Archive for December, 2012

Things you can’t do, according to Leviticus


19 Dec

After President Jed Bartlet’s epic Biblical put-down of a thinly disguised Anne Coulter clone in the West Wing, I read a blog somewhere which had a long, long list of  things forbidden according to Leviticus.

Having done some (frankly, cursory) research, here are  my top twenty sins, followed by commentary.

Enjoy, sinners!

 

1. Eating fat (3:17) – that’s all of us heading for the Big Bad Fire then, Scotland and the USA leading the charge.

2. Carelessly making an oath (5:4) – ‘I swear I left my keys here’ Zap!!! You’re gone.

3. Letting your hair become unkempt (10:6) – Quite right too.

4. Tearing your clothes (10:6) – Not sure if it needs to be deliberate or not…..

5 Eating – or touching the carcass of – eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. (11:13-19)  Not a lot of wiggle room left for those who like their birds of prey. No mention of the Bengal Eagle Owl though, and they’re massive, so plenty to eat if you can catch one of them – and it doesn’t eat you first. Did they have ospreys in Palestine?

6. Going to church within 66 days after giving birth to a girl (12:5) Seriously? You don’t want ‘em baptized?

7. Making idols or “metal gods” (19:4) One for us Judas Priest fans. We’re all damned to hell, apparently.

8. Holding back the wages of an employee overnight (19:13) – Proof that the lord is a union man.

9. Cursing the deaf or abusing the blind (19:14) – Yet it took us until 1985 to pass the Disability Discrimination Act?

10. Spreading slander (19:16) – Good to know that the tabloid press will roast eternally in the Lake of Fire

11. Seeking revenge or bearing a grudge (19:18) – Oh come on, give us a chance here…

12. Cross-breeding animals (19:19) – Anyone in the pedigree dog business better get moving.

13. Eating fruit from a tree within four years of planting it (19:23) – Eh? So why plant it then?

14. Trimming your beard (19:27) – Sexist. But I’m Ok, since I haven’t got a beard, ergo I can’t trim it.

15. Cutting your hair at the sides (19:27) – Only Bradley Wiggins escapes damnation.

16. Getting tattoos (19:28) – Shit. That’s me gone.

17. Not standing in the presence of the elderly (19:32) That’s only good manners, that is. I’ll be 50 next year, so show some respect.

18. Mistreating foreigners – “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (19:33-34) – Hah! That’s this country’s favourite hobby stopped in an instant.

19. Using dishonest weights and scales (19:35-36) – Presumably this includes lying about your weight?

20. Selling land permanently (25:23) – the Land Registry and Estate Agents of this country are doomed, I tell you, doomed!

Seriously, the next time you want to quote the Bible in opposition to women’s equality or same sex marriage – read Leviticus, ask yourself how many sins you’ve committed and then feel entirely at liberty to – how can I put this? – shut the fuck up.

Killing In The Name Of…….


17 Dec

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Those are the words of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, words which facilitate the highest rate of gun ownership in the world.

They were adopted in December 1791 via the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution), having been ratified by three quarters of the original States, when the founders of America set out their aspirational vision and hopes for a country free from the yoke of British rule.

Wikipedia has a fascinating page on the origins of all this, especially interesting for those interested in the Glorious Revolution, English Civil War and interregnum, but I doubt very much that 2nd amendment author James Madison’s original intention was to found a nation with almost 350 million weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens, within the world’s most powerful, wealthy and militarized country.

Having been in Philadelphia in 2010 I have a far clearer grasp of American revolutionary history than before, and the enormous significance of the country’s origins can’t be overstated. Any understanding of how modern America works needs to keep that in mind, baffling as it might be for words on an 18th century parchment being directly relevant to the modern mass murder of children in Connecticut.

But intellectually, I can’t get away from another ancient principle; that of Occam’s razor.

William of Occam was a 14th century Franciscan, credited with the principle that among competing ideas, the simplest, the one making fewest assumptions, should be selected.

In this case, I’ll take a pass on theories about supposedly intrinsic American violence, cultural norms, survivalists, competing liberties and other intellectual hand-wringing I’ve heard this weekend.

For me, the simple logic with gun ownership and gun control is: more guns out there = more opportunities for people to shoot other people.

Tragically, Sandy Hook now enters the modern lexicon and like Columbine or Waco, becomes a coda for senseless mass murder carried out with guns and rifles.

Even more tragically, and despite President Obama having the freedom of a second term at his disposal, I see no prospect of a House of Representatives which contains Tea Party wing-nuts at the core of the Republican majority suddenly developing the maturity, perspective and wisdom to pass legislation to protect America’s children (and teachers) from the senseless slaughter we saw this weekend.

