The Sun: Inspiring vitriol, for your entertainment.

March 30, 2013

London, UK. Saturday 17th November 2012. Demonatrators outside the News International offices protest for No More Page Three, against nudity in the national press. Page three of The Sun still has a naked topless model every week day.  © Michael Kemp / Ala

It was late on the evening of the 9th December 2012, that the Tory Party changed their website to reflect the broken pledge that the NHS would be protected from cuts. Since changes to the NHS were made, the number of patients having to wait more than half an hour in an ambulance outside A&E has risen from 11,000 in 2010, to 14,000 in 2011, to 20,000 in 2012. The BMA among other medical unions have expressed anger at the Government’s NHS policy. 7,000 nursing jobs have been lost. 16% of Hospitals now claim to be woefully understaffed. Every day, we hear new stories of the problems within the NHS.
The chair of the UK Statistics Authority said:

“expenditure on the NHS in real terms was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10”.

NHS staff are having to be forced to find £20bn in NHS ‘efficiency savings’ as part of the rules set out by Sir David Nicholson (collectively known as the Nicholson challenge) whilst at the same time dealing with such a huge reform of the health service. A draft version of the NHS risk register suggested that patient care would suffer as a result of the mass of changes, would lead to waiting time increases, and a less well managed system. The Mental Health Charity “MIND” published a report in which it said mental health services were severely overstretched and underfunded.
So, thousands of jobs lost, an NHS in management crises mode, people having to wait more than half an hour to leave an ambulance, pretty much non-existent mental health services, and real terms cuts to health funding. All of this is largely ignored, whilst a girl having a boob job causes apparent outrage. Well done Britain.

We are told never to fully believe or just accept what we read in a paper like The Sun. We should rightfully investigate for ourselves and challenge the piece, taking into account commercial interest and agenda, understanding class biases, its approach to female issues in general, and taking in multiple sources based on multi pieces of evidence, before passing judgement on a story. But, if the story in The Sun plays on our prejudice already, people tend to take it at face value. Or look to another equally as disreputable source (The Mail? A few angry comments on a forum?) for back up.
Maybe your prejudices saw this Headline back in April ’89 four days after Hillsborough, and took it at face value:

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– After all, it took two decades, inquiries, whilst a silent public carried on buying this publication, without question, before the Sun were forced to apologise for such an horrific mistake.

Perhaps you saw this article, and felt a sense of “he did it!” down your spine as you saw a man who looks a little different, paraded on the front of a national newspaper, alluding to the notion that he was guilty of a murder, simply for not looking how the The Sun and it’s readers deem to be acceptable (usually, blonde, big breasts, and naked):

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– Perhaps you’re sat thinking “no, I definitely didn’t believe those stories, but I believe this one, no questions asked!

Perhaps you burned with outrage at the state of ‘Broken Britain’ that would allow a celebrity to take drugs live on TV, after seeing this:

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– And you’d have been right to be horrified. What a terrible idea, a horrific and illegal idea, and clearly something about Broken Britain blah blah. I mean, it must be true, right? Well….

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Perhaps you saw this, and was horrified that a bird had flew away with a baby!!

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– Perhaps this saddened you enough to research for yourself and realise the footage is a digital fake. Which the Sun knew, by printing that a ‘fierce debate’ raged whether the footage was real or not, somewhere in an obscure paragraph on the story. This is not reflected in the headline of terror.

But no, whilst all of those stories are clearly manipulative, invented, and lazy in journalistic quality…… we must all take the Josie Cunningham story on face value.

The Sun are an interesting bunch. “Look at boobs, look at these boobs, no don’t look at her, look at her boobs, aren’t they great *vote conservative* boobs? Keep looking at *immigrants are taking your money* her boobs, don’t take your eyes off the boobs, look at *scroungers, scroungers everywhere* her boobs. Keep looking…“, but this week, they are angry. They are angry that a woman has had breast enlargement surgery, despite their constant attempts to let the Country know what sort of female body is acceptable, whenever possible. Apparently then, morality, in Sun land does not include blatant misogyny, or constant promotion of a culture of policing how people should look. When Harriet Harman attempted to get The Sun to remove it’s topless models from Page 3, the Sun responded by calling her a “feminist fanatic“. Completely degrading her arguments, and resorting to weak ad-hom attacks. So, misogyny…fine. Misogyny that they apparently feel the need to defend, with gems like this….

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I do of course find it a little ironic for right winged papers, and their readers to be complaining of poor NHS services, given the Party that they support wilfully undermine and underfund the NHS at every possible opportunity. They should surely be directing their anger, if their worry was adequate funding for patient care, toward those who have worked to make 7000 nurse jobs redundant…. surely this is far more significant, than one girl having a breast enlargement procedure?

Josie Cunningham, is of course, an easy target – a symbol, if you like – for people who see an NHS failing miserably, aren’t interested in wider context, and need someone to blame. This is especially true if the girl can be presented as a bit of a ‘chav’, somehow and as vaguely as possible they manage to compare her case to an unrelated case, in a separate region of the country, with separate budgets that in no way relate to each other, that includes a child, some awful disease, or a war hero. The usual manipulations.

I do not wish to get into the details of the story itself, I admit to not knowing enough about it, because I have not followed her story for the past 8 years, nor am I her doctor, nor have I sat in on her psych evaluations, nor do I know anything about the case beyond what is presented by the right winged media. There is a lot of guess work being presented as fact all across Twitter and The Sun’s website. A lot of exhausting the object, and a lot of fallacy employing: “She clearly conned the doctors“, “She is taking money away from kids with cancer“, “I have small boobs and I don’t care!!! Why is she not EXACTLY like me?” “She had two slight bumps, so couldn’t possibly have had 0% breast tissue“, “Something terrible about tax payers money and immigrants and scroungers…..or something like that“. We then get told that we shouldn’t blame her. It’s the NHS’s fault, and the doctors. But then, we are told that we should blame her because she in fact, not at all worried about her self image, and just wants to be a model, and so managed to pull off a sophisticated con trick in which she deceived medical professionals with the cunning use of…. crying, probably, maybe, they’re not sure, but they guess that must be the case. Maybe.

But, perhaps they are right. I accept that is a possibility, that the Sun may have done the unthinkable, and printed a story based on fact. It’s a possibility. I don’t deny that. The story itself, I don’t think any of us have the facts on, and so it would be equally as absurd for me to claim it to be based on manipulations, or completely wrong. However, if the story is correct in every aspect, that still does not permit the backlash that unfolded.

So, following on from the above, this article will loosely be based on Josie’s case (though not on the specifics), by using her case as an example to show the intense vitriol that is borne out of feigned right winged media outrage, misplaced, uninformed, and aimed at the wrong person or institution, and the witch hunt it provokes. When, last week, we learnt of the tragic and entirely preventable death of Lucy Meadows, we all knew that it was in part, caused by the fire storm brewed up by a sensationalist right winged media that aims its dirty rhetoric at one insecure, and vulnerable person, and then sits back as the fire spreads, bullying commences, and it doesn’t stop until someone’s head is on a spike. This story is no different. It is a result of weak and horrifying journalism that is wrong on so many levels. The person is of course a different person, with a different mental outlook, different circumstances, and different experiences, but the fundamental reason for The Sun to take such a keen interest in the story, is the same. It is purposely inflammatory sensationalism, with a hint of misogyny, aimed at one vulnerable person, to create an atmosphere of anger for its readership.

So, I will reserve judgement on the actual strength of the case against her or the NHS. I will neither say she did or did not deceive her doctors, nor will I say the doctors were simply bad at their jobs by not sticking to NHS guidelines on cosmetic procedures, I am not going to comment on the philosophy of the NHS, nor what it should and shouldn’t be providing, I am happy to say that perhaps further investigation into the case may prove the Sun to have been absolutely correct, that’s a possibility, I am also not going to claim to understand Josie’s motives or her mental state, she may well be a devious con artist, but she may well also have had serious confidence issues personal to her, surrounding her 0% breast tissue and the psychological effect that will obviously have. I couldn’t claim to know. I am not going to comment on the validity of the specifics of the case, because I, like everyone else commenting on this, have no real clue. It is the result of the reporting of sensationalism and its culture, that I wish to explore.

When I search “Josie Cunningham” on twitter, this is what I get:

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– You may be tricked into thinking she’d committed some horrendous crime to deserve such detestable abuse. But no. She has new breasts. This is tabloid Britain. This is what national ‘news’ outlets, with an agenda, and with a very one sided slant on stories, create. A disproportionate sense of outrage. People do not question. They believe it must be true, and the damage that attitude leads to is irreparable.
Chase her!!! With a pitchfork!! Get the Witch!!!! Why? …. erm…. because she now feels better about herself, using YOUR hard earned money that could have been spent on covering the cost of the massive corporate tax break? The slut!

