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September 9th 2017
I'm always surprised there aren't more anti-abortion atheists.
There is much, in fact, that surprises me about the abortion debate, and I'll come onto more later, but that is one of the key ones for me. Simply put, the argument against abortion is that life begins at conception (or, pedantically, at some point before the 24 week cut-off point after which abortions are illegal). The argument for abortion rests on the belief that it doesn't. And I can understand why Biblical teaching indicates the former, but I cannot fully understand why believing there is no God would correlate so strongly with the latter. After all, as that 24 week limit indicates, we are all agreed that life begins before birth - even the most eager of pro-abortionists would struggle to support abortion in the ninth month, say - and after that, we're just quibbling about how alive a thing has to be before it is a person. Taken to its extremes, this leads to the Catholic teaching against contraception.
The other thing that never fails to surprise me about the abortion debate is the attitude towards anti-abortionists. When, like Jacob Rees-Mogg this week, someone puts forward the anti-abortion argument (and he put forward the argument very succinctly, clearly and accurately; he also explained superbly why it is completely different kettle of fish to the question of same-sex marriage), he is labelled a bigot. Somehow the view that life begins with conception is seen as a monstrous thing. I cannot comprehend this. If you believe - as he does; as I do - that abortion is the killing of an unborn child, then of course you are against it. It outweighs other considerations. It outweighs 'choice'.
You may have noticed, in fact, that I have used the terms 'pro-abortion' and 'anti-abortion' rather than any of the euphemistic equivalents. They are not helpful. The term 'pro-life' is misleading, because the true debate is not about whether or not life is good, it's about when life actually begins. Similarly, 'pro-choice' is not a very useful term, and 'anti-choice' is the most silly of all (any and all users of the term have, in my view, lost the right to be taken seriously): literally no one is anti-abortion because they don't like choice.
This terminology crosses over into some of the more typical discussions points used by pro-abortionists: a woman's right to choose; it's her body. This, of course, misses the point entirely. If you believe that the life of a foetus has already begun, then it is not part of a woman's body any more than it would be after the 24 week limit. If you believe it is alive, then no amount of 'choice' is argument enough to kill it. It continues to baffle me that pro-abortionists do not countenance these arguments, and insist on claiming that people can only be opposed to abortion because they're misogynists who want to control women.
The follow-up question to anti-abortionists - the one that Jacob Rees-Mogg faced when appearing on Good Morning Britain - is always "what about rape or incest?". It is odd that abortion is the only moral topic where, without fail, minority scenarios are construed to test the position. If you say that you are against stealing, you are not asked if you would hold this position if it's a mother stealing bread to feed her children; if you take a stance against murder, you are not tested with a hypothetical rape victim who, in desperation, kills their attacker.
A character in The West Wing once said, when running to be the Democratic presidential candidate: "Abortion is a tragedy. It should be legal. It should be safe. It should be a whole lot rarer than it is now." That is a pro-abortion stance I can understand (and a necessary rebuke to those anti-abortionists who seem to believe that all abortions are undertaken thoughtlessly and flippantly). But it does not appear to be common: instead, abortion is celebrated as a feminist victory; in a euphemism to crown all euphemisms, it is described as representing 'reproductive rights'. I have previously wondered if these views are, in some way, designed to cloak shame or doubt; they seem to be so devoutly held, though, that I don't think this can be the case.
I do not believe that abortion is solely a women's issue - which should come as a corollary to the points raised above - but I appreciate that I write from a point of manifest inexperience, and would not claim to be anything close to authoratitive on the topic. Feelings run so high on both sides of this debate that I usually duck out of any discussion of it. Indeed, I probably won't post a link to this on Facebook, as I usually do, because I don't think it would be helpful. But I've read so much about abortion that is incomprehensible that I've been itching to throw in my two cents. Here they are.

