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Samuel F B Morse has a posse
elections, music, exotic religion... and amateur radio
10th-Jan-2013 04:19 pm - The politics of The Karate Kid...
morse key, straight key
Karate KidThe Karate Kid is an evil pinko Hollywood propaganda film (and I mean that in a good way). Daniel, son of a Noo Joisey single-mum transplanted to blue-collar Reseda, falls in love with a rich girl whose family sneers at him and is beaten up by rich kids from the ultra-expensive - and ultra-EVIL - Cobra Kai gym, run on fascist lines and glorifying pain and cheating. Unable to afford tuition, thanks to the economic oppression of his Mom, he insteads works for free tuition at the hands of the secret karate master ethnic minority gentleman next door, whose wife and child died as a direct result of the US government's racist policies.

The "self-help/hard work/working for exploitative wages and being grateful for it" montage made the whole thing seem unthreatening to white
suburban Dads. But in the end, rich capitalists, who glorify in the oppression of the working man, who only achieve more because of the vast sums invested in their education and who cheat to win, are identified with EVIL: pain, cruelty, pettiness and fascism. Daniel is goodness personified, a poor boy with his non-White equally poor best friend. Together they crush the forces of fascism and revanchism, because despite their willingness to cheat and huge social advantages, Daniel is not only more moral but also better at karate.

bonsai tree bits show Miyagi's culture is beautiful, ancient, wise and in every respect equally to be treasured as ours. Although it has an unfortunate tendency to kill innocent people in internment and forced labour camps with particular cruelty, the fact that Miyagi's wife and infant daughter died in a US government internment camps demonstrates "We have all been hurt. We have all inflicted wounds." As I said, pure pinko propaganda.

While the Crane Kick scene was rather good. But the film was lame - even had a massively clichéd "one good Nazi who ultimately saw throught it all" scene. And still vastly better than the truly lamentable Karate Kid 2.
morse key, straight key

A few hours to kill at home before I go down to St. George’s to make sure the heating has come on at its appointed time for Midnight Mass. Some thoughts waft into my mind from a long distant RE class, probably from the latter years of my (fairly unhappy) Primary School education, I would think from Mr. McGinnity in P6 or P7. I would have been about 10 years old. Somehow it seems of particular relevance tonight.

The shepherds, we were told, were not an obvious choice to be among the first people to see God made man. The shepherds let a tough life, isolated in their highland pastures, far from synagogues, often unable to keep holy days and rarely able, given the marginal nature of their existence, to be ritually pure. I am not sure how true that is. I know nothing of the sociology of Palestine in the era of Christ.

But the story has a consonance with the totality of the Gospels. It is often the outcast who is given the gift of seeing Christ face to face. While the shepherds may or may not have been considered good Jews, the Wise Kings of the East could scarcely have been monotheists of any sort. Mary and Joseph, fresh from their hasty shotgun wedding, were scarcely better representatives of orthodox religious respectability.

The beginning of Christ’s life on Earth prefigures its culmination, when the thief and the foreign soldier recognise the divine that the holy men choose to destroy, and the women, so often dismissed as unreliable, are called to be the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

O come let us adore Him. It is this vulnerable infant we are called to adore, a hick from the sticks born in a barn a long way from home, his family soon to be on the run from a minor Roman satrap so crazed and terrified for his position that mass infanticide seemed a reasonable option. It is a fitting beginning for an itinerant preacher from a backwoods town destined for an early and excruciating death.

God incarnates himself not in power but in vulnerability, not as the son of an Emperor destined to rule but the bastard son of a carpenter from the middle of nowhere. Again, the beginning of Christ’s life prefigures its culmination. Just as God rejected power in His entry into this world, so He rejects it again as He departs it, dismissing the potential for revolution on Palm Sunday and instead choosing the path towards the Cross.

And yet the Churches seem so obsessed with power, the Church of Ireland of my adoption as much as the Irish Catholicism of my baptism. The fear of a secularised society among the hierarchs of both institutions is tangible, a nostalgia for the certainties of a Christendom that collapsed in the space of a generation clouding impartial judgement of the transparent flaws of Irish Christianity, Catholic and Protestant alike, in its mid-20th Century pomp. I do not miss the directives from the pulpits, the chained swings, the homes for fallen women, the visceral sexism, homophobia, and snobbishness, and the unashamed tribalism seen most clearly in the casualness with which worship of flags and nationality was allowed to displace worship of almighty God.

As CF Alexander wrote on the morning of the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, “in the time of plenty, little fruit we bore Thee.” Why do we pine for it so much? Do we really think an Ireland with gay marriage is a less Christian country than an Ireland of Magdalene laundries, institutionalised child abuse or the Penal Laws? Do we really wonder why people reject our claims?

We are not called to worship the Church on Christmas Eve, but the Christ-child in his manger. The Church is not a set of people bound by common rules determined by men in purple clothes, but the community of those who fall before the manger and adore the King of the Universe, who loves us so much that he became one of us and died to save us.

I have never been so estranged from the institutional Church and yet I have never been so convinced of the truth of the Christian faith. Perhaps that is not a bad position from which to go to meet the Christ-child tonight.

28th-Nov-2012 07:23 pm - A UKIP breakthrough in 2015?
British politics, Britain
Crossposted at Slugger O'Toole...

UKIP has been consistently polling in the high single digits and low double digits across Great Britain for well over a year now. This is the most significant and sustained burst of polling for a fourth party in Britain since at least the Greens’ post-Euro election surge in 1989. Arguably, the UKIP surge is more significant than that, as it has not depended on the positive publicity generated by an unexpected breakthrough in an off year election fuelled by protest votes, but has simply emerged from nowhere, driven doubtless partly by ex-Tories disillusioned with the party’s record in government, and partly by the crisis in the Eurozone. Its support is also remarkably consistent from month to month, as opposed to the ‘sine curve’ of sudden emergence and equally sudden collapse more common to ephemeral minor parties in the UK and internationally.

The context of the unexpected 15% Green Party vote in the 1989 European Elections is also instructive. An unpopular Tory government faced a Labour Party beset by internal personality conflicts and led by a man with mediocre popularity ratings hounded by the right-wing press. The LibDems were in the midst of their immediate post-merger turmoil and, just like today, were not in a position to be the recipient of protest votes.

By the 1992 General Election, of course, all three major parties had gotten their act together to some extent and the Greens sank without trace. When they did eventually return their first MP in 2010, it was a result of the entire resources of the party being put behind tenacious local activism in a single seat, rather than a national breakthrough.

Despite the consistently high votes they now attract at Euro elections, UKIP have yet to come even close to winning a parliamentary seat. Their vote has hitherto disappeared like frost on a sunny morning come general election time, and unlike the Greens and the LibDems, UKIP’s local government base is virtually non-existent. The party simply didn’t operate a targeting strategy in any general election before 2010, when it decided to throw its resources behind a quixotic attempt to upend Speaker John Bercow in Buckingham, a constituency with no UKIP track record and without especially favourable demographics for it.

This encapsulates one of UKIP’s problems – it has yet to grasp that the electorate does not care all that much about many of the things that UKIP cares about. While Bercow may be seen as the spawn of Satan among highly politically aware voters on the radical right, he’s hardly a household name, is reasonably liked by his own constituents and in any case, with no Labour or LibDem candidate standing against the speaker, was always going to receive the votes of the large liberal-left minority interest which exists in any parliamentary constituency.

UKIP equally has yet to grasp that it may better advised to shut up about the EU for a while (people know they’re against it), to focus on issues like immigration and law-and-order, regarded as being of much more importance by the electorate. Presenting an economically right-wing alternative that isn’t in thrall to the City of London might also prove surprisingly popular.

I think this is the make or break moment for the UKIP project. UKIP came second in the 2009 Euros, and although they trailed the Tories by 28% to 17%, this was at a point when the Tories were riding high in the polls and UKIP were, until the surge of coverage they always get immediately before a European election, barely registering. In a low turnout election that most people don’t care about to an explicitly European body, it is not impossible that UKIP could actually be the largest party.

Could they then ride a post-Euro election surge to a breakthrough in the House of Commons? Possibly – the British electorate, like those in just about every Western country besides the USA, is becoming increasingly disaffected and consequently disloyal. But it’s a big ask.

UKIP does not seem to have much of a clue about how a minor party builds up to winning parliamentary seats and it seems unlikely that they will get one in the time they have left. Especially as the few defectors they attract with serious election organisation skills come from the Tories, where campaigns are heavily nationalised and most effective when they are, rather than the LibDems whose hyper-localised campaigning style is more suited to insurgent minor parties. The Greens copied the LibDem playbook successfully in Brighton and almost in Norwich in 2010, and the BNP also frankly plagiarised LibDem campaigning material before being undone by its transparent fragility as a political party. UKIP just doesn’t seem to get it.

It’s hard to think of anywhere where UKIP has a local government base or a significant month-in-month-out ground operation. Nigel Farage has stalked around the South Country at election after election, from Salisbury to Bexhill to Ramsgate to Buckingham, without ever leaving an infrastructure behind him.

UKIP’s ideological model ought to be the Canadian Reform Party of the 1980s, which broke through by winning over those who felt culturally repelled from Mulroney’s pro-Quebec, socially liberal, Tories. The problem for UKIP is there is no Alberta, no great reservoir of culturally conservative, anti-centralist, tendency even in their best regions of the UK.

It’s not hard to identify the constituencies that might prove most amenable to a UKIP breakthrough, though – pockets of Southern England which are almost entirely white, with high elderly populations, relatively poor national transport links which prevent them being sucked into London’s ever expanding exurbia, and relatively low levels of either public sector employment or non-age related benefit dependence. They are particularly thick on the ground along the south and east coasts, where there are even places where it’s relatively common to see Union Flags on flagpoles in gardens these days – the Isle of Wight and the Sussex coast in particular.

A LibDem collapse in the South West might open up space for UKIP to break through there, although I’m not sure that they aren’t perceived as being too economically right-wing for the LibDems’ working-class core vote in the West Country, despite the big Euro election vote they get in the region.

In any case, all this depends on some hyper-active UKIP member or small group of members getting the personnel and money together make this happen, and having the time and stamina to sustain relentless activity, week after week, for two and a half years. I’m just not aware of anyone who fits the bill.

You Gov's Peter Kellner notes the nightmare scenario for the Tories is a sort of 1983-in-reverse where UKIP does well enough to cost the Tories dozens of seats while not actually winning any MPs itself. Such an outcome would have been rendered impossible had the AV referendum gone through. It would be deliciously ironic if a UKIP surge, mediated through the First Past the Post electoral system, wrecked Tory chances in 2015. But there is far too much water yet to flow under the bridge to predictions about what might happen in 2015 with any confidence.
7th-Nov-2012 11:20 pm - First Thoughts on Justin Welby
morse key, straight key
Welby is potentially an interesting choice, and that's why I'm giving him a chance. He offers things to both the left and the right. Pure enough ideologically to satisfy conservatives, he comes with the potential to be a radical and credible critic of the West's worship of Mammon, and that is something beyond price. The fact that he is an obvious pillar of the Evangelical establishment - Eton (and it is a very good school which produces a radical side as well as a Bullingdon side), Oxbridge, blue-chip London post, HTB, Cranmer Hall, St. John's Durham - makes him all the more valuable as a potential dissenter within the Establishment.

