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Jeremiah’s Underpants and a Link Too Far: CCJ, Stephen Sizer and The Ugly Truth March 16, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Current Affairs.
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56 comments
Jeremiah' s Underwear ... possibly

Jeremiah’ s Underwear … possibly.

JEREMIAH’S UNDERPANTS: it’s one of those wonderful Bible stories that for one reason or another doesn’t tend to make the Sunday School lessons, or even the sermon slots; but it did pop up earlier this week, at Evensong. I sat there chuckling at the absurdity of it whilst the rest of the congregation either didn’t get it or were too busy being solemn, as per Anglican tradition.

“Go buy yourself some new underpants,” said the Lord to Jeremiah. “Put them on but don’t wash them.” So off he went and bought some new undies and put them on. A while later — Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Take off your new underpants and go, hide them under a rock down by the River Euphrates.” So off Jeremiah duly toddled and did as he was told: he was a good lad like that; and a while later — again, Jeremiah doesn’t tell us how long — the Lord spoke to him again: “Go back, get your underpants from under the rock.” So off he went and after a bit of scrabbling around, he found the spot, dug them up and — shock, horror! — they were ruined! Yes, ruined.

The story doesn’t tell us how bad the smell got, what Jeremiah wore whilst his underwear were rotting down by the riverside, or whether he put them back on again, and I suspect that without all those details he’d have been hard pressed to find a publisher today; but Jeremiah was no fool: it was self-publishing all the way for him, and no copyright restrictions — he just wanted his story out there.

And the story was wroth: God’s wrath against Israel, who, God declared, were just like Jeremiah’s filthy underpants, rotten, smelly and useless. Oh, for a Euphrates youtube: I leave it to your imagination and any budding film producers out there…

IN TODAY’S WORLD, methinks, Jeremiah would have been declared anti-semitic and reported to the police: how dare he, how dare anyone, liken Israel to a pair of filthy underpants? And in truth, that’s the way ancient Israel all too often treated its prophets, ostracising them, abusing them, and, in Jeremiah’s case, throwing him into a well and leaving him to die.

So who dares speak up about Israel’s misdemeanours today? One such person is Stephen Sizer, an Anglican cleric and writer who blogs at stephensizer.blogspot.com and speaks out freely against Israel’s contemporary apartheid against the Palestinians. I’m happy to say that I know nothing about Stephen’s underpants, but I do know that he tends to use facebook rather like Jeremiah used the Euphrates: somewhere to deposit things that come to his attention, especially links pertaining to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Stephen is not alone in using facebook like that, of course: I do it all the time with links and snippets about the Christian book trade; but the fact that I post a link does not imply that I endorse everything that you might find at the other end of that link; indeed, if linking carried that implication, none of us would link to anything and the internet would implode, no longer a net at all, just gazillions of navel-gazing orphaned pages. Some people play it safe anyway with disclaimers: those are not my underwear out there, or words to that effect.

CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website, 13/03/2012

CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website, 13/03/2012

Other people, unfortunately, just don’t get it: like the congregation at Evensong listening to what has to be one of the Bible’s most hilarious stories and failing to laugh, all they seem able to do is make like the end of the world is nigh. This week Stephen has fallen foul of one such group, the otherwise excellent CCJ, the Council of Christians and Jews, specialists in Christian-Jewish relations — of which I happen to be a member — and it’s no joke: they’ve lodged a complaint with his bishop and with the police, accusing him of promoting racial hatred: CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website.

Their problem: Stephen posted a link to an article about Israeli threats to Iran on a website called ‘The Ugly Truth’, a site which some members of CCJ have described “obscenely anti-semitic”, and Stephen, apparently, did not remove his link to the article fast enough for them:

We have paid particular attention to a link posted by Mr Sizer on his Facebook page to ‘The Ugly Truth’, an antisemitic website. We consider this to be wholly unacceptable. We cannot accept it was an accident, because Mr Sizer was alerted to the antisemitic nature of the website in November and again in December, but only removed the link in January when contacted by the Jewish Chronicle.

