Erasure’s Violet Flame

18 09 2014

Erasure - Violet Flame (Photo Shoot)K, synthpop whores! It’s Erasure time again. For a lot of people, the release of a new album by a veteran band means, ‘Oh, fuck! All three remaining members of the Beatles are getting back together again to record…a re-recording of a 1994 compilation of…their number-one hits from, um, the 1960s, which is the only decade they made music!’ So, basically, nothing new.

Erasure are not like that. They consistently release a new album once every two to three years, often with delicious re-releases interspersed with new, original material, and re-inventing their style of synthpop with the latest producers. Most bands that originated in the ’80s can’t boast that, even if some rapper is using a synthesiser riff from their main hit in their latest song.

Erasure’s new album is a masterwork of electronic dance pop. And I say this as a hardcore fan who has criticised the band in the past for producing work which could be judged as marginal because it relied too much on trends in acoustic folk rock (which I deplore). This is entirely different:

My least-favourite album (Loveboat) was highly synthesised, well-written, well-thought-out, and expertly executed. So I am speaking in relative terms.

The band’s two previous albums, Light At The End Of The World and Tomorrow’s World (minus the Christmas album released last year) were very good and had very coherent, well-written dance anthems, but if we are talking about coherent, well-written dance anthems, The Violet Flame blows them out of the water. It is absolutely majestic in its scope. The lead singer, Andy Bell, boasts an incredibly fluid and nimble voice, synthesiser wizard Vince Clarke creates the most beautifully subtle, lush synthesiser arrangements, Andy Bell Erasureand producer Richard X polishes it off with his own HI-NRG take. The result is the perfect melodic dance-pop album.

Let’s talk about songs. ‘Under The Waves’ immediately stands out as an infectious bubblegum tune. It is the catchiest song I have heard in years. ‘Oh-oooh-oh-oooh-oh’, goes the chorus, on and on, against a thick, up-and-down italo-disco bassline. Also notable is the tune ‘Sacred’, which celebrates the extent to which love will realise itself. The most infectious and important of these transcendent dance songs, though, is the sinister and roiling ‘Paradise’. It is all about throwing away everything anybody thought about you and following your passion. It is about being true to yourself. And it’s a dance anthem! To me, this is perfection.

The Violet Flame is perhaps the best dance album I have ever heard. I hate most club mixes—they sound boring and monotonous to me. This album offers dance music that satisfies several important criteria: lyricism, melody, danceability, content. It is lyrical, melodic, danceable, and offers remotely intelligible insight into modern-day relationships and social issues. Erasure have outdone themselves with this album.

 

 

 

 





Hillary Clinton, Gay Rights, and Cultural Relativism

12 12 2011

I’m not a cultural relativist. Sometimes customs are culturally relative, and sometimes, quite frankly, they are not. I don’t believe that sexism, racism, child abuse, animal abuse, rape, torture, murder, or homophobia are excusable depending on cultural context, because in each context these atrocities share the traits of hatred, violence, and exploitation committed against a sentient being. Let me get this caveat out of the way first: on some issues we are in no place to judge the practises of other cultures, and on other issues we most certainly are. In return, these other cultures are allowed to judge us on our faults. With that out of the way, LGBT rights are not an imperialist vision; they are a humanist one.

Given my wariness of cultural relativism, I was elated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s amazing speech at the United Nations in Geneva. In her speech, Clinton declares that the Obama administration will defend LGBT rights as a part of its human rights and foreign policy, and that the President will command all government agencies operating overseas to defend LGBT rights through various diplomatic strategies. She makes several points about how and why the world community should end persecution of LGBT people: first, LGBT rights are human rights; second, homosexuality exists in all cultures; third, religious and cultural beliefs do not justify persecution of LGBT people; fourth, the world must confront persecution of LGBT people, not dismiss it; and fifth, we must employ practical means to obtain equality for LGBT people. All of these points are interesting and relevant, but the most provocative to me are the second and third points, which challenge the cultural relativism cited to defend persecution of LGBT people.

In her second point, Clinton challenges the assumption that homosexuality and LGBT rights are purely Western, imperialist conceptions being foisted on non-Western cultures. This is simply not true, Clinton shows, because homosexuality exists in every culture, and homophobia is a problem in every culture. It is, in other words, a human condition, and creating artificial cultural barriers to LGBT liberation would do a disservice to LGBT people:

Some seem to believe [homosexuality] is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbours.