But he's on the wrong side of a paradigm shift on the gay stuff. I don't find the divide on gay marriage to be a gay-straight thing at all. A lot of older gays are very conservative on the issue, often because they grew up in a horrid environment and are just grateful that they aren't criminals anymore. And a lot of younger straights are more radical than I am. And when I say to them, I'm not making too much of a fuss over this, they say, nope, you shouldn't have to put up with this and nor should anyone else. And the upper middle-classes needn't think this is just a chattering classes concern. I live on a council estate, a poor one, and a lot of working-class straight people, especially young women, are very exercised about this. It's just not on that people can't get married because they're a woman in love with another woman.

I'm sorry, but Mr. Welby is not going to stand in judgement over us, saying we're sinners because of who we love and that our marriages aren't real marriages and expect not to get comeback. Sorry, dude, but I'm not going to pretend I live in a 1930s drawing room, with all the potential for sin that creates, to satisfy a bunch of straight people.

All the same, Welby is not a choice to be dismissed. He comes with real strengths.
Nobody's perfect.
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Crossposted at Slugger O'Toole...

McCain v Obama 2008 polling and Romney v Obama 2011-2 polling.

We are approaching the final three months of the US Presidential race. Despite the hundreds of millions spent on advertising already, the polls have barely moved all year and show most Americans firmly in one camp or the other already, a nation ideologically polarised in a way it has not been for generations.

In the Spring and Summer of 2008, Obama consistently polled in the 46-48% range against McCain. He led consistently but narrowly, and was unable to get to the magic 50% mark. The differences between national polling in 2008 and 2012 are minimal. While Obama just can’t break 50%, Romney hasn’t led in the much-watched Real Clear Politics polling average since the autumn of last year.

The incumbent’s job approval rating is probably the most studied polling number in US Presidential re-election campaigns. Gallup has been tracking Presidential job approval since 1937 (!) so there is plenty of historical data to sink one’s teeth into. An approval above 50% is held to more-or-less guarantee re-election, while Presidents’ re-election campaigns start to get into deep trouble as their approval drops into the mid 40s.

According to Gallup, in the year of Bush’s re-election campaign, his approval ratings the very high 40s and low 50s (his slide into the mire came during his second term). Obama has spent pretty much all of 2012 trading in a narrow range of 45-50% approval. Bush Jnr. won re-election narrowly enough, with a margin of barely 2% in Ohio making the crucial difference, so Obama, with slightly lower approval than Bush in 2004, is clearly in the danger zone.

For comparison, by the summer of 1980, Carter’s job approval according to Gallup was consistently in the 30s, as was George Bush Snr.’s in the summer of 1992. Gallup didn’t poll job approval for Gerald Ford after May 1976, but in the Spring, his approval ratings were in the high 40s, almost exactly mirroring Obama’s. Although Ford wasn’t re-elected, he lost Wisconsin by less than 2% and, you’ve guessed it, Ohio by a wafer thin 0.27%, and a reversal of both results would have seen him re-elected.

Obama’s approval rating puts him in the danger zone, but far from in the death zone. Perhaps the most reassuring factor from his point of view is that he is consistently polling better in the key swing states that will decide the election than he is across the country, a subject I will return to in a future article.

If it’s advantage Obama so far – albeit a narrow one – what might change things in Romney’s favour?

Looking back at 2008 campaign, there were three clear surges in the polls. Obama and McCain both had their respective convention bounces. It is difficult to remember that for a week or so, Sarah Palin helped McCain’s support surge before retreating just as quickly. Finally, through September and October, Obama’s poll ratings slowly, but steadily and relentlessly, climbed as he cruised to a comfortable win on the back of his dominance both of the airwaves and the ground campaign.

Will that happen this time? Obama had an enormous warchest in 2008, able to fund even an enormously expensive half-hour prime time documentary advertising spot. With Romney outraising Obama considerably and a 2010 Supreme Court decision effectively removing all restraint on third party spending on advertising in US political campaigns, Obama will almost certainly fight the final three months of this campaign at a significant disadvantage on the airwaves.

Obama has had one huge advantage over the Summer. Despite his huge warchest, the Romney campaign is pretty much unable to spend money until the Republican National Convention is over and the Primary Election campaign is formally over. American campaign finance laws say that money raised for a Presidential Primary campaign can only be spent during the period of the Primary. After the long and expensive Republican Primary campaign, Romney’s Primary campaign account is pretty much empty, and what is left needs to spent on salaries and field offices.

With Romney TV advertising presence minimal, Obama has poured money into advertising in swing states over the Summer, and much of it has been pretty brutal, seeking to define Romney as a tax-dodging plutocrat who made his millions from shipping American jobs to China. Swing state polls indicate this might be making a difference. Not only is Obama polling better where it matters, but Romney’s negatives are much higher in those places too.

In September, however, Romney will be able to blitz the airwaves. With third-party sympathisers already spending hundreds of millions attacking Obama, it’s hard to see a negative ad war from Romney himself doing much to change people’s opinions of a sitting President they already know a lot about. With Romney’s personal popularity ratings in the toilet, a smart Romney campaign will leave the Obama-bashing to outsiders and focus on building up their own candidate. Romney is, as we saw in London, an awful campaigner on the stump, however, and it may not work. But it seems to be one of the few paths available for Team Romney to break the election open.

As I noted above, the party conventions do move the polls, albeit usually briefly. Probably the only way to make the convention bounce last for Romney is to pick a Vice Presidential nominee who adds to the ticket. To me Chris Christie, the popular governor of New Jersey, is the candidate most likely to turn things round for Romney. With proven experience in governing and proven appeal to moderate swing voters, he adds a lot. If nothing else, he puts New Jersey and its 14 electoral votes in play and probably turns around a Romney campaign in neighbouring Pennsylvania which currently seems doomed.

The scuttlebutt is that Romney is wary of being eclipsed by Christie, as McCain was overshadowed by Palin in 2008, and is unlikely to take that option. That would be a major mistake in my view, but in that event perhaps the only other VP nominee with the potential to be a campaign changer is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He is an effective campaigner with a bullet-proof CV and a compelling personal story, but will his deep economic conservatism play with working-class whites in the Midwest? All the other names in the frame strike me as Just Another White Dude and unlikely to make much difference either way.

The final factor which might be crucial in the final months is the campaigns’ ground operations. Obama has a huge network of field offices in place in swing states to organise door-to-door canvassing and get out the vote operations – 60 in Florida alone. He has also ramped up the already impressive level of technological sophistication and organisation his ground war team displayed in 2008. Many, including me, had assumed that he would not be able to recruit anything like the number of grassroots canvassers he had in 2008, but interestingly he is raising more money from small donors this time than he did last time. This is an area where Obama will have an advantage, but just how much remains to be seen.

Finally, there are the Presidential debates. While this is hardly an area where Romney naturally excels, he will be prepped by some of the best in the business and it has been a long time since a Presidential debate proved decisive in America. A desperate Obama, trailing a long way behind, may have felt compelled to use his undoubted debating skills to go for the jugular, but real life is not the West Wing, and Obama with a wafer-thin lead is unlikely to take major risks.

When all is said and done, if some major event external to the campaign doesn’t happen, the most likely scenario at this point seems to be that Obama grinds his way to re-election after a less than edifying campaign. With the economy in a mess, in the US and globally, and the Middle East a tinderbox, the capacity for ‘major events’ to happen is clearly large. Few of the possible major events are positive for Obama, who must now hope the campaign remains mired in trench warfare.
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Fascinating article by the excellent Larry Sabato on politico.com - although 40% or so of American voters define themselves as independents, only about 10% of them actually are. The rest lean clearly to one or other of the big parties, but are shy about it. Despite the rise in self-declared independents, American politics has become plainly more polarised, and he goes on to argue this implies a very tight re-election race for Barack Obama.
20th-Jul-2012 11:01 am - Iran And The Bomb
world politics, realpolitik, international relations
Crossposted at Slugger O'Toole...

The current edition of Foreign Affairs magazine contains a leading article by Professor Kenneth N Waltz provocatively entitled Why Iran Should Get The Bomb (it is worth taking a few minutes to read this short but cogent article).

The crux of Waltz’ argument is that power begs to be balanced. Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly especially coupled with American support, he argues, created a regional imbalance of power which is the primary driver of instability in the Middle East. A nuclear balance of terror in the region should, in his view, encourage actors in the region to behave more responsibly, as it has in the Subcontinent since India and Pakistan became formal nuclear powers. Since nuclear weapons came on the scene, no two nuclear powers have ever gone to war against one another. Iran’s theocratic leaders may be unpleasantly authoritarian and ideologically expansionist, but they are not mad. The consequences of an Iranian nuclear strike – massive retaliation by Israel and possibly the United States – are as clear to the Ayatollahs as they are to anyone else. Nor is passing on nuclear weapons to terrorist groups or other states likely to appeal to decision makers in Tehran, any more than it did to Mao’s unpleasantly authoritarian and ideologically expansionist régime in the 1960s.

To me, however, the more pertinent question is not whether Iran should be stopped from developing The Bomb, but whether it can be. North Korea has managed to become a nuclear power despite its crushing poverty, isolation, primitive economy and clear technical failings in its nuclear weapons programme. Iran, which maintains friendly relations with Russia and China is, at present, awash with oil money and has an education system capable of training as many nuclear scientists as it needs.

Western conservatives seem to work from the standpoint that Iran’s nuclear programme can be derailed at relatively little cost to Israel and still less cost to the West. Memories of Israel’s successful surgical strike on Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981, and more recent obliteration of what was almost certainly an undeclared Syrian reactor construction programme, fuel the idea that Iran can be forced to abandon its dream of becoming a nuclear power through air-strikes alone. However, Iran’s nuclear programme has been developed with the risk of an Israeli or American strike, whether by planes or missiles, uppermost in the minds of its planners. Facilities are, as far as is possible, in hardened underground sites. Any air strike which failed would likely only encourage Tehran to increase the tempo towards weaponisation, while leaving the US to deal with diplomatic and probably military fallout, a subject I will return to below.

Israel has instead pursued a high-risk strategy of assassinating key Iranian nuclear scientists, four of whom have now been killed in attacks while travelling to work, using locally recruited agents. The Stuxnet computer virus, aimed at the enrichment plant at Natanz, represented a joint American-Israeli attempt to disrupt the Iranian nuclear programme by non-conventional means. However, its success in introducing significant delays to the programme simply underlines how difficult it would be to destroy it entirely.

Iran’s nuclear programme has significant support outside the Islamic world. Moscow and Tehran have established a joint venture to complete and operate Iran’s long delayed civil nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Russia seems to see little threat in, at the least, an Iranian civil nuclear programme. Russia has nuclear weapons, a lot of them, and is a Security Council veto power. Its consequent diplomatic clout has been on display for all to see in Syria. It tends to see its interests in the region in narrow economic terms – for example, support for Syria has not prevented some enormous sales of military technology between Israel and Russia, in both directions, in recent years. As a major energy exporter, Russia’s economic interests in the Middle East are often far from being in consonance with Western ones.

Even without Russian support, Iran can take a number of steps to retaliate against any American-Israeli attack on its territory. It has already rattled sabres about closing the Straits of Hormuz, and while so far that has looked like an empty threat, it remains a go-to option in dire circumstances.

That could risk antagonising the Chinese, vastly more dependent on Middle East oil than the Americans and whose economy currently looks vulnerable. There are steps it can take which are more directly targeted at specifically American interests, however. Iran has long sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks by proxies against its enemies, and as we saw in Bulgaria this week, it continues to do so. However, attacks on that small scale are likely to be seen in both Washington and Jerusalem as an acceptable price if they are the consequence of preventing a nuclear Iran. On its own doorstep, however, Iran has the capacity to undermine American interests in the region on a much bigger scale.

