Wednesday, May 31, 2006

French vote to boycott British universities

Yeah, it’s a good headline, but actually it’s nonsense. I had an idea to write a spoof of yesterday’s NATHFE conference decision to boycott Israeli academics (unless they sign a McCarthyite declaration of the political opposition to the Israeli government). Briefly, the idea was that the French universities had voted to cut off ties with any British academics who refused to sign a declaration opposing the UK government, principally over the war against Iraq.

But then it hit me. The types of people supporting the boycott of Israeli Jews would probably welcome such a move by the French. They’d probably happily sign a declaration and denounce their own colleagues who refused to sign. So, writing such a ‘spoof’ would be a waste of time.

Of course, if this type of witch hint ping-pong took off, all sorts of pressure groups could enter the fray. I can think that some might decide that retaliation against the French on the issue of the secularism might be a good idea. Perhaps French academics might be required to disassociate themselves from the ban on conspicuous religious symbols and attire in secular spaces after successful lobbying of the NATHFE by religious groups backed by the SWP. And that’s just getting the ball into play.

Picking up this ball and running with it will be any number of pressure groups for various causes, who would (rightly) cry foul if the NATHFE (or rather its soon-to-be successor, the UCU) refused to include their concerns. Perhaps an academic will eventually have to spell out quite a wide-ranging ideological position.

“I can’t peer-review Dr Smith’s paper on Christopher Marlow because she will not sign a declaration stating her opposition to abortion, said Professor Jones of Southport University, a prominent member of the Christian Academic Pro-Life Association.”

Of course, we should not fall into the trap of thinking this is all a new development. We have been here before, as Professor Ellen Schrecker noted in 1999 in her paper Political Tests for Professors.

What is most worrying now is that a group called the British Committee for Universities in Palestine, is offering advice on how to ‘anonymously’ support the boycott. This sounds even more ominously McCarthyite. What do they want people to do? Anonymously inform on their colleagues? Backstab, scuttle and nix other academics work and associations all from behind the veil of anonymity?

Film directors who do not want to put their name to projects use the moniker “Alan Smithee”. Perhaps BRICUP could create a persona or two for this purpose. I suggest Professor Torquemada and Dr Cohn. The second one can be used by those anonymous academic informers who want to further obscure their anti-Semitism by sounding “Jewish”.

I won’t belabour the points about why this move is such a bad idea, since they are covered in great detail elsewhere, but I will end by saying that the spectre of wider political tests interfering with academic freedom is quite disquieting. More than ever, I have a sense that the Authoritarian Left would like to see all manner of political tests applied to enforce political and moral conformity.

As such, a spoof article about a French boycott of the UK’s universities over Iraq would not be parody. It would be a road map.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

HOMO Pride, OMOH shame

Sometimes a designer can’t resist the urge to flip a photo because it looks better in terms of composition and page layout. That is to say, they print a mirror-image of the photo. One of the reasons is the design principle that it is always better to have a person looking into the page. It is very rare to find a (competent) page layout where the person photographed is looking out of the page. It always creates the impression that they’ve turned their back on the text. (Okay, I used to teach newspaper design, so I’m a bit of an egghead on the subject!)

Still, in news photography, the practice is considered unethical, because in subtle ways it may change the perception of events. In non-news contexts, though – while less of an ethical problem – it can create small and jarring effects: why is Jimi Hendrix playing right-handed? Why are they driving on the wrong side of the road in Paris?

One group (who, one would hope, are too ashamed to look in the mirror to have noticed before) that doesn’t stand up well to this flipping technique is the notorious Russian security police force, OMON.

Keep in mind that in the Cyrillic alphabet, an “N” is written as an “H”.

Now, the OMON were drafted in to suppress the gay pride march in Moscow this weekend. They certainly lived up to their reputation of “rash actions and excessive and indiscriminate use of force”, but in all the chaos, the sharp-eyed could not help noticing this irony when the scene was mirror-imaged:


See what I mean?

eBaying at the moon

Well, anyone who has been cheated on eBay will relish this tale of sweet revenge.

The moral of the story is, if you’re going to cheat someone by selling them a broken laptop, make sure you’ve erased the hard-drive. Don’t leave behind your personal details, much less your personal antics or your um, personal tastes and kinky (and possibly illegal) personal fetishes.

For some strange reason, laptops seem particularly prone to eBay fraud. Some people use blogs to fight back against repeat offenders, while others even manage to get successful prosecutions.

In a way, I’m envious that I didn’t think of this jungle-justice in cyberspace myself. A few years back, I got cheated out of a minor amount – only ₤10 or ₤20, if I remember correctly – for the ‘Complete Superman’ DVD boxset. This was when I was still quite naïve about Malaysia’s place in the DVD universe – the epicentre of DVD scams and piracy. I no longer risk buying anything off-shore. But what angered me the most (apart from the feeling of being had) was eBay’s response. I did some cyber-sleuthing and discovered that the person who cheated me had registered a dozen other fake accounts and had generated his excellent rating by bogus buying and selling between his fake personas. Indeed, emailing any of the various “sellers” got form responses from the same Hotmail account. Naively (again) believing that eBay would be interested in all this, I compiled and forwarded the detailed evidence to them. They couldn’t have cared less.