The underlying issues are barely discussed. More people will have read this story, than have even glanced at the Health and Social Care Act. And that’s a massive problem.

Most irritatingly of all, is Katie Price’s piece in the Sun today. A woman who perpetuated a culture that reveres people with the ‘ideal body’, who made a career simply out of being topless every so often, and selling intimite details of her sex life, in a paper that speaks of “boobs of the year“, and splashes candid photos of young celebrities from revealing angles all over its “news” website, apparently doesn’t see the irony in their outrage, that it might lead to impressionable young people having body image issues in the future. Their argument tends to be “Well, other people don’t have issues, why should you? Be quiet and look at this half naked girl with the perfect body… and then turn over the page to see how fat Britney looks on the beach“. Contrast this with studies into body image, and mental health alongside underfunded mental health services, and you quickly see where the misplaced outrage should be aimed.
And ….. Katie Price; a woman who sold as many stories about her split with Peter Andre as possible. A woman who cashes in on every marriage she’s had, during it, and once it’s over, selling a humiliating ‘statement’ after her break up with Alex Reid, in which she needlessly went on a character assassination rant against him. And also, quite ironically said: “Our difficulties were also not helped by Alex becoming more fascinated by life in the media eye“. A woman who goes public, to announce she thinks Kelly brook is a “heffer” and sparks as many feuds as possible with other “celebrities“. What a wonderful representation of “hard working” celebrities. There you go Josie, if you want to be like Jordan; marry a few times, sell needless sex stories, humiliate your ex, publicly call other women fat, and the Sun will then give you a job in which you write on the morality of NHS boob jobs. Are you fucking kidding me?

Like everything The Sun says and does, hypocrisy is at the apex of any story it presents upon the emotions of “the taxpayer“. News International owns The Sun. When its CEO Rupert Murdoch is not defending allegations of hacking the voicemail of a dead school girl, or bribing police for stories, or showing uninvited paparazzi shots of a celebrity with a bit of breast showing, it used to spend its time losing legal battles over unpaid taxes. In 2009 the Australian capital territory won its battle to reclaim $77 million in taxes and penalties owed by News Corporation. When News Corp moved its headquarters to the US, through tax loopholes, it deprived Australia of millions of $ in unpaid capital gains taxes. Praying to the alter of the “Taxpayer” God when it suits their commercial interests; squeezing the life out of the “the taxpayer” otherwise.

The boob job apparently cost ‘the taxpayer’ £4800. So that’s about £5,999,995,200 less than Vodaphone were allowed to write off their tax bill… no outrage? No? Okay then. That’s also only a couple hundred pounds more of taxpayers money than former Conservative deputy leader Michael Ancram spent on cleaning and gardening for his £1.5m, five-bedroom house. Or a couple of grand less than Conservative Schools Minister Michael Gove spent furnishing his luxury London pad, before switching his second home. Or about a grand less than Tory MP and former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis spent on a lovely new £5,700 portico for his Yorkshire home. But those people are Tories. And they wear suits. So it’s fine. Keep voting Tory, and keep aiming your anger at one young girl with new boobs. Because you hate misspent public funds.

So “infuriated” were the Sun with Josie, they invited her to a topless shoot, and splashed it inside their papers, along with all over their website. This is a way to sell papers, by appealing to a very ill-thought out sense of outrage. Photos enhance the story. But remember! They’re outraged! Their photographers must have been crying with disgust and a sense of moral indignation as they were taking the photos. I can imagine the editor was weeping with anguish as the paper went to print. They didn’t want to do this. But they felt the duty *at this point, put the National Anthem on as you read this*… they had to, for the sake of the Great British Public and the hard working tax payers of this here great nation. Of course that must be it.

The Sun absolutely played both Josie and its readership, by appealing to her dream of modelling and offering a job shooting with a national paper after so many years of (alleged) insecurity – and remember, she doesn’t have a PR team, or a media guru to tell her it might be the wrong move, and The Sun played the readership, not affording them a full, comprehensive narrative from many different perspectives, that is necessary for decisions to be made, and judgements reached. It is under that framework, that it was of course inevitably accompanied by manipulative rhetoric, and nasty public comments:

“Single mum-of-two Josie, 22 — a £9,000-a-year telesales girl — hopes to be the next Jordan. Critics have nicknamed her Katie Cut-Price.”

– For what purpose does including she’s a single mum, and on a meagre salary have? There is no reason to include that whatsoever. It plays simply on an ‘undeserving’ underclass that The Sun is famed for inventing.

“The wannabe model excitedly flaunted her 36DD bust, which was boosted after she wept to her GP about being a 32A.”

– The “wannabe” model. Negative connotations of someone not quite cut out for it. Someone to laugh at. And the comments about the GP; This suggests she shed one tear, and a doctor said “oh okay, have new boobs, we won’t evaluate you any more“. This line of reasoning is reflected in the comments from people all over social media, who seem to be parroting whatever the Sun says.

And then we see the comments underneath the piece:

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Then there is the Youtube clip of her on Daybreak discussing her personal issues with having 0% breast tissue (which, I know, the Sun readers don’t believe to be true). The commentators on there display an equal amount of vitriol and outright bullying:

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– This is the desired affect the Sun was after. It presents one side of a story, in a very demeaning manner, exploits the insecurities and ambitions of the girl (the photographers would have made her feel like a model), and then presents the negative article to the readership as fact, having spent the previous two days building up the story to appeal to outrage, because it is now a story that has potential follow up stories.

But it also has a deeper affect on the culture of not only what is acceptable within the realm of tabloid journalism, but wider society as a whole. The culture that promotes Katie Price as some sort of hero of modern morality, a culture that leads to people having such intense body image issues, is most certainly a culture that surrounds The Sun. Whether the girl in question had serious body image issues or not, is irrelevant. The overtly misogynistic approach to tabloid journalism cannot possibly be spun to suggest a positive outcome. Go to the Sun’s website and count the amount of times it refers to female body image, or presents candid and intrusive photos of a female celebrity. Here, i’ll help:

  • “Spanks a lot wind!” – A story showing an upskirt shot of Khloe Kardashian. The story also includes a close up shot, zoomed into her crotch. The story is about how she tried to pull her dress back down. News!
  • “There’s no-thin flabby about fabby Abbey Clancy” – Apart from crimes against headlines, this is a story about how Abbey Clancy isn’t fat. News!
  • “Jessie J has a body to match The Voice” – A story about how Jessie J looks relaxed in a bikini, leaning against a tree. News!
  • “Pussycat Ashley’s got the cream” – A story about a woman’s tanned legs. News!
    And here’s some more. (Remember, there are all from the Sun website’s first page):
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    Here is a piece from The Daily Mail website a couple of months back, highlighting my point, that the tabloid media is inherently misogynistic, polices what is “right” with the female body image, and thus creates an atmosphere for people “wanting to be like Jordan” to flourish:
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    – The Right Winged tabloid media creates that culture, sometimes subtly, sometimes quite obviously. It is a part of the model of the tabloid media, it is in its fabric. The media is responsible for it, and then The Sun shakes its head in disgust when the product of that culture emerges among people who aren’t celebrities.
    The feminist activist and journalist, Laurie Penny at the Guardian writes:

    “It is vital that we understand that sexism is not just one more naughty thing that the tabloids do. Sexism is the dirty oil in the engine, the juice that makes the whole shuddering sleaze-machine run smoothly. The eyes that are drawn to the topless teenager on page three skim lightly over page two, where propagandists on the Murdoch dollar peddle torrid justifications for the waging of wars and the slashing of public sector jobs and call it news.”

    The “End Violence Against Women Coalition” argued in front of Leveson, that Page 3 was part of a tabloid culture rooted in the 1970s that objectified women, sexualised women, and helped to promote a body conscious society. Leveson noted that the representation of women in the tabloid press raised:

    “important and sensitive issues which merit further consideration by any new regulator.”

    – Misogyny in the press, and the culture of the policing of the bodies of female celebrities whether they welcome it or not, creates wider issues. Especially when mixed with sensationalism, and outrage. That is obvious. It is therefore hugely hypocritical of the Sun to have fanned the flames of a body-conscious culture for decades, and then to so viciously attack the inevitable product of it. They set the fire, and then they run to the rescue with a bucket of petrol, and everyone stands around cheering them as saviours.