Iran’s influence in Iraq is already enormous and, while it has avoided antagonising America too directly since the occupation, if it wanted to it could. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is close to Tehran and some of the parties in his governing coalition are intimately connected to Iran’s most powerful politico-religious figures. Afghanistan, nestling on Iran’s eastern border, plays host to around 90,000 US troops and relations between Tehran and the Taliban have warmed considerably in recent years. And on the other side of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia’s predominantly Shi’a Eastern Province, home to the biggest chunk of its oil production, is perpetually unhappy with Riyadh, often for good reason. Bahrain also remains a powder keg, and of course nobody has the slightest clue how the situation in Syria will eventually pan out.

Stirring tensions in any of those countries represents a major escalation by Tehran, one that could provoke military conflict with Turkey or Saudi Arabia, a nightmare scenario for the entire region. However, hawks in Tehran may decide that as long as their nuclear programme is not derailed entirely, they can afford to wait. Once they have The Bomb, they will almost certainly be secure from any future attack, as North Korea has been.

That raises the prospects of a nuclear standoff between an American backed Israel and a Russian backed Iran. Is that necessarily a bad thing? It gives the world’s two largest nuclear powers all the incentive they need to push for a final settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, probably empowering America to seek more concessions from Israel in return for the maintenance of its nuclear umbrella and encouraging Russia to pour oil on troubled waters that might involve it in a situation well out of Moscow’s comfort zone.

The Middle East is about as far from the United States as it is possible to be, and projecting American power in the region is expensive and depends on what are, even in today’s globalised environment, fragile supply lines. Is it time for America to accept that its interests are now strategic rather than global? Asia's rise makes a mockery of American universal hegemony, as does America's own failure to project power into Iraq and Afghanistan.

Middle East oil mostly flows eastwards, fracking is driving US domestic gas production through the roof, and the oil sands in Alberta and Utah together with Brazil’s massive new offshore oilfield probably means America can meet its energy needs entirely from the Western Hemisphere for decades to come. For the more brutal realists that inhabit every US administration, it is probably easier to engineer coups in Venezuela than it is to keep the Middle East from exploding. How does America’s deep entanglement in the Middle East benefit it in concrete terms? Is it time to consider whether a policy of broad US disengagement from the Middle East best suits its interests?

In the short term, it would unleash howls of protest at home and it would take a brave politician indeed to raise the subject in an election year. In the medium term, it might prove popular with an American electorate weary of seemingly endless foreign wars.
world politics, realpolitik, international relations
Crossposted at Slugger O'Toole...

I bicycled along the harbour shore in Titanic Quarter today in an unseasonably cold breeze. As always, my eyes were drawn to the ships at dock on the other side of the harbour. These ugly brutes, these unsung workhorses of the maritime world, are the capillaries through which a huge proportion of international trade flows. Almost every manufactured good sold in Ireland comes off one of these ships into one port or another. I spotted the flag of the Marhsall Islands, by all accounts more a tropical hell than a paradise in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific, a bleak chain of atolls famous mainly for being a nuclear test site and beset by poverty and squalor, and wondered at it flying in the Port of Belfast. The Yasa Aysen is owned by a Turkish shipping company.

Shipping is the oldest truly transnational business. It was the St. Gabriel of globalisation, having operated at a truly global scale for at least four generations, powered at first by the telegraph cable, later replaced by shortwave radio, now replaced by communications satellites, and like everything else profoundly impacted by the internet.

We never see them in Belfast, but there are some enormous ships coming in and out of China these days; on the route to South America they run manufactured goods one way and soya the other. On the routes to Rotterdam and Long Beach they mostly run empty back to China. There is some demand but shipping costs are low because of the amount of empty space. The West mainly exports invisible goods to Asia. This looks to me like a dangerously one club strategy. There are exceptions – Germany remains a power exporter, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries also punch way above their weight. Even the US exports quite a bit of high-end manufacturing equipment to China. But neither the UK nor Ireland makes very much that people in Asia actually need. To me, this is a problem.  

Anyone with any doubts where the workshop of the world is in the early 21st Century should look at this chart on Wikipedia of the world’s busiest container ports. 6 out of the 8 busiest container ports and the world are Chinese. Chinese dominance is broken only by Singapore at number 2 and Pusan in South Korea at number 5. 9th place goes to Dubai, a massive hub for middle-men selling Chinese goods to Africa, India and Europe.  

Where do Europe and North America figure? Rotterdam comes in 10th – Rotterdam does a lot of things but a big part of what it does is take Chinese goods off big container ships, and send them up the Rhine by barge. The biggest American container port is Los Angeles at number 17, again a massive recipient of Chinese manufacturing exports.

But the big story from these figures is how much Chinese trade is not dependent on Europe and North America, a fact forgotten by too many in the West. So great is the Far East’s dominance in this list, that it is obvious that most of China’s trade in goods, by volume if not by value, is with other Asian countries. And nearly all of Africa is awash with Chinese goods, as anyone who has been there recently can attest to.

What is perhaps more surprising is just how much of a minnow India is. Its only container port in the top 50 is Mumbai, way down at number 26. India is growing in manufacturing strength, but its manufacturers remain vastly more focused on the domestic market than China’s. India’s great export strength is its capacity to export the skills of its English-speaking middle-class via the internet. The Indian white-collar workforce is growing fast, and while in the main their standard of living is not high by Western standards, it remains more than adequate enough to buy Indonesian-made televisions and Chinese-made tea sets. Expect Mumbai to keep moving up that list fast in the years to come.

The increased importance of imports from other parts of Asia for Indians’ standard of living has already had one positive real world outcome. The piracy problem in the Straits of Malacca, through which passes 40% of the world’s trade and 40% of the world’s oil, has been stamped out. India’s navy joined those of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, all countries whose militaries have long and deep histories of distrust, in a multinational anti-piracy effort that worked. The settlement of the Achenese conflict doubtless also helped.

With shipping through the Straits secure, traffic management might become the next nightmare to confront the world’s busiest shipping lane. Remember, 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, indeed the majority of the world’s population lives between the longitudes of Karachi and Tokyo, that is between 67 and 140 degrees East. As Asia’s middle-classes continue to grow, perhaps the long floundering proposals for a canal across the Isthmus of Kra might finally gain traction?

One point worth noting is the explosive growth in regional Chinese ports in recent years. China has been exploding economically. Could it overheat? Has it overheated? No country in history has gone forever without a serious economic crash and China’s run of fortune will at some point come to an end, at least temporarily. One of the remarkable things about China in comparison, let’s say, with the 19th Century USA, is the stability of its economic growth. Contemporary China’s contrast with the booms and busts of the years of the deadwood American Presidents could not be starker. But what will eventually make it go off the rails? One looks at numbers like these and comes to the conclusion that its just going to keep cooking until a bubble pops. What happens then? If I were the foreign affairs guru in the Head of Government’s office of any country in the world, that’s what I would be trying to work out.

Voters in the Republic went to the polls for a referendum on EU related issues today for the third time in 4 years. Although polls have just closed, the result will probably not be announced until well into Friday afternoon. However, those involved in the various campaigns will have a sense of how the result is shaping up from mid-morning. With my handy print off and keep guide, you can keep track of how the tallymen’s estimates compare with the actual election results in the two Lisbon Treaty referenda in 2008 and 2009, as well as checking how they compare against the sort of results the Yes and No campaigns need in each constituency to prevail nationally.

The guide is in MS Word 2002 format – nearly all computers should read it OK but if yours really can't try this graphical format from Google Docs.

Real Irish election nerds can probably stop reading at this point, just print off the guide, and bookmark the RTÉ Referendum Twitter account in preparation for tomorrow’s frenzy of tally Tweets. For those who don’t list election results as one of their primary leisure pastimes, the information below might be helpful.

The explanation for people who more-or-less understand how Irish elections are counted.
While official figures from tomorrow’s referendum will probably arrive during the early to mid afternoon (counting referenda is quick because they have a very short ballot paper with only two options), tally figures will start being circulated online or in the broadcast media from mid-morning. At first these will be partial tally figures covering a certain proportion of the ballot boxes in that constituency; buy from around 11 a.m., tally teams will start releasing full tallies.

Those used to Northern Ireland election counts should bear in mind that the tallying process in the Republic involves much more co-operation between parties and much more co-operation on the part of election officials than is the case on this side of the border. Tallies are correspondingly more accurate than we are used to in the north.

It is very easy to tally in a referendum when the counting officials are trying to be helpful. Many tallies will be accurate within a few votes.

As tallies are released, you can use the guide check how the results compare against the referenda on the Lisbon Treaty held in 2008 (defeated by 46.6%-53.4%) and 2009 (passed by 67.1%-27.9%).

I’ve added a metric called “estimated winning post 2012. An evenly split vote would have required a 3.4% swing to the Yes side in 2008 and a 17.1% swing to the No side in 2009. The “estimated winning post” was arrived at by adding 3.4% to the 2008 Yes vote in each constituency, subtracting 17.1% from the equivalent 2009 Yes vote, and taking the average. It isn’t intended as a contribution to academic psephology, but it gives a broad indication of how Europhile or Eurosceptic each constituency is.

If the tallies are mostly ahead of the winning post, then an overall Yes vote is almost certain, if they are mostly behind a No vote is almost certain, and if they are clustering close to the winning post, then we all have a long and exciting day ahead of us and a basic comparison tool such as this will tell us nothing other than the result is likely to be very close.

Not sure where to find out tally information? @RTE_Referendum on Twitter will probably offer the best balance of being comprehensive and easily accessible. Those with more time on their hands might consider the boards on politics.ie.

Adding to the complication is that there have been boundary changes since the 2008 and 2009 referenda. Fortunately, 19 constituencies have unchanged boundaries and can be compared directly – these are marked in yellow in the guide. A further 9 have only minor changes, with less than 5% of their previous population moving, usually a few small villages or a small city neighbourhood. Comparisons here should also be pretty straightforward and these are marked in dull orange. I would advise a little more caution in comparisons for the 6 constituencies marked in bright orange, where between 5% and 10% of the population have moved since the previous EU referenda. And I would not read much into any comparisons in the 9 constituencies marked in red, which have either had radical boundary changes or are entirely new.

If you don’t live in Ireland and all this seems completely bizarre…
In most countries, votes are counted in the polling station once the polls close. In Ireland, like in the UK, ballot boxes are taken to central counting centres for each constituency and only opened once they arrive there. While in Britain boxes are opened and votes counted as quickly as possible on election night, in Ireland the complexities of counting votes under the PR-STV system means that counting traditionally starts at 9 am on the day after the election.

Official results for any given constituency are only released once the entire constituency has been counted and verified. Unlike most other countries, voting figures by ballot box or election precinct are never released.

The first step in the count is that each ballot box is opened and polling staff check to see whether the total number of ballot papers in each box matches what the officials in polling stations said there should be. This is a basic protection against ‘box stuffing’. While this is going on, party workers stand in front of the table where the votes are being checked with clipboards and, quite literally, mark bar gate tallies of the total number of Yes and No votes in each vote. Some dude with a laptop then bangs the results into a spreadsheet, does a bit of basic maths and produces an estimated result, usually very accurate, hours before the official results are produced. In the days before laptops, they did this with pencils, long division, and the inside of empty cigarette packets...

