Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Editorial: Deficit of Understanding

If you can sit on a jury in a court case and feel the need to ask the judge for a definition of 'beyond a reasonable doubt', you're a fool and deserve to be removed from the case. Likewise, if you see all the evidence pointing to bankers gambling and the rich not paying taxes as largely responsible for the financial crisis and still cite non-factual evidence that it is due to taxpayers sustaining those not in work, you are no better than that jury.

Mr. Justice Sweeney dismissed an entire jury from a high profile case involving a now ex-polititian and his ex wife when it became apparent that she had accepted some speeding points for which her husband was responsible. The details of the case aside, the jury in question was dismissed after asking some questions that revealed a terrifying lack of knowledge about the legal system. The jury in question asked if it would be acceptable to discuss evidence for which there was no factual basis and had not been presented thus far in the case. Further to this, they proceeded to ask the judge for a definition of the phrase 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

What has been evident more recently is a lack of understanding of the welfare system, in particular, benefits in the public eye.

By the way, in case you're wondering if I'm about to equate public perceptions of welfare and benefit fraud with the dismissed jury, yes, I am.

Is a jury asking to discuss non-factual evidence really so much worse than some of the misinterpretations and misrepresentations of the statistics about benefits?

I say this because a series of depressing statistics appeared in a recent T.U.C. report detailing a number of public assumptions about the benefit system and fraud, backed up by the statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions. It appeared that on average, people thought that fraud claimed about 27% of the welfare budget. The actual figure is less than 1%: 0.7% to be precise.

Add to this the following misconceptions:

  • On average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.
  • On average people think that almost half the people (48 per cent) who claim Jobseeker's Allowance go on to claim it for more than a year, while the true figure is just under 30 per cent (27.8 per cent).
  • On average people think that an unemployed couple with two school-age children would get £147 in Jobseeker's Allowance - more than 30 per cent higher than the £111.45 they would actually receive - a £35 over-calculation.
  • Only 21 per cent of people think that this family with two school-age children would be better off if one of the unemployed parents got a 30 hour a week minimum wage job, even though they would actually end up £138 a week better off. Even those who thought they would be better off only thought on average they would gain by £59.
Now, where on earth have these misconceptions come from? Is the problem that nobody is reporting these figures? Or is it that fabricated figures are being put forward in the mainstream media?

This, frankly, is anyone's guess at this stage.

0.7% of budget on fraudulent claims (which works out as about £1.2bn) is, of course, a fairly large figure that needs to be dealt with. However, compare that to the DWP's own statistics stating they have been losing £2.3bn each year- not misspent- LOST through admin error. How does this even happen? Did someone turn their handbag upside down shouting "Oh shit, I left an enormous pile of money in here somewhere, but I just can't seem to remember where!"?

So, yes, public, you are just like that jury because the figures that are put forward showing just how awry the public perception has got is beyond a reasonable doubt and I doubt you need that phrase defining to see that.

Mr. Justice Sweeney claimed there was a 'deficit of understanding' in the jury of that trial. The problem is, when it comes to matters such as this, there is a deficit of understanding across the entire country. And if it is so easy to dismiss a jury for simply not having the proper grasp of facts and information, how long is it until public opinion is dismissed because the facts surrounding basic matters such as welfare, taxes and the disappearing respectability of the working and middle classes because there isn't a grasp on the basic facts here either?

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Gay Marriage and Parenting- The Last Hurdle?

The news now frequently explores the potential impact of gay marriage and families on society, a debate which in some ways has been running ever since the establishment of civil partnerships as it was inevitable that the legal and religious implications of a matrimonial union would clash and, by extension, the rights to have create a family.

Before I go any further, I feel it would be helpful for me to express that in "creating" a family, I do not mean the conception or birth of children, but the actual decision to have a child, whatever the circumstances of how it is born. Although I do acknowledge and value the importance that child should clearly know its heritage, I am currently in the same manner as a couple considering adoption "create" a family, or a conventional straight couple opt to consciously have a child, rather than an unplanned birth. To spin the alternative, that it is unnatural to bring a child into an environment without undergoing the actual birthing process and refute it is creating a family I feel is hypocritical, as would not one be able to make the same distinction when opting to bring a domesticated pet into a house for the first time? And do not pet owners, by and large, dote on their pets to the same degree as parents would?

