You can’t avert our gays

Upon hearing the news, I turned to Mrs Sane and said “Well, that’s that then. Do you feel it? Do you feel the undermining of our marriage?” We got married in October 2008 and have since had two children. “Things were going so well. But now, now, well…. it all seems so hollow, so cheapened doesn’t it?”

For last night, the House of Commons approved same-sex marriage in England and Wales by passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill with a majority of 225 votes (400 to 175).

“Of course not, you idiot” said Mrs Sane. “How could the private concerns of other couples possibly have any bearing on our own relationship?”

Of course! What a fool I was being, worried that my own, unique relationship with my wife could in any way be affected by other people – gays! – also entering into their own private, personal marriages. I heaved a sigh of relief and went back to staring blankly at the television.

A little over forty five years since homosexuality was legalised (in England and Wales, that is – incredibly, it remained illegal in Scotland until 1981 and Northern Ireland until 1982) this landmark legislation will ensure that marriage is no longer exclusive to heterosexual couples. It feels like progress to me and a step forward for equality generally, so of course I welcome it. Inevitably, however, not everyone does. Indeed, it has split the Conservative Party in half. Full credit to David Cameron for backing this legislation all the way: he recognises that this is essential to modernising his party and it’s reminiscent of Tony Blair tackling the dinosaurs of the Labour Party in the 1990s. Heartening to see for a liberal centrist such as myself, although the size of the opposition within the Conservative Party (139 Tory MPs voted against, 132 for) shows how much work is still to be done there. It also served as a nice reminder that, however disillusioned I might be with the current crop of political parties, the Tories are still toxic to me on issues such as this.

Opponents of the bill brought up predictable arguments:

  • “Gay marriage will erode religious freedom.” But the bill allows religious organisations to opt out, indeed the Church of England is entirely exempt.
  • “Marriage can only mean the union of a man and a woman, with the stated purpose of procreation.” Which is terrible news for those unable to conceive, or anyone who gets married in their advanced years or couples who decide that they don’t want to have children at all.
  • “Gay marriage will dilute the institution.” I’ve never understood this one: how can more people getting married make marriage weaker? Marriage isn’t being redefined, it’s being extended to those who were previously excluded.
  • “Marriage is ordained by God.” Well, mine isn’t – we were married in a registry office and had a Humanist ceremony afterwards. God wasn’t invited. The same is true for millions of other people. The objection on religious grounds really boils down to: “I oppose gay marriage because a wizard told me it was bad.”

I have yet to see an argument against gay marriage that doesn’t ultimately stem from prejudice of some description: at best, its opponents consider gay couples to be of less importance than heterosexual couples; at worst they think homosexuality is a filthy deviance or a “sin”. Of course very few would proclaim this outright. All kinds of intellectual arguments are offered to justify their position but they only mask what really lies beneath: naked prejudice.

It is a tenet of a modern liberal society that all citizens be treated equally. By removing the barrier to full equality of marriage we have just taken another important step towards that goal.

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A tired man makes a couple of observations about music

BBC 6 Music have published the results of their poll to find the top 100 songs released in the station’s lifetime (the station launched in March 2002). Strangely, for a station that champions music of a more ‘alternative’ and left field variety, the #1 spot went to ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay which suggests that, perhaps, the station’s target audience isn’t listening and the people who do listen want something else entirely. Radio 2, perhaps?

Not that there’s anything wrong with Radio 2. Nor is there anything wrong with the Coldplay song in question, per se. But it’s a strange winner, especially considering that it isn’t even the best song that the band themselves have released in this time, let alone the best song of the last eleven years. As for the rest of the 6 Music list, I was surprised to find that I am very familiar with 50 of the tracks in question, so perhaps I’m not quite as old and out-of-touch as I thought.

In other music news My Bloody Valentine surprised everyone by releasing a new album this morning, a full twenty two years since their last, the highly rated ‘Loveless’. Highly rated by everyone other than me, it seems. I’ve tried countless times to ‘get’ this album but have always come to the conclusion that it’s just somebody mumbling through a sock over the sound of somebody hoovering and somebody else chopping onions in a food processor. Lots of people are very excited about it but frankly I could conjure up new My Bloody Valentine music by developing tinnitus in both ears.

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Unfinished monkey business

Iran made headlines on Monday for apparently sending a monkey into space and bringing it back down to Earth again. Having previously sent a rat, turtle and worms (I’m not sure if this was on separate occasions or a group deal) into orbit, delivering a primate into the stratosphere had so far eluded them.

The stated aim of the theocratic republic is to send a man into space by 2019. For what purpose, I cannot be sure, but the real concern is Iran’s covert intention to develop nuclear warheads and a mechanism for delivery, something their ‘space programme’ is surely designed to obfuscate.