Parties also get the benefit of seeing which way different areas vote and can tailor their own campaigning and canvassing strategies appropriately. This must seem a very odd process to people in the majority of the world’s democracies where this information is provided as a matter of routine and is seen as an important anti-fraud safeguard. It is, however, part of the charm and magic of Irish election counts, the world’s greatest spectator sport.

21st-May-2012 11:41 pm - Trouble at t’Mill for Frau Nein?
asian politics, european politics

Crossposted here at Slugger O'Toole - why not visit Northern Ireland's best political blog?

With most major developed economies struggling badly since 2008, Germany has seemed to be the calm centre of everything. The leader of any other industrialised country would pinch themselves if they had to deal with Angela Merkel’s problems. Germany shrugged off double-dip recession fears in late 2011 as its economy powered ahead again in 2012. Germany’s unemployment rate declined to 7% in May, its lowest level since shortly after reunification. Labour market reforms have fuelled growth in relatively insecure service jobs without denting the standard of living and job security of Germany’s industrial workforce. The East is, ever so slowly and partly by exporting tens of thousands of young workers to Hamburg and Munich every year, catching up with the West. The old western coal and steel heartlands finally seem to be reinventing themselves, with clusters of bleeding edge industrial firms dotting the landscape, from nanotechnology in Saarbrücken to clean energy on the Ruhr. Germany’s social and economic problems are as real as those of any other country; but just for the moment, they seem to be managing them better than any of the other big boys.

The USA, Japan, France, all fear Chinese competition; Germany instead makes the machines that the Chinese need to remain the workshop of the 21st Century world.

In struggling parts of the Eurozone, from Kerry to Crete, Angela Merkel has become a hate figure, the symbol of German callousness while weaker economies burn. Frau Nein orders that the PIGS’ books be balanced, whatever the cost to the people of the Eurozone’s struggling fringe. From afar, she seems to bestride the scene like a colossus, the immovable champion of austerity. For as long as Germany funds the European Union and German financial credibility underpins the Euro, Germany can call the shots, especially when other major net EU contributors like the Netherlands are equally hawkish.

At home, however, Merkel is far from all-powerful. A run of brutal state election results means that her coalition of Christian Democrats and right-wing Liberals is now a long way short of an overall majority in Germany’s indirectly elected Upper House. Getting legislation passed means negotiating with the social democratic SPD. Her personal poll ratings are poor. Although her party is polling at levels comparable with the Union’s indifferent 2009 general election result, and remain well ahead of the SPD’s, support for her FDP coalition partners has collapsed. There seems to be no prospect of a centre-right majority in national parliamentary elections scheduled for the autumn of 2013.

Merkel’s “Frau Nein” stance is not universally popular in Germany. It has its enthusiastic supporters and its detractors, among the punditocracy and among the voters. Germans have no desire to fund Greek civil servants to retire at 60, or Ireland’s relatively generous benefits for the long-term unemployed, when they made difficult decisions on pensions and welfare themselves a decade ago. But Germans are equally aware that their economy is more dependent on exports than any other established major economy. Only China regularly exports more than Germany. Some years the USA pips Germany for second place in the world export league, in recent years usually not. Japan has long since been left for dust in fourth place.

If Italians, Spaniards and Greeks see a collapse in their living standards, that means fewer customers for German exporters and lost jobs at home.

I asked one prominent German election blogger today where he thought domestic opinion lay on Eurozone austerity. He said – look at France. The election there was effectively a referendum on austerity and the country was more or less split 50:50. In Germany, he said, opinion was just as closely divided.

If Angela Merkel wants to remain Chancellor, given the collapse of the FDP, her only hope is probably a ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD. Her first term government was a grand coalition, and it worked surprisingly well, as it often does at state level. The two big parties often find it easier to find common ground around the mushy centre than they do with the more ideological parties of the left and right. The SPD doesn’t like austerity on principle and doesn’t think it will work for the German economy in the medium term; the SPD’s left is currently flexing its muscles inside the party.

The pressures for Merkel to shift on austerity now seem to be on the cusp of irresistibility. As well as needing to rebuild relations with the centre-left at home, Merkel is isolated in Brussels. Sarkozy is gone. Her key allies in the EU now seem to be David Cameron, very much a fringe figure as far the Euro goes, and Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, no more a household name in Germany than he is in Northern Ireland.

Domestically, Merkel’s key strength is the inability of the SPD to produce a candidate for Chancellor who ticks all the boxes. Four names are in the frame. One, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, leader of the opposition in Parliament, led the SPD to its worst election result since 1890 last time round and few expect him to worry the favourites.

Party leader Sigmar Gabriel is parodied by the right as ‘Siggi Pop’ after a period as the SPD’s “Representative for Pop Culture and Pop Discourse” in his younger years (only in Germany). Gabriel is a master at keeping the SPD’s warring factions moving in the same direction, but lacks the common touch and lacks gravitas at the same time.

Peer Steinbrück, a tough and able Finance Minister in Merkel’s first government, is probably the favourite to get the nod. He is highly rated by voters for his undoubted economic competence and ability to communicate difficult issues in layperson’s terms, and often tops popularity ratings among German politicians. He is, however, too centrist for the taste of the SPD’s resurgent left wing, and with the Greens polling at record levels for the past two years, the SPD can afford no complacency on the left.

The SPD left would love to see Hannelore Kraft, the Prime Minister of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), throw her hat into the ring as a candidate for Chancellor. Sunday before last, she led the SPD together with their Green coalition partners to a sweeping overall majority on the Rhine and Ruhr. NRW, home to 18 million people, is the California of German politics, the biggest electoral prize of them all.

During the previous two years of SPD-Green minority government in NRW, Kraft played The Left party for fools, and then persuaded the electorate to dump them out of the state parliament entirely this month. NRW has more than its fair share of left wing strongholds, especially the ex-coal mining towns along the Ruhr, with over a century of far-left political tradition only strengthened by the large Turkish and Kurdish populations that live there today. If The Left can’t get 5% of the vote here, it will struggle anywhere in the West. If The Left again becomes a regional party of the former East Germany, it becomes a lot easier for the SPD to form stable governments, in the states and at national level.

Kraft made very public promises on the night of her re-election that she would serve a full five year term as state Prime Minister before seeking federal office – perfect timing for a run for Chancellor in 2017. We all know, however, that politicians’ public promises are worth as much as… well, politicians’ public promises. Kraft is currently crushing Merkel in head-to-head polling on preferred Chancellor. She is the SPD left’s dream candidate at this stage – a woman with a proven track record of moving her own party to the left while still winning centrist voters, working well with the Greens without being overshadowed by them, and crushing threats from the far left at the ballot box. She continues to dismiss all overtures to run for the big job, but that hasn’t stopped the overtures from pouring in.

If the clamour for Kraft to run becomes too loud to quieten, we may yet see the first all-female race for the top job in a major industrialised democracy. And on current polling, that would spell deep trouble for Angela Merkel.

8th-May-2012 10:24 am - Coalition games in Greece
asian politics, european politics

For what it’s worth, as someone who has never even been in Greece but loves following post-election coalition negotiations for pleasure: my reading of ND leader Samaras' announcement yesterday that he can't form a coalition is as follows.

ND, being well aware of SYRIZA’s unwillingness to be part of an ND-led coalition and capacity to bring people out on to the streets, is putting the ball back into SYRIZA’s court. SYRIZA will simply not be able to form a coalition (see below) and a few days, weeks or months later, ND’s preferred option of a Government of National Unity led by it, and probably involving all parties except the Nazis and the Communists, suddenly starts to look inevitable again. (This really does have Weimar written all over it, although thankfully the Leninists and the Browns between them are still at 15% and not 50%.)

It’s a clever move; putting an anti-system party in the driving seat means they face a choice between cocking things up badly or no longer being an anti-system party.

The Greek electoral system is list PR with a whopping 50 seat bonus (out of 300) to the party which gets the highest number of votes nationally. In the days when PASOK and ND got about 40% each and everybody else got 20% between them, this was a clever way of favouring single party governments while ensuring everyone else got just a tad short of fair representation. In the current fragmented climate, it means that forming a government without ND is very hard.

If one assumes that a party as overtly neo-Nazi as Golden Dawn is, as our German friends would put it, koalitionsunfähig, then the only mathematically possible coalition not involving ND is one of SYRIZA, PASOK, the Independent Greeks and the Communists. Is that workable? Possibly; but I wouldn’t fancy it if I were Greek. The Independent Greeks come, obviously, from a rather different part of the pitch than the others ideologically, and KKE is still a true believing Marxist-Leninist party. (Like, seriously true believing.)

KKE were briefly in a sort of “interparty government” style arrangement with ND the 1980s when both just wanted rid of PASOK after the Socialists had, quite generously, removed some of the bias in favour of the largest party in the electoral system. The ND-KKE marriage wasn't a particularly happy relationship. The KKE also took part in Georgios Papandreou’s government of national unity in the mid-1990s. But these days they really sound like they’re praying that Athens 2012 will be a repeat of Moscow 1917. Moments of opportunity for orthodox Marxist-Leninists have been in short supply over the past generation and I think they’ll want to play this one for maximum effect.

SYRIZA, PASOK, the Independent Greeks and the Democratic Left could probably come to some sort of accommodation but would be 6 seats short of an overall majority. And it would remain extraordinarily broad ideologically. (Yes, yes, I know I live in Northern Ireland.)

Fresh elections? Does anyone think they are going to solve anything in current circumstances. Remember, Greeks voted against the bailout by 2 to 1 on Sunday. Only the massive seat bonus for ND allowed the ND-PASOK coalition to look like a possibility. As a commenter on my FB page put it, that would be a government of crooks facing an opposition of crazies. Frighteningly Weimar, indeed, so it’s as well it didn’t come about.

PS – I’m not a Greek constitutional lawyer, but in most countries a protracted delay in forming a coalition would lead to technocrats implementing the policies of the last government until the new one is in place. That would mean the longer the delay, the longer the bailout terms continue to be in force. Not sure if that applies in Greece.

8th-May-2012 12:39 am - Amusing Comment Spam
morse key, straight key
I just got this from teh internets... at least they tried to make an effort.

The name's Sam! I live in Sibera,Russia.
You wonder where it might be?
Oh c'mon! Everyone knows that Siberia is a snow desert somewhere deep in Russia.
We still got internetbut the rest of the modern stuff is not here.
That being said I created a studio using cardboard boxes, USSR-style keyboards and iMac G4
Besides I borrowed a camera from my next-door buddy.

Wonder what we could make using all these garbage?
Imo tell ya!!
Mate, garbage is the most fashionable thing now! We got lucky with that / The luck itself found us here.
Check out what we pulled off having zero financial support by link in a subject!

It was a bitch to record in a cardboard box size of a jail cell, a beat stuffy. :))
That's why I'm looking forward to fixing the whole ''studio'' situation.

If it blew your head off or at least didn't leave you emotionless I would like to ask for your support.
Use PayPal,Itunes or BandCamp links from video description in Youtube.

I would also be delighted to hear from you in my guestbook or simply buzz my office: +7 926 251 4440

I speak some English and Chinese, besides there are German and French speakersin da house.
That's why I truly believe we can find common language and exchange opinions.
Stay in touch!
morse key, straight key
My latest blog at Slugger O'Toole looks at Europe's election Super Sunday:

"Yesterday saw a vertiable smorgasbord of elections from across Europe, with high profile elections in Greece and France potentially marking a watershed both for those countries and Europe as a whole. Elections in Serbia and Armenia were no less vital for the future of two of the poorest countries in Europe, while voters in the Germany’s far northern state of Schleswig-Holstein had much to say about the future of Angela Merkel and the possible emergence of the Pirate Party as a serious player. Even voters in parts of Italy, like their counterparts in parts of the UK last Thursday, were electing councils and mayors.