I was so angry that I stopped using eBay for two years. Recently I was tempted back, but the experience hasn’t been much better. Every time you hear the clunk of a DVD through the post box, you open it with trepidation. Is it actually a Chinese knock-off or is it the genuine article as promised? Worse, on two occasions this year, I have received DVD copies burned onto Tesco-brand blank disks with home-made covers. It is pointless reporting this to eBay because they do nothing! Many of the traders selling off multiple copies of the same titles continue to trade after numerous complaints by buyers in the feedback section.

And here is the most infuriating thing. Scam sellers now blackmail legitimate users with bad feedback! Yes! They will give YOU bad feedback if you blow the whistle on their scams, secure in the knowledge that you have no recourse to the powers that be at eBay.

Three months back, a scam-artist called Chav7 sold me a DVD box set that he did not actually own (a clear violation of eBay T&Cs). Weeks went by and emails of complaint went ignored before promises of “sourcing it from the supplier” and similar excuses delayed the process. I eventually asked for a refund (since I’d actually paid for the item via PayPal within 24 hours of the auction closing). The refund also took weeks. All told, Chav7 sat with my money for non-existent goods for over a month. But here’s the rub: I gave him “neutral” feedback. Since I had eventually received a refund, I though “negative” was too strong. But what did the bastard do? He sent me an email demanding that I retract the feedback or he’d give me a “negative” rating. Which he did. He also reported me to eBay for “non payment”. This is bizarre. Because of a bug in eBay’s software, people who have received a refund appear not to have paid in the first place. I then had to jump through hoops for eBay to prove that I was not a non payer… plus I got a negative rating – all for a transaction in which I was a prompt payer, and THE VICTIM.

So, the net result is that I no longer give neutral or negative feedback. If the transaction has gone badly and the seller is a crook, I simply decline to give any feedback at all because I don’t want to ruin my own rating. Other people I know who use eBay have said the same thing.

Of course, this means that the whole feedback system falls to pieces. Since eBay is notoriously bad at defending the rights of buyers, the only real guide buyers have is the feedback system, but since many buyers are now bullied into self-censorship, we can’t see who the crooks are.

A cynical explanation for eBay’s inaction when it comes to helping the buyer is that – in effect – they are cut in on the deal by the scammer. For every dodgy sale that goes through, eBay still collects their fee. It is therefore in their interests to be biased towards the seller, rather than the buyer. So, you may be left fuming over your “genuine DVD” filmed over someone’s shoulder on a camcorder, but since eBay get their cut of the sale, what incentive do they have to go to bat for you?

Since PayPal has been introduced, things do seem to run more smoothly (though it is not without its problems), but it is still the aggravation factor that turns people off. Some have come up with alternative ways of using the internet to dispose of unwanted bric-a-brac, while others are still angry.

Still, there is some sensible advice on how to handle disputes from various sources, but its all for nought unless the fold at eBay start taking buyer complaints seriously – and by “seriously”, I mean cleaning up their site of clearly illegal items and banning repeat offenders. It talks tough, but as an MSNBC investigation proves, doesn’t follow through.

As the bloggers who have taken extreme steps prove, people want justice – not just their money back.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gas attack in Moscow

A group of 20 neo-Nazi thugs burst into the conference venue hosting an international gay conference in Moscow spraying an “unidentified” gas at the assembled delegates, according to this morning’s Times.

The violence follows a similar attack on a Moscow gay club a fortnight ago where elderly religious ‘protestors’ chanted antigay incantations while a small army of skinheads hurled bottles and attacked patrons.

Veteran US jouralist Doug Ireland is providing on-going coverage on his blog of the stand-off between the Mayor of Moscow, assorted religious leaders (who have issued death threats), right-wing skinheads and Russia’s embattled gay community.

Russian gays are hosting an international conference and staging the first Russian Pride today, defying banning orders and threats of violence. 1000 police officers have been dispatched by the Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, to stop the march.

British campaigners Derek Lennard of the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (who is the UK co-ordinator for the International Day Against Homophobia) and OutRage! activist Peter Tatchell are in Moscow to attend the conference and join the march.

Also in Moscow is Oscar Wilde’s grandson, and Human Rights Watch director Scott Long. Scott is publishing a diary as events unfold.

GHQ Magazine, (just out) has a cover story on Russian Pride. An electronic (PDF) version is available here.

Nevertheless, Russia’s gay community is divided. Some fear that the backlash will not be worth it, while other believe that a stand must be taken. This is not a new debate, nor a debate specific to oppressed gay communities. It is always the first debate that any civil rights movement has. The same debate was had by religious minorities over the centuries, by the women’s suffrage movement, by the black civil rights movement in the US and by those who stood up to Apartheid.

What is too often painfully clear is that there is rarely progress without blood in the streets.

Scott Long says in his diary that the foreigners left the room to allow the Russians to debate the next step. They voted to march!

I don’t have prayers, but today my thoughts will be with my comrades in Moscow.

UPDATE:
Over 50 activists have been detained by Russian police, including march organiser Nikolay Alexeyev.

UPDATE #2
I've just heard from Derek Lennard in Moscow and he's safe. He's waiting to hear from French activist Louis-Georges Tin and Peter Tatchell, who were part of a different delegation going to City Hall. Derek confirms that Nikolay Alexeyev has been arrested. He adds that at least the tomatoes he had thrown at him seemed fresh organic and thankfully "good enough to eat". It seems Russian neo-Nazis haven't forgotten their manners altogether.

