Category Archives: Ethics

Act of Terror on Vimeo

Act of Terror on Vimeo on Vimeo

With the police currently getting into scuffles with Unite Against Fascism outside Whitehall, I thought I should call attention to this video. The police have powers over us by consent – they don’t get to do what they like, when they like.


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Rape Culture Raises its Ugly Head Once More

Ugh, it seems I can’t read anything on the internet without finding out something else that disgusts me. This story, summarised by Chris Clarke at Pharyngula, describes a story in the US that’s passed under my radar. Occidental College, the LA-based liberal arts college with a distinguished history, has a major rape problem. That on its own doesn’t mark it out as special: the world has a major rape problem.

The thing that marks it out as special is the actions of the college itself when faced with allegations of rape against its students. It placed protecting its reputation ahead of pursuing rapists. It first attempted to talk women out of raising allegations, then placing as much of the consequences of the allegations on the women. If they had to find a student guilty of rape, they gave out a slap on the wrist and didn’t raise criminal charges. What little punishments the rapists received were often reduced on appeal.

This, right here, is rape culture. The process of normalising rape and making it fit into a background of activity is rape culture. Victim-blaming and the minimising of consequences is rape culture. The college has now promised to change things, and has introduced real measures to make their students’ lives better. But the fact that it takes a sustained campaign to force an institution to behave properly is rape culture. We need to end rape culture.

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Filed under Ethics, Feminism

Crazy People Think Black People Can Get Away with Murder

Ah, Right Wing Watch. The staff there have the unenviable job of tracking everything that the crazy wingnut far-right of America say or do. Mostly so that there’s a record of every incitement to violence, or mental conspiracy theory, or boycott, or outright racism.

Falling into the last of those categories is Brian Tashman’s post Horowitz: Obama ‘Would Never Be President if He Weren’t Black’. Yes, there are the obvious statements of unremitting hatred, the lies and the conspiracies in there – go read for yourself – but one comment of Horowitz’s did catch my eye [emphasis mine]:

Cornel West is just symbolic of the corruption of our culture and not unlike Obama who would never be president if he weren’t black, no white person with his resume and his thoughts and curious background and radicalism would ever have been nominated, let alone elected president if he weren’t black. So Cornel West is an empty suit who has twenty honorary degrees and he’s taught at all these prestigious universities but is basically an airhead, most people who’ve seen him on TV they’ve noticed. Part of the racism of our society is if you’re black you can get away with murder.

If you were looking for an explanation for why he hasn’t been indicted yet over those drone strikes in Pakistan…

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Filed under Ethics, Politics, Racism

Abortion and Disability

(h/t @stfumisogynists)

The Telegraph today published a letter from anti-choice groups which argued that in the wake of the Paralympics, abortion laws should be tightened and the freedom of people to decide the fates of their own bodies reduced.

Putting aside the allegation (which I haven’t personally checked) that not a single signatory to the letter was from an actual, y’know, group representing disabled people, it seems pretty clear that the religious are happy to shoe-horn anything into their rhetorics if they think it will advance their cause.

But pro-choicers, such as myself, need to be careful on this topic ourselves. Talking about this issue can very easily fall onto the question over whether people should or should not get abortions, rather than whether they can or cannot. Anybody saying that living with a disabled child is too stressful for parents (and hence that pregnant women should abort foetuses which would be) is just as bigoted as denying abortion rights to women on the grounds of your own low redefinition of life.

s. e. Smith, a month ago, hit this on the head – far better than I ever could. It’s so easy not to be a total arsehole. Living with the crazy idea that other people are actually fucking people, rather than pawns in your own political narrative, is one that comes so easily when you actually give it a try.

The question is not whether people should abort a foetus which presents symptoms of future disability, but whether people have the right to choose to abort, for their own reasons, or not abort, equally for their own reasons. Take it away s. e. Smith:

In a world where people, yes, celebrate and honour disability, our lives would be valuable and we would  be considered on equal footing as nondisabled people. And in that world, people wouldn’t talk about disability in terms like ‘suffering’ and say that parents have a moral obligation to abort to ‘avoid inflicting suffering.’ They’d say that all parents have the right to make decisions about what happens inside their own bodies, on the basis of as much information as possible, and those decisions are private and not subject to public discussion and judgment.

