Category: politics

Political thingamabobs

Who will decide the next President?

No Comments

It’s US election time, and all eyes are on America – who will win the day? Will it be POTUS, President Barack Obama, or will it be the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney? More importantly, who will decide the winner?

I was emailed recently by a website, trying to promote its developed graphic. The graphic is quite large, but I include it below.

Facebooking for Office Infographic - President

I know, a huge image – a lot to take in. But it makes a number of very interesting points; points about how the internet and social media influences people, whether it’s changing minds or just reminding people to vote. It sounds a little depressing to say, but compared to the number of people who use social media, the number who vote is substantially less. Obviously, this graphic uses US research, but I would imagine the same is true of the UK, we’re not that dissimilar in culture.

Just think what might change if all those young people voted! Particularly in Northern Ireland, where admittedly I don’t vote because I have no faith in our politics. How many more like me, who feel disenfranchised? How many, who banded together would change the vote entirely?

It’s making me re-think my own policy of abstention. Maybe it will yours, if that is your way. If you already do vote, well I guess you should note how well you influence others, purely by talking about it amongst your friends. And personally, I’m hoping that come 6th November, the USA will act as the social media predicts – and re-elect Obama.

Peace, out!
– Matt

Hymn or Us 2012 – “To what extent should religion influence education?”

No Comments

GLYNI StarLast night was the 2nd Annual “GLYNI Presents: Hymn or Us” event at Belfast Pride, and this year, keeping with the religious connections for the last year, the specific topic this time around was “To what extent should religion influence education?” with the obvious focus being on LGBT affairs!

Once more, William Crawley acted as speaker, and a varied and high-profile panel was arranged, including the following people:

Bishop Donal McKeown –  Catholic titular Bishop of Cell Ausaille, member of CCMS and school principal
Caitríona Ruane – Sinn Féin politician, former education minister for Northern Ireland, and current Sinn Féin Chief Whip
Peter Linas – Member of the Evangelical Alliance
Ciaran Moynagh – Solicitor
Shirley McMillen – Teacher, and founder of Northern Ireland’s first ‘Gay-Straight Alliance’ in a school

As you can agree, a good mix of people, with a broad range of backgrounds, from a ministerial opinion, teaching opinion, legal opinion, religious – well-equipped to answer the questions of the waiting audience!

There was no prearranged format for the evening, and no prearranged questions. To give the audience time to gather their thoughts, as well as hear a little from the panel, the evening was kicked off by a question from William himself. The format then really just became a discussion, rather than questions, between the panel and the floor.

I thought that since people appreciated the last write-up, I’d do one for this too. Now, I must admit that I took no-where near the amount of notes this time around, and as with my earlier write-up, I believe I have captured the essence of what was said, but this is not to be taken as verbatim. Due to the nature of the discussion this time around, there aren’t really ‘questions’ so much as just discussion. I didn’t record much of the audience.

William: “Do you think schools are a safe place for our LGBT pupils (and teachers)?”

Caitríona: No, but they are getting better all the time. What we need to see is more progressive acts, like what happened at Shimna, very progressive.
Shirley: GSA are a very simple but effective help, ours is the form of an after-schools club, they have 15 pupils who identify as LGBTQ. Very positive impact, admittedly the existence of the club was used as a ‘slag’ term at first (“Oh, you should get yourself to the GSA!!!”), but now it is accepted and basically normal for the pupils.
Donal: Well, there are many issues that make schools unsafe for a whole range of pupils, not just LGBT. Teachers who want to apply for a Catholic school do have equal access and are not excluded on that basis, or made to feel unwelcome.
Peter: There are many issues yes, including sectarian bullying. LGBT is an issue but there are many stories of it getting better.
Ciaran: Well, there is a difficulty in reporting homophobic bullying due to unwillingness for pupils or teachers to out themselves. That isolates them further, acting as a double-edged sword – they have the choice to report incidents, ‘outing themselves’ and get targeted for being gay, or ignore issues, remain closeted and feel isolated for this.