UPDATE #3
A German MP, Volker Beck, and a French Green Party official have been injured in clashes with police and neo-nazi thugs. Apparently, a delegate from the Paris Mayor's office was one of the gay activists arrested today.

Friday, May 26, 2006

If you know your history

Well, this charming missive just in from Joe “Ganster by birth” Tex. What’s a “ganster”? A sort of hip goose? Anyhow, at least he got my title right…

From: JOE TEX <rattapang@hotmail.com

Hey Mr. Battyman promoter

All you can do is sit behind your desk and write.... but if you love battyman so much come to jamaica and just press you luck! because if you belive there is a God..... believe this you would not last 5 minutes and Capleton who you want to ban from the US would not have nothing to do with it.

I am a Jamaican and we stand for a lot of shit! but in our country we have no place for such activities. I am not saying your kind is not there, however if they should come from under their rock where they are hiding ..... more blood a shed by gunshot, machette, a little gasoline with a match and the list goes on-yu get di driff.

But I dare you and your gay rights associate(s) to come and promote your sick behaviour and let us see if you will go back where you come from alive.

WE/I live to kill Battyman/Lesbian and thats a right in Jamaica.... and no Human Rights Organisation can change that....

It has Nothing to do with our music. Its in our culture to kill fags and thats ghetto law.Ganster by birth

Wow. That’s kinda mean, Joe. But I hold no grudges. Let me introduce you to some groups that share your world outlook. Maybe you’ll get on with them, maybe you won’t. But at the very least you could exchange war stories and um, ‘techniques’.

How about these guys?

They’re really good at using your suggested techniques against people they hate. Look and learn, Joe. See what you’ve become, Joe.


If you know your history,
Then you would know where you coming from,
Then you wouldn’t have to ask me,
Who the eck do I think I am.
- Bob Marley


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Christian Hospitality

The Times reports that the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend John Gladwin, and 20 curates have been abandoned somewhere “in Africa” after the Anglican church in Kenya discovered the bishop’s “liberal” views on homosexuality – and deserted them!

According to The Times, things were going well during the visit to rural parishes, but then...

“[T]he Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Reverend Benjamin Nzimbi, has withdrawn his hospitality because of Bishop Gladwin’s support for homosexuals. He said in a statement that the Kenyan church was “unable to continue with advancing the lined-up activities with the diocese of Chelmsford”.

Bishop Gladwin is the chair of Christian Aid and has recently become a patron of Changing Attitude, an Anglican LGBT group.

Gladwin had to call off a visit to the Caribbean last year after a ruckus over his support for gay Christians.

Not so sharp

Can someone explain the “knife amnesty” to me?

The police are providing special wheelie-bins for people to turn in knives that can be used as offensive weapons without fear of prosecution. But so much of it makes no sense.

According to a report in The Guardian:

“The amnesty involves all legal knives - such as kitchen knives - and offensive weapons, including flick knives, butterfly knives and swords.”

Legal knives? Why would you need to turn in a legal knife, much less require ‘amnesty’ for doing so?

The Guardian pictures a knife similar to the one used in the recent murder of Nisha Patel-Nasri. It’s a common kitchen knife. In fact I have one very similar. I have a whole block on sharp knives that I’m sure could kill just as easily as they carve Quorn roast and chop garlic. Am I meant to turn them in?

Perhaps they mean to refer to only those legal knifes put to illegal use, but even then the message is garbled:

“Scotland Yard said only those weapons believed to be significant to police inquiries would be forensically examined.”

Presumably that means that knives thought to have been used in violent attacks will be examined, presumably with a view to a prosecution (hopefully, or else what’s the point?) But if that is the case, what good is the amnesty?

Surely the advice should be – if you have a legal knife that you’ve been carrying around for non culinary purposes but haven’t actually used in anger, put it back in the kitchen drawer where it belongs?

If you have used a legal knife to commit a murder or assault, surely you’re not being offered amnesty from prosecution for your crimes if you turn in the weapon? In which case, certainly you’d want to be throwing it into The Thames, not a police wheelie-bin for forensic officers to rifle through?

I just don’t get it – (a) how can an amnesty apply to a knife that is legal to own; and (b) why would anyone turn in a knife connected to a crime knowing it will be forensically examined; and (c) if such a knife were turned in, how would the amnesty affect its use as evidence towards a successful prosecution?

Still, garbled message or not, it seems to work, Apparently when this was tried in Scotland in 1993, knife possession and use in violence and murder dropped by about a quarter for the 12 months following the amnesty. The report doesn’t record whether the Scottish police’s amnesty offer actually made sense though. This one doesn’t.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Speaking in Ridleys

I see Yvonne Ridley is scheduled to speak at the SWP-sponsored “Marxism 2006”. Her talk will be “Sleeping with the Enemy”. I must confess, when I first heard that I assumed she’d be talking about being seduced by the Taliban, but I see it has something to do with “embedding the media” rather than “bedding the Muhajadin”. Disappointing.

Interestingly, Ridley – who once described Abu Hamza as “sweet” – refused to criticise the crackpot cleric because, she says glibly, “As a Muslim, I don’t think it’s constructive to criticise other Muslims.”

Fair enough. Although I guess she must mean “… other Muslims, as long as they’re not Lesbians.”

Ridley did not mind attacking Muslim author Irshad Manji on a recent Islam Channel programme.

“She's a lesbian with a chip on her shoulder who wants to take a dig at Islam,” said ‘sister Yvonne’ of the Canadian author who campaigns for an Islamic Reformation.

