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Monday walk…

As I mentioned in one of my recent Picture this… articles, fellow writer Johanna Bradley, (restlessJo) invites bloggers like myself to contribute to her Monday Walks thread, by publishing photo-blogs on the theme of – you guessed it – going for a walk on a Monday.

As I’ve been having a bit of a photography frenzy recently (what with our dog-sitting binge and the glorious spring weather) and despite the fact the only walk I did on Monday was to take Roo up to the fields above our house in Barnstaple, I did of course have my trusty phone, so as usual I took some photos.

At the time I wasn’t aware that I’d be posting these anywhere, so I didn’t take many and I was mucking about, ill-advisedly shooting into the sun and trying to make something “artistic” for my own entertainment.
But then hey, why not…?

The view from the top of the hill looks down from the centre of the V-shaped valley that comes together at the mouth of the Taw estuary in one direction…

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…and inland, towards Exmoor, in the other..

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Looking down into town, the new bridge, spanning the Taw as it flows out to sea is just visible against the low shimmering waters of the tidal river.

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And the sinking sun proved too much of a temptation for me, unable as I am to resist the chance at a little photographic experimentation.

A geometric antenna provides some structure to one shot.

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…and a tree (a favourite subject that I’ve used in photos before) gives natural perspective in another, including a lens-flare that JJ Abrams would be proud of.

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After that beautiful display of solar activity, there could only be one way to finish the day and that was yet another spectacular Devon sunset to end my Monday evening walk.
Thank you for joining me.

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10 Comments

Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Arts, Blogging, Photography

 

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Forging ahead…

When it comes to self-deprecating turns of phrase, there’s one I don’t know if I like.

“When it comes to art, I don’t know much, but I know what I like” has always seemed a perfectly honourable way of decrying any special knowledge, without simultaneously declaring total antipathy toward art in general.
But I can’t help thinking that certain species of art snob will always mentally insert “..and I only like what I know.” into that sentence, presuming that we – the uninitiated – couldn’t possibly get our heads round something as cerebral as “Art” and should stick to our airbrushed fantasy posters and Jack Vettriano prints instead.
Like most clichés and truisms however, the statement is largely true of most of us, although I’d like to think that those of us that who appreciate art in a more “casual” way still go to the trouble of discovering some background to our favourite artists and get some idea of how they work, at the same time remaining open to new genres and media we have yet to stumble upon.

I personally love the work of Jack Vettriano, the Scottish artist’s strikingly real yet somehow dreamlike works, ranging from bright and airy beachscapes to dark and sensual bedroom scenes, are easily accessible and populist so of course the art cognoscenti look down their collective disdainful nose at him.

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Vettriano’s Dance me to the end of love – “Who are you calling populist darling?”

But that doesn’t mean I can’t also be a massive fan of child prodigy, genius draughtsman and artistic perspective mangler, M.C. Escher, whose extraordinarily complex drawings, wood and lino cuts have fascinated me from an early age…

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Escher’s Print Gallery, not somewhere to go with a hangover.

…or indeed be continually astounded by the surreal, hallucinatory visions of Salvador Dali, the one-of-a-kind mad scientist of the art world, his paintings loaded with Freudian innuendo, mystical symbology and double meanings, both visual and philosophical.

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Dali, by himself, in more ways than one.

I know what I like and I like to know about what I like, but I’m unburdened by the expectation of expertise, unlike the art establishment who are meant to know what they’re on about.
So it’s rather nice when someone comes along and spectacularly takes them for a ride.

Born in Germany in 1951, the son of an art restorer and muralist, Wolfgang Fischer was already painting at the age of 14, lived the bohemian lifestyle in the ’60s, experimenting with both LSD and opium, and by the early eighties was the owner of an art gallery.
After a falling out with his business partner however, Fischer began work on probably the most audacious art forgery scam ever.

