Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the Medieval Middle, or an Academic Cult?

Some readers may have read the blog, In the Medieval Middle - http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/

The blog is co-written by a number of middle English faculty who have embraced a current dogma called Object Oriented Ontology (you can look that up on Wikipedia - members of the wider OOO group wrote the article.)

In short, the group proposes that the history of non-human objects/subjects (animals, rocks, etc) is as important as that of humans. It sees it self as non-humanistic, and sees humanism as a problem.

I am all for intellectual explorations, even those I disagree with. I did think their discussion of Activism and the Academy (of which I have a long and intimate knowledge) was deficient http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2012/05/activism-and-academy-forum.html. They posted some of my initial comments, but as soon as I tried to good deeper with the criticism, my comments were removed.

In a recent posting of the ideas of Facebook, I found a similar pattern. Ideas that challenge the non-humanist troika were simply removed.

This willingness of the non-humanists to delete posts they do not like is really worrying.

But apparently, trespassing on the specified turf of the little group focused on In the Medieval Middle is forbidden.

They are not open to criticism. Both on Facebook and on the blog they refuse to post my comments and yet pretend to some academic respectability?

My comments did not attack anyone: they attacked the ideas they propose. But they cannot deal with that.

This is a real problem.

We seem to have little cult, who all post repeated posts in support of each other, but who will not take criticism. They have created or cooperated with their own publishers (e.g. Punctum Books), and have a small number of journals which endlessly reiterate the same ideas.

I suggest that medievalists no longer take the In the Medieval Middle blog seriously. It is not about open discussion; it is about promulgating a distinct, and very rejectable world view.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

David Bolen, d. 1995. RIP for World AIDS Day 2011


WORLD AIDS DAY - DAVID BOLEN R.I.P.

David Bolen was by far the closest person of the over sixty people I have known killed by this disease. Although I was close to David, in so far as anybody could be - for he was always a lonely man, I did not know he wrote poetry. He did, in fact he wrote a lot of of it, arranged in four specific collections. This is a poem, written by David, which we read at his memorial held in New York on December 15th 1995.

Poem for My Funeral
(written January 29, 1993)

by
David P. Bolen
Born May 3, 1964
Died November 25, 1995

Cover the lawn with gray ashes
No daisies to push up, not I
No worms to feed, not I
Cover the lawn with gray ashes
and the pebbles of tooth and bone
No mark have I left, no marker, not I
No property do I own
No plot, not I
So cover the lawn with my gray ashes
And the pebbles of my teeth and bones
No violets will this May rose grow, not I
And when the lawn is covered with my ashes of blue and gray
And the pebbles of my teeth and bones
Then pop the corks
And drink deeply of fine champagne
Think of me and be glad
That I was let to see the wonders of the world
The lawn, the sky, flowering trees
The beauty of nature
And of man made things

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Julian Pepe - The Bravest Person in the world

BBC News - Uganda fear over gay death penalty plans

See the video attached to this BBC story.

This woman - Julian Pepe - must be the bravest person in the world. She is an openly Lesbian woman in Uganda and was prepared to speak about it on the BBC.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Who is to Blame in the Israel Palestine Debate

My friend Richard Landes takes one view -Augean Stables : News Media, Arab Honor-Shame, and Operation Cast Lead: The Failures of Cognitive Egocentrism

Richard it is entirely impossible to avoid the provocation and sheer bad faith showed by every Israeli government since 1987 on land transfers etc. These in my opinion have produced the actions which Israel is now reaping. To say that is not to justify Hamas actions, but say Israel is an unfair actor also.

In Northern Ireland before 1969 the UK sat back and allowed the landed Protestant elite along with a majority Protestant urban-work force (which excluded Catholic workers from decent jobs) to establish a Protestant state, which limited Catholic but not Protestant votes to householders only; gerrymandered any still possible seat with a Catholic majority; set up a almost exclusively Protestant police force; established segregated housing and had para-National organizations and newspapers which engaged in continual efforts designed to belittle and the Catholics. [For example efforts to ban Catholic symbols, but to aggressively assert Orange symbols, such as the July marches past Catholic churches.]

Did any of this justify the 1969 Catholic Civil Rights uprising, or the response of the IRA when the British troops sent it to Ulster fired on Catholic marchers? Yes to the Civil Rights marches but no to the terrorism. The IRA had no right to bomb the center of my home city (Manchester), shoot soldiers in British pubs, or set off bombs in Ireland. But the reaction by elements in the Catholic Community can be explained - Protestant Ulster and the larger United Kingdom truly reaped what they sowed. I see precise analogies to Israel and its treatment of Palestinians here.

I would prefer a one-state solution in the area as I think states should recognize all their citizens equally. Clearly that is not desired by almost anyone there (there are too many hatreds), so a just two-state solution is the one which good people need to work for. I oppose efforts by Hamas to oppose this, and regret the collapse of Fatah. I oppose all violence by such groups. But I also think Israeli efforts to usurp West Bank land is the primary driver of the efforts of the resistance.

Israel has had the upper hand since 1967. It has been, under all parties in government, consistent in attempting to grab more and more parts of the West Bank.

It is true it has a free press, a court system, and a vital internal debate. But that internal debate is very narrow, and seems to have become much darker due to the growth of Haredi politics, religious Zionism, and the peculiarly selfish politics of the Russian immigrants.

Of course Hmas firing rockets at Sderot was wrong; of course the use of suicide bombers was wrong; but the seething violence of Palestinian politics is above all a reaction to Israeli oppression.

