Jamie’s Digest (2): Cool Bits From Books

Whenever I’m reading I always like to highlight phrases and passages that strike a chord with me, either because they’re emotionally or intellectually resonant, or because they’re exceptionally relevant to something that’s happening in the world today. I’d like to continue to share some of the these excerpts with you.

Catholic Tastes

In light of both the ascension of the DUP to the role of king-makers, and Germany’s recent parliamentary vote in favour of legalising gay marriage, I thought the below was exceptionally relevant. It’s an extract from a piece published in a gay newsletter in Southampton the late 1970s by a man named Paul, a volunteer for the Solent Gay switchboard. A copy of the full text (which speaks of his sorrow at the extent of anti-gay discrimination in the country), as well as appearing in the newsletter, was also sent to the Rev. Ian Paisley, Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse, a trio he felt had lent credence to those who would level violence and abuse at gay people.

Many heterosexuals like to remark that if everyone were homosexual, the human race would come to an end. (The human race would suffer the same fate if the entire male population became Roman Catholic priests, but God in his infinite and unfailing wisdom ensures that only about 5% of us are homosexual and that even fewer are Roman Catholic priests.) In view of the acknowledged importance of sex in perpetuating the human race, it is strange that there are still those who regard it as something shameful, embarrassing or rather awkwardly special.”

Amazon link: Ban This Filth by Ben Thompson (p.347 – 349)

The Bondage of Work

The below extract is for those of us (most of us) who are unlucky enough to work for ‘da man’ in any of his multifarious guises.

Every time you go into your workplace, you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship. Nowhere else is freedom of speech for the citizens of free societies so curtailed. They can abuse their political leaders in print or on radio, television and the Web as outrageously as they wish, and the secret service will never come for them. They can say that their country’s leader is a lunatic, their police force is composed of sadists and their judiciary is corrupt. Nothing happens, even on those occasions when their allegations are gibberish. The leniency of free societies is only proper. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to spout clap-trap, as regular surfers of the Web know. If employees criticise their employers in public, however, they will face a punishment as hard as a prison sentence, maybe harder: the loss of their career, their pension, and perhaps their means of making a livelihood.”

Amazon link: You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen (p.149)

Mo’ Men, Mo’ Problems

As a humanist an atheist and a secularist (sometimes we all walk into a bar) I’m appalled at the prejudice frequently levelled at my fellow human beings on account of their skin-colour, country of origin or set of beliefs; I’m further appalled by the foreign policy measures and media hyperbole that has inflamed hatred in this country and abroad. However, I’m also appalled at the way in which our freedom to criticise religion, in all of its forms, is slowly being eroded, mostly – it has to be said – through fear: fear of violent reprisals, and also fear of being on the same side of the argument – albeit for vastly different reasons – as the nation’s execrable clan of right-wing racists. That being said, however incompatible I consider organised religion to be with a measured, rational view of the world, and however strongly I may wish mankind to move beyond the infantile and supernatural, it’s always a good idea to seek out differing and (especially) opposing views; to be as well-informed and educated as possible on the history, structure and practice of religions.

Below is an extract about the history of Islam that you may find surprising (or perhaps not).

The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart. The Quran gave women rights of inheritance and divorce centuries before Western women were afforded such status. The Quran prescribes some degree of segregation and veiling for the Prophet’s wives, but there is nothing in the Quran that requires the veiling of all women or their seclusion in a separate part of the house. These customs were adopted some three or four generations after the Prophet’s death. Muslims at the time were copying the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had ong veiled and segregated their women in this manner; they also appropriated some of their Christian misogyny. The Quran makes men and women partners before God, with identical duties and responsibilities. The Quran also came to permit polygamy; at a time when Muslims were being killed in the wars against Mecca, and women were left without protectors, men were permitted to have up to four wives provided that they treat them all with absolute equality and show no signs of favouring one rather than the others. The women of the first ummah in Medina took full part in its public life, and some, according to Arab custom, fought alongside the men in battle. They did not seem to have experienced Islam as an oppressive religion , though later, as happened in Christianity, men would hijack the faith and bring it into line with the prevailing patriarchy.”

Amazon Link: Islam – A Short History by Karen Armstrong (p.14)

Brazil Nut

Nemesis – an account of the rise of an ordinary man in one of Rio’s most infamous favelas and his rise to the rank of don of the criminal under(and over)world – is a wonderful book: fast-paced, exciting, shocking, thoughtful, well-written and meticulously researched.

The extracts below give shape to the idea that tackling poverty and inequality through state and welfare policies/spending is not only an essential component of our common humanity, but also makes sound long-term economic sense. Effective social policies and less poverty equals a society that has greater stability, greater contentment, less crime, less unrest and less violence across the board.