"This Super Sunday was democratic politics’ equivalent of the final week of World Cup qualifying. Let’s travel around the continent to survey the results."

You can read the whole article on Slugger.
6th-May-2012 09:05 pm - Armenia, Serbia, Greece, France
morse key, straight key
Your 60 second summary of today's national elections around Europe from Nicholas Whyte...

Originally posted by nwhyte at Armenia, Serbia, Greece, France
Four countries were holding national elections today (sorry, I have no views on Schleswig-Holstein or the Italian local councils).

In Armenia, President Sargsyan's party has got 44% of the votes, up 33% from the 2007 election, and will presumably stay in power with their coalition partners who got 29%, though I suppose they could take their pick of partners from the three parties which craped into the parliament with 5-6% of the vote. Shout out to my former colleague Levon Zourabian, who was running the campaign for former president Ter-Petrossian's party, which came third with just over 6%.

In Serbia exit polls show President Tadić a nose ahead of his right-wing challenger Tomislav Nikolić in the presidential election (29% to 28%), but his party several points shy of the top spot (23% to 27%). That will go to a second round in two weeks. Last time round, in 2008, Nikolić was ahead on the first round by 40% to 35%, but Tadić pulled off a major recovery and won by 50% to 47% in the second round. There are several minor parties in the mix who will try to play king-maker, though the expectation is that enough will line up with Tadić to keep him in power.

In Greece, the exit polls are pretty catastrophic for the two main parties, New Democracy and the left-wing PASOK. ND are down from 33% in 2009 (itself a historic low) to around 20%; PASOK have crashed from 44% to around 15%, and may have even come third behind the far-left Syriza who have trebled their vote from 15%. The Greek system is proportional with the quirk that the largest single party gets a bonus of 50 of the 300 total seats, but this will not be enough to give ND a majority. The Communists are on 9% or so, possibly behind the right-wing Independent Greeks who may be on 10%. The far-right Golden Dawn are next on 7% and the leftish DIMAR on 6%. LAOS, a right-wing party which was in the out-going coalition, is stuck with the Greens and Dora Bakoyannis's new liberal party on 3%. I imagine the most likely outcome is that the outgoing ND-PASOK coalition continues - they should just about have enough seats between them - though perhaps they will co-opt some new partners, and PASOK will demand what it can get. I am not a huge fan of the ND leader Samaras who will probably end up prime minister. (See results from Ekathimerini.)

And I'm watching the live coverage from France, where François Hollande has won the Presidential election, the first time the Socialists have won since 1988. It was tight enough at the end - 51.9% to 48.1% for the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy - but actually it's a better margin than either Mitterand or Giscard managed in their contests in 1974 and 1981. I saw Sarkozy's concession speech, notable for his efforts to calm a still-enthusiastic crowd, and am standing by for Hollande's victory speech (which I imagine will be characteristically solid but unexciting) as the crowds rejoice in the Place de la Bastille (where I have an obscure family connection). It does seem to me, though, that with a result this close there is every chance that the Socialists will fail to get a clear majority in the coming parliamentary elections, and that the National Front will enjoy their potential as kingmakers in swing constituencies. (NB that the Socialists promise to bring in proportional representation to avoid this sort of thing in future.)

Isn't it sensible to hold elections on Sundays, and to close the polls at 8 pm?
church of ireland
To our friends in the South: it would be easy for you to negotiate a lot of what you want down there while ensuring we are left in the Dark Ages up here, but agreeing to an effective partition of the Church of Ireland on sexuality is one of the dangers of Resolution 8A. It hands huge amounts of power to Bishops to interpret it as they see fit. It might lead to liberal nirvana in Munster. But the Conservative Evangelical parishes in the North that refuse gay people communion will continue to do so, and do so in the name of Christ and our Church. The North will empty of gay clergy seeking safety in the South.

A woman should not be refused communion because she is a lesbian and lives in Carrickfergus and not in Cork. We in the North, while we will do plenty of standing up for ourselves, also need our friends in the South to stand up for us now.

It is not acceptable that the answer to every incident of homophobia in the North is for a Bishop to say: "Go to St. George's", leaving the offending Parish to continue to sink in the mire of bigotry. It is not acceptable that documented incidents of vile homophobic prejudice in the northern C of I, such as those experienced by Mary or by Angie and Doreen, weren't on the agenda at the lesbian-free Slieve Russell conference and don't seem to have been on the Bishops' radar when they asked General Synod to give gays and lesbians a lecture about their love lives.

It is also not impossible that Conservatives will pocket Resolution 8A and demand the most conservative interpretation of it imposed on the whole of the Church of Ireland. If I am being paranoid, let both of the motion's sponsors give us a cast iron guarantee that this is not the case. Let the Archbishop of Dublin guarantee that he or his successor will not have to adopt policies on gay clergy deployment, for example, to placate Conservative Evangelical lobby groups in the North. And let the Bishop of Down and Dromore concur.

The Conservative Evangelical leadership in the C of I follows what happens in Australia closely, and in Australia the local equivalent of Reform Ireland, the Anglican Church League, puts threatening statements on its website whenever someone known to be gay is appointed to a Parish. Will Reform guarantee me that we won't start seeing documents like "Reform Ireland Statement on developments in the Diocese of Dublin & Glendalough" on their website in the future?

Anyone who has ever worked with legislation knows that how it works in practice is often a long way from the drafters' intentions. Just because this might look like a compromise at first glance, doesn't mean other people see it the same way. 655 words and not one good thing to say about the gays. That's very telling.

This may or may not bring trouble to your door in the South. It might not affect us too much in St. George's. But in some parts of the North, for some people in the North, clergy and lay, this is very bad news. Please stand up for them.
4th-Apr-2012 01:35 am - Aux armes citoyens!
morse key, straight key
If that e-mail snooping thing goes through in its current form there won't be a Liberal Democrats any more. The party's base has mostly held together through the coalition but a lot of it will just walk away after this.

Hold the Tories to all the civil liberties spin they spouted in opposition. If the Lib Dems sell out on civil liberties with their first sniff of government, and do it to a Tory Party that proclaimed that it had a Damascene experience on civil liberties, it will lose all credibility and the Greens now give a credible alternative home to most of us among the 8% of so of the electorate who are left of centre but vitriolically anti-Labour (I am a rare exception who might have to tough it out). It really is that fundamental for the Lib Dems. They sold out the university cities on tuition fees. That's half the party's MPs. I thought it was a bonkers promise to make, but Clegg made it and Clegg broke it.

What remains of the party's left of centre support is hanging in there primarily because of civil liberties. What will remain if we sell out on that? The FDP plus a few regional fiefdoms? The Lib Dems without the middle-class left and what remains of the radical working-classes is left entirely without social anchors. The FDP element in society is not big enough to win First Past The Post seats on its own, not in Germany and not in the UK. We need middle-class lefties' votes and we need working-class voters who are basically moderate Labour but trust the Lib Dems in local government and who are willing to lend the party tactical votes. If we lose our left-leaning vote in places like South West London or Somerset or rural Scotland the parliamentary party is basically toast. I really don't know if Clegg understands this. Sell out on this and what exactly are the Liberal Democrats for? Sell out on this and a generation walks. The Greens will take the urban seats and the few remaining rural-Celtic fiefs will return us to the Liberal Party of the 1940s and 1950s.

There are votes, many council seats, and potentially some parliamentary seats directly affected by this. As one example: see how well we getting with holding our London seats without continuing to hold our share of the rapidly growing middle-class Black vote; it has grown enormously in South West London and in Hornsey and Wood Green over the past decade. An unusually high proportion of these voters have seen more than their fair share of the the less pleasant side of the state in general and the criminal justice system in particular, and they are sensitive to civil liberties issues.

Gay marriage is great. Force the the Tories to make a virtue out of necessity and stand up for civil liberties in the way we've made them make a virtue out of necessity by standing up for gay marriage.

PS - how do the sort of people who vote LibDem cast their votes in Germany? Current polls - Green 14%, Pirates 7% (on a hard civil-liberties platform), FDP 3%. Think it couldn't happen in the UK? Oh really? Remind me what happened in Scotland last year?
morse key, straight key

By chance, I met one of the Church of Ireland’s leading Conservative Evangelical clergy yesterday. I would have expected it to be a tense encounter, but it wasn’t. He behaved as I would expect a Christian genuinely speaking in loving disagreement would and I hope I gave the same impression to him. I had been extremely critical – and I mean extremely critical – of the position he represents, and I still am. He didn’t agree with my criticism of his position but rather than seeing it as a cause for angry confrontation, he took it as a sign that he had failed to explain his perspective properly. We had a brief, slightly rushed, but fruitful and very respectful conversation, and finished with promises to continue it again before Easter. I hope we do.

He told me that he and his wife had very close friends who were a non-religious gay couple who they thought the world of and I believed him. He had none of the social discomfort around gay people that I often detect around Conservative Evangelicals – and to give credit where it is due, another person who struck me as being that way was Ken Good. The clergyman referred me to a recording on his website of one of his sermons he preached on the subject of homosexuality, but warned me I wouldn’t like it. I’ve listened to it, and while I certainly didn’t agree with it, I didn’t find it objectionable. He made it clear in the sermon that he had had many positive experiences with gay people and had no truck with homophobia. If every Conservative message on homosexuality was coupled with the message that homophobia is sinful, I would have less problems with those messages. I still take a very different position on what Scripture is trying to teach us on this subject. But I came away with a more positive impression of him than I would have thought possible.

When faced with a debate on fundamental principles, it is always tempting to divide the world into two opposing camps, with ourselves always among the sheep and those we disagree with always among the goats. The genius and the madness of Anglicanism is that it forces us to confront the possibility, on a daily basis, that we might be wrong. Christ came into the world in part to teach us humility. Deeply holy men like St. Peter failed to recognise Christ for what he was even when he spoke to them face to face. It’s not only a possibility that deeply good Christian people are deeply wrong about many things, it’s a certainty. To fail to allow for that is to claim that we are beyond any possibility of sin obscuring our vision. Well, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable claiming that, myself.

This surprisingly pleasant encounter reminded me that we have to be careful not to demonise those we disagree with in this debate. We are all children of God, we all proclaim one baptism. When we see the worst in those whom with we disagree, we fail to live as Jesus Christ did.

At this Lententide, we are to abstain from things that we might be delivered from sin. To keep Lent worthily is, above all, to abstain from all malice, spite and unlovingness. As Robert Herrick put it, “It is to fast from strife/From old debate/And hate/To circumcise thy life”. During Lent, each of us must confront our own sin, our failure to live up to God’s standards. Each of us who exercises judgement on others must exercise it equally on themselves. Each of us is a sinner saved only by the grace of God. Each of us is a child of God, loved so much by God that he sent his Son into the world to die for us.

The other Sunday at Mass in St. George’s, we had that wonderful reading from First Corinthians, that we preach Christ crucified, that the weakness of God is stronger than men. If Christ had wanted us to conquer in power, he would have started a revolution in Jerusalem that Palm Sunday. If Christ had wanted to win the debate with Pilate and the Sanhedrin and secure His release, He could have confused their minds and done so. He was God, after all. He conquered instead in weakness, loved His enemies so much that He died for them. Any debate by Christians and especially among Christians must take place according to His model.