From my view it is Israel that is the *defining* actor and other countries and the USA need to pressure it to act better.

[Most typos corrected, I hope.]

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rick Warren - Letter to the Pastors of Uganda



Let's give Rick Warren credit here.

He is an evangelical US preacher. He has spoke out against the Ugandan bill as strongly as he can.

Unreservedly - Good on Rick Warren!!

Why can't Rowan Williams and Benedict XVI speak out?

Some commentators have been slightly reserved about supporting Warren.

I simply felt a flood of grace. I am usually anti-Protestant but here in the UK we have been discussing whether the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams *should* make a statement because of fear of seeming imperialist.

It is shameful for Catholics that noone has even suggested that Benedict XVI would intervene.

Rick Warren has, I think, single handedly won a victory for both freedom and grace on this subject.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Climate Change

Climate change it is not a big issue for me (I don't have any kids after all), and I have been quite open to the idea there might be a random climate fluctuation, something to do with sunspot activity (which seems asynchronous over record observation, although that must be too short an era to mean anything).

But here in the UK all parties seemed to accept there was a problem, including Mrs Thatcher and the current Tory leadership. (Not true of Tory bloggers btw.)

So my main issue concern was when it became a huge *political issue* on the right, seemingly to defend aspects of the oil industry.

As far as I am concerned, this effort to stop human CO2 emissions should be seen as a *prudential choice*. [I realise I have not always such choices in my own life, ahem.] Also, quite apart from climate change, I have as long as I can recall been aware of and opposed to environmental pollution. I would oppose pollution even if humans were not causing climate change.]

OTOH, although I am no abstinent, I have never really prioritised material consumption. [And I have never suspected such of other well intentioned people either.]

I believe we need a spiritually richer world in which more and more humans can realise a divine intellectual/artistic/spiritual potential than I do in ever escalating material satisfactions.

The Art of Consultation

Iain Dale's Diary: Book of the Day: The Art of Consultation

Consultations as they stand are a sham.

Here in Manchester the local HIV services group - GHT - last year hosted a "consultation" with the local PCT about whether HIV patients would be forced to go through local GPs.

While some African patients liked the idea, virtually all the British gay men (who have different issues of course) opposed it. Apart from anything else, HIV is in fact sufficiently rare that the average GP (mine for example) has no real understanding.

After the event it became clear it was all a stitch up. The PCT went ahead with the policy in any case. [I gather the same thing happened in London - where you simply could not get any non-HIV meds (but still necessary) from a clinic but had to reveal your situation to a GP.]

Plus the PCT announced on posters in clinics that they had consulted with GHT.

The f**kers knew exactly what they were doing to begin with. It was all about cost shifting in the NHS and nothing to do with those consulted. Or even end costs.

[After all, if people avoid HIV treatment for years because they won't go to a GP, they will get ill, but it will not count in any "rational" cost assessment.]

Now, I am a big fan of state-provided services. But that does not mean we should not allow the nasty state employees in the NHS and elsewhere any lee-way.

They all seem to act like shits.

Saving Uganda's Gays

Everyone needs to try to raise the alarm over the Uganda effort to enact the death penalty for homosexuality. See The Guardian

Life imprisonment is the minimum punishment for anyone convicted of having gay sex, under an anti-homosexuality bill currently before Uganda's parliament. If the accused person is HIV positive or a serial offender, or a "person of authority" over the other partner, or if the "victim" is under 18, a conviction will result in the death penalty.

Members of the public are obliged to report any homosexual activity to police with 24 hours or risk up to three years in jail – a scenario that human rights campaigners say will result in a witchhunt. Ugandans breaking the new law abroad will be subject to extradition requests.


Ruth Gledhill has just posted in The Times

This gay blogger from Uganda's post today is just heart rending.

This is a former colony, with a UK system (sort of), and homosexuality
there is illegal to begin with because of our imperial legacy.

What can we do?

We need to pressure Uganda's government.

One Third of Uganda's budget comes from foreign aid. This may change in the future, but it is the case now and will be for a a number of years. Meanwhile oil companies are beginning to locate and exploit oil there.

The UK gay movement needs to gear up for this now.

But in Britain we should all be able to unite in protest on this. Labour, Liberal Demoocrat, Tory, SNP, PC, UKIP - all officially oppose this kind of hatred.

LabourList is the most public forum I, at least, can access.

This issue must come into focus now, and the UK must act.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tory Class Warfare Again

Iain Dale's Diary: What About the Planet?

As preparations mount for the Copenhagen summit, which will be attended by more than 15,000 delegates and diplomats, The Independent reports that up to 30,000 environmental activists will be going along for ride too. The hypocrisy is astonishing. [sticks tongue in cheek] Do they not care about the planet? Do they not think about their carbon footprint? Clearly not. And they have the cheek to lecture the rest of us about how we should cut down on the number of flights we take.


Iain's posts seem to be getting more and more obtuse.

Quite apart from the fact that at any conference, people nearby (i.e. via train) can attend in greater numbers, he willfully misstates the matter in terms of individual events.

The size of the earth's atmosphere is affected by human activity, but any single human activity is more or less irrelevant.

I do realise this may be a hard concept to grasp.

But let me put it another way.

One single Tory MP or PPC avoiding tax is more or less irrelevant to the government's tax take. But the entire tax avoidance efforts of the Tory class is most certainly relevant.

What I find interesting is that, as they sniff a Tory victory (but let's think 1992, 1992, 1992), the ur-colours of the Tories are showing themselves.