Caitríona : I hope Donal will take it away with him that teachers don’t feel they can be out and apply for jobs, particularly though not exclusively within his organisation. I hear that a lot and it is very worrying. Shimna is great, it’s radical in that it brings together all the straight people too, which is how we have to keep going – the attitudes and the legislation will only change if we can bring straight people into the discussion on our side.
It’s worth remembering that legislation is only as good as how it is used by people. There is a piece of legislation that does affect schools. Employers have a duty of care, even towards teachers. It just isn’t widely used to pursue incidents.

Ciaran: We need pupils to take the initiative, even legal action, but is this an effective remedy? This is a reactive approach, which is important and would change things, but having the section 75 legislation affect schools would mean a proactive approach and not reactive.

Shirley: It’s all very well for Donal and Peter to say that there is lots of bullying and lots of issues, but LGBT is and should be considered a separate case due to the statistics on homophobic bullying [numbers which I could not record fast enough, but were much higher for LGBT pupils in areas of physical bullying, depression, self-harm, eating disorders] .

Peter: [On a discussion of separation of church and state] My Baptist background actually encourages separation of Church and state. But there is an obligation on schools to support a Christian ethos and to have collective worship. However, there is also a value problem, if you removed entirely the Christian values, some other set of values would have to replace them, what would that be?

Caitríona: It is important that we get represented – get onto boards of governors! They are very powerful, but they are advertised and open and we need a diverse mix on them, as they are the gatekeepers, they hold a lot of power in schools.

Donal: [On whether Catholic schools are giving an ‘incomplete’ education] Catholic education is trying to give an integrated education, with religion as a lens through which to view things. As a vision through which to view the theology of the body. You don’t teach subjects, you teach pupils, and it is important to have a rapport with teachers so it is memorable. On biblical teachings, the idea is that we urge everyone to understand this idea of theology of the body – the body is a temple for the holy spirit. I’m not saying it’s a choice or anything, what I am saying is that you take what is best for your body and what is in God’s plan. With that in mind, the idea spiritually for homosexuals is celibacy.

Peter: [Asked if it is right to ask non-religious people to be celibate based solely on ANOTHER’S idea of the theology of their body] No, there is no point or justification for ‘imposing’ celibacy on people without faith. But remember legally there is a requirement for collective worship. And it is right to be able to teach that homosexuality is a sin under the current Christian ethos.

Caitríona: That is not right, either from the perspective of the LGBT pupils or from leading the straight pupils to believe that they are somehow better than their LGBT peers. You can’t have this idea perpetuated in a school, where pupils easily see all the differences in each other, that some are less – no wonder you get bullying as a result.

[From the floor] Gavin from Rainbow Project: The bishop is being disingenuous towards employment, there are many examples of teachers being told to not talk about their sexuality, where they go on holidays, and held back from advancement. Schools aren’t even made to feel WELCOME to pupils and teachers who are LGBT. This is an easy fix, teach about things, allow posters and leaflets!

“Bullshit!” – Bishop Donal McKeown

Peter: [In a discussion about how telling a pupil in an RE class that homosexuality is a sin could be demeaning or disparaging] Where is the space for some of faith to say that it is not compatible with biblical teaching? Is that disparaging?

Audience: If a straight person turned round and talked about how him and his wife have sex [no, not literally like a story!], and some person replied with “Oh my god why did you have to bring that up? That’s disgusting, now I’ve got a disgusting image in my head” you would call that person dysfunctional. Flip that around, and somehow we’re talking about the dysfunctional person needing legal protection against being called dysfunctional?!?

Shirley: The right to be safe and equal, particularly as a child, well in my opinion and most others, that comes first to your right to have freedom to discriminate.

Peter: [On the matter of parental choice to send a pupil to a school of faith] Schools are a contested space. Faith schools are a choice that parents make, and they have that right.

Caitríona : If a parent were to ask a school to corporally punish, slap their children, it’s still illegal and wrong, despite what a parent wishes. A parent’s wish for a faith-based education is not a trump to rights of a child.

Lots of discussion from the floor. Commitment for Caitríona to talk to John O’Dowd about a specific question raised on the protections in place for home-schooling. An amusing moment where the bishop, in response to a rumour from P.A. on the idea that CCMS is fighting for its right to discriminate against LGBT teachers, Donal simply replies loudly “BULLSHIT!”.

