Moron Alphabet N-O

This is the latest in a series. See also:

N is for Nigerian Pastors

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, a rising power, and a land of huge complexity, its population comprising around 250 ethnic groups. The country has huge oil reserves and an economy growing at Chinese-type speed; at its current rate of development, Nigeria stands to become a global power within decades. In surveys, Nigeria generally ranks as the world’s most religious country, with its population roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Religion in Nigeria is one of its fastest-growing industries and is hugely competitive, especially in the wealthier Christian-dominated south. Nigeria’s demographics and history make for the evolution of bizarre new strains of Christianity; despite the country’s growing wealth, inequality is extreme, and most Nigerians still live in poverty. Education has yet to reach the majority – only about 30% of Nigerians receive secondary education; and despite the dominance of non-African religions, most people still hold on to traditional beliefs in juju (black magic) and witchcraft.

Additional to the home market, Nigeria’s large and wealthy diaspora are also targets of the religion biz, with large international church networks blossoming.

These factors make for a population that’s deeply susceptible to superstitious beliefs, and a large number of religious preachers who are willing to exploit the ignorant for huge financial rewards. The religion business is so lucrative that Forbes maintain a rich-list list of the wealthiest Nigerian pastors.

Nigeria’s pastors preach a kind of anti-Christianity known as Prosperity Theology, which promises not just eternal salvation but wealth on Earth too; this is (understandably) hugely popular, despite contradicting the traditional Christian idea of wealth and inequality being evils. The sight of the rich extracting money from those who can’t afford it is ugly enough, but much darker practises also take place. Given the cost of medicine to ordinary Nigerians, and the belief in juju, many preachers offer cures for cash. This practise was most recently revealed to be taking place in London, where three AIDS sufferers in the congregation of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest pastors, TB Joshua, are reported to have died after stopping their HIV treatments.

And it gets worse: three years ago, a documentary called Nigeria’s Witch Children was shown on UK Channel 4. This revealed horrendous and widespread abuse of children labelled as witches. While this happened because of traditional superstition, it was stirred up on a large scale by wealthy pastors who were selling “exorcisms” to their poor victims.

We’re used to thinking of missionaries as Europeans who go to preach in Africa. Now the flow is reversing – the Nigerian pastors are coming!

O is for Omnipresence

Once upon a time, God was a physical being who lived somewhere. In a primitive, tribal world where few people strayed far from their home village, that made sense; people could believe that a god or gods could be found on an island they’d never visit, across a sea they’d never cross, or up a mountain they’d never climb. Primitive gods aren’t fluffy, undetectable things like those of today; they have substance, appearance and location, and can be called upon at will to prove their existence. Moses, for example, was able to climb Mount Sinai (alone) to meet God and collect the tablets containing the ten commandments.

As people began travelling further afield, God became more elusive. The atheist rapper Greydon Square (who you should seek out if you enjoy intelligent hip-hop) said the following in the track Mission Statement on his album, The CPT Theorem:

I love how the gods used to live in the mountains, and when we moved to the mountains and never found them, then they went and moved to the sky, then we moved to the sky, but we didn’t find them there, and you’re wondering why.

… thus summarising the religious problem nicely. God is always to be found just beyond our reach. The heavens were once “up there” in the sky. But when mankind insisted on inventing flying machines and space rockets, heaven, like God, became an abstract, elusive thing. So if God is no longer somewhere, he must be everywhere – how else could he hear our prayers, check that we go to church or see us sin?

Omnipresence is only a temporary refuge for God. Having evolved from a physical being who intervenes in our affairs to a wispy cloud-thing who generally leaves us alone, he becomes a soft target for scientific reasoning, which grows stronger all the time. Of course, the power is still in the hands of the believers. All they need do to prove their case is provide evidence of God’s existence – and presumably they have some hidden away somewhere, ready to reveal at the right moment.

Twenty Reasons To Attack Iran

Ahmadinejad

Look At Those Evil Eyes

Morons were naturally excited when news leaked of an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in the US a little over a week ago. The rest of us were a little more suspicious, given America’s long history of interference in Iran. Iran’s last democratic government was overthrown in a CIA-backed plot in 1953; the murderous Shah, America’s puppet leader, was overthrown in the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the US has been quite openly trying to destabilise the government ever since. They encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran, even providing him with chemical weapons (yes, those WMDs), resulting in a long and bloody war during the 1980s.