Sure, Yvonne, hold you tongue about race-hate and violence promoting Hamza, but queers are fair-game right? Even if they are “fellow Muslims”.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Church cross as Madonna’s cross crosses line

The Church of England is angry, according to the BBC,  at Madonna after her appearance on a cross to kick off her latest tour in Los Angeles.

David Muir of the Evangelical Alliance accused the singer not only of "blatant insensitivity", but added that the use of Christian imagery is “dangerous”.

Well, it is, you could fall off, scratch yourself on a rusty nail, or have your side split… by the silly protestations of EA vicar.

The Cross’ is a western meta-narrative. It belongs to our communal literary tradition. It is not the property of only the dwindling bunch who still believe.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Protest: Stop deporting gay refugees

17 May is International Day Against Homophobia

Protest: Defend Gay Asylum Seekers
Date: Wednesday, 17 May 2006
Time: 12 – 2 PM
Place: The Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1

Attending the protest in defence of gay asylum seekers will be lesbian and gay refugees who will tell their stories of victimisation in their home countries and abuse in the UK by the Home Office.

To mark the second International Day Against Homophobia, Lesbian and gay people will protest outside the Home Office to highlight the plight of gay asylum seekers who have fled homophobic persecution in countries like Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan, Jamaica, Iran, Belarus, Algeria, Iraq, Nigeria and Egypt.

The Home Office is being called to account for its five failings:
  • No training on sexual orientation issues for asylum staff and adjudicators
  • No official policy supporting the right of refugees to claim asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation
  • No action to stamp out the abuse of gay refugees in UK asylum detention camps
  • No accurate, up-to-date information on the victimisation of gay people in violently homophobic countries
  • No adequate access to proper legal representation for gay asylum applicants
"On this International Day Against Homophobia, we want to express support for gay people in other countries who are suffering arrest, imprisonment, torture and murder. We are demanding that the UK government offers refuge from persecution," said Derek Lennard of GALHA, UK coordinator of IDAHO.

Research by OutRage!, based on its work with gay asylum claimants, shows that the Home Office is failing lesbian and gay asylum seekers.

"The Home Office does not explicitly accept persecution on the grounds of sexual orientation as a legitimate basis for gaining asylum," said Brett Lock of OutRage!, who is currently documenting a major expose of homophobic bias in the asylum system.

"Low legal aid funding means most gay asylum applicants fail because they have sub-standard representation at their asylum hearings. The Home Office information on homophobic persecution around the globe is poorly researched and often downplays the true scale of anti-gay victimisation.

"The shocking stories of homophobic abuse and inhumane conditions inside the UK's asylum detention centres are a national scandal," said Mr Lock.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Liar, liar, cassocks on fire!

So… after writing a self-serving load of old cobblers to The Times, saying:

“Homosexual people are first of all persons, and have the same entitlement to legal rights as anyone else.”… and …“The Church has consistently spoken out against any discrimination against homosexual persons, and will continue to do so.”

… Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Catholic head honcho could surely have waited a little longer for his lie to take root before committing an act that exposed him as the lying liar that he is.

What’s he done? Well, he’s fired a gay press officer for um, being gay.

What a great way to reinforce the church’s belief that gay people have “the same entitlement to legal rights” and what a way to have “spoken out against any discrimination against homosexual persons”.

Yeah, the very definition. Cormac, of discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and of depriving them of legal rights is to sack them because they’re gay! Jesus Christ, Cormac, are you too stupid to see the contradictions between your public statements and your actions, or are you such a practiced liar that you believe your own porkers?

But then again, when you’re the regional leader of a church that lies about everythingand then some, it’s no wonder that you can keep your office, but not your story, straight.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ministerial Mayhem

I figured I'd pop in with a couple of observations:

The Ruth Kelly situation is indeed disturbing, especially the willingness with which the folks at Stonewall overlook her rather questionable voting record when it comes to issues Stonewall would characterise as important.

However, I'm going to put my libertarian hat on here and point out something which elicit some discomfort -- is anyone truly surprised that this situation has come about?

The ostensible role of a government-appointed "equality" minister is to ensure that people are "equal" in some regard (whether economically, politically, or otherwise). However, contemporary politics are a zero-sum game, and in Tony Blair's Britain, some people are "more equal" than others -- usually based upon how many faithful voters they can bring to the polls on election day.

In a populist democratic system, it's well-nigh impossible to expect a government minister to put the interests of every minority group at exactly the same level. We've seen this already with "hate speech" legislation that specifically excludes gays, and now gay people get to look forward to more of the same.

Here's a radical proposition to consider: rather than count on populist government ministers to censor anti-gay speech out of existence through laws, and guarantee our economic and political "equality," why not consider an approach which liberalises the political climate and allows gays to advance through our own merits? Looking at our community and its accomplishments, I think we'd go a lot further under our own power than under the "protection" of the Benevolent New Labour Order.

Are Stonewall Kelly’s heroes?

I am absolutely furious with Stonewall!

It goes without saying that they do some tremendous work for which I, as a gay man, am eternally grateful, but they’re running the risk of becoming another Labour QUANGO. Their defence of the appointment of Ruth Kelly as Equalities Minister is beyond the pale!

Ruth Kelly is a member of the conservative Catholic sect, Opus Dei, whose attitude to homosexuality is in line with the Vatican’s clear antigay stance.

