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Keep poking the elephants…

Why do we write?

Why do we feel the need to make ourselves heard, we who call ourselves bloggers, journalists, pundits, satirists, topical commentators and cartoonists?

Why do we choose to broadcast our inner thoughts to the world, assuming the mantle of unelected spokesmen for those who remain silent?
Do we have the right to speak for them, just because they won’t speak for themselves, or are we ascribing a set of values to the silent majority that they simply do not share?

After all, we don’t all claim great socio-political insights or expertise in current affairs, (at least I don’t) most of us are just like everyone else who feels outraged by the unjustified and cowardly actions of despots, dictators, terrorists and murderers.The only difference is that when something in the news pisses us off, we use our posts, columns, pictures and words to fight back, registering our displeasure, pointing out injustice, or paying our respects in the best way we can.

Whether that means railing against the perversion of religious ideologies for twisted personal agendas, highlighting the ineptitude, stupidity and corruption of our political overlords, or simply pointing out the idiotic and offensive behaviour of those individuals in our society that we would rather not be associated with, one thing we all have in common is the wish to share our beliefs and ideas with anyone who has the time and inclination to read, watch or listen to them.

But should this need to be heard by the world at large mark us out as legitimate targets for the ones at whom we’re directing our unsolicited opinions, or should we, like medics on a battlefield, be considered neutral and somehow immune to the violent attentions of our persecutors?

I can barely even begin to imagine the abject terror that must have been felt by the Charlie Hebdo staff and their police protectors, whose lives were brutally cut short by men who so clearly fail to represent the values of a religion they claim they are defending.
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The idea that the teachings of any faith would allow for the indiscriminate slaughter of unarmed civilians, just because they were able to see the funny side of outdated theistic dogma, strikes me as the ultimate insult to the belief system they are allegedly defending.
Surely if you were to consult with almost any religious leader, irrespective of their denomination, they would all cite inclusion and love as the primary building blocks of their faith.
Islamic scholar, Dr. Khaled Hanafy, was in fact today quoted as saying;
” I call on Muslims to stage demonstrations that denounce this aggression. I urge Muslim Imams and leaders to take all the necessary actions to denounce the incident, to reassure the Europe community, to actively participate in protecting Europe media institutions against any threat and to denounce extremism and terror.”

We should by now be far beyond the point at which we need to violently disagree with something as nebulous as personal faith, force others to hold similar beliefs to ourselves, or deny them the right to question belief in whatever deity we choose to worship, because that only serves to increase and accentuate the divide between different cultures.
That diversity is something which will only get more widespread as our communities absorb more diverse colours, creeds and religions, making it a richer and ever more fascinating society in which to live.

The need that some of us have to broadcast our views on these topics, in a rational, non-confrontational and humorous way, should in no way be proscribed by the ones responsible for preaching the words of their chosen religion, no matter how much they disapprove of our arguments, for only through open discussion can we hope to achieve any understanding of how others see the world.

So I for one will never give in to the bullying tactics of zealots or fundamentalists, be they religious, social or political.
Not that I’m comparing myself to the courageous and dedicated staff of Charlie Hebdo or other publications that routinely brave the irrational hatred of the evil minority, but I will continue to proudly wave the flag for those of us that who aren’t afraid to occasionally poke the elephant in the room with a long pointy stick.

And I hope you’ll all keep doing the same.

 
 

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A roomful of elephants…

Blogging is a funny business.
The whole idea of having a platform that is unpoliced by the arbitrary moderators of taste and.decency who randomly patrol the virtual corridors of Facebook and other social networks is extremely attractive, especially if you’re the type who isn’t too concerned about what others think of your opinion.
The only problem is, after a very short space of time your blog becomes an incredibly personal thing, something to be inordinately proud of, irrespective of technical know-how or literary prowess.
It presents you with a private window on the world, inviting you to lean out and shout words of encouragement or scream abuse at passers by, depending on the view.