American sabre-rattling has long helped Iran’s moronic leader Ahmadinejad stay in power by cultivating a climate of fear within the country. And the US has been desperately trying, and failing, to find hard evidence of a nuclear weapons programme for several years now. America’s two great Middle Eastern allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, both resent Iran’s influence in the region; and of course, the Iranians have vast oil reserves, second only to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. In short, America would do anything to find an excuse to attack Iran.

So an apparent assassination plot on US soil would seem like the ideal opportunity – and America’s moron leaders leapt into action with both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden immediately trying to pin blame on the Iranian leadership. Unfortunately for the war-and-oil brigade, the plot was laughably amateurish, and experts quickly poured cold water on the allegations. The day the story broke, Channel 4 News in the UK diplomatically but effectively dismissed the US/Saudi allegations as fantasy.

Having watched this charade for a long time, I’ve started to feel sorry for US leaders; rather than convince the world of an Iranian plot, they’ve just made themselves look inept. So here’s my gift to the Obama administration: below are a number of very convincing reasons to attack Iran (at least, more convincing than the pathetic efforts to date). Feel free to use one or all of them. A small fee of $1,000,000 would be appreciated, payable on usage.

Reasons to attack Iran:

  1. We’re done in Libya now.
  2. They dissed Obama’s mother.
  3. They were responsible for 9/11.
  4. They were responsible for Pearl Harbour.
  5. They don’t allow abortion or gay marriage. (Editor’s note – that’s not gonna work)
  6. They have WMDs.
  7. Ahmadinejad created the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.
  8. Ahmadinejad has scary eyes.
  9. They have plenty of oil. (Editor’s note: too honest)
  10. Jesus wants us to.
  11. Because we can.
  12. It’s full of Muslims.
  13. Because we already run most other Middle Eastern countries, so we’d might as well grab the whole set.
  14. It’ll win Obama the moron vote.
  15. Because Israel said so.
  16. We spent $trillions on weaponry, and if we don’t use it the taxpayer might wonder why.
  17. Avoid unleashing thousands of mentally-scarred soldiers on America’s cities.
  18. It’s the latest hub of global jihad.
  19. They don’t even speak proper Arabic. They speak Iranianish or something.
  20. Oh come on, they’re brown and evil – what other reason do you need?

Is The World Going To End On Friday?

Harold Camping, Moron

Waiting For The End Of The World

Cast your mind back, if you can, to 21st May. You may remember Harold Camping predicting that the second coming of Christ would occur on that day. I blogged about this beforehand, and on 22nd May I asked the question: Whatever Happened To Jesus?

Now, some people mistakenly assumed that Camping was predicting the end of the world on 21st May. Of course not: that would be silly. What he actually predicted was that Jesus would return on 21st May, beginning a five month period of judgement, and on 21st October, the righteous would rise up to heaven while the Earth was destroyed in a hideous inferno. These dates are based on very precise mathematics which are far too complex for the average person to follow. I included Camping’s full reasoning as an appendix to my original post, but you read at your own risk: headaches may result.

The global news media, as ever failing to research properly, are reporting that Camping has switched the end date from May to October. In Camping’s defence, he has been consistent in his predictions. Yet again, MoronWatch stands alone in exposing shoddy journalism. Anyway, back to the story…

Unfortunately for Camping and his followers, especially those who threw in their jobs in preparation for the end, the second coming didn’t apparently take place on 21st May. Undeterred, Camping’s ministry published an explanation: Judgement Day did occur on May 21; or to be more accurate, the period of judgement began, to end precisely on October 21 as promised. Camping had predicted earthquakes, and he explains the lack of obvious quakes that day as follows:

In Genesis 2:7 we read:

And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground…

Thus the word “earthquake” can also be understood to teach that mankind shakes.

And since mankind shook with fear on May 21 (at least, that small part of mankind that takes Camping seriously), the prophecy was self-fulfilling and therefore true.

What all this means is that the world is due to end on Friday. Sadly, because May’s Second Coming was such a disappointment, fewer people are taking this date seriously. Personally, I plan to engage in a massive orgy of sex and drugs, just in case… it would be a shame to let the opportunity pass. Meanwhile, mocking the gullible is highly recommended: it may seem mean to laugh at those whose dreams have been shattered, but since their dreams involve 99% of mankind suffering in eternal hellfire, I think mockery is the least they deserve.

How The Religious Right Censored The UK Media

Beyonce Dancing

Does This Image Damage Your Children?