Both in the comments of lower middle class Tory oiks like Iain Dale, and in actions of the core-Tory rich you are a running dog for, Toryism is not about politics at all.

It is about preserving the privileges of the already rich and wealthy.

James Merrill - A Different Person


BOMB Magazine: James Merrill by Thomas Bolt

I've been reading James Merrill's memoir A Different Person.

It includes accounts of his relationship with his Jacksonville parents, his early life on West 11th St, New York city, his homosexual life in the early 1950s while on an extended trip to Europe (made possible by his trust fund, since his dad was founder of Merill Lynch), his first encounter with Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, and his encounters with and thoughts about people as diverse as Alice B Toklas and Greek soldiers. He died of AIDS in 1995.

The book is absolutely fascinating, completely snobbish, intellectually arrogant and orientalist as well. I am finding it absorbing.

But the photograph attached to this article is also very disturbing. In one sense he looks very young for a sixty five year old, but in other ways the ravages of AIDS are scary. His skin is not only wrinkled but bumped with, I think, molluscum contagiosum - one of the more minor but still disfiguring illnesses of the early version of AIDS.

What is most contradictory of all about the man is that he wrote some of the greatest American poetry, with the single biggest block of it being dictated to him from 1953 onwards via the Ouija board.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Save the Church of England

Ruth Gledhill - Times Online - WBLG: Protest at prelates shun attack on lesbian woman bishop

*We* (and I say "we" because if the ABoC created a pastorate for us Romans who, while not giving up on Rome in the eschaton, are looking for a place where we can pray, say our Aves, and not be expected to vote Tory, we would jump) have rejoiced in the new Stockholm bishop.

Could you find a better Christian?

So here is the question, Rowan (who I am sure reads Ruth's blog), how is this open loving Swedish Church trying to bear witness in a basically materialistic society not like us? Why does the CoE leadership think it has to dance to the tune of semi-literate evangelical churches in Africa (especially in Uganda) which are currently calling for the death penalty for being gay?

Let these nogoodnick-churches go. They can enjoy communion with a bunch of rich right-wing US Episcopalians who would not share a toilet with them.

But do not let them destroy an Church IN England based on true love of God, true Biblical Theology, a Much better ecclesiology than Romanism, and the true intuitions of of our not so bad civilisations best parts.

Ruth Supports Lesbian Bishops

Ruth Gledhill - Times Online - WBLG: Protest at prelates shun attack on lesbian woman bishop

Ruth is the purest of the pure, and manifestly both a nice and a good person (perhaps a specifically English characteristic).

Her story here is great.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Law That Shames Uganda

Iain Dale's Diary: The Law That Shames Uganda

The anti-homosexual laws now being pushed in countries like Uganda are not something that just happens because they are backward societies.

They exist at all because of the hangover of Victorian legislation created during the period of British rule. The is a very large overlap between where these laws exist and the British Imperial legacy. There is much less of a problem in, for example, former French colonies (homosexual acts ceased to be illegal with the enaction of the code Napoleon).

Second, countries like Ugana have diverse local populations within which homosexuality had a whole series of different social meanings.

But, is in many of these countries a type of no-nothing evangelical Christianity, push originally by British missionaries, now dominates local cultures, and it is this above all which backs up local homophobia, and in this case is actively trying to get the laws passed.

What can we do?

Not much, but we can at least accept our historic part in the situation and give gay and lesbian Ugandans asylum here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Turkey in Europe

Michael Heaver's Blog: Is Turkish EU membership now dead in the water?

I don't really get the objection to Turkey joining, apart from German racism.

Greece supports it, and so do all our major parties.

I agree with some "hold" on Turkish free movement of labour util we have more equal economies, but I see no reason Turks are to be considered lower than the Dutch, Greeks, Italians, Latvians or Romanians (etc).

The territory of Turkey is integral to all European history, and the Ottoman Empire, as the precursor to Ottoman Turkey was a central part of the European power system in the 18th and 19th century.

Plus, Turks are often nice people and have really great food.

Against DNA Databases

The influence of DNA in crime prevention is underestimated - we must stand up for the DNA database | LabourList.org

I find this among the most disturbing articles I have ever read on LabourList.

Government is a function of out lives as people and communities. We do not exist as functions of government.

From the perspective of this contributor there is no conceivable reason why the entire population should not be DNA tested, and totalitarian control imposed.

Here is why that should not happen. Government can be a force for good, but often oppressive people (elected or appointed) gain access to state and/or police power. Those people often (on any fair reading of history) act a forces of oppression.

While we need to advocate for the use of government as a force for good, we need to be aware that government can be oppressive.

Mr. Zarb-Cousin wants to turn us all into a sort of URL for the government to control.

That's dreadful.

It's much better to preserve freedom, even if some crimes go unpunished.

Legalise Brothels

Belle de Jour? | LabourList.org 2.0 | LabourList.org

Prostitution is a human universal.

That's because people (mostly men, but some women also) want to have sex (yes, have sex, not "make love") and finding somebody to have sex with is not always that easy.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to have sex; and no way to ensure everyone who wants sex will find a "free" partner.

Prostitution satisfies this need.

People (male and female) become prostitutes for many reasons. Some male prostitutes at least do it because they like sex, or they prefer having sex for money rather than doing other kind of work.

If both sides in a sex-work transaction act reasonably, I don't see any problem.

The problem of course is with trafficking, pimping, and the dangers of working the streets.

There is a clear solution to this: government-run or government inspected brothels (for both men and women), in which safety is ensured, bills are settled, and healthcare provided. Such brothels worked successfully in France for decades, and still work in Germany, and Nevada come to that.

