A cigarette in one hand and a revolver in the other

Sam sat at her desk, a cigarette in one hand and a revolver in the other. She took a long drag and looked up at the chief.

“What’ve we got?”

“Harry Dunn’s boys are moving the booze to a warehouse in the industrial district. We’re ready to bust ‘em.”

She took another slow drag and narrowed her eyes. “Source?”

“Our man on the inside. He’s scared, but I trust him. We’re not gonna getta better chance than this.”

Prohibition had hit the city hard. The first dry summer, last year, had seen a huge increase in crime. And this summer, people were starting to get really antsy. Sam didn’t blame them. The law was stupid – and impossible to enforce. Booze was still easy to come across. Sam had a bottle of whiskey in the top drawer of her desk. She knew the chief did too. But the chief didn’t seem to have noticed the contradiction of buying from a gang while simultaneously trying to shut them down.

Harry Dunn’s boys, though… they were real thugs. When they weren’t trafficking booze or beating shopkeepers for protection money, they were busy taking petty burglary to unprecedented new levels. If the chief was right, and his source was reliable, this wasn’t an opportunity the force could afford to pass up. The Dunn gang was the biggest in the city – there were rumours it was the biggest up and down the east coast.

She took a final toke and  stubbed out the roach. The grip of her revolved trembled as she slipped it into her shoulder holster. “Alright then. Let’s go.”

“Can I speak to you, detective?” asked a honey-dark voice from the doorway.

The chief jumped. He stepped to one side, revealing a woman’s full-figured silhouette. “Oh, sorry ma’am. You gave me a shock.”

“Sorry,” said the woman in the doorway, her eyes fixed on Sam’s, “but I have something rather important to discuss.”

Sam looked up at the chief, who was shifting his weight awkwardly. “It’s alright, chief. Go.”

He mumbled an “excuse me” as he slipped past the mysterious woman and out of the room.

“Would you care to take a seat?” Sam asked.

The woman smiled sweetly and stepped over to the business end of Sam’s desk. She didn’t sit in the tattered chair there, though – just rested a single pale hand on the chair’s back. “I’m here about the Dunns.”

Sam looked out of the doorway after the chief. He’d already disappeared. “You couldn’t have come to us earlier?”

The woman focused her gaze. “No.”

“Alright. Take a seat, Miss…?”

“Call me Hattie,” the woman said. She didn’t sit. “And I’m afraid your chief has been misinformed.”

Sam tensed. “What do you mean?”

“Right now he’s leaving with the best of the force to bust a warehouse. They won’t find any booze there.”

“Oh, what will they find?” Sam asked calmly. She could still call them back. She began to rise.

“Don’t get up,” Hattie said, casually levelling a pistol. Sam hadn’t even seen her draw it. “And don’t try anything funny.” For what seemed like the first time, Hattie’s eyes left Sam’s and flicked nervously towards Sam’s holster. “Harry sent me. We want someone on the inside. And you’re going to be pretty important around here after today. To the force… and to us.”

Sam gritted her teeth and leant forward in her chair. “You’re barking up the wrong tree. I won’t ever be working for you.”

“That is a shame,” Hattie said, cocking her pistol. Two burly men had appeared in the corridor behind her, each carrying guns of their own.

“You don’t have to do this,” Sam said. “Harry’s a bad man.”

“That’s enough from you,” Hattie said, and pulled the trigger.

*

Sam dived to the left. The familiar buzz whizzed past her and hit the back of her chair. In a single motion she draw her revolver and fired three quick shots. Hattie had already disappeared into the corridor. Two shots hit one of the men. The third flew wide. The man who’d been hit cried out and stumbled, clawing at the air.

“You got me! She got me, Bill!”

Bill advanced on her. Before he could raise his gun, Sam had fired again. The fuzzy little projectile struck home, right in the centre of Bill’s ample stomach. His eyes widened, and then he toppled backwards. “Argh! Grahhhh!”

The handle of Sam’s revolver was buzzing. She climbed to her feet and held it threateningly over the two groaning men. “You got?”