And nobody can bang on the wall and tell you to keep the noise down.

However, you do still want people to read it, that’s the thing.

Some writers, (like fellow blogger and ranter extraordinaire, Scorpion Sting) seem to revel in their licence to aggravate, making it perfectly clear from the start that they suffer fools not at all, let alone gladly and will happily join in slanging matches with spammers and offended whiners alike, ensuring a regular audience of like-minded followers who will tune in just to see who the latest target of their invective is.
I’ve always attempted to keep the tone of Diary of an Internet Nobody reasonably light, or at least not too intentionally confrontational, even if my natural instinct to take the piss does occasionally make me unpopular with the odd reader.
And when I do cover a serious or emotive subject I try to be respectful and mindful of the fact that I have readers all over the world (one of the things I still have trouble getting my head round) knowing that flippant remarks made about something I’ve seen from my little cyber peephole may well seem deeply offensive to others with a different perspective on the world.

Having said that, it would be dishonest of me only to write what I thought you, my readers wanted me to say, in case any of you felt included in the general group of people I may have pilloried or berated in a post.
So it’s sometimes a bit like trying not to talk about the bloody great elephant sat on the hearth rug, whilst simultaneously having the uncontrollable urge to poke it with a stick and pick its scabs.

Pachydermatitis if you like.

For example, I was thinking of writing a post inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of a friend on Facebook, which would have begun something like;

“There’s a lot of talk of religious extremism in the world these days and it impacts on our lives in various ways, some of them fairly minor but still unwelcome nonetheless.
I’m thinking of one group in particular who, not content to peacefully worship their chosen deity, must attempt to impose their outmoded and barbaric morals on others.
The complete insistence on unwavering adherence to rules that have no relevance to modern life and beliefs blatantly denying the evidence of scientific discovery is not the way to integrate yourself into society.
It won’t be long before they start to influence the laws of the world, forcing us to conform to their skewed view of the universe, citing theological dogma as justification for inflicting their values on everyone.

You know the ones I’m talking about.

That’s right, Christians.

No, wait! Come back!
I hadn’t finished, let me clarify.

I’m on about the sort of pious, fervent, utterly devout believer who, assuming they don’t try to force their views on me, I have only the greatest respect for.
If they are that devoted to a spiritual path, then it shows a dedication that few of us are capable of, or at least willing to demonstrate.
If however, they decide that I am for some reason “demonic” and need to be “saved” or “delivered” from the ways of Satan before I’m forever doomed to the fiery pits of hell, then we have a problem.

Who are they to decide that I’m risking eternal damnation for…”

And it would have gone on in that vein, ranting about how someone who claims “God created everything, even evolution”, and then used that statement as evidence that some Christians are capable of showing “common sense” is never going to admit they’re in the wrong about anything, or even try to see your point of view, so why bother arguing with them, it’s no fun.

I would have spent ages coming up with smartass, snarky lines that might have made me laugh but wouldn’t really address the subject in a sensible, grown-up way, thereby almost certainly pissing people off.

So it’s lucky I didn’t write that.

There’s no end of topics out there, just waiting to be written about, but I know my, um… “style”, for want of a better word, doesn’t suit every situation. No matter how interested I am in the material, I have realised that sometimes it is best to use social media for making political points and having theological debates.
At least that way, you’ve got a reasonable idea who can see what you write, it’s not automatically, instantly everywhere at once like an open blog, free to gallop around the internet looking for people to be friends with, like some sort of demented puppy with verbal diarrhea.

Take the situation in Israel and Palestine for instance, I’ve had a few good tempered discussions on the current conflict there in recent days, mainly on Facebook and mainly with people who side with the…

Oh no.
I’m not even going to try to tackle that one.
I mean, where would I start?
Two thousand years ago?