Although the Internet’s roots lie in defence and academic research projects in the 50s and 60s, it only exploded into the public consciousness in the mid-90s, after Tim Berners-Lee created the technologies behind the Worldwide Web.This was, not only in hindsight but widely recognised at the time, a hugely significant moment in human development; a point at which anyone, with a little technical skill and a little cash, could share their thoughts, beliefs, ideas, or products with a global audience. The control of publishing and broadcasting had always been concentrated in the hands of an elite. These few had a stranglehold on deciding what constituted acceptable culture, and what ideas should be kept away from the masses. They defined the consensus.

Now, ideas deemed “dangerous”, “immoral”, “obscene” or otherwise previously unacceptable could be publicly aired. Publishers could choose, if they wished, to remain anonymous. The implications were enormous – and given the benefit of hindsight, the predictions of the day weren’t overblown; the effect of the new communication medium has been social dynamite.

Given that the peoples of the developed world could, for the first time, choose exactly what content to consume, the Internet could be seen as a measure of repression; people would naturally use it to fill vacuums previously unoccupied by other, censored, media. How would people use the Net?

We quickly found the answer; although there was of course a true explosion of creativity, bringing us services from Amazon to Hotmail, the overwhelming majority of network bandwidth was used by people downloading pornographic imagery. There was a simultaneous exponential rise in the use of anonymous “dating” services to find sexual partners, either to engage in cybersex or to meet “in real life”. The Internet had provided the first unbiased survey of what the world was thinking; and what the world had on its mind was Sex. Few had realised how ruthlessly sex had been censored from human discourse in the preceding decades and centuries; only when all censorship was removed did we find out just how controlled our lives had been prior to the Web.

From day one, it was inevitable that the authorities would catch up with this turn of events and try to crush it; surely, our rulers hadn’t spent centuries pushing sexuality underground, only to have the whole project die in a few short years. The American religious right was quickly on the case; it had been funding academic research since the 1980s trying to prove that porn in some way caused harm to people and society. The religious right was joined in its efforts to stigmatise porn (and other open expression of sexuality) by a new strand of feminism; this time, instead of fighting for the rights of women to enjoy their sexuality without stigma, these new feminists were insistent that free sexuality was harmful to women. Collectively, I refer to the religious right and neo-feminists as the New Puritans.

With no academic research to back up their claims, the New Puritans took to establishing myths in the public consciousness. The Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels is famous for his observation that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. There are many “facts” about porn and sexual imagery that many liberal-minded people have accepted as true with little thought: sexual imagery “objectifies” women; the free expression of sexuality somehow benefits men and subjugates women; porn is “linked to” misogynistic thinking; porn is “linked to” sexual violence; sexual freedom is “damaging to” relationships.

It may come as a surprise to many people who have heard these ideas that none of these “facts” is backed by any research whatsoever. Indeed, attempts by the New Puritans to find “smoking guns” have failed dismally, after more than two decades of trying. The research that does exist suggests the opposite to what is claimed by the New Puritans. Most remarkably, in those societies that have embraced sexual freedom in its many forms, rates of sexual violence have fallen massively. Porn video first became widely available in the United States with the widespread adoption of VHS in the late-1970s. In 2006, the Washington Post reported that the incidence of rape in America had fallen by 85% from 1979 to 2004. Of course, availability of porn was one of many social changes taking place in the US during this period, but the conclusion seems to be that greater sexual freedom in society makes women (and almost certainly children) safer from sexual violence.

Scientific research has firmly dismissed the “porn causes harm” myths, with the publication Scientific American recently reporting on a number of studies that seemed to show the opposite – that porn use is correlated with positive outcomes. In the UK, researcher Clarissa Smith has studied the effects of porn over 20 years and has come to similar conclusions (her research is soon to be published).

So, game over for the puritans? Of course not; freeing sexuality means less money for religions that reap the benefits of sexual guilt; there’s also money in selling “cures” to the (probably imaginary) ailment of porn addiction and writing books about the evils of pornography.

With the election of a Conservative government in the UK in May 2010, the New Puritans saw new opportunities. Claire Perry, a right-wing MP, began a parliamentary enquiry into “protecting children online”. Simultaneously, a Christian lobby group known as the Mothers’ Union began a media campaign to convince people that children were being “sexualised”. This was a good, old-fashioned attack on “permissive media”, packaged into a fancy new term. Pretty soon, even level-headed people were believing that children were being “sexualised”, without any clear idea of what that meant. So far, so predictable.

Then it gets weird; David Cameron appoints an “expert” to carry out a review into sexualisation; this expert is none other than Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union. So without public consultation, representatives of the religious right are writing policy proposals at the request of the British Government. In response to this absurd coup, the media outcry was… non-existent. An incident which should be treated as a political scandal has been ignored or even applauded. The very notion that children are being “sexualised” or that something should be done about it has been passed on without question in the mainstream press.