When asked whether she personally thought homosexuality was sinful, she refused to answer.

Not only that, but she has absented herself (“as a matter of conscience”) from almost every single parliamentary vote on gay equality issues – ever.

Except two: One was a quite fairly uncontroversial vote to address homophobic bullying regardless of Section 28, but disgracefully she voted with the Anne Widdecombe and the other homophobic Tories on an amendment to specifically EXCLUDE gay couples from adopting children.

This is not the type of person we want championing equality, but still she has received the backing of Stonewall’s chief, Ben Summerskill. Summerskill told The Independent:

“We accept Ruth's assurances that she is absolutely committed to delivering the policy of the Labour Party and the Government.”

I checked on the Stonewall website. There’s nothing about Ruth Kelly at all. Not a word of criticism, not even a murmur of disquiet or concern.

I don’t suppose the fact that Summerskill’s previous job was as a Labour councillor has anything to do with this misplaced loyalty?

Summerskill should ask himself whether Trevor Phillips of the CRE would be an apologist for an Education minister who, when asked for their view of the controversial subject of differences in intelligence between the races hedged  their answer with an evasive “I’m not going to get into that,” instead of giving a clear and resounding answer in favour of equality. Would anti-racist campaigners accept that a minister’s private view would not affect their professional performance? I doubt it – especially if the minister concerned had absented themselves from every parliamentary vote on racial equality (“as a matter of conscience”) and indeed had voted in favour of racial discrimination on one of the rare occasions they’d actually bothered to vote.

Would the Government even try to get away with it? Of course not, which demonstrates their dismissive attitude to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people when our community is deemed an inconvenience.

Stonewall do a sterling job of standing up for the gay community on almost all fronts. It’s a pity their judgement is blurred when it comes to New Labour. Surely Summerskill can see in a single equalities unit, when Ruth Kelly has an Archbishop or Cardinal demanding one concession (or exemption) on one side, and the gay community is seeking full equality on the other side, she’s unlikely to be impartial. If, deep down, she thinks we are sinners, how on earth is she going to identify with or empathise with gay issues?

When the single equalities unit was mooted, the first thing most gay campaigners wondered was how our community’s interests would find parity with the demands of religious groups. The religious organisations are the only ones actively campaigning in favour of inequality and for exception from compliance with equality legislation. I guess they now have their champion, and we have our answer.

Surely, ‘equalities’ is an important portfolio which relies on community confidence. The government simply cannot afford to place a person with such a controversial and equivocating background in that role. Surely?

UPDATE:

The head of the Catholic Church in Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor has written to The Times in defence of Kelly.

He says:

“Homosexual people are first of all persons, and have the same entitlement to legal rights as anyone else.”

Thanks CCMC. That’s a step forward. But you also say…

“The Church has consistently spoken out against any discrimination against homosexual persons, and will continue to do so.”

… which is quite simply untrue. Laughably so!

In 1992, the Vatican issued a declaration, which remains in force, calling on all Catholics to oppose lesbian and gay equality. In the UK, prominent Catholic leaders have consistently opposed the repeal of Section 28, same-sex adoption and civil partnerships. Ruth Kelly, of course, absented herself from two of these votes. The one she did turn up for, but only in order to vote in accordance with Church policy.

SOUNDBITE:

Ruth Kelly’s job is to champion equality. Yet she has absented herself from some of the most important equalities bills in recent history on “conscientious” grounds. She is quite simply not suitable for the job.

Pink News stands its ground against MCB

Congratulations to Pink News for standing up to the MCB’s attempts to wriggle out of their controversial U-Turn on gay rights issues.

Pink News intends to sue the MCB over that organisation’s claim that tPink News journalist Marc Shoffman fabricated the story about a plan by the MCB to start looking into homophobia. The MCB put out a statement saying the story run in Pink News was “entirely fictional”.

The story was written based on an interview with Mohammed Aziz, the MCB’s representative on the Equality and Diversity Forum following minuted commitments he made at the forum to start looking into homophobia within the MCB. Mr Azis had apologised at the meeting on “a personal level” for the “pain and hurt” that (MCB chief) Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s remarks about homosexuality had caused.

The MCB have since tried to distance themselves from Mr Aziz, describing him as a “representative” (on some bodies), a “consultant”, a “legal advisor” and even a “preferred partner”, but yet somehow not a “spokesperson”.

Whatever the complictated and ever-shifting relationship the MCB has with Mr Aziz (Faizal Bodi has a stab at working it out), the fact of the matter remains that when Pink News phoned to discuss the issue (of the plan to combat homophobia referenced in the EDF minutes), they were referred to him. The MCB’s regular spokesperson, Mr Bunglawala said he would “always be too busy” to speak to them.

So, what do Pink News want out of the legal action? Editor Ben Cohne explains:

“We just want them to admit we were right — I don't know why they think we would just make a story up for the sake of it.”

Quite so!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Zuma - 101 Uses for a condom

Following on from my entry yesterday, I couldn't resist posting this cartoon (which has just arrived in my inbox) by the Mail & Guardian's political cartoonist, Zapiro.


For more of his work, see the Zapiro archives or the 'Unofficial Zapiro' website.

Also of interest, the Mail & Guardian have published the full transcript of the Zuma trial judgement (in PDF format) and a report, "Sunny with patches of cloud" assessing the HIV/AIDS situation in South Africa.