And just in case anybody insists there are no examples of efforts to advance LGBT rights in non-Western cultures, Clinton deftly turns the tables:

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton has obviously done her fact-checking (which is to be granted, given that she is America’s chief diplomat): heteronormative sexualities, if not exactly ubiquitous, are well-distributed among the world’s cultures, hence LGBT rights are a relevant concern to all of the world’s cultures. It is now common knowledge among well-informed people that homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and intersexuality are not the product of a particular culture; they are a product of living organisms in general, from shellfish to human beings. It seems absurd, then, to say that these sexualities are the luxurious fad of one particular society (the West) of one particular species of animal (homo sapiens), hence it seems absurd to suggest that LGBT rights are relevant only to that society or species.

In her third point, Clinton criticises the notion that cultural or religious beliefs somehow justify persecution of LGBT people, and roundly dashes it to pieces. (I exaggerate, but still, she could have, and she probably would have if representatives of countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan weren’t present.) She does this by comparing LGBT rights to the rights of other persecuted peoples. Specifically, she draws an analogy between crimes against LGBT people and crimes against women, both of which derive from patriarchal hegemony:

[The justification for persecuting LGBT people] is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Cutting off a woman’s clitoris is universally wrong because it causes unspeakable pain, stress, and health problems for the victim, whether she is from Sweden, Somalia, or Seattle. This is because every person of every culture possesses a common human physiology; the nervous systems of all human beings are basically the same. I suspect every woman feels immense pain when she is mutilated, burnt to death, or stoned to death, despite the cultural situation. And when proponents of cultural relativism cite reasons for their stance, those reasons fall nothing short of pathetic: women shouldn’t be allowed to have sex with men other than their husbands, women shouldn’t be allowed to experience sexual pleasure, or women shouldn’t be allowed to live if their husbands die. Forgive me if I find these justifications more solipsistic than utilitarian, and hence hardly socially beneficial. They’re just the laws of self-serving tyrants who view women as mere incubators. Similarly, every gay person experiences unconscionable pain and horror at being hanged or crushed to death for being gay. Opinions, insecurities, and concerns specific to a culture do not justify violence against women or gay people, because we all share the same basic human physiology despite cultural context. I think this is what Clinton was pointing at.

I won’t mince words. Hillary Clinton is right, and the cultural relativists are wrong. Heteronormative sexuality is found everywhere in the world, and LGBT rights are no more culturally relative than women’s or racial minorities’ rights, because all are products of a common human mental and physical experience. For some reason, though, this is a sensitive topic for many anti-imperialists, who often happen to be from the West. It seems to me that a lot of this cultural relativist dogma stems from white, middle-class people who feel guilty about their colonial heritage, and they spout this disingenuous nonsense about relativism to soothe their own conscience. But think about it. Arguing that women’s or LGBT rights are culturally relative is basically discriminating against women and LGBT people who live in countries, like Iran, which don’t recognise their status, and that isn’t very feminist or pro-gay, is it? It isn’t even very pro-human, as Clinton showed, and I can’t help but respect her for sending such a bold, unapologetic message to countries which still use cultural relativism as a loophole to commit human atrocities. It was truly a satisfying vindication of LGBT rights.





Gay Marriage and the “Majority Rule” Problem

26 02 2011

The Barack Obama administration in the U.S.  issued a statement recently through Attorney General Eric Holder saying that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act)—a federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriage. It is a huge step forward for gay marriage proponents in the U.S. But, while Obama’s administration wields executive influence over the legality of the ban, right-wingers are in a shit-roar over the consequences of its repeal: most people oppose gay marriage, they claim, therefore gay marriage should be banned. That’s democracy, they say.

 I say that that isn’t democracy. I say that recognition of gay marriage should not be banned, because the majority have no concern in the affairs of the minority. If Jeff wants to have the same pension plan as his partner Chris, it is not the business of their neighbours. They are not throwing their gay pension plan over the picket fence and onto their neighbour’s lawn. Caring about what your neighbours do on their own property, when they are mutually consenting adults, is just plain nosey. As much as you want it to, it doesn’t concern you. IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

Let us define democracy:

1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

2. a state having such a form of government: The United States and Canada are democracies.

3. a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.

4. political or social equality; democratic spirit.

5. the common people of a community as distinguished from any privileged class; the common people with respect to their political power.

