Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Want to call me a snowflake? Go ahead, creep, you're dying out anyhow.

I've been reading a lot of total BS recently. There are some real creepy people out there. So many nasty, mealy-mouthed cynics who hide behind a computer screen and an anonymous profile, spouting off any old opinionated guff that they think will offend their opponents, who are just ordinary people with middle-of-the-road ideals. But they're in for a shock. Most reasonable people I know are thick-skinned and mature, whereas some of the right-wingers I know take offence at the smallest thing, even down to being posed a relevant question that they don't like. And they call us the snowflakes!

I don't know what it is about certain conservatives and their sensitivities, but they seem to think it's OK for them to spout off insensitive and (let's be honest) immature nonsense on anything they deem a target. For example, readers on a certain right-wing online newspaper (yes, I read it - got to know what the enemy is doing!) who thought the address by Bishop Michael Curry at Harry and Meghan's wedding was either boring, manic, inappropriate, untrue or just pandering to liberal ideology. One reader wrote, "I bet his wife beats him. He might as well transition now. He's not a real man anyway". Another poster said "he used the pulpit to fulfil his own self-esteem issues. Sickening." Someone agreed, saying "Why did he think he did not have to stick to his allotted 5 minutes? Outrageous!"

Anyhow, all throughout that newspaper's website, those who disagree with their vitriolic rhetoric are truly savaged. There is rarely a sensible disagreement between readers. And most of the time it is these creepy individuals who seem to revel in spouting unfriendly remarks at those they don't like (friends of the LGBTQ community, supporters of sexual equality, gun control activists, believers in climate change, advocates of free health care, etc.). I mean, it's OK to disagree, it's OK not to like what the other one says or does, but there is no need to really be so mean and abusive.

When this is pointed out, they cry "snowflake!" Well no. Actually, it is they who fear the enemy more than the enemy fears them. That is why they attack so hard. They are slowly dwindling in numbers, while the new generation is on the rise. I have seen some remarkable things in the new generation that I think will change the political landscape, as long as the lunatics don't get us all blown up. There will be less chance of a war; there will be less nationalism and fence-building; there will be more diversity in society as we see more barriers broken down; there will be less ideology of any kind, both religious or political; but most of all, many of the world's problems will be solved by a simple question: "why the hell is this still an issue?"

Change is coming, and this current wave of nastiness from the right is their last hurrah, a little like a sea monster who refuses to die after being fatally harpooned, and chooses to attack hard while it still has some breath. Now, when I say right-wingers, I shouldn't leave out left-wingers, or should I say left-whingers, as they're also a right royal pain in the jacksie. Extreme left-wingers of the rioting, property-hating mask-wearing variety, though, will slowly die off of their own accord once the new generation establishes itself more in society. We need to take care of the biggest obstacle to peace: those on the far-right who seem to be gaining in numbers.

We need proper controls over extremist rhetoric, no matter which side of the political spectrum it comes. We need to balance freedom of speech with freedom to live without fear of being attacked, whether online or in reality, whether with words or with fists or with weapons. We need the reasonable, but silent, majority to take a stand. That will not happen unless things get out of control. So it is up to the rest of us, those who actively stand up to injustice and intolerance wherever we see it, and look it squarely in the eye. Change did not happen because people chose to ignore the problem.

Friday, 6 April 2018

What has the EU ever done for us?

I am a proud member of The 48%, a Facebook group that aims to assist in the coordination of efforts to reverse Brexit, or at the very least lobby to reapply to the EU after leaving. The advantage of reapplying after leaving is there will have to be a period of time for British Quitters to understand how cold it is out there outside of the family. The added advantage of leaving and re-entering is that the UK and its people will probably be more engaged in the EU than it is now or has been for the last 45 years. There will be some glitches to iron out, like Spanish reticence to let the UK back in without a deal on Gibraltar, and the new rule that all new member states have to promise to join the euro and Schengen. But I'm sure it'll be OK in the long run.

Anyhow, Mr Paul Cawthorne has come up with a splendid list of reasons to stay. This is from a post of his:

Why are we leaving the EU?
Can any Brexiteers come up with 100 good reasons for Brexit? Here are 100 reasons against...