Leonardo Da Vinci lookalike and self-styled “world’s greatest art forger”, Wolfgang teamed up with two others for the scheme, his friend Otto and future wife Helene, (whose surname he would take, giving him the now-infamous name, Wolfgang Beltracchi) which involved forging not only supposedly “lost” paintings of up to 50 different artists, including French and German Expressionists such as Max Ernst, Andre Derain and most famously, Heinrich Campendonk, but also faking the various documents required for provenance and authentication.

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Wolfgang Beltracchi – Da Vinci’s “look” was clearly an influence.

At one point in the elaborate ruse, Helene actually dressed up as her own grandmother, posing in front of a number of her husband’s fakes for a photograph that was then artificially aged to give added credibility to the story.

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They even set up fictitious art collections, in which the miraculously unearthed masterpieces had supposedly been buried all these years.
Otto claimed to have had a grandfather called Knops who had bequeathed him a large collection of artwork that had previously been hidden away during Nazi rule and Helene’s grandfather was also implicated in providing a front for their fraudulent business venture.

Maybe it was the high profile nature of some of the gang’s victims that was their downfall though, Hollywood star and comedian Steve Martin being a prime example.
In 2004 Martin bought a Heinrich Campendonk painting entitled “Landscape with horses” for €700,000.

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Or did he ?

Apparently not, and when he came to sell it on just two years later, he took a hefty loss, only raising €500,000.
The painting is now known to have been one of Beltracchi’s copies and Martin is currently awaiting compensation.

In fact it was another Campendonk forgery that sealed the fate of Wolfgang’s multi million pound cottage industry.
In 2008 a previously unquestioned work from 1914 by the relatively obscure German expressionist (originally sold by the gang for €2.88m) came up for auction at Christies, an auction house whose rigorous vetting procedures had confirmed other Campendonk’s as genuine in the past, and was made the subject of considerable scientific analysis.
What the art-boffins found was an almost immaculate early twentieth century lost masterpiece called “Red picture with horses”

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almost immaculate being the operative words in this case.

What the analysts found when they peered at the paint through their high-tech gizmos was pretty much what they’d expect to find in a sample from a hundred years ago.
Except Titanium White.

That particular pigment wouldn’t have been available to Heinrich, back at the start of the first world war, therefore the painting couldn’t possibly be genuine.

QED.

Uh-oh. Busted.

The estimated losses to collectors, auction houses, galleries and museums who were duped by Beltracchi and his cohorts (including subsequent “good faith” sales) runs to somewhere in the region of €34.1m, and that’s only the 14 paintings that he’s admitted to.
There could be literally hundreds of “confirmed originals” out there, hung on gallery walls or locked away in strongrooms, but one thing’s for sure; Wolfgang isn’t saying a word.

Indeed, part of the deal (the same one that keeps him in a low-security open prison, free to visit a studio in which to continue his work, 50% of the proceeds of which will go towards his €8m and rising damages bill) requires him to remain silent on a variety of subjects, including the secretive world of the art trade itself.

Wolfgang Beltracchi says part of his work has always been “Showing a mirror to the art world”, but when drawn on what he has been asked to keep quite about he will only laugh and say;
“Sure, I know secrets, I worked in that world for a long time. Everybody who works in that business has secrets”

And if he did it again, would he do anything differently?
A twinkle in his eye, he says;
“One thing is for sure, I never take the titanium white”

But for now he seems reasonably happy with his lot, creating “new” masterpieces by day and retiring to his comfortable cell at night (he got 6 years, his wife 4 and Otto 5) and his star seems set to to carry on rising, as his work, both original Beltracchi’s and his “reimaginings” of paintings that “fill the gaps” in artists’ fictional back-catalogues, are now selling for thousands of euros.

So when he’s finished paying off his legal obligations, The World’s Greatest Art Forger could find he’s finally got his first proper job…

{All artwork naughtily pinched from Google images}

 
8 Comments

Posted by on April 21, 2014 in Arts, Blogging, Humour, News, Personal anecdote

 

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Picture this. Countryside to coast – Wimbleball Lake / Crow Point…

Week two of our dog-sitting fortnight began on Wednesday, when we swapped Ollie the spaniel for our regular visitor, Roo the border collie, giving us another reason to get out in the continuing spring sunshine.

