Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Schools of Thought

Ah doesn't this piece demonstrate *exactly* why faith schools are a dreadful idea? Turns out that every religion has it's own interpretations of what constitutes a member of their faith... So Jewish schools claim the child's mother must be Jewish, Catholic ones claim it's about being Christened in a Catholic church while very young and when I went o a Church of England school when I was a kid it was pretty clear that my parents flimsy last-minute flurry of attendance at the local church had much less of an effect than my good grades and behaviour record. If you look at faith groups it's pretty clear that they divide up along heavily ethnic lines. So faith schools allow some schools to quietly carry on being selective and turns others merely act to divide children up to be educated along lines of race. Add to this the implications to science and reason from allowing religious leaders to be involved in the selection of teaching staff and I really don't see what possible reason there can be for the government to continue funding them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hitler Was An Atheist

Not really true - he was Catholic. But so what if he was? He was a vegetarian too. Not generally considered his most memorable attributes! Sam Harris on misconceptions about atheism.

Not Big Enough Questions

So again I was on The Big Questions on BBC One on Sunday. The replay function is here if you want to check it out. Although I came accross pretty well (I thought, thanks those who messaged me to say nice things) I was a bit annoyed that I didn't get a chance to answer two points relating to the debate on Mother Teresa being canonised. Of course I had my hand up and was halfway out of my seat tugging on Nicky Campbell's jacket and begging but they ignored me. Sulk.

Firstly Louise Bagshawe said that it was irrelevant that Mother Teresa opposed birth control and abortion. Her point was that as a Catholic of course she opposed these things and that as canonisation was a Catholic honour it is up to Catholic leaders (or indeed God) to make the decision on how good a Catholic she was.
But that's total rubbish. If a branch of Islam decided to canonise (or the equivalent) a suicide bomber she would be the first one on her high horse condemning that decision. Mother Teresa did not spend her life at home praying and affecting no-one else - she was deeply involved in international politics and her actions and efforts on birth control and abortion as well as the reprehensible way she ran her so-called charity caused totally unnecessary suffering and death to people around the world. In fact she caused much more human suffering and death than any suicide bomber ever did. If (when) the Catholic church chooses to canonise her any self-respecting Catholic should leave the faith and those who don't should expect to be on the receiving end of serious criticism.
Secondly the guy who claimed to have had his mental health problems cured miraculously after he prayed to Mother Teresa. Isn't it interesting how those who experience miracle healing always seem to have conditions where there are other secular cases of those same conditions spontaneously righting themselves? You show me a guy who prayed to Mother Teresa and his missing leg grew back and I will line up with the faithful!

New Resource for UK Women

I am told that Hollaback UK is up and running and accepting submissions right now. The email is: and the idea is to send photos and desciptions of guys who are rude to you in the street to get your own back by publically shaming them. This has been a big hit in New York for many years so I think we really deserve our own eh?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Live On The Plinth

Here's is the interview I did with BBC Radio Foyle from the top of the plinth. Click to listen. It's featured in their "best bits" round-up.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Listen To Yourselves!

So I'm working on my computer and (without wishing to make excuses) Mr Cru has had his lunch and left the TV on which is now showing the diet and weight-loss show "Biggest Loser USA". One of the competitors, talking about how desperate she is to lose weight because she has family history of diabetes, just said "I want to live to see my son graduate from college, to see my daughters get married..." Bleugh! I want to live to see this woman's children grow up and tell their mum they don't care about stupid gender-based aspirations imposed on them by others when they're still too young to understand them. I want to live to see this woman have to plaster on a smile and pretend she's happy as the daughters pick up olympic boxing medals and the son stays home to raise triplets.

Story about my plinthing

In the Belfast Telegraph.

Spot The Difference

Ok so I did something rather newsworthy today. You may have already heard. I became the world's first living art forgery. Cool huh?
I went on Anthony Gormley's fourth plinth installation in Trafalgar Square. And I did so by impersonating someone else.