I felt compelled writing something on the matter today as a friend showed me an article in the Pink Press whereby a participant in a debate, Lynette Burrows, commented in a debate that as follows:

" I want all of you need to consider the position of your mother in your life. Would you be without her, even if she’s a slut?... Even if she doesn’t fulfil any of the criteria of what somebody or other believes is a good mother, she is your mother, she gave you birth, she gave you life, and you owe it to her to vote against this rotten motion." (

I happen to watch The Jeremy Kyle Show frequently. Yesterday displayed the shocking and disgusting behaviour of one teen parent who, upon developing doubts his 3 month old son was his, took presents that he had given the child and walked in and out of the childs life until parentage was verified. The child was, rather fortunately for his sake, proven not to be related to the absentee father. Anyone watching the programme regularly, however, will know that there are regularly occuring negligent parents of both sexes taken to task on the show. The point however is that,  in contrast to the comments above, broken heterosexual families are much more common and that the absence of a stable environment is in NO WAY an appropriate substitute or preferred outcome for any child. To draw a religious metaphor, just because the antiChrist would be spawn of Satan doesn't mean he would make a good Dad!

Lynnette Burrows has also gone on record to suggest that a gay parent with a child is prone to becoming a paedophile and, effectively, a present given by that parent is a precursor to rape.

I feel this is more sinister than her stance and preferences on parentage. In a desperate attempt from all such quarters for the anti-gay marriage, there is a wild-eyed hysteria to revitalise a McCarthyite irrational fear and panic about the potential threat of two men promising to each other before witnesses, be it in a Church or holy site or any form of public place, that this is the taboo that sends the whole of civilisation careening into oblivion. Forget drugs, corruption, slavery, poverty, famine, disease, terrorism and mass child labour, Gay Parentage is the foremost threat to undermining the world. I fail to see how encouraging love, however it is expressed, can equate to being anywhere near as destructive as any of these social ills to society as a whole, and to a childs life in particular. Would a child be better homeless than motherless or fatherless?

More importantly, the rallying cry against paedo/gays is no less than the dying breath of the radicals on this matter to re-establish the homophobic status quo and to drive homosexuality back into an underground movement; if they can successfully oppose and defeat gay marriage and parenthood, then they will rally to challenge civil partnerships to be declared and rendered null and void between same sexes. To play the Advocate, there is no escaping the fact that any individual may choose  to become a paedophile and seek to gain access to a child- this has recently been proven with the recent Jimmy Savile scandal- but the distinction here is not the acid test that the same sex will result in child abuse, as Savile abused boys but mainly girls. By this reasoning, therefore, paedophilia cannot be introduced into the equation of gay parentage as a given as it is in no way a universal factor that a gay parent would seek to abuse a child. Personally, I'm not sure I would want to have the responsibility of bringing up a child, but I often think I would want to be a father. And with those thoughts, my first instinct is to protect the child and give him or her an upbringing equivalent to my own and plan days out and share both the triumphs and trials life has to offer and guide them to be a moral considerate person.

I would therefore conclude that I hope this current widespread debate does lead to gay families proving themselves to be more capable parents than is expected and that with it, all such irrational conservative notions of pundits advocating who should love whom will be finally and thoroughly quashed into obscurity.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Heil Homo!

If you compare anyone or anything to something that is the exact opposite, you're not just going to make people ask if you're joking- you ARE the joke.

Well we probably all knew this day would come- the day someone finally compared gay people to the Nazis. Little did anyone suspect however that this moron would be an ex-Archbishop of Cantebury: George Carey. Yes, as is increasingly the case these days, religion (a religion that explicitly commands 'Love thy neighbour' no less) has instead been used to encourage people to hate their neighbours.

Carey commented Christians who dared to speak out against the government's equal marriage reforms could face persecution similar to the Jews under the Third Reich: 'When they were called names that was the first stage towards that totalitarian state,... It's part of a slippery slope where the unintended consequences could be shocking.' A smooth move really when you think about it- comparing people who were systematically exterminated by fascists and totalitarians... to fascists and totalitarians. It's such a spectacular piece of bigoted nonsense that I'm surprised Melanie Phillips didn't write it in the Daily Mail first.

While this is the first time Carey has gone that far, he has frequently been openly outspoken in his opposition of gay relationships, let alone marriage- notably in 1998 at the Lambeth conference, 2002 on Breakfast with Frost and again at Lambeth in 2010.

I mean let's not overlook the above too quickly- comparing a previously abused minority to people who abuse minorities. Not only is it offensive in the extreme but it is also utterly redundant. Evidently Carey's nose spends far too much time poking around other people's private areas, but I don't compare it to a dildo. And why? Because they are such different things that to draw such a comparison would be nonsensical... as is comparing opposing gay marriage to Nazism.