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Filed under Abortion, Disability Rights, Ethics, Politics

Ken Ham, so near and yet so so so far

Ken Ham sometimes manages to cut so close to the truth it almost hurts. Today is one of those days. If you haven’t heard of Ken, he’s the homophobic, woman-hating and, oh, yeah, young-earth creationist head of Answers in Genesis ministries. AiG are, for want of a better word, the leading young-earth creationist group – their Creation Museum (presumably) has visitors, and their website looks like a mongrel cross between Scientific American and Watchtower, the Jehovah’s Witness periodical. The Ark Park, a proposed Kentucky amusement park which will combine all the fun of an inundation-themed day out with a hefty dose of biblical literalism, is going to be built just as soon as they can find enough morons to fund the thing. Or, failing that, Republicans.

So, it’s not really possible for a person to be more openly wrong about the origins of the earth and life on it. Evolution? Didn’t happen, too difficult. Earth more then 7,000 years old? A scientific conspiracy to destroy faith in the bible. Dinosaurs? Lived in the garden of Eden.

But there is one fact on which he and I agree. His ideas about the Bible make more sense than liberal Christians’. Don’t get me wrong, wooly-minded accommodationist Episcopalians are my natural political ally within that wide, wide range of beliefs that is Christianity. But I can’t help feeling that ken Ham has a point when it comes to reading the Bible:

In the sermon, the pastor challenges the accepted definition of inerrancy, claiming that the Bible has no original autographs.

There is no such thing as an original autograph of the Scripture, and to claim such a manuscript is the basis for the inerrancy is intellectually dishonest.

While it is true that we do not possess the original manuscripts today, Kremer is arguing that they never existed. He even goes so far as to claim that “the Bible is not a history book,” “the Bible is not a philosophy book,” and “the Bible is not a science book.” With all those caveats, what exactly can we trust in the Bible? More importantly, how can we trust all that it has to say about Jesus Christ? Well, that’s an exception, says Pastor Kremer.

When you come to talking about the character of God, the Bible is indeed inerrant. When you’re talking about the revelation of God in Christ, we can trust that information with perfect confidence.

My question to Dr. Kremer is this—“Who decided you can trust this section but not the rest? On what basis did you determine this? Or is it just your fallible human opinion?”

And here it is: a legitimate question. The Bible is a book filled with disgusting morality, with obvious scientific inaccuracies and with the odd bit of good stuff. How can we honestly reject the shit stuff while accepting the good stuff on the strength of the Bible alone? We can’t. To effectively decide what is and is not moral in the Bible, we need another source of information. We need something else to tell us what is good and what is not. And since godless bastards like me have a perfectly good moral compass (gays: great, women: great, people of colour: great, everybody else: also great), I might go so far as to suggest that Biblical accommodationists are imprinting their own morals upon the Bible and claiming their ideas are divinely inspired.

At least old Kenny is honest, and submits all of his judgement to some random book plucked out of history rather than just the bits he happens to agree with. After all:

After all, if we take secularist Richard Dawkins’s views of evolution and millions of years to the Bible, why not take his views that reject the Resurrection and Virgin Birth and reinterpret the Bible too?


Either the Bible is inerrant truth, or it isn’t. If it is, then there should be no real evidence against its account of history. If it is, then every tenet of the Bible must surely fall under scrutiny. That’s not to say that every passage is wrong, just that we should no longer consider any of it ‘sacred’ and beyond real criticism.

Ken Ham is so close to the truth – if we reject literalism, we have so many good reasons to reject the whole thing. He just fails to reject literalism.

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Filed under Atheism, Ethics, Science

Open Letter to Barclay’s

Hi Barclay’s,

I know this is going to sound petty. I know that you’ve probably had tons of letters about the LIBOR scandal, and your PR team are trying to find a way to minimise the damage from that little snafu. And if I’m honest, I know this is petty too. I know there’s all the problems with the rape culture in Western society. I know there are people homeless because banks like yourselves collateralised debt to obscure how risky your investments really were. And yes, I am aware that Zach from One Direction has quit Twitter and there are now hundreds of young teenagers weeping softly into their pillow just like I did when PJ and Duncan left Byker Grove.

But this issue has been sticking in my craw for too many years to remain silent. No longer will I allow this to silently continue without opposition: Why are you incentivising people to unnecessarily use up paper? Why, when the rest of the world is try to reduce their environmental footprint, are you encouraging people to waste resources?