William: Final question, how do you practically make schools safer?

Shirley: Start a GSA. Use the Cara-Friend and Rainbow training packs and resources. Schools make it clear that they fight homophobic bullying in all its forms.
Donal: Make sure all schools have the opportunity to have this conversation. I can try to influence the organisations I am involved in to review the situation.
Ciaran: I will continue to assist legally with any organisation. Especially on section 75. Pro-bono!
Caitríona : I will continue to work in our party to work for all aspects, both schools and society opinions, of LGBT people and organisations.
Peter: Homophobic bullying and language is very unhelpful, and the church has unfortunately engaged in this. I will condemn any kind of language that occurs!

Personally, I hear a lot of messages, good ones, and we will see if it leads to any changing of attitudes within these parties and organisations. I take issue with a lot of the religious opinion, but at least some of what was said was done so in a more respectful way than it sometimes is.

Personally, I think the point is missed that, to be honest, a parent doesn’t have the right to insist on indoctrination of their child to a particular religion, in the same way I disagree with baptism and circumcision for the same reason, when kids grow up they can make up their own minds – and if you were so confident that your religion is god-given and holy and great, they will pick it themselves. Faith schools and religious ceremonies are to me the tacit recognition that most people raised without such ideas would actually think them worth considering later in their life.
I’d not quite care if churches wanted to be able to teach, in church or R.E. classes, that “Some of you may be gay, that’s ok, but in our belief, to stay holy you should be celibate rather than have sex with the same sex. This is in the same way that, if you are straight, you should wait until you are married.” because that is a gentle approach that makes it clear this is only in their belief, and need not be accepted – and moreover doesn’t use the old chestnuts of “sin”, “abomination”, “unholy”, “paedophile”, “bestiality” and others.

This brings me onto an aside – I have to wonder if the opposition to equal marriage is that their main view is “no sex before marriage” and  this is how they justify the idea that we gays have to be celibate. If we can get married, then it raises the possibility that a queer person could actually WAIT until after marriage to have sex!

Anyways, I must congratulate Mark Brown, co-ordinator of GLYNI, on a very successful event again this year, as well as Belfast Pride and its volunteers for their help! See you next year!

Peace, out!
      – Matt

Northern Irish Identity

No Comments

Some of you may be familiar with the date. 11th July. Every year. That’s tonight, by the way.

A night where people go crazier than usual, where bonfires spring up and police are on patrol. And on this ‘special’ night, I wanted to share a post from my friend, Chris Geddis, on national identity in ‘Our Wee Country’…

Ok, this is Northern Ireland, or the North of Ireland or whatever your upbringing and current views tell you it’s called. Whatever. This is a disclaimer, this could get controversial and somewhat nasty in the debate that’s probably going to occur. This is your warning, so don’t get hurt and offended later if you can’t steel yourself beforehand.

Northern Ireland, a wonderful littleclusterfeck of a nation is seen mostly as usual in green and orange and fuck everyone who doesn’t quite fit into that.

Here’s my problem. Northern Ireland is currently a nation under the united title of Great Britain, something that also encompasses Scotland, Wales and England.I don’t view my nationality as either Irish or British, I view it as Northern Irish, you are allowed to disagree with me here in views to how you see your own nationality but don’t you dare talk down to me about how my nationality isn’t valid or doesn’t exist.Here’s some popular arguments. “You can’t get a Northern Irish passport, you can only get an Irish or GB one.” This is very true. So by that logic, Welsh, Scottish and English people aren’t allowed to call themselves Welsh, Scottish or English, because you can’t get Welsh, Scottish or English passports, only British ones.