So for a lot of reasons I carefully tiptoe around some of the dangling trunks, every so often risking a gentle prod from an irritated tusk, but trying to avoid getting trampled underfoot altogether.
Because if using my own little corner of the blogosphere to poke the elephant every now and then helps to point out the differences between us, it’s only a way of understanding what makes the world tick the way it does.

Sometimes pushing people’s buttons until they react is the only way to learn a new point of view.

And (extremely tenuous link ahoy) speaking of pushing buttons, in an update to a recent post I am very happy to announce that my friend Lisa has finally bowed to the weight of public opinion and started a blog of her very own.
So you should push the relevant buttons on your electronic device of choice and head on over to read her inaugural post on Notes Dropped In A Well.

Coming up…
Another award and a spot of animation.
Stay tuned.

 

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A warning from the present…

After my assertion that I would try to provide you with an antidote to all the dreadfullness on the internet in my last post, I have tried my best to avoid the sleazy, the odious and the downright awful that the web seems intent on forcing us to experience whenever we are drawn to that glowing hypnotic square.
But human nature being what it is, we can’t help being drawn to the sort of story that causes that little vein in our collective temple to start throbbing and the communal jaw muscles to clench involuntarily, because awful though some of it is, looking away sometimes just isn’t the right thing to do.
I have always believed that anyone ignorant of the Nazi holocaust should seek out those appalling stories and even more atrocious, harrowing pictures, however upsetting they may be, because they truly are a “warning from history”. In the same way that I don’t think anyone living through our current period of religious and cultural upheaval should shy away from confronting the horrors of what we as a race are capable of perpetrating on each other.

The dreadful things people are capable of never ceases to astound me and for that reason I feel the need to relate some reports that have come to my attention this week.
You may not think that you need more horror in your lives, what with the economic and weather related news stories that fill the TV schedules of late, but if we don’t stand witness to the folly of our times how will we ever learn to restrain ourselves from making the same mistakes again and again.

At the start of the week we were told of a British jihadist who allegedly committed a suicide attack in Syria by driving a truckload of explosives into a prison compound, a story shocking enough in itself, yet we seem so inured to the terror of war that it passes almost unnoticed across our screens, just another episode in the continuing horror story of our rolling news-fixated existence.
But surely nobody can ignore the utter awfulness of the story so eloquently related by Adam Pain on his blog today.
It may not be current (the report is from 2002) but the genuine shock I felt when I read the story this afternoon quite literally left me speechless.
15 innocent schoolgirls, forced back into a burning building by the so-called “religious police” in Saudi Arabia for failing to adhere to an archaic dress code, murdered by the state for failing to cover their hair and faces in their desperation to escape the fire.
I cannot begin to imagine the terror and betrayal they must have felt as they faced the stony faces of their executioners, the justification for their senseless deaths nothing more than something called “religion”.

Religion may bring peace and succor to those who practice it, but there is no excuse for using it as a stick to beat an entire generation or society into submission.

In yet another example of the savagery that lives beneath the surface of faith, another man in the war torn country of Syria made a choice that few of us will ever have to make.
When faced with the terrible choice of whether to surrender his family to the brutal rape and murder threatened by marauding terrorists in his home town of Adra, Nizar chose instead to detonate grenades, killing not only the invaders but also his family.
The thought of being forced to make this kind of horrendous choice fills me with a kind of rage at the human race in general that we should never have to feel.

When I first thought of writing this post, I had planned on using a report of a bungled lesson in suicide bombing carried out at a fundamentalist training camp near Baghdad, in which a teacher somehow managed to accidentally blow up himself and his whole class.
Initially I thought I could use it as a flippant aside to why aliens, after scanning our transmissions, decided we were too stupid to bother visiting because we couldn’t even manage to kill each other properly, let alone be much of a threat to visiting ambassadors from another world.
However, having rediscovered our propensity for horror and violence in the service of hate and intolerance, it seems insensitive.
After all, no matter how misguided the students at the world’s worst school for scoundrels were, they were all someone’s sons, someone’s daughters, someone’s parents, and we should try and remember that it’s the world that made them this way.
It’s everyone’s duty to make sure the next generation don’t have a reason to continue the cycle of violence.