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Friday.
This time we headed out onto Exmoor to visit my friend Chris, where he lives in a Devon longhouse, surrounded by the rolling hills and beautiful countryside of the national park, the idea being to take Roo, and ourselves, for a walk across the dam at Wimbleball lake.

The longhouse is a grade two listed, 15th century thatched building, with stables and outbuildings built from local stone, set in a steep valley with wooded hills all around.

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Our Wimbleball walk was slightly marred by the fact that work being carried out on the dam prevented us from taking in the view from there, but we nevertheless enjoyed a stroll through the moorland and woods bordering the lake.

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Saturday.
Today, since Chris has come to stay for a couple of days, we went in the opposite direction, away from the moor and towards the coast.
We drove out to Crow Point, on the Taw estuary near Braunton, which offers views across the river and over large areas of the sand dunes that make up Braunton burrows.

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This photo shows a sizeable gap in the dunes, (with Appledore visible in the background) the result of damage inflicted by the vicious storms that lashed the coastline earlier in the year.

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On the way back, Chris kindly treated us to a pub lunch at the imposing Braunton Inn, where I took a few more snaps across the estuary before heading home.

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Picture this. (abstract)

Two of the photos that didn’t make the final cut for my last post were these rather dull shots of the sun reflecting on the surface of a lake.

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What I’d been after was a nice clean reflection of the sun, along with some clouds, but the water was not still enough so I rejected it.

However, today I was mucking about with my various filters and effects and I had an idea.
Why not make some “art” out of my junk photos?

So here are the results of a considerable time spent on my trusty phone, digitally manipulating and generally “fiddling with” those two pictures, hopefully transformed into something a little more artistic.
A couple of the more starkly coloured ones have a whiff of Giger about them.

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While the rest are of a rather more psychedelic nature, almost resembling cosmic deep space photography.

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There, that’s my recycling done for the day.

Moral of the story: There’s beauty in everything if you look hard enough. (or something)

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Arts, Photography, Picture this.

 

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Picture this. Springtime by the river…

We are once again on dog sitting duty, this time for a King Charles spaniel called Ollie, while his owners are swanning around Venice in a gondola for a week.

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Combined with a gorgeous sunny spring day, this was the perfect excuse to get out and take some photos, walking Ollie down to our favourite wildfowl reserve and then making our way down the small river tributary (I believe it’s the Caen) that leads into the Taw estuary.

The Tarka Trail offers sweeping views out across the Taw wetlands, along the flat fields of the river valley between Chivenor and Braunton…

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…the wild flowers proliferate in the hedgerows, the buzzing of insects and bird song fills the air, spring sunshine bathes everything in warmth, and new growth is visible everywhere..

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…and of course I can never resist a bridge.

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Follow the river under the bridge at Wrafton, along the gorse-lined path that overlooks more of the flatlands on the estuary..

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…and you reach a landscape of marooned boats, stranded by the low tide..

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…the peace only broken by a rescue helicopter from the nearby Marine base flying training exercises.

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Retracing our steps, we crossed the Tarka Trail and made our way upstream passing more spring flowers, (and another stone bridge) in the dappled shade beneath the trees lining the riverbank.

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A very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I’m writing this as the sun prepares to set on the weekend, but I’m going to cheat a little and end on shot of a sunset that I took at home earlier in the week, just in case tonight’s isn’t quite so good.

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If you enjoy accompanying us on our sojourns into the beautiful countryside of the West Country, then I’m sure you will be equally at home in the company of restlessjo (Johanna Bradley) on one of her Monday Walks.
Here is her latest post.
Why not join her on…

A Saltburn Stroll.