Let me make my complaint clear. Actually, let me compare you with a competitor. I bank with the Cooperative. When I happen to pass through Narnia, where my nearest branch is located, I can withdraw money from a Coop cash machine.

Would I like an advice slip with my cash? “We take environment seriously” says the machine, “are you sure you need a receipt?” If I were to select yes (I never do), I’m confident the machine might get a bit annoyed at me. “Really?” I expect it to ask, “You had a receipt yesterday. Do you really want to have a hand in destroying the world?”

No, ATM, I’m sorry, I don’t, but I need to know my balance. “Well excuuuuse me,” replies the ATM, rolling its eyes, “I guess you were too stupid to see the ‘Check Balance’ button when you withdrew your cash. Maybe, once you know how much money you have, you’d like to murder a badger. Or cause an oil spill by encouraging poor safety regulation. YOU BASTARD! THE DEATH OF THE ENVIRONMENT IS ON YOUR HEAD! Have you seen the competitive interest rates on a Coop Savings Account?”

The point is that the Coop really want you to use their online banking system. And really don’t want you to waste paper.  As you may be able to guess, anonymous Barclay’s employee, I’m about to launch a comparison bomb at you.

Yesterday, like a selection of previous days in the last four years, I withdrew cash from a Barclay’s ATM (sorry, Hole in the Wall™). I would have used a Coop, but this was London so I was about 10 miles away from the nearest branch. I withdrew the big-spending £20 I needed without issue, but before I could receive my money I was asked the following question:

“Would you like an advice slip? Check the reverse to see if you’ve won a pair of Premier League tickets!”

I get it. You sponsored a bunch of overpaid borderline psychopaths to run around doing not very much at all. Presumably the execs missed the obvious irony in that gesture as they took their 7-figure bonuses. And now you have more Premier League tickets than you know what to do with. Bravo for giving them away.

But surely there must be a way to do that without getting football fans to use up otherwise unnecessary receipt paper. I know there are only so many executive days out you guys can take off before the economy gets ignored so hard it actually starts to improve, but why not do an independent goal of the month competition online, with real prizes like match of the day used to?

Hell, why not donate them to the hard working volunteers who try desperately hard to keep our kids playing sport instead of playing truant? Or throw them off of a balcony over Oxford Street and enjoy the spectacle of the proletariat duking it out over yourhand outs. Maybe that one’s more up your street.

But please. Please, please, please stop wasting paper like you don’t give a fuck. And while you’re at it, if you wouldn’t mind not fucking the public for the financial gain of just a few, even just for a month or two, I think we’d all appreciate it.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Ballantine

PS. I think there’s a joke about a Coop ATM and a Barclay’s ATM (sorry, Hole in the Wall™) walking down the street. Maybe the Barclay’s ATM (excuse me, Hole in the Wall™) litters and then the Coop ATM goes mental and murders the Barclay’s ATM (ugh, did it again, should be Hole in the Wall™) with a rusty switchblade.

I don’t know, maybe you guys can be funnier with it than me. After all it was your ex-CEO who said that the banks should stop apologising for the crisis after conspicuously never apologising in the first place; presumably you guys already understand humour.

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Filed under Banks, Environmentalism, Ethics, Letter

Examiners ask Stupid Question in GCSEs

But politicians fail to understand why.

The Telegraph article Pupils asked ‘why do some people hate Jews?’ in GCSE exam highlights a huge mistake on the part of AQA. Asking such a politically, racially and religulously charged question of a fair few thousand 16 year olds is clearly in poor taste. It’s in poor taste for many reasons, not least of which at least a few of the kids answering the question will already hate Jews themselves and might unsurprisingly give some pretty hateful answers.

An answer along the lines of “Because they run a secret cabal which rules the Earth on behalf of their shape-changing alien lizard overlords” is not especially enlightened, but is pretty damned enlightening for anyone who might read it. Additionally, there is a fair amount of scope for people who would feel pretty offended to have to explain, however briefly why some people hate one another for no good reason. For some, it’s okay, and for others not so much.

So the really dumb part is not necessarily the question (which I’ll get to later), but the fact that 16 year olds are being essentially forced to answer it. If you’re going to require participation in an exam, probably the best thing to do is to leave questions which remain highly charged in the world of today out of it.