After decades of dictatorship and chaotic transition, renewal and optimism were surging out from the federal capital, Brasilia, towards the furthest reaches of the country’s body politic. Whole regions and classes were reviving after a long period of neglect and deprivation. The sudden arrival of a period of prosperity that saw unemployment fall to record levels and personal spending increase significantly is crucial in explaining why Rio was becoming less violent. Young men in the favelas were turning away from weapons and drugs in favour of education and settled employment.”

While China was lauded for pulling some 100 million citizens out of poverty from the mid 1980s, fewer noticed Brazil’s more monumental achievement flowing from [socially democratic political moves and social policies designed to eradicate the chronic, crushing poverty experienced by a significant proportion of Brazil’s citizens). In Brazil, 30-40 million people managed to cross the poverty line. Given the much smaller population of Brazil, this was an even greater feat than the Sino equivalent.

The consequences of this golden era for Brazil’s political personalities were immense. The primary beneficiaries were the poor, not least those who lived in the favelas of the south. This was especially true of Rochina. Its isolation from other favelas and its now well-established tradition as a large market, both for the residents and for those coming from outside looking for a bargain, enabled it to ride the wave of economic confidence with a swagger. This growth spurt offered alternative employment to its younger men and women, and so the drugs trade became a somewhat less attractive career path.”

What was the biggest obstacle to political reform? Well, surprise, surprise: “The vested interests of Brazil’s powerful, if numerically small, economic elite proved deft in constructing numerous barriers.”

Amazon Link: Nemesis by Mischa Glenny

Read books, motherfuckers. Read books.

Remembering Gately-Gate

Rik Carranza (@rcarranza) tweeted a link to a blog in which the Daily Mail was given a kicking for yet another example of horrible, insidious bigotry. Here it is here: http://botherer.org/2012/07/28/the-daily-mail-and-how-an-nhs-death-means-racism-is-fine/ Read it, because it’s good. I have spoken.

And then read the following piece I wrote a few years ago about another bout of Daily Mail nonsense, this one centering on ignorance of civil partnerships rather than multiculturalism. Remember Jan Moir and the Stephen Gately fiasco?


I think it’s fair to say that the only person not aware of the Jan Moir/Stephen Gately controversy is Stephen Gately himself. The debate about Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir’s spurious and offensive attempts to link civil partnerships to death, seediness, tragedy and suicide has rolled across newspapers, TV news bulletins and, of course, the blogosphere.

Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, and tens of thousands of complainers to Ofcom have made their voices heard. Good old Fry, speaking out via Twitter (accused by some of orchestrating a “twitch-hunt”), said:

“I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathsome and inhumane.”

Sometimes the succinct punches possible through Twitter sum up a situation better than any lengthy diatribe. Charlie Brooker, in his excellent rebuttal and rubbishing of Moir’s insidious bile, described said insidious bile with the words:

“Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.”

And so the humanitarian and journalistic crisis I’d like to name ‘Gately-gate’ was born.

Moir’s response to this whirlwind of hate whooshing towards her across cyberspace was to conclude a follow-up article with this:

“In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.”

What naughty little rascals we are. How on earth did we manage to get the wrong end of the stick?

Let’s look at it this way: Moir is a journalist; that’s her craft; words are her raw materials. She’s supposed to be good at taking those words and putting them together so that the people reading them – even readers of the Daily Mail – can understand the sentiment and the points she’s set out to convey. But then she does appear to be the queen of disingenuousness and misdirection.

You can’t nudge-nudge-wink-wink at a tenuous link of your own creation between gays getting married and gays killing themselves, or dying on holiday, only to claim later that no, no, no, that’s not what I meant at all, I was only trying to show that gay people, like straight people, can have unhappy unions! I think we knew that already, Jan. People are people, and whenever you put them together, whatever their race, religion, sexual orientation or personality, you’re going to get a hefty proportion who don’t gel.

It’s worth looking at what Jan Moir originally said:

“Another real sadness about Gately’s death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately’s last night raise troubling questions about what happened.”

And then her re-interpretation of her own words:

“In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships – the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting – have proved just to be as problematic as marriages.”

Did I miss the Peter Tatchell speech where he seethed: ‘Give us our gay marriages, so that we can perfect your lousy heterosexual efforts; and become little gay beacons to the dream of eternal coupling; never to part, never to argue, never to divorce.’ And, anyway, having read Jan’s two statements, can anyone see any correlation between her original line of thought and the reworking? In reading the former, can you see the meaning replicated in the latter? There’s that word of the day again: disingenuous.

Nice work, though, to find a causal link in such disparate tragedies. Has any research been done into how many car accidents have involved men from civil partnerships? Perhaps wedded gays can’t drive properly, presumably because they’re all so busy trying to suck each other off as they hurtle down the motorway.

Jan continues:

“It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death… I am sure he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine. For once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.”