1. Membership of the world’s largest trading bloc with over 500 million consumers, representing 23% of global GDP
2. The UK has greater global influence as a member of the EU
3. The EU provides a counterweight to the global power of the US, Russia and China
4. With Trump in the White House the UK’s strongest natural allies are France, Germany and our other West European neighbours
5. Tariff-free trade within the EU
6. The abolition of non-tariff barriers (quotas, subsidies, administrative rules etc.) among members
7. Participation in free trade agreements with Japan and Canada as an EU member
8. The EU accounts for 44% of all UK exports of goods and services
9. The EU accounts for 53% of all UK imports of goods and services
10. Cheaper food and alcohol imports from continental Europe
11. As a member of the EU the UK maintains a say in the shaping of the rules governing its trade with its European partners
12. 3.1 million jobs in the UK are directly linked to exports to the EU
13. Free movement of labour has helped UK firms plug skills gaps (translators, doctors, plumbers)
14. Free movement of labour has helped address shortages of unskilled workers (fruit picking, catering)
15. The Single Market has brought the best continental footballers to the Premier League
16. The EU accounts for 47% of the UK’s stock of inward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), worth over $1.2 trillion.
17. Access to the EU Single Market has helped attract investment into the UK from outside the EU
18. No paperwork or customs for UK exports throughout the single market
19. Price transparency and removal of commissions on currency transactions across the Eurozone
20. FDI into the UK has effectively doubled since the creation of the EU Single Market
21. The UK’s net contribution to the EU budget is around €7.3bn, or 0.4% of GDP (less than an eighth of the UK’s defence spending)
22. No time consuming border checks for travellers (apart from in the UK)
23. The City of London, as a global financial hub, has acted as a bridge between foreign business and the EU
24. British banks and insurance companies have been able to operate freely across the EU
25. Cornwall receives up to £750 million per year from the EU Social Fund (ESF)
26. Structural funding for areas of the UK hit by industrial decline (South Wales, Yorkshire)
27. Support for rural areas under the European Agricultural Fund for Regional Development (EAFRD)
28. EU funding for infrastructure projects in the UK including £122 million for the “Midlands engine” project
29. Financial support from the EU for over 3000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK
30. EU funding for the British film industry
31. EU funding for British theatre, music and dance
32. EU funding for British sport, including football apprenticeships, tennis and rugby league
33. Glasgow (1990) and Liverpool (2008) benefitted from being European capitals of culture, stimulating their local economies
34. EU competition laws protect consumers by combatting monopolistic business practices
35. Strict controls on the operations of Multinational Corporations (MNCs) in the EU
36. Human Rights protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
37. The death penalty can never be reintroduced as it is incompatible with EU membership
38. Minority languages such as Welsh and Irish are recognized and protected under EU law
39. The right to reside in any EU member state
40. The freedom to work in 28 countries without visa and immigration restrictions
41. The mutual recognition of professional qualifications has facilitated the free movement of engineers, teachers and doctors across the EU
42. The mutual recognition of educational diplomas
43. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) has standardized assessment of language proficiency across the EU
44. The freedom to study in 28 countries (many EU universities teach courses in English and charge lower fees than in the UK)
45. The Erasmus programme of university exchanges (benefitting 16000 UK students a year)
46. The freedom to set up a business in 28 countries
47. The ability to retire in any member state
48. Pension transferability
49. The right to vote in local and European Parliamentary elections if resident in any member state
50. EU laws making it easier for British people to buy property on the continent
51. The right to receive emergency healthcare in any member state (EHIC card)
52. Consular protection from any EU embassy outside the EU
53. The EU has played a leading role in combating global warming (Paris 2015 climate change conference)
54. Common EU greenhouse gas emissions targets (19% reduction from 1990 to 2015)
55. Improvements in air quality (significant reductions in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides) as a result of EU legislation
56. Reductions in sewage emissions
57. Improvements in the quality of beaches and bathing water
58. EU standards on the quality of drinking water
59. Restrictions on landfill dumping
60. EU targets for recycling
61. Common EU regulations on the transportation and disposal of toxic waste
62. The implementation of EU policies to reduce noise pollution in urban areas
63. EU policies have stimulated offshore wind farms
64. Strict safety standards for cars, buses and trucks
65. Protection of endangered species and habitats (EU Natura 2000 network)
66. Strict ban on animal testing in the cosmetics industry
67. Membership of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which monitors the quality and safety of medicines (until recently located in London)
68. 13% of EU budget earmarked for scientific research and innovation
69. The UK receives £730 million a year in EU funding for research
70. EU funding for UK universities
71. Cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a member of Euratom
72. Minimum paid annual leave and time off work (Working Time Directive)
73. Equal pay between men and women enshrined in European law since 1957
74. The right to work no more than 48 hours a week without paid overtime
75. Minimum guaranteed maternity leave of 14 weeks for pregnant women
76. Rights to a minimum 18 weeks of parental leave after child birth
77. EU anti-discrimination laws governing age, religion and sexual orientation
78. EU rules governing health and safety at work
79. The rights to collective bargaining and trade union membership are enshrined in EU employment law
80. The UK enjoys an opt out from the single currency and maintains full control of its borders as a non-member of the Schengen area
81. Since 1985 the UK has received a budget rebate equivalent to 66% of its net contribution to the EU budget
82. EU cross-country coordination offers greater protection from terrorists, pedophiles, people traffickers and cyber-crime
83. The European common arrest warrant
84. Europe-wide patent and copyright protection
85. EU consumer protection laws concerning transparency and product guarantees of quality and safety
86. Improved food labelling
87. A ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives
88. Cheaper air travel due to EU competition laws
89. Common EU air passenger rights
90. Deregulation of the European energy market has increased consumer choice and lowered prices
91. Mutual recognition of the common European driving licence
92. The introduction of the European pet passport
93. The abolition of mobile telephone roaming charges
94. The EU acts as a guarantor of the Irish Good Friday Agreement
95. A frictionless Irish border
96. The EU acts as a guarantor of the special status of Gibraltar
97. The EU helped support and maintain democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece from the 1970s and these countries have become major destinations for British tourists
98. EU membership has helped facilitate intercultural dialogue
99. UK membership of the EU has promoted the use of the English language which has replaced French as the EU’s lingua franca
100. The EU has helped maintain peace in Europe for over 60 years

To this end, Andy Bodle has begun compiling a list of reasons given by Leavers, gathered from Twitter, Facebook, comment threads, discussion forums and friends.
Here is his page:
1. “To reduce the length of the political food chain and bring democracy back within clearly defined borders of control.” (James Jackson, Medium)

