Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gay Champion Matthew Mitcham

Is unimaginably hot.

Matthew Mitcham, the 20 year old, out gay Australian diver, won a last-minute gold medal with a near-perfect dive. He came back from burnout and depression two years ago to compete in the Beijing Olympics - the only male, out gay competitor. In the 10m platform final, Matthew had been trailing China's Zhou Luxin, but defeated the Chinese hot favourite with his final dive, graduating from gay icon to gay hero in the process.

He's pretty funny, and sweet with his boyfriend Lachlan too. Noone should be allowed to be this cute.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ellen Marries Portia

I'm so pleased for them. California really had better reject Proposition 8 in November and let marriage equality stand. Only a really cold, soulless monster could look at this and find it threatening in any way. It's a real injustice that Australia still doesn't at least acknowledge foreign-held same-sex unions:
"Every time DeGeneres and de Rossi visit de Rossi's family in Australia, their rights, protections and status as a married couple will cease to exist," Mr Furness said.

"It is shameful that Portia de Rossi's solemn marriage vows are dishonoured in this way by the government of her home country."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Will Young at the V Festival 2008

A lovely little diversion for you. The divine Will Young, singing an acoustic version of his new single 'Changes' at this year's V Festival. It may be just my opinion, but I think the man is getting better and better. Not only is it one hell of a good song, but this is one hell of a delivery. Sam Sparro may be the new gay boy with the soulful voice on the block, but this is the standard he has to live up to.

'Changes' is released mid-September as a download and CD single. Don't miss it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bigfoot in the 21st Century

Oh I remember Bigfoot from my youth. I was born in the Pacific Northwest, so got caught up in monster frenzy of the 70's and got quite obsessed. I watched TV programmes, even got books about Bigfoot, not to mention all the other monsters like Nessie, the Yeti and others. Looking back as an adult it was just a bit of fun - the likelihood that there really are leftover dinosaurs or neanderthal men, who just happen to have a knack for getting into camera shots, but just not too closely is pretty slim after all. And yet...
Two men in the US state of Georgia say they have found the body of a Bigfoot, the legendary ape-like creature that has been subject of decades of hoaxes.

Great story, except the 'body' doesn't even look real, and wasn't brought to the press conference for independent verification, making the 'DNA evidence' impossible to corroborate. A rat can clearly be smelled, but hey, who says the days of childish wonder are dead?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Does Evolution Mean I'm Not Special?

"The Genius of Charles Darwin": 2
"I'm special. Made in the image of God, in the creative mind of God, creative as God is, who made me. That's the difference between the ape and me."
It's a great quote which Richard Dawkins teased out of Bonifes Adoyo, an evangelical minister in Kenya, when discussing the latter's apparent opposition to a museum displaying the oldest human skulls. But why oppose the display? Because it was to be done in acknowledgment of evolution. And that's where the 'special' comes in. I've had online arguments aplenty recently with similar evangelicals who are similarly convinced they're special because they believe it. Science and evolution however show the complete opposite - that it's staggeringly vain to believe we're special in any way. We're sophisticated, that's true, but that's because of Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection; we're a lucky twist of fate.
"There is no goal it (evolution) just happens."
A wonderful riposte once again by the famed, militant atheist. It must be hellish for a theist to think that there's no point to any of this. We do what we do, we arrange our common existence for the most part to our best mutual advantage for our best individual gain, and then we die. We are sophisticated though, and we can theorise, question, philosophise and judge. It's our constantly questioning nature that's the most difficult aspect of our humanity to live with, whilst being our greatest asset.

Dawkins also makes an excellent point about Nazism, ethnic cleansing and other forms of genocide, which many have attributed to Darwinism. It's abundantly clear that there's no connection at all. For man to determine what and who is weak is to completely misrepresent Darwinism - we have no idea what nature considers in the larger picture as 'weak'. That Hitler lost WWII and failed to pass his genes on illustrates an ironic outcome, but the decisions about who is 'strongest' and 'best' remain entirely arrogant human guesses. Evolution works through long-term processes, which can't be looked at forwards, only backwards. Surely mutual cooperation is the most Darwinist notion of all - it gives my genes the greatest chance of making it through to the next generation as much as my neighbour's, and we then leave it up to nature to find out what happens next. I'm gay, so I'm unlikely to evolve my genetic lineage, but that's not true of my sister, nor of my neighbour. And so the human race goes the way it's meant to - plan-free, but not result free.