Private/escort based services seem to be almost as safe. (Call outs to hotels etc.)

The difference with theft and murder is that they are in and of themselves detrimental to society. A fair exchange in a sex-worker relationship may not fit in with your aesthetics or religious morality, but presents no problem to civil society.

I don't pay for sex, and in truth don't have the money; but I would certainly be willing to do so if I did and if both sides acted fairly.

Legalised brothels are the way to go.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Goverment Paid Child Care and a Guaranteed Minimum Income

A good day for parents, for Labour and for Gordon - LabourList.org

The Sunday Times is reporting today that Gordon Brown has decided to change his mind on withdrawing the relief on childcare tax vouchers.


In this case I thought the government's original position that this was not a good targetted use of money made sense.

But what has become clear is that state benefit programs which benefit the middle class as well as the working class (e.g. tThe NHS, child benefit, old age pensions) are virtually untouchable whereas benefit programs which only target the poor (e.g. jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit, income support/ESA) are subject to continual massive hostility from a right-wing driven effort to libel the "undeserving poor."

This echoes experience in the US where non-means tested programmes such as Medicare and Social Security are untouchable, but programmes to help the poor are repeatedly attacked.

I think the solution to this is to moved to a Guaranteed Minimum Income, distributed by the state to all (regardless of wealth). Such a programme would cost a lot in taxes, but since the selfish middle class would get it as well, it would be able to ensure a real safety net for the poor.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hate Speech Laws: Not a Good Thing

Paul Waugh | Blogs | Evening Standard

Straw U-turn on gay hatred/free speech bill

Chris Smith won't be happy.

Last night, the former Cabinet minister (and first MP to come out), predicted that there could be more homophobic attacks as a result of the Government defeat on its plans to criminalise 'gay hatred'.
Former Tory Home Secretary Lord Waddington managed to insert an amendment insisting that free speech would be a defence against any such crime - effectively a wrecking amendment.

In the most effective Parliamentary ambush for years, Waddington knew that with one day of the final Parliamentary session today, the Government ran the risk of losing the entire Coroners and Justice Bill if the Lords dug in.

Labour MPs thought they would overturn the Lords defeat today, but now Jack Straw has waved the white flag.
Of course, the Government have tried to slip this out as quietly as possible. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said they were “very disappointed” that the Lords had voted for the free speech amendment.
“It is with considerable disappointment, therefore, that the Government has agreed not to remove the ‘freedom of expression’ section".

Comedians and Christian campaigners, who have lobbied hard against the clause, will see it differently. As will Chris Smith.


I'm not at all sure that Jack Straw has done anything wrong. I accept, but with some unwillingness, the concept of "hate crime", but I think free speech should be protected above all. [Indeed, I would incorporate all of American First Amendment jurisprudence into UK and European law if I could.]

At the moment gay people are pretty well accepted by the establishment, but that could change at a moment. History is very far from a predictable progress to ever greater liberation.

At some stage, gay people, like others, will value an established culture of free speech much more than any transient an largely unenforceable hate crime law.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

East African Homophobia - Uganda and Kenya Go Rogue

RE: Stand up, be counted and go to jail

This article seems to be rather misleading, with its use of "some".

As far as can be seen from the online Kenyan press, very very few Kenyans seem to understand that lesbian and gay rights are basic human rights. In the neighbouring, and in some ways similar, country of Uganda the countries Christian leaders are supporting an effort to impose the death penalty on gay people (See pinknews.co.uk for coverage). In fact they are so extreme that even American Evangelicals such as Rick Warren are rejecting them.

Basically, these countries are undergoing the type of sex panic that swept the US and Britain against gays from the late 1930s until the 1960s.

It's almost impossible to resist such a panic.

We who live in more enlightened places need to accept LGBT Ugandans and Kenyans as refugees and asylees.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Lisbon Treaty Will Go Through: Why The EU is a Good Thing



David Cameron begins to outline new EU policy in light of Czech decision on

Since I am a huge European Union supporter, let me be the first to congratulate the Tories on the new Euro baby!

What is funny is all the people who thought David Cameron ever meant for there to be a referendum.

As far as I'm concerned the EU is the best thing for peace that has ever happened in Europe.

I simply do not understand those in my own country who oppose. We all have complaints about any system we are in, but there has been no general war in Europe since 1945, and the EU provides by far the best framework for dealing with the remaining ethnic/ethno-religious problems.

I do not deny that NATO (AND the Warsaw Pact) had a role in stabilising Europe), but in truth the major conflicts in the past 400 years had all been initiated by France, the biggest German state (based in either Vienna or Berlin) and Spain (which is no longer a threat).

The European Steel and Coal Community led to the EEC to the EC and now to the EU. It has stabilised all of west and west-central Europe, and shows signs of doing so in east-central Europe.

Meanwhile, the EU's support for regionalism within countries is part of what helped calm Ireland down, stopped Catalunya getting violent, and keeps the Basque country OK.

As long as the EU prevails, there will be no irredentist wars over Trieste, the Tyrol, German speaking Belgium, etc. etc.

If the EU had already been able to incorporate Yugoslavia I doubt those criminal idiots Milosevic and Tudjman would have been able to wreak the destruction they did.

UPDATE: The Czech president has now signed the Lisbon Treaty. Hooray.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Legalise Drugs

[My comment on a thread on LabourList]

I think people should be able to use drugs freely.

