Apocrypha and Apocalypse

I took a walk out yesterday and, despite the high temperature and humidity, (having worked in hotter countries, the humidity in the UK still gets to me), it was a lovely day. The sky was pale blue with not a cloud in sight, birds sang, people gathered in the parks to enjoy the sun, children played, the traffic flowed and all seemed well in the world. This troubled me. How come married couples were walking hand-in-hand in the parks and streets, and children playing happily, (well, most of them anyway)? Where were the plagues of rats and mice? Where were the floods, destroying the towns and cities and the terrible diseases to accompany them? Why weren’t husbands and wives murdering each other in the streets, while the children ran rampant and feral, attacking all and sundry. Why wasn’t society destroying itself in an orgy of insane violence?

After all, Same-Sex Marriage was signed into law last week.

Following many of the articles in the online press and reading many of the comments, from the members of the religious communities and the far right, regarding SSM, has been a constant source of both amusement and amazement, frequently at the same time. Many of the early comments focussed on the “Why change marriage when there are Civil Partnerships” argument here in the UK. Others focussed on the ‘death of society as we know it‘ and some just became abusive. Around the world the harbingers of doom came out of the woodwork, (closet-shaped, of course), to proclaim everything from plagues of rats and mice caused by gay people and gay marriage to full on end-of-the-world-in-six-months caused by the defeat of DOMA and Prop 8 in the US. And then there’s the Westboro Baptist Church, but the less said about that lot, the better.

But once again, the predicted doom has not come about. Oceans are not rising up, rats and mice are not flooding into cities and eating the citizenry, there isn’t a sudden rush on storms and tornado’s to destroy gay-friendly towns. There have been two earthquakes this week in China but, since China has no plans on introducing same-sex marriage, I doubt even the WBC could ascribe these to anything other than stress-relief in the Earth’s crust (although they’d probably give it a go).

Nope. All we have is 18 countries where same sex marriage has been legalised (I’ve included the US even though its not nationwide yet). 18 countries where society still flourishes and grows, changes, updates, moves on. This gives me hope that, despite the recent law changes in Russia and despite the problems suffered by gay and transgendered people in Greece and other countries, the human race is moving, albeit very slowly, in the right direction.

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Addendum

I’d started this entry with a whole host of quotes from various different people on the subject of Same Sex Marriage, and my replies, but it sort of changed as I went along, (which probably explains the stilted writing style). I have kept a couple below, along with links to their sources and other information:

One notable comment came from Dr John Semantu, the Archbishop of York regarding SSM and civil partnerships (BBC News 11th March 2012):

“There’s a difference – and people don’t these days want to talk about difference – there’s a difference between a civil partnership and marriage, and that difference doesn’t mean one is better than another, but they’re different.”

I wondered if he realised what the SSM bill was all about. CP’s are different from marriage. That’s the problem. They’re supposed to be equal but one is more equal than the other. (See The Lords of Orwellian Change). That’s the whole point of the government introducing the SSM bill, to make things equal.

Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot (my home) was even more off the wall and, seemingly, target as well (Aldershot News 8th Feb 2013):

“Civil partnerships offer virtually all the benefits available to married people. The vote last night will not secure equal marriage as the government suggests; it will create two forms of marriage.”

Um, two forms of marriage? Marriage and, er, marriage? The two forms will be straight marriage and gay marriage which, eventually through the natural evolution of language, will become ‘marriage’. CP’s offer “virtually all the benefits”? From that we can infer that they don’t actually offer all the benefits then.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, however, went down the ‘death of society’ route (BBC News, 4th June 2013):

The traditional concept of marriage will be “abolished” under plans to allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned, ahead of a crunch vote on the issue.Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on Monday, the Most Rev Justin Welby said that marriage was the “cornerstone of society” and that what was being proposed was “neither equal nor effective”.

The Archbishop denied that his opposition to the bill was a faith issue, insisting it was “about the general social good”.

Hmm, “cornerstone of society”, “the general social good”. It makes me so annoyed that my teeth itch. It’s simple arrogance, coming from the leader of a church that came into existence by an Act of Parliament because a monarch wanted to get a divorce. If marriage is the “cornerstone of society” then society, as a whole, is doomed. The divorce rate was 42% in 2011 and there were approximately 2 million victims of domestic violence according to the ONS, so Justin Welby’s ‘cornerstone’ is crumbling quite badly. Maybe it can be shored up with the addition of Same-Sex Marriage.

In Russia, the leader of the Orthodox Church is claiming that same-sex marriage, having been legalised in so many countries, is the harbinger of the apocalypse:

“This is a very dangerous and apocalyptic symptom… It means that people are on the path of self-destruction.”  

Not really sure where to go with this one. Russia has been recently criticized for its introduction of anti-gay laws and the recent imprisonment of four Dutch tourists for “spreading gay propaganda to children”.

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Unleashed, but Barely Alive and Breathing

There’s an old saying in the tech world: “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer“. Having spent some time reading various articles on the DWP’s Universal Credit system, and having been one of the techies waiting to start work on it, (now not working on it at all due to changes made by the DWP), I sincerely believe that the saying should be modified to read: “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a government“.

The whole idea of Universal Credit was an admirable one. Collating and simplifying payments to benefit claimants into one monthly payment, linking it into the HMRC system so that there was no need to sign on or sign off when leaving or starting a job, levels of benefit changing depending on the salary received, reducing fraud, all wonderful things promised by a sparkling new system to be in place by October 2013, shiny, new and tested and working.

This isn’t going to happen.

Instead we are given a multi-tentacled, money-sucking monster that, barely alive and breathing, threatens to destroy every benefit claimant that is caught in its foetid maw, and one which will not now be fully unleashed until 2017. Part of the problem has been the ruckus occurring at top management level, with two stepping down and moving on and one sadly passing away.

The rest of the problem lies with the system itself. It appears that there is actually only one job centre testing the system, (“Pathfinder”), in Ashton-Under-Lyme, while the two others, (Oldham and Warrington), are not due to start testing now until the end of August. Apparently they are only using single people, newly unemployed, to test the system, which is a bit like testing a car by driving it around a smooth track at five miles per hour and declaring it safe. What’s worse is that the HMRC real-time information (RTI), system which is supposed to supply the claimant data is still being developed so the Pathfinder rollout has had to be halted while the data is entered manually. According to an article in The Register:

“civil servants have had to do the sort of basic tasks that were originally intended to be done automatically, like data entry and the verification of basic information about a client such as date of birth, address or right to claim the dole – even though a small number of clients with relatively simple personal situations have been chosen to take part.”

Under no circumstances should this software have been allowed out into the real world in this condition. Entering data by hand on a live system, data that, if entered wrongly, could threaten people’s already precarious financial stability, is ridiculous. If the HMRC RTI system isn’t ready then don’t roll out UC until it is. Using such a simplistic approach and such basic data, probably in the hope that all would work well and the politicians could hold it up as a shining example of government IT, is idiotic in the extreme. I could understand if this approach was for comparison purposes, ensuring the data from the HRMC matched the claimant, but it isn’t.

You rarely see this level of idiocy in a business setting.  It’s yet another case of government touting something wonderful without knowing whether is can actually be delivered on time and within budget. Universal Credit will now be added to the ever-growing list of  huge government IT projects that have, along with the NHS & Child Support, ended up as bloated, over-budget embarrassments which could have been delivered properly had the government listened to the right people.

Sorry, rant over.