Stephen’s response to that, via facebook, of course:

The reality is I add many Facebook links daily and get criticised weekly. I did not look at the website till January and only then appreciated its anti-semitic content. I removed the link as soon as I found it. Its [sic] not easy to find a link from months ago on FB. The article itself that I linked to was about Israeli threats to Iran. No one has actually criticised the article itself.

… which to me, as another heavy facebook user, makes perfect sense; and I wonder if that is part of CCJ’s problem: they simply don’t get social media? Be that as it may, however, as a member of CCJ, I find the way they have elected to handle this situation extremely disappointing on two particular fronts:

First of all, the announcement itself seems disingenuous at best: entitled “CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website” it is, in fact, nothing of the sort: it is rather a direct, personal attack on Stephen Sizer. Far better, I suggest, to thank Stephen for drawing attention to the site and then go, with even greater determination, after the people who run The Ugly Truth website.

Next, one thing that I’ve always admired about CCJ, one of the things that makes me proud to be a member, is its commitment to dialogue: making dialogue make a difference is one of CCJ’s straplines, used on almost every poster we produce at CCJ Hillingdon, where I’m the webmaster. What, I wonder, has happened to the dialogue process in this instance? Stephen removed the link as requested; and at CCJ CEO David Gifford’s invitation he met with some Jewish leaders where, in Stephen’s words, “we had a heart to heart about what had happened, but nothing materialised except this press release.” Why, I ask, some two months on, have CCJ now chosen to pursue the matter in this way rather than engage in further dialogue with Stephen, or indeed with CCJ’s wider membership?

I have written to David Gifford to this effect, cc’d to the Bishop of Guildford and Surrey police, and now await their response. In the meantime, beloved readers, let’s talk it through…

UPDATE 15/3/2012

A brief response from CCJ on twitter, over a series of 4 tweets:

All CCJ has done, in its founding role to combat antiSemitism, is, on receipt of complaints about Mr Sizer’s actions… … to have expressed grave concern to his bishop and drawn the attention of the police to the matter. ….It is not within our remit or competence to decide whether or not the accusation of incitement to race hatred is sustainable or not… … – which is why we have referred it.

UPDATE 23/3/2012

A brief response from David Gifford, received today:

Dear Phil

Many tx for this. I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to write and have noted your comments, which I fully understand

Kind regards

David

ELSEWHERE… (most recent first)

DISCLAIMER

Those are not my underpants out there, OK? The fact that I’m expressing solidarity with Stephen Sizer over this matter does not imply that I agree with everything he says, my links to facebook do not imply that I approve of everything on facebook, and my use of WordPress does not imply that I universally applaud everything that’s posted on WordPress hosted blogs. So don’t get your knickers in a twist, and if you do, try a hot iron — but take them off first. Thank you.

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Broken Britain, Broken People: Less than One Month Before Heartbreak January 21, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Current Affairs, Death, Life, Mental Health, Watching and Waiting.
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6 comments
One Month Before Heartbreak

One Month Before Heartbreak

BRITAIN IS BROKEN. Broken from top to bottom, by the people at the top trampling over the people at the bottom. Broken by a government so obsessed with its programme of cuts that they’ve become blind to the effect those cuts are having on people’s lives. Stampeding cattle panicked by the wolves of their predecessors’ incompetence, trampling the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable underfoot as they charge headlong towards only God knows where, rewarding failed bankers and ignoring the cries of the poor.

