-economic inequality and class, both in Britain and globally, is a major problem. But big problems don't tend to have simple solutions. When, understandably possessed by the urgent need to resolve big problems, humans are offered such simplicity, it is hard not to be seduced by the promise of a painless change. Brand calls for "total revolution". I take this to mean a complete change from the status quo. But, as responsible citizens, we are duty bound to consider exactly what such complete change would entail. Does Brand think, for instance, that the equal legal status of women should be eligible for renegotiation when his revolution comes to pass? Does he believe that the modest progress achieved in recent decades in the area of gay rights should be jettisoned? Does he think that the charade of having the right to vote in free elections should be abandoned? (For a charade he considers it to be.)

My guess is that Brand's answer to all of these questions is a resounding "no", just as he has clarified that he thinks there should be "no death camps" in the Brandy Revolution. But the more of this type of question to which Brand answers "no", the clearer it becomes that he doesn't really think there should be a "total revolution" at all. Rather, what he believes is that the problems we face should be tackled broadly within the norms of a liberal democracy. The name that it is conventional to give to this process is "politics". Brand's puerile bluster merely restates the need for it -- slow, grubby, and frustrating though it be. If he wants to, Brand could participate in the process -- but he will first need to become accustomed to distinguishing babies from bathwater.

Norman Geras, 1943-2013   (21.10.13)

Norman GerasI don't quite remember how I began reading the weblog of Norman Geras. I know it was before I began my Master's in 2006, because perhaps his greatest book, The Contract of Mutual Indifference, was on the course reading list. It must have been before that, because I remember it taking several months before I realised that this Norman Geras with the weblog was the same Norman Geras who appeared on my university reading list. I was so taken aback that I emailed him to check that I hadn't made a mistake. "I'm only surprised," he wrote, "that you didn't see the Norman Geras connection earlier".

My experience both of the academy and of the internet was such that, even in the face of compelling self-evidence, I couldn't believe that a serious political theorist was also writing an engaging blog for the general reader. The disorientating sense I had -- of a meeting between two alien worlds of discourse -- goes to show how rare a writer Geras was (even rarer in 2006). All too infrequently does high-quality scholarship overlap with accessible output that ordinary readers can digest and engage with. It is to Norm's great credit not only that he pioneered a website which offered just that, but also that he maintained it so fastidiously, so regularly, and with such clarity and conciseness.

Normblog made me reconsider almost everything on which I've ever had a political opinion, such was the force of Norm's arguments. Over the years, I particularly remember his tenacious take-downs of the UCU's casual dismissal of antisemitism, his support for same-sex marriage, and his inimitable neologism of the "verkrappt left". The good people at Normfest are maintaining an aggregate of tributes. I'll just draw attention here to Eve Garrard's excellent obituary in the Guardian.

Thank you, Norm, for your intellectual honesty, your insight, and your superb sense of humour. May you rest in peace.

Low Pavement, Nottingham   (23.9.13)

Low Pavement, Nottingham

Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station   (22.9.13)

Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station

Oxfam sign, Nottingham   (21.9.13)

Oxfam sign, Nottingham

The More Loving One   (21.9.13)

The great W.H. Auden died 40 years ago this month.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

The UN fails again   (14.9.13)

Today Channel 4 News reports in some detail on the government-led massacre in Bayda, northern Syria:

The UN has failed again: both to act in a manner sufficiently timely and decisive to avert crimes against humanity in Syria, and now to take military action against the Assad regime. In light of the Security Council's failings, the General Assembly could in principle authorise military force against Assad. Sadly, that is not going to happen.

The Sanctity of Marriage   (10.9.13)

The Sanctity of Marriage

Quaker Parrot, Barcelona   (8.9.13)

Quaker Parrot, Barcelona

Shelter, Rhos-on-Sea   (7.9.13)

Shelter, Rhos-on-Sea

Wagtail, Rhos-on-Sea   (7.9.13)

Wagtail, Rhos-on-Sea

An axis of dishonesty   (5.9.13)

Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, opened the new headquarters of the Evangelical Alliance, an association of conservative evangelical congregations in the Church of England. In the Q&A after his speech, Welby said something commendable, and, given where he was saying it, something remarkable too:

What I voted against was what seemed to me to be the rewriting of the nature of marriage in a way that, within the Christian tradition and within scripture, is not the right way to deal with the very important issues that were dealt with in that Bill. The Bill was clearly, quite rightly, trying to deal with issues of homophobia in our society. As I said at the time in the House of Lords, the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia – it has at times either implicitly or explicitly supported it and we have to be really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong. But that doesn’t mean that redefining marriage is the right way forward.