I do accept that "high-risk" drugs such as heroin, cocaine and crystal meth can cause massive life disruption, but each of those drugs is much less harmful to an individual if quality is assured, and (in the case of heroin) shooting up rooms are supervised. Much of the harm of drugs comes not from the drugs themselves but from the criminal consequences that would vanish if licensed provision and consumption were available.

Lower risk drugs, such as cannabis, ecstasy, LSD, and ketamine should simply be minimally controlled. As it is now, for example, if you buy weed, you have to take what you get. If you buy pills you have no idea what they are. In Amsterdam and now in much of California you can get expert advice when you buy weed from someone who knows about the effects of each variety. And in the Netherlands the police will test your ecstasy pills for purity.

Why even take drugs at all. You may not like them, but they can all be intensely pleasurable and adult citizens should be able to use their bodies for pleasure without control by the state.

Meanwhile, many of us are dependent on one very strong drug which as few bad effects (i.e. caffeine - safe but a drug nonetheless). Alcohol causes harm, but, to quote Boris Johnson many of us get more from alcohol than alcohol gets from us. Tobacco smoking is clearly bad for you, and it is clear there will be a move to ban it - but I think *people should be free to do what they want when it does not cause immediate harm to others.

Drug users (of all types of drugs) can and do function quite well in society when not persecuted (or when rich enough not to be persecuted). They may die younger, but that is their concern, not the state's.

Friday, October 23, 2009

SONGS OF PRAISE (WITH SUBTITLES)

TRANSLATIONS OF POPULAR HYMNS FOR THE HARD OF HEARING, BY THE HARD OF HEARING

Duck House

[Via Sully]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Daniel Defoe: The True-Born Englishman

In light of the huge row going on today about the appearance of the BNP on the BBC's Question Time this 1703 poem from Daniel Defoe, "The True Born Englishman" was very enjoyable [Via Sully]

Thus from a mixture of all kinds began,
That het’rogeneous thing, an Englishman:
In eager rapes, and furious lust begot,
Betwixt a painted Britain and a Scot.
Whose gend’ring off-spring quickly learn’d to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither name, nor nation, speech nor fame.
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infus’d betwixt a Saxon and a Dane.
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,
Receiv’d all nations with promiscuous lust.
This nauseous brood directly did contain
The well-extracted blood of Englishmen.
Which medly canton’d in a heptarchy,
A rhapsody of nations to supply,
Among themselves maintain’d eternal wars,
And still the ladies lov’d the conquerors.

The western Angles all the rest subdu’d;
A bloody nation, barbarous and rude:
Who by the tenure of the sword possest
One part of Britain, and subdu’d the rest
And as great things denominate the small,
The conqu’ring part gave title to the whole.
The Scot, Pict, Britain, Roman, Dane, submit,
And with the English-Saxon all unite:
And these the mixture have so close pursu’d,
The very name and memory’s subdu’d:
No Roman now, no Britain does remain;
Wales strove to separate, but strove in vain:
The silent nations undistinguish’d fall,
And Englishman’s the common name for all.
Fate jumbled them together, God knows how;
What e’er they were they’re true-born English now.

The wonder which remains is at our pride,
To value that which all wise men deride.
For Englishmen to boast of generation,
Cancels their knowledge, and lampoons the nation.
A true-born Englishman’s a contradiction,
In speech an irony, in fact a fiction.
A banter made to be a test of fools,
Which those that use it justly ridicules.
A metaphor invented to express
A man a-kin to all the universe.

For as the Scots, as learned men ha’ said,
Throughout the world their wand’ring seed ha’ spread;
So open-handed England, ’tis believ’d,
Has all the gleanings of the world receiv’d.

Some think of England ’twas our Saviour meant,
The Gospel should to all the world be sent:
Since, when the blessed sound did hither reach,
They to all nations might be said to preach.

’Tis well that virtue gives nobility,
How shall we else the want of birth and blood supply?
Since scarce one family is left alive,
Which does not from some foreigner derive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Support the Post Office Strikers

Why should working men and women be treated like "objects" by business managers. The economy exists for us: we do not exist for the economy.

And damn Peter Mandelson.

We need a Left and a Right party in the UK: not three Tory parties.

The Pope and Rowan Williams

In my country I see absolute spiritual apathy everywhere.

I think Rowan Williams does as well as he can faced with this. It's like a wasted generation of people without any grasp that life may be more than WHAT IS. I feel more in common with Richard Dawkins than I do with most of my countrymen. He is wrong, but at least he is looking.

Rowan Williams is a truly decent human being (one of my best friends was a close friend of his at Oxford), and did not need to be humiliated like he has been by the pope. Neither Basil Hume nor Cormac Murphy-O'Connor would have allowed it. Abhp Nichols looked liked he wanted to choke.

One the whole this has nothing to do with England. Most "conservatives" in the CoE are Evangelicals. They would never accept Rome. Anglo-Catholicism here is almost uniformally liberal (like Rome) re. biblical interpretation. It's also very gay.

The Anglican Church of Nigeria will not change (nor most in Africa, because they are Evangelical), so this is a sop to a small straight number of churches.

And Rowan was ritually humiliated for this?

It's an outrage.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Let's be Clear - Postal Strike and SCABS


Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Royal Mail strike...

...If you take the job of a striking worker you are (forever) a

SCAB

Strikes are the only power that workers possess against oppressive management.

Once a strike is over, the employers almost always discard the SCABS in favour of experienced workers.

So for a few weeks you make a little money, but you will be forever a SCAB. You will have to hide that for the rest of your life.