September 11th 2017
I don't suppose I have more regrets than most. I mean, I'm not a 'je ne regrette rien' kind of person, but I'm not overburdened with regret. This is, perhaps, partly because my understanding of regret - which might stretch slightly beyond its dictionary definition - is that it is wishing that I'd done something differently. So, while I have a reasonable number of disappointments and, I guess, discontentments, I cannot trace them back to a particular decision I would reverse if I could.
Some of the regrets are pretty small, really: a stupid, arrogant thing I said when I was 17; a cruel thing I did when I was about 13. The biggest regret, though - and, in the grand scheme of things, it's still not that big - is that I opted out of doing a masters degree when I was at University.
At the time I considered the choice from several different sides, and came down in favour of the BSc for a number of reasons: I didn't actually need a masters; I wasn't sure of being able to get a first in it; almost all my closest friends would be leaving after three years; and so on. The strange thing is that, even at the time I made that decision - about a dozen years ago - I believed it was right, but knew that there would come a time when I would look back think I'd made the wrong call. What I didn't realise was the importance of this latter consideration.
I still definitely believe that my Maths BSc is the most challenging thing, academically, I have ever done, surpassing the actuarial qualification that came later (despite the fact that the latter is apparently equivalent to a masters). The regrets about the masters certainly don't detract from how proud I am of that. But over the years, I've sometimes wished I had an M to go with the B.
If I'm honest, some of that has been due to vanity, and the thoughts have most often struck me when I've talked to or about others who have got masters degrees. There are notable exceptions - almost certainly including you, if we're friends enough for you to be reading this - and in particular Simon, of whom I'm very proud (I think I might well feel differently if he'd done his qualifications in something mathsy... fortunately my magnanimity was not put to the test in that way). And that's a large part of why I've not enlisted in a masters before: because vanity is not a good reason to do anything, really.
But now, six years after I completed my actuarial qualification, I'm feeling the studying bug come back on. And while I'll not deny that it would be lovely to get the masters qualification I opted out of all those years ago - how often do we get the opportunity to rectify our regrets? - it's the additional desire just to learn maths again that makes me think this is actually worthwhile. I'm not without trepidation, given that I hit my intellectual peak a decade ago and have probably forgotten much of what I once knew, but I'm pretty sure that I'm going to go for it. I'm gonna go for the MSc.
Don't worry, I'm not going to chuck in the job and move onto campus again. The Open University offers an MSc that can be done through distance learning, with six modules that can be taken over a flexible timetable (apparently one module a year is standard, although I'm tentatively thinking of trying to get through everything in four years or less), so that sounds ideal. Having looked at the course, there's the option to go mostly down the pure route without having to pick up too much applied maths, which is even better.
I might be too late for this year - courses start in October, and I'd need to phone up to see if they'd be able to fit me in for the first module - but, even if I have to wait a year, I'm really warming to this idea. So much so that I'm adding it to my '40 by 40' list, at the expense of 'stand for election'. Yes, yes, I know that changing the list after it's been 'finalised' is clearly cheating, but: (i) if I'm gonna do a masters, I'm definitely putting it on the list; (ii) I've realised that the whole election thing was a bit of a whim that has quickly died; and (iii) hey, my list, my rules.

September 27th 2017

Heavy

He rose to leadership despite significant opposition from the elected members of his party, defeating heavy odds by instead winning the backing of ordinary party supporters.
He presented himself as the 'anti-politics' candidate, riding a wave of animosity towards politicians, despite the fact that his claims to be a man of the people were tenuous at best.
His poll ratings in the nation have largely been terrible; his adherents have blamed the pollsters for this.
He has worn his incompetence as a badge of victory, and a sign that he would play by his own rules, not those of the 'establishment'.
He completely failed to keep his top team together, losing the majority of his key appointments in a very short space of time.
He takes any opportunity to criticise media organisations that disagree with him, and this animosity is taken up by his adherents with their increasingly improbable accusations of bias.
He is much more comfortable with rallies of his cheering supporters than he is with serious political work.
He has refused to denounce racists and committers of atrocities - particularly when they are the same side as him - except in general terms that suggest fault on multiple sides.
He has refused to condemn Putin, and has been surprisingly supportive of Russian authorities.
He recorded significantly fewer votes than his (female) opponent in the national election, but still claimed and continues to claim an outstanding victory.
His family has benefited from apparent nepotism in political appointments.
He does not care much for the truth, instead saying whatever supports his position, regardless of facts.
He is not, despite the ardour of his supporters, at all intelligent.
He has been married three times.
He is, of course, Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn is Trump Lite. Yes, they do not share many of the same political views - apart from the aforementioned closeness to Putin, and an instinctive antipathy to the EU - but I think they are indisputably part of the same phenomenon. This has been clear almost from the off, without the need to think too hard about it, but for some time I have been intending to get down to specifics. Here they are. And, because I imagine this is not as obvious to some people as to others (a polite way of saying that I expect it to meet with vehement disagreement), let's go through them one by one.
Before we do, let me reiterate: I do not think Trump & Corbyn share the same political outlook. I don't even think Corbyn is as bad or as dangerous as Trump (hence 'Trump Lite'), although I do think he is both bad and dangerous. I just think they're cut from the same cloth.