The vast majority of people under 35 think [the church's resistance to gay marriage] is not just incomprehensible but plain wrong and wicked, and they assimilate it to racism and other horrors.

There is much to say about these comments. I say they are commendable because they do, I think, represent a degree of honesty that was completely lacking in the alleged leadership of Rowan Williams. That is good news. However, they also generate rather more questions than answers.

First, if this is what Welby thinks, why did he vote the way he did in the Lords debate on the equal marriage Bill earlier this year? Let us recall, Welby did not merely abstain on the wrecking amendment presented by Lord Dear. A number of his fellow Lords spiritual, including even Tim Stevens, who had been leading the church's opposition to the legislation, at least rescued a little respectability by abstaining. No: Welby voted in favour of wrecking the legislation and curtailing any further parliamentary debate on the Bill as it was presented at the time. Now, I've explained before that opposition to marriage equality need not be based in homophobic prejudice. It must be said that I've not found many arguments which aren't based in homophobic prejudice, but I concede the possibility that such arguments might exist. They would be of the form "straight and gay relationships are equal in moral value and status, but they are categorially different and require categorially different provisions". Such arguments would try to maintain something analogous to the fact that men and women are equal in moral value and status, but that men and women require different rights in respect of healthcare arrangements (for such things as testicular cancer or hysterectomies).

The problem with Welby's position, and that of the church, is that it seems to be one of the arguments that is based in homophobia, because the categorial difference his church maintains is used not to justify arrangements that are equal but different, but rather arrangements which are deliberately exclusive and unequal. Welby's church still refuses to bless civil partnerships or recognise gay relationships in any way, in spite of blessing pets, ships, and candlesticks; it still adheres to a profoundly ill-informed and prejudiced report from 1991 ("Issues in Human Sexuality") as being its definitive doctrinal statement on the matter for the time being; it still interrogates its staff about their sex lives; it still prevents gay clergy from occupying senior positions... the list continues ad nauseam. The dissonance between Welby's appalling voting record and his apparently nice remarks to the Evangelical Alliance is striking. The dissonance is, in short, between actions and words.

Second, the Evangelical Alliance, in spite of the length of Welby's remarks on this subject, have chosen to omit any mention of them from its report on the event. This is straightforwardly dishonest; there is a reason that courts of law demand "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". For an organisation which claims to hold to biblical mores, one might expect its members to take more seriously the commandment not to bear false witness. Also, if one takes a look at their "affirmations", one will see that they "affirm" that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, and that they will oppose any moves to allow blessing of gay relationships. How telling that some churches aligned with the Evangelical Alliance will merrily remarry divorced heterosexuals, but won't touch gay couples with a barge-pole. It seems that they will bend their "affirmations" for straight people, but not for gay people. That sounds like homophobia to me! Welby speaks as if such prejudice is a thing in the church's past that it needs to repent for. What he might need to recognise is that he was addressing a room which is quite content to advocate the continuation of these practices in the present.

The Cayley, Rhos-on-Sea   (5.9.13)

The Cayley, Rhos-on-Sea

Coffee at Marmalade, Rhos-on-Sea   (5.9.13)

Coffee at Marmalade, Rhos-on-Sea

RIP Seamus Heaney   (30.8.13)

Your poetry got me through some dark times as a teenager. Thank you.

Now it's high watermark
And floodtide in the heart
And time to go...
What's left to say?
Suspect too much sweet talk
But never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
That blew me here. I leave
Half-ready to believe
That a crippled trust might walk
And the half-true rhyme is love

The BBC seems to have the best obituary at the moment.

Some remarks on the debate over intervention in Syria   (30.8.13)

First, since it is not universally known, it should be remembered that the international community has a responsibility to protect populations under threat of political violence from their own governments. Regardless of the blame for the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, this is clearly the case in Syria, and has been for approaching two years.