Ahmadinejad beats around the Bush

Well, this is most interesting. The full text of President Ahmadinejad’s letter to President Bush has been posted on Indymedia. It makes for some interesting reading. Mr Ahmadinejad says he is prompted to “discuss some of the contradictions and questions” he has with Bush’s policy. Of course, there are many, many, but something tells me Ahmadinejad isn’t exactly the person to be pointing them out.

On Iraq, he says: “[B]ecause of the possibility of the existence of WMDs in one country, it is occupied, around one hundred thousand people killed, its water sources, agriculture and industry destroyed, close to 180,000 foreign troops put on the ground, sanctity of private homes of citizens broken, and the country pushed back perhaps fifty years.”

Excuse me? Remind me, which country fought one of the bloodiest wars on the 20th century against Iraq, lasting almost a decade? Were the casualities not over 1 Million? Ah yes, it was Iran!

Sure Iraq started it, but they withdrew and the war continued with enthusiasm on both sides, including the enthusiastic use of chemical weapons.

“At what price? Hundreds of billions of dollars spent from the treasury of one country and certain other countries and tens of thousands of young men and women - as occupation troops - put in harms way, taken away from family and love ones, their hands stained with the blood of others,” lectures Ahmadinejad.

Well, tell that to the 650 000+ who died on both sides of the Iran-Iraq conflict after an estimated 1.2 TRILLION was spent on the war.

I suppose at least he concedes that Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator.

The next part of his lecture focusses on human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay. Of course, people being held without trial and the suspension of habeas corpus, together with other lallegations of ill-treatment is a scandal for which the United States should be ashamed, but look whose giving the lecture!

“There are prisoners in Guantanamo Bay that have not been tried, have no legal representation, their families cannot see them and are obviously kept in a strange land outside their own country,” he says.

This from a man whose country executes teenage girls for flirting!

“I could not correlate the abduction of a person, and him or her being kept in secret prisons, with the provisions of any judicial system,” he coos. What!? What!? What!?

Then, of course, we’re in for a bit of the stock-standard Holocaust Denial. (Okay, let’s be generous, ‘Holocaust Scepticism”), for he says: “After the war, they claimed that six million Jews had been killed. Six million people that were surely related to at least two million families,” but then adds for rhetorical effect: “Again let us assume that these events are true.”

And then to top it off, he askes: “The question here is ‘what has the hundreds of billions of dollars, spent every year to pay for the Iraqi campaign, produced for the citizens?’ As your Excellency is aware, in some states of your country, people are living in poverty.”

1.2 TRILLION in 8 years, people! He’s one to talk, what with scenes like this.

He then poses a list of further questions:

“Did we manage to bring peace, security and prosperity for the people or insecurity and unemployment? Did we intend to establish justice, or just supported especial interest groups, and by forcing many people to live in poverty and hardship, made a few people rich and powerful - thus trading the approval of the people and the Almighty with theirs'? Did we defend the rights of the underprivileged or ignore them? Did we defend the rights of all people around the world or imposed wars on them, interfered illegally in their affairs, established hellish prisons and incarcerated some of them? Did we bring the world peace and security or raised the specter of intimidation and threats? Did we tell the truth to our nation and others around the world or presented an inverted version of it? Were we on the side of people or the occupiers and oppressors? Did our administration set out to promote rational behaviour, logic, ethics, peace, fulfilling obligations, justice, service to the people, prosperity, progress and respect for human dignity or the force of guns.”

Answers on a post card, please.

The letter ends with: “Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.”

Yes, god help us all!

DISCLAIMER 1: Of course, the letter was published on IndyMedia… so whether it is authentic is up to you. Me, I have my doubts. Surely this man cannot be this delusional?

DISCLAIMER 2: Yes, just as I oppsed the invasion of Iraq, I oppose a war with Iran. But that does not mean I have to be blinkered to the lunacy of Ahmadinejad and the brutality of his regime either. Support the Iranian democtratic opposition in its efforts. Do not allow knee-jerk anti-Americanism to set this nutter up as some sort of anti-Imperialist hero. Too many doors are closing in the faces of Iranian democrats because some believe that oppsing Ahmadinejad is supporting Bush. It isn’t.

NOTE TO AMERICAN READERS:
Don’t give hypocrites like Ahmadinejad another stick to beat your country with. Sign the ACLU petition against torture. It reads: “As an American, I will not stand for torture. The universal prohibition against torture must be upheld, and enforced, today.”

UPDATE:
The Guardian have given Ahmadinejad his own blog! What next? The Postumous Pol Pot Podcast?

David Lucas is a sick bastard

David Lucas, a Suffolk farmer, sells "Multi-hanging Execution Systems" at ₤100,000 a time to despotic countries, according to a BBC report.

“Business is business,” he says as he ships off his vehicles of death – trailer-mounted gallows – to countries like Zimbabwe – for over ten years!

Of course, with a galloping inflation rate of 450%, the David Lucas’s contraptions set back Mugabe’s treasury ZM$ 18,876,146,875 – yep, almost 20 BILLION Zim-Dollars. Why is a country with grinding poverty and run-away inflation spending so much money on gallows?

Another question is: how did David Lucas get to tender for these? How do you get a contract to build execution apparatus for dictators?

Did he send out a brochure? What in the world gave him the idea to start manufacturing these devices in the first place?

In my humble opinion, if anyone has been executed on one of his devices and can be shown to have been killed in a way (how can I put this) ‘not compatible with international law’, then Mr Lucas should be charged as an accessory to murder.