Of course, I'm not going to deny George Carey his right to offend- being an asshole is something we've come to expect from religious homophobes. My point is only to point out how not to be taken in by such rubbish. If people can't see this bigotry for what it is then there is very little to hope for when anyone comes to vote. A minority is perceived as a prevailing opinion because they say things loudly. This is why nobody has dared make a move on gay marriage- an issue most people apparently think of as a no-brainer. 71% of the population in Britain support gay marriage. Those who do not are now a minority (a very loud mouthed stupid ignorant minority who think using God as a cover for hate constitutes an argument) and yet they cannot see this. Archbishop Carey is just the latest in an ever dwindling crowd of people who have yet to realise that their views do not empower them; they turn them into a living joke.

Let me repeat that: 71% of British people support gay marriage. Only 53% of Americans support gay marriage and yet they're AHEAD of us on this issue.

By the way, last year, in 2011, over 80 reports of clerical pedophilia hit the headlines (many of the 80 individuals accused by more than one person). Ok that's a lot of perversion when you're trying to take a stand against it. How about dealing with the skeletons in the Church's closet before complaining about who comes out of theirs.

Therefore, in the interest of mercy, I'll stop making fun of the Archbishop and leave him to his impotent rage.

So who came out in favour of the Archbishop's words at the Tory party conference? Ann Widdecombe. Someone who has openly declared that she has no need for sex whatsoever in her life now thinks they can judge others on their existent sexuality. Give her credit, though, at least she, unlike the Archbishop, has a good reason for wearing a dress to work. However, not to be too derogatory, just looking at Ann Widdecombe suggests to me that she should really start supporting gay rights. Because, dear readers, if ever there was a woman who instills men with less of a sense of heterosexuality, this is her. I rest my case.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

In The Interest of Balance: Raging Bully


Ok now we've got that out of the way we can talk about real issues. In the previous week, the independent columnist and author Owen Jones (or as a friend of mine likes to call him "The Thinking Gay's Crumpet") wrote a column explaining just how terrifying the recent expansion of power in the US really is.

In the wake of Bush's administration, the president of the United States can now hold people indefinitely, arrest people without a warrant, imprison people without a trial, torture prisoners and order the killing of any US citizen without due process. Yes, all of those powers were confirmed under dubya. But Obama has handed virtually none of this power back and there are those who still claim that he is the most liberal, left wing, socialist and divisive president ever.

Unfortunately, Jones does have a point. Citing his article, in "The Five" section on Fox news, their pundits spoke of his comments rightly making clear that the expansion of power is extremely frightening and and has potentially destructive ramifications. Or as they glibly put it, what he really means is "Death to America." Yes, what a perfect over-simplification of everything in the article: Jones points out the dangers of having too much power subject to abuse, and Fox news explains all it means is america must be destroyed. I don't know who could have better simplified the problem, except maybe a 6 year old.

They then went off to explain that america is awesome and people on the left only hate them for the power they wield. Of course. The problem isn't America's colossal expansion of how it can infringe on civil liberties, it's that people hate it for being awesome. The kind of in depth analysis that could only come from a complete ignoramus. Greg Gutfield thinks that "the only solution is for America to start assuming our awesome and stop apologising for it". I have a better suggestion. Why not stop insulting whoever has anything critical to say about you and take an board what is said before dismissing it out of hand. In other words: stop claiming you're the most 'awesome' country in the world and start acting like it!

Eric Bolling then went on to claim that Obama is the head of the occupy movement, Dana Pierno claimed it is better to be feared than liked, and Andrea Tantaros called Jones a schoolchild who had never heard of Hitler or Mussolini or that America helped defeat them, before calling Germany the most influential economic power in Europe and saying America had to police them.

Now, I'm not here simply to defend Jones- unlike what some would tell you, I daresay he's a big boy and doesn't need my praise or defence. I'm just here to cite some strange rhetoric from The Five.
So for the sake of balance for balance's sake, let's respond to some of these points. If you get to claim Obama is the head of the occupy movement, we get to make comparisons between Bush and Saddam Hussain. If you get to claim it's better to be feared than liked, you don't deserve any respect. If you think Jones is a schoolchild when he's nearly 28, I get to call you an infantile bimbo who doesn't know how to use the education she has.

