Gay Uganda

February 16, 2012

David Bahati doesn’t like gays. In fact, he dislikes them so passionately he wants them to be put to death. This wouldn’t matter a jot if David Bahati were some African version of Archie Bunker, sitting on his LazyBoy in front of his television with an open can of Tusker, watching a football game and fulminating against all and sundry; but David Bahati is a member of Uganda’s parliament and the National Resistance Movement, which is the ruling party in that splendid country. He has brought a Private Member’s Bill called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (PDF) which, if passed, will ensure that no one’s member remains private. He wants life imprisonment for homosexual acts and the death sentence for what he regards as “aggravated” homosexuality–offences in which the perpetrator is either HIV positive, or seduces a minor, or is a serial offender.

Apart from the barbarity of penalties envisioned, the entire Bill is based on a false premise. The first paragraph of the Bill states:

This legislation further recognizes the fact that same sex attraction is not an innate and immutable characteristic.

But same sex attraction has been shown in numerous peer-reviewed research papers to be precisely an innate and immutable characteristic.
Here are some examples. But even if homosexuality were a choice and not an immutable characteristic, it would still not be excusable to pass legislation of this sort which seeks to criminalise consensual sexual behaviour between adults.
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Intellectual Property

February 9, 2012

I am in favour of the protection of intellectual property (IP) rights. It is reasonable for a musician, author, artist or company to be remunerated for the products of their minds, whether individual or collective. Without protection for IP, no one would have any incentive to be creative and produce works that entertain, uplift, contribute to our culture, cure our diseases, or make life simpler and more enjoyable.

However, I do have a problem with the way IP is being protected at the moment. For example, an author writes a book. That book will remain in copyright until seventy years after the author’s death. Why? Because, say the copyright Gestapo, the author’s heirs and their heirs must have a slice of the pie. I see no reason for this because it is unreasonable. I write computer software for a corporate company. My contract includes the boilerplate that cedes copyright in my work to the company, who certainly won’t pay my salary to my heirs for seventy years after I drop off the twig, even if the software I wrote is still in production. I have to buy life insurance if I want my heirs to be taken care of financially after my death, and I fail to see why creative artists should be any different.
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Sex, Videotape and Lies

December 7, 2011

There is a controversy brewing over pornographic television channels. One of the two South African satellite television providers, TopTV, takes their signal from the Astra 4 satellite. Another broadcaster, PSat, uses the same satellite, although they are not licensed to broadcast into South Africa, so their signal is not sold here. All this hard core porn raining down unperceived upon the innocent citizenry has tweaked an entrepreneurial nerve. African Satellite Installations wants to sell us smartcards and decoders so, for the trivial sum of R99 (~$12 US) a month we can immerse ourselves in “pull-no-cumshots” content featuring “guy-on-girl, girl-on-girl and monstrous group orgies, all with the heterosexual viewer in mind”. So far, so good, but some snags have come up.

The first is that because the same satellite is used for the TopTV signal, people with existing TopTV satellite dishes will be able to use the same dish for the new channel; but they will have to get a new decoder and smart card. Well, so what? ASI said so, that’s what, so TopTV are litigating to get ASI to stop saying that which is true, i.e. that subscribers can use their existing TopTV antenna to receive the new signal. This is why I’m not a lawyer; anyone who can spend months in the High Court debating this utterly unimportant point must have a view of the minuscule that surely precludes them from seeing anything approaching the big picture, whether that picture is pornographic or not.
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Loose Scrum

November 17, 2011

There’s a brouhaha going on in Cape Town at the moment over the venue for a game of rugby between an English club, Saracens, and the French club Biarritz. Saracens, who are organising the game, have decided that they would like it to be held at the Cape Town stadium. The City are happy with that, as are Biarritz, as are the fans. The Western Province Rugby Union, however, are not happy because they want the match played at their own stadium, Newlands.

Cape Town Stadium By Night

This is where my understanding breaks down. Let’s try an analogy. you and your girlfriend or boyfriend have decided to go on a date to a certain restaurant. A third party, who just happens to be dating someone else and who also owns a restaurant cries foul, and tries to insist that you go to his restaurant. I know what I’d do if that occurred. I’d want to know who rattled the third party’s chain, and what the hell has our night out got to do with him?
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Mr Hitchens Rests His Case

August 4, 2011

Peter Hitchens recently set forth in his blog his arguments against the legalisation of drugs in general and cannabis in particular. These are so hare-brained, so monumentally stupid, so hideously wrong and so asininely arrogant that I’m unable to resist countering them. Here are a few quotes from his rant.

Peter Hitchens

…my fear that the general legalisation of mind-altering drugs produces passive and easily manipulated citizens.