  • The Royal Question.

    March 29, 2013

    Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Carfax2

    Source: Wikimedia Commons.
    Author: Carfax2

    The Chagos Islands were acquired by the British Empire in 1814 and renamed British Indian Ocean Territory in the 1960s. The Immigration Ordinance 1971 for the Islands gave the right to the Commissioner of the Islands to forcibly remove the people who lived there. By 1972, almost all of the Islanders had been forcibly removed to make way for the Island of Diego Garcia to be used as a US Military Base. All of this was made possible by what is known as an ‘Order in Council’. A Legislative instrument, put forth by the Queen. What the Queen gave her consent to, and in fact, ordered by Order in Council, was a massive displacement effort of the worst kind. And yet, we hear nothing of it. Ever. Firstly, all plantations were closed down so work was very scarce. The idea was to make the inhabitants leave the island voluntarily to find work. As was food, which the British stopped from being shipped to the Island. Secondly, anyone from Diego Garcia who had travelled to Mauritius for work, or to use the hospital or other health facilities were refused entry back to their homes.
    Their houses were left, their possessions now belonged to Britain. They were not allowed to even contact family on the Island. Thirdly, the local population had developed a sense of family that included two children, a wife, a husband, and a dog. Every family had and cherished their pet dog. Sir Bruce Greatbatch MBE, Governor of the Seychelles ordered all dogs were to be killed. John Pilger in “Stealing a Nation” notes that families of the islanders he had spoken to, had said they remember as children watching the British walk away with their dogs, and throwing them into a room to be gassed. The dog deaths was used as a warning to let the locals know that they had to leave, or they would suffer the consequences. This is the consequence of Royal prerogatives used to rush dangerous, and quite frankly, evil policy through the democratic process, and away from public scrutiny.

    One of the great myths that people push to defend the British Monarchy, is that they are wonderful for tourism. It is simply not true. There seems to be a misunderstanding of tourism here. It isn’t the Queen herself, nor Prince Charles, nor the slightly racist rants of Prince Philip that drive tourists to Britain. It is the history of the Monarchy, that does not depend on a continued Monarchical presence within British Democracy for its tourist attractiveness. Buckingham Palace is closed for most of the year, to tourists. 50,000 people visited Buckingham Palace in 2007. Millions visit Versailles every year. France’s tourist trade has coped wonderfully since the abolition of the Monarchy. In fact, the abolition itself became a fascinating cog in the history of France. The historical remnants of Monarchy, are what attract people, not the present Monarchy itself.

    “Visit Britain”, which promotes tourism to the UK conducted a survey of 26000 people from 26 different countries, what pulled them to want to visit the UK. The Spanish visitors said visiting Stately Homes, and old Royal Castles were more of a pull than Buckingham Palace. The Norwegians rated current Royal sites 14th on their list, behind shopping and football. Overall, Buckingham Palace didn’t make it into the top 20 of Tourist Destinations from Visit Britain’s survey. The only Royal Site that did make it, was Windsor Castle, at 17th place. The Palace is still a top tourist destination, but simply for a photo op. Abolish the Monarchy tomorrow, and it’d be just as much of a tourist pull. Open the doors all year round to tourists, and Buckingham Palace would be one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Country. Much like Versailles.

    So, with the tourism argument down, what’s left? There appear to be two more strands of reason for continued Monarchy. Firstly, ‘value for money’, and then ‘tradition’. For the former, I have to confess, I don’t know what this means. They cost us. They don’t bring anything in. Or at least, nothing that can be quantified easily. Their costs are often skewed and hidden away, and presented as rather cheap. The latest media hype, is that the Royals cost the public 62p each. The BBC gave us this rather manipulative breakdown of the Royal costs. It is manipulative, because it doesn’t include security costs. The cost for protection for the Duke of York alone, came to £1m according to Dai Davis, former head of Scotland Yard’s Royal Protection. Brand Finance agreed with ‘Republic’ (the pressure group for a British Republic) that Royal security adds up to around £101,000,000 a year. That’s about three times as much as the Royal costs set out in the BBC summary. Nor does it account for costs to local authorities making arrangements for Royal visits, paid for by taxpayers.

    This also doesn’t cover the income the Royals receive from the two Duchies. Let’s take the Duchy of Cornwall, which gives Prince Charles an annual income of around £17,000,000. He did nothing to deserve it. He didn’t build up a business. It is simply a lot of land (representing about 2% of Cornwall, including practically the entire Isles of Scilly, and covering 141,000 acres; half of which are in Dartmoor in Devon) that Parliament grants to the Royals, and that the Royals do not own, and yet gives them a lot of money from commercial and residential areas; thus draining the treasury of much needed funds. It is the equivalent of a portion of your city, being given to one citizen, for no discernible reason, who then rakes in almost £20m a year from it. Given this enormous income from land he doesn’t own, nor deserve, it is no surprise that the Prince uses his non-democratic, influence within a democratic framework.

    In late 2012, the Government fought viciously to suppress the disclosure of 27 letters that the Prince had sent to Government departments, because they contained, and I quote:

    “Much of the correspondence does indeed reflect the Prince of Wales’s most deeply held personal views and beliefs. The letters in this case are in many cases particularly frank.

    “They also contain remarks about public affairs which would in my view, if revealed, have had a material effect upon the willingness of the government to engage in correspondence with the Prince of Wales, and would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.”

    – In other words, it might make the Monarchy look bad. And we can’t have that. For a government now obsessed with ‘freedom of the press’, it seems to me that they mean freedom to harass celebrities, but not say a bad word of the Royals. The Attorney General quite clearly accepts that the Prince is not behaving politically neutral. He just doesn’t want us to see to what level. “If revealed”, doesn’t change the fact that the Prince isn’t acting politically neutral. The Attorney General wishes for Prince Charles to be allowed to continue having influence over policy, without being challenged on it.

    A Freedom of Information tribunal decided that the public had the right to know of the meddling in Government affairs, from the Royals. The Attorney General, veto’d the ruling. This, along with 2010 changes to the Freedom of Information Act that give the Royals complete exemption from revealing his details with civil servants. He invites secretaries of State to dinner. He sends letters. But we aren’t allowed to know what they say. Between the start of 2011 and the end of 2012, Charles’s aides had 18 face to face meetings with Downing Street officials, including the head of the Civil Service, and four secretaries of State. But we’re not allowed to know what was said. Why? What reasonable basis could there possibly be, for allowing one man such unfathomably undemocratic power over an entire nation?

    According to ex-Labour spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, Prince Charles often overstepped his constitutional boundaries, by constantly trying to undermine policy such as; fox hunting, and the abolition of hereditary peers, in a letter from the Prince, that Campbell describes as ‘menacing’.

    In 2009, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was caught offering access to her husband, Prince Andrew, by Mazher Mahmood of the News of the World posing as an Indian businessman, for £50,000. Clearly access to the Prince is a very valuable commodity for some reason. What does that £50,000 buy you? In 2011 the Telegraph reported that of the public funds spent on Prince Andrew’s lavish lifestyle, he spent “£154,000 on hotels, food and hospitality and £465,000 on travel“.

    The Monarchy is also afforded a special place above the law. The Monarch is immune from arrest. She is the law. The police are below her. The Prosecution service is below her. The prison service is below her. They all exist to serve her. If she were to commit a terrible crime, it would fall to Parliament to debate legislation in order to bring her to justice. Because, she was born with the privilege of being better than the law. Unlike the rest of us. We are all her ‘subjects’, we are all ‘inferior’ to the Monarch.

    In February of this year, the NHS Choices Website, which supposedly offers evidence-based guidance for treatments for patients, decided not to publish a report stating that there is no real evidence that Homeopathy works or should be offered via NHS services. The report was kept off the site after lobbying from the highly controversial Foundation for Integrated Medicine; a ‘Foundation’ run by Prince Charles (a supporter of Homeopathy). The Foundation has since closed, due to allegations of fraud. Surprisingly. The Prince seems to be lobbying to quiet any report or evidence that contradicts his political agenda. He can pay for all this, with his lovely Duchy of Cornwall money tree.