 
17 Comments

Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Blogging, News, Social comment

 

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Faith, dope, and hilarity…

This week I watched this wonderful interview, the last given by the late, great Scot, Iain Banks talking to the not late but just as Scottish Kirsty Wark, in which he refers to himself as “an evangelical atheist”.

Now, I have touched on my complete lack of any religious faith before, but I have made a point of steering clear of theological discussions as I find that I tend to antagonise people who do have faith.

This isn’t always intentional I might add.

Much as I applaud Iain Banks’ stand on behalf of sanity atheism, and his desire to knock on people’s doors and ask if they’ve heard the good word facts, I always find that this sort of approach is counterproductive.

Because the argument from some believers is that if you’re going to go around promoting atheism (instead of quietly sitting there not believing to yourself, presumably) then you’re probably over-compensating for your fervent religious beliefs as some sort of panacea to your inner heathen.

Although obviously that is an outrageous argument to use in defence of atheism.

For instance, I could say that people go to church on Sunday to loudly and publicly declare their faith in God by praying and singing hymns in order to supress their utter denial of His existence.
Simply to blot out the gigantic screaming void left in their psyche by the sheer gibbering terror brought on by the thought that maybe, to put it simply, Shit Just Happens.

But I wouldn’t say that because I recognise that those people actually believe this stuff.
So why is it that so many of the faithful have such trouble getting to grips with atheism’s insistence on relying on things that we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell for our view of the world?

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One thing that I didn’t agree with Iain Banks on was that it was a good idea to have “just that half a percent of agnosticism” to account for the infinitesimally small chance that you might be wrong.
To me that seems like defeating the point of atheism. It’s pretty much an all or nothing deal as far as I’m concerned.

However, that particular point does give me an excuse to crowbar in this classic sketch from pre-Bean Rowan Atkinson.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hell…

The other thing about the freedom of religion/atheism divide that irks me is the apparent right of all sorts of beaming, glassy-eyed devotees of any number of faiths/cults to knock on my door while I’m eating my dinner and ask me if I’ve heard The Word (you can hear the capitals) and if not, have I got just a few minutes to spare so they can enlighten me.

In most cases what they’re basically saying boils down to; “We think your way of life is wrong and we’d like to educate you as to how you can live a better, less morally bankrupt existence. All you have to do is follow all these rules.”

Which is fine as far as it goes. Free country and all that.

But I think that it would only be fair to allow people such as myself the right to go round to my local Jehovah’s Witness’ house and ask him if it was ok for me put my feet up in his living room, roll a spliff, crack open a can of cider and watch Life of Brian on his telly, whilst discussing the relative merits of the latest Trent Reznor and OMD albums, as his life was sadly lacking in exposure to popular culture.

(And while we’re on the subject, how come the moral outrage frequently displayed towards enthusiasts of the occasional “jazz cigarette” isn’t swayed by the obvious argument of;
“If you believe God made everything, how can something this natural be wrong?”
In response to this, I was once told, by an especially self righteous example of this type of knee-jerk faux-Christian;
“Ah, but did not God make the apple too?”
“Oh I’m sorry, are we not allowed to eat apples now either then?” I enquired.
He suddenly looked confused, and then remembered he had somewhere else he urgently needed to be.)

We used to get bombarded by unwelcome visitors when we first moved here, but since then I think the word (no capitals) has gone out that we’re a lost cause.

I once answered the door to a couple of matching blond male godbots, wearing identical black trenchcoats, identical blinding white maniacal grins, and carrying matching black leather briefcases.
My original fear – that they were a pair of android hitmen, sent from the future to whack me for as-yet-uncommitted crimes against morality – were unfounded though, as they identified themselves as disciples of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

Ah, Mormons. Ok.