So much of our sin is bound up in our inability to see people we disagree with as fully created as God intended them. We assume those who disagree with us must be those who God disagrees with, we assume that our judgement is perfect and that God is on our side. All of us, on all sides of this debate, are in serious danger of making an idol of our own ideologies. Our history is full of examples that demonstrate our discernment is insufficient to pronounce such judgement on one another.

We mourn for our political power and dress it up as concern for the loss of our moral authority. What fruit did we Christians bring the Lord when we had temporal power and moral authority? The sweating of the bodies of God’s children as slaves or serfs; the subjugation of women; nationalism, imperialism and war; vicious sectarianism, towards other branches of Christianity and towards other religions; making an idol of our own culture and replacing Christ with it; brutal suppression of dissenting voices. Christianity had huge temporal power in the West for a long, long, time and mostly it abused it. God’s judgement is on us as surely as it was in the days of Amos.

All of us, in every branch of Western Christendom and from every standpoint in every debate, need to take God’s judgement seriously. Our moral authority in the world does not exist. We have shamed God too much for that. We have lived too little for Christ, and too much for the tiny portion of His majesty that each of us can apprehend from our own perspective. We demand to possess God, to understand his purposes, to know his mind. Our history should teach us a little bit of humility. We have often been at our worst when we have been most certain we were doing His will. We have an awful tendency to brandish Him as a weapon, sure that our judgements are His. God is not only greater than we know, He is greater than we can know.

This Lent, all three sides of the debate need to think about how we can show each other a bit of charity. I say three sides, because I think those of us on both ‘extreme’ sides of this debate find ourselves very judged by those who claim to be in the middle. Whether one likes it or not, this is the presenting issue of our time and both the liberals and the conservatives recognise the importance of this debate. How we answer it makes profound statements about our relationship to God and to one another. I don’t think anything in Scripture can lead us to believe that God likes giving us easy options. Ducking debates of profound importance tends to look a bit craven in the rear view mirror. At the same time, I think those in the middle are right to keep reminding those of us on the poles of the Church of Ireland that the unity of our Church is important. We are one of the great ancient Churches of this land and we must not fall apart over this.

At the same time, the broad middle needs to recognise that a lot of the energy and a lot of the growth in the Church of Ireland is at the poles, not along the equator. The Church of Ireland can only be what it should be to this land if it can keep its three sub-cultures together; it is a fairly unique ecology of Anglicanism with few direct parallels overseas. It has a liberal Catholic wing, especially in the cities, with a deep Christian faith and a power to keep people in the circle who would otherwise be excluded from the institutional church. It has a moderate Protestant body, especially in rural areas, North and South, with a pragmatic, non-judgemental, conservatism. And it has an energetic and conservative Evangelical wing with a profound call to personal holiness, which has a particular appeal in the sprawling suburban estates of the North. Our Church prospers when each wing recognises the other’s basic decency, their competence as intelligent thinking Christians, and their commitment to Christ. Each of us has things to say which the other two may not always want to hear. These must always be spoken in honesty, but always in love. Each of us sees now only through a glass darkly. Then we shall see face to face.

In terms of this debate, we liberals need to avoid demonising conservatives as homophobic bigots. But conservatives need to avoid demonising liberals as Godless heretics. And those of you in the middle need to avoid demonising those of us at the poles as crazies who don’t care about the Church of Ireland. We all care about the Church of Ireland. Its good health matters.

At the same time, there is a terrible temptation for people to want to find a false middle in the debate on homosexuality. Such a false middle is inherently unstable. It might buy us time. But ultimately the argument will continue, and the secular pressures to resolve the debate one way or the other are going to become ever stronger. There is a deep social change in secular attitudes to gender and homosexuality and it is only getting more profound with time. Sooner rather than later, we are going to have to confront this and what it means for our relations with secular society. I think we’ll be best positioned to do that if we learn to tolerate difference inside the Church, and I think we learn to tolerate difference in the Church by recognising our own personal fallibility and need for Christ, our need for constant grace and constant repentance. Walking together with people on those terms can be painful, but Christ did warn us that we would have to take up our crosses to follow Him.

As we begin our walk towards Passiontide, towards the great drama of Holy Week with its cries of Hosanna and bitter betrayal, towards that ultimate sacrifice for our sins on the Cross and that paradoxical transformation of defeat into victory at the Resurrection, perhaps we should spend less time thinking about our concerns of the day and more time praying about the central act of history. Perhaps then we might be more in a position to answer the great presenting issue of the day and help our Church walk in the way Christ wishes it to.

morse key, straight key

I am an openly gay member of the Church of Ireland and one of the unwelcome guests who turned up at the Slieve Russell Hotel for the Church of Ireland’s gay conference uninvited because I had spent months trying to ensure, by working carefully and responsibly in the background, that there was meaningful gay participation in the conference, and had failed. Not a single LGBT person worshipping in a Church of Ireland parish addressed the gathering or any of its workshops. Not a single openly lesbian person, from anywhere, was invited to participate in the conference.

This is not a side issue. A few years ago, Changing Attitude Ireland put together a publication called ‘Share Your Story’ which told LGBT people's stories of life in the Church of Ireland. The depth of prejudice and sheer emotional violence faced by lesbians in the Church of Ireland staggered even me, as a gay man. In one incident, a woman in Northern Ireland who had been a pillar of her church was found out to be a lesbian. The woman in question was summoned, alone, to a meeting in the church offices on a weekday evening to be confronted by a gang of nine led by her Rector, told that Satan had veiled her eyes, that it was an affront to see her worship God, and was forbidden from receiving Holy Communion again. I would submit that this is not behaviour modelled on that of Our Lord who happily drank at the well with the Samaritan Woman.

This woman was silenced at that conference because her experience of the Church of Ireland was too uncomfortable for our leaders to hear – both for the conservatives who think this amounts to ‘tough love’ and for the moderates who, in the main, have done little to challenge such vile behaviour. Silenced with her were the thousands of men and women like her who kneel in our pews Sunday by Sunday living in terror that they will be discovered and that discovery will lead to ostracism.

Many clergy at the conference boasted that they would exclude me and people like me from Holy Communion because we love the men or women that we do and we are not ashamed of that love. Most of those clergy were from Northern Ireland, where welcoming congregations like my own parish of St. George are very much in the minority.

Your sincerely,

Gerry Lynch
Belfast 15
morse key, straight key

There are many people who feel I should not have been at the Church of Ireland’s conference on homosexuality this weekend. I wish I could agree with them. There are many, many other ways I would rather have spent this weekend than being the unwelcome guest at someone else’s party. It was not a nice experience. I hope never to have to repeat it. But a point needed to be made and I, and several others, saw no other way to make it.

No legislation was going to be voted on at this meeting. The Bishops always said the best work would be done in non-confrontational small group work. And, in this, they were almost certainly right. At the same time it makes all the more inexplicable their odd decision to make this a tight, invitation only, “closed conference” as the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe put it to me in person. Why not invite some of the people actually affected by this directly? I mean ones who could speak for themselves, unlike the many people I saw there who I know are LGBT and can’t speak out: clergy who face the sack, gay men in opposite-sex marriages, and many people who are comfortable in both their faith and their sexuality and simply lack the confidence to come out to a group of strangers.

There are more people who can articulate the LGBT Christian experience at the edge of the Church of Ireland than in its centre, and more can do so without fear among the laity than the clergy. We should have been invited, in reasonable numbers. Three gay speakers (one of whom was a conservative celibate) and a less than handful of out General Synod delegates among 400 attendees – and not one openly lesbian speaker! Do you really think this is fair?

The crisis leading to this conference was caused by a clergyman entering a civil partnership. The crux of the debate which conservatives tell me is potentially church-dividing, much to my own amazement, is whether or not practising homosexuals in monogamous lifelong relationships can serve as priests and, in particular, celebrate Holy Communion. The Church of Ireland has two publicly gay clergy. One is the proximate cause of the current crisis and in an incredibly vulnerable position personally. The other is a terminally ill man who, like me, was not a welcome guest at this conference. Do you really think it is possible to have a fair discussion in a conference taking place in that context?

The Archbishops, both of whom treated me with grace and gentleness over the weekend, nonetheless infuriate me when they claim that this conference “involved listening to the direct experience of gay Christians”. Well, it did if you mean listening to a handful of gay men (no women!) who don’t actually worship in the Church of Ireland regularly! I heard they all spoke very well and I met two of them and feel sure they did us proud – they were clearly fine people. But the House of Bishops did the bare minimum possible to avoid looking ludicrous. One cannot pretend that being gay in gay Paree is remotely comparable with being gay in Portglenone.

Three of us laypeople, in Ireland’s three major cities, and covering a remarkably wide range of cultural background and theological perspective for such a small group, wrote letters to the Church of Ireland Gazette explaining how excluded we felt by the conference process. Would it have been too much to do to invite us along to ask us why we felt this way? And maybe find a couple of dozen other people who also felt like us, and welcome us along, as Jesus Christ welcomed people. Wouldn’t it have been good to hear our stories, to have misconceptions challenged, to find the people who disagree with us are actually good Christian people, like ourselves. Because one of the tragedies of this weekend for me was that I didn’t come away thinking anything good about the conservative wing of the Church of Ireland. And I doubt many conservatives got the chance to see LGBT church people are decent Christian people leading decent Christian lives.

I know stable lesbian and gay male couples; I know bisexuals living in faithful, monogamous, opposite-sex marriages; I know transgender people; I know gay men trapped in loveless marriages that they thought would turn them straight – a lot of those; I know older gay men who fear their parishes will cast them out if they find out they’re more than a ‘bachelor’. I personally know at least one of all of these types of people who attend a Church of Ireland church Sunday by Sunday within 3 miles of where I live. You silenced all of them, all over Ireland and especially in Northern Ireland.

The sad thing is, I think some people didn’t want to let other people see us in that light. The demonising pictures of the Evangelical penny-dreadfuls of the cyber age – the queer as debased, lustful, repugnant to God, addicted to alcohol and drugs, prone to suicide – are so easily shattered by actual exposure to real gay men and women in the church, because we are in the main so utterly conventional. There are real problems with alcohol and drug addiction in our queer communities, and a reliance on cheap and unfulfilling sex, and a crashing materialism. Queer Christians see the problems every day, and we feel many of our problems as a community are made worse by your denial of our right to live convenanted, faithful, lifelong, partnerships. We also see much in our communities which is generous, open-hearted, accepting, loving, tolerant of difference, open to vulnerability, in short, so much that reflects the attitudes of Jesus Christ as presented to us in Scripture. Like you, we are sinners in need of Christ and yet we reflect in some ways the stamp of our creator.

Our creator also taught us that before we judge we should see if the had beam in our own eye first. Our crashing materialism? With your jumbo sized cars and jumbo sized homes and jumbo sized families on a vulnerable planet? And your chauvinism! You think I don’t understand why a literalist interpretation of Scripture appeals to you, despite all Scriptural evidence that it’s bunk? For a married, heterosexual male, having God tell your wife to submit to you like you were God (Ephesians 5:22) has an awful lot of advantages. So you ignore the conflicting genealogies, you ignore the Gospel and Pauline quotations of the Old Testament that clearly come from the Septuagint and are somewhat different from our Old Testament translations. You ignore all the things that argue against the idea that God’s conception of teaching us the truth through Christ was giving us a second rule book. And I know why – it suits so many of you to argue for literalism against the internal evidence of Scripture, because it makes life more comfortable for straight, married, men.