    The Attorney General went on to say that to release information on what the Prince has said to top officials:

    “would be seriously damaging to his role as a future monarch”

    – Shouldn’t the public be given all the information, to make the informed decision whether we actually want Charles as a future head of state? Why should we only be given positive information on the Monarchy? Why does our media focus entirely on the Queen’s birthday, or Kate’s shoe stuck in a grill? Why should their dealings within the democratic framework of the UK, not be transparent? On what rational basis, is Charles not only permitted a huge system of revenue through “his” Duchy of Cornwall, but also allowed to pursue a political agenda, with access to Whitehall, whilst the rest of us aren’t? The only reason the Monarchy retains such high support with the British public, is because they are not open to scrutiny. We do not get to hear the way they intrude on public life, the agenda they push, the way they use their illegitimate power covertly, and free from Freedom of Information. We are only exposed to the positives; the Diamond Jubilee, the Royal Wedding, what gender is the Royal baby? If we were free to inspect the negatives – their convert intrusions into politics – I suspect their support base would shatter, which is perhaps the reason the Attorney General does not wish the public to know the scale of the Prince’s political influence over the democratic process. The remnants of the Feudal system within our modern democracy, is self protecting. There is a concerted effort to bury the negative side of Monarchy, promote positives through the illusion of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’, in order to ensure that there is no credible challenge to the established order.

    The Monarchy simply isn’t a tourist attraction, nor is it a commercial enterprise, nor is it a harmless left over. It wields power, it has in the past fifty years caused misery to people in far off lands, it is protected from scrutiny, and it amasses great wealth during the most difficult of economy struggles. ‘Tradition’ is simply not a good enough argument i’m afraid. Let us not forget that we also have wonderful Republican traditions and figures. John Locke, Jon Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine; all fantastic English political philosophers and Republicans. There is absolutely no reasonable argument for an unelected, hereditary Head of State.

    The United Kingdom is a curious constitutional compromise; give the people a sort of quasi-say over the way the system works, keep the completely discredited power of Royal lineage in the background out of the way of public scrutiny, but wielding power whenever it so wishes, and if that doesn’t work; talk about tourism. With this curious constitutional compromise, comes Lords, Bishops, unelected yet able to influence the legislative process. Why so? What gives a Bishop any right to decide upon matters of public policy? How are they better equipped to offer input? They are not answerable to any constituency. They are a single religious group, given by the consent of no one, the special right to partake in Parliamentary business, approved simply for being quite good at believing in Jesus. This is absurd. And it relies solely on an established Church, given such status, by its head, the Monarch.

    A non-transparent, non-accountable Monarchy, promoting its own agenda, and a state religion, is not to be trusted, nor accepted in a 21st Century Secular Democracy.

    Addressing the real problems within the constitutional settlement and the political system – the Lords, the Bishops, an established Church within an apparent ‘secular’ society, the curious terms used in Parliament “the right honourable gentleman”, the Duchy’s and all the other remnants of a Feudal system that we have swallowed into our current system, that neither demands it, nor requires it – starts with a completely transparent Monarchy. From there, I see no reason why Republican values would not become more pronounced and acceptable. The Monarchy cannot just be abolished over night; it takes a change in attitude publicly, and that can only begin when the Monarchy is open to the scrutiny that it has so far been able to work its way around.

    They contribute little, they take a lot, they own land they don’t deserve, they influence public policy from a position outside of a democratic framework, they are largely free from critique, and they suppress information contrary to their political agenda. Tell me again, why do we still have a Feudal relic, that refuses to give up its Feudal influence?


    The Incoherence of ‘End Time’ Prophecies.

    March 24, 2013

    Oxford University has a rather curious name for the beginning of its January term. This is referred to as “Hilary Term”. It is named after the 4th Century End Time Prophet and Bishop of Poitiers, St Hilary. Hilary predicted that the end of the World would occur in the year 365ad. This rested on the idea that the short-lived Roman Emperor, Jovian, was the anti-christ for restoring Paganism as the Imperial religion. Hilary believed Christ would soon return, that those times were predicted in the Bible, and that the end was on its way. Hilary is the first that I have been able to find, whom directly claims the Biblical rapture was imminent.

    A lot of writing and philosophising has been exhausted by Catholics and Protestants alike, in their attempts to work through Biblical references to the end times, and what the words could possibly mean for humanity. End time prophecies based on selective interpretations of Biblical language have plagued humanity since the collating of the Gospels. Any slight Earth tremble, is interpreted as the beginning of the end. Any election of a President the American Right Wing dislike, is sure to herald the rapture. Whenever a Nation legalises same-sex marriage, the Christian Groups insist that Jesus is on his way back in a fit of outrage.

    The ‘End Times’ have inspired many self-proclaimed End Time Prophets to attempt to insist that the end is here. It is a theme that follows through from the beginning of Christianity, right through to today. The prophesies of Hilary, to Pat Robertson, in 1990 claiming the end of the World would take place on April 29th, 2007. For those wondering….. it didn’t end.

    The Vatican is not immune to End Time prophets in their highest rank. Riots sparked when Pope Sylvester II claimed that the new millennium, in 1000ad would herald the end of the World. Pope Innocent III predicted that the World would end in 1284, 666 years after what he considered to be the beginning of the rise of Islam. And today, we still have people claiming End Times. The worry today, is those claiming to be “prophets” based on ancient hearsay are often exposed for the frauds that they quite obviously are, attempting to build a worryingly dangerous cult around themselves, but only when it is too late. Jim Jones is a good example of this. We must be ever vigilant, with the onset of social media and the ability of these people to reach a large audience, including very young, vulnerable and impressionable people, the dangers of those attempting to create cults around themselves, built on threats of eternal punishment, instilling fear in order to win people over to their cult. Some, i’m sure, believe what they are saying. Most, I would argue, are manipulators, and very dangerous con artists.

    For a sneak peak at today’s manipulative end time ‘prophets’, preying on the vulnerable:

    1
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    – Marketing-your-cult lesson One: Set up a picture of yourself praying. Add blood drops around it to convey doom. Abraham did this too!

    Where then do End Time Prophesies originate? What does Jesus actually say? I have spent the past week trying to plot out exactly what he supposedly said, and to read, and re-read the exact language, within the context of the people he was addressing, the situation at the time, and the comments of Biblical commentators later on in the Book who mention End Times.

    It seems to me that the description of when the End Times is likely to occur in the Bible, is perhaps the least ambiguous and most agreed upon between Gospel writers, of all Jesus’s speeches or actions. The Gospels are notoriously inconsistent, and quite often disagree with each other without any explanation, driven largely by the fact that they were penned decades after the supposed death of Jesus. The quite obvious question we must pose, when searching the Gospels for answers on the End Times, is “When?” We must read the Gospels with that question at the front of our minds. And so it turns out, the disciples asked the exact same question, and got a direct answer.

    According to Matthew 24, Jesus begins to describe the end of days:

    3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
    4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
    5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
    7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
    8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
    9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
    11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
    12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
    13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
    14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
    15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—
    16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
    17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house.
    18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.
    19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
    20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.
    21 For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again.
    22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.
    23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.
    24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
    25 See, I have told you ahead of time.
    26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
    27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
    28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
    29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
    30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.
    31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
    32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.
    33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.
    34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

    – Throughout this piece, Jesus is directly referring to his disciples. This is not a prophecy set to take place thousands of years in the future. He refers to those living in end times, as “you”. He is clearly suggesting that his disciples, the very people who asked him the question “When?” will still be alive when the end of days arrives. Jesus clarifies this further, with the most important line of this entire section, with “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened“. All these things. This includes the loud trumpet call whilst the ‘Son of Man’ appears in the clouds. Jesus is not talking to us, 2000 years in the future, he is talking to the people there and then, about an event he expects to take place within their life times.

    This isn’t unique to Matthew. Luke 21:32 recounts the story, and states:

    “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

    -It is clear. Jesus expected End Times to occur within the life time of his disciples. We can point to ‘wars’ now as mentioned would appear, by Jesus. Or famine. Or Earthquakes. It is all irrelevant, because Jesus sets a time frame of within the lifetime of those whom he is addressing at that time.

    There is very little agreement on whom penned the Book of Hebrews. Paul is often cited as the author, others claim Clement of Rome. Great early Christian scholars like Origen accept that no one knows for sure. It is a wonderfully written book nonetheless, and is further essential to our investigation into when End Times was expected, within a Biblical framework. Mention of the End Times is given prominence right at the beginning of Hebrews.
    Hebrews 1:1-2 states:

    “1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
    2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. ”

    – It is quite unambiguous. Early Christians understood End Times as being exactly as Jesus had intended. Christianity was not meant to be a religion that spread throughout the ages, filled with Popes and Cathedrals. Jesus was supposed to be the very final messenger in the very final days of the life of the people of Earth. It seems, as End Times didn’t arrive as planned, and yet more people were exposed to Christianity, structure began to become important to the faith. Jesus does not mention any form of necessary Church structure. He is primarily concerned with ‘saving’ people then and there, because he is convinced End Times are around the corner. To Jesus, there would be no reason to begin such an organised religion. To Paul however, as End Times didn’t seem to be imminent, we suddenly see structure and uniformity becoming important; organisation became the key element to the early Church, whilst still presenting the idea that End Times are on their way (this had to be kept up, otherwise it undermines Jesus’ teaching entirely) and so it is from that perspective, that I interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18:

    “16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
    17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
    18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

    – This seems to be a bit of a pep talk. Essentially, ‘don’t worry, I know you’re waiting for the end to come, and it will come very soon (“we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds”), just keep the faith’. It makes reference again, to that specific generation. They were clearly expecting Jesus to return to that generation.