Me – I’m not interested thanks, I’m an atheist.
Godbot 1 – But you believe in the afterlife don’t you?
Me – No, I’m an atheist.
Godbot 2 – Ah, but you’d like to belive in it wouldn’t you?
Me (patiently) – No, as I said, I’m an atheist.
Godbot 1 (wide eyed) – My, you really are an atheist aren’t you?
Godbot 2 (hurriedly) – Sorry to have bothered you, goodbye.

You’d have thought I’d grown horns, right there in front of him.

It may be worth pointing out that Elaine was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness (she left the minute she was able to and has had no connection with them since she was 18) and is not their biggest fan either.

One morning two Jehovah’s Witness droids turned up on the doorstep just as Elaine had popped out for a couple of minutes.
Thinking she wouldn’t be best pleased if she came back and found them there, I was getting rid of them when she came up the drive and, recognising them for what they so obviously were, invited them in for a chat.

You should have seen the looks of  amazement the pair of them exchanged as they crossed the threshold (a fairly unique experience for them I suspect) and were shown into the living room.

They soon got their confidence back when they went into their spiel however, but that faltered somewhat as Elaine began picking them up on points of their own dogma, which was when they probably realised they’d made a mistake taking us up on our invitation.

That’s when I started asking them about dinosaurs.
People who take every word of the Bible absolutely literally (or like the JWs, rewrite their own version) really, really hate it when you ask them how they explain dinosaurs. And these two weren’t any exception,  getting very agitated in having their sermon being hijacked by a couple of smartass heathens.

We managed to keep them captive (by now surreptitiously glancing at their watches) for nearly an hour before one of them finally surrendered and said they had to meet the rest of the swarm, or whatever the collective noun is for pedestrian evangelists, thanked us (through gritted teeth if I’m not mistaken) for an interesting debate, and scarpered.

Now when the briefcase-toting army descend upon our neighbourhood, they always consult a little black notebook whilst standing at the bottom of our drive, look up at the house as if to check for evil auras or sulphurous fumes rising from the chimney, and then move on while averting their eyes.

To conclude this unplanned diatribe, another couple of clips of comedy meeting religion head on, and winning.

First some more Monty Python..

…and finally, from the mind of the great Douglas Adams.

As Dave Allen always used to say,
“Goodnight, and may your god go with you”

 

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Don’t panic…

Those of you who are regular readers will know that my lack of theme practically is my theme, and as for having an agenda of any kind, well, it’s hard enough getting inspiration for posts without trying to indoctrinate my followers into the bargain.

But one thing I have tried to do is keep the tone relatively light.
After all, I wouldn’t want to read the blog of someone who just went on about all the terrible things that go on in the world every day, so why would you?

However, given this week’s tragic and appalling events in Woolwich, I find it difficult not to comment on the sort of people that live in our society, often indistinguishable from ordinary citizens, blighting the nation with their presence.

Almost from the moment the terrible events began to unfold in the media yesterday afternoon, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have been bombarded with posts, both from individuals and official organisations, which are so blatantly untrue and/or racist that it seems as though half the country has joined the BNP overnight.

Indeed, the odious EDL (English Defence League)  promised a show of force in the area almost immediately details of the murder came out, allegedly to protect the community from the threat from the enemy within or some such bollocks, but in practice to get pissed and fight with the police.
And overnight their Facebook page alone had increased it’s subscription from 25,000 to 75,000.

This sort of instant fascism rears it’s head every time there’s a terrorist attack involving anyone of even mildly foreign extraction, and yet the same upstanding folks conveniently forget the fact that people like norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik and Timothy Mcvey, the Oklahoma City bomber were both white Christians, and initial reports seem to indicate that the two men who carried out the horrific attack in Woolwich were in fact born in England and spoke with strong London accents.

But that doesn’t seem to matter any more. Now it’s enough for people to have the same colour skin, or to worship the same God as a high profile extremist or terrorist, for them to be tarred with the same brush.