2. “Because of all the EU laws that we have no say in.”
3. “As a protest vote.”
4. “Because I want it to be a close result.”
5. “It [Sunderland] already is [a giant jobcentre]. That’s why I voted Leave, to put everyone else in the shit like us.” (Twitter)
6. “To stick it to the toffs.”
7. “To give Cameron a bloody nose.” (Express website)
8. “To give Cameron a better negotiating position.”
9. “Because the EU closed the coalmines.”
10. “Because I thought we had been in long enough.”
11. “Because I had the hump.”
12. “Because now our lads will get out of prison, ‘cos there will be jobs for them.”
13. “The main reason I voted out was because the EU parliament aren’t elected representatives. The second is, they pass laws that affect us, but we aren’t given a say. Third, we need to sort our own house out” (Joanne, Facebook, giving exactly the same — factually wrong — reason in three different ways)
14. “Because I felt uncomfortable when a group of brown people got on the bus the other day.” (Family member)
15. “Because the EU made them change Marathons to Snickers.” [That decision was taken by Mars, not the EU.]
16. “Because they banned our bendy bananas.” (Express website) [The EU introduced a law stipulating that bananas should be given different classifications depending on their curvature. No fruit was ever banned, just classified differently.]
17. “Because fishermen now won’t have to throw fish back in the water and Muslim women will no longer be told by their husbands not to wear make-up.” (Caller to LBC) [The exact effect of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will have on fishing waters and quotas must wait until nenotiations are complete, but we will still need agreements with out neighbours, and limits to prevent overfishing, which our neighbours will probably wish to remain broadly the same.]
18. “Because I’ve lived here all my life and when I was growing up, that street over there was filled with shops.” (TV documentary)
19. “To stop the Muslims immigrating here.” [Migration is unrestricted within the EU. But individual nations are responsible for setting their own limits on immigration from non-EU countries, such as those where the majority of citizens are Muslims. Leaving the EU will have no direct effect on the number of Muslims coming to the UK.]
20. “Because I want our old lightbulbs back!” [The EU has placed restrictions on the sale of old-style incandescent light bulbs in a bid to reduce energy wastage and slow global warming.]
21. “Because vaccines should not be mandatory.” [The EU has never passed any law making vaccination mandatory, even though vaccination is widely regarded as being a pretty good idea. Some European countries have done so of their own volition.]
22. “Because the Queen said.” (Pro-Brexit Facebook group)
23. “Because we should not be signing up to TTIP.” [TTIP is a trade deal between EU and America, which the EU has just put on hold. After the UK leaves the EU, most commentators believe it will sign up to a similar deal with the US, probably with fewer checks and balances.]
24. “Because we are like Germany, and Germany isn’t in the EU.” [Germany was a founding member of the EU.]
25. “Because the country is full.”
26. “To annoy my wife.”
27. “It will be an adventure!”
28. “Because the value of the euro is going to go down.” [Even if it were true, this would not have a marked effect on the UK’s economy. Since the vote, sterling is down 18% against the dollar and 15% against the euro.]
29. “So that I can get cheap photovoltaic panels from China.”
30. “Because otherwise, 7 million Turks will come over here.” (Caller to LBC radio station) [Turkey would never have been able to join the EU so long as Britain used its veto.]
31. “Because I am fed up with being ruled by unelected bureaucrats.” [The EU parliament is directly elected in regular European elections. The European commission —essentially the union’s civil service — recruits its own members.]
32. “Because I didn’t want my sons to have to join a European army.” [The EU would never have formed an army so long as Britain exercised its veto. Even if it did, conscription would be a political and practical impossibility.]
33. “Because there’s too many Pakistan [sic] people in Glasgow.” [I repeat: EU membership has no bearing on immigration from outside the EU.]
34. “Because it takes more than 5 litres of water to flush my shit away.”
35. “Because EU taxes are making our petrol more expensive than everywhere else in Europe.” [No, those would be taxes imposed by the UK’s government. The EU plays no part in setting national tax rates.]
36. “To send them women in the headscarves back home. One of them stole my mother’s purse.”
37. “Because I don’t like what the EU is doing to Africa.”
38. “Because I’m scared of black people. They’re so physical.” (Mother-in-law of member of Facebook group) [The mechanism by which leaving the EU will rid the UK of black people is unclear.]
39. “I don’t want to send money to Greece. I don’t care about Greece.”
40. “Because the EU does nothing for us.” [Estimates of the value of EU membership to the UK vary from £31bn to £92bn per year.]
41. “Because the EU has devoted 26,911 words to the regulation of cabbages.” [Seems quite a minor thing to sacrifice 10% of your pay packet for, but in any case, it’s bollocks. There are at present zero words in EU legislation specifically governing the production or sale of cabbages.]
42. “Because our prisons are full of Polish rapists.” [As of March 2016, there were 965 Polish nationals in British prisons. That’s out of a total Polish population of just over 800,000 — so 0.12% of all Poles here are convicted criminals. The total number of prisoners is around 95,000; about 0.14% of the population as a whole. I can’t find any figures broken down into both ethnicity and crime.]
43. “Because the roads in Oxfordshire are full of potholes.” [Technically, such matters fall within the local council’s purview.]
44. “Because the EU is anti-semitic.”
45. “So that we can go back to the way Britain was in the 50s.”
46. “Because they sold off the water, gas and electricity.” [Once again, that would be the work of the UK government, not the EU.]
47. “Because I couldn’t decide, and my boyfriend voted Remain.”
48. “Because schools are no longer allowed to hold nativity plays in case they offend Muslims.” [Utter crap.]
49. “Because the EU spent £13m on art last year.”
50. “Because they never vote for us in Eurovision.”
51. “Because if we stop all the immigrants using the NHS, it will work properly again.”
52. “So we don’t have to queue at the doctor’s.” [There is no clear consensus on the impact of immigration on the health service. Undoubtedly, more people in a country means more people to treat. But it is widely agreed that migrants to the UK are on average younger and healthier than the local population, that inward migration is good for the economy, which gives us more money to spend on the NHS, and that without migrant workers — 24% of doctors and 12% of nurses were not born in the UK — the health service would collapse. Besides, the ageing resident population is by far the biggest strain on health services.]
53. “Because I want a more powerful hoover.” (via Facebook group)
54. “Because the EU is going to ban toasters, and I love toast.” (BBC interviewee) [The EU has never threatened to ban toasters. It is, however, considering a limit on the amount of energy that household appliances can use, in a bid to reduce the effect on the environment.]
55. “So we can have our electrical sockets low down by the skirting rather than have to put them little higher up the wall.”
56. “Because they are building houses for Filipinos and it’s blocking the view from my kitchen window.”
57. “Because I don’t understand politics. This is what my friends suggested.”
58. “Because there’s too much traffic in Sittingbourne.”
59.”Because they tell me I need scaffolding to clean my guttering.” [Really not sure where this information came from.]
60. “Because I fancied a change.” (Caller to Radio 4 programme)
61. “My uncle voted Leave because his sister told him to.”
62. “Because the European Parliament building is the same shape as the Tower of Babel, which is anti-Christ.” (Facebook group’s family member)
63. “So all the fucking Chinks will leave.”
64. “Because the ensuing recession is going to bring house prices down, and I can’t afford to buy a house.”
65. “Because I want to buy sweets in ounces, not grammes.” [The UK adopted the metric system before entering the then European Economic Community. In any case, there’s nothing stopping shops selling things in imperial measures as well as metric.]
66. “Because they don’t pay for NHS prescriptions in Wales and Scotland, and that’s not fair.” (Manchester resident, in TV interview) [Again, nothing to do with the EU.]
67. “So that I don’t have to pay the bedroom tax.” [The bedroom tax was imposed not by the EU, but by … oh, can’t you guess by now?]
68. “Because I’m fed up of the French burning our lamb.” (Frank, Twitter)
69. “Because I want to use my teabag twice and the EU won’t let me.” (Aunt of friend of commenter) [This was another falsehood peddled by Boris Johnson.]