Reg Bailey published a report which was swallowed without comment by the government (I wrote about this in June). It stated, without being backed by research, that children were being sexualised, and that widespread media censorship should take place, from billboards to music videos to the sale of children’s clothing. Having now established religious prejudice as fact in the mind of the British government and media, a raft of censorship measures is beginning to be implemented.

The latest measure was announced this week when the government came to an agreement with large ISPs that consumers would be asked whether they want the ability to see porn when they sign up for a home Internet connection. This is done in the name of “protecting children”, although filtering solutions for children already exist (and have done for many years), and the effect of blocking an entire household can only be to prevent adults from watching porn. Although the measure is voluntary, there have already been attempts to stigmatise parents who are too “permissive” with their children; Clarissa Smith (mentioned above) says that parliamentary committees are already talking about “bad parents” who choose not to block porn to their household. Undoubtedly the next step will come when religious lobbyists report to MPs that parents are (shock, horror) choosing to remove the ISP block and watch porn in their own homes. Homes that have children in them!!!

The UK government has taken its first, definitive step into Internet censorship – something it has castigated other governments for in the past. It has been unclear about exactly what content is considered “unsuitable for children”; undoubtedly this definition will become ever broader with time. Undoubtedly too, the voluntary block will be under review, and the New Puritans will be demanding more sites to be blocked, and measures to make it harder (or impossible) for adults to access certain types of content via their home connections.

The response of the mainstream media has been almost non-existent. Most disappointingly, The Guardian writes in Daily Mail-esque terms about “the destructive effects of pornography on relationships and values, harming not just children but also adults” while blissfully ignoring that the claims of harm exist nowhere but in right-wing propaganda, and are not backed anywhere by research. In any other field of interest, The Guardian would undoubtedly investigate such claims, something that in the areas of laws related to sex and drugs, it repeatedly fails to do.

It was clear even 15 years ago that governments and corporations would never allow the Internet to continue as an uncensored medium; too many powerful vested interested are harmed by an open network. The US at least has the first amendment, making it harder to introduce censorship. But there’s little doubt that the Mothers’ Union, fresh from its success at turning the UK into a flagship for its “sexualisation” idea, will use us as a case study to campaign for similar measure elsewhere.

Celebrate Heroes, Not CEOs

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai photo by Martin Rowe

I had a moment of genuine shock when I woke up on Thursday, picked up my iPhone and read the headlines, to discover that Steve Jobs had died. Of course I already knew he was ill and that he was standing down, but the severity of his illness had been kept quiet, meaning that news of his death came to most of us as a surprise. After my Wow moment, I carried on with day as normal. Shock number two came when I logged into Twitter and Facebook to find tributes to Jobs liberally posted. Jobs’ death seemed to have become what we call in the UK a “Diana Moment” – an outbreak of apparently inexplicable mass grief for a personality only known to most through the mass media. People I know who never follow business or technology events were swept up in the tide of tributes. The sayings of Jobs were being shared with the same reverence as quotes from Jesus or Gandhi.

When I went to bed on Wednesday, Jobs had been a hugely successful business innovator who’d turned Apple from a near-failure to a dominant brand in technology, and then in media and entertainment. By Thursday, he’d apparently devoted his life to furthering the development of mankind. Waves of mass hysteria are rarely spontaneous; nor could Jobs’ death have been a surprise to Apple, who must have prepared themselves with great care. Thursday’s wave of grief and love for a CEO was a brilliantly orchestrated PR campaign, and many smart people I know were drawn into it unquestioningly.

I’m a technologist, and fully aware of the immense achievement of Steve Jobs in turning Apple into the powerhouse it is today. I’m also (as you many have noticed in the first line of this article) a fan of some Apple products. Jobs has done for Apple what Bill Gates did for Microsoft, and what was previously done by IBM: achieve a position of power and dominance over the technology market. But more than that, the rise of Apple coincided with the rise of digital media; so Apple didn’t just get to rule the technology roost, but has also taken a dominant position in the retail of music, film, TV, software and books.

Apple hasn’t been shy in exploiting its stranglehold over these markets; any media owner wanting to reach iPod, iPad and iPhone users now must pay Apple handsomely for the privilege. App developers may create a unique piece of intellectual property and even find a market for it, but the only way their audience can access their product is by paying Apple for it. Apple arrived in an open, standards-based technology world and stifled the openness for profit.