We are a nation betrayed, betrayed by those we pay to serve us. Taxed when we earn, taxed when we spend, taxed when we travel, taxed when we die — and for some that death may well come sooner than it should, death by a thousand cuts from an axe-wielding government which takes and takes … a voracious leech, sucking the very life from its host, the British people…

Purple Noise: The beginning of the end

Purple Noise - The beginning of the end

I suppose I could go on with the purple prose, but instead I’ll give you another pointer to Purple Noise, Ali Quant‘s blog, where Ali describes the living nightmare of battling with mental illness whilst contending with the changes to Britain’s benefits system: The beginning of the end. Perhaps you’ve already read it after my earlier post: then go read it again; if you haven’t read it, prepare to be shaken; and when you’ve been shaken, I hope you’ll be stirred to action. Because Ali is just one amongst many for whom this government’s mandatory reassessment for benefits entitlement is simply too much to bear, one amongst many who have a plan to ‘delete’ themselves, as Ali has expressed it: to commit suicide rather than face the horror of having the minutiae of their lives (re)examined by people whose only interest is in number crunching and balancing the books of a failed administration.

Let’s get this straight: mental illness is real; and it debilitates. It prevents people from working not because they are unwilling to work but, as much as anything, because many employers are unwilling, unable or are simply ill-equipped to deal with the effects of mental illness in their workforce (technically, of course, employers cannot discriminate; but how is a mentally ill person going to fight suspected discrimination?). It’s not the mentally ill person’s fault that they’re unable to work any more than it’s any other ill person’s fault; and contrary to some perceptions, mentally ill people are not malingerers or skivers. Diseases of the mind are every bit as real as diseases of the body, and just as physical illness often affects our ability to think, mental illness often affects the ability to do things, even basic things such as wash yourself, get dressed or respond to a hug. Body and mind, mind and body: the two cannot be separated.

Mentally ill people need their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) every bit as much as people whose illnesses or disabilities are physically plain to see. It’s not something they should have to fight for any more than we’d expect someone in a wheelchair to stand up and fight for their wheelchair. But in just three weeks’ time, that’s exactly what’s going to be expected of them as the government’s consultation about DLA reform comes to an end halfway through February: on 14th February 2011, Valentines Day, to be precise. Courtesy of the UK Government, a day for lovers to celebrate has become a day of despair, a day of fear, darkness and heartbreak for thousands of people. It seems that as a nation we can afford to maintain a nuclear arsenal big enough to ravage the planet but we can’t — or rather, under the current regime, won’t — commit to providing for some of our most vulnerable people.

So what can ordinary people like you and me do? First, it seems to me, we need to make our views known to the government: although the consultation is aimed primarily at disability organisations and disabled people, the DWP have indicated that they would like to hear from anybody who is interested. Then let’s let them know! Let’s let them know that we’re not merely “interested” — we’re outraged! Outraged at the trauma this consultation is causing amongst the Broken of Britain, amongst Britain’s disabled people. Let’s let them know that they cannot, must not, discriminate like this, that we stand in solidarity with our disabled brothers and sisters!

Another example of the trauma: DLA, Danni, and Me – By Vicky Biggs.

Second: if you, like me, don’t trust this government to listen, we need to start setting up our own safety nets for people such as Ali who may drop out of the benefits system. That’s what my ‘200 People’ campaign is about, providing a safety net, in this case specifically for mentally ill people. I say ‘my’ campaign but I am thrilled to say that it is no longer mine: I kicked it off but others have seized the initiative and we’re now well on the way to setting up an official organisation, name to be announced shortly.

Will you stand with us? Will you stand with some of Britain’s most broken people? Will you join me in enabling the mentally ill community, in helping to erase the stigma of mental illness, in what is, for many, quite literally a fight for life?

The time is now: if you’re on facebook, please join our facebook group today. Although the group is still called ‘200 People to Save Ali Quant’ its remit has grown and it should be renamed and given a new description within the next few days: please watch this space for more info.

Thank you.

