Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Band Aid 30

I should point out that I am a great fan of Bob Geldof. Of all the punk musicians from my childhood, he has managed to retain his blatant disregard for authority. By comparison, Malcolm McLaren has become a member of the music establishment - the ex-punk. I admire him for that, for his passion, for his commitment. His "I think they are talking bollocks" response to the TV interviewer was superbly anti-authoritarian.

I should also say that the original idea of Live Aid and the original Band Aid single was brilliant, important and effective. It raised a lot of money, but more, it raised awareness of the problems to a level that could not have been achieved in any other way.

The problem with Band Aid 30 is that it is no longer the right way to do this. All of the same criticism can be leveled at the Children in Need single, and many other charity singles.I wonder if they are driven by the performers need to Do Something than anything else, and they give of their skills and talents, because that is what they do. In the case of the original single and event, by giving of their time they raised more than they could by just giving of their money.

The problem is that in the last 30 years, a lot has changed. Awareness of issues and their impact is achieved in a range of different ways - we have the internet, social media, news web sites, all of which are better at raising awareness of issues like Ebola than producing a record. In fact, the DEC has been using these various means to raise the awareness of the public. I think we all know it is an issue, a problem, something that needs help.

I think there are issues that many people are not aware of - the need for a whole lot of resources in Africa to help fight the disease, control its spread, prevent it becoming more of a problem. We know ABOUT Ebola, but not necessarily what the need is. But there are better ways of raising the awareness of the need than a record.

30 years ago, the way we engaged with music was very different. A record that made it to the top of the charts was important, significant, it would get a lot of plays, because there was very little differentiation in terms of radio stations, most people who listened to pop radio would get to hear it.

Today is very different. Today, most people download music that they want - more and more on services like Spotify - rather than buying physical items. It tends to mean that the listening is rather more ephemeral - listen once and probably forget. An individual song is not that relevant, not that significant.

We are also in a world where we can access many thousands of internet radio stations, and I can select them based on the type of music I want to listen to. I did a search for stations playing Christmas music, and found a list of 70 stations just for this one specific theme. I can find stations playing whatever style I like, and it is easy to find ones that don't play chart music (I normally listen to 6 music, which doesn't play much that is in the charts, and I don't expect to head the Band Aid song on it). There is also a whole lot more television - available 24/7 - so we tend to listen to music we want to hear, not just what others want us to hear. And this is not to mention services like Pandora radio, and the Spotify equivalent, which allow you to generate a "radio" station based on the sort of music you listen to.

It all means that the world in which this song is released is completely different to the one in which the original band Aid song was released. To my mind, releasing a song is not the way to raise awareness today, because today it doesn't work.

So much as I love Bob Geldof, I cannot encourage people to buy the song. I would encourage people to make a donation to Ebola work if that is something that you consider to be important and worth supporting. It is a worthy cause, because we need to do something about the spread of this disease - it is killing thousands, and there is a very high fatality rate.

//The money raised could be raised in other ways.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Kim Kardashians behind

I know I am a bit late to this party, but I do like to consider matters, and not just give knee-jerk reactions (at least on the blog - I know I do on twitter sometimes). Kim Kardashian - the epitome of being famous for being famous - appeared on the cover of Paper magazine showing her naked - and voluminous - behind.

Some people have commented that it is good to see someone with a larger behind getting publicity, because it serves as a role model for ordinary women who may not be the super-skinny size of supermodels. Others have said that her lack of any apparent skills and talents is a reflecting of the degradation of the idea of celebrity.

All of which is rubbish.The reality is that she is just another version of the "ideal woman" model that is constantly pushed by the media (and the rest of the celebrity publicity machine). She is not a reflection of a less restrictive ideal, it is just a new ideal, just as unreachable, just as demeaning to all women, both those who cannot achieve this alternative version of "ideal woman" and of Kim herself, whose image has undoubtedly been touched up and tweaked before publication.

The thing is, whatever shape of woman is presented, she is still presented as a sexually alluring being. Irrespective of the latest style, women are still sold as sex objects. To simply say "even with a large behind, you can be a sexual being" is not liberating for women - it is still saying that they need to be sexual objects. It is saying that, even if you cannot fit one idea to conform to, we will define another ideas to conform to.

The problem is that women with behinds as large as Kim's are now pressured to looking as glamorous as she can - an impossible requirement. It means women who might have excused themselves from the glamour look are now told that "Kim can do it - so can you!" which is as bad as Katie Hopkins arguments that "it's easy to lose weight".