Sure (you may say), but Apple is a business. It exists for profit, not to improve people’s lives. And you’d be right – Jobs and Apple created well-designed, timely products, coupled with a smart and ruthless strategy to bring themselves control and power over people’s products, work and media consumption. That’s what businesses do (or at least, try to). But does it make Jobs into a hero? Certainly not – any more than Bill Gates was a hero for forcing the dominance of Windows, and holding back technological development for perhaps a decade before the openness of the Internet swept him away. Apple’s dominance is crushing competition, which will hold back technology, not enhance it.

But Apple’s story is darker than just control of supply chains. Apple’s enemy in its dominance of digital media is the open Internet, with its free speech and lack of censorship. Apple is a ruthless censor of online content. Create an app containing nude imagery? Sorry, the censors at Apple don’t approve of that. Political satire? Sorry, the Apple thought police say No. You thought you were buying a phone? Actually, you were buying a good, clean, Christian way of life.

Apple’s use of cheap labour working in ugly conditions has been well documented. This is hardly limited to Apple, nor can the company be severely criticised for taking advantage of globalisation – if you don’t use Chinese labour to make your product, you’ll go out of business. The solution to that problem is growth in the Chinese economy coupled with transparency in the West. But can Jobs in any way deserve his new status as some kind of a saviour of mankind? I don’t think so – chalk up a huge win to Apple’s PR company. Do I blame Apple for turning Jobs into a hero so that some of the shine would rub off on its products? Not at all – they’re a business and that’s what businesses do.

I blame the ordinary person-on-Facebook for being so unselective in his or her choice of heroes. Only a couple of weeks ago, a Kenyan woman called Wangari Maathai died, also of cancer. Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her political and environmental work. She had been persecuted, abused, beaten, for standing up against political and corporate power. She made this sacrifice, not for financial gain or power, but because she felt it was right. The suffering of other people mattered to her more than her own safety and well-being. Do you remember two weeks ago how Facebook was filled with tributes to this great woman when we heard news of her death? Of course not. Maathai had no huge PR operation. The corporate-owned media don’t celebrate the lives of their enemies. She didn’t create that greatest God of Capitalism: Profit; indeed, her actions undoubtedly threatened profits.

Heroes still exist – they always have done. It’s just that the mass media would rather we didn’t know about them. Instead, they give us corporate heroes, CEOs, men who change the world – but not necessarily for the better. We need to be more selective about who we hero-worship. The power to write real heroes back into history is in our hands.

Theresa May Creates A New Moron Myth

Theresa May Moron

Hang Theresa May? Some mistake surely..

The annual Tory (Conservative) Party conference is of course the height of moron season in the UK, and this year’s is (so far) no exception).

Yesterday’s choice moment came from Theresa May, the Home Secretary (not to be confused with Teresa May the porn star – take care when Googling). Right-wing Tories are upset that, due to being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Tories in government haven’t yet herded ethnic minorities and the poor into extermination camps. It’s therefore the job of conference speakers to say insanely stupid/dishonest things that will cheer up the moronic wing of the party.

May delivered in style, attacking the Human Rights Act (the HRA is a pet hate for British morons, as you’d imagine) with the claim:

“…illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat…”

Readers of the British moron press (aka the tabloids) will be familiar with this kind of claim, which is a common enough feature of British political discourse; indeed, most Sun, Mail and Express readers will be able to regale you with tales of paedophiles freed to strike again, murdering immigrants who can’t be deported in case they’re tortured, and so on.

The right hates the HRA for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. It classes immigrants as human,
  2. It classes Muslims as human,
  3. It was given to us by the EU, and perhaps most appallingly,
  4. It’s used to defend human rights.

May’s claim about the immigrant’s cat therefore pleased the moronic Tory right by attacking the HRA, the EU and immigrants in one short sentence.

Anyone (at least any non-moron) watching the speech would have immediately been wary about believing the claim because a) it was said at Tory Party conference, b) Theresa May said it, c) she used the words “I am not making this up” and d) almost all such claims ever made have been thoroughly discredited. True to form, it turned out to be a lie: the man in question hadn’t been deported because he was in a long-term relationship with an EU citizen. The cat only came into the story because it was one of the pieces of evidence presented to demonstrate the veracity of the relationship.

To his credit, my favourite Tory cabinet minister Ken Clarke (from a shortlist of one) was the first to challenge the claim, and Channel 4 News quickly checked and discredited it.

Morons though will have already added this lie to their list of reasons as to why the HRA, the EU and immigrants are all evil, and it will no doubt circulate in moron circles forever.