He rose to leadership despite significant opposition from the elected members of his party, defeating heavy odds by instead winning the backing of ordinary party supporters.
Throughout the primaries, Trump was the one that the other Republicans warned against. While he was busy picking up popularity and notoriety, senior Republicans lined up to say they could not support his candidacy. He still kept picking up votes. In the same way, Corbyn had few supporters amongst Labour MPs, and only got onto the leadership ballot because a few non-Corbynistas (before the word existed) lent him their votes. Having won the election off the back of an influx of new rank and file members, he went on and did it again, while the parliamentary party did their best to stop him from even running - even going so far as to take it to court. His unpopularity amongst his own MPs was so strong that, last June, he lost a vote of no confidence 172-40. In his first win, Corbyn was a rank outsider; Trump won the presidency despite Hillary Clinton being the short-odds favourite even on the night of the election.

He presented himself as the 'anti-politics' candidate, riding a wave of animosity towards politicians, despite the fact that his claims to be a man of the people were tenuous at best.
Both Trump and Corbyn based their campaigns on being outsiders, riding in to 'drain the swamp' or challenge the 'establishment'. They beauty of this style of campaign is that whenever anyone of note challenges you, you can claim that it's because they're part of this mythological 'establishment' - thus any opposition of senior Republicans & Labour party members could be swept aside without further explanation. To this day, Corbynistas struggle to believe that anyone could oppose their man unless it's out of self-interest. And while both men can claim to be outside of the establishment, they are hardly representative of the common man: whereas Trump has spent his life in opulence, Corbyn has spent his in obscure left-wing politics: only the common man if the common man reads the Morning Star.

His poll ratings in the nation have largely been terrible; his adherents have blamed the pollsters for this.
The last time I looked, Trump was at 35% in the polls. I remember his proud tweet about hitting 50% a few months ago; even odder are his tweets claiming (in the same tweet) that the polls are both rigged and positive for him. Similarly, Corbyn - although on strong numbers now - spent much of his leadership with disastrously poor ratings. His fans decided that this was because the polling companies were hand in glove with the Conservatives. After all, as I've seen more than one of them saying, everyone they know is voting Labour, so the polls must be lying.

He has worn his incompetence as a badge of victory, and a sign that he would play by his own rules, not those of the 'establishment'.
Back to the 'establishment'. This is probably worthy of its own blog post, because there is little in today's politics that I find more risible - and frustrating - than the frequent recourse to the 'establishment' epithet. When it's impossible to claim that an anti-Corbyn argument is right-wing (or, equivalently, an anti-Trump argument is left-wing) because it's coming from all sides, just bundle up all the critics and claim that they're part of the 'establishment'! I have had this done to me, when I pointed out to a friend that the Guardian's comments about Corbyn can hardly be seen as a Tory plot. His rejoinder, of course, was that it was an 'establishment' plot. And how can you tell that someone is part of the 'establishment'? Well, they (i) are prominent; and (ii) disagree with you. So, it doesn't matter if they're left-wing, right-wing, or studiously impartial: their arguments can be disregarded altogether. Michael Gove never did say that the British people have had enough of experts (watch the full clip); anyone who complains about the 'establishment' is doing exactly that. Anyway, Trump has claimed that he could be as presidential as anyone bar Abraham Lincoln, but chooses instead to be 'modern day presidential'. Similarly, the Corbynistas claimed that Corbyn's organisational weaknesses and lack of presentational skills (both of which have, in fairness, since improved enormously) were in fact signs of authenticity.