5 Quid for Life? In Search of a Campaign Name January 16, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life, Mental Health.
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51 comments

FOLLOWING ON from my 200 People to Save Ali Quant post — to which the responses and enthusiasm have been amazing: thank you all — we’re now looking at a wider brief, at Ali’s request

How about if, instead of making this a let’s help Ali thing, how about a more general let’s help everyone thing? … let me explain my thinking: the reality is, as many of you will know, that I’m not the only one who’s made a deletion plan in case I fail my assessment. Over the past year or so (and obviously more in the past few days) I have heard from different sources of literally hundreds of people who feel the exact same way I do, this is just from people coming and directly telling me “I feel like this” or “I have a friend who says…” there must be thousands more that I haven’t had direct contact with. I’m nothing special, I’m not some kind of extreme case and I haven’t done anything to deserve to be singled out. All I did was write a blog post out of sheer despair, I thought I was so near the end that I had absolutely nothing to lose so I may as well write about it. So why not make some kind of central fund, not necessarily asking for a monthly donation to support people in that way but just a fund that could be used for anyone in my situation? It could be used to help people if they fall over at any stage of claiming benefits, to give people a safety net for example to help out while they’re appealing or if they haven’t been able to attend all the work-focused interviews and get sanctioned.

… and over at the facebook group we’ve been having all sorts of discussions about how to take the idea forward. The first thing we need is a campaign name, a name to grab the public imagination. This post is your invitation to help us choose one: the poll below lists some of the names suggested so far but please feel free to offer other suggestions in the comments. If you’re wildly enthusiastic about a particular name, tell us why in a comment or — even better — post about it on your own blog/facebook/twitter and link to us here to encourage your friends to join in.

The poll will remain open for three days initially, but I’m happy to review that depending on how the conversation goes. Now get voting, please:

  • Special thanks to Kate White, who suggested most of these.

200 People to Save Ali Quant January 13, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life.
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comments closed
I have changed my socks

I have changed my socks

YESTERDAY I was feeling frivolous and I changed my socks. Yes, it happened. Unfortunately the yeast was too strong and my bread collapsed, but that’s another story.

Today, however, I am in a more serious frame of mind and I would like you to join me in a campaign to save my friend Ali Quant.

Ali has been a victim of serious domestic abuse and is battling and blogging her way through various mental health issues, all of which you can find out about on her blog, Purple Noise. She’s also a great Scrabble player, which is one of the (admittedly more selfish) reasons why I cannot allow her to go through with her recently announced plan to commit suicide if our inglorious government (yes, David Cameron, that’s you and your crew I’m talking about) pushes her over the edge with its programme of benefit cuts that is demoralising many of the most vulnerable people in our society such as Ali. In fact, it wouldn’t be suicide: it would be murder, death by a thousand cuts from a knife wielded by the UK Government — the very people whose job it is to take care of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable on our behalf as taxpayers.

So I have a plan. It’s simple: I need 200 people who will stand with me in committing themselves to a regular monthly gift of £5 to Ali. That works out at £12,000 per year (more than I earn, as it happens) and I think Ali is worth far more than that. She may be unable to work in the conventional sense of the word, but through her blog (alongside many others: see the Madosphere links in my sidebar)  she is providing an essential service to our society: helping to erase the stigma of mental illness by telling it how it is; and exposing the shabbiness of our government’s policies and the impact those policies are having upon people’s lives.

At the same time as publishing this I’m setting up a facebook group with the same name: 200 People to Save Ali Quant. Even if you’re not in a position to make the regular financial commitment I’m asking for, please consider joining it anyway to show your solidarity with Ali — and please spread the word: between us all, between my friends and yours, we must be able to find 200 people, maybe more, who can make this level of commitment. You may be able to offer more, in which case we may not need 200 people; or less, in which case we may need more. I’m not asking for any money right now; what I’m asking for is commitment to the cause: to make the effort to pull Ali back from the brink onto which the government is pushing her and let her know what we think she’s worth, that we think her life is worth living, that we think she is making an important contribution to our society.