There were no lesbians at this conference. 14 Evangelicals wrote a book about sexuality and all 14 are men. Heterosexual men get to tell the rest of us what living a sexually moral life means. You people are just too easy to parody as a bunch of chauvinist, sexually self-repelled, bigots with a vested interest in maintaining straight patriarchy and keeping women down.

You’re saying Jesus taught in parables to give us a second rule book? If God wanted a revision of the law code, why incarnate Himself as man and go to die at Calvary? In the New Covenant, we are saved by grace through faith, not through works, although without works our faith is empty. But we are no longer under the Law. Conservatives are right to remind us that St. Paul argues for liberty, not libertinism. But I am not advocating for libertinism. I advocate liberty within a clearly defined framework – “same rights, same rules, same responsibilities”. In the world I want to see, we couple freedom with responsibility. Integrity as befits a Christian, both in our relationships with our sexually intimate life-partner, and with the rest of the world, applies whether we are straight or queer.

One shocking report I heard from the conference fringe – and although these tales can be magnified in the telling, it’s not an isolated story – claimed numerous clergy at the conference said they would refuse homosexuals in faithful relationships Holy Communion. I think we need to remember that we are judged by the measure of our own judgement, and refusing people the Sacrament is a grievous judgement indeed. If I were cutting people off from God and the fellowship of the Church in that way, I would have to be very sure of my ground. Jesus broke bread with Judas on the night he was betrayed. If you’re saying we queers are worse than Judas, I’d be very careful what standard I was setting myself up to be judged by. I would be very careful not to misrepresent the Lord and Saviour who supped at the well with the Samaritan woman. If you have a problem with me receiving communion in your church, you come and see me about it in advance and you read me the First Exhortation from the old Prayer Book. And then you let me make that judgement call, which is after all, about my salvation. And if you feel the need to read the First Exhortation to me, I hope you direct it back at yourself in the same measure.

I think some of you just wish we would shut up so you could get on with ‘more important things’. And personally, I could quite easily. I’m a layperson, I worship in a gay-affirming parish, I’m an out gay man in a loving long-term relationship, my family is pretty gay-positive. I’m comfortable and confident at public speaking. I’m the aristocracy of the LGBT hierarchy in the Church of Ireland. If I it’s impossible for me to get much of a spoke in, the vast majority of LGBTs in the Church of Ireland are completely silenced.

Elements in the Church of Ireland encourage people to become trapped in Mixed-Orientation Marriages, corrosive on them and corrosive on their heterosexual spouses. The people crushed by this burden are silenced.

Elements in the Church of Ireland refuse lesbians communion, form spiritual hit squads to cast lesbians out of the church, and squirm when asked to baptise the children of lesbians, trapped between the generous grace of Canon 26 yet making it quite clear they’d really rather these lesbians Went Somewhere Else. Lesbians are silenced.

In nearly every parish in the Church of Ireland, there is at least one elderly bachelor or spinster who is the pillar of their parish and whose social life revolves around the church, who fears that they will become an outcast if their fellow parishioners found out they were gay. They are often very lonely people. The people ground down by this loneliness are silenced.

For the most part, gays not especially visible in our churches, especially in the North. In the rural North they are entirely invisible. Lesbians are even less visible, unsurprising when open lesbians are repeatedly treated in vile and unchristian ways in our parishes, as documented in Changing Attitude Ireland’s Share Your Story booklet. Other types of queer people like transgender people are barely more than rumoured to exist, although that doesn’t prevent nasty displays of conservative Christian bullying of this tiny and peaceable group of people, as happened while the Gender Recognition Act was going through Parliament.

Although I found it incredibly wearing, not all was bad at the conference. There were also moments of extraordinary grace, the most exceptional of all I received at the hands of our Primate, Alan Harper. Many people criticise Alan, but he is a transparently decent, caring and honourable man and he did a lovely thing for me at a time when I was feeling very low and very hurt. He genuinely believes in servant leadership. We are fortunate to have such a good and genuinely kind man leading our Church at such a difficult time. Some other Bishops were welcoming and a few took robust criticism with generosity and grace. Others made it clear which rock they wished I’d disappear under.

My colleagues from Changing Attitude Ireland were, as always, such kind and convivial companions who made the tough bits bearable. Of those on the Committee, Paul and Margaret, Brian, and Ginnie put in the long, emotionally tiring, stints co-chairing sessions. Darren and Sandra will have graced the conference with their presence. Mervyn and Richard, Charles and I were the goats forced to sit separated from the sheep out in the foyer. The treatment of Mervyn Kingston really is unnecessarily spiteful in the case of a man with a terminal illness. He is not being punished for being a practising homosexual, but for being an honest practising homosexual, in one of the most loving and caring gay relationships I have ever known. If he dissembled and cloaked himself, he would be fine.

Thanks, from the bottom of my heart, to all those who those good church people over the weekend who took the trouble to speak up for queer people when others were condemning us, to those who took time to ask Bishops whether our treatment had been fair, and in particular to those who disagreed with us on the substantive issue but still felt our treatment was shabby. People like you give me hope that we can indeed agree to disagree, agreeably.

If there was a message I wanted to tell the conference that I was not allowed to, it is how dearly I love my partner and how dearly he loves me. We do nothing but good to one another. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to condemn me for it. I find encounters with people who think it does condemn me and that God agrees with them incredibly unsettling.

At one point during the conference, I thought that faith and hope had died, but thanks to some good Christian men and women I find them rekindled albeit in perilous vulnerability. And thus I am still able to argue for the greatest of those three last remaining things: love.

A Church of England Bishop has written a recommendation for a book supporting the legalisation of marital rape and accusing the Queen of breaking her Coronation Oath.

The Rt Rev’d Wallace Benn is the Suffragan Bishop of Lewes on the south coast of England. Dublin-born Benn is also an influential figure within Church of Ireland Evangelical circles, and visited Northern Ireland at least twice in response to the civil partnership of openly gay Church of Ireland Dean Tom Gordon last autumn.

The book in question, Britain in Sin by well-known fundamentalist Stephen Green of ‘Christian Voice’, accuses the Queen of breaking her Coronation Oath by signing into law 57 pieces of what Green describes as ‘unrighteous legislation’ which he claims offend Biblical principles. These include the Criminal Justice Act 1994, which introduced the offence of marital rape. As recently as 1990 (R v Sharples), a man avoided prosecution for forced and unwanted sexual intercourse with his estranged wife, by successfully arguing that even a Family Protection Order did not constitute a withdrawal of consent to sexual intercourse by a married woman. Green claims that “the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer” establishes “a binding consent to sexual intercourse” and a married woman therefore has no right to refuse unwanted sexual advances from her husband. The book also criticises the 1970 decision to abolish a man’s right to petition a court for “the restoration of conjugal rights”.

Green also supports the economic exploitation of women, describing the Equal Pay Act 1970 and Sex Discrimination Acts 1975 & 1986 as unbiblical. Concering women in the workplace, Green says in Britain in Sin “[t]hat mothers should deprive their men-folk of work is a national scandal.”

Benn recommended Green’s book in glowing terms, saying, “This makes interesting and disturbing reading. We desparately need to understand, as a nation, that our Creator knows what is best for us, and to return to His way as the best way to live.”

Green was exposed last year as a violent and sexually exploitative man, who over a period of years bullied his wife into unwanted sexual intercourse, who birched his wife so hard that she bled, and once beat one of his sons so hard with a piece of wood that he needed hospital treatment.

The connection between Green’s violent and sexually exploitative nature and the theology he promotes is easy to see. Green is a transparent Bible abuser, pushing a warped interpretation of Scripture to facilitate his own need to dominate and abuse women and children. It would be easy to dismiss Green as a lunatic fringe figure, the pantomime villain of the UK fundamentalist scene, who calls for the death penalty to be restored for adultery and homosexuality.

Wallace Benn, however, who recommends the book as a means for understanding how to return to our Creator’s way, is a Bishop of the Church of England, and a leading light of its Conservative Evangelical wing. Benn is a erekey player in hardline Church of England organisations such as Anglican Mainstream. Green is hardly a low-profile figure, and Benn’s recommendation of a book so transparently promoting an alter Christus must, at the very least, call his judgement into question. However, one must not merely question Benn’s judgement, but also the degree to which Green’s theology is shared by people on the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Church of England.

As a Bishop of a Church whose supreme governor is the Queen, his recommendation of a book that accuses the Queen of breaking her Coronation Oath will also raise serious questions in many quarters.

As noted above, Benn is a frequent visitor to Ireland and is an important ally and advisor to the Irish Church’s conservative Evangelical wing. In the aftermath of Dean Tom Gordon’s Civil Partnership, he travelled to Northern Ireland twice to address significant public meetings of Church of Ireland Evangelicals opposed to gay ordination. Benn is due to speak at an event for clergy in the Diocese of Down and Dromore in the next month. Down and Dromore is a stronghold of Evangelicalism in the Church of Ireland.

NB - Britain in Sin is mirrored here and Wallace Benn's recommendation is mirrored here.
morse key, straight key
Crossposted at Slugger O'Toole.

Controversial Belfast psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Miller, recently sanctioned by the General Medical Council, is a member of the Board of Reference of Core Issues, the controversial Lisburn-based counselling and advocacy organisation which teaches that homosexual practise is sinful and has been associated with controversial techniques including claims to be able to change sexual orientation in certain circumstances.

The sanctioning of Miller may prove particularly controversial as Core Issues’ Board of Reference is stated on the organisation’s website to be an “accountability link” in the context of how its counselling is regulated and approved.

Core Issues is organising a conference in East Belfast’s Orangefield Presbyterian Church this Friday and Saturday entitled “The Lepers Among Us – Homosexuality and the Life of the Church”. Miller is listed as a member of Core Issues Board of Reference in the brochure advertising this weekends conference on the organisation’s website. A coalition of LGBTI rights organisations in Belfast is organising a picket of the Friday morning session of the event.

Although, in recent press releases, CORE has claimed that, “Core Issues Trust does not offer so-called “Reparative‟ or „Conversion‟ therapy” (sic), its website states that “[s]upporting sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) should be a possibility”.

Therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation has been repudiated by virtually every reputable psychiatric organisation in the UK, Ireland and across the world. Recently the President of Exodus International, the world’s largest so-called ‘ex-gay’ organisation, and hitherto a staunch defender of attempts to change sexual orientation, stated that “99.9 percent” of those undergoing such therapy “have not experienced a change in their orientation”.

Dr Paul Miller has been linked with efforts to change sexual orientation. In June 2008, Iris Robinson claimed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show, that a ‘lovely psychiatrist’ friend of hers could turn gays “from what they are engaged in”. Dr. Miller, the psychiatrist referred to, was then a consultant in the Mater Hospital, an NHS hospital in Belfast. He has since left to work in the private sector full time.

In today’s Irish News, journalist Seanín Graham revealed that Miller faced a private hearing of the General Medical Council last week at which eight conditions were imposed on his ability to practise. These include that, for a period of 18 months, his day-to-day work must be supervised by a registered doctor of consultant grade and restrictions on working abroad.

Seanín Graham also wrote:
Two years ago, a London-based journalist, Patrick Strudwick, reported Dr Miller to the GMC after going undercover for the treatment.

Mr Strudwick, who is gay, described the Belfast doctor’s therapies as “disturbing” following two sessions via a webcam.