    St Peter, the chief of the Apostles, according to the Catholic Church, was another of the generation of Jesus, who understood Jesus’s words, as they were meant to be taken, not as we take them today, concerning End Times. In the First Epistle of Peter (1 Peter 1:, largely believed to be written by St Peter (though, there are several reasons to believe this isn’t true), it is stated:

    “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”

    Peter Continues. 1 Peter 4:7:

    “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”

    – Throughout Peter, Thessalonians, and the Gospels, the subject of End Times is of key importance to the early faith. And that End Time is considered imminent. There is a theme of desperation running through the texts. There is absolutely no way that Jesus according to the Gospels ever considered the idea that the End Times would not happen within that particular period. Thessalonians echoes Jesus’ thoughts. Peter starts to echo the thoughts of Jesus, telling his followers that Jesus is about to appear. But time is now passing, and there is no Jesus. It has been decades. There is no sign of a return. So Peter changes the story a little… and by a little, I mean, completely. 2 Peter 3:9 :

    3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
    4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
    5 For this they wilfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water,
    6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.
    7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judegment and perdition of ungodly men.
    8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
    9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

    – Here, Peter changes the entire story, that End Times are coming. Every End Time position since, can be traced back to this. Peter here, tells his followers that End Times aren’t imminent after all. It is clear that between 1 Peter and 2 Peter, followers had been wondering why End Times hadn’t arrived, enough to make Peter address the problem directly. And he does that, by moving the goal posts. He suddenly introduces the idea that a day in human time, is a thousand years to God, and so Peter suggests that what Jesus actually meant was not that the end was coming to the generation that he told the end was definitely coming to…definitely….. he actually meant it could occur at any time, according to God’s misshapen time schedule. But then the question arises, why would Jesus not just say that in the first place? He was speaking to mortals, trying to save mortals. Mortals who had no concept of God’s 1000 year = 1 day scale of time. He needed to be far more specific with such an important aspect of his message.

    ‘End Times’ is not a valid Theological position to hold in the 21st Century. In fact, at any time outside of the immediate generation of Jesus, ‘End Times’ could not be considered a valid position to hold. To hold this position, is to ignore everything Jesus actually said on the matter, and everything Hebrews, and Thessalonians say on the matter, and instead to cling to the desperation of Peter to salvage what was left of a key concept to a faith – a concept that was quite obviously being questioned, even at the time – that relied so heavily on End Days. This has further implications for Christianity as a whole, given that it would appear the early writers considered the end of everything to be imminent, Jesus to be key to that, and their writings reflect the necessity for that generation to be fully prepared for it.

    It is therefore, not a surprise that of the 23 predictions from modern prominent Christians, that the World would end between January 2000 and today, alone….. none of them have actually come true.


    Lucy Meadows.

    March 21, 2013

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    Transmediawatch – community that works to improve media coverage of the transgendered community – today confirmed that Lucy Meadows, a transgendered woman about to start her first term back as a teacher at her beloved school, has been found dead, in an apparent suicide, weeks after The Daily Mail printed an article by notoriously nasty Richard Littlejohn, in which he mercilessly verbally tore her to pieces. Today, the Daily Mail pulled the article on its website, but it can, and should be seen here.

    The school that Lucy worked at, wrote to the parents of the children she taught over Christmas to inform them that Nathan Upton would be returning for Spring term after a life changing transition, and would now be referred to as Miss Meadows. Richard Littlejohn took exception to this, and endeavoured to expose a vulnerable person, already going through an incredibly difficult, life altering time, in a small, quiet community, to National media spotlight, and unprovoked, vicious, bigoted bullying.

    The particularly horrid little piece, by Littlejohn said:

    “He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job.”

    “Nathan Upton is now in the early stages of gender reassignment treatment. He issued a statement which read: ‘This has been a long and difficult journey for me and it was certainly not an easy decision to make.’
    So that’s all right, then. From now on, kiddies, Mr Upton will be known as Miss Lucy Meadows.
    What are you staring at, Johnny? Move along, nothing to see here. Get on with your spelling test. Today’s word is ‘transitioning’.”

    “Mr Upton/Miss Meadows may well be comfortable with his/her decision to seek a sex-change and return to work as if nothing has happened. The school might be extremely proud of its ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.
    But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.”

    “Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows?”

    “The school shouldn’t be allowed to elevate its ‘commitment to diversity and equality’ above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.
    It should be protecting pupils from some of the more, er, challenging realities of adult life, not forcing them down their throats.”

    “By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen’s, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.”

    “They will lose their innocence soon enough.”

    – There are so many problems with this, it’s difficult to know where to start. It makes you sit, jaw on the floor, that such needless and undeserved prejudices, presented in such a callous, and demeaning way, are still prevalent in 21st Century, beautifully diverse, Britain. The rhetorical devices used to perpetuate such bigotry are quite astonishing. He begins by whimsically tearing into the mention of her personal struggle in her statement. Constant reference to Lucy as “he“, insisting that children (the most vulnerable people, and an easy target for those wishing to manipulate the emotions of their readers) need “protecting” from someone who has done no wrong, and is injuring no person, and who just wishes to teach. By saying “they will lose their innocence soon enough” he is suggesting that Lucy was a threat to that innocence. His article is accompanied by pictures of Lucy as a man. It also includes the letter sent to parents, and tells us that the subject of Lucy’s change, was “buried at the bottom“. The letter itself, has just seven lines of information above the the bit about Lucy. It isn’t “buried” anywhere. It is treated sensitively, and respectfully, and not as a big deal, and rightfully so. The Daily Mail is not concerned with ‘the children’, they are concerned with providing a platform for bigotry to flourish, masking it behind a thin veil of ‘respectability’ of the feigned concern for the welfare of ‘the children’.

    I will simply say this, if children are “exposed” to the harmless diversity of life that Littlejohn finds so offensive, throughout their lives, perhaps they will grow up considering such diversity to be exactly as it is; an inoffensive, non-problematic natural fact of life. Perhaps then, those children that grow up feeling “different”, perhaps feeling as if they were born the wrong gender, will find it less challenging, and less scared to be who they are, because society no longer attaches such Littlejohn-esque stigma. Perhaps then the needless stigma – stigma that can and has had such devastating consequences – will slowly become non-existent, erased from our collective thoughts, and the prejudices that Littlejohn is happy to perpetuate in such a vicious way, illegitimate prejudices he isn’t interested in challenging or eradicating, will be considered as dirty and as wrong as discrimination based on race. Defeating such needless and harmful prejudice, starts with education. It continues with media responsibility; a responsibility that does not extend to publishing degrading and humiliating deep personal issues of one individual, exposing her to abuse, and for the entire World to see.

    The only reason there is such stigma attached to transgender community, is because the “difference” is both preyed upon, presented in amplified negative tones, with rhetoric cloaked in fear, by people like Richard Littlejohn. This is what children should be educated to find offensive and threatening.

    My thoughts are with the family and the friends, and the children she simply wished to educate, of Lucy Meadows.

    EDIT:

    The Sun, following in the footsteps of the Mail, and seemingly learning none of the lessons that led to such a tragedy, uses horribly negative language to further attack Miss Meadows, even after her death. The article can be seen here. They do not mention the hounding by the Mail, nor Littlejohn’s column. They simply and subtly blame Lucy:

    “The 32-year-old — believed to be in the early stages of gender reassignment — sparked outrage when he announced his sex change.”

    – This is presented, as if Lucy brought the harassment on herself. It is then followed up immediately by quotes from outraged parents, as if that legitimises the prejudice. They then, rather horrendously sent a reporter to her house, and still refused to call her by her name:

    “Tonight a friend who answered the door at Nathan’s terraced home in Accrington refused to comment.”