“Yes, we’re fucking got,” whined the one that wasn’t Bill. “Little fucker stung me right on the neck.”

“You two are going away for a long time.”

There was a loud crash from down the corridor. She looked sceptically at her revolver. Nope. If there was ever a time for something heavier, this was it.

Bee Acceleration Devices Associated were the best in the firearms industry, and Sam never settled for anything less than the best. She leant over her desk and grabbed her BADAss shotgun. Fuckers were gonna pay.

                             ,-.
                             \_/
                            {|||)<
                             / \
                             `-'

Hurry up and fucking die, Fred Phelps

Word on the ‘net is that Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church fame, is on his deathbed, and dear fag-hating God do I hope it’s true.

He’s an awful person. Like, really awful. Like, remember when they picketed Matthew Shephard’s funeral? Awful. He can’t die fast enough for me, personally, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Fortunately for the world, there are pleasanter, more level-headed people out there, most of whom will take the standard “we shouldn’t be celebrating anybody’s death” line. Which is great. I wish everyone would take that line. But I won’t, and here’s why I’d ask that the level-headed among you please refrain from casting your judgment beams all over those of us who are angry.

Fred Phelps is (hopefully soon it will be “was”) a dick. Since the 90s, his church has been running a crusade of bigotry, of  vulgarity, and of straight up ugly hatred. He has made it his life’s work to make life worse for people who are already struggling. He’s not worth his own weight in pus, let alone the precious oxygen he continues to waste. The world will be a measurably better place once he’s no longer in it. One fewer high profile bigot is nothing to be sniffed at. Not while our children are still killing themselves because of scum like Phelps. So yeah, I’m going to be happy when he dies. I’m going to celebrate. I’d love to picket his funeral, if I wasn’t thousands of kilometres away. And I’m not the only one.

Given the hateful legacy Phelps chose to build for himself, it’s no surprise that people are making comments about picketing his funeral. It is these comments that are most likely to draw the inevitable “that’s exactly what the Westboro Baptist Church would do/you’re just lowering yourself to their level”s. But it’s not the same. It’s not even similar, despite the lazy surface similarities. Yes, they are both the picketing of funerals. But Phelps and the WBC picketed the funerals of soldiers and murdered innocents. We judge people by their actions. Fred Phelps and Matthew Shephard are NOT the same, and I won’t pretend they are. Rejoicing in the death of a monster does NOT make you a monster – it just means you’re not an angel.

Of course people will be happy when Phelps finally kicks it. Because, when you get right down to it, this is the only way society can progress – and we ALL know it. Bigots like Phelps don’t change their minds, and we can’t get rid of them, but Time can.

Fuck freedom, give me security

A wise man once said:

“They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Oh, sorry, got a typo there. A *white man once said.

The above quotation is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, a rich white dude and one of the Founding Fathers. Apparently, according to wikipedia, he was “the first American”, which is pretty impressive. His famous quotation on Liberty and Security is often repeated, usually as “he who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither” or some close variant, in debates on freedom of speech, censorship, government surveillance etc. And I have a problem with it.

Laurie Penny – a writer who I admire hugely – recently wrote an article entitled “Online bullying isn’t freedom of speech“. The article is brilliant, obviously, describing the ubiquitous nature of the online harassment of high-profile women and how this harassment silences female voices. Ironically, when this fact is pointed out – that this oppression is trampling on the freedom of speech of women on the internet – those calling for the harassment to end are inevitably accused of attempting to stifle the freedom of speech of the harassers. So it has always been.

I don’t get it.

What is this “freedom of speech” that we, as a culture, seem to have this raging principle-boner for? It sure as fuck isn’t the freedom to say whatever you want. No, we’re not free to make threats, we’re not free to print untrue or damaging information about other people, we’re often not free to preach our religious beliefs. And yet I never heard the free-speechers clamouring for Abu Qatada’s release. Weird.

I’d say that most people support those particular restrictions on speech. Even Americans, whose entire society is built around freedom-as-an-ideal, don’t allow their rich to be slandered or their religious to be offended. Free speech is, at best, fairly free speech, and I personally am not even very attached to that.