 

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The persistence of memory…

If you spend any time on the internet (which you obviously do if you’re reading this) then there’s a good chance that you’ve seen any number of slightly flippant, jokey posts about how we bemoan the minor inconveniences of our lives, ironically comparing them to the far greater ones of those far less fortunate than ourselves, often tagged as #firstworldproblems.
It isn’t a fad that I’m interested in following, as it strikes me as being a way of pretending to care about things, just so we can let other people know how terrible it is that we didn’t get our morning cappuccino exactly the way we liked it, or that we were just too late to snap up those Kate Bush tickets we so desperately wanted, all the while secretly hoping that someone will fail to see the irony and commiserate with how our comfortable, carefully insulated lives have taken a turn for the mildly irritating.

We all have problems.
Mine are currently……..well, you don’t want to know and I can’t say I blame you, I’m sure you have plenty of your own.
And I’m equally sure that to you they seem like insurmountable obstacles in the path of your existence, but at the same time you realise that, sooner or later they will work themselves out and you’ll be able to return to the relative ease of your comfy first world lives just like I will, our memory’s ability to relegate life’s little hiccups to the recycle bin of enforced amnesia once more coming to our collective rescue.

There are others who are not so lucky however, those who we do remember, and we remember because we consider it our duty to do so.
This post is about just a few of them.

You would need to be living in a box to have missed the fact that 2014 is the anniversary of the outbreak of World War One, or The Great War as it was called, before the curse of hindsight required us to number mankind’s episodes of inhuman folly, like some sort of horrific sequel in the continuing franchise of stupidity and senseless waste.
Like all good historical epics there are many small stories of huge heroism, many of them largely overlooked by history itself until a poignant reminder brings them to our attention, and this is one of those stories.

As a teenager I was lucky enough to visit the Thievpal war graves cemetery at Vallois Bayonne in France, site of vicious fighting in the battles for the Somme and resting place of many hundreds of soldiers, a deeply affecting place that has stayed with me ever since.
One of the extraordinary tales that has recently been brought to light is that of Joel Halliwell, a lance-corporal in the Lancaster Fusiliers who was awarded Britain’s greatest military honour for outstanding gallantry.

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During a blistering German attack in 1918 Halliwell took it upon himself to launch a one man rescue mission, his challenge being to recover wounded comrades who had been stranded in no-man’s-land.
Having captured a stray fallen German soldier’s horse he rode the terrified animal out onto the battlefield, criss-crossed with heavy machine gun fire, and bodily lifted a badly injured member of his battalion across it’s back, returning to the British lines, saving the man’s life in a show of incredible bravery that could very well have cost him his own.
But this wasn’t enough for Joel.
Over the course of the next few hours he made another nine sorties into the terrifying hell of mud, blood, mortar rounds, corpses and barbed wire, bringing back eight more “other ranks” and one officer, all of whom survived to return home when hostilities ceased.
Not only that, having secured the safety of his fellow soldiers – forced to abandon his efforts only when the horse collapsed from exhaustion – he walked over two miles in order to bring the wounded men water, earning himself the Victoria Cross at the age of 37.
Returning to England after the war, Joel Halliwell lived until 1956, although sadly his brother Tom, also fighting on the Somme, died of wounds he received serving his country in 1916.

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(A recent episode of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow programme not only presented Joel’s daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter with a replica of the VC medal that he earned in battle, they also located Tom’s grave, finally allowing the family to lay a tribute to their lost hero, in the corner of a foreign field in which he lay down his life)

But not all of the events that have an anniversary this year are quite so honourable.
Twenty years ago, in April 1994, just 100 days of terror and unbelievably brutal violence meant that the chaotic and deeply divided country of Rwanda soon became one of the most horrifically tortured areas on the planet.