Thursday, 24 August 2017

There's a big reason why the UK may not actually leave the EU

Switch on your TV and some politician, no matter what side of the fence they sit on, will say "the British people voted to leave the EU, and that's what we're going to do". There are Remainer members of the public who say "we accept the result of the referendum and we have to abide by it". But deep inside the minds of many, there is a profound sense of having made a terrible mistake. As every day passes, more and more articles in the mainstream press, including even the most rabidly fervent pro-Brexit papers, are appearing, containing bad news on the UK's withdrawal from the EU. 

This is to me a sign that most newspapers, including the vitriolically parochial Express and the excrescent Mail, didn't really believe the UK was going to actually go through with voting to leave the EU, but had found a niche in propagating xenophobic lies for profit, and now they have fulfilled their readers' wishes, they don't quite know which way to go and seem to be hedging their bets... added to this is a fightback by the readers - lots of replies to articles expressing regret, apportioning blame and venting anger. Here, I list some recent articles to make my point:

This article from the Mail admitting that Brexit is not yielding the bounty it was supposed to:

This article, with a link to The Spectator, detailing how the chief director of the Leave campaign admits to lying to achieving his goal:

Business Insider reports that the promise of more manufacturing jobs is also not true:

Prospect Magazine has an interesting piece on how civil servants have told the government that the UK will have to choose between the US and EU trade models as it is too small and insignificant to set up its own (it seems to have sided with the EU, unless Liam Fox has his way):

There's this piece from the Telegraph, of all places, suggesting immigration figures were exaggerated:

The Daily Mail also reports this:
It's OK to report these things after having voted to leave the EU - nice bit of track-covering: when Brexit blows up in everyone's faces, they can say proudly, "we told you so!" (whatever the situation).

We also have a surprise entry from Putin's mouthpiece, RT, who want to inform us that people have started to regret their decisions:

This BBC report talks about the exodus of foreign workers and the reluctance of many to go to the UK to work:

It is backed up by this Reuters report:

The Financial Times argues that giving up influence in Europe will not enhance influence elsewhere:

This article from Pound Sterling Live says in a very discreet and indirect way that the pound is not going to go too much lower against the Euro (currently €1.09 to £1.00) because J.P. Morgan says it looks like hard Brexit is not going to happen (they even lower their odds from 25% to 15% on the chances):

Here, we see the Pound Sterling as reported in the Independent, as the worst-performing of all major currencies:

OK, the Guardian is the most pro-EU of all the papers, but it has this interesting editorial where, reading between the lines, it seems the government has given up on its hard Brexit wishlist:

This one from the Welsh Daily Post concerns the effects of Brexit that are already biting:

These are just some of the articles reporting the slow demise of Brexit. There are also many books, speeches and reports by all types of experts, professionals and those in business claiming Brexit is gradually being dumped:

This book is especially poignant:

It is called "Brexit, No Exit: Why Britain (in the End) Won't Leave Europe" by Denis MacShane, and it goes into detail about how the UK (and the West in general) reached the point of protectionism and anti-globalisation but this may be just a blip.

All-in-all, it is slowly but surely becoming clear to many people that the promises made last summer to the people of the United Kingdom were based on blatant lies, false premises and pipe dreams in an attempt to make the common man and woman vote to leave the European Union without realising the full ramifications. The government is going through the motions to make it seem they are still going ahead with it, but it is becoming more and more unlikely - impossible even - by the day.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Witnessing the end of my family connections

My sister is a Jehovah's Witness. She got cajoled into it by her husband, who met her during a period of enlightenment when he had left the organisation. He was soon made to rejoin through the usual shunning techniques employed by members, where they take away your access to them even in an unofficial capacity, and put himself and his unsuspecting victims - I mean family - back under the Watchtower Organisation's malevolent influence. 

This all happened when I was a young boy, and I remember the day they came out to my mother. She was in floods of tears and whisked me away for consolation to my grandmother's house, where everyone present lamented the situation and realised there was little or nothing there could be done to change it. She is still a Witness (i.e. Watchtower employee) today, and the shenanigans I have seen, and the excuses I have had to put up with are enough to prove that their organisation is nothing more than an evil and manipulative publishing company, where all the "congregation" are in fact unpaid employees who are peddling their employers' wares to the easily-led, the ignorant and the lonely. Not to mention the stupid.