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Drugs

June 6, 2011

The boarding school I attended when I was a small boy employed a Scottish matron to look after our medical welfare. She was rectangular, about four feet tall, had a broad lowland Scots accent, a face like a haggis and a loving heart, not that she would ever own up to that. Whenever we went to see her she would listen to our sad stories, then give us a large, round, blue pill. I always felt much better after this, and attributed the improvement to the pill. With hindsight, I’m sure the pill was nothing more than a multivitamin, and the talk conspired with the placebo effect to produce the improvement in mood. This is only tangentially relevant to my topic for today, which is illegal drugs and the relationship between their users and governments.

Judi Dench


Last week luminaries such as Judi Dench, Sting and Richard Branson expressed their view that the so-called war on drugs was a failure, and that use of illegal drugs should be decriminalised. Well, guys, thanks for pointing out the obvious–obvious to everyone, that is, apart from those legislators who persist in the delusion that they can legislate human nature.

The arguments for decriminalisation are practical: a huge amount law enforcement resources are diverted from fighting other crimes; outrageous profits on illegal drugs mean that the market is perfectly suited to exploitation by organised crime; the trade in illegal drugs cannot be regulated, so their consumers risk injury or death from poor quality merchandise; users are cast out of mainstream society and live dangerously, sharing needles and other kinds of risky behaviour.

In my view Dench et al don’t go far enough. Illegal drugs should not be decriminalised, they should be legalised. Apart from all the reasons given above for decriminalisation, there are compelling moral arguments for legalisation. The first is the lack of consistency in the law. There are no logical reasons why some drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco should be freely available to adults when less harmful substances such as cannabis are illegal. Secondly, there is the question of freedom: if you wish to have a free society, then adults should have freedom over their own bodies, which means the freedom to ingest any substance they like without being dictated to by the state. The function of government is to protect citizens’ rights against other people, not themselves. Free people must have autonomy over their own lives, and suffer government interference only when they infringe the rights of others.

Cannabis grow room (with rozzerette)


“But the the health system won’t be able to cope with millions of addicts!” critics will cry. This is simply untrue–the national fiscus takes in much more from taxes on the sale of alcohol than they expend on treating the fairly small proportion of drinkers who descend into alcoholism. Any drugs can be taxed in the same way as are tobacco and alcohol now, and the profits go to government (disorganised crime) instead of to the criminal cartels. Cynics or conspiracy theorists might make the point that government allows the sale of alcohol and tobacco because it saves a considerable amount of money; the best outcome for government is everyone dropping dead at their retirement parties, saving a fortune in pensions and geriatric care. A legal market in drugs can be regulated by health authorities, ensuring suppliers perform adequate quality control, and that users can be confident of the doses they are purchasing.

I’m sure that somewhere in the back of Richard Branson’s mind is the outline of the advertising campaign he will run upon the launch of Virgin Psychedelic, and the profits he will make out of marketing cheap, high quality product to an appreciative public.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


Stokes Croft Riots

May 26, 2011

A small branch of the supermarket Tesco opened in Stokes Croft, a neighbourhood in Bristol in April. This was not a giant hypermarket, it was a Tesco Express, something like Apu’s Quik-E-Mart in The Simpsons.

Riot damaged Tesco Express


Some residents in the area were horrified. They claimed that the new store would destroy existing small businesses, and that “big capitalism” was being imposed on them. Their opinions were not taken seriously, and the opening of the new store went ahead.

Those opposed to the store have this to say:

Within a week of Tesco opening its doors Stokes Croft has found itself the focal point of serious violence and confrontation. Over the last few years our beloved community has undergone an amazing home grown resurgence. We are therefore devastated that Tesco’s refusal to listen to what the majority of local people want has resulted in our vibrant, peaceful community being subject to such a sad state of affairs.

This “majority” decided that violence was the best method of enforcing their wishes, so they took to the streets. Their website goes on:

We are also deeply saddened to witness the reality that we live in society in which young people feel the only way to see justice done is to throw rocks. The reality is the government / corporations / media have created this society and are now trying to blame young people for the mess they have created. What future can we hope for if corporations are allowed to continue to dictate governments? If their insatiable appetite for profit is allowed to reign supreme?

Clashes between protesters and police left many injured and extensive damage to property, including to the disputed store.

What bothers me about this is that the protesters are either lying about their motives or they show an almost unbelievable ignorance of economic forces.

If they are truly in the majority, they could easily close the store down simply by not shopping there. The store would lose money, and Tesco, with its “insatiable appetite for profit” would close its doors and try again elsewhere.

But I suspect that they are not in any sort of majority and they wish to impose their political agenda on everyone else through the use of force. There may well be a silent majority of residents in the area who would appreciate the convenience of being able to buy reasonably priced goods at the new store, and the protesters are well aware of this fact.

This is morally indefensible and I hope the Avon and Somerset constabulary stand firm in their commitment to uphold the law.

What future can we hope for if a few malcontents are allowed to dictate, by violence and coercion, to corporations and governments?

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License