However, it would appear that all is not what it seems and the entire thing may have been a fabrication. Observers have pointed out that there are clear differences in the appearance of the ‘before’ monkey and the ‘after’ monkey and that, apart from the footage provided by the Iranian government, there is no other evidence of a rocket launch taking place. So did they launch a rocket but not return the monkey? Or was the entire event just a piece of uninspiring theatre? Given the Iranian government’s reputation for evasiveness we will probably never know.

Really, though, this is a wasted opportunity on their part. If you’re going to lie about something like this, then lie big. Go to town with it. Say you’ve blasted a walrus to Mars or that you’ve perfected time travel and sent a duck back to Weimar Germany or something. If you’re going to waste everybody’s time on a ruse, then at least be creative. Both the USA and the USSR sent monkeys into space in the 1950s – this is no longer considered impressive. It’s been done before. You might as well claim to have invented butter or the combustion engine. Come on, Iran, raise your game. We expect better.

Clearly, theocracy stunts the imagination.

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Just WRITE SOMETHING!

Mrs Sane has compelled me to return to blogging. It didn’t require a great deal of pressure to be honest, because I miss it enormously and I’ve been toying with the idea for a while now but it was nice to receive the (metaphorical) jab in the kidneys and the order to get into the office (well, I say office, it’s now the domain of the Little Sanes who treat it much like the Wehrmacht treated the Russian Front) and WRITE SOMETHING.

So here I am. Writing something. And I’m rusty. Rustier than a rusty nail on a particularly rusty day. I tried to explain that I can’t just write something at the drop of a hat, there’s not a button I can press marked ‘Witty and informative blog post generator’ but she wasn’t having any of it. In fact, just to make a point she picked up a hat and dropped it, then shoved me in here and locked the door and said I’m not allowed to come out again until I’ve written something.

It isn’t easy to just spew forth words. I’m too used to Twitter these days – 140 characters (including spaces) to play with – so having to actually write sentences, paragraphs, doesn’t come naturally anymore. But that’s why I’m here – I’m battling through this in lieu of having anything in particular to talk about. Of course there is plenty to talk about: Algeria, Mali, Barack Obama, Michael Winner, horse meat, the bloody weather. But where do you begin when you haven’t blogged regularly for years?

I suppose you begin here: writing a stream-of-consciousness that nobody will ever read because this isn’t worth publishing. And back at my old blog again, too. I started Mind Trumpet because I wanted to make a fresh start and that worked OK for a while but I’ve been blogging under the pseudonym of Citizen Sane for nearly eight years now and regularly tweet under this name so I guess I’m sticking with it. Makes sense for these ramblings to be on the blog of the same name too. Branding and all that. Plus having looked again at WordPress I have to say it’s a really nice blogging tool with some great looking templates so why not just give it another spin? I’ll import all the posts from Mind Trumpet over here and then that’s nearly everything I’ve ever blogged all in one place. Plus, as my mate Les never tired of reminding me: Mind Trumpet is a blatant rip off of the Armando Ianucci show ‘Time Trumpet‘, which was never a conscious decision but, yes, OK Les: you win. It’s going. Happy now?

So there it is and here I am and there you are. I’m going to post this bugger and off we go again. Carpe diem and all that. Or carpet diem – seize the carpet, and give it a damn good shake. It’s good to be back.

I’m going to hit that ‘Publish’ button. Oh yes I am. Here we go…..

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The towering pomposity of Simon Jenkins

I know I shouldn’t. It’s bad for me. It raises my blood pressure and causes an involuntary, reflexive movement whereby I smack myself on the forehead for a period that can last a couple of hours in extreme cases. I grind my teeth, gurn, clench my fists and exhibit all the symptoms of a mammal in extreme distress. But I just couldn’t help myself…. I read a Simon Jenkins article in The Guardian.

Sir Simon Jenkins, for those unfamiliar with his work, is an incorrigible curmudgeon. Think John Humphrys with toothache. In the rain. In many ways he is an unusual columnist for The Guardian: he’s certainly not a denizen of the politically correct, wet liberal or ultra-left constituency. No Polly Toynbee or Seumas Milne, he. Indeed his career has mostly been at The Times, The Economist and the London Evening Standard (he is also chairman of the National Trust).  On paper, at least, he would seem to tick all the boxes of stiff British conservatism, so what he’s doing contributing to the bible of the liberal chattering classes is anyone’s guess. Maybe The Guardian lost a bet and had to swap him for David Aaronovitch and a packet of scotch eggs or something.

Anyway, pick a subject – any subject – and Simon Jenkins will write a sour, contrarian column about it. It’s what he does; it’s what he’s paid for.