DON'T SCAB

Karen Armstrong: The Case for God


I finished Karen Armstrong The Case for God last night.

Sure, she gets some things wrong, but she really has read very widely in history, religion, and science and understood what she has read. Her last two chapters kept me up until 1:30am and were enthralling.

While dismissing fundamentalism of all kinds, she totally PWNs Dawkins and co. A quite marvellous book.

Note:

I would not usually recommend a book like this to other medievalists, since she is not exactly a historian, but more than half the book is spent discussing medieval apophatic theology, eastern and western Christian, Lurianic, and Sufi, in a way I think would benefit specialists. I have read the authors she cites (and studied under John Meyendorff, the great historian of Byzantine apophaticism), and I still came away with something new.

Update: An Interesting Talk Armstrong gave at TED.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stephen Gately's Death, Threesomes, and Gay Liberation

Roy Greenslade: Mail columnist Moir accused of homophobia

Three cute young men share a joint and some sex play. One dies later.

I am not prepared to condemn this gentle gay swinging which many gay men do do.

And I am sad Stephen Gately died.

But someone needs to stand up and say that Gay liberation is not all about becoming just like straight people.

For some of us, being gay means a marriage with someone we love, where the love develops into friendship, and one soul lives in two bodies.

For many of us, being gay means serial monogamy (as with many straight people).

And for many of us, being gay means a mix of many things, one being that we appreciate and celebrate the sheer joy of sexual pleasure, sometimes taking place in groups, and seeing in that a joy of union and fellowship which is its own justification.

As for me, I wish I were cuter!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The God Fight Back: Karen Armstrong and Keith Ward

I'm reading Karen Armstrong's The Case for God, and recently finished Keith Ward's Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins

A friend recently put this to me:

The fact is though, that you can't logically prove or disprove the existence of God, at least not in the way that the West accepts logic. In essence, philosophizing ad nauseum about the existence or nonexistence of a deity is useless for that end, and it makes Dawkins and Ward pretty obnoxious.


Keith Ward's book, from last summer, is a a good short book by a professional philosopher and theologian that accepts this basic position (no conclusive proof), but lays out very clearly traditional arguments for theism - his main claim is that theists take mind and not matter as the basis for the universe, and that in doing so they show the weakness of rationalist reductionist materialism.

Ward also discusses the conniptions materialists have got themselves into at the edges of cosmology in order to avoid the design argument.

I have long though think Dawkins and his shoddier co-author, Hitchens, just take cheap shots at religion, about which they know very little, and in fact end up being mirror images of the American Evangelical Christians they take as typical of all.

Karen Armstrong, and I have not been a fan of hers in the past, blasts Dawkins out of the water in her more recent book. She focuses less on specific arguments about God, but looks at what faith and religion have meant in human history. She shows the idea of faith as "assent to propositions" to be far too limiting. So, while Ward takes a traditional philosophical approach, Armstrong takes a broader view of what religious truth means.

In response to my friend above, both Ward and Armstrong would agree that I cannot logically prove the existence of God, just as I cannot prove a mountain view is beautiful, or a poem is great - but they point out that all interesting questions are not answerable by logic.

Ward shows that it can be proven in formal logic, if you accept that God is a possible being, then he must exist. (Anselm's argument as put into modern logic by Richard Swinburne). It is true that this does not affect anyone who denies God is a possible being, but if God is possible, then God must exist.

I think most people would accept God is a possible explanation. What these two books show is that God is both a reasonable explanation.

At least theists don't have to start believing in "multiverses" to have an explanation for why we are, what we are, and why we are.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Urvashi Vaid at National Equality March Rally (Washington DC)



Urvashi Vaid, a long term leader in the US LGBT community, gives a powerful speech at the US March for Equality on Sunday 11 October.

That's the equality we need here, an equality that does not keep saying "sorry", that calls for marriage equality in the UK, and that does not cut off the LGBT movement from other groups (who include some of us) as they also organize for equality.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

You Are (Most Probably) The End of Your Line

Contra Dawkins

Most people in the past do not have descendants.

In a known case, less than 15% of French people alive in 1789 have living descendants.

If evolution is about the winners, then I am on the side of the losers.

A Party of Royal Bastards' Descendants and Baronets

David Cameron is a descendant of King William IV (via a "natural" child"). He is a relative of the Queen.

Boris Johnson is a descendant of King George II (via a "natural" child"). He also is a relative of the Queen.

George Osborne is heir to the title 18th Baronet Osborne.

"Dave" Cameron had calls from the Palace to advance his career at Conservative Central office when he left Oxford.

Is electing this trash what modern Britain has come to?

In fact the Tories have not been this retrograde on a class basis since Macmillan.

Heath (lower middle class), Thatcher (lower middle class), Major (working class), Hague (Yorkshire middle class), Ian Duncan Smith (posh but Catholic), Michael Howard (from Jewish Romanian stock) - all of these were outside the networked top public-school elite.

Among these people Osborne is looked down on because he is "only" the heir to a baronetcy.

It's true, possibly, that these old Tories might show a noblesse oblige that the nouveau riche conservatives since Macmillan have not shown. [Macmillan built 300,000 decent (with some exceptions) council houses a year while PM].

The real problem here is the complete and utter fuck up by New Labour.

I will vote Labour, but my favoured outcome would be one in which no party got a majority, and Labour could form a small minority govt with SNP, Plaid Cymru, Irish SDLP, support, and Brown was ousted.