It would be great to say that this doesn't occur in the church, within Christianity, but of course it does. From the monastic ideal to the "wife and mother" image, the church promotes a set of images, a set of models for how we should be, how we should live. For some people, a monastic style of living is helpful, positive, and supports their spiritual growth. For some people, a Joyce Huggett life works and is helpful. Fantastic! But don't impose this on others. Just because it works for you doesn't mean that it is right for anyone else.

The message I get from the gospels is not this one of a set of models to which we should conform to. Jesus would challenge people about specific issues that impacted them, and we so often take these as normative. In fact, Jesus accepted people as they were, who they were, and them pinpointed areas that they needed to resolve. I believe he still does this today - accepts people as they are, and maybe points out something they need to change. I know when I became a Christian, I was very challenged to stop swearing (I know it is hard to believe, but I was developing a rather strong vocabulary), something that I did, and I continue to avoid swearing in my speech. He has challenged me in all sorts of ways since, and I have changed position and views in a range of areas, and actions in areas - I continue to change, to develop, to mature spiritually. I also refuse to and fail to match anyone's model or image of what and who I should be.

In the end, Kim simply provides another model. The problem is not with this model, or any other. My problem is simply that models are dangerous and mistaken. Trying to fit into them - however worthy they might be - is to reject who we are, and who we should be growing into. That is not a model, that is an individual. That is us as God sees us.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Cameron the coward.

Apparently, the global economy is in danger still, with "red warning lights flashing".

This has so incensed me that I need to write a new blog post about it. And yes, we all know the global economy is still unstable - Cameron's response to this is "we must do more of the same", because that seems to have worked so well.

The reason the global economy is still in crisis (and it is still, rather than again, because it has never actually pulled out of crisis) is not that people in welfare are taking up an extra bedroom. It is not that people on disability are just sitting around all day, enjoying their free money.

The reason is that the roots of the global economy has not changed. The banks are still allowed to gamble with our money. The wealthy are given more and more tax breaks encouraging them to hoard their wealth, while the poor are attacked more and more. The biggest corporations are permitted to pay very little tax, while those who cannot afford to pay are demonised.

So Cameron, if you want to avert another global financial crisis, the time has come to even the wealth in the country. The time has come to tax the wealthiest, use that money to provide the resources and facilities that we need. The time has come to support people, not punish them. The time has come to build a country based on fairness, not pandering to your wealthy friends. If we were less dependent on keeping a few very wealthy people happy, we could make this country a much better place to live. We could encourage immigrants, because we would have a stable economy to support them, and that they would support.

By supporting and engaging in Europe, we can help to create a more stable Europe-wide market, that will help our stability, our long-term future.

Of course you won't. This is not about the global economy being in danger, of course. It is about trying to win the next election. It is about scaring voters off a change of policy. It is about fright tactics, because you have to scare people, rather than telling the truth. The truth is, you have contributed to any global economic downturn, because you refuse to do the really difficult things that need to be done in our country.

So I will say it - David Cameron, you are a coward.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Environmental catastrophe here we come.

The latest report from the IPCC makes for very depressing reading. It says nothing especially new, just in more strident tones. We need to change our dependency on fossil fuels, we need to change our attitude to the environment, because we are causing irreparable damage to it.

As its mentioned in the linked report, the cost of inaction is far higher - long term - than the cost of action. The report is clear that we need to start acting now, to possibly prevent long-term severe problems.

And yet, despite the fact that the science overwhelmingly points to climate change being real, and being caused by our activity, there are still those who deny it - climate change deniers. This is not surprising, in that there are always people who reject the findings of science. One can point to the realms of creationists as an example of people who reject the clear findings of science, because they cannot take the trouble to incorporate the science into their faith. Sorry if I seem very dismissive, but for me, science is not in opposition to faith. It provides challenges, and this means that sometimes, our faith has to be reconsidered, understand how scientific revelations fit into our faith - if they cannot, then our faith is meaningless.

Creationists deny the findings of science. It would, of course, be ridiculous to allow people who reject a scientific approach to decide science or teaching policy in government. And it would be ridiculous to have climate change deniers in charge of environmental policy. Just like it would be ridiculous to have someone who claimed that petrol didn't actually burn in charge of transport policy.