So democracy is a means for the majority to voice their concerns–when this applies–or it is a system of government in which all groups are equal. It is funny that, traditionally, the minority was privileged, while the majority was not. Now it seems to be the reverse: the majority is privileged, while the minority is not.

Here is my chief argument: A democracy is a form of government in which the majority rule on issues which affect them, not on issues which do not affect them. Whether or not Joan and Linda receive federal marriage benefits such as the right to file a joint federal income tax return does not affect the majority. Therefore, it is undemocratic to allow the majority to rule on whether Joan and Linda should have the right to marry. It’s simply nobody else’s business.

“Ah, but no matter which branch of government makes the decision, it is always going to be a matter of majority rule”, you will argue (and from here it goes down a slippery slope and keeps getting weaker and weaker). “For example, if a panel of judges rule on the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is still the majority opinion that rules.”

But there is a crucial difference between a majority of judges, and a majority of the people. Judges are obliged to adjudicate the law, not rule on the basis of personal preference. That’s why a person is appointed a judge–that person is deemed proficient in interpreting and implementing the law for the law’s own sake. Therefore, when a majority of judges rule on a matter, it is not just because they want their voice to be heard–rather, it is because of how they interpret the law. That is why the archetype of Justice is blindfolded. She is impartial. So, no, a majority on a panel of judges is nothing like the majority voting in a public referendum.

“But the law itself had to be ratified by a majority”, you will argue. “The U.S. Constitution was ratified when nine out of thirteen states–a majority–approved it.”

But, again, this was not your run-of-the-mill polling booth populated by old grannies cringing at the thought of two men rubbing up against each other (and God knows what else). These states were run by lawmakers who ruminated over the meaning and significance of a document which would affect the daily lives of people for centuries to come. That’s what judges and lawmakers do. They were not basing their decisions on flippant, arbitrary, impulsive prejudices; they were basing them on well thought-out arguments about human rights–which, in fact, were inspired by French Englightenment philosophy, not the Bible. In other words, they were not your average granny at the voting booth with the IQ of a rock. Besides, the original plan of the Constitution’s framers was to seek out unanimity among the states–in order to avoid the whole majority vesus minority scenario. Benjamin Franklin was one proponent of unanimity.

“But lawmakers are elected by the majority as agents of the majority in order to enforce the will of the majority. Lawmakers must reflect the will of their constituents.”

But this is fallacious repetition, because I have already explained the proper place of majority rule above. As already stated above, a democracy is a form of government in which the majority rule on issues which affect them, and not on issues which do not affect them. And, in light of what has been acknowledged, when a majority must rule on minority issues, they must do so under pressure of reason, impartiality, and foresight, because personal preference is not applicable to all. Thus, a representative is not obliged to reflect the views of the majority of her constituency when the issue at hand does not affect the majority of her constituency; in fact, she is obliged to reflect the views of the minority when minority issues are at hand. After all, whether or not Joan and Mary file a joint income tax return does not involve the majority. Why, then, should the majority be allowed to vote on it? Why, then, should a representative reflect the views of the majority, and not the minority?

What do America’s founders think about this issue? Thomas Jefferson, like many men in his day, may have been a slave-owning misogynist, but he had at least one highly perceptive thing to say about the proper function of majority rule:

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

In other words, according to Jefferson, when the majority rule, they must do so on the basis of reason, and not irrational prejudices. He also concedes that majority rule must take into account equality between the majority and the minority, and we have already established far above that this is one sense of the definition of democracy. I disagree with Jefferson only on the point that the majority should always rule. I do not think that the majority should always rule. I think that the majority should rule when the issue at hand involves the majority, and not when it involves only the minority. But when a majority must rule at some level, it must be based on objective reasoning. In the case of gay marriage, the ruling majority should consist of serious decision-makers (legislators) who are not compelled to reflect the interests of their majority constituents on an issue which does not concern their majority constituents.

Oh, by the way, Jefferson sort of supported the more left-wing senses of the definition of democracy provided at the beginning of this blog entry. He invoked equality. Yes, originally it was meant to boost up the plebeian (underprivileged majority) to meet the level of the patrician (overprigileged minority), but, in an ironic reversal, in this case it is the underprivileged minority trying to meet the level of the overprivileged majority.