There is something in psychology called cognitive dissonance, where a person makes a choice and if afterwards all evidence disproves it, they will still stick by their choice and defend it most vehemently. The most embarrassing part about this is in the real world ordinary deluded people caught up in a lie that they still believe often resort to physical or verbal abuse, but Witnesses don't believe in violence, so they either disengage from the conversation or they change the subject. In other words, they're a bunch of easily-duped, easy-to-please, confused and disoriented pussy cats who are looking for an easy explanation for complicated matters like geology or biology.

There are no single-sentence explanations, which is why they require research and academic papers that can look a little tricky to read, but are not telling you an absolute lie handily packaged in neat little bundles of simple words. Read any Watchtower publication and it is so neatly expressed, so tidily packaged, that anyone of low academic ability or low self-esteem will immediately be hooked. It sums everything up so well, and all answered so satisfyingly easily.

What experiences can I bring up that I can talk about? Well - there are many, but here are some of the highlights:

1. Luring me into an engaging debate

One of the ways I have been "preached" to is by the systematic turn-taking of my sister, her husband and two daughters to engage me in conversation on a subject that I would find interesting, and then make a segue into something pseudo-religious before attempting to link that to their organisation. I can remember 6 times when this happened - two by the brother-in-law, two by my sister, and two by the daughters.

There may have been more, but I don't tend to remember all conversations of a low-to-mediocre standard. The idea of engaging in this way is to then lead into something that may make one sit up and think (if one did not do much thinking beforehand). It generally made me think, yes, but mainly "if they have answers to everything, why haven't these people done much research?"

For example, they knew I was into science, so they came up with the idea to "teach" me about why Jewish males are circumcised on the ninth day. Apparently, doctors have discovered, that day is when there is the least blood in that area of the boy's body and therefore "God" made it like that to aid in the process. This is, of course, without bothering to mention that it is practically the same for the first couple of weeks of any boy's life, not just the ninth day.

I was routinely bombarded with "interesting" anecdotes like this, in the hope one would make me shriek "of course!" and join them forthwith. Most of them made me chuckle inside as I waited eagerly for the next beauty to be paraded before me. I remained respectful, because she was still my sister, and my elder sister at that, but deep inside, I could see she had done her research on me (that I liked trivia and interesting bits of information especially on history, science and language) and was aiming her artillery at me and what she thought was my weak spot. What she didn't know was that her weapon of choice was never ever going to be adequate to penetrate my defences, which are not actually that strong, as I am always open for persuasion. I am just not the typical dopey idealist that falls for the first simplistic explanation.

2. Let's show 'em how cool and ultra-modern we are!

Then there was the time I was given a rundown on how fab their meetings are. This was supposed to tell me they were just "normal" people like everyone else. Well after listening to the kind of twee things they got up to, accompanied by the occasional chuckle at their really wild stories of singing karaoke and walking in the woods, I really felt like running in the other direction. If they weren't going for the hard sell, I may have gone along to one or two events, but this was far too badly dressed up. They apparently had a party back in the nineties when the Macarena was all the rage, but they couldn't sing that word because it was taboo to them, so they sang "Margarita" instead. Because you know, an alcoholic cocktail containing tequila and triple sec is far better to sing about than a Spanish girl's name taken from a Catholic saint, lest it enrage their "God". Wild times.

What annoys me most about these moments of acting up-to-date is their utter contradiction in other areas. So they dance to contemporary songs, albeit with the words changed. So they talk about fashion and celebrities. Big deal. I have also been told about illnesses and cures, or the latest in dietary science from the most qualified of medics and academics. But they deny climate change, they deny geological evidence of the age of our planet and they deny a host of other scientific facts. Why is one OK to believe and the other not? Shouldn't you then just deny them all? Why are dietitians and oncologists to be believed, but astronomers and biologists not? Are they all lying to us? Are 98% of all climatologists in on some sick joke? I don't think so, but try telling them that.

3. The time I was accosted with a suit and a restaurant dinner

At no other time in my life did I feel quite so insulted as the day my brother-in-law thought it was a good idea to come all the way to Germany by car, with my sister and my father, to spend a couple of days being nice to me, and then dressing up in a suit and buying me dinner in order to break down my resistance before spinning me a yarn about how there were two Titanics and it was all an insurance setup, which bafflingly led into some discussion on God and stuff that I don't remember much about. I was receiving the Hard Sell, to which my reply was to look disdainfully at him and shake my head. He paid for the dinner and looked resigned to his fate, that he was never going to bring me on board. Until Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough and Brian Cox all declare the JWs to be right, I will still get my news on our planet from them and not from a bland group of gullible individuals who have never seen the inside of a lecture hall.

4. The great shunning tactic

One of the most despicable aspects of life as a Jaydub is their treatment of those that leave the congregation. They think it's all right to ignore them, reject them, forget about them, pretend they never existed. This has a traumatic effect on many, both those who are sunned and those forced to shun someone who used to be close. It is effectively a permanent exercise in mourning for those involved, but is a great way to prove loyalty from those who remain and to demand loyalty from those who leave. Basically, how it works is, a JW will only engage in conversation with outsiders when they either need something or if they think there's a hope they can persuade you to join.

If you don't join, you are seen as a lost cause and therefore a dangerous influence on people, so you are kept at arm's length. (I have received this treatment from my sister's family for quite a while now. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times she has called me since I left the UK in 2001. I have called many times more, but I do it a lot less these days.) If you leave their organisation, however, you are seen as an apostate. This means you have everything cut off - your friends and family, possibly your accommodation, and anything else they can remove from your life.