Even though the vast majority of Rwandans in the 1990′s (some 85%) were from the Hutu tribe, the dominant monarchy in the country was made up of members from the ruling Tutsis.
As far back as the late fifties the Hutus overthrew their Tutsi overlords, chasing large numbers of them over the border into Uganda. However, the Tutsis regrouped and returned to take back their kingdom by force in 1990, leading to fierce fighting which continued until an uneasy peace was agreed three years later.
The peace treaty didn’t last long though, because only a few months afterwards a plane carrying the Hutu president and his Burundi counterpart (also a Hutu) was shot down.
Even today, some believe that the deaths of the two presidents was a plot by the Hutu themselves, designed to give them an excuse to persecute the Tutsis, who they publicly blamed for the supposed treachery.
Whatever the case, the Hutu promptly began a campaign of organised violence and appalling atrocities against the returning Tutsis, eventually resulting in the deaths of a staggering 800,000 people, many of them women and children.

Someone who witnessed the tragic events that lead to those 100 days of terrifying infamy was Lindsey Hilsum, international editor of Channel 4 News and veteran of many war zone reports.
This week she told of how she was in Rwanda for the very first days of what would become one of the worst genocidal atrocities in modern times.
I first thought that I would quote from the piece she did on the programme yesterday, but I don’t think I could do her justice. So please watch this short clip of her, relating the heartbreaking story of her experiences in the war-torn hell that she lived through. For I truly believe that only by hearing first-hand how these events shaped the history of a nation on the brink of its own destruction can we hope to understand the inhumanity of which we are capable, and by doing so, making sure we can somehow prevent it happening again.

I’m aware that this isn’t an easy thing to hear, and neither should it be, because if it was then it would only show that we are already lost, along with our empathy for those who perished at the hands of their countrymen, their neighbours and in some cases, their own families.

The final thing I wish to address in this post, and one that I consider to be a stain on our own national conscience, is the decision by our government to allow the faceless murderers of hundreds of innocent civilians to go free after the years of grief and pain they caused so many families.
I am of course speaking of the odious Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which will let terrorists of both sides in the long running, bloody and senseless slaughter of “The Troubles” walk away from their crimes without so much as a slap on the wrist.
It seems unbelievably cowardly and callous to simply wipe the slate clean on decades of violence and pain, purely for the sake of political expedience.
I offer no solution to this, neither do I profess any great understanding of how better to handle the situation, but I cannot see that adding to the bitterness and pain of an already blighted generation can do anything other than reignite the hatred and division that brought about so much loss to begin with.

The only thing that any of us can offer is the persistence of memory, the continued pledge that we will remember, in the hope that somehow we can avoid this sort of repetition of history in our future.

 
13 Comments

Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Blogging, News, Social comment, TV

 

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Rainbow warriors…

[Today's post was written in collaboration with Mr Adam Pain from the excellent blog, A World Of Pain. Check it out for articulate and acerbic wit, searching insight and more.]

I doubt even the inhabitants of Camden Town in London could name too many historic events that have occurred in their Bohemian neighbourhood – but today that changed significantly, in a blaze of technicolored publicity. Mind you, this is Camden we’re talking about. The strength of some of the skunk on the streets these days has probably rendered a good percentage of Camden’s most notorious residents barely able to remember all of their vowels.

At one minute past midnight this morning, Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Gray Treadway made history by being (probably) the very first same-sex couple to get married in the UK. They tied the knot in Camden Town Hall, one of many couples around the country who rushed to be among the first to take advantage of new legislation, passed last year in the House of Commons by 400 votes to 175, allowing gay and lesbian couples full married rights under UK law for the first time.
(Watch Sean and Sinclair’s historic ceremony here.)

That we have taken such a ridiculous length of time to reach this stage in our social evolution is somewhat bewildering. I mean, given that the (even then, long overdue) Sexual Offences Act finally decriminalised homosexuality in 1967 – and therefore society in general was presumably at least vaguely aware that behaviour among some consenting adults which was previously considered “unnatural” or “unacceptable” was to be viewed with a new tolerance – why has it taken another 47 years to allow those same accepted members of society the same rights as the rest of “us”?

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Insert inappropriate “Getting it up” gag here.

Religion, of course, is largely the answer to that.
But theological arguments briefly aside, the fact that the simple act of legally recognising a loving relationship is seen as such a huge milestone in our social history only serves to highlight the continuing prejudice and persecution of the LGBT community in general.