I'm exhausted from doing interviews all day so rather than explain it in a great deal of detail I'm just going to cut and paste the press release (which I didn't write so I don't vouch for it but it looks like a decent job at a glance). We can discuss in more depth when I've had some food and some shut-eye...
Pictured above myself and the woman, Goretti, I was impersonating. To see photos of me on the plinth look here.

PRESS RELEASE: Fake plinther highlights the hurdles Northern Irish women face accessing abortions

Abortion rights campaigner and comedienne Kate Smurthwaite impersonated her way into Anthony Gormley’s exhibit One & Other on the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square Wedenesday, quite possibly becoming the world’s first living art forgery.

One & Other is an art project by the Anthony Gormley, putting up one person every hour from around the UK onto the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square from 6 July through 14 October and webcast live at

This slot was originally allocated to Goretti Horgan from Alliance for Choice, the campaign for Northern Irish women to be given the right to an abortion. However, Kate Smurthwaite, at Horgan’s request, secretly took Horgan’s place.

“Of course it would take a lot of effort and cost a lot of money for Goretti to come over to be on the fourth plinth —just like the effort and expense incurred by women from Northern Ireland who are forced to travel to England, Wales and Scotland to access abortion services,” Smurthwaite said. “So we decided instead that I would go along and impersonate her.”

The staff at One & Other carefully check identification to ensure that the winners of the plinth drawing receive their spot.

Smurthwaite explained the ruse: “Goretti sent me her passport and a utility bill and luckily they were busy in the office and didn't check the photo too closely. I am also 20 years younger than Goretti so lucky they didn't check that either. I was being careful to play along but it was difficult especially since one of the women in the One & Other office was called Kate so I had to concentrate on not looking up when they called her name.”

The ruse only lasted until Smurthwaite was on the plinth because the organisers could hear her being interviewed.

“Once I was up there Goretti, the real Goretti, contacted the press in Northern Ireland about what I was doing and I did a live interview for BBC Radio 4 Ireland while I was up there.”

“I also took a toy horse along with me — since the statue on the plinth opposite the fourth plinth (the third plinth?) has a horse to sit on I figured I should blend in,” explained Smurthwaite, who is a stand up comic when she isn’t campaigning for abortion rights. “I explained several times to the cameras on the plinth about the campaign to extend the abortion act to Northern Ireland (and I had a huge banner which read "EXTEND THE ABORTION ACT TO N. IRELAND)".

Smurthwaite explained the issue, saying: “I talked about the 40 women every week who come over from Northern Ireland to have an abortion and about how abortion services which are free for residents of England, Wales and Scotland cost Northern Irish women from £600 to £2,000. A lot of money to raise at short notice. Abortion is totally illegal in Northern Ireland — even in cases of rape, incest, abuse and health risks to the mother. It's so wrong that women in certain parts of the UK should have fewer rights than others, that Northern Irish women should be treated as second class citizens. My partner David Mulholland handed out flyers explaining the message to those who had come to watch.”

The ruse took preparation. Smurthwaite said: “I'm really surprised we got away with it— I spent all week thinking someone would find me out and learning things like Goretti's phone number, date of birth and address and running through my back-story so I could explain why I didn't have an Irish accent.”

Smurthwaite added: “When I came down the team in the office seemed pretty annoyed with themselves for not spotting that I was a fake but it was all too late to do anything about it. I really hope it will generate publicity and help raise awareness for this really important cause.”
“So who am I really? I'm a stand-up comic and political campaigner,” Smurthwaite explained. “I met Goretti through my work with Abortion Rights — the UK-wide campaign for a woman's right to choose on abortion. I also write a blog called Cruella-blog: And if you want to come see me perform I also list upcoming shows on there — it would be great to have you along!”

Notes for editors:

Anthony Gormley is probably most well known for his iconic sculpture, The Angel of the North, the 20m high figure overlooking the A1, near Newcastle, and Another Place, the 100 figures placed along a 3km stretch of shoreline in Crosby, Merseyside. He is one of Britain's best loved artists.

The Fourth Plinth is the name given to the empty plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square in London. It was originally designed by Sir Charles Barry and built in 1841 to display an equestrian statue. There were not enough funds available at the time to create a statue and so the plinth was sometimes referred to as the 'empty plinth'.