And yet we do. We have people who reject the findings of science in charge of policy that should be scientifically based. That does not mean that it should be anti-faith. It means that policy should be based on doing what science says, and doing it in a way that does not dismiss faith (because faith is important too).

For me, my faith informs me that our world, our environment is a precious, wonderful thing, not a resource to be plundered for financial gain. My faith tells me that listening to the results of science in terms of what is physically happening is important. We cannot ignore the facts (which is what they are), any more than we can ignore the beliefs of people.

And yet, it would seem that there are those in power across the world who seek to reject the results of science because it will damage their short-term financial future. While that attitude prevails, we are heading for an environmental catastrophe, not because of science, but because of a misplaced faith. That would be a tragedy. A tragedy not only for the environment, but for faith, which is diminished by this. I would feel the loss of both.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

That EU Clawback debate

There has been a whole lot of discussion about a bill sent by the EU to Britain for £1.7Bn. The whole issue reads rather like a comedy sketch.

Firstly, the fact that this bill arrived unexpectedly - which suggests that the government are not in charge of their own budgets. OK, unexpected bills arrive for everyone, but if we are in control of our lives, our budgets, we should be prepared for these expenses. I prepare for the car bills, the society membership bills, I even try to prepare for the possibility of larger car bills, even expenses for the house. OK, they might be larger than expected, but I make some provision, some preparation.

We are planning some significant work on the house, and have worked very hard to make sure that we have the money for this, including some spare because the final bill might be a little larger. That is preparation and planning. I cannot say that I always do it, but I try to stay on top of potential expenditure, expected bills. Apparently better than David Cameron does.

David Camerons response to this was childish - he simply stated that "we will not pay this". What is interesting is that many people in this country find that they have large bills unexpectedly arrive, or income that is dramatically reduced. The poor in this country struggle with the vicious attacks made on them by - David Cameron. When they say "we will not pay this", they are demonised, called slackers, incompetent.

So George Osborne has been to Europe to see what could be done. He comes back saying that he has negotiated an incredible result - we only have to pay half of the money, and we have more time to pay it. Which is, of course, a whole lot of manipulative deception. As it has turned out, he has not got any reduction on the amount to be paid - it is just that he decided to count in a rebate that we were already going to have. Despite David Cameron's claims that "we will not pay", George Osborne has "negotiated" to actually pay all of the bill. Strangely, I have had negotiations like that, and come out feeling like I have lost, rather than won.

He has managed to get an agreement to pay half of it later. He tells us this is "installments" but it is just a deferring of half - the sort of deal most people could get on a large bill if they were struggling to pay it. OK, it is a deal, it is an improvement on having to pay it all in one go, but I would hardly call it a substantial victory - it is the sort of deal one suspects we could have achieved without a lot of fuss if we had just asked.

Recently, I had a dispute with a mobile phone company. At the end, they sent me a bill that I told them I should not have to pay, because I had previously asked them to cancel the account. If I had agreed to pay half the bill in six months time, I would have been very disappointed. I had the final bill cancelled, which I consider a reasonable and fair result - not a major success, just a reasonable conclusion.

George Osborne has claimed that "The truth is we have achieved a real win for British taxpayers" - that is a lie. He has agreed a minor rearrangement in the terms of the payment. We will not pay any less than we would have otherwise - so David Cameron is shown up as a liar. George Osborne is show up as someone who sill spin minor failures as substantial successes. The truth is that this governments management of the economy and the country is appalling, and incompetent. That is what this farce demonstrates.

Yes, I am not fan of this government, of their politics and their actions. So I will tend to see events in a bad light. I suppose it is up to you to decide whether I am portraying these actions in a deliberately bad light, or whether it is this sort of manipulative spin is the reason that I find the less blatant or obvious deceptions to show them in their true light.

I believe that this government hates us - the ordinary, not-hugely-wealthy people in this country. I don't really understand why, but I believe it is true. That is a bad state of affairs.

Monday, 3 November 2014

What is abuse, and what isn't?

This seems to be far more complex question than it should be. The problem is that context is crucial in determining whether abuse - in particular sexual abuse - is occurring or not.

I think there is a distinction made between abuse and sexual abuse, that is not always helpful or significant. Sexual abuse is abuse with a sexual element, or driven by sexual urges. And yes the urges or drivers behind abuse of any sort are complex - and abuse is abuse, whether there is a sexual element or not. I would question whether drawing a distinction is that helpful.