In summary, gay marriage should not be put up to a public vote because gay marriage is of no concern to the greater public. Whether or not Joan and Linda get to file a joint tax return is of no concern to their neighbours. Who makes the final decision, you ask? Informed, well-educated, impartial judges and lawmakers who demonstrate an appreciation for reason, justice, and compassion, separating their obligations to their majority constituents from those to their minority constituents. Because the majority do not have a say in the lives of the minority. What do you think?





Ew! Faggots!

30 11 2010

It’s hilarious how pathetically hare-brained and schizophrenic Americans can be about anybody who doesn’t poke the right hole–if any hole at all. No matter what rationale you throw at them, they’ll always find something to come back at you with–demise is a slippery slope for the rabid bigot.

The Pentagon recently released a report stating that 70% of U.S. military personnel and their spouses believe allowing gays to serve openly in the United States military would be beneficial, would make no difference, or would pose only a negligible risk. Finally, once and for all, the Pentagon accedes to the body of scholarly research presented by the American Psychological Association which reflects a consensus that gays aren’t bad for the military:

1) Empirical evidence fails to show that sexual orientation is germane to any aspect of military effectiveness including unit cohesion, morale, recruitment and retention (Belkin, 2003; Belkin & Bateman, 2003; Herek, Jobe, & Carney, 1996; MacCoun, 1996; National Defense Research Institute, 1993).

2) Comparative data from foreign militaries and domestic police and fire departments show that when lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are allowed to serve openly there is no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness (Belkin & McNichol, 2000–2001; Gade, Segal, & Johnson, 1996; Koegel, 1996).

3) When openly gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals have been allowed to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces (Cammermeyer v. Aspin, 1994; Watkins v. United States Army, 1989/1990), there has been no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness.

4) The U.S. military is capable of integrating members of groups historically excluded from its ranks, as demonstrated by its success in reducing both racial and gender discrimination (Binkin & Bach, 1977; Binkin, Eitelberg, Schexnider, & Smith, 1982; Kauth & Landis, 1996; Landis, Hope, & Day, 1984; Thomas & Thomas, 1996).

But, really, who cares what those scrupulous, scientific-minded experts think? They’re only experts, after all. I mean, who do they think they are, telling us about things which we know nothing about, and which they know scores more about? By no means is it a form of reverse snobbery to downplay knowledge and glorify redneck anti-intellectualism. Oh, no.

I think it’s pretty clear among rational people that DADT is a ridiculous relic of a benighted past, and that the United States is an embarrassment to other industrialized nations for preserving a policy (in several Courts of Appeal) which even Israel long ago threw out. Yes. Israel–where people get bombed in the street and drag queens get abducted by their families and beaten black and blue by their male relatives for three days straight before they are able to escape and call the authorities. However, the type of fascism hatched by 19th-century thinkers such as Hegel and mastered by 20th-century drones such as Germany’s National Socialists is adept at pulling virtually any chimera out of its butthole. The usurious Jews are the cause of our economic inflation and poverty, not the reparations due France as stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. It is the homosexuals who threaten our unit cohesion, not a recalcitrant or belligerent attitude. Besides, it’s not as though homosexuals spend their lives conforming in order to survive.

You see, truth and reason are less palatable when one’s appetite is better sated by the raucous noise of charismatic crying and the saccharine bray of teary-eyed sophistries.

The argument supporting DADT can be said to take one or more of the following forms, and these are just as easily disproved in the accompanying textual interpolations. (Shockingly, all of the following arguments were also provided me by a homosexual servicemember, who appeared almost schizophrenically self-defeating about his sexuality.)

1) “Most military personnel do not wish for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military”.

Yes they do. The Pentagon report provided above indicates that most personnel and their spouses either do think gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, or they don’t care. Besides, military authorities are not obliged to seek the permission of their subordinates when making policy. For example, drill sergeants do not ask their subordinates, “Do you want to do a push-up?”, let alone, “Do you want to work alongside women and black people?”

2) “Gay people shouldn’t be professing their sexuality in the military anyway. The military is about conformity–everybody is the same whether they are male or female, black or white, or gay or straight.”

First, gays do not have to profess their sexuality to be kicked out of the military for it. We already know that military authorities consciously seek out homosexuals by conducting investigations into the private lives of suspected cock-gobblers (which effectively violates the terms of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell anyway by “asking”).

Second, if a person’s sexuality doesn’t matter in the military because everyone is treated as the same anyway, then it shouldn’t matter to military authorities whether a person is openly gay. By simply stating that sexuality is irrelevant in the military, one only contradicts one’s own anti-gay position by admitting that it doesn’t matter.