Perhaps there is a neat, ironic symmetry in conservative politicians with 18th century values keeping a 21st century country in thrall to words written in 1791?

Reasons to be Fearful, Part Three….


13 Dec

Gideon Oliver ‘George’ Osborne is heir to the Baronetcy of Ballentaylor and Ballylemon.

He was educated at private school and then went on to Oxford University where he joined the Bullingdon Club, before a brief hiatus doing freelance work on the Peterborough diary column of the Daily Telegraph.

He then segued into working for the Conservative Party as a researcher, special adviser, speechwriter and strategist and has been an MP since 2001.

He is also, as my Mother would have put it, a wee nyaff.

Insulated from the real world, never had to struggle, never had a real job, his biggest life challenge was probably which safe seat he should pursue as a candidate.

Almost the only time I’ve ever agreed with Nadine Dorries was when she described Gideon – who changed his name to George at age 13 – and best chum David Cameron as “two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk”. Coming from a Tory MP that is a shaft that hits the bullseye.

But let’s take Tony Benn’s advice and ignore the personalities involved. Let’s zero in on the politics.

Osborne represents his class with distinction. The fact that he is utterly useless matters not a jot. Springing fresh faced from the ranks of the landed gentry, Oxbridge-educated, Gideon is safely insulated from the real world and an all-too-willing agent for the parasitic bankers and super-rich oligarchs who fund the Conservative Party and in whose interests everything operates.

We saw the curtain briefly pulled back again last week with the mis-named ‘Autumn Statement’. It offered a fascinating glimpse into the modus operandi of those who own and control yet shun the limelight, as their man in Number 11 gave us the bad news about the economy.

And be in no doubt, bad news is what it was. Gideon’s plans aren’t working.

The laissez faire approach, the evidence-free belief in the efficacy of small government and leaving ‘markets’ alone isn’t producing jobs and growth.

The core commitment of the Coalition, to reduce the nation’s deficit and balance the books in a single Parliamentary term, lies dead and lifeless on the shoulder of the ‘long hard road’ that Gideon referenced three times in his speech.

Nor is it alone.

Hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs and careers – police officers, tax inspectors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, doctors, social workers, radiographers, maintenance engineers, teaching assistants, care home inspectors, cooks, driving test instructors, managers, ambulance drivers, customs officers, VAT inspectors, airport security staff – all those plus the tertiary sector jobs which depended on them lie dead, victims of Gideon’s ideological commitment to cutting back the state.

The fact that most of those jobs were unionised? Well, that’s just win/win for the Right.

Let those discarded public service dinosaurs with their ‘gold-plated pensions’ find new work and new challenges in the bright and shiny frontiers of the private sector and the self-employed: in the call centres, fast food outlets, pound-shops, malls and coffee shops, where unions aren’t welcome, wages are low, profits are high, and both the customer and the bosses are always right.

Looking at the numbers a week on, it’s hard not to reach for the Havana Club.

The new cuts to welfare in 2013-16 will total £5.815bn, a huge part of budget and spending cuts in the period 2012-15 that amount to £6.945bn.

Although that’s currently being sold to you as ‘cracking down on scroungers’, the reality is that that almost two-thirds of this colossal sum comes directly out of the pockets of the working poor. In reality, the State is subsidising low-wage employers – and that subsidy is being cut back too.

Working age benefits and tax credits rise will be capped at 1% for three years, axing £4.215bn, as well as £1.6bn cut from Child benefit, housing benefit and universal credit, all capped at 1%.

This shifts cuts away from the rich onto the backs of the poor.

More proof? Corporation tax was cut to 21%, at a cost of £1.21bn to the taxpayer and the much-trumpeted personal tax-free allowance raised to £9,205 in April includes the very richest, at a cost to us of £1bn.

The absence of a mansion tax and the shameful dragging of 400,000 more of us into the laughably-described higher tax band together sends an unmistakeable signal that this Chancellor will continue on course, regardless: ‘steady as she sinks’.

The challenge for the Labour Party – and the indication they’ll vote against the cuts in welfare and benefit payments is a good start – is to set out the alternative in a way which engages people who still believe in society.

And not just the timid, spineless ‘we’d be a wee bit less harsh’ mantra.

The vision for a society where work pays a living wage, where people have security and dignity, where entrepeneurs are genuinely supported and encouraged as part of a grand scheme to get the UK back off its knees, where the gap between rich and poor doesn’t grow.

 

And where the 6 million people either out of work or under-employed are engaged with a society invested in decent social housing, green and sustainable energy, good public transport, world-class public services and a floor of decency below which no-one is allowed to fall.

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts


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