Second, detractors of intervention in Syria are right to draw attention to the need to weigh consequences against principles. But such calculations are a part of the exercise of the responsibility to protect; they are consistent with reasoning that might lead the international community to military or other interventions, and not contrary to it. Furthermore, such calculations are not decisive. Suppose that you hear an act of domestic violence in progress in your neighbour's house, and have reason to fear for the life of at least one of those involved. If you were personally to intervene, you calculate, there is a real risk not only of that person being killed anyway, but also of yourself and other bystanders losing their lives. Although these are clearly morally relevant countervailing considerations, there remains a case for saying that in spite of these risks you have a moral duty to try and protect your neighbour.

Third, the Labour leadership has behaved in a manner categorically hypocritical on this issue. Miliband initially indicated support for Cameron's strategy. Once he realised that domestic political advantage could be had by a change of heart, oh! How his heart did change. He then described Cameron's leadership as "reckless" and "cavalier". In the circumstances, one might be tempted to think these adjectives were more appropriate to the tendencies of Mr Assad. Cameron brought the matter to parliament, and has indicated clearly that he will abide by the will of parliament. He is constitutionally obligated to do neither of these things; is this really what reckless, cavalier leadership looks like?

Fourth, there is an orientalist tendency in some commentary on this matter. Although the Archbishop of Canterbury made a moderate and wise contribution to yesterday's Lords debate, some of his previous remarks have emphasised the complexity and interconnectedness of "the region". Are not all regions of the world complex and interconnected? There is a danger of allowing orientalist exceptionalism to excuse the failure of the international community to act. At its worst, it is a form of moral escapism. This was one factor in the international community's indifference to the Rwandan genocide.

Fifth, certain members of the commentariat have decided that, if a war can be interpreted as a "civil war", then there is no case for international involvement. They could not be more mistaken. Any conflict, left to fester unresolved, will become a civil war. It is true of family life, it is true of the workplace, and it is true of political societies. If anything, this counts in favour of earlier interventions in countries where governments are tyrannizing their populations. Under the strain of political violence, fractures in civil society are likely only to worsen.

Sixth, Norman Geras, an expert on the emergence of the moral concept of "crimes against humanity", presents a number of further points on the subject.

Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona   (18.8.13)

Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona

Fundació Rafael Masó, Girona   (18.8.13)

Fundacio Rafael Maso, Girona

Zebras, Barcelona   (16.8.13)

Zebras, Barcelona

For the officers of the state are at variance with me   (2.8.13)

I understand, but can't agree with, those who say Edward Snowden is a hypocrite for blowing the whistle on insidious practices in (relatively) liberal states, and then sheltering in states whose insidious practices are even more widespread. I doubt that Snowden's first choice of residence would be Russia or Ecuador. Citizens have fundamental rights to transparent execution of law (UDHR Art. 10), privacy of family, home, and correspondence (Art. 12), and the right to seek asylum when under threat of persecution (Art. 14). As an American citizen, Snowden has done his civic duty. If no-one showed such bravery, we would all end up in Russia.

Papal emission   (29.7.13)

Translation of today's papal emission: "Oh, the gays, we should be nice to them. After all, they're not so bad! Some of them even believe in God! Yeah, but anyway, they shouldn't, like, ask for stuff, or try to have rights or be happy or anything like that. I mean, they're okay, but I'd still rather they shut up."

The original: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them? [...] We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."

Excuse me while I despair.

Back-pedalling on a high horse   (26.7.13)

In reference to his recent Wonga ineptitude, Dave Walker has illustrated the spectacle of Archbishop of Cant Justin Welby back-pedalling while on a high horse:

Dave Walker

I'm familiar with the high horse bit, but in my experience of the church, clergy aren't usually so good at the back-pedalling. To that extent, well done Justin Welby. But it might be better to dismount altogether.

Florida: The Worst State   (21.7.13)

Elephant in the church   (14.7.13)

Some of my former colleagues would be well advised to read this article in the Church Times:

Volunteers have always been the lifeblood of church work, and I am by no means arguing that this should not be the case. But there is a significant difference between the retired gentleman helping with the tea rota, or the husband-supported wife running the crèche, and the young person who dedicates up to 100 per cent of his or her potential earning hours to the service of the church.

This is not voluntary service. It is work; and refusing payment for it pushes the boundaries of legality. It is also is an insult to God's laws for it robs young people of basic dignities.