Another favourite of mine is being told I’m being wishy-washy. I’m not. I’m sorry but it’s true. I feel I’m Northern Irish. I look to the South and don’t see myself associated with or represented by the Dáil or the Senate. They don’t affect my life. I look to Great Britain, and I can see that the laws passed there will affect me, but each member nation still manages to have its own sense of uniqueness and its own devolved powers.I look then at Stormont, in regards to most powers and issues this is where I feel I need to go and challenge to be represented. We also have our own culture and way of doing things. It’s not Irish culture, and I can’t seem to find anything British culture wise that I can feel I belong to or represents me. I find it here at home in Northern Ireland.So why then do republicans and loyalists, nationalists and unionists insist on calling me out and attempting to the best of their ability to try to make me feel like my opinion is invalid? Scottish people are part of Great Britain, they still have things that are Scottish and unique to Scotland, when they go away abroad places they say they are Scottish.Same with Wales and England. But in Northern Ireland?

Any attempt to assert or try to establish a Northern Ireland identity is often met with the most rampant and ignorant rejections, dismissals and hatred I’ve seen in a long time. Why is this?I can understand if you don’t agree, or feel you need to declare as Irish or British depending on your beliefs and I’ll respect that, but here’s the thing you ignorant bastards. Don’t you ever dare try to tell me that my nationality or belief is invalid, and I can’t call myself Northern Irish. We have our own history, our own culture and our own uniqueness separate from the Republic, and separate from the title British, just like England, Scotland and Wales do.So the next time you feel like you need to get on your high horse and tell me that I’m not supposed to, or my views on my nationality are invalid, I want you to think if you’d tell a Scottish person they can’t be Scottish, a Welsh person they can’t be Welsh or an english person they can’t be english, or an irish person they can’t be irish. Or finally, a British person they can’t be british.Thank you. And wise up.

Don’t do anything stupid on your 11th night, no matter what ‘side’ you’re from.

Thanks to Chris for allowing me to repost.

Peace, out.

Church of England on gay marriage – the consultation

No Comments

I’ve had all day to digest the latest reports, documented in many other reputable news sites (and some disreputable ones). I just wanted to go through and break down the Church of England’s argument all the way down, because it is such huge bullshit. For those not in the know, the UK government put out for public consultation the issue of full gay civil marriage, and this is the ‘official’ Church of England response to the consultation.

The response in full is much too long-winded and pointless for me to copypaste here, but if you want to, read the full document here.

Let’s make a start. First we have this:

Such a move [to introduce gay marriage] would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history. Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.

Intrinsic? Intrinsic is a meaningless word in this context – marriage is not ‘intrinsic’ to humans as it is not itself a natural occurrence – it is a word which we use to describe a particular set of conditions, and a simple way to assign various legal and tax benefits on a blanket basis rather than a case-by-case one. So, let’s drop the emotive wording. Next I’ll be told flying in airplanes is intrinsic
Marriage DOES benefit society, and so why should gay people not also get these benefits, as you say, for promoting fidelity (which is something that, admittedly, the LGB community gets a bad rap on). And please, don’t tell me I CANNOT procreate. I assure you, I am capable, but I choose not to (for obvious reasons), just like many heterosexual couples. This ‘biological complementarity’ I hear so much about these days is a fabrication – the only complementarity is that, to be crass, round peg fits in the round hole. Dress it how you like, and again, I am perfectly capable of that, regardless of you finding my variety of it distasteful.

We have supported various legal changes in recent years to remove unjustified discrimination and create greater legal rights for same sex couples

Bullshit. Are you kidding me? You opposed civil partnerships vehemently! What is that about bearing false witness?

To change the nature of marriage for everyone will be divisive and deliver no obvious legal gains given the rights already conferred by civil partnerships

When your neighbour gets married, does it devalue your marriage? When he’s onto his 6th marriage, is 75 and marrying a 24 year old, does it devalue your marriage? No.
Now, whilst they are correct in that it offers no obvious legal gains, it offers an important distinctive gain, whereby it stops intolerant straight couples from thinking they and their marriages are better than everyone elses. I mean, seriously, that is all this is about, protecting their ability to think they are better than the rest of us.

The Bible teaches us that marriage is a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace, a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh.

This is church talk for boning.

Marriage is given that husband and wife may comfort and help each other, living faithfully together in need and in plenty, in sorrow and in joy. It is given that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love and through the joy of their bodily union may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives. It is given as the foundation of family life in which children may be born and nurtured in accordance
with God’s will, to his praise and glory.
In marriage husband and wife belong to one another and they begin a new life together in the community. It is a way of life that all should honour and it must not be undertaken carelessly, lightly or selfishly but reverently, responsibly and after serious thought.