The problem with freedom is that it allows those with more power – physically or socially – to override the freedoms of those with less. In any free interaction, none are guaranteed any freedom at all. In a best case scenario, each may choose to act conscientiously, allowing the freedom of the other; in a worst case scenario each may choose to act in a way that diminishes the freedom of the other. In an interaction regulated by social norms and the threat of state violence (law), each can be confident that their major freedoms will be preserved. In an ideal interaction, only those actions that would directly diminish the freedom of another would be regulated. The maximisation of freedoms after the guarantee of security, as opposed to the misguided notion that freedom is an end in and of itself.

It is easy to see that freedom and security will be prioritised differently by different sections of society. Those with power will never have cause for concerns of security, and thus will not prioritise security highly. They will interpret their privilege as freedom. Where they encounter resistance to their perceived freedom – when they’re criticised for harassment, for example – freedom will naturally become what they prioritise most highly.

Conversely, those without power – those whose freedoms are consistently diminished by others – will prioritise security. People who only want to be heard, such as the women in Laurie’s article, do not require the freedom abused by those who act to silence them. They need a guarantee that their basic freedoms will be protected.

It was all well and good for Benjamin Franklin to expound upon the virtues of Liberty over Safety, but it’s important to remember that he was a person whose safety was never particularly at risk. When he wrote those words, and throughout much of his life, Franklin himself was a slave-owner. Anti-abolitionists argued that they had a “right” to own slaves – that abolitionists were attempting to take away their freedom.

Fuck that. Fuck your freedom. I want safety, for myself and for those I love, and I’m willing to fight for it. Franklin would later become a strong proponent of abolition, which is better than nothing I suppose, and I live in hope that one day we’ll come to our senses too.

I guess what I’m trying to say – without wanting to put too fine a point on it – is that freedom is slavery.

#fuckfreedom

The Russia problem

What kind of backward-ass place would have laws prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality”? What kind of bigoted society would allow that? (Aside from Britain ten years ago, I mean)

Well, America.

Ok, not ALL of America. Just Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah (yup, all of those states have “no promo homo” laws that are functionally identical to Russia’s). Section 28 in the UK was before my time, but still far too recent for us to be climbing onto our little high-horses. Especially when less than three weeks ago a political figure in the UK made headlines for claiming that God was flooding the UK because of David Cameron’s (comparatively) tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.

The Winter Olympics is finally upon us, and the world’s gaze is fixed on Sochi, Russia. Things in Russia appear to have gone down the tubes pretty quickly over the past couple of years, for LGBT people in particular. Political campaigns like All Out have done an excellent job of raising awareness, and recently the Channel 4 documentary Hunted has received a huge amount of attention for its terrifying depiction of life for LGBT Russians. Local organisations like Bristol Pride and international businesses like Google have added their voices to an increasingly strong chorus, and I personally am thankful for every one. It says beautiful things about our society that people care this deeply about LGBT rights (or, at the very least, it shows that we’re making progress).

I don’t want to discourage anyone from condemning Putin’s homophobia and anti-gay attitudes in Russia. I hope we can add a little nuance to the debate without doing so.

There is some important context that has been left largely unaddressed – America really wants to discredit Russia. You may have seen comments underneath articles about Russia claiming that it is “US propaganda”, which is problematic because it implies that the accusations of Russian homophobia are either inaccurate (which they’re not) or unimportant. I don’t have the best understanding the situation, so the following is based on a bit of research I did specifically for this blog post (DO YOU FEEL SPECIAL).

Apparently it’s complicated. Like, way more complicated than I can properly explain. But (and I’m aware that I’m completely butchering this explanation – politics/history buffs may wish to look away now) the claim is that Russia has links with countries like Syria, Iran, and China that complicate America’s plans for world domination or whatever. I don’t fucking know. And don’t ask me how anti-Russian propaganda will help America, because it’s always seemed to me that governments pretty much do whatever they want regardless of the popular opinion of their citizens. But I digress. My point is that there are other factors. Feel free to clarify them for me in the comments.