If these people are contributing significantly to the running of the church, then that contribution should be fairly acknowledged with a reasonable wage; for "the labourer is worthy of his reward" (1 Timothy 5.18).

So, if you are part of a church that employs interns, please consider whether these harsh truths could be their words. Then ask yourself, as when faced with any injustice: what are you going to do about it?

Won't somebody please...   (6.7.13)

...think of the children?

On waking up and smelling coffee   (6.7.13)

Bishop Alan Wilson is writing about it:

It’s hard to express the joy and relief, to those of us who often feel we live in the wilderness on such issues, of having an Archbishop who has woken up and shows real signs of being able to smell coffee. His much loved and revered predecessor, a scholar and saint, seemed to live on his own ecclesiastical planet, a place of bendy syllogisms, poetry and occasional weightlessness.

This produced an environment where it was a virtue for the Church to believe rather romantic stories about itself, for which synod became a massive recycling operation. Heavy in the air hung massive sententiousness about being the “National Church.” Its Nomenklatura shuffled around its hall of mirrors muttering to themselves mysterious self-referential Koans:

  • Everything must change but must also continue to feel the same 
  • Theology was what really mattered, best done behind closed doors, and life was somewhere else 
  • A Church that was the sole arbiter of its own attitudes and behaviour could engage in Evangelism 
  • If everyone who looked out the window just shut up and switched off their computers it would all go away 
  • You could listen to people without hearing anything to change your life 
  • You could discriminate against gays and women without discriminating against gays and women as long as you always had and didn't mean to 
  • To hear that it is absurd and impossible to pretend that nothing has changed is actually a massive relief.

In the old world the Church saw itself as the National Trust for Morals, especially about sex, driven by fear, especially about loss of control, and a sense of its own entitlement. Good news was good news in a desultory “Eat up your Brussels Sprouts” kind of way. [...] If we want a future without sexism and homophobic bullying, all we have to do is stop practicing those things, practice resurrection instead, and we are free.

Terrorific journalism   (23.6.13)

Could someone at the BBC offer a cogent explanation of why the Woolwich attack is reported as "terrorism", while the planting of a bomb outside a mosque in Walsall is not? Yeah, I thought as much.

Nicolas Jaar - And I Say (Xinobi edit)   (23.6.13)

Nice track.

It's My Life   (14.6.13)

Lest we ever forget this Eurovision masterpiece! (Here's Cezar in some more conventional opera.)

Cake or death   (29.5.13)

A mosque in Yorkshire has been praised for inviting in some hostile EDL protesters for a cup of tea and some biscuits. How many churches would be prepared to give the same reception to their detractors? Sadly, speaking from experience, I'd say... not many.

Double standards   (20.5.13)

Should a civil registrar be allowed to opt out of marrying an interracial couple on grounds of conscience? Should a civil registrar be allowed to opt out of marrying a same-sex couple on grounds of conscience? Explain to me how the principle differs. We are all subject to the law. If such registrars can't, in good conscience, fulfil the duties which they are employed to fulfil, then they need to find a new job.

Keith takes a holiday   (19.5.13)

Remarking on the Catholic church's handling of hypocrite Keith O'Brien, who has recently gone away on penance (holiday), one of the complainants against him remarks: "I will give forgiveness if asked, as long as the damage has been recognised. At times, we don't do ourselves a lot of good by throwing pardon around like confetti without a change of heart. I am angry at the system that licked his boots and allowed him to get on with it." Quite so.

Brendan O'No   (17.5.13)

The other day, Brendan O'Neill gave a speech in which he wanted to argue that gay marriage represents a "war on difference". He attempted to support this by the analogy of a music college (i.e. marriage) being forced to admit people who are no good at music (i.e. teh gays). Now, Mr O'No tends to position himself so far beyond the realm of reasonable thought that there's little point in engaging with him. On this occasion, though, his wrongheadedness is, I fear, fairly widely shared.

Let's debunk this spurious analogy, which can be achieved with a little historical awareness. After all, there was a time when marriage was used to wage a "war on difference". Gay people were expected either to marry someone of the opposite sex, often producing misery and sexual frustration for all concerned, or to be single and lonely out of misplaced respect for the sensitivities of a prejudiced majority. It is not too hard to see that what is happening now -- the opening of the institution of marriage to "different" relationships -- is an affirmation of difference par excellence, and not a diminution of it. (Particularly if we consider that nobody has to get married if they don't want to.) As for the music college analogy, let's just note that Mr O'No seems to think that the real reason teh gays shouldn't be allowed in is because he thinks they're no good at marriage and don't deserve a place in it. After all, there's only so much marriage to go round! Right?