I think an interesting starting point is rape. Rape is non-consensual sex, pure and simple. And while rape is generally considered sexual abuse, the drivers and urges are power, not sex. Consent is straightforward and yet complex, but in simple terms, consent should be obtained for a sexual encounter. In a long-term relationship, consent can be far less formal - I am not suggesting that a couple in a long term relationship should obtain written permission each time. But it should be clear that there is consent.

In early stages, consent is far more important, because it can be far too easily assumed, when it is not present. I shouldn't need to say it, but "dressing in a provocative way" is not consent. Nor is accepting a drink, being prepared to talk to you, or anything else that is not clear consent.

This should be straightforward: if you are not clear that you have consent, then do not engage in sexual activity. And sometimes it is unclear, sometimes it is confusing (especially in the heat of the moment, or after chemical enhancement), and sometimes mistakes are made. But not often, not is care is taken, not if respect if maintained. You may well regret it in the morning, but then, we all do things we regret.

Lets take this to the other extreme. In the discussions that occur on places like Twitter, or workplace banter, comments are sometimes made that would, in another context, seem abusive. In my view, comments like "I would" - the implication of "I would have sex with them" - are not abusive. This is a shorthand way of saying "I find them very sexually attractive", which is a perfectly reasonable opinion to hold. Bear with me - I will return to this in a moment.

Of course, in a workplace, saying "I would" about a colleague, and then leering at them suggestively is abusive. There should be a caveat to the statement, along the lines of "but it will never happen". In fact, the problem is more about "don't leer at work colleagues", because that is abusive. You see, this is where it start to become complicated and difficult, but a rule of not making those you have to work with, or meet in any sense, feel uncomfortable by your words and actions is part of life in a social environment.

The other problem is when this becomes talking about people, not to them, or treating them as purely sexual objects. It is abusive to treat ANYONE as a sexual toy - as if their only purpose is to satisfy your sexual desires. To treat any person as less than a fully rounded, complex human being is abusive. To dismiss any person as less than a human being is abusive. To say that they are sexually attractive, and that is all there is to say about them is abusive. To say "they only got the job because they are sexy/slept with the boss" is abusive, even if it may have an element of truth in it. If they were hired because of looks, or because of favours, they have already been abused, so adding to that is not helpful. They are more than a sex object. they are a human being, even if a damaged and abused human.

Of course context is crucial. The recent video of a women getting catcalls as she walked through New York is a different context - and many of these comments are not acceptable. There is a huge difference between commenting on a persons behind in an environment where you are regularly talking, and they are free to tell you to piss off, and the same comments where they consist of the entire conversation, and they have no freedom to respond (or are unsure of how a response might be taken). In either situation, if they feel threatened, then it is wrong, and if you don't know or care if they feel threatened, then it is abusive. In particular, women having comments about their appearance thrown at them in the street are likely to feel threatened, not least because they don't know anything about the person making the comments.

OK, lets look into another complex area of abuse - the BDSM community. I should make it absolutely clear that the same principles apply here as anywhere else - consent is everything. While some of their practices may appear abusive, they are not as long as they are consensual.

I think one of the big problems is that some of these practices are more common than many might want to admit. At the least, they are part of the fantasies of some people, even if they cannot engage themselves (for all sorts of reasons). I think one of the problems with the 50 shades series - which I have not read, I should point out, this is based on comments of others who have read - is that the lines between legitimate BDSM behaviour and rape and abuse are blurred. It is not a case of a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship, but a case - once again - of a man abusing a vulnerable woman. It is the vulnerability of one partner that is problematic in this case, which means that consent is far harder to establish - I will touch on this later. What is more this is "romantic" fiction, not reality. To take the success of this as indicating that "most women like a bit of rough" is demeaning and abusive.

Actually, the BDSM community is interesting, in that they do have a set of rules governing practices - they should be "sane, safe, legal and consensual". Consensual is core to all sexual practice, but the others provide limits to what might be considered acceptable practice, and what would, even within this community, be considered abusive. There are sexual practices that exceed these limits, and no I am not going into details, but they are abusive. This community is well aware of abuse. I believe it is far less likely that abuse occurs within this community, while they stick within their own rules. Using their ideas and practices without the rules is, it would seem, abusive.