There’s also the substantial issue of homophobia everywhere else in the fucking world. I’m not saying that people in bigoted houses shouldn’t be accusing others of homophobia, because that’s not true. Bigotry can and should be challenged by anybody. I would just like it if we could use this movement that’s arisen in response to the situation in Russia to make things better everywhere.

Generally, I’ve been very impressed by the world’s response. Channel 4 produced this amazing advert, which I think is pretty perfect, and the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion produced another, which would be funnier it wasn’t using gay sex as a punchline, but hey-ho.

OMG HAHA PUTIN IS GAY AND WEARING MAKEUP WHAT AN INSULT HOW EMBARRASSING FOR HIM BEING GAY IS A BAD THING HAHAHA PUTIN IS GAY

OMG HAHA PUTIN IS GAY AND WEARING MAKEUP WHAT AN INSULT HOW EMBARRASSING FOR HIM BEING GAY IS A BAD THING HAHAHA PUTIN IS GAY

It makes sense, in a way, that people would want to mock Russia and Putin. Stephen Colbert, who I’m assured is a very funny man, seems to find the situation hilarious. Journalists in Sochi have been using the hashtag #SochiProblems to draw attention to the various shortcomings in their accommodations. But as amusing as missing doorknobs and too-many-lightbulbs are, hardly a mention has been made of the living conditions of the actual residents of the city itself. And after the Olympic spotlight has been turned off, it’s likely that things are going to get worse for the residents of Sochi – the gay and straight alike. This is a problem because shitty times beget shitty attitudes – history has shown us that when times get harder, bigotry flourishes. Not so funny now, huh?

So laugh if you want. Cry if you need to. Boycott and campaign and I’ll be standing right beside you. But don’t be deluded into believing that an anti-Russian attitude absolves you of the need to challenge homophobia at home.

Why being “sexuality blind” does not make you an ally

*** Just to be clear – I’m not bashing anyone. This is just an explanation of my feels ***

Hooray! Tom Daley is one of us!

One of who?

Well, one of the gays, right?

Nope, he was pretty clear that he likes girls.

Bisexual, then?

Let’s just leave that for him to decide, mmkay? All he’s done is tell us he’s going out with another guy. There’s already been plenty written about the media’s unnecessary and incorrect mislabelling, all of it far more sensible and coherent than I could have managed. Go check it out.

I’m here for another reason.

Let me just start by saying that I’m so happy for Tom, and that I’m really grateful to him for having the courage to share that part of himself with us. For those of you who haven’t experienced it personally – telling the world you like guys is pretty fucking hard, and for someone with a profile as high as Tom’s he is literally telling the world. Fair play.

Now, onto the meat of the subject. Over the past few hours I’ve seen a great deal of “who cares? It’s his business/sexuality shouldn’t be a big deal”, which is perfect in theory but falls spectacularly short in practice. It’s a problem because “why is this news?” is only a half-step away from “the media are shoving homosexuality down our throats”.

I agree with you 100%, sexuality SHOULDN’T be important; but the undeniable fact of the matter is that it IS. You might think you’re being enlightened by looking over your glasses at people excited by the news and telling them that it doesn’t matter to you, but you’re actually being kind of a jerk. Here’s why:

Sexuality matters. Yeah, it shouldn’t – you’re preaching to the fucking choir. Telling gays that sexuality isn’t important is like telling starving kids that you don’t want to hear about it because everyone should have enough to eat. It’s kind of insulting. See here for a better explanation.

Us gays, we need this. 99% of school children have heard the word “gay” used as an insult. Statistics vary, but young gay people are between three and ten times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. The world still hates us, and it still fucks us up.

Having idols like Tom helps. I can’t even begin to put into words how glad I am that teenagers will have in him a role model who is successful, athletic, and loved. It makes a difference, even if just to let you know that you’re not alone. On this, I’m speaking from experience.