    – In other words, if you too are facing such life changing worries, you will ‘spark outrage’, parents will be disgusted by you, and the media will refuse to afford you the respect of calling you by your name or referring to you as the gender that you truly are, even in death, and reporters who hounded you in the first place, will now hound your grieving friend and family for a comment. To them, you are a piece of sensationalism waiting to sell papers.

    Utterly shameful.


    The Age of Hysteria

    March 20, 2013

    ….the identification of Muslims, migrants, asylum seekers and gypsies/travellers as the targets of press hostility and/or xenophobia in the press, was supported by the evidence seen by the Inquiry.
    – The Leveson Report.

    It is quite true that misinformation, and outright lying has been used as a political tool for centuries. Today, we have a paradox. The hysterically inaccurate information that we are sometimes presented with so quickly and so easily due entirely to the speed of communication via the internet; can just as quickly and easily be discredited and dismissed, and yet it often isn’t. It’s often accepted and spread faster than ever before. We are a generation with access to information on a scale never seen before, and yet we tend to rely on how others interpret that information, rather than investigating for ourselves. Often the misinformation is presented in such a dramatic and sinister manner, so as to appeal to our preconceived prejudices (of which we all have) about the given topic, and so don’t tend to then spend time proving the claims wrong. I have wrote previously on The Sun’s manipulations, misinformation, and potently devious, divisive rhetoric, when it comes to perpetuating the myth of ‘benefit scrounging’. And so with this article, I thought i’d attempt to point out the inaccuracy that exists in a particular piece of complete fabrication that appears to be doing the rounds on twitter and on facebook. The misinformation in question is this:

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    Sometimes it is accompanied by a picture of a poor old white lady counting 1p coins with a melancholy look strewn across her impoverished face. Impoverished, due apparently, to the rich benefit cheating brown skinned family seeking asylum, pictured next to her. The pictures are added manipulations, but the key to the nonsense are the claims themselves. So let’s examine the claims. I’m going to take the asylum/illegal claim first, because it flows nicely into the pensioner claim.

    Part One:
    Illegal immigrants and Asylum Seekers pocket £29,900 a year in benefits. This suggests one of two things. Firstly, that illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are the same thing, and given the same benefits. And secondly, and I cannot stress the stupidity of this point enough… that illegal immigrants are actually entitled to benefits anyway. If you are illegally in the country, by definition, you cannot call up the Home Office and say: “Hi, erm, so i’m here illegally, snook in through Calais, my documents are fake, totally here illegally…..so do I get my twenty-nine grand in a lump sum, or every month? How does my illegal immigrant benefit work?” They have no legal status, including within the Welfare system.
    Asylum seekers are different. To qualify for asylum, the guideline is quite clear:

    Asylum is protection given by a country to someone who is fleeing persecution in their own country. It is given under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. To be recognised as a refugee, you must have left your country and be unable to go back because you have a well-founded fear of persecution.

    The UK also adheres to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prevents us sending someone to a country where there is a real risk that they will be exposed to torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

    – I am proud to live in a country that provides a safe haven for people who are persecuted, tortured, or threatened with degrading treatment in their home country. This is the mark of a civilised nation.

    Here’s the cash sums that the Home Office says asylum seekers are entitled to:

  • Qualifying couple (married or in a civil partnership): £72.52
  • Lone parent aged 18 or over: £43.94
  • Single person aged 18 or over, excluding lone parent: £36.62
  • Person aged at least 16, but under 18 (except a member of a qualifying couple): £39.80
  • Person aged under 16: £52.96.

    The top point by the way, the mention of “civil partnerships”, so outraged the right winged press that the Express printed this little gem the next day:
    100708exp
    – Apparently gay asylum seekers (perhaps fleeing persecution from the horrifying Ugandan anti-gay laws, which is slowly leading to a genocide of gay people in the country) is a step TOO far for a Daily Express audience who dislike not only asylum seekers, but gay people too. Imagine if they were gay, asylum seekers, that didn’t like Princess Diana. The Express would implode with rage.

    Back to the entitlements set out above. If we are to compare, as the original email does, a single pensioner, with a single asylum seeker, we see that the asylum seeker is entitled to £36.62 a week. That is £1904.24 a year. That amounts to £5.22 a day. Asylum seekers, are entitled to a cash benefit of a little over £5 a day. That’s less than minimum wage for one hour’s work. So let’s have a bit of perspective.
    A Parliamentary briefing paper states:

    “People who require leave to enter or remain in the UK, but who do not have it, are ‘persons subject to immigration control’ within the meaning of section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and as such are not eligible for social security benefits, except those which depend on National Insurance contributions, such as contribution-based JSA. However, it is highly unlikely that a person in the UK without legal status will have a sufficient NI contribution record to gain entitlement to contributory benefits.”

    “Asylum seekers – i.e. persons waiting for a decision on an asylum application – are not entitled to mainstream non-contributory social security benefits including income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Housing Benefit. Instead, they may be eligible for accommodation and/or financial support from the UK Border Agency. Cash support for asylum seekers is less generous than social security benefits; for example, a single person.”

    – I am therefore, unable to find anything close to the £29,900 that the above print claims those seeking asylum in the UK are entitled to. It is simply a fabrication. Much like the idea that illegal immigrants are entitled to benefits. The daily allowance for asylum seekers is pittance, that most of us would be outraged if we even had it per hour. It is also worth point out that the number of people claiming asylum in the UK has dropped hugely since 2003. In 2003, the numbers were 80,123. At the end of 2012, the number was 20,182. A huge drop.

    Point Two:
    British old age pensioners yearly entitlement comes to just £6000. This is completely untrue. The minimum state pension credit guarantee, will top up your weekly income £145.40 for a single pensioner. This is £7560.80 a year. We should all agree, that this is far too low. However, it is £5656.56 more than an asylum seeker. But, the statement made speaks not simply of pension, but all benefits. So, we must also include the Fuel Allowance.
    If you are over 80, and you live alone, you also qualify for the Winter Fuel Allowance, worth £300 between November and December. Asylum seekers are not entitled to this. So that brings pensioner total to £7860.80 a year. This is now £5956.36 more than asylum seeker. We could also add council tax benefit and housing benefit to that list of benefits afforded to pensioners too. The point being, asylum seekers are entitled to next to nothing. They must have reason to be entitled to anything in the first place; meaning their lives are filled with fear, and they’ve fled their home to get away from the prospect of torture, degradation, or murder. £5 a day, does not qualify as ‘milking the system’.

    I am disheartened by the amount of people willing to simply accept such intensely misleading and so glaringly wrong claims, and to further perpetuate it. Inaccuracies over asylum and immigration are more subtly presented in the press because they seem to come with deeper information. Though, two seconds of research will note, just as misleading. Take this January headline from The Daily Mail: 130103mail
    – Instant attention grabbing headline for those who need this sort of hysteria to confirm their prejudices, regardless of whether or not its based on any fact. There’s also the by-line to throw in a bit of anti-EU rhetoric. The problem is, practically every word of this headline is wholly misleading.
    It is a written answer to a Parliamentary Question posed by Priti Patel MP and answered by Mark Harper at the Home Office. The Home Office say:

    “3,980 foreign nationals in the UK subject to deportation action living in the community.
    We continue to pursue removal in all these cases. The principal barriers to removal are non-compliance on the part of individuals which means we have insufficient evidence of nationality and identity to obtain a travel document, ongoing legal challenges and the situations in countries of return.””

    – What this means is, firstly, the suggestion that we “can’t throw out” is completely misleading, as these foreign nationals are currently under deportation action, and may very well be ‘thrown out’, they are just under investigation. It is true that the Daily Mail can’t, right this second, throw them into the English Channel with cannons levelled at them if they attempt to swim back. And secondly, nowhere in the Home Office answer does it mention the crimes that these foreign nationals have committed. There is no break down of their crimes, anywhere. Therefore, The Daily Mail added “murderers and rapists” to affect. When presented with the fact that they’d blatantly just invented a non-story, for shock value, the Mail issued this apology:

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    – You might just be able to see it, underneath the other completely misleading anti-immigrant story, and the enticing Asda ad. Or maybe not. Because instead of being an apology on the front page, where the original misleading story was, it is instead printed, in small at the very bottom of the fourth page. The correction reads:

    “The headline of an article on 3 January suggested that there are 4,000 foreign murderers and rapists in the UK who cannot be deported.
    We are happy to clarify that, as the article stated, the figure in fact refers to 3,980 foreign criminals, including murderers and rapists, who are currently subject to deportation orders.”