This week the focus of his frustration is The Shard – London’s latest skyscraper and the tallest building in Europe. I like it. I like tall buildings generally. Who wouldn’t look in wonder at, say, the Manhattan skyline? I certainly did the first time I arrived in New York, coming over the Queensboro Bridge in a taxi. Indeed, it reaffirmed a love affair with skyscrapers that I’d had since being but a wee lad. This is what cities should look like – big, bold buildings prodding the sky with their magnificence. Clusters of imposing towers of brick, glass and steel boldly exclaiming “Look! Look at this! This is a city!”

But not to Jenkins. Oh no. To Jenkins The Shard is an act of vandalism, a vicious assault on London’s skyline. To which I say: what skyline? For a major city, London’s skyline is uninspiring. Sure, there’s Docklands, but that’s all over THERE *points*. There are a few high towers in the City: the Gherkin, Tower 42 (formerly the NatWest tower) and a few more due to be completed in the next year or so, but that’s about it. Mostly this is not so much due to a lack of architectural ambition but regulation that for years ensured that nothing obstructed or distracted from the view of St Paul’s Cathedral. Sacred St Paul’s. Hallowed St. Paul’s.

I worked for years in or around Paternoster Square so I’m very familiar with St Paul’s and I’m not dismissing it. It’s an amazing construction, part of London’s heritage, indisputably an iconic landmark and has been for over three hundred years. But should it have this protected status forever? A lot has changed since the 17th century, as you may have noticed. Nobody is suggesting that St Paul’s be bulldozed, just that, perhaps, it would be nice to add some additional impressive structures within a mile or so of its vicinity. The cathedral would still be there, where it’s always been, for anyone to go and see, but we’d also have some other buildings bringing variety and spectacle to a skyline that is, for a major city, dull.

The Shard is a good start to this. Personally I’d like to see another dozen such structures going up. Although according to Jenkins anyone who thinks this way is in the grip of some kind of Freudian crisis: we “equate phallic prominence with civic prowess”. Indeed, in one of his more eccentric statements (even by his standards), he says that The Shard is “an adjunct of Tony Blair’s foreign policy, a cure for erectile dysfunction”. (This is unsurprising although I’m amazed it took him six paragraphs before finding a bridge between this subject and our former prime minister; usually he gets there a lot sooner than that.) “The Shard,” says Jenkins, in full hyperbolic mode, “has slashed the face of London forever.”

It’s not hard to imagine Jenkins in New York City in the early 1930s bemoaning the Empire State Building: “This monstrosity will ruin Manhattan’s skyline!” he would have said. No doubt his ancestors had similar misgivings in ancient Egypt, wailing that the “ghastly pyramids will destroy the view of the desert”, decrying them as an “adjunct of Khufu’s foreign policy”.

The Shard is a controversial building but so was the World Trade Centre in New York in the early 1970s. It didn’t take long for the Twin Towers to become established as a prominent feature of the city, part of its very identity. Similarly, The Shard will soon become considered a familiar landmark to the residents of London. Maybe even old misery guts Jenkins will learn to love it too. I say let a hundred Shards bloom. But then what do I know? I’m just a vandalistic modernist obsessed with erections.

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Occupy in the sky…..

We are onto day three of Occupy London Stock Exchange Occupy Some Space Near St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a shame because until the end of last year I worked right next to Paternoster Square and I feel like I’m missing out on all the excitement. Now, I can only read about it on news sites or Twitter, or get information from people I know who still work in the area.

While I genuinely admire the spirit of people who are prepared to sacrifice the comforts of home life to live in a tent pitched on concrete, next to a cathedral whose bells ring every fifteen minutes, it’s impossible not to point out the utter silliness being spouted by some of the collective. It’s very easy for me to make glib comments but then, when people are putting up stupid signs like this, they really are asking for it:
Let’s be clear here: protesting about the iniquity of western capitalism is not on a par with the Arab Spring. It just isn’t. To compare yourself to the people of Tahrir Square, who were standing up to a military dictatorship for basic political freedoms, is just insulting.
Or there’s this one. I love this one.
Courtesy of – who else? – the Socialist Worker. “JOBS, HOMES & SERVICES NOT RACISM”. Sorry, I had no idea that this was the choice we were facing. So let me make sure I understand: we are presented with a choice of, on one hand, jobs, homes & services or, on the other, racism? Well, if you put it like that I’ll have to go with the former. Can’t abide racism. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.
But ooh, ooh, we now have a manifesto of sorts from the Occupy London movement. Nine points in total. Shall we have a look at them? I’ve added a few thoughts of my own in italics.
#OccupyLSX initial statement

At today’s assembly of over 500 people on the steps of St Paul’s, #occupylsx collectively agreed the initial statement below. Please note, like all forms of direct democracy, the statement will always be a work in progress.

1 The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them. One of the nicest features of a democracy is the right to gather and make statements like this. Which, neatly, disproves your point about the current system being undemocratic. Funny eh? But yes, you mentioned alternatives and working towards them. OK, we’re all ears. Hello? Are you still there?