Alternatively, I hope for a Tory victory of around 10 MPs, which collapses quickly but gives time for real Labour to reform.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Boycotting Iain Dale's Conservative Gay Pride Event

Gay rights campaigner boycotts Tory fringe at the last minute | LabourList.org 2.0 | LabourList.org

Ben Sumerskill, the head of gay rights group Stonewall has pulled out of speaking at the Tories' first ever Pride event - due to be held on Canal Street tonight - as a result of Michal Kaminsky's appearance at Conservative conference.

Summerskill told Channel 4 News:

"There is no doubt the progress that has been made in the last couple of years has genuinely been historic. It would churlish of anyone not to welcome the apology a couple of months ago over Section 28. But the event tonight has been overshadowed by the presence, not just at conference but on the same platform as some senior members of the party, of people of such extreme and offensive views. And certainly there are people I've spoken to at the conference today, not just gay people but Jewish delegates as well, who share that viewpoint."


I'm not sure that this was an especially useful action by Ben Summerskill.

Clearly many LGBT people are going to vote Tory, and it is in the interests of everyone that the Tories' mind remains changed on LGBT issues.

It's very hard to see what more legislative action *for* lesbians and gays could be take, apart from equalising access to marriage. But it is important to be able to stop certain usual Tory laws that would affect many gay people -for instance laws on prostitution, saunas and pornography could all be tightened.

I do, as a long time gay activist, regret the Quangoisation of LGBT politics, and would not particularly object to a gradual state withdrawal from this area. Peter Tatchell is a much better model of a gay activist as far as I am concerned.

For more info see Pink News

Monday, October 05, 2009

Tory Class Warfare

The welfare policy announced at the Tory conference this week is just open class warfare by the Tories.

The problem is that, after James Purnell adopted the same pogram against the poor from the same advisor (David Freud), Labour has little to say on this issue.

I am not really interested in what the usual Tory trolls say here.

Cameronism, the policies from David Cameron, a man with inherited wealth, and who owns £1000 dining room chairs, amounts to trying to take £25 a week from people trying to live on £89 per week. Why? To deal with a fiscal deficit created by bankers?

Toryism is not stupid (like the right in the US), but constitutes a pure and evil class-based attack on the poorest.

The deficit has been caused by the bankers' depression. The most this pogram is meant to get back is £1 billion, yet the annual government spend is £600 billion. So 1/6th of 1% will not help at all. But it will make the poor poorer and terrify even those like me, where the medical evdience is, shall we say, overwhelming.

Meanwhile Tory and Labour donors avoid tax to £12-15 billion in UK run tax havens like Bermuda or the Cayman islands.

It is just sick to blame and attack the poor for the failure of capitalism.

I wish Labour could motivate the vote of welfare recipients and public employees just to save themselves from the coming onslaught. But the fact is that traitors like Purnell have made that all but impossible.

I have never felt more depressed.

The Pogram Against Gay Men in Iraq

How a Few New Yorkers Are Trying to Save the Hunted Gay Men of Iraq -- New York Magazine

From Baghdad—frightening reports of gay pogroms, where homosexual men are targeted, tortured, slayed.


More than disturbing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The New Staffordhshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard

BBC Report

It's a pretty fantastic day to be a medievalist here (70 years after Sutton Hoo). Byzantinists may be interested because this hoard included Byzantine objects. 5 kilograms of the objects were in gold.

Me and my dad discuss all sorts of things all the time, and he listend to me talking about medieval and Byzantine topics all the time, but today we spent 30 minutes
on the law of treasure trove, why there might be Byzantine gold work with Ceylonese jewels found a hundred miles from us (here in south Lancashire), and all because it was in the news.

This is wow wow wow.

See the Official Site

See FlickrPhotos

The Daily Mash - ANGER AT EU BAN ON WANKY SHIT PUDDING


The Daily Mash - ANGER AT EU BAN ON WANKY SHIT PUDDING

THERE was anger last night as European bureaucrats threatened to outlaw classic British puddings such as freckled ball bag and boiled arseholes.

Wanky shit pudding with a strawberry bell-end
A new Brussels directive will seek to end the UK's exemption from dirty cake name laws, leaving establishments advertising old-fashioned favourites, including wanky shit pudding, open to prosecution.

Cafe owner Eve Evans said: 'It's political correctness gone mad. I raised my kids on things like wanky shit pudding, chocolate hard-ons and fuck-me-tarts, they're great British treats.'

She added: 'At the end of the day, a wanky shit pudding is basically a chocolate brownie with a blob of double cream on it. What do you think that looks like? Exactly - a shit that someone's done a wank on. It's plain common sense.'

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Puff the Magic Dragon (live)



This was my favourite song as a kid. Mary Travers died to day. May her soul Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Saints


Response to this

This initially seemed to me a lousy article. I am HIV+ and I once snorted enough coke you would not believe it. I even tried Meth (but did not like it).

Nothing I did would justify me being hanged out to die on a fence in Wyoming.

I do (after rereading several times) see the point of the article. Yes yes Jesus has a penis and pee'd, etc.

But we need our saints.

I recall the Matt Shepherd incident very well, and in fact went on the NYC March on the subject (where I had to convince my dearest friend N. that it was not a good time to test out Gandhi's theory that police horses would not trample you).

But I also (used to) write about saints and sainthood. I think we need our saints and I don't think there is much good from pulling them down. [Lots of people hate Dr. Martin Luther King - there is no reason to do on and on that he was a Ph.D plagiarist; ditto there is no need to go on and on about Harvey Milk liking fisting - that's not the point of saints.]