    I am unsure who is to blame for this age of hysteria. Is it the people, for providing a market place for publications like the Mail to flourish? There is obviously a market for hysteria. Sensationalism sells. Weak conjecture, presented in a couple of hundred words, that require no real thought on the part of the reader, sells. People must surely shoulder some of the blame, if they are to read statements like the pensioner/asylum statements without actually questioning it. Perhaps the education system is failing to cultivate curious minds, and instead works to produce minds that accept. Curiosity must be valued and promoted. That is how we progress.

    Maybe the people rely too heavily on the press for information within a democratic framework; perhaps we put our trust in the news media; perhaps we delegate our responsibility to understand and to question, to those we feel are qualified to do so, without actually knowing who those people are. We trust them in their capacity to shape and indeed, create the prevailing discourse of the time. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. The papers promote, and the readers perpetuate hostility based on distortions and nonsense. Either way, it is then no surprise to me, that the UK currently has such a vicious right winged government that relies on such a manipulative right winged press to push its message and its goals.

    —–
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  • The Polemicists

    March 16, 2013

    In an attempt to provide a space for reasoned debate (I notice my comments section on here can get filled with argument, and that Twitter debates can last hours) I thought i’d attempt to create a space in which debate can flourish online, from the comfort of your own home, writing your own views, within a set framework.

    So, please see my new blog, to that end, and feel free to contact me if you wish to get involved:
    Site: http://thepolemicists.wordpress.com/
    Twitter: @thepolemicists
    Email: polemicistblog@gmail.com

    I am hoping this takes off.

    Thanks!


    Does God Exist? The importance of Step One.

    March 15, 2013

    Michelangelo-Sistine-Chapel-Adam-

    It occurred to me recently, that whilst I often write articles explaining my displeasure at religion as a political and social force, as well as questioning key figures and documents in the history of such religions; I have never explained why I don’t accept the premise that a God exists. It is the most fundamental of questions for an Atheist to answer. Why don’t I believe that a God exists? I will try my best to argue my points in this article.

    Firstly, it is important to note what Atheism is. There are many misinterpretations of the word. Atheism, is the rejection of Theism. Theism asserts that a God exists. Atheism simply looks at the evidence for the position held by Theists, and rejects it as unsubstantial. We do not make an assertion ourselves. There is a vast gulf between the phrase “I don’t believe in a God” and “I believe there isn’t a God”. One is a positively held belief, the other is a rejection of a positively held belief. As an Atheist, I simply hear “I believe in God” and reject it due to lack of evidence. I don’t claim to believe a God exists or doesn’t exist. I simply say there is no reason to believe a God does exist. It is the rejection of belief in a God, rather than a belief in no God.

    Secondly, The burden of proof is not on me to disprove the existence of a God, because it is logically impossible to do so, if the assertion being made, does not bring with it falsifiable evidence. It would be equally as impossible to ask a person to prove that there isn’t a monkey sitting on my head, that turns invisible whenever someone else looks at me. They would not logically be able to disprove it, because it is an extraordinary assertion that I have made without the use of falsifiable evidence. The burden of proof is lodged firmly with me in respect of the invisible monkey. If I am to make an extraordinary claim that defies the laws of nature, then I should provide tangible evidence that can be tested and falsified. If I don’t, then the claim requires no inquiry and can be rejected straight out. It certainly should have no authority over the World (hence, the superiority of Secularism).

    And thirdly, we could get into a deep discussion about what is meant by ‘God’ and that without a thorough definition to start with, the whole inquiry is meaningless. So I’ll simply say that I will approach two arguments that are usually put forward for the existence of a ‘creator’; the Deistic Kalam/Cosmological argument, the Theistic objective morality argument, and also my own opinion on steps a Deist is required to take in order to move the argument forward to Theism.

    Cosmological Argument:
    William Lane Craig and Hamza Tzortzis among others, often cite the old Cosmological Kalam argument to try to prove the existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
    1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
    You will note several problems with this argument immediately. The phrase “the begins to exist” is newly added to the argument. It used to be simply “Everything has a cause”. Well, then, if everything includes itself, then we must say that a creator must also have a cause. And so the phrase “that begins to exist” was added. This is intense circular reasoning when examined closely. It presumes two states of being. Things that begin to exist, suggests there are also things that don’t “begin” to exist, which suggest they’ve also existed, which exempts them from the entire argument, but just assuming something can exist, without beginning to exist… i.e… a creator. The argument already presumes a God, whilst trying to prove a God. To put it simply, Point 1 can thus be rewritten as:
    1. Everything, except God, has a cause.
    Which means point 2. can be rewritten as:
    2. The Universe (but not God) began to exist.
    Causality is linked necessarily to time. So the Kalam Cosmological argument, by including the phrase “that begins to exist” suggests that something can exist outside of time and so have no cause, without actually providing evidence for it. This is not a respectable argument for the existence of God, and yet some of the key Theistic public speakers use it constantly. They fail to convince me.

    Deism to Theism is quite a leap. If you are to claim the existence of a God personal to your religion; let’s say Christianity, and you are to use it in the public sphere to help define sexual health policy, or marriage policy, or any other sort of power over the lives of others….. then it seems to me that you have three steps to take before such authority can be taken as legitimate. You must prove…. absolutely prove….. the Universe has a creator. Step One is the most vital. Everything else follows from step one. So:

    Step One:
    You must prove that something can exist outside of the confines of time. If you use the Cosmological/Kalaam argument, as William Lane Craig and Hamza Tzortzis tend to do a lot, as noted above, to apply human understanding of causality in order to prove the universe had a moment of creation…. then you must be consistent. According to human understanding, nothing can defy or exist outside of the confines of time. Space time is everything to us. It binds everything. We cannot jump in and out of time, and therefore we cannot say there is an ‘out of time’ in any meaningful way. We’d just be speculating.
    To claim a creator that existed prior to the creation of everything – including time – you are suggesting that the creator exists outside of time, to have created time. This is quite the assertion, as we know of nothing that can defy or exist outside of time and this is because the idea is not falsifiable.
    Stephen Hawking, writing in “The Grand Design” notes that time started at the moment of the Big Bang, alongside matter/energy. There was nothing before the Big Bang. No room for a creator of any sort. Whether I accept that there was ‘nothing’ before the big bang (could well have been an endless series of Big Bangs), or not, is irrelevant. Hawking may be wrong on that point, but he cannot be wrong that time existed at the point of matter/energy. Hawking proposes a model, consistent with the laws of quantum mechanics, that doesn’t require a Creator. M-Theory is making great strides in this direction. We need not fill a gap in our understanding with an absolute God, this is important to note. But to even begin to suggest the Theistic God of the Bible exists, you must prove that something can exist outside of time, in order to have created time. And then, you have to explain how something existing outside of time, can conceive of creating time, if it itself has no time in order to ‘conceive’ anything. Since we are ourselves limited to the confines of time, this is impossible to prove, it is not falsifiable, and so the first step in proving your God to be true, is always going to be incomplete. It is irrelevant whether you have a definition of the word ‘God’ or not, if you do not have proof that ‘existence’ does not require time. Everything else follows from Step One; ‘finely tuned for our existence’ follows from Step One. ‘Objectively Morality’ follows from Step One. Without fulfilling Step One, a Theist has nothing to go on.

    Step Two:
    Once you’ve proven that something can exist outside of time, you must prove that the being that created time, and the universe is all good, all loving, all seeing, all powerful. You must consider every other possible creator, and adequately reject it. Why not an all evil creator? Why not two, three, four, five creators? Or a creator that created the universe and then backed away? Why not a creator that created billions of universes, and doesn’t care too much for ours? Why not a creator whose last act before vanishing forever was to create everything? Given that humanity has endured 200,000 years of violent deaths, preventable poverty, coming close to joining the other 99% of species that have become so flippantly rejected by evolution and made extinct, where most of the Earth is uninhabitable yet populations still live within the regions….. how do you not reject or at least question an all loving, all good God? It seems to me, if we are to insist on a Creator, all loving and all good, are not attributes we can so easily assign. It seems that the horrors that natural selection has produced, are not indicative of an all loving and all good God. If we are to assume this was all done by design, and that now we have set rules, it would seem that we are simply a pawn in a rather violent game.