He completely failed to keep his top team together, losing the majority of his key appointments in a very short space of time.
The pace at which Trump has lost his key staff is frankly incredible. For West Wing fans, my good friend James Lee put it best (and this was at the start of August, before yet more people were fired or resigned): "You've lost Josh Lyman, Toby Ziegler, CJ Cregg, Will Bailey, Leo McGarry, Nancy McNally so far & you're only on the 2nd disc of Season One." Even for a man whose catchphrase was 'You're Fired!', this represents quite a disaster. Corbyn has managed to keep hold of his lieutenants - there is surely nothing that John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, or Seumas Milne could do or say that would persuade Corbyn to part ways with them - but he has shown a similar inability to keep key appointments in place, losing the majority of his shadow cabinet (as well as junior ministers) in a series of resignations last June. Many of them have come crawling back, but for a while Corbyn didn't have enough support amongst his MPs even to fill the positions.

He takes any opportunity to criticise media organisations that disagree with him, and this animosity is taken up by his adherents with their increasingly improbable accusations of bias.
Trump's cries of 'fake news' are well known. Corbyn has a similar problem with the 'mainstream media', routinely criticising those sections that are not on his side - including three swipes at the media in his acceptance speech as Labour leader. Three! At a time when he should have been aiming to win over those voters who didn't back him, he spoke only to his own supporters - unless he thought that defending 'the great Ralph Miliband' from the attacks of the Mail was going to appeal to centrists. OK, fair enough, the UK tabloid press has routinely gone beyond what is reasonable - much more so than the likes of CNN, although it's hard to see even their coverage of Republicans as clear-eyed - but for Corbynistas the accusations are flung far wider. Ask Laura Kuenssberg, who has had to get a bodyguard to attend the Labour party conference. Claims that the BBC is right-wing (which, in fairness, I don't think Corbyn has actually voiced himself) are as risible as any of Trump's claims of media bias.

He is much more comfortable with rallies of his cheering supporters than he is with serious political work.
Trump's presidency has been marked by a surprising number of rallies. Well, surprising for anyone whose vanity and ego-centrism are not his defining characteristics. These events are just ways to get himself cheered by crowds of debatable size. Corbyn has picked up on this tactic, and you are now just as likely to see him at Glastonbury as at PMQs, revelling in the adulation of his unquestioning fans. He might claim that he's campaigning for the next election, but the rest of us have noticed that it's not due for nearly five years: and when it does, he will need to win over voters who don't already love him. Just as Trump is in no danger of oppostion when he screams 'Make America Great Again' at a crowd of people already wearing those words on their heads, so Corbyn risks little by announcing to Trade Unionists that they should join a Trade Union.

He has refused to denounce racists and committers of atrocities - particularly when they are the same side as him - except in general terms that suggest fault on multiple sides.
This is one of the most obvious parallels between the two, and possibly the only one where Corbyn truly outstrips Trump. In response to the events of Charlottesville, a hotbed of white supremacy and neo-Nazism, Trump said he condemned the violence 'on many sides', emphasising that Antifa (anti-fascist protestors) also committed acts of violence. His reponse was widely criticised, but here he was a mere student to Corbyn, the true master of the art. Take, for example, the IRA. Corbyn has repeatedly refused to censure the organisation - surely the easiest possible declaration for a British politician - without bringing in their opposite numbers; asked to condemn the IRA unequivocally, he would only say: "No, I think what you have to say is all bombing has to be condemned." His response to the manifold failings of Maduro's leadership in Venezuela - where socialist policies have brought the country to its knees, and Maduro's regime has committed human rights violations - was to condemn "violence done by all sides". When his party was embroiled in anti-semitism claims, he would only speak out against "anti-semitism and all other kinds of racism", ensuring that that was the remit of an 'independent' inquiry (run by Shami Chakrabarti, who became a Labour member and later a Labour peer). In the case of Trump, it may well be because he doesn't want to speak out against those who will vote for him. For Corbyn, his world-view is so clearly set along the lines that Western imperial aggression is the root of all evil, that he cannot bring himself to do anything that might seem to be allying with it.