Trust, sympathy, gratitude, altruism - what a wonderful thought that these nuanced, complicated emotions might have an evolutionary basis - that there's a natural advantage in having them. I notice that Dawkins doesn't tie the logic of that realisation into religion, nor accept that his militant atheism is most useful only as a caricature, rather than a fair and balanced perspective on spirituality and good feeling for one another. Just to argue that religion is about the worship of an imaginary deity is to miss the point surely, which many religious people haven't - that the religion is about mutual solidarity, protection and support (his 'selfish gene'), and bowing down to unicorns ultimately is a side issue, albeit a complicated one. I wouldn't presume to ask Gene Robinson if he believed in a literal God, but when I heard him speak he did use 'God' in a very general, non-personal way. I like to think from this episode that strategies like meditation, wishing good will to others, and being kind really are the pinnacles of our capacity as humans, partly because as a thinking and feeling being it just feels good to know this, but also because the goodness is borne out as a scientific necessity - it's good for all of us and we can't help doing it.

So it's 'survival of the fittest', but in our unique, human society, 'fit' is far more (blissfully) complicated than violent, strong, smart or aggressive. That our 'selfish gene' can give rise to altruism as necessity is delightfully life affirming. Dawkins' analysis that the 'selfish gene''s altruistic outcomes might arise from it's being "stuck" in its ancient mode of bringing about positive outcomes for the transmission of genes in small groups, whereas today we live in large ones where *no* favour will likely be repaid, is a challenge. It suggests, as he concludes, that we really are the first species to be able to take ourselves out of natural selection altogether. What the implications are of that suggestion might be, is no doubt yet to be uncovered, whilst we continue doing everything we can to prevent the horrors of nature impacting on the way our society operates.

Darwinism and religion aren't really that divorced from one another, what a result.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dark Knight: Too Violent?

Well I'm going to start out with my conclusion and work backwards. You can't question Dark Knight's violence without asking 'too violent for whom'? It may be true that some of the violence was excessive for a 12A rating in the UK - the scene where the Joker introduced himself to the mob was shocking to me as an adult, but even then the violence is in a very clear context. Camila Batmanghelidjh (surely too ironic a name to be real) disagrees:
Batman, as we know, tries to overcome evil. Sometimes he punches and fights, but his violence lacks the sadism of the Joker. The Joker takes delight in the torture of others. He violates because he has nothing to preserve; he's prepared to lose, and delights in the corruption of civil society. He's sarcastic about humanity. The tension lies in whether pain will eventually force otherwise good people, such as Batman, whose violence is in the service of good, to abandon decency and kindness.
You have to wonder whether she's even seen the film. The moral message which radiates from the film is that even in a state of anarchy and lawlessness, good wins. The third act scenes where the Joker tries to get two ferries of Gothamites to kill one another, shows prisoners less likely to kill innocent people than even the most rabid right winger. The Joker's shown quite conclusively not just to be morally wrong but a complete idiot. He thinks society will reflect his anarchistic, morally absent worldview if pushed just a little bit too far, but he's wrong. Bruce Wayne fights for that, Jim Gordon fights for that, and that Harvey Dent fails suggests more of a problem with our elected officials than our fellow citizens.
The day that I saw the film last week, another teenager was shot dead in south London. I have seen the Joker's sadistic, victimising smile – and his nihilism – in some of the young children I work with. It's always born of catastrophic familial abuse. The abused child watching this film will recognise the elation of the Joker at making the shift from victim to violator.
Wrong again. The Joker plays mindgames with the origin of his grin, hinting initially that it was caused by family abuse, but then contradicting that story many times. It would be an enormous shift from the book to make the Joker's madness (for that is what it is) a result of abuse, rather than being an inherent psychological disorder. That you can laugh at some of the scenes involving him is a reflection of black humour - what the Joker does is never funny and the laughter is a symptom of discomfort rather than fellow feeling. Batmanghelidjh is suggesting that The Dark Knight is some sort of abuser's charter and that's about as stupid as the Joker.
What worries me even more than the violence was the lack of human compassion surrounding it. Human life is presented as worthless. For me, the apathetic bystanders who facilitate violence are more disturbing than the Joker himself. His perversion, at least, has a sad logic to it. The indifference of the onlookers, though, is shocking.
Err this is even more stupid. The point of the Joker is that compassion is alien to him, as it doesn't sit with his worldview - it probably doesn't help either that he's insane. But no human compassion? Really? Batman throwing himself off his own roof to save the love of his life? Jim Gordon doing anything to protect his family? Bruce Wayne sacrificing his own happiness and chance of a future, to protect people he doesn't even know? He even sacrifices his alter ego's reputation in order to save Harvey Dent's so that people can still believe in the good of elected officials ahead of vigilantes like him.