Next on the agenda, however, since we need to respect America and say how awesome it is all the time, let's list a few places where America does rank number one. CO2 emissions: America has the highest rate in the world, ahead of China. Rape: America has the most occurrences of rape in the world ahead of Kenya. America sells more weapons and instruments of destruction than any other country. America has the highest crime rate in the world above the UK. They have the highest divorce rate in the world. There are more people in prison in the US than any other country. One in 38 people in the US is in prison. Harold Pinter was right co compare the prison system to the Soviet gulag, except for one thing. Russia ranks number three in stats of most citizens in prison meaning that america now ranks several times worse than the number of people in the gulag. So way to go, America, in these areas, you really are number one!

Now, don't get me wrong. The above makes me sound quite anti-American, but trust me, I am not. I am only deeply concerned and wish that the right wing media in America would really look at these concerns and not pretend they don't exist. Because the wars the US and UK put on the credit card thanks to Bush and Blair were fought on a pack of lies and the lid has been blown off it. And if a country wants respect after so many mistakes, it has to earn it and not just expect the fear of others because their missiles are bigger than everyone else's.

In the Interest of Balance: Royal Flush

IN THE INTEREST OF BALANCE: The Sun must be rebranded a 'special interest' rag. It has been virtually inescapable all week: the nude pictures of Prince Harry getting naked and grinding up against a girl in Vegas that were sold to and published by The Sun newspaper. That's right the most perverse image anyone in the UK has seen since the combination of the words 'The Sun' and 'Newspaper'.

When this story hit the front page, I was heartened by a number of people of my generation all responding the same way in the face of this 'outrage': 'Who gives a shit?!'

Seriously this should not be such a big deal: he's a young man having a wild night out and letting his hair down... and in the process letting his family down. We've all had nights like that. It just isn't photographed by some over-eager celebrity hunting twonk with a phone who then sells it for thousands to a newspaper.

Since the newspaper has been in serious trouble with the press complaints commission, with many people, including royals, complaining that the story is not in the public interest. Here's the thing: virtually none of the stories in The Sun are in the public interest. We need look no further than the appalling coverage of the Hillsborough disaster that lead to the paper not being sold anywhere in Liverpool: a completely fabricated story executed in a most offensive way, exploiting the dead and knowingly insulting their families, their friends and their memory. Therefore, I think it only right to rebrand the paper a special interest paper, since it sure as hell isn't public interest.

However, I think the problem goes deeper than this. The minute the faux-outrage machine tabloid published the story, the irony was clear... and could be found on page 3.

The buck does not stop with the papers in this story. The fact that so many people were apparently outraged by this story, I think, is very telling about this country's attitude to sex, sexuality and nudity. I found myself wondering why we were so uppity pretending to be shocked and asked myself are we such an infantile people that any display of nudity or sexuality is greeted with reactionary disgust and childish tittering. Unfortunately, the answer I found myself reaching is yes we are.

Why were we so 'outraged' at the content of the image? The fact that some wannabe paparazzo snapped the photo on a mobile phone: that should be an outrage. The fact that they then tried to sell it: that should be an outrage. And, yes, the fact that The Sun newspaper bought it and ran it on the front page: that should be an outrage.

I'm going to do the criminal here and compare this nation with France. I know, I know, we like to insult France all the time in this country, because... well, it's fun. But bear with me here. Through the course of history, the European country that has seemed most comfortable with all things sexual has been France. They gave us erotic literature, art, lingereé and told us what to do with our tongues. They've been fine with nude beaches and, in recent years have had elections in which the candidates have been unmarried with children or non exclusive. Even their attitude to gay sex has rightly been way in advance of ours. Our laws criminalising homosexuality were repealed largely between the 70s and 80s. When did France decriminalise homosexuality? 1795!

You know, when I started to look into this, I thought the fact that we seem to be turning into a nation of busybodys was a new thing. But looking at it in this light, I realise this isn't true. It's just a new thing that the media is turning into a bunch of people acting like busybodys: pretending to be outraged just because a royal got his clothes off. Frankly I have no problem with the young Prince's actions, but when attitudes like this explode across the press, we must wonder what we thirst after more: morality or a good scandal we can sink our teeth into.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Mind The Gap

Up to now, Oswald has been happy to assist Zazu in reviewing and editing his posts, however tonight, its my turn to post an entry. I've decided, to rival Zazu's convention of In the Interest of Balance, to create relevant entries on Satirical Silliness. Thankfully, with the Olympic Games upon us, it seems as though Christmas has come early for satirists.