It's basically cold shouldering on an institutionalised, systematic and unchristian level. What effect does this have? It makes you miss the warmth and kindness you experienced while basking in the glow of their fellowship. As soon as you leave, it's suddenly very cold outside. Many return even if they don't believe, just not to lose the things they hold in importance; others leave never to return because freedom of mind is more important to them than imprisonment of the soul, no matter who they left behind.

5. Cherry-picking factoids

"How dare you have a degree? How could you defy your Lord by believing in scientifically proven fact?! Don't you know this is untrue?!"

I remember the Dinner of Intellectual Insult mentioned above, and my brother-in-law sighing in utter frustration and almost contempt after we told him we believed in Evolution. "Oh no, you're not Darwinists, are you?!" I mean it was said with the same vitriol as if I had just told him I had slept with his entire family.
"Well yes, I bloody well am", I replied.
To which the response was, "But you know it's called the Theory of Evolution for a reason? It's only a theory."
And then I sadly needed to mansplain what an academic theory was - in the academic world, it is based on evidence and even proof, although it is called a theory just so as not to seem too pompous or presumptuous. At least that was my abridged version.

You will find this hilarious:
The NWT translation committee is anonymous. No names have been attributed to them. Except the head translator, Frederick Franz, who studied Greek for 2 years (TWO MEASLY YEARS!!!) and was SELF-TAUGHT IN HEBREW!!!!! My own acquisition of languages over 30 years tells me that 2 years, the equivalent of 240 academic hours of study, is not enough to be able to hold down a job in the language you’ve been learning, so to translate the Bible is really quite a tall order. 

It is claimed the other three people on the translation committee were not even as far along with their own language studies as our dear Mr Franz. That is the equivalent of a bunch of students in a houseshare, newly out of the parental home, trying to rewire the electrics and fix up the plumbing with the aid of a few written instructions on the back of a cigarette packet from one of their dads!

6. Patriarchal dominance and obedience

This is one of the most manipulative points of being a Witness - having total control over your family and congregation as a man. When I confronted my brother-in-law at That Dinner about this, as to why women were not allowed to be leaders, his astonishing replies were firstly "because every month women experience their periods, which throws their hormones off-balance and makes them subject to irrational decisions," which brought on a bout of indignation followed by mirth from me and Lady Kirsten. I countered this with the fact that females were often better leaders and academically more capable than males. His riposte was one of the most ignorant I have ever come across: "What about Margaret Thatcher? She was awful." He simply forgot Pol Pot, Mugabe, Stalin, Jaruzelski, Attila the Hun, and Uncle Adolf himself.

After having regained composure, I was still unable to respond adequately due to being rendered speechless.

In any case, patriarchal dominance suits the Watchtower organisation most perfectly as it allows them pretty much to ride roughshod over anyone and everyone that stands in their way. There have been incidents where the man has joined the organisation but the rest of the family hasn't, and in order to assume control over the household, he denies money to the rest until they join him. This is an organisation not so far from being a mafia-like enterprise where leaving is virtually impossible for wives and children. I have heard of teenage daughters who have left the organisation and the rest of the family have all but cut her off, down to not buying clothes, giving her lifts to the station in the rain, or even cooking dinner for them.

Patriarchal dominance is different to that in the established churches in that the Catholic Church denies women the right to be priests out of symbolism, and takes away women's rights to choose a termination or contraception out of dogmatic ideology (which is also wrong), but the Watchtower has rules for women that beggar belief, like wearing headscarves when carrying out gender-based stereotypical tasks in the absence of a male to do them, or denying them decision rights in the household (they are only to be consulted).

Yes, all religions were once like this, but many have gone with the times. The Watchtower is still way behind the rest.

7. Keeping the flock ignorant

A truly abominable tactic of the Watchtower is to frown upon those who go to university, on the grounds that they will become corrupted and partake in some form of sinfulness of the secular world. In other words, they might better themselves, realise what a bunch of jerks they all had been until they woke up, and never to return to the fold. Nor would I if I had been finally enlightened in the real truth.

Mentioning the truth, that's the codeword those people use to describe their organisation. They say "are you in the truth?" meaning "are you a Witness?" without realising the irony behind that. This article has not really done more than touched on their beliefs yet, because there is so much other stuff going on away from that, but the fact of the matter remains: the less academically gifted, the better. Why? Because critical thinking is easier to manipulate if you start from scratch. It's a bit like tank drivers in the British Army - they choose 17-year-olds to drive them because they haven't yet learned to drive an ordinary car, and can be trained only for tank-driving operations. And so the Witnesses prey on those who left school at 16 or 18, because they do not have the superior academic tools necessary to make fools out of Witnesses.

One of the most hilarious moments when I was growing up, was when my sister claimed that a JW could quote the Bible better than anyone else, giving the example of an outing to a book and stationery shop: she said a JW boy was listening to a conversation between two non-practising members of the general public and their argument over Bible teaching. apparently the boy stepped in and guided them to the correct passage. She then said all JW children are better at quoting the Bible than everyone else. Well then... that should be handy at the next G20...

I was sent a Watchtower brochure back in 2013 by another family member of mine who was flirting with joining (he has sadly since joined). It was basically some guff about "were we created and put here?" In other words, what is the evidence for Noah's flood and that we have only been on Earth for 6000 years? Lady Kirsten and I read some paragraphs in this very colourful, clearly-explained and well-illustrated booklet, having spontaneous bouts of hysterical laughter as we read out loud some of the passages contained in it. I won't elaborate, because I don't want to waste my time, and giving detail will add credence to their barmy beliefs, but what I can say is that I wrote a 54-page reply on MS Word in size 11 Calibri font as to why that piece of "literature" (his word, not mine!) was utter nonsense. I don't know if he read it, but I never heard from him on this subject again.