I've seen articles about Batmanghelidjh before, and her work is quite remarkable. The levels of trust she's gained with inner city kids with no hope is inspirational, but this piece is deeply patronising. The point of a 12A rating for starters is to put the decision as to whether the film is suitable for younger people in the hands of adults. And secondly it presupposes that even damaged young people won't be able to read the messages in the film clearly, when all the evidence suggests that young people from all backgrounds are far more adept than people from her generation.
It's a metaphor of our time. The day that I saw the film last week, another teenager was shot dead in south London.
It isn't anything of the sort, and maybe it should be. Given that there's noone out there making any measurable difference to the lives of young people, who are murdering one another in ever greater numbers, maybe we do need a Batman, a Jim Gordon, even a Harvey Dent to cut through the crap. The root causes of teen violence has nothing to do with movies like The Dark Knight.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Myopia of Milibandmania

You've seen me writing recently on this blog about Gordon Brown's failings. Well Michael Portillo, writing about Brown's recent misfortunes, has hit the nail on the head multiple times. David Miliband, current British Foreign Secretary, last week embarked on an extraordinary media adventure, setting out what looked to all intents and purposes like an alternate Prime Ministerial manifesto. Miliband has for some time been touted as the true heir to Tony Blair, and with Brown's now numerous failings of substance and style, it seemed as though a leadership campaign was effectively started through this intervention.

Part of his argument makes sense. The electorate is turned off by exaggerations of success. Labour's success in combating poverty has been eclipsed by their embracing of corporate business and extreme wealth, which has caused the gap between rich and poor to accelerate to a size greater than ever before. They may have accelerated markets for parental and customer 'choice' in education and within the health sector, but ignore the realities on the ground which make them fail. Their foreign policy is still a mess and grossly unethical (Miliband take note), their asylum policy grossly xenophobic and homophobic, and the Home Office is doing everything in its power to restrict even the most basic civil liberties, when it should be tackling the true causes of crime. And back we go to the beginning of the paragraph.

Portillo says:
A year ago Miliband famously predicted that we would soon be yearning for Blair again. That is certainly not what most of the Labour party feel. They supported Brown for the leadership, expecting a move away from new Labour. Tired of Blair’s adulation of wealth and of the United States, they looked for a fresh commitment to social justice.
And he's quite right. Miliband isn't offering anything of the sort. He talks of 'belonging', of 'modernising', whilst ignoring the diviseness of the policies which he offers no respite from.
Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few. When debating public service reform, tax policies or constitutional changes, we apply those values to the latest challenges.
And yet New Labour does put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of the few; this is a complete lie. Poverty isn't being combated in any meaningful way, and it's far from the only 'value' being ignored. 'Protection' policies allow the perception of crime to be hyped up far higher than it actually is. We're so afraid of the paedophiles lurking around every corner or every mouse click, that we fail to see abuse where it's really occuring and become paranoid about the wrong people. Asylum seekers are blamed for their own persecution, as New Labour reformulates the world around us into something it isn't, as worker protection offered by the EU continues to be rejected by a government timidly kow-towing to the corporate world. David Miliband, despite what he might say, offers no 'change' from this. Portillo continues:
Last week Bob Marshall-Andrews, the veteran Labour rebel, called on Brown to fire the foreign secretary. He is absolutely right, although if Miliband survives the weekend it may already be too late.
He is indeed right. Miliband's intervention was a thinly-veiled attack on Gordon Brown's authority (admittedly what little there is left of it). A Miliband leadership challenge, if successful, would ignore what Portillo rightly points out is an important lesson of modern history. The Conservative Party and electorate as a whole would much rather now have had the chance to have had Margaret Thatcher voted out, rather than evicted. Her authority had similarly dipped, through similarly falling completely out of step with the country, had clung to power for the sake of it, rather than continuing to offer substantial change, and had tried to legitimise the arrogance which is now (in many quarters) her legacy. Yet in flip-flopping to Major to Blair now Brown, none of them ultimately satisfying anyone, the country was denied a clear picture of the social and political alternatives before it. Blair paints himself the heir to Thatcher, as Cameron does to him, but New Labour has turned out to be a shallow sham, with politics not having truly moved on from the Thatcher era.

Brown might well be an awful Prime Minister, timidly appeasing the right wing whilst merely tinkering with left wing policies, but the electorate is already irritated that he didn't even triumph in an leadership election - that even the Labour Party didn't even truly decide they wanted him rather than a true alternative to Blair. To impose a second Blair clone on Britain, a smug one at that, would indeed be a catastrophe for the party. Under Brown they'll fall, but at least have the opportunity to debate what really should come next, and live to fight another day. Under Miliband, who hasn't even the groundswell of support Blair did in 1997, they would lose all trust and spend another quarter century tearing themselves apart. For all his numerous failings, Tony Blair must be spitting blood.