Peter Tatchell has already attempted to arrest Robert Mugabe for torture. Mugabe was protected as a head of state and by unwillingness on the part of the UK and the EU to pursue the charges. I doubt a Suffolk farmer has the same ‘protection’ from prosecution.

A new EU law will make the sale of execution equipment illegal from July 2006.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Jacob Zuma's shower scene

Well, Jacob Zuma has beaten the rape rap. I haven’t been following the sage closely enough to have an opinion on his guilt or innocence, but for those interested enough in the minutiae of the case, Johannesburg’s Mail and Guardian has a special report and there’s more on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, what he should be standing trial for is stupidity so dangerous that it is arguably a public menace.

After admitting to having had sex with an HIV+ woman without practicing safe sex, Mr Zuma declared that he had indeed taken precautions to stop the spread of AIDS. He’d taken “a hot shower”.

Of course, the effects have been brilliantly set up in the popular Madam & Eve satirical cartoon series that is syndicated to many South African newspapers…


(For more Madam & Eve, see their online archive or order the books.)

… but the damage may be much more serious.

The rate of HIV infection in South Africa is pushing 1 in 3. It is on the increase by about a percentage point per annum. In 2000 it was almost 25% and by 2005 it was alreadt 29.5% and going up.

What’s worse, is that not only is Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife, Dr Nkosazana Zuma, the former minister of Health, but he himself has an honorary doctorate from the Medical University of Southern Africa.

But this is the clincher… and it’s hard not to swear… he was the Chair of the South African National AIDS Council. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

Now, Jacob Zuma has a long and distinguished political career. He has proven to be a very influential and capable leader, committed to his country. After all, he sacrificed ten years of his life on Robben Island in the cause of freedom.

But his recent political career has been rocked by financial scandal – and now this.

Equally as troubling are his comments - the excuse of many rapists - that:

"You cannot leave a woman if she is already at that stage (of sexual arousal)."

Women's rights group POWA have reacted angrily, saying ‘Zuma’s acquittal does not mean he is innocent." The group accused the defence lawyer of subjecting the woman to "a relentless and invasive cross-examination aimed at discrediting her as a witness and cast doubt on her ability to distinguish between consensual and non consensual sex".

Now, obviously Mr Zuma is entitled to the most robust defence he can muster and the issue of consent vs non-consent is of compelling interest, but given Mr Zuma's own statement (above), it is perfectly clear that he himself doesn't understand the boundries between 'yes' and 'no'. On the balance of probabilities, therefore, POWA are proabably right. Full marks, too, for POWA taking an interest in this case and reasserting the fact that women certainly do have the right to say 'no' - at any point.

However, even though he's beat the rape charge, the revalations about his own sexual stupidity and, given his position as a government AIDS supremo, staggering ignorance about basic safe-sex practice cast doubt not only on his own reputation, but on the entire government's anti-AIDS programme. Beyond concern, beyond crisis, beyond catastrophy, South Africa heading for an AIDS calamity.

Zuma has, in the words of journalist Moyiga Nduru, literally turned on ‘The Shower That Washed Anti-AIDS Efforts Down the Drain’.

The problem with stopping the BNP…

… is that, in the current state of our democracy, it’s too easy to get elected.

Let me explain.

Nick Cohen’s incisive piece on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, posed the question: Bigots, racists and worthless buffoons - so why do they keep getting elected?

Cohen warns of the dangers of communalist voting following communalist campaigning. This got my mind ticking over, and having just run the election results for my own ward through a spreadsheet, I realised that – with the right motivation and certain conditions – it is pretty damn easy to get elected.

Now, in no way do I wish to denigrate the amount of effort put in by the various candidates because I’m sure they’ll be the first to tell you that it isn’t that easy at all… and 12 of the 15 candidates didn’t get in, so it can’t be that easy! Right?

Wrong. Bear with me while I start at the beginning.

The first thing to note is that in a ward of almost 10 000 eligible voters, fewer than 3000 people bothered to vote. Yes, the poll (i.e. voter turnout) was a dismal 29%. That means almost 3 out of every 4 voters simply did not care enough about the issues presented by the political candidates to trot down the road to cast a vote.

But let’s get specific. Because each person has three votes, there were 8229 votes cast out of 27717 possible votes. But here’s the shocker. Of the votes cast, all a candidate needed to win a seat on the council was just under 1000.

Yes, to win a seat under current conditions, all you have to do is persuade a thousand people to vote for you. You merely have to attract a piddling 3.5% of the total votes cast by persuading 10% of the total population to vote for you.

Now hold that thought, because I’m going to come back to it and explain why this is so dangerous when a group like the BNP wakes up to this.

The other shocker is that ‘democracy’ while it may be seen to be in action, it’s just a mirage – it’s (literally) taking a nap or watching TV while giving every appearance of being hard at work. And that’s not a metaphor. Democracy is not an abstract idea. It is the will of the people, and instead of voting on Thursday, 3 out of 4 people were willing to do something else instead. Democracy went home and watched TV.

For example, the winning candidates in my ward got 1118, 997 and 929 votes respectively. As I said, it means that they each managed to secure 10% of the total number of possible votes or a third of the actual votes. But wait. Candidates who didn’t win got 5320 votes between them, so two thirds of the actual votes cast, or 20% of the total population of the ward did NOT want those councillors.