“I felt disgusted and abused by his inappropriate sexual remarks during the sessions. To hear this from a psychiatrist during a session, it was like being sexually assaulted,” Mr Strudwick said in 2010.


A GMC spokeswoman refused to comment on whether Mr Strudwick’s complaint resulted in the conditions being placed on Dr Miller’s licence, or if there had been additional complaints from the public.
Core Issues has clearly been shaken by the continual stream of negative publicity in Northern Ireland since its event held at Belvoir Church of Ireland Parish Church in summer 2011 was subject to picketing and adverse media reaction. Recent statements by the organisation seem to indicate a softening of their previously stonewall stance on gay issues in the church.

The step away from reparative therapy, noted above, is not a unique example of a softening in position by Core Issues. For example, the Core Issues website, drafted some years ago, studiously avoids saying the phrase ‘gay Christian’ or clearly stating that it is possible to be gay or gay affirming and a Christian. Instead they used circumlocutions such as “many people who are religious find homosexual practise quite consistent with their religious or spiritual values” and claimed that gay-affirming Christians “value the traditions of their forefathers in faith less than orthodox folk”. The most recent press statement however “acknowledges that Christians have different understandings of the teachings on the bible around human sexuality”, which seems to open a possibility of Core Issues affirming faithful and monogamous same-sex relationships in the future.

The publicity around Core Issues comes at the start of a period in which gay rights issues are likely to catapult to the top of both the religious and political agendas in Northern Ireland. The Anglican Church of Ireland, adhered to by around 15% of Northern Ireland’s people, will have a major conference on homosexuality in March before possibly legislating on the issue at its annual General Synod in May. MPs at Westminster will vote on legalising same-sex marriage in England during the lifetime of the current parliament. The measure is expected to pass overwhelmingly, and although it will affect England only, Northern Ireland MPs will have a vote. Scotland and Wales are also planning to introduce same-sex marriage in the near future, and the Republic of Ireland may well also do so before the current government’s mandate expires in 2016.

It is unlikely that Northern Ireland will follow suit immediately, as the complex architecture of its post-conflict political settlement effectively gives a veto on legislation to the populist-right DUP, strongly influenced by Evangelical Protestantism. Even if a coalition of radical left Sinn Féin, the social-democratic SDLP, the liberal Alliance Party and the moderate wing of the conservative UUP garnered a majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP have sufficient blocking votes for contentious legislation, which can be defined by them. However, Northern Ireland is still likely to come under enormous pressure from governments in other parts of the British Isles, and from the courts, to recognise same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere. When the Republic of Ireland legalises same-sex marriage, the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement may open the door to legal challenges to a refusal to permit same-sex marriages to take place in the region.
Crossposted with logical changes to text at Slugger O'Toole.

I caught up with Gerard from Occupy Belfast at their camp in Writers' Square today, after their movement made a high profile play by taking over the disused Bank of Ireland building on Royal Avenue. Have a listen on the embedded audio player below.

In my recent piece on politics and the internet here, later cross-posted to Slugger O'Toole, I noted that Occupy Belfast had not done much during its short existence other than occupy Belfast's officially sanctioned haunt of leftists, Writers' Square. Alan in Belfast also had a Slugger piece up over the weekend noting that Occupy were not exactly catching the imagination of the man on the Antrim Road omnibus.

Occupy Belfast in the disused Bank of Ireland branch on Royal AvenueOccupy activists must have enjoyed reading those pieces, knowing they were about to occupy one of Belfast's highest profile empty buildings. On Saturday, Occupy activists entered the disused Bank of Ireland branch on the corner of Royal Avenue and North Street, which was the home of the Belfast Stock Exchange in the days when we still had one... at least until the late 1990s, if my memory is correct. They did not make their presence public until just before noon today, when they unfurled a number of banners from the top floor of the building, quickly attracting a crowd of curious onlookers, along with the PSNI and, for a brief period, keyholders and the Fire Brigade.

The delay in announcing their presence seems to have been primarily to satisfy what they understand to be the legal requirements for squatting a building, but doubtless those inside will have used the time to fortify their position as well. The decision to squat the building seems to have been taken quite some time ago.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with Occupy's ideological position or their tactics, they could not have picked a better metaphor for their critique of free-market democracy. Not only did is it the former home of a stock exchange, it also hosted a branch of an institution that has benefited from the controversial taxpayer-funded rescue package for profligate banks in the Republic. This gorgeous building, one of Belfast’s few pieces of art deco, has lain empty at one end of the City's main shopping thoroughfare for almost half a decade. The property developers who bought it in 2007-ish were doubtless working on assumptions about the future of Northern Ireland property prices that have turned out to be grossly unrealistic. And so, one of the gateways to the city centre is overlooked by a decaying shell rather than something productive and well looked after. This is indeed a case where the logic of the market flies directly in the face of the common good.

Notice posted by Occupy Belfast on the occupied Bank of Ireland buildingI was surprised at the boldness and audacity of the move. The prime site guarantees a high media profile and tens of thousands of commuters passing by on North Belfast buses or walking in from car parks every day. Occupy Belfast activists were hopeful that the homework that they have obviously put in on the legal aspects of squatting a building pay off. Notices like the one pictured were pasted on the front door of the building. It has been a very long time indeed since Belfast had such a high profile squatting, squatting doesn't seem to happen very much these days anyway. I imagine lawyers on all sides of the dispute will have to hit the books hard over the next day or two before forming a definite opinion on what, legally, removing the building's occupiers is going to involve.

I chatted to Gerard about Occupy Belfast's plans for the building, and it was obvious that Occupy Belfast's ideal outcome is a permanent takeover, with the Bank of Ideas in East London's Hackney being a possible model. We also discussed whether or not the popular stereotype of Occupy as the usual bunch of students and old lefties doing their usual thing was true, whether the sectarianised nature of politics here gave Occupy much room to breathe, and their links with Occupy and other internet-driven street protest movements around the world.

Final note - the link to Occupy Belfast's twitter account (@OpOccupyBelfast) is the correct one this time - I was led astray by an unofficial account set up by a well-wisher last week.

Letter published in the Church of Ireland Gazette, 13th January 2012

What first attracted me to the Church of Ireland was its tolerance and inclusiveness, especially its acceptance of me as a full member of the Parish family without demanding I convert formally. Eventually I did formally join the Church, and one important reason for this was that I could no longer live with integrity as a gay man in the Roman Catholic Church, and I felt that I could within the Church of Ireland.

Over these 15 years of pilgrimage as an Anglican, I always felt empowered to accept myself unconditionally for what I am – a gay man and a Christian. My faith has been deepened beyond measure by the love and prayerful example of my devoutly Anglican partner. I cannot deny that I consider him the greatest gift God has given me, or could give me, on this earthly pilgrimage.

I recently heard someone mention the word ‘schism’ in connection with the current debate on homosexuality. It is horrible to conceive that one might be the cause of schism in the Church one loves. It is a singularly unpleasant time to be gay and an Anglican. The tenor of the debate on homosexuality across the Anglican Communion has been horrifying – self-righteous, arrogant and judgemental. The Church of Ireland has not escaped the ugliness.

For those who cannot accept me for what I am, I continue to pray that God might turn your hearts. But my anger is directed towards those who occupy the ‘middle’ ground in the debate – those who always tell us ‘soon’, but never ‘now’. Why so silent when the of the faith and identity of gay Christians is being attacked? Why allow people to tell us that if we don’t turn into something we can’t ever become, our salvation is a fraud?

If you’re going to crucify gays to preserve the unity of the Church, that’s fine, I can accept it. Push me away to the fringe of the Church if you want. I trust in Christ as my Saviour. To be at the fringes of his dwelling is privilege enough, and as I remember Scripture it’s where he preferred to hang out himself.

But please don’t pretend to me that you’re trying to lead me into some process that can end with my inclusion, when you’re not. And I don’t believe it can, because I don’t hear many people in the Church arguing for my inclusion at the moment.

Gerry Lynch

I’m having fun playing around with the data in the Armagh long term weather records, which go back only to 1929 for sunshine, but as far back as 1865 for temperature and frost, and right back to 1853 for rainfall.

In recent years, I’ve heard people complain that late Spring and early Summer are always beautiful, but the weather always breaks just as the schools break up and the height of Summer has been wet, dull and humid. That has certainly been my experience of recent years. The data show that is neither a new nor an unusual phenomenon, though.

Of the thirty sunniest months since Armagh’s records began in 1929 (almost a thousand months in total, so these are the top 3% or so), 13 have been Mays, 11 Junes, just 4 Julys and only 2 Augusts. On average, Armagh’s Julys have only 130 hours and 52 minutes of sunshine, while June averages 157 hours and 34 minutes and May a mood-improving 175 hours and 4 minutes. Patterns at Aldergrove Airport are similar.

The two sunniest months in recorded history at Armagh were both Junes – those of 1940 and 1949, followed by May 1935. Another June, that of 1957, takes fourth spot ahead of the sunniest ever July, that of 1989.

Assuming the Armagh pattern holds for most of NI, the two sunniest months since I moved back to Belfast in September 2007 were the May of 2008, which does not jog my memory at all, and the June of 2009, which I do remember as containing many weeks of gorgeous, if not always particularly warm, sunshine. That comes in only in the 20th spot in the all time list.

At first I assumed that this was partly an artefact of June having longer days than July, although that didn’t explain May. But I forgot that June has only 30 days, so the total amount of daylight in June and July is virtually the same in the Northern hemisphere – at Armagh, 513 hours and 38 minutes of daylight in June, 512 hours and 48 minutes in July. May is only a little way behind, with 499 hours and 16 minutes of daylight.

Although May is our sunniest month, and can be beautifully warm, it can be rather chilly from time to time. As recently as 1996, Armagh managed an average daily maximum in May of only 13.3C, with nightly minimums a genuinely chilly 4.4C. Sure, if you wanted to live somewhere where the weather was good, you’d move somewhere else…

So the myth of exam seasons with the sun splitting the stones giving way to dull and damp summers turns out not to be a myth at all, just a fact of life on our rainy little island… although the well known fact that Ireland is exceptionally rainy actually is a myth, at least as far as the East coast and interior go. More on that another time.

British politics, Britain
To end the current run of Scottish referendum posts (apologies, last night’s post would have been made long before if I’d known how today’s news was going to break): the SNP have a lot of work to do to make the most of Twitter. That probably goes for every other political party on these islands.

It seems @theSNP has been the recipient of many supportive @ messages and DMs today. So much so, they’ve replied: “Thanks for all your tweets today. Sorry we can't reply to them all. For those asking about joining go to www.snp.org/join”

There is, of course, nothing wrong with asking people to join online. But the nature of Twitter is such that many of those people will never see the SNP’s reply. I appreciate, more than most, how impossible it is for Party admin staff to do all the things everyone expects them to do. But this is surely a case for the semi-mythical army of ‘Cybernats’? Someone with not much else to do all day and rudimentary knowledge of Twitter – which, thanks to the UK coalition, is most 18-30 year olds between Thurso and the Isle of Thanet – should really go through @theSNP’s @ message feed, and their DMs, and reply to them all individually with the link and asking for further contact details.

No democratic political party ever has enough members. They are the most precious resource parties possess. Parties and party activists go through all sorts of rigmaroles on wet winter nights to press the semi-willing into becoming party members. Enthusiastic volunteers are like gold dust; they are ignored only at great loss.

Today’s headlines will be forgotten next week. Today’s enthusiastic recruits will, in many cases, still be knocking doors in 50 years time.

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