Arguments often fall flat on their face. Luckily for Mr O'No, his never got off the ground to start with.

Earth to George   (13.5.13)

Renowned* Former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has repeatedly lamented the persecution of Christians in Britain. Well, old darlinck, a quick FYI. This is what real (rather than imagined) religious persecution looks like:

For more than four months my mother was held in solitary confinement. In 2010, after 2½ years of detention, during which the seven were physically mistreated, they were charged with baseless accusations of espionage, insulting Islamic sanctities, crimes against national security, and ''spreading corruption on earth''. Any one of these charges can result in the death sentence in Iran.

Not quite the same as being obliged to treat citizens fairly in public office, wouldn't you say? (The scandal of it!)

* This.

More Moore   (11.5.13)

Charles Moore, a Conservative who insists that so much talk about gay marriage is damaging the Conservatives, has chosen to pen another column on the topic. Fine by me; from these quarters you'll hear no objection to damaging the Conservatives! However, in his characteristically self-satisfied tenor, Moore writes as though no answers have actually been given to the points he makes. His contention today is that the Marriage Bill will change the "nature" of marriage. For a start, marriage has no "nature"; it is a social and legal institution which has been modified throughout history. But what he is getting at is that marriages between men and women will somehow be changed by the fact that same-sex couples will soon also be able to enter into legal marriages.

Since rational argument is not Charlie's cup of tea, shall we just have a little wager? The morning after the Marriage Bill is passed, if all married heterosexual couples suddenly wake up to find their marriages changed -- presumably by husbands being possessed of an irrepressible urge to plump cushions, and wives spontaneously becoming Grand Theft Auto addicts, or perhaps by husbands and wives the land over discovering their genitals to have been mysteriously modified by an Act of Parliament (for such is the silliness of this trajectory of thought) -- I will take it all back. Alas, when these absurd outcomes fail to materialise, I won't expect similar concessions from the other side. Such is the "nature" of brainless conservatism.

Totland Bay   (6.5.13)

Totland Bay

Totland Bay   (6.5.13)

Totland Bay

Totland Bay   (6.5.13)

Totland Bay

If Heterophobia Were Real   (4.5.13)

Love is patient, love is kind   (9.4.13)

An Open Letter to the Church, from a College Kid Who Misses You.

Interviews with LGBT seniors   (6.4.13)

Forgive the relentlessly banal and distracting piano music.

Carey, Carey, quite contrary   (6.4.13)

George Carey is fast becoming to Christianity as Alan Partridge is to broadcasting. Most of his comments are too facile to bother engaging with. Except perhaps this one point:

By dividing marriage into religious and civil the Government threatens the church and state link which they purport to support. But they also threaten to empty marriage of its fundamental religious and civic meaning as an institution orientated towards the upbringing of children.

Let's leave to one side more of this prejudiced language of teh gayers "emptying" marriage of its meaning (which echoes Sentamu's talk of "diminishing" and "dilution"). Carey mentions the "upbringing of children", as if there were no gay people or gay couples in the world currently bringing up children. Well, old boy, there are, and by all accounts they seem to be doing it just fine.

What Carey and his apologists really want to say, but are too afraid to, is that they don't think gay people should have anything to do with raising kids. And that, I'm afraid, is a view which belongs about two hundred years in the past.

Nina Simone plays Sound of Silence   (29.3.13)

Advertising standards and the TfL ruling   (24.3.13)

Last week the High Court ruled that TfL's decision to block some anti-gay advertisements from buses last year was lawful, but "procedurally unfair". In the ruling, its lawfulness is justified on the grounds that the ads, placed by Anglican Mainstream and the Core Issues Trust, would have caused widespread "offence". The outcome of the ruling is right, I think, but for entirely the wrong reasons. The causing of offence, although sadly restricted under English law, is not a good reason to curtail the free expression of an individual or organisation. After all, many were surely offended by Stonewall's "Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!" campaign. Those celebrating the fact that the High Court has upheld the ban would have little recourse if TfL chose not to carry Stonewall's advertisements in future. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

So why, you ask, do I think that the Court's decision was right nevertheless? It seems to me that there was a sound reason to block the adverts. The wording was: "Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay And Proud. Get Over It!". This wording implies a positive claim that people can stop being gay. Since the Core Issues Trust is concerned largely with "reparative therapy" for gay people, this is reasonably understood as being tantamount to an empirical claim about the clinical effectiveness of such treatments. It is doubly clear that this is the reference, since the Core Issues Trust's web address is appended to the ads.