He was "captured" in typical JW style - a close family member had just died, and in his vulnerable state, he was starting to ask questions as to where we came from and what we were doing here. My brother-in-law was there just in time to answer him, which brings me to...

8. (Not) being there in times of need

One of the tactics employed by JWs, which fits neatly into their strategy of only speaking to people who are, or could eventually be Witnesses, is their uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, and then somehow hoping you'll agree that they have some dominance over you through your debt to them. This can range from simply picking you up from the airport/station when you are rushing back to see a dying family member, to taking you to the doctor. There are even larger cases of altruism I have heard of and been subject to, for which I thank them, but this does not mean I want to join them and I would hope they would expect the same in return from me, although not as a Jehovah's Witness, but as a member of the human race. Only doing favours for, or being charitable to those in their organisation or who are potential new recruits, does not correspond very favourably with the teachings of their Lord and Saviour.

9. Pity me and my people

Another super ruse to make people more sympathetic to them is to play the hard-done-by card. They tell you people vilify them, that they mock them and reject them time after time. You start feeling sorry for them. You start gaining a modicum of empathy and before you know it, you're in a conversation about how good they all are and how they are so badly misunderstood. Well quite. It's not that they are misunderstood, it is that people understand them all too well. Don't be fooled by this.

On this matter, the one thing I have noticed is that they all speak in the same zombified tone. There is not much intonation in their voices - someone said to me this is because once you're in, you have the high waves of happiness dragged out of you although you don't feel sad about it. People are just in a state of emotional mediocrity.

10. Salvation and the End Times

This is their calling card. They believe that God has chosen exactly 144,000 people to join Him in His Kingdom at the Apocalypse. They reject Catholic doctrine as being immersed in symbolism and Paganism (fair enough, it is) and so they don't believe in Christmas, the Trinity or sainthood. So far, so good. So why, then, in the list of all the members they consider will be saved, are they all Witnesses, and why are nearly all of them men? Surely having such a list of people considered worthy to enter Heaven is akin to the Catholic custom of canonisation or sainthood, anathema to their own doctrine. Surely, they should believe what it says in the Bible: that only the Maker can decide who enters the Kingdom of Heaven.

If you believe in that kind of thing, anyhow...

11. Wacky ideas need clever methods to introduce them

Their teachings and beliefs are so different from other Christian organisations that many of their doctrines are so unpalatable that they only make new members aware of them after certain hurdles have been crossed. It is a case of acceptance - if the new recruit does not seem ready to embrace a new idea or rule, it is not mentioned to them until they are mentally prepared. 

If a religious organisation feels it needs to open up its views and teachings slowly, so as not to alarm new members, and if it needs to go out looking for new members because not a lot of people go to it of their own accord, and if there are potentially only 19 million members worldwide (the population of North Korea is 6 million bigger), then there must be something very worrying, very wrong and very creepy about it. Surely, if it were the panacea of the world’s ills, the doors of Kingdom Halls would be being thumped on by wannabe recruits day and night. But they're not. And they’re not, because like double glazing salesmen and dodgy cold callers, who use similar techniques to sell their product, most people know a bad deal when they see one.

12. Sheeple will believe anything and do anything for you

How does a Witness stay a member of the congregation despite all the evidence against them? By being told that everyone else is evil. Simple. Scientists carry out inhumane experiments, teachers may give lessons on inappropriate subjects (like astronomy and geology) and the secular people in general, with their Instagram and Game of Thrones, are all immoral. The easiest people to con into believing and subscribing to their nefarious activities are those who see the glass half-empty. They can be told the world is becoming immoral and its people are all evil. The truth of the matter is the world has always been that way. 

J.K. Rowling sums it up best when she says: "It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it's perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God." This was what my late mother used to say, although in different words to Ms Rowling, and it is what I believe too. There is no religion that can claim a monopoly on goodness and anyone who believes they are the chosen people or the only show in town with righteousness on their side needs to get a dose of reality. 

So if a whole group of people are told not to believe anything they see or read that does not come from a Watchtower-accredited source, due to it being evil, how are they supposed to believe anything at all from the real world? So they are cut off from things that affect us all. How convenient. Apparently, the BBC's Lyse Doucet and Jeremy Vine are tools of the devil... yes, I always had my suspicions about them, reporting from war zones without ever getting blown up themselves... makes sense now...

Furthermore, if you are told not to trust anyone from outside of the organisation, because they may be evil, you can feed your flock all kinds of bogus information. You can then interpret the Bible in your own way to suit your needs. Why on Earth would you ban your congregation from life-saving blood transfusions? I'll tell you why - because if you are the prize idiot who does refuse a  blood transfusion, you will be considered a hero for dying for the cause and you will be held up as proof of faith. If you don't and you accept, you will be rejected by the people you have been close to for however long you have been a member. Some would rather die a hero than live as an outcast, I can imagine.

There are other things they use to test their flock (or unpaid employees) and their loyalty. They are expected to knock on strangers' doors on a regular basis to recruit new members. This is where the boundaries of reality really get blurred - are they employees working for the company, or are they faithful servants of their deity? You see, the Watchtower company does a lot of publishing of books, brochures and pamphlets. It all costs money, and the upkeep of their upstate New York HQ must cost a pretty packet (the old one in Brooklyn was recently bought by Jared Kushner, of all people). So what better way to earn oodles of money than sell your merchandise to a captive audience? And while they're at it, get them to go out and find more recruits for you... all this for free, and they'll even pay you a tithe (10% of their earnings) to keep you going. How sweet.

In other words...

You have to be either an alpha male-type who is in it just for the power, or you enjoy being the submissive one in a very one-sided relationship, or you have to be one exclamation mark short of a psychopath for joining them in the first place.