For example, two other less edifying stories that have picked up attention from a media attuned to the controversial or salacious, both feature the sort of comic-horror hate figure who regularly make the news such a jaw-dropping spectacle.

There has been worldwide condemnation of Uganda’s record on gay rights abuses, (sentences range from seven years imprisonment to torture and death) but less well known is the part played by American evangelist and candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, Scott Lively, in influencing it. He’s a complete charmer, in case you hadn’t guessed.

Lively travelled to Uganda on a lecture tour, his extreme views on homosexuality coming to the attention of the government, keen for any new “evidence” to strengthen their case for more draconian laws to be introduced.

He claims to be on a crusade to “protect civilisation from homosexuality”, something he believes is bent on a mission to “defeat marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity”. That’s an astonishing opinion, given the Greek’s input in actual creating civilisation and their inconveniently liberal views on homosexuality.
Although, bear in mind that this is from the same man who claims to have invented a “Gay Scale” which lists various levels of gayness, all the way up to Monster and Super Macho, the two categories that he says are most commonly occupied by serial killers, paedophiles and, interestingly, Nazis. They just sound like Nintendo bonus characters to me.
His justification for this, believe it or not, is that;

“only homosexuals would have the personality traits required to run the gas chambers”

WHAT?! What did he say?!
Yep, he said that.
He also said that the Rwandan genocide, over the border from Uganda, was instigated by a Gay Conspiracy.
Not only that, when confronted with the question of Barak Obama’s condemnation of Uganda’s mistreatment of its LGBT citizens, he said;
“I think Mr Obama may well be a homosexual himself, he’s certainly a radical homosexualist”
by which made up term he apparently means that;
“He (Obama) is lending the weight of his office to a movement that’s goal is to overthrow the Judean/Christian sexual ethic and replace it with the gay ethic of sexual anarchy”

This of course fails to take into consideration that many of those dreadful gay people are produced by previously untainted, straight Christian couples, presumably as a punishment for some unspecified sin.

Lucky for us, we have Scott Lively to protect civilisation.

And this man is running for Governor?!

If he gets elected, set a stopwatch – because the precedent set by similar bigoted, evangelical bigmouths isn’t exactly encouraging. Who else reckons it will be no more than eighteen months, before this sociopathic hypocrite turns up with his ratty little tail between his legs, having been ‘scooped’ by the National Enquirer? Photographed in a seedy motel, wearing nothing but ass-less chaps and a Ronald Reagan mask, riding a bored looking rent boy like a rodeo veteran. 

Finally we have the demise of someone who will hopefully completely fail to leave even an unpleasant greasy stain on the pages of history to record his existence, the founder of odious hate-mongers and pseudo-religious nutjobs, The Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps.

The “church”, whose mission it is to picket US soldiers’ funerals waving placards displaying such slogans as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags” have asked for respect to be paid to their founding father, his daughter Shirley saying;
“It would be in extremely poor taste if someone were to protest my father’s funeral just because they disagreed with him. Everyone is entitled to respect in death. What monster would go out of their way to upset my family when we’re grieving?”

I’m sorry, what?

That would have been like Ed Gein’s family attempting to ban leather jackets outside his funeral, out of a feigned respect for the American tannery industry.

Oh hang on, I’m forgetting what a decent fellow ol’ Fred was when he was at home with his family, maybe we should leave the last moving words to his grieving daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper;
“My father was a great man who did no harm to anyone. So what if he beat his own wife and children? Doesn’t any good, loving father do that?”

Well, quite.

Especially if your paternal role models are all to be found languishing in the desert five thousand years ago, delirious from communicable disease, starvation, heat exhaustion and all that smiting in God’s all loving name.

Only one song seems suitably apt to play out this post I think.
Take it away Tom…

PLAY VIDEO

 
8 Comments

Posted by on March 29, 2014 in Humour, Music, News, Social comment

 

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