    Let’s examine the story of Eden. It would seem that two humans were put on Earth and told not to question. Questioning leads us away from God. This immediately sets off alarm bells. Why shouldn’t we question? We would an all-loving, all-good God put a punishable restriction on knowledge? Suddenly the snake tempts man to eat from the tree of knowledge, and as a show of horrendously disproportionate punishment, God inflicts terrible suffering on all of mankind, for generations. Those generations did nothing wrong. Punishing the child for the mistake of the great, great, great, great grandfather seems to me to be radically immoral system of justice. And what sort of authority, other than a dictator, would punish for simply wishing to learn? To absolve this original sin – learning, God decides to brutally murder his son. I have no reason to believe that any ‘crime’ can be absolved, with a human sacrifice. It also seems odd to me that a God would give us a curious mind, a rational mind, a mind that thrives of knowledge and learning; and then punish us for using it, with such a vicious punishment. What a spiteful thing to do.
    The faithful are going to have a very difficult time proving Step Two.

    Step Three:
    Once you have successfully proven that something can exist outside of the confines of time (impossible to do, given that humanity itself is confined to time) and you have proven that the creator is all loving, all good, cares about his creation and you’ve managed to disprove every other attribute that a creator could possibly have….. you then have to make the leap, and explain the leap between a creator – an Artistotelian prime mover – and the laws and rules that are enshrined in your particular book. I wish you all the luck in trying to prove that link. As argued before, I don’t accept the divinity, and even question the existence of the Biblical Jesus, and I am pretty certain that whilst Muhammad most certainly existed, he invented the entire Qur’an because there seems to be a suspiciously high number of verses pertaining to his life, and in particular, his sex life. Neither the Bible, nor the Qur’an are reliable at all. The Bible, for its vast historical inaccuracies and lack of evidence (we know there was no Exodus, for example) and the Qur’an for its hugely ambiguous and just out-right mistaken ‘scientific’ claims as well as the very dubious life of Muhammad and supposed ‘revelations’.

    Only once you have proven beyond any doubt that something can exist outside of the confines of time and space in its own realm, and only once you have proven that that being in its own realm is all good, all loving, all seeing, and all powerful, and only once you’ve proven the direct link between that creator and your Holy Book…. can you reasonably say that God exists, or claim a system of ‘objective morality’. As it stands, the idea that a God exists has no basis in reality, or the laws of nature, and so the notion of ‘objective morality’ can only reasonably said to be a figment of the imagination of the faithful.

    Objective Morality argument:
    The Objective Morality argument is one cited often as a reason to believe in a God. I reject it.
    Objective morality can only exist, if you have successfully proven (not Philosophically rationalised in your own mind) the existence of the God of your religion. And even then, objective morality has its problems. I would agree that based on Hamza Tzortzis’ understanding of objective morality, we Atheists don’t have it. I would go one further, and say, neither does Hamza. We must be clear what Theists mean by objective morality. They are moral truths, that are unquestionable and true regardless of the social group, or time period that humanity inhabits at that moment. They have not evolved alongside humanity as a survival tool linked to our ability to rationalise, they are innate, handed to us divinely and can never be changed, they preceded humanity. So, I am almost certain most Atheists and Theists would agree with my moral statement: It is morally wrong to slaughter innocent people… men, women and children, who have not done any wrong. However, If you are Christian, you would have to argue that that is not necessarily true (objective). According to 2 Samuel 15, in response to David’s census ordered by God (later we learn that it was Satan who ordered the Census, in First Chronicles, chapter 21), and that after David realised it was on Satan’s ordered, he apologises to God, but God isn’t pleased:

    “So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.”

    – 70,000 innocent people killed because David thought he’d sinned by taking a census. Must we therefore conclude that if God commits violent genocide for absolutely no reason, it is ‘good’? Not to mention the needless punishments all non-Christians face after the day of Judgement simply for not believing. This is genocide. It cannot reasonably be assumed as a book of objective good. It would seem to me that the God of the Bible violates rules that we would consider to be morally unacceptable, and abhorrent. If we are to accept that the God of the Bible is the perfect being, all good, then we must accept that our belief that it is immoral to kill innocent people unnecessarily, is wrong and we are in fact immoral for thinking so. This seems inconsistent to me.

    But on a more fundamental level, it is illogical to claim objective morality based on ‘revealed’ texts. The very essence of revelation, is to one specific individual, and passed on to others, to every major religion. Mohammad was apparently given moral revelation, in a cave outside of Mecca, and then sporadically throughout his life – but only him. Therefore, the objective truth pertaining to morality, is objective to him only. To everyone else, it is secondary hear-say. It is taken on faith alone. No one is compelled to accept it, and therefore, it is subjective morality.

    It is absolutely irrational to claim an objective anchor for your morality, when it is second, third, fourth hand ‘revelation’. So it is of course, ludicrous for anyone to suggest morality is anchored to religious texts. Not just for the limitations of revelation, and lack of anything even close to ‘proof’ on any of the above points, but also what those ‘revealed’ moral statements enforce at their core and that the majority of religious people, today wouldn’t dream of following or endorsing, because we know those “morals” to be wrong. If we are to accept that ‘God’ is timeless, then it logically follows that his system of right and wrong also be timeless. So let’s examine what that would mean for Islam.
    I have argued previously that people who believe, cannot reasonably use the “place Muhammad in the context of his time” to defend his sexual relationship with a child. It is also damaging for their interpretation of ‘objective morality’.
    If you are Muslim, then you believe that Muhammad was capable of receiving ‘revelation’ that changes the ‘context’ of the time period quite significantly, because it comes from a divine source that transcends ‘context’ of time. His life is dedicated to changing the ‘context of the time’, and yet the timeless God of Islam doesn’t see fit to reveal to Muhammad that having sex with a 9 year old girl is wrong, or that it might lead to Islamic Patriarchal societies in the future using this to justify lowering the age of consent? The ‘place it in the context’ of the time period argument, is a failure. If Muhammad can receive divine command that changes the context of the time, then Allah has no problem with 50 year old men having sex with 9 year old girls. It just isn’t on his list of cares. He seems more concerned with acquiescing to Muhammad’s request to pray facing Mecca. Allah dedicates an extraordinary amount of time to Muhammad’s sex life. If however, Muhammad isn’t divine. Then yes, he can be placed within the context of the time period, and we cannot judge him by today’s standards in that respect. The moment you accept that he is a Prophet who can receive divine revelation, that negates the ‘context of the time’ argument and seriously damages the ‘objective morality’ argument, because to most of us it would seem the God and the Prophet of the 7th Century, were pretty immoral.

    The objective morality argument, along with the cosmological argument make up two key features of the often used arguments to attempt to provide proof for the existence of God. They both fail quite substantially at every hurdle. They don’t convince me.

    My thoughts:
    It is the mark of modesty to accept that which we simply don’t know. Theists claim to know. Atheists claim that we do not know everything, and that we mustn’t fill gaps prematurely. History tells us that where ever ‘God’ has been placed in gaps within the natural World, He doesn’t last long.

    Belief in a God, I do not claim to be irrational. I think it has its practical uses and I think when it is used privately, providing hope and comfort at difficult times, it was and remains an essential part of our emotional development as a species. I don’t believe it has any place in public political debate and the shaping of policy, nor should it be taught as fact in school, and nor should a religion claim any piece of land as their own via divine right.

    If you cannot prove that something can exist outside of time (Step One), then nothing else matters. Arguments predicated on objective morality are irrational without Step One. The Cosmological/Kalam arguments are irrelevant without Step One. And Step One, is not falsifiable, because human experience cannot transcend time. Therefore, for me, any argument for the existence of God cannot logically be made.

    Humanity is naturally curious and inquisitive, as well as introspective (spiritual) and so it is no surprise that during our infancy as a species, at a time when we could not understand the natural World in any great detail, at a time when a rainbow seemed divinely inspired, when a sense of hierarchy aided our survival alongside our natural state of curiosity, that we would assume a higher power when we simply didn’t understand and to help establish rules by which to govern. Imagine not understanding plate tectonics, or even that a World outside of your tribal area exists, or that people elsewhere exist, whilst trying to explain thunder, lightening, floods, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes without any scientific understanding. A higher power seems to be an almost inevitable social construct. Today is no different. We strive to understand, but we also prefer simple answers, and we all require guidance regardless of the form it takes. We want to feel acceptance, and a sense of hope. The promise of heavenly reward, or divine justice for wrongdoing is also a key factor in belief. We do not like the idea that humanity has no purpose. That we are just a brief blip on the fabric of time, with no direction, no design, no purpose. We are a species that searches for meaning in a meaningless universe. And yet we are brilliant. We are star dust that has existed for billions of years, and has developed the ability to rationalise our own existence. We are the universe experiencing itself. This is beautiful, without requiring a creator. In fact, the lack of design, the lack of creator makes it all the more awe-inspiring.