In 1998 the RSA commissioned a series of three works - by Mark Wallinger, Bill Woodrow, and Rachel Whiteread - to be temporarily displayed on the plinth. Ever since, the 'empty plinth' has been home to a number of temporary works of art commissioned from leading national and international artists. The Fourth Plinth project is now managed by the Mayor of London's office, with advice from a special commissioning panel. In 2005, Mark Quinn's sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant, attracted a high level of interest from the public and media alike. A portrait of disabled artist Alison Lapper when she was 8 months pregnant, the 3.5m high sculpture was carved out of a single block of white marble.

Thomas Schütte's sculpture Model for a Hotel 2007 has been situated on the Plinth since November 2007. It is built of specially engineered glass in yellow, red and blue which collects the light, reflecting it through the edges.

Antony Gormley's One & Other replaced Model for a Hotel in July 2009.

Kate Smurthwaite has worked as a professional comedienne since 2004. She has performed three solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, including this year’s “The New At Kate”. She also hosts the live political panel show The Comedy Manifesto and is the resident compere at London’s Soho Comedy Club.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Are You Too Busy/Tired/Confused To Be Politically Active?

I understand. It's not easy to find the motivation. What if I paid you hundreds of millions of dollars to do it? You'd do it right? Of course.

Well here's the thing. I can't pay you hundreds of millions of dollars to stand up for what you know is right. But the guys standing against what we all know is right ... they're making hundreds of millions of dollars. Frightening. We have to keep fighting even when it seems like way too much effort. Our opponents have a lot of motivation.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bread and Circuses

So Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil is going to go to the International Space Station as a space tourist. That I can live with. He's going to do a show about it too. Again I get it. What I don't get is the bit where he says he's doing it to raise awareness about the problems of access to clean water for people worldwide.

Is this the ultimate expression of the now exhausted theme of "going on holiday for charity"? In recent years the notion of people asking you to donate money so they can walk the Inca Trail or cycle the French Alps in aid of charity has become increasingly commonplace. And I'm always wondering exactly how much of the money is going to the charity and how much is paying for the trip.

But of course whatever the amount spent on grappling hooks and sun cream, if money is going to good causes that otherwise wouldn't you can't really knock it. But if it would raise more money to do something a little less close to the tropics, then at least admit that and don't go round acting like you've just grown a halo!

I should justify myself a bit here. I've done the London Marathon and the Caledonian Challenge for charity but in both cases I made a contribution myself to cover the cost of entry (not that much) and all that stuff so that money I got sponsored all went to the actual causes. Also in both cases I freely admit I was doing it because I wanted to and the only way I could get a place was to do it for charity.

We also have a fair few charity and fundraiser events at Soho Comedy Club and when we do we make sure that all the money goes to the causes. We don't charge for the room, the acts perform for free and flyerers and doorstaff always work for free those nights. In fact the only thing we can't recoup for the cause is the booking fee that PayPal charges (usually 9%). Annoyingly they have a function to reduce (but not eliminate) the fee for charities but you have to jump through hoops to get it and you have to be a fully registered charity, not just a good cause or an NGO, etc.

I don't want to sound like I'm against good causes and fundraising - I think it's vital and there should be more of it. But at the same time the word "charity" also doesn't mean "you can't criticise me". So when I read things like this dreadful story about topless models walking through Manchester in aid of "Support Our Soldiers" I totally don't get it. Why can't we support our soldiers without also supporting misogyny? And what about our female soldiers and our gay soldiers and our soldiers who for cultural or religious reasons don't approve of topless modelling?

This also goes for all the half naked calendars in aid of charity too - you know who you are. If you want to do something in aid of charity - do something positive.

Mr Laliberte's trip into space is costing £22m. I think that money would go a long way to giving people around the world access to clean water. Take a holiday if you want mate but don't just do something totally frivolous that you want to do and then pretend to me that you're doing this for the greater good. Believe me people dying from having to drink dirty water will not be looking up at the International Space Station going "thanks Guy"!