What part of this cannot and does not apply to loving gay couples? What exactly do these churches think we gay people DO behind our doors??? They think we don’t properly FEEL the same way as other people? That we are aliens or something? Maybe they actually just think we are deluded, and when we say we feel love, they go “Oh pish posh, that isn’t love!” in the same way a parent does to a teenager in terrible US comedies.

Who the fuck elected these people to determine how great, how accurate, how REAL my love is?

It is well known that there is a continuing debate within the Church of England about its declared view of sexually active homosexual relationships. It is important to understand that our response to the question of same-sex marriage does not prejudge the outcome of that continuing theological and ethical debate.

In other words, this response to the consultation was put forth not only by a small gathering at the top, but without the full backing of the Church of England, simply because even THEY don’t know their position! As the comment article from the Guardian points out, many CoE members are very accepting and keen to have equality!

This understanding [of union between man and woman] is deeply rooted in our social culture.

Not any more. Society has changed. This point is therefore invalid instantly.

but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society

I never hear quite how. Is this the same conviction that drove people to insist that black people were not good for society?

This distinctiveness and complementarity are seen most explicitly in the biological union of man and woman which potentially brings to the relationship the fruitfulness of procreation. And, even where, for reasons of age, biology or simply choice, a marriage does not have issue, the distinctiveness of male and female is part of what gives marriage its unique social meaning.

So, let me understand and be clear – marriage between a man and a woman is unique because it can directly produce children except in the cases where it does not, but oh well? You can’t start by saying something key to the argument, and half a sentence later dismiss it as not really being important! (PS: this term fruitful I find absolutely disgusting, like people are just trees to grow things for consumption)

Marriage has from the beginning of history been the way in which societies have worked out and handled issues of sexual difference. To remove from the definition of marriage this essential complementarity is to lose any social institution in which sexual difference is explicitly acknowledged.
To argue that this is of no social value is to assert that men and women are simply interchangeable individuals. It also undermines many of the arguments which support the deeper involvement of women in all social institutions on the grounds that a society cannot flourish without the specific and distinctive contributions of each gender.

Hoo boy… So, in one section, the church has decided that women are inequal, and purports to claim that they are trying to use marriage to make sure women still have a distinct place? How utterly sexist. Presumably they believe that the ‘sexual difference’ refers to a woman in the kitchen, except when she is spitting out babies for the church to indoctrinate.

The rest of the response is about trivial matters, such as current definitions of how marriages are consummated needing changed and it not being addressed. As I said, trivial.

 

I need say little else that hasn’t been said above. The Church of England is acting irrationally, not even at the will of their entire congregation as they freely admit. How exactly they can claim some sort of dominion over matters of morality, over matters of CIVIL marriage is audacious and mistakes their place in society. Don’t like that assessment? Get over it. Churches are not special, they are not better. Everyone can see that from all the greedy pageantry, the child abuse, the mistreatment of women and LGBT people. You lost your hallowed moral high ground long ago, and you have only yourselves to blame.

Cry somewhere else. Gay marriage WILL happen in the UK. It HAS happened elsewhere, and all these apocalyptic ideas have had not happened. Goodbye, sayonara, adios, hastalavista baby.

Peace, out!

– Matt

KONY and the Invisible Children – Does the truth matter?

No Comments

I’ve not heard much about Kony… apart from of course the COUNTLESS facebook, twitter, blog, news, counter-blog, etc etc reports about the issue. Honestly, I’m kinda a bit tired of hearing about it, but I’m also intrigued by the controversy about the organisation, Invisible Children, that has made some headlines.

I haven’t watched the video, by the way, and have no intention of doing so. Why not? Because I think I’ve got the gist –  Kony is a bad guy, top of a few wanted lists, uses and abuses children and kills people. Frankly, screaming at me about a “highly emotional video” is just pointing out a hyped, hyperbolic piece of propaganda at best, or at worst a manipulative money-spinner.

A few things stick out to me. First off, Kony is bad. I don’t think anyone out there questions that, and he should be caught and brought to justice. So that’s right off and dealt with. Bad guy is bad – clear and deserving of support.