Third, homosexuals are masters of disguise–they have to do it to survive.

Fourth, even if homosexuality were a choice, so is religious faith, yet one could not expel a servicemember for openly professing a religious faith, thus, just as one would be unable to expel a servicemember for professing a religious faith,  one would be unable to expel a servicemember for professing a sexual preference. They would both be choices, and both would be professed, no?

3) “Americans are different from Europeans, Canadians, Israelis, etc., so they shouldn’t be expected to follow the same ethic of equality.”

This is perhaps the stupidest argument I have ever encountered in support of DADT. This argument consists of an informal logical fallacy of the following type: “A is different from B, therefore A should not be like B”. This is a fallacy because it is a non sequitur. If A is different from B, it does not follow that A shouldn’t be like B, because the term “is different” does not equate with “should be different”. That Americans do not value equality as much as, say, the French does not mean that Americans shouldn’t value equality as much as the French. Indeed, if anything, the whole body of thought and reasoning supporting the principle of social equality suggests that Americans should emulate the Europeans, Canadians, etc.

Besides, if Americans are less tolerant than Canadians and western Europeans, don’t you think the problem is with the intolerance itself, and not the attempts to eradicate it? Re-affirming the military’s endemic prejudice rather than nipping the problem in the bud and holding the military accountable is kind of like dealing with bullying by telling the victim of the bullying to be less of a sissy rather than telling the bully to stop bullying. The bullying victim should be allowed to be a sissy without being bullied for it; similarly, homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly in the military without being kicked out for it. So don’t punish the homosexual for preferring members of the same sex–punish the homophobe for being homophobic. And, no, they aren’t allowed to use “religious freedom” as an excuse for their behaviour any more than they would be allowed to use “religious freedom” to excuse slavery or stoning adulteresses to death, for we know that such “freedoms” also constitute grave violations of freedom.

Compare the above image from a 2001 (really, it’s from 2001) anti-homosexual military manual (called Dignity and Respect) with the 1950s anti-homosexual propaganda at the beginning of this post. What I want to know is, where is the poster on appropriate heterosexual conduct? What about assaults against women, which are probably a bigger problem? (It’s probably out there–but is it pegged as a “heterosexual” threat?) Apparently, in the eyes of the military, homosexuals are more sexually “disrespectful” than heterosexuals, even though the vast majority of rapists are heterosexual males. All gay men want to do is suck each other’s dicks and have some neat butt-sex. Hardly a threat to women. If the military viewed heterosexuals as being every bit as capable of sexual misconduct as homosexuals, there would be no need to publish content geared specifically towards homosexual misconduct. Once again, we see how easy it is for individuals possessing below-average IQs to confuse the concept of “homosexuality” with that of “sexual perversion”.

Maybe the intent of that particular page in the manual was to say, “Look, we have to kick them out for being gay, but we have to show them dignity and respect in doing so.” But that is like asking a death-row inmate what flavour of ice-cream they would like for their last meal. How is it showing a person dignity and respect by kicking them out of the military for being gay? Discharging an individual in a “respectful” manner doesn’t change the fact that the action of the discharge itself is still demeaning, so trying to be nice about the way you do something mean is just pretentious and contradictory.

I just don’t understand why this is such a big hairy deal for a country that constantly brags, day in and day out–and they won’t let you tell them otherwise, or you’ll be pegged as unpatriotic–that it is “the best country on earth” or the “land of the free” or “blessed” by God (what a joke). First, if God is to bless America, it is because it needs it, not because it deserves it, given how much it has lagged behind other countries in terms of human rights and standard of living; second, it isn’t the “land of the free” when citizens aren’t free to serve in the military because they’re attracted to people of the same sex (or marry each other for that matter); third, it isn’t the best country on earth. It might have been in, like, 1781, but now that honour probably belongs to Sweden or Finland. If you want to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. And that means getting over your irrational, childish fear of two men licking each other or two women caressing each other’s breasts, looking at the evidence (which overwhelmingly supports repeal), and doing what other countries have done, because the title “God’s Gift to Earth” isn’t heritable–you have to earn it (and even then, you’d still sound like a vainglorious douchebag). You have to take your head out of your arschloch, admit you have mistakes, take others as examples, and change yourself accordingly before you will deserve that title.