Saints do seem to become less human as they are deified, but that is not really true. Take the example of Mozart: we all know that he was a dirty mouthed kid, but in his music he touched God..

Saints are people who are touched in some aspect or for some moment in their life by God. And by God I mean here a profundity beyond the norm.

I'll try to write more on this: the basic point is that saints are "holy" not "good". Perhaps that is just a Catholic thing.

PS. As to obsessing on Jesus' Penis or Urine or Shit (I though capitals were appropriate for the Divine). Sure he did all those, but obsessing on it is a kind of transitional OCD. Many (usually) male children go through a period when they cannot get the thought of sex with their mother out of their mind. Some Gay male Christians cannot get the idea of blowing Jesus out of their minds.

The solution to these thoughts, in both cases, is not to worry. They will go away. Your Mum will still love you, and so will Jesus.

If you obsess too much, just give thanks Jesus was circumcised.

British Politics Now - Mid September 2009

We clearly are living with the embers of a dying regime.

The best we on the left can hope for is to limit Tory advances, perhaps even produce a lame Tory-Lib Dem coalition, and a short Tory interlude.

Labour's efforts should be all on a) making the poorest safe, b) ring fencing the NHS, c) explaining to public sector and the manufacturing/construction sector (still a big section of the economy) that Labour is best for them, d) repelling all claims that a public sector worker is not an economic contributor while a private sector work is, e) getting benefit recipients out to vote.

Above all, it's important to get the Lisbon treaty approved as this will do more to help the poor than anything else.

The Irish will vote for it this time. And it will go through.

Then Gordon Brown should be made to resign, and whoever is best to deal with opposition should take over for the necessary election.

My heart goes to Cruddas and Harman. Sense tells me Alan Johnson would be the best caretaker.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Easy Way to Solve Fiscal Deficits


For the UK and the US. The best solution to both fiscal deficits is to raise income tax, progressively, to the levels required to cover problems.

Perhaps also we should have a 1/20th take on all fixed wealth over the median+20% of house prices. [The ...US could also do with a national VAT and gas/petrol tax.]

The basic rule is this. 2-3% of the population own 90% of the wealth.

TAX THE RICH UNTIL THE PIPS SQUEAK.

[The picture is of the great Labour politician who used this phrase in an election *that Labour won* in 1973].

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Modesty and Islam


In response to Ruth Gledhill's post

Are Muslim men modest? Is all that preening, showing off of arses just nothing? Are tight jeans Islamic?

I happen to find "Mediterranean" men attractive - from Spain to Bangladesh. I think suits are sexy, but I really like a guy with dark hair, dusky complexion, and mournful eyes - dressed in a leather jacket and tight jeans.

And there are a lot of men like me.

And people like me have a lot of fun in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Pakistan etc. The code phrase they ask is "are you married?"

But they won't kiss.

In other words, if modesty is an issue, cute Muslim guys need to cover up. Perhaps the men could wear a veil or a Burkha?

Sex segregation, alone with the burkha, niqab, and hijab - all those Muslim sartorial signs that say a woman is "modest" only if she is covered up - amount to a direct claim that women who do not wear them are immodest. There is a similar chain of thought in ultra-orthodox Jewish insistence on married women wearing wigs or other hair covering, and covering all limbs.

Such practices amount to saying western women are sluts. And that is a big problem.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Evolutionary Psychology: Am I Nuts or Is It Nuts?


Men and women? Both from Earth | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk


I have been reading quite a bit about Evolutionary Psychology lately, Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate and Ian McEwan's Enduring Love in the past week for example.

Like other psychological theories (Freudianism, Behaviourism) is seems to offer some interesting insights.

But its overall tone, as noted elsewhere, is a series of Just so stories that confirm current prejudices. [For Steven Pinker the thoughts and ideals of a Harvard psychology professor in the Late Clinton era represent "Human Nature"...].

More than that, it shares with Freudianism the typical bully stance of "everything you say proves my point." (Pinker specifically approves of Freudianism on this point.)

In fact it is another "scientific theory" built on far too little data and far too much assumption of Divine authority by its writers.

I look forward to its rapid deconstruction.

What are the books doing this now?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What Our Soldiers Are Dying For

Iain Dale's Diary: Is This What Our Soldiers Are Dying For?

I just read on Andrew Nutt's blog the following about a new law which has come into force in Afghanistan...

A new law was recently passed that an Afghan husband is allowed to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex with him. A woman must have also her husband’s permission to work. An earlier bill asked Shia women to have sex with their husbands every four days at a minimum. It also removed the need for consent to sex within marriage, effectively condoning rape. This amended version has been published in the official gazette and become law.


Surely this can't be true, I thought. Is this what our armed forces are fighting for? But yes, it is true. HERE's the report from MSNBC.

And there was me thinking we were there to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Aghanistan. How naive."


Our soldiers (my nephew Nick is in the Royal Marines) are fighting so that we can control a cauldron of extremism in the far-middle east.

Most of the people there (male and female) are not in any essential way reachable by any military or diplomatic methods.

The terrorism is fueled by by our dependence on oil, and the power that gives religious elites, both Shia and Sunni, and if not them, thugs like Saddam. We rightly support Israel's right to exist, but its position as a western cipher in the region makes everything else worse.

We need to keep the military lid on the region; decrease our need for oil from the region; and de-toxify the presence of Israel (which is now home to many religious extremists just as gross as the Taliban).

What else can we do?

I mean, seriously this is not even a party issue in the UK.

Barney Frank Confronts Woman At Townhall Comparing Obama To Hitler