I have hardly touched their core beliefs, which can lead to a fiery after-life of pain and misery, but I have so little respect for their idea that their Creator will punish everyone who ever lived except 144,000, that I will gladly take the chance at the end to be proven wrong - but I don't think I will, quite frankly.

Any God that makes up such harsh and inhuman rules leading to brutal retribution if disobeyed sounds more like Erdoğan, or Orbán, even Trump; some narcissistic, vengeful and paranoid Creator who is so mentally and emotionally insecure without the unconditional love and worship from his underlings that he wants to chuck them all in the fires of Hell. Except for the 144,000 on the list. And this, despite preaching a message of love. I think there's a disconnect somewhere...

So I have kind of said goodbye to my family. I still stay in contact with other non-Witnesses, but my siblings have unfortunately made their bed, so they can lie in it. I have not stepped in the family home since my mother died in 2007 - I want to remember it the way it was. I hope one day they wake up and see they have wasted their lives, but I don't think they will.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Removing gender from language is another step towards equality

Pride is a yearly event that takes place in a host of cities around the world. It celebrates diversity of sexuality and freedom of expression in this matter. Many of the strongest critics are those who still see the world in binary (male/female), and do not wish their view of life to be challenged. But they are failing to hold back the tide. This month, the management of the London Underground decided to abandon announcements that start with "ladies and gentlemen" and instead say "hello everyone". This is a step into the future, not a left-wing language coup.

Who says we should say "ladies and gentlemen" rather than "gentlemen and ladies"? Why do we start a formal letter with "Dear Sir / Madam" rather than "Dear Madam / Sir"? Where have those standards of etiquette gone these days? Surely women should always go first, no matter how illogical the sequence? And isn't everything male or female? Why are we being told there's this new non-binary gender? It's just the current trend, obviously, being run by left-wing ideologues to subvert the world order and bring down the system.

Well, not quite. In fact, not at all.

This is simply the way the world has been going. For many years, anything that contradicted the status quo was disapproved of, frowned upon, buried under other news or even carried the threat of a criminal record. Lots of people who were forced into heterosexual relationships or marriage in the past because it was expected of them lived in terrible depression and anxiety because they felt pressurised into this, and a great deal of those who are now in their forties and above have seized their chances to realign more appropriately with their orientation in this newly-open societal change. Young people today realise who they are much earlier, and all to the good. In many countries this is now clearly not the case, but the proliferation of this multi-gender, rainbow-coloured society can only continue now that it does not carry quite the stigma it once did (and only recently). However, it will be harder in a lot more countries than it is in others.


Gender grammar in language is one of the greatest obstacles.

The predominantly three-gender or common and neuter Germanic and genderless Anglophone countries are the main drivers of this new trend. Gender-neutral languages like English make it much easier to accept the idea of multiple sexuality. Latin-based languages like French and Spanish put everything and everyone exclusively into categories of masculine and feminine, even categorising more traditionally male/female objects in their grammar - la table, la maison, la cuisine (women in French should be in the house), le travail, le problème (only men work and solve problems in French, apparently), el tiempo, el muro (men only can tell the time and build walls in Spanish), la mesa, la flor (women in Spanish should take care of flowers on their tables at home). This happens in many languages and will not disappear overnight. So it is much harder for speakers of two-gender languages to conceive of more genders. Society puts great pressure on people to follow the herd, but we are starting to see changes brought about by changing attitudes and the raising of awareness of issues to do with gender and sexuality. Only the most judgemental of people are causing a delay in the progress and advancement of society, with language a vital tool in the battle to change hearts and minds.

German and Dutch throw up oddities, like the word for girl, which is Mädchen and meisje respectively. Due to -chen and -je endings signifying pejoratives, which are always categorised as neutral, girls in these languages, paradoxically, are grammatically not considered female. When asking "where is the girl?" in German,"wo ist das Mädchen?" it is still not uncommon to hear "it is here" ("Es ist hier") as a reply.

In English, there has been a shift towards using "they" for non-binary people, and this is catching on quite rapidly. However, language has been a powerful tool in establishing norms for centuries, so it may be much more difficult for French or Spanish speakers to get used to this idea. In French and Spanish even the word "they" is split by gender: ils/ellos, elles/ellas. This is why the idea of gender is easier for English speakers. German and Dutch, as well as the Slavic languages, with their notions of neutral gender will also find the transition from binary much easier. I believe this is why countries like Poland have always had such a high number of women in employment, and why Scandinavia is the home of linguistic sexual experimentation, where parents in some places are encouraged not to teach gender distinction to their children.

This is clearly not a phenomenon that is typical of whole countries and the speakers thereof. There are most certainly a great number of people in countries with genderless or multi-gender languages who still think in binary. They can be those who never thought of the idea before, but would not be against it, or they can be traditionalists who believe only in heterosexual marriage. They might be religious, they might be political (or both), but they are clearly shrinking in number as exposure to more and more non-binary people is becoming commonplace, especially in the big cities. All opinions and theories are there to be challenged, and now that it is becoming clearer that the pressure put on people for a very long time to blend in with established "norms" has caused untold misery and resentment down the years, we can finally do something about making amends for this. Medical and scientific research has highlighted that many children, some very young, feel uncomfortable with the gender they are born into. Fortunately, this world we are living in now is more equipped to deal with people's orientation than ever before. We just need languages to change with the times too.

Some genderless languages:


Some languages with masculine and feminine genders only:

Arabic (with some exceptions)
Lithuanian (with some exceptions)

Some languages with masculine, feminine and neuter:

Dutch (although with the article de being used for both masculine and feminine, they are barely distinguishable any more)
Norwegian (with some regional exceptions)
Czech, Polish and Slovak (Western Slavic languages) have three genders, but also distinguish between the animate and the inanimate