Making unsubtantiated claims about the effectiveness of a therapeutic treatment is routinely, and rightly, restricted under advertising standards regulations. Those would be the proper grounds on which to refuse to display these banners. After all, why should a product such as a moisturiser have to demonstrate its safety for market, while similar requirements are not made of a psychological therapy which is widely documented to have caused much harm? There is no medically accepted basis for the claim that gay people can become "ex-gay" or "post-gay" through such therapy. By contrast, the existence of gay people, which was Stonewall's only claim, is incontrovertible (without descending into the depths of an epistemological argument that it is hardly TfL's to adjudicate).

The contrast here is is not so different from that between the statements "Some people are black" and "Ex-black, post-black, and proud". The first is self-evidently true. The second is, at best, nonsense on stilts.

Upon the enthronement of a new Archbishop   (21.3.13)

Yesterday Justin Welby commented upon the "stunning quality" of some gay relationships. The quality of our relationships would be stunning only to someone who had a prejudice that they were less than good: the exception proving the rule. And if he witnesses this stunning quality, why would he lead the church in persisting with the cruelty of excluding gay couples from its blessings?

On the very day that the last Archbishop of Canterbury was enthroned, my partner and I got together. Ten years later, through the grace of God, through my fiancé's care and understanding, and through the generosity and sensitivity of countless friends, we are still together.

During that decade, the Church of England vociferously opposed and attempted to wreck the Civil Partnerships Bill; went on to claim dishonestly that they had supported it all along; and continued, even under a new Archbishop, to oppose and attempt to wreck the Marriage Bill.

In all that time, and in spite of the fact I worked for a church for nine of those years, church has been the only place where our relationship was not affirmed; and not even called by name. It is with relief, as the CofE continues on the road to disestablishment, that I find myself free from the sanctimony and priggishness of this organisation.

I look forward to spending a life of love together with my partner. It is a shame that some, whose vocation is to love, refuse to share in it.

Oh, O'Brien   (3.3.13)

Over the years Keith O'Brien has described gay people as "captives of sexual aberrations", criticised the introduction of civil partnerships, described gay relationships as "harmful", labelled gay parenting "totalitarian", compared gay marriage to "slavery", described gay marriage as "a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right", and as "degenerate". He was awarded "Bigot of the Year" in 2012 by gay rights charity Stonewall for his voice of extreme division and prejudice. During the gay marriage debate, commentator Dan Hodges remarked that "I can't remember the last time I read a more morally and intellectually bankrupt rant from a senior member of the clergy," in reference to O'Brien's remarks.

It seems that, as many would have guessed, these comments were at least in part O'Brien's personal psychodrama: a battle between his nature and his settled moral beliefs, played out in a public political debate. It is a well-trodden path. But, before we all get this wrong: the hypocrisy here is not caused by the conflict between his own homosexual attraction and his negative remarks about homosexuality in general. While that conflict indicates great personal turmoil, no doubt, it is at least logically consistent.

The hypocrisy is between experiencing first-hand "unwanted same-sex attraction" (as the ugly "Christian" set phrase seems to be), and yet using the language of diminishment and sanctimony towards those he should have been especially capable of experiencing empathy for. His words were at the very least a gross betrayal of his pastoral duties, as I remarked at the time. And the deeper hypocrisy is, allegedly, of using a position of pastoral care to attempt to seduce others into the same sexual conduct which he publicly denounced.

I hope and pray that O'Brien will recover from what must currently be a truly horrible experience. But as part of his recovery, he will have to find a way to process the fact that the sadness he is experiencing now is the kind of sadness that he has been inflicting on gay people, and especially gay Catholics, for many years.