But, predictably, Michael Gove and I don’t see eye-to-eye:

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, branded the move “insensitive”.
He told The Jewish Chronicle: “To suggest that anti-Semitism can ever be explained, rather than condemned, is insensitive and, frankly, bizarre. AQA needs to explain how and why this question was included in an exam paper.”
“Insensitive” is indeed the word that describes the actions of AQA, but our agreement stops there. In fact Michael Gove’s second paragraph is kind of inexplicable. The only way I can make any sense of it is to assume that he can’t tell the difference between the words “explain” and “justify”. For example, the text of the exam question is:

Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.

When what I think Michael Gove read was:

Justify, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.

Now, the difference between these two is crucial. The former is asking for the real reasons why people think something which is very very bad to think. The second is asking people to support the prejudice itself. Michael Gove’s statement applies well to the latter question, but not so much to the former. Both questions, as I’ve already said, are not really appropriate for an exam question, but his statement is not just wrong when it comes to this discussion among adults, it’s blatantly counter-productive.
For example, were I a world-reknowned social and political scientist (I am not), and I wrote a paper with the following abstract (I have not), I would be perfectly justified in suggesting that anti-Semitism can be explained: 
An explanation into the motivations of anti-Semitic belief. The following paper, using interviews and polling data from the US population, investigates the fundamental vehicles for the inheritance of anti-Semitic beliefs. In modern society, open anti-Semitism justifiably has pariah status, and yet many continue to openly profess such beliefs. This paper concludes that a combinations of religious belief and political motivaton of group leaders often act as catalysts for such beliefs, and that other group members undergo conformative biases in order to fit in with their group. Once such a belief is expressed openly, the very nature of the belief encourages its holders to retreat to enclaves of anti-Semitic communities, causing groups to become even more closely knit and exacerbating the in-group/out-group hostilities which often arise.
The paper further concludes that greater integration, particularly during primary and secondary levels of schooling would act as a powerful factor in reducing the incidence of such beliefs as they cross such in-group/out-group lines and allow children the capability to see people from different backgrounds.
The point is that explaining a belief is a good thing, even if the belief itself is unjustifiable – understanding why people become anti-Semitic would help us learn how to improve things. We can hope people with stupid beliefs change, but the only thing each of us truly have the power to control is our own actions, and searching for explanations for why other people behave abominably informs us on the best steps we can personally take to reduce such behaviour.
Compare and contrast, for example, the reactions to the London riots last year. Gove, and the rest of the Tories, were quick to dismiss all who took part as part of a feral criminal underclass who can’t be saved. Anyone who suggested that we investigate why they did it was met with scorn: “How dare you suggest it is our fault?” they would scoff.
Of course it’s not our fault, responsibility for criminal behaviour lies with the criminal behaver. But once again: we are not trying to justify the actions of the rioters, only explain them. The riots began for a reason, and all governments have the power to do is change the way the government itself behaves. So the only questions we can ask following the riots is what the government can do differently to prevent more riots, and we can only do that by understanding why it happened in the first place.

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Filed under Ethics, Journalism, Politics, Racism

IDS’s Twisted Priorities

Ian “Dunkin'” Smith has made page 40 of today’s Evening Standard with the news that he is trying desperately to save a greyhound racing track which is going to be shut down to make way for flats. In fact, not just any flats: a housing scheme on behalf of the council. True social housing it ain’t, but it’s much needed homes in the London area. Why, you might ask, is he supporting this?

He has written to Boris Johnson urging him to use mayoral powers to throw out a housing scheme on the grounds that the stadium and its famous neon sign are a vital part of the nation’s cultural fabric.“The track is listed not only due to the nature of its architecture but also due to its use and the importance of this both locally and more widely,” argued the MP and former Conservative leader. “Perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of my constituents and local residents are passionately opposed to the scheme and want to see the return of greyhound racing.”

Oh, okay, that seems pretty well thought out and reasonable. Wait, WHAT? This is the man who said people in Merthyr should catch a bus to Cardiff to find work, when there were already 9 unemployed for every job in Cardiff at the time. The man who more recently pledged to take £10billion of people’s disability benefits.

It’s nice to see what Irritable Bowel Syndrome thinks are important in today’s society: disabled people being able to afford the cost of living? Fuck ’em. Overbred, exploited greyhounds being forced to run around a track for a baying crowd of bloodthirsty idiots hoping desperately for a return to the days of bear-baiting? Priceless national treasure.