So this is the state of our democracy. To win a seat, all you need is to corner 10% of possible votes. Roughly double the number of votes for you will go against you (but they will be distributed over the many losing candidates) and 70% of possible votes will never be cast, because people – ‘The People’ – simply don’t care about any of the candidates’ platforms.

So how does this help the BNP fascists get in while we’re having a nap?

Well, typically fringe parties with a particular communalist axe to grind will get a very high proportion of their supporters to the polls, while the average middle ground of (usually) decent, moderate opinion, doesn’t get off its collective arse.

The nightmare scenario in any ward like my own is that they manage to find 1000 people to ‘motivate’. That’s all it takes. And since those 1000 people can vote for three candidates and are likely to vote for the same party, they would be almost assured of getting at least 2 of the 3 elected, while the rest of the vote is split between not only the three big parties, but the several left-wing alternatives as well.

But there are a few things to consider that might avert disaster. Communalist politics tends to burn very bright very quickly, instead of the slow-burn politics – backed up by hard work and solid social policy – that characterises more sane politics. While groups like the BNP might theoretically need a very small threshold (1000 people, remember) to take over a ward, they will be batting above their weight: they will be using the top end of their support base, while people of goodwill are lethargic. Moderate and progressive parties are only mining a small seam (29% of eligible voters) with a large potential for growth if they can find a way to motivate and activate these people.

(Sadly, they appear to be squabbling over the spoils instead. Fighting to capture a larger share of an ever shrinking pool of reliable voters, the main parties are failing to capture the imaginations of the vast majority of the electorate. Sure, the electorate may seem lethargic and indifferent, but whose fault is that?)

The trick then, considering the fascists have a far more finite support-base which they use up more quickly, is to get the middle-ground interested in politics again. The people who are going to stop the BNP, aren’t the voters. They’re the people watching TV or taking a nap. The people who could be voters.

While the school halls drafted in to serve as the polls echo with the occasional scratching of solitary pencils, the army of democracy is snacking oven chips and fiddling with the remote. Who is going to lead them into battle?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Long story, tall story

… Or why I decided not to vote for the Socialist Party.

You know those websites with the domain names based on common mis-spellings of popular websites? You accidentally transpose two letters and instead on getting the site you wanted, there’s some lame site covered in banner adverts trying to hard-sell you something. If you’re like me, you probably make a mental note never to buy those products. Why? For the simple reason, that no one likes being deceived, mislead and made a fool of. And that’s why I decided not to vote for the Socialist Party in my local elections.

My decision had nothing to do with their policies or record. In fact, I was seriously considering giving them my vote. For 24 hours, I’d actually decided to vote Socialist. So what happened?

Well, I had planned to vote Green as my first choice and Socialist second, but then a leaflet came through my door saying the Greens were asking their supporters to vote for the Socialist Party.

The leaflet said:

“As a green socialist, I would strongly urge potential Green Party supporters in Telegraph Hill ward to consider voting for Ian Page, Chris Flood and Jess Leech in Thursday’s council elections.

Ian and Chris have a proven track record of working with Darren Johnson on Lewisham council. Jess Leech is a committed housing campaigner who has played an important role in working with tenants to defend council housing.

For the first time in many years there is a real prospect of a number of green and socialist councillors being elected and working together to put forward radical policies to defend both the environment and working people. New Labour have abandoned both, locally and nationally.

In Telegraph Hill ward, green voters should recognise that defeating New Labour is key. And I would ask socialists in the neighbouring Brocley ward to vote Green.”

Nick Long
The Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Lewisham West in the 2005 general election

Cool, I thought, no problem. Obviously the Greens and the Socialists had entered an election pact. Obviously, though I’d decided to vote for them, the Greens weren’t running candidates in my ward (or they’d withdrawn), and since it was okay with them, the Socialists could have my vote. Problem was, it was bollocks!

I only smelt a rat when I brought this up with my boyfriend when we were making arrangements to go and vote after work. He said “but the Greens are fielding candidates”. Really? So I checked. They were.

I smelt a rat because this was extraordinary! Why would a party put candidates forward and then instruct their supporters to vote for another party? So I phoned Darren Johnson and put the question to him. He said it was “absurd” and that the Greens certainly had not put out a call to its supporters to abandon their candidates and vote Socialist instead.

So the whole thing was a scam by the Socialist Party. My current theory is that Nick Long has left the Green Party and joined the Socialist Party, but is so dishonest that he’s willing to pass himself off as a Green.

Sure, the wording “The Green Party’s parliamentary candidate for Lewisham West in the 2005 general election” does not technically – in the strictest legal sense – mean that he is a current member of the party, but legal technicalities are not the essence of good faith. It is obvious that the average person would reasonably infer that he spoke on behalf of the party. It is also a no-brainer that this is what the Socialist Party intended the reasonable person to infer.

So they lost my vote. I don’t like being lied to, misled and deceived. If that’s what it takes to win an election, I have to doubt that that’s what it will take to stay in office. And who needs another lying, cheating and deceiving politician?

If Nick Long is still in the Green Party, then I hope he’ll be chucked out. What he did is nothing short of a betrayal of his colleagues. If I were Kathleen Easton, Dan Hudson or Nick Stone I’d be hopping mad! What is the point of securing your Party’s endorsement as candidates, putting everything into fighting an election, only to be undermined by another (supposed) colleague calling for your natural support base to vote for a rival party.

Disgraceful.