2 We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world. OK. Get to the point.

3 We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis. Which brings us back to alternatives. The alternative was wholesale collapse of the banking system with nothing else in place. This is why the banks were bailed out – an unpopular measure was taken because the other option was even worse. So now what?

4 We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people. I’ll give you this one. No major objections. Although not sure I buy the line about government only representing corporations. But we’ll move on.

5 We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate. No argument from me here. That would be a good thing. But what regulators and what industries are you talking about?

6 We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing. As is your democratic right. See point 1.

7 We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich. I can’t object to this per se. That would be a good thing. So – what’s the plan?

8 We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression. Hmmm. Bit vague this one. Which actions of our government? We were quite instrumental recently in supporting the Libyan uprising, for example. The Libyan people were quite oppressed and we helped them. Is it possible that sometimes, just sometimes, we are not the bad guys?

9 This is what democracy looks like. Come and join us! You’re right. This is what democracy looks like! You have every right to do this, it’s enshrined in law. Hell, even the canon chancellor of St. Paul’s has given you his blessing to be there. There is absolutely zero chance of David Cameron sending in the tanks to crush your camp and shoot your ringleaders. Which is why any attempt to claim “solidarity” with the uprisings in the Middle East is so utterly fatuous.

 

So overall, I’ll give you two, maybe three, of your nine points. Not bad.
The occupiers say they are there for the long haul. The temperature is meant to drop considerably towards the end of the week. The people gathered are still no nearer to their stated objective of occupying the stock exchange, but are still sticking it out. This is going to get very interesting….
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Call out the instigators, because there’s something in the air….

Are you ready for the revolution? Because it’s happening. It’s happening today! Can you smell it in the air? Can you feel it in the wind?

No, me neither.

However, a group is currently gathering in Paternoster Square in the City of London with the stated intention of kicking…. something off. The organisers of Occupy London Stock Exchange (#OccupyLSX), inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street campaign in New York, are planning to, well, occupy the London Stock Exchange and, erm, I think that’s about the extent of their planning.

Just a couple of problems with this. Firstly, it’s a Saturday so the stock exchange will be closed. Even rapacious capital markets stop for the weekend to allow bankers to gather their thoughts before continuing their pernicious campaign to hold us all in financial slavery again on Monday morning. Secondly, the London Stock Exchange doesn’t really perform the function that I suspect a lot of these demonstrators think it does. It’s an administrative headquarters so, while it no doubt has symbolic value and is certainly the centralised hub of all London share trading, ‘occupying’ it wouldn’t really be very disruptive given that all trading is screen-based and takes place inside the premises of the individual banks and brokers. Perhaps the organisers are expecting to see hundreds of traders, wearing jackets, waving bits of paper and shouting at each other. And they would see this, if they were also able to invent a time machine and visit the old stock exchange prior to October 1986, when the ‘Big Bang‘ ended open-cry equity trading in London.

There is also the problem that Paternoster Square is privately owned and entirely paved. So good luck getting settled and even better luck creating a campsite. I’m not sure how many people are turning out today but they are likely to be greeted (and possibly outnumbered) by bemused tourists visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral. Still, there is a Sainsbury’s next door, plus a Pret a Manger and Starbucks, etc. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the extra weekend revenue.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the sentiment behind this gathering. I can fully appreciate why people are angry with the banks, the state of the economy, the scarcity of jobs, the imminent cuts in public spending, the fragility of the entire economic system in fact. But as is so often the case in such demonstrations, beyond the intended (and childish) stunt of occupying the London Stock Exchange, there is barely any coherence in their stated aims, targets or – crucially – any viable alternative proposed. The extent of the argument seems to be: the banks were bailed out, ‘bankers’ still pay themselves obscene bonuses, normal people are suffering so…. we’ll gather here for a bit and maybe Billy Bragg (or, even worse, Penny Red) will say a few words and then, oh, let’s see what happens.

The near-collapse of the banking system and the subsequent economic fallout was largely caused by reckless lending on the back of an unsustainable property boom, predominantly in the United States and particularly in the sub-prime market. These mortgages were then repackaged into complex financial instruments and sold all around the world, ensuring that when the property bubble burst, the contagion was spread all over the globe. Attempting to occupy the London Stock Exchange in retaliation does not even make symbolic sense as none of these products would have gone anywhere near it. But hey, it’s a financial centre and representative of capitalism and stuff so it’ll have to do.

It’s this lack of attention to detail, lack of understanding and lack of anything approaching a workable solution that makes this event so utterly futile. If you want further proof of this, have a read of the accompanying ‘manifesto‘ of the wider global movement which conflates first world anger about the recession with the democracy struggles raging in the Middle East.

If there’s going to be a revolution, these are the last people on earth that should be leading it.

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