A friend told me today that he’d blocked fifteen to twenty people from his Facebook profile due to the offensively bigoted comments appearing on his newsfeed, and I have seen many posts that border on inciting racial hatred.

Fortunately we also have the wonderful EDL (English Disco Lovers) who, along with Unite Against Fascism, have been posting requests for calm and unity in the face of this kind of rabble-rousing, and I just hope that the ignorance that I’ve encountered so far online isn’t as prevalent in the wider world because at times like these more than ever it’s important for us all to stand together against those who would divide us.

Keep the Faith.
Stop the Hate.

That is all.

 
15 Comments

Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Blogging, social networking

 

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What came first, Easter or the Egg…?

Being an atheist, I don’t celebrate Easter.

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This doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the root of such things, in much the same way as words and their meanings fascinate me, and I find it especially interesting when a biblical story is closely linked with something that came from a entirely different culture, and a totally different period in history, it always amuses me when religion can’t get it’s story straight.

And what about the Easter bunny?
And Easter eggs?
Where does all that come in?

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                  “Who, me?”

I don’t remember (and correct me if I’m wrong) a flock of Disney-style bunnies helping to roll away a stone shaped like a giant hot cross bun, to revive the sacred star of the show with a nice soft boiled egg and some soldiers.

So imagine my delight when I was confronted by one of those generic, captioned pictures on Facebook, claiming that Easter was in fact based on the similarly pronounced Ishtar.

This was more like it.
A festival centred on the cult of a demented courtesan – a sort of church-appointed prostitute – whose status as Sumerian goddess of fertility, sex, love, and war would have made for a much wilder Easter Sunday gathering.
The symbology of the rabbit and egg makes perfect sense, given her responsibility for rebirth and fertility, and the rabbit’s reputation for being at it like, well, rabbits all the time.

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Ishtar – Didn’t get the memo about the Easter party dress code.

Appearing to lend even more credibility to the connection is the fact that one of the targets for Ishtar’s affections was, according to ancient texts, legendary Mesopotamian superhero Gilgamesh, whose mythology runs in parallel to many of the biblical stories, including Noah’s flood.

(Interestingly, eighteen centuries before Christ, Gilgamesh was a contemporary of Enkidu –  the “Mesopotamian Adam”, created by their top god, Anu, from clay.)

But even he found Ishtar too high maintenance, rejecting the advances of the ancient world’s champion bunny-boiler, saying;

“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth, for him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured Lilac-breasted Roller , but still you struck and broke his wing […] You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven. You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed the whip and spur and a thong […] You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks.

Fair enough, I would steer clear of her too.

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Gilgamesh – “Leave it mate, she’s not worth it”

She wasn’t happy with this, stomping back to her dad, chief godfella, Anu, and demanding he give her the Bull of Heaven or else she’d open the gates of hell to turn the kingdom into a scene from The Walking Dead.
For the sake if a quiet life, he gave in, only for her to set the bull on Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who promptly killed it.

A woman scorned, never gonna end well.

But sadly, I had to put my Easter orgy on hold as, with the very minimum of research, I discovered that none of these connections were in fact, factual.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is real enough, and you can read it here should you so wish, and Ishtar’s part in that story isn’t in question.
It’s the connection to Easter that is nonsense.
The only non-Christian root of Easter, in English anyway, is the 8th century Saxon pagan goddess, Éostre, whose name in translation means April in old high-German.
And that’s only according to proto-journo, St (the Venerable) Bede.

             

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                      Éostre
Oi! Remember me? No? Anyone?

Nobody else seems to have noticed this quirk of language, and by the time even Bede wrote about it, the tradition of the Éostre festival had died out, replaced by the now familiar Christian resurrection myth.

All of which is a bit of a disappointment, as it would have made an interesting, informative, and educational blog post.

Oh well, never mind. I’ll think of something else to write about…

 
8 Comments

Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Blogging, Etymology

 

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