He has refused to condemn Putin, and has been surprisingly supportive of Russian authorities.
Speaking of Corbyn's world-view, his antipathy towards Western foreign policy - and his instinctive support for any hard left-wing regimes - makes him the natural bedfellow of Putin. Repeatedly appearing on Russia Today (RT) and writing a column in the Morning Star are just two signs of his sympathies; his views on Syria are a third. Notably, Stop The War - of which he was chairman - is not interested in stopping Russian wars. Trump's links to Putin are less idealistic - or secure - but it is now almost unanimously believed that Putin's government did everything they could to influence the US election in Trump's favour. Given that Trump's policies bounce back and forth at a whim, it remains to be seen how his relationship with Putin will play out. A Corbyn premiership would see no such uncertainty.

He recorded significantly fewer votes than his (female) opponent in the national election, but still claimed and continues to claim an outstanding victory.
Trump, in fairness, did win the presidency, despite losing the popular vote. Nothing wrong with that, it's how the voting system works. However, his vanity meant that this wasn't enough for him, and for a long time after assuming office he was still making (completely fabricated) claims about illegible voters being responsible for the difference. Rather than admitting that he won a close race, he had to insist it was a grand, historic victory: his claim that he had won more electoral college seats than any president since Reagan was demonstrably false. Corbyn has not actually tried to take the keys of Number 10, but this hasn't stopped him from claiming that Labour were the true winners of the 2017 general election - a view repeated by his cheerleaders, such as Len McCluskey this week ("To those merchants of doom and whingers and whiners who say: 'We should have done better', 'We didn't win', I say this: 'We did win'"). The fact that the Conservatives won 55 more seats than Labour didn't seem to matter; Labour's was apparently the true mandate.

His family has benefited from apparent nepotism in political appointments.
Seb Corbyn might have earned his role as John McDonnell's chief of staff through his own political acumen. Perhaps Ivanka Trump & Jared Kushner had to beat stiff competition to get their White House positions. Who can say?

He does not care much for the truth, instead saying whatever supports his position, regardless of facts.
I suspect that I do not need to convince my readership of Trump's distant relationship with the truth, but if you want hard data, I can direct you towards the New York Times. Corbyn is not this bad, but he also doesn't seem to care too much about facts when he wants to make a point. In both cases I'm not even sure they are aware that they are lying: they want the facts to support what they're saying, and so cannot countenance the possiblity that they do not. The most obvious example of this from Corbyn was his claim (at a campaign rally, naturally) that university tuition fees have meant fewer working class students going to university. This is absolutely not true (and if you believe that Channel 4 are part of the 'establishment' and not to be trusted, I'm afraid I can't help you). But Corbyn wanted it to be true, so he said it. He has not retracted it. He probably still believes it. Then there are his frequent claims about government tax giveaways to the rich and powerful - ignoring the fact that Corporation Tax receipts have continued to rise year-on-year, and that reducing the top income tax rate may actually have increased revenues (it is impossible to say for sure from the data, as it's not clear what would have happened if the rate had stayed at 50%). Or, say, take his claim at the Labour party conference today that the Tories dropped their pledge to reinstate fox-hunting. There was no such pledge.

He is not, despite the ardour of his supporters, at all intelligent.
Again, I probably do not need to convince my readers that Trump is a fool: if you're not persuaded by now, you never will be. But Corbyn is also a fool. And you don't need to take my word for it; here's the Guardian in 1996, following Corbyn inviting Gerry Adams to Westminster: "Mr Corbyn is a fool, and a fool whom the Labour Party would probably be better off without". Again, if you think that the Guardian is and was an establishment mouthpiece, back when Corbyn was an obscure back-bencher, I can't really help you. And I appreciate that 'fool' is a subjective term, so let's try to make it as objective as possible: Corbyn got two Es at A-Level. Yes, academia isn't everything. But it's the closest thing we've got to a measure. You can argue amongst yourselves whether Corbyn's unwavering attachment to pure socialism is a sign of faithfulness or of foolishness; I know which side I come down on.

He has been married three times.
Count 'em.

what was I listening to?
An Introduction To - Leonard Cohen
what was I reading?
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
what was I watching?
Fences
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