Status and estate agents   (27.2.13)

This being Britain, having discovered in Jimmy Savile a new social pariah, we must turn to diminishing the state of his dwelling; apparently it was left in a "terrible condition". Cp. the Telegraph's report the other day about a girl with extraordinarily high IQ, which in the second paragraph made reference to the fact that her parents' house was worth £350,000. Human society is very strange.

Peter Tatchell and Simon Hughes discuss the 1983 Bermondsey by-election   (24.2.13)

Pink Sunset   (17.2.13)

Pink Sunset

Republican speaks for equal marriage   (17.2.13)

Let them (have and) eat cake   (12.2.13)

In yesterday's Telegraph, Cristina Odone wrote

When the Civil Partnerships Bill was going through parliament, heterosexual couples were told the law wouldn’t apply to them as they had the option to marry, while gays didn’t. Now that gays will be allowed to marry, shouldn’t straights be allowed a civil partnership with the rights that go with it? I fear the answer is yes.

The irony she misses, of course, is that civil partnerships would not have been necessary had opposition to gay marriage not been so strong ten years ago. Civil partnerships were a compromise, and nobody should be surprised that, social attitudes having mellowed in the light of the sky not having fallen in, most now see the sense in allowing same-sex couples access to the institution of marriage.

The new discrimination in law -- that opposite-sex couples are not at liberty to undertake civil partnerships -- could also be eliminated by repealing the Civil Partnerships Act. This will be politically impossible, though; not least because the churches and a certain stream of conservatives have made such an embarrassment of marriage in recent months that many heterosexuals will now campaign for a more civil arrangement.

A simple point   (10.2.13)

Watching the House of Commons debate over the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill last week, I was struck by one point repeatedly made by opponents of the legislation: that people are diverse and different, and that equality legislation suppresses, rather than celebrates, these differences. Is this true?

1/ Men and women are different. Should there be one law for males, and another for females?
2/ Persons practising diverse religions are also different from one another. Should Christians have some rights that Hindus don't have?
3/ Some have different colour skin. Should black people ride in one part of the bus, and white people in another?

Equality legislation does not suppress differences. It protects people from those who think that they are just that little bit more equal than others.

Harry's House / Centerpiece   (6.2.13)

The Hissing of Summer LawnsHarry's House/Centerpiece by Joni Mitchell on Grooveshark

Having heard the highlights of Joni Mitchell's Blue and Hejira, I turn to The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). This is an upbeat album; it draws on jazz and rock styles, in contrast with the lighter folk overtones of earlier records. It also features thicker textures, electronic instruments, synth, and more extensive studio editing.

This track, "Harry's House / Centerpiece", embeds an old jazz classic by Sweets Edison and Jon Hendricks.

Heatwaves on the runway
As the wheels set down
He takes his baggage off the carousel
He takes a taxi into town
Yellow schools of taxi fishes
Jonah in a ticking whale
Caught up at the light in the fishnet windows
Of Bloomingdale's
Watching those high fashion girls
Skinny black models with raven curls
Beauty parlor blondes with credit card eyes
Looking for the chic and the fancy to buy

He opens up his suitcase
In the continental suite
And people twenty stories down
Colored currents in the street
A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof
Like a dragonfly on a tomb
And business men in button downs
Press into conference rooms
Battalions of paper minded males
Talking commodities and sales
While at home their paper wives
And paper kids
Paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid

Yellow checkers for the kitchen
Climbing ivy for the bath
She is lost in House and Gardens
He's caught up in Chief of Staff
He drifts off into the memory
Of the way she looked in school
With her body oiled and shining
At the public swimming pool ...

... Shining hair and shining skin
Shining as she reeled him in
To tell him like she did today
Just what he could do with Harry's House
And Harry's take home pay

Letter to Gerald Kaufman MP   (6.2.13)

Dear Sir Gerald,

I am one of your constituents in Manchester Gorton. I write to thank you for supporting the Marriage Bill at yesterday's Second Reading.

My partner and I celebrate ten years together this month, and the progress of this Bill encourages us that one day society will be able witness to our relationship on equal terms with heterosexual couples.

As a regular churchgoer of twenty years, I also hope that the leadership shown by you and 399 other MPs will eventually lead the Church of England to see the wisdom of affirming the loving relationships of all its members.

Yours faithfully,

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Joni Mitchell in concert at the BBC, 1970   (27.1.13)

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Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)   (23.1.13)

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