The issue of vulnerability of one partner leads onto the critical issue of children and abuse.Actually, the issue is, at core, one of a vulnerable partner and a powerful one. In the case of children and adults, the child is the vulnerable partner, and a vulnerable person cannot give informed consent. End of story, in many ways. But this is why matters like the age of consent are not the real issue here. In reality, it is no less abusive to have sex with someone on their sixteenth birthday (in the UK) as it is to have sex with them the night before. More legal, but no less or more abusive. What is abusive is having sex with someone who you have power over, because they are unable to give informed consent - if the options are "have sex with me or lose your job", maybe the sex seems like the better option, but that is not consensual, that is abusive.

Informed consent means that young children, animals, and even highly vulnerable people who have grown up in extremely abusive situations cannot agree. They may appear willing, but their lack of understanding means that consent is meaningless. So any sexual activity is abusive. Just don't.

Of course, there is a question about sexual activity between tow teenagers, who may be under the age of consent. I think this is a very complex issue, but it is not necessarily abusive. The concept of informed consent is crucial - are they both agreeing, knowing what they are agreeing to? If so, it is probably not abusive - still illegal, but I would want to be lenient with them. Others might disagree.

Finally (at least, you say - well, it is a big area to cover), I want to consider the issue of pornography.
From everything I have already said, it might seem that there is no issue here - there is, in fact, not sexual engagement involved here. Consent is hard to identify, but could be considered there by virtue of the images being available. Others would argue that in many cases, there has been abuse - or coercion - to achieve these images, and that constitutes abuse (it does). However, it is impossible to tell or to know. There is a parallel with prostitutes, some of whom - especially the higher class ones - may genuinely enjoy their work; others may find that they have been pressurised into it, and forced by economics into staying in the business.

There is another way of looking at this, which brings us back to one of the earlier discussions - pornography is about objectifying other people, using them as object to satisfy your own sexuality. In the end, failing to treat them as people, as human beings who are more than their genitalia, is abusive. There is a danger that pornography changes the users attitude to other people, into purely sexual objects. OK, this can also be said of Hollywood and the gaming industry at times, and is more about the user controlling their own behaviour. I would accept this, however I still consider that pornography is abusive, because there is a lack of explicit consent. If this is not there, the engagement is abusive.

Abuse is a huge topic. I hope that I have explored a number of areas that are relevant, and my conclusion is that a lack of explicit, informed consent means that there is a high chance of abuse, and abuse is wrong. the truth is, many of us have engaged in abusive behaviours, without it being deliberate. The challenge is to stop, and the bigger challenge is to ensure that more deliberate abuse is avoided. I don;t say that everyone should be perfect. I say that we should always respect other people as full, complex, divinely-created human beings.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Why radio is important

I was listening to the radio the other day, and the presenter made an interesting comment about why radio is still important in a world where we have access to all the music, all the time.

The point is, a radio show is someone else choosing some music for you. A lot of it may be stuff you know and hear a lot, but, ideally, some of it will be new material or artists that you might not think of listening to unless they had been played to you. Kate Tempest is one recent example, who is a poet, but who performs some of her material to music (so, songs really). I love her material, but I would never have naturally come across it.

There is also music that you may know about, but have forgotten, or not heard in a long time. This is always special, and was the focus of the initial comment - they played Hocus Pocus by Focus, the full version. I - and most of the listeners - knew the song, but I had not heard it for ages. It was a great revelation to hear it again - and I don't know if I have ever heard the full version of it. That is why radio is important.

Of course, services like Pandora can also help select music for you, but this is an automated process. I did use it many years ago, and I think it was superb in what it did - it introduced me to the band Ozma, who do some fantastic material. Spotify, which I use at the moment, also has recommendations if you want to use that. But these services can tend to limit your music to "similar to what you already listen to". Great in its way, but I want "Stuff I might like, that is completely left-field".

It is through listening to the radio that I have found bands like Sunn O and Opeth, Alvvays and Kate Tempest. None of these really match what I would identify as what I listen to - they are different, enjoyable, and opening my experience of music even wider. It is also through listening to the radio that I realised how brilliant Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric" actually is, for example - music that I am aware of, but have not heard for a long time.

There is another reason that radio still rules. I am working from home at the moment. It can get very lonely and isolated at home. Having the radio on helps me to feel that I might not be completely alone, and being able to interact using twitter, for example, helps me feel that I am still connected to others. I have had a few tweets read out, and been on The Chain too, so I have engaged with the show. that is something that is not possible when just listening to music.

So, whatever happens in the world of music download and listening, I am convinced that music radio still has an important part to play. Long live 6 music!