Tonight, I read the following article on BBC News:

Overcrowding? On Public Transport?! Surely not. Those outside of London will surely recognise this as a regular phenomena on many trains run during peak hours. Students and anyone boarding the train last minute may find themselves in squatting in corridors, like some technological beggar. I fortunately have had the comfort of a seat on most occasions, but I have known to take up standing room on a train where, in theory, capacity would allow a seat for me. Why does this happen? Because people catching earlier or later trains than they've booked tickets for would be expected on those trains. Similarly the assumption of open return tickets mean that capacity would be available- except on the more popular routes and timings when everyone opts to travel.

Rather than a rant though, I want to query where are all the Health and Safety officials? They seem to have vanished? UK citizens are daily confronted with the challenges and issues around prohibitive regulations along the lines of Thou shalt not block the Fire Exit and Hold the Handrail whilst on a moving walkway. Have these rules been waived in order to accommodate the Olympics to avoid penalising foreign nationals? If so, can we please have more foreign nationals visiting on a regular basis but only as long as someone holds compulsory queuing lessons as part of Citizenship.

However, this whole situation, as Mornington Crescent players will know, could easily have been avoided by the Wellington Manouevre, rather than playing Hobsons Gambit to bisect a trilateral, thus entering into Nip. If playing by Parker rules, don't forget to collect £200.00 as you pass Go

Monday, 30 July 2012

Driven to Distraction?

We've all known someone who is easily distracted. We love to make fun of them in our conversation and even in our sitcoms. We've all seen this, no? Some dippy person will find themselves halfway through a thought, when suddenly... OOH SHINY!

Sadly for us, we shouldn't make fun of this kind of thing, because, as a nation, we are that person. Let's wake up and focus, people. There are now a lot of issues that we need to keep a good close eye on, because if we don't... PIGEON!

All joking aside, this is a serious problem. A wise man once said "The real axis of evil in this country is the genius of our marketing coupled with the stupidity of our people." I believe he was talking about America but this goes for the UK just as much.

This week, the British Government quietly passed a law which would allow them and other security service more access to monitor social media and emails. When this motion was first proposed, people were outraged and with some fair reason. Many asked what this would do to people's freedom and civil liberties, however the government response at the time was that it would not be able to access the content of emails or social network communication, but only be able to see the names of people contacted. This would seem to suggest something far more worrying, however. Namely: what makes anyone think that seeing who people communicate with is any kind of grounds to interrogate or condemn a person?

What actually got this half-arsed and not very thought through piece of hackery into law so easily? A nice big distraction full of shiny things and loud noises: The Olympics.

Now should we be angered by the assumption that such a trick has been played? Yes, of course, but we are in no place to point the finger purely at the government about this. After all, it's not like they've not done this kind of thing before. Ever since the coalition government got into power it has been official political practice to cover much of their tracks with big lies. Saying things like Labour is guilty of causing the recession- because what better way to get the heat off the banks?

This is quite brilliant political bullshitting to get what you want. You want to push something through that is meeting with massive amounts of opposition and controversy- not least because what is being pushed is a barely thought through idea- what do you do? Change the subject, then push it right through when everyone's back is turned. Distract the opposition, do whatever the hell you while they're not looking. It is a tactic that has served this government very well, but what is worrying is that so few people have seen through these smokescreen tactics.

At the time of the Royal Wedding, while the nation was busy watching the big spectacle of gold, military uniforms and ridiculous hats, this government quickly and quietly pushed forward and passed part of their controversial NHS reform plans ending a year of heated debate and outcry from the NHS itself that there would be hell to pay if the plans did go ahead with a simple method. Wait until the nation is distracted with a nice big show, then we will never notice the postman slipping in the back door.

Again, should we be angry about such underhanded dealings? Yes, absolutely. But, again, save a little blame for ourselves. After all these examples of backdoor policy pushing are just under this government and the above are just three examples... and we have fallen for every last one of them.

Folks, this is not a game. If you lose out in this climate you really lose out. And this is not a time to be fooled or to allow ourselves to be distracted by a big show. This is very clever governmental behaviour: when they're under almost overwhelming pressure from another side, what do they do? They change the subject. This is why labour is blamed for the recession and two giant glittering extravaganzas are used to hold our attention to push forward policies without being interrogated too much.

We really are that easily distracted. All it takes is a Royal Wedding, an Olympic Ceremony, or telling a lie so often that people start to think it's true. Why not just blinker the nation, dangle a giant carrot in front of them and tell them to walk?!

We have to see past this kind of thing and see both these tactics and our easily distracted nature for how dangerous they are.

And if we cannot manage this, we need to get rid of the lions on our nation's crests and replace them with this guy.