The world needs people like Ali Quant: people who aren’t ashamed to describe what they’ve been through, what they’re going through and who aren’t afraid to shine a light on the government’s failings. If and when those failings reach the point Ali describes and she feels she has to jump, that’s when I’ll come asking for your money: if it helps, think of this as a safety net; but please don’t commit if you’re not prepared for that safety net to be deployed — this is not a game, this is a person’s life.

I realise that in a sense doing this is precisely what Cameron wants us to do with his bleating on about the ‘Big Society’ — “Let’s get people off state benefits into community care”, or something like that. To that I say up yours to Cameron et al: the vast majority of this country didn’t vote for you and we don’t want you or need you: go back to your world of privilege and reward for failed bankers — one day it’s all going to collapse around your head. The ‘Big Society’ was here long before you were and we, the people, will continue to take care of one another with or without your help using our money (and speaking of our money, if there’s anyone reading who’s in a position to advise or help on registering the group as a charity, we should then be able to claim tax back via Gift Aid on taxpayer’s donations; and that, I think, would be a result!).

Will you stand with me? Will you spread the word? Will you help to save Ali from our cut-throat government?

Finally and very importantly: please note that I haven’t consulted Ali about this. When I hit ‘Publish’ it’s going to be as much a surprise for her as it is for everyone else. This is me, Phil Groom, asking, not Ali … because if I know Ali at all, she’d never make this request: she’d die first. But I’m not willing to sit idly by and let that happen.

And if we get more than I’m asking for, there are others out there whose blogging deserves better recognition too, starting with another of my friends, Pandora Serial Insomniac

Where Next?

Changing my socks January 12, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Frivolity, Life, Watching and Waiting.
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13 comments

SOMETIMES DRASTIC MEASURES ARE CALLED FOR. This is one of those times: I am changing my socks. Yesterday I tweeted:

and because I am such a hyperconnected person, oh yes, that tweet went via friendfeed to facebook, where a friend suggested that I should change my socks next time I take a shower. This horrified me. Quietly disregarding the fact that I don’t shower, that it’s at least a year since I last showered, I was utterly flabberbegibbergasted. Consider the implications: it would seem that my friend takes his socks off when he showers.

I invite you, gentle reader, to think this through: the removal of socks exposes the feet. Yes, you’ve got it: naked feet! Feet exposed to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with no protection from the moneymakers and swindling bankers who want to take those ten little piggies to the stock market and rip off their toenails and — well, you get the picture. Putting it bluntly, it’s unnatural.

I ask you, lovelies: how could anyone shower, bathe, get into bed or — horror of horrors — walk down the street with naked feet? Imagine if you stepped in some dog poop and then got into bed. Dearly beloved readers, will you stand with me on this matter of principle? I put it to you that socks should not be changed, exposing feet and tootsies to the air and other unmentionable dangers, except as an absolute last resort.

But today I am in such a state of shock that needs must and my socks will be changed! I will peel them from my feet, then gently, oh so gently — as if the very hands of Jesus were doing the job, as he is wont to do — wash those feet and put on clean socks. Do not be afraid: the sockless interval will last no more than 10 minutes.

Whence my state of shock, you ask, as if the very idea of showering with naked feet were not bad enough? Herein, dear hearts: my good friend Ali Quant — who routinely walks barefoot all over me in Scrabble — has become a porn star! Yes, a porn star: described by someone in a Guardian comment thread as “misery porn”.

There is no choice: I am changing my socks!!

I have changed my socks

I have changed my socks

Where next?

To GameHouse Staff: An Apology July 2, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Random Musings, Watching and Waiting.
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4 comments
Facebook Scrabble: Advertising Overlay

Facebook Scrabble: Advertising Overlay

If you’re a facebook Scrabble player, you’ll have become familiar with this sight over the last week or so: an advertising overlay that covers the board and counts down before it lets you play.

I’ve been one of the hundreds of people complaining about it, saying that it’s too intrusive and ruins the game.