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Filed under Animals, Ethics, Politics

Are wealthy MPs at a disadvantage?


This post from Left Foot Forward puts forward the idea that a study shows that voters find excessive riches distasteful. And then tries to spin it into a narrative of the rich being discriminated against in parliament.

I was just thinking that we don’t have enough millionaires in Parliament. Maybe we should try to shut the poor out of politics to even the balance? Throw in a few unpaid internships to make sure that only the rich can afford to join the legislative class. We’re overwhelmed by the poor in politics and I, for one, want to see an end to it. What happened to the days when our aristocracy had a divine right to treat us how they pleased? I’m pretty sure we were all happier then.

AN END! To the poor and the middle-class in politics! This is our mantra! Who wants elections these days anyway? What an absurdly excessive spending of public funds, when we could be passing on the savings as tax breaks to fracking companies.

Or maybe they should all just fuck right off. Left Foot Forward is supposed to be a blog of the left. The mainstream left make me sick.

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Filed under Ethics, Politics

The Trayvon Martin Shooting

Being here in the UK, some of you may have missed the Trayvon Martin furore. This would be because there’s been essentially zero coverage of the whole thing. You’d be shocked at the date that the actual shooting occurred (26th of February) given that only now are we hearing about it.

Others have explained far better than I the facts of the case (here‘s a good starting point), but I wish to begin with a brief talk of the UK media’s reaction.

None of the mainstream UK media covered the case until mass protests began.
The first BBC News TV article, as far as I can tell, was on the day of the protests. First, that proves that protests do work, and that protests have value beyond making lots of noise. I didn’t see a newspaper article on the subject until the day after. Granted, I only read the Guardian, the Times and the free commuter papers, but surely at least one of these would cover it…

Every article is repeating the lie that Zimmerman was a neighbourhood watch volunteer.
Read James Fenton’s article, the relevant BBC article on the subject. The truth is that Zimmerman wasn’t a member of any neighbourhood watch scheme – he was a self-appointed neighbourhood watch volunteer. And he’s made massive numbers of calls to 911 pointing out suspicious (i.e. black) characters. He was also carrying a weapon, which he’s not supposed to do if he’s in the neighbourhood watch, and he followed the guy. That’s not just something neighbourhood watch officers aren’t supposed to do, it’s the thing he was explicitly told not to do by the 911 operator.

Zimmerman’s actions have been condemned by the National Sheriffs’ Association which sponsors the US’s nationwide neighbourhood watch programme, a crime prevention scheme that allows local volunteers to patrol the streets. 

It said it had no record that the community involved was registered with the NSA programme, calling Zimmerman a “self-appointed neighbourhood watchman”. 

“The alleged participant ignored everything the Neighborhood Watch Program stands for and it resulted in a young man losing his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Trayvon Martin during this terrible time,” said Aaron D Kennard, the NSA’s executive director.


The far-right wing seem to think Obama’s involvement made this falsely about race.
This is an America article which the far-right blogosphere in the UK is currently circulating. There’s a couple of things in here which are just wrong, and I found it pretty instructional to understand them – it helps me understand the mindset of the far right a little better.

A Hispanic man shoots a black kid where no one knows the exact circumstances in which the shooting occurred and where we are likely never to know what happened. Instead of waiting for the facts, narratives have replaced truth and we have a full blown racial incident when it isn’t even clear that race was a factor.

Again – this kid was armed and ready. With a bag of skittles and a drink. He was 17. He was alone. He was followed by a man with a track record of making 911 calls to police of other suspicious (once again, i.e. black) characters.

He was followed by a man who was carrying a 9mm handgun (or as I call it, a “magic death button”), and shot dead. He put up the hood of his hoodie because he was scared he was being stalked. We have that from a tape of him with his girlfriend.

How will he look if it comes out that the shooter was justified in defending himself?

We know better – besides, what could he possibly be defending himself from – are the red ones in a Skittles packet particularly dangerous? Obama has weighed in because of the massive outcry that justice has not been done. Nobody has even tried. Obama came down on the correct side, because a man has shot an unarmed child, and has not even been investigated by the police. This is sick. This is exactly the institutionalised racism that we in the UK think has gone away now we’ve convicted Stephen Lawrence’s killers.

It has not.

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Filed under Ethics, Politics, Racism