Em, only one small problem there, Jan. As much as I found his music hideous, Stephen never set himself up as some sort of gay trailblazer – despite her assertion that he was a ‘Gay rights’ champion’. He’d never claimed to be a role-model for anyone. In fact, he only came out when someone went knocking on the door of The Sun. He was just living his life. He never preached on morality, never got himself in the newspapers every week – or even, latterly, every year – never rubbed any aspect of his life in anybody else’s face.

But even if the coroner’s verdict turned out to be ‘wrong’ (which it clearly wasn’t) or, as she still slyly maintains… in fact, let me interrupt my own sentence there so that I may reproduce some of Jan’s words verbatim. It’s easier, because she does most of the work for you:

“…it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately’s death – out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger – did not have a bearing on his death. At the very least, it could have exacerbated an underlying medical condition.”

Yes, because the innumerable heterosexual people I’ve known, or read about in the newspapers, who do on a regular basis the things that Moir outlines in the paragraph above are forever keeling over like poisoned canaries.

But even if the coroner was ‘wrong’ what happened to Gately is still none of my business, the public’s business or Jan Moir’s business. I suspect that Jan Moir, and certainly a hefty proportion of Daily Mail readers, would have found Gately’s private life ‘more than a little sleazy’ and ‘different and dangerous’ even if it was proven he’d only ever had wholly monogamous relationships, and healed the sick and the lame in his spare time.

But, again to hammer home the point: even if in the hours preceding his death Gately had parachuted through the hotel room window, naked and erect, straight into the waiting bottom of the Bulgarian man, while his partner videotaped it, it still wouldn’t have been any of Jan Moir’s business. There’s no case to answer.

Some said Charlie Brooker was being a typical reactionist, muddled leftie in calling for people to complain to Ofcom in their droves: ‘He’s always banging on about free speech and the Big Brother society, isn’t he?’ you can hear them say, ‘Why is he now trying to silence this woman just because she’s coming out with stuff he doesn’t like? He’s a hypocrite, isn’t he?’ Not quite. Look at what Charlie actually said:

“Jan’s paper, the Daily Mail, absolutely adores it when people flock to Ofcom to complain about something offensive, especially when it’s something they’ve only learned about second-hand via an inflammatory article in a newspaper. So it would undoubtedly be delighted if, having read this, you paid a visit to the Press Complaints Commission website (www.pcc.org.uk) to lodge a complaint about Moir’s article on the basis that it breaches sections 1, 5 and 12 of its code of practice.”

This is clearly more about just desserts than censorship. The Daily Mail, hoisted by its own petard. What’s good for the goose…

Cunt of the Week (05 Jun 2012) by Thomas Wotherspoon

Cunt of the Week

My nomination for Cunt of the Week this week is… the entire population of North Carolina. They recently made law in their state constitution that marriage between a man and a woman would be the only legally binding agreement of its kind. This backwards and hateful step was taken by the scum of a redneck society gone mad; thumping out inspiring lines like, ‘It’s in the bible,’ and ‘god made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ I mean, congradu-fucking-lations for making something rhyme, you cock-eyed, slack-jawed, sister-fucking idiot. We’ll get back to why it’s not a good idea to base a modern society on a piece of political propaganda written thousands of years ago in a minute. For now, we’ll let them think that the bible should be law, and have a little look at how that might work:

Leviticus 11:9-10:  ‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales–whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water–you are to detest.’
No eating shellfish.
Ephesians 6:5: ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.’
Keep slaves
Deuteronomy 22:28–29:  ‘If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.’
A rape victim must be punished and marry her attacker.
I could do this all day, really I could. Come on, you cherry-pickin’ motherfuckers. If you can turn a blind eye to some of the rules in your holy fucking book, then surely you can let two people who care about each other – and want to sample the suffering fucking hell that is marriage – to at least get the nightmare that they desire. Also, those knuckle-dragging morons messed up the language in their writing of this law and null and voided every civil partnership, including those between men and women.
Homosexuality was around long before the bible was written; the Greeks and the Romans had much documentation of it, as did the Persians. Hell, there’s even the Isle of Lesbos, for fuck sake.
The times they are a’ changing, as a wise man once said. The people of the world need to move past their fears and problems together and embrace the future. Or be labelled cunts forever!
Yours Honestly – Tam
THIS WEEK’S GUEST WRITER His name is Thomas, but you can call him Tam. He’s normally an easy-going person, but can turn into a Hulk-like, angry, and shouty bastard when he sees idiots about to open their mouths: as he lives in Central Scotland, Tam spends most of his time green. An uber liberal, Tam thinks you’re entitled to your own opinions… unless they’re wrong.
He’s a bit fat, but not serious fat… they aren’t going to be taking a wall out of his house to get him out or anything. He loves games – online, board and card, and can be super competitive. He is currently undefeated in Monopoly.
Tam lives in Skinflats with his imaginary pet hawk and thirteen dead bodies he hopes will remain undiscovered.
Write for next week’s Cunt of the Week (CoTW)http://www.jamieandrew-withhands.com/2012/06/01/cunt-of-the-week/