This evening, however, I found out what it’s all about: GameHouse, the company that provides Scrabble on facebook, have got their backs to the wall, with something like half the workforce being laid off. Somehow, if the company is to survive — if the remaining staff are to keep their jobs and continue providing us with games on facebook (and Scrabble is just one of the many games they provide) — they’ve got to make those games pay.

Earlier today I left GameHouse an ultimatum on their facebook page:

Sorry guys but you haven’t listened: none of us want that ad overlay. It still takes 30 seconds to play through, which is far too long. Make it 10 seconds absolute max if you really must do it this way — but even that is unnecessary. Every other app developer I know of is perfectly content with banner and sidebar ads. Know this: I absolutely will not click through on your overlay ads. I absolutely will not purchase products from any companies whose ads you feature in this way. So you and your advertisers both ultimately lose because you alienate your own community and you alienate your advertisers.

ULTIMATUM: It’s your call: do away with the overlay or once my current games are over, I’m outtahere. It was fun while it lasted and I’m grateful for that: thank you. But you’ve now killed it and I’ll be blocking GameHouse from my facebook.

I’ve now taken that message down and I’d like to apologise, unreservedly, to any GameHouse staff who may have been hurt by my insensitivity. I’m sitting too close to the edge of possible redundancy myself to be able to take something like this lightly.

And to everyone else I say: play on! And if you want to keep on playing, do the biz and click through an ad or two.

GameHouse, I salute you!

Read all about the GameHouse layoffs here:

Let’s be Real History Makers: A Million People to give £1 to Christian Aid April 6, 2010

Posted by Phil Groom in Christianity, Current Affairs.
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2 comments

Let's be Real History Makers: A Million People to give £1 to Christian Aid

Rage Against Poverty

Seems to me there’s something seriously skewed with Christian thinking when a facebook group like Christian Aid has less than 4,000 fans but a Christian music download campaign gets more than 66,000 people on board.

So I’ve set a new facebook group for anyone who wants to become a Real History Maker: imagine the impact of a million people clubbing together to support Christian Aid by donating £1 each: join today, donate £1 to Christian Aid and spread the word!

Which one is your church? August 7, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Church.
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It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes facebook’s context-driven advertising is spot on. Alongside a discussion about church:

Spot the Difference

Can you spot the difference?

I guess the difference is, in MafiaWars, everyone knows it’s a game and it’s free; in church, sometimes they really are out to kill and they expect you to pay for the privilege…

Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have to stop reading… July 12, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Frivolity.
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2 comments
Ayatollah Cranmer

Ayatollah Cranmer

Recently Archbishop Cranmer had a rather entertaining run in with facebook: they didn’t like his title so he ended up signing up as Ayatollah Cranmer instead. It seems that facebook are somewhat selective over which clerical titles they discriminate against.

The good news for Archbishop Cranmer is that although he died some years ago, he’d have no such problem selecting a title if he signed up for a free Church leader’s subscription (yes, free, you read that correctly) to Christian Marketplace magazine, where you can opt for anything from Archdeacon to Wing Commander.

But it gets even better if you’ve earned yourself (or been granted) some letters to go after your name: as well as the usual raft of BA, MA and OBE, you can even choose ‘deceased’ — so do come along now, My Lord Archbishop, and get your free Christian Marketplace subscription today!!

Christian Marketplace - Select a Suffix

Christian Marketplace - Select a Suffix

h/t to Bishop Alan Wilson for drawing my attention to Archbishop Cranmer’s facebook shenannigans.

200 Tweeps and a Boob Job? April 26, 2009

Posted by Phil Groom in Frivolity.
Tags: , ,
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Today's facebook ad

Today's facebook ad

Strange but true: facebook ads are offering me £500 towards a boob job. Sorry folks, but it’s gonna take more than a boob job to get me looking like that. Is my inner woman trying to tell me something?

200 tweeps!

200 tweeps!

And I’m delighted to welcome Dilip Sinha @all_top_books as my 200th follower on twitter. You can follow me too if you want: @notbovvered.

 

It’s a strange life online…

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