However, Invisible Children and the controversy is what I’m finding most interesting. Let’s start with the most ‘damning’ –  the allegation that they fund the Ugandan Army, which is guilty of many of it’s own abuses, and have posed for at least one photo holding guns. For their part, they have said that neither do they endorse nor fund the Ugandan Army and acknowledge it has it’s own problems, however they claim that as the best organised army in the region, they simply must work with these people to catch Kony. Further, they claim that the photo was a joke posed photo for family, and they hate guns.

If indeed the Ugandan Army are the most capable outfit in the region, it’s kinda obvious you have to get their help – I doubt anyone believes that Invisible Children can go tramping around the jungle themselves hunting him down, and if this man is so dangerous, you have to have a military or police force to combat him. So this criticism is unfair and stupid in my opinion. One could argue that as Kony is no longer very active (apparently) the money could go to fighting the Ugandan Army abuses? Perhaps. Another argument is that as Kony uses children, military action against him will cause many children to die. Unfortunately, what can you do on this one? It is a lose-lose, but at least catching the guy is for the greater good. The photo is pretty goddamn awful. Not only is it a terrible photo 😉 but it really portrays them in a strange light, and their explanation isn’t very good either. They could at least have lied, and said that everyone needed to give the impression of being armed, for safety. However, idealistic people need to wise up a little. You aren’t going to catch this guy with rainbows and fluffy bunnies.

The other prong in the criticism is of their charitable structure. The critics claim that only 33% goes to front-line work in Africa, while the rest goes to video campaigns, merchandise and wages, as well as miscellaneous and travel expenses. Their rating is only 2/4 from some ‘Charity Watch’ organisation, denied the external auditing of accounts, and they have not signed up with the US Better Business Bureau, a voluntary organisation with a respected code of conduct.

I’ll be honest, if it helps a charity survive, and if it helps spread awareness, and if it encourages donations, what does percentage matter? Every little helps, as the Tesco saying goes. Surely, the ABSOLUTE value of their monetary benefit to the good causes is what is important? Moreover, before you criticise people for “only” donating 33% to front-line services, calculate for me your percentage charitable donation from your salary. Sure, they could donate more, but couldn’t you? Doesn’t the net result of their awareness raising encourage more donation, thus leading to a net gain in front-line product? As an example, I develop a mobile phone app. I can charge £5 for it, and maybe it’ll sell to 100 people willing to buy it at that price. Or, I can sell it for 50p, a 90% discount, and I would expect to sell to more people. If I sell to 1000 people at the low price, I still make the same money, but I have 10x the market penetration, 10x the word-of-mouth advertising.

As for their charitable status, their audits are a matter of public record in the US, and they pass their inspections year on year it would seem. Their failure on the “Charity Watch” and “BBB” are more curious, and they claim that this is because their management board has only 4 people instead of the required minimum of 5. They say this reflects their grassroots nature, which might suggest a small, loosely-governed organisation. This might indeed be a bad thing, although again, if these guys are passionate and good at being charity volunteers, they might not be so good at the bureaucracy, but does that matter? They should definitely use some money and hire a few people who can help them be a better organisation, but does this reflect on their charity potential? I’m not sure.

That about sums up the criticisms, and it’s easy to read this post and assume I’m on the side of Invisible Children. I’m not. I’m certainly on the side of stopping evil people, wherever they are, but I’m not about to jump on some bandwagon because a video tells me I should, or a bunch of Facebook posts say I should be feeling guilty right about now. I can assure you I won’t be donating to this cause, because rightly or wrongly I don’t really care about it. It evokes little in me beyond the usual “How terrible”. Maybe I’m desensitised to all these causes but there it is.  Maybe I just prefer to devote my time and money to causes closer to home, where I can see the change and use it as a better motivator. Maybe I accept that capturing / killing one man won’t cure a problem. Be suspicious of anyone purporting to do good in your name.

Moreover, don’t guilt people for not ‘caring’ enough to donate. If you donate, fine, but do it because your values and your wits tell you that you should, not because someone posted it on Twitter, or because some video made you cry.