So all you open-minded hetero types, thank you for not judging people by their orientation. Thank you, really, and I wish everyone was like you. For future reference, though, when someone does something as brave as come out (on YouTube, no less) the correct response isn’t “who cares?”, it’s “good for you”.

Good for you, Tom.

My coming out story

*Disclaimer* – As I wrote this, I realised how many amazing people have played important parts in my life. I don’t mention everyone, but I hope you know how much you mean to me. I’ve also glossed over a few details out of respect. ***

 

It’s kind of a long story.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was a fairly normal child (I think) – possibly a little more sensitive and little less into sports than other boys my age, but I’d bet that a lot of people feel that way when they’re young. I had a girlfriend or two when I was in primary school, in the way that kids do – again, not an uncommon experience.

I have a really strange memory of the 1997 election. I remember seeing John Major on television and wanting him to win because I thought he was more attractive than Tony Blair – obviously that’s an imperfect description of how I, a seven year old, felt; but that was kind of the gist.

The first person I came out to was my mum (gayyy, right?), when I was about fourteen. Whenever my mum had something important or awkward to discuss with me or my sister she’d wait until we were in the car together, usually on the motorway, so there could be NO ESCAPE. This one time, she just asked me straight out if I was gay, and I said yes, and she said that was fine, and that was that.

School was never really a problem for me. My secondary school was a boys’ grammar, so I was probably fairly sheltered. Shortly after I came out to my mum, I came out to a few close friends of mine. They were all girls, obviously. One of them had been a friend since primary school, and had moved to another country. One of them was a friend at the girls’ school down the road – I lost contact with her years ago, but at the time I think I had a bit of a girl crush on her.

The last was an amazing person who I’m proud to call one of my best friends. The boys’ and girls’ schools used to have joint discos for the year sevens, eights, and nines. They were hilarious – literally all the boys on one side of the hall and all the girls on the other, except for the cool kids (like me, obvs) who hung around outside and had friends at the other school. Around this time, my bestie told  me that one of her friends wanted to ask me out (in a schoolchildy way) and I had to ask her to tell her friend not to, and she asked me why, and I was all like “because I’ll have to say no… because I like guys”, and that was that.

I think it was about a year afterwards that I came out to my sister. My mum and dad are divorced and live separately, and I remember wanting to come out to my sister so that when we were at my mum’s house then everyone in the house would know – that I wouldn’t have to hide anything. Eventually it just felt like it was time. One evening I asked her if I could have a word with her. We went and sat outside on the patio, in the dark. I told her that I had something really important to tell her, but that it was really difficult for me to say, and that if she knew (which I was pretty sure that she did) and she could just tell me that she knew, it would really help me out. She was like “is it that you’re gay?” and I was like “yes” and we hugged and it was awesome.

A year or so later I started sixth form. My school was a boys’ school up until sixth form, when it was mixed. I got to hang around with girls, which was awesome. The friendship groups all shifted around, and I ended up mostly hanging out with this one other guy and three awesome girls who’d come over from other schools. In an amazing coincidence the other guy and one of the other girls also turned out to be gay, and we all kind of came out together. I have this really vivid memory of hanging out in the Westgate Gardens doing that stupid teenage thing where you’re like “would you rather Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston” or whatever, and me and the other guy would keep trying to steer it over to talking about men and the girl keep trying to talk about women. It all happened pretty quickly, really. I forget who came out first, but it wasn’t me. One of the others started, and then the other, and then I was just like “me tooooooo!” but that all worked out really well and the two straight girls were (and are) amazing.

School was generally pretty decent from that point onwards. There were still some jerks – there probably always are – but as we got older they all started minding their own business, which was nice.

After school, I took a gap year. I made some awesome new friends and went gay clubbing for the first time. I guess from that point onwards I was pretty much “out”. When I started university the following year, I started with a fresh slate. By then I’d changed my Facebook “About” section to clarify that I was “Interested in: Men”, so whenever I met a new person I just added them on Facebook and let them figure it out for themselves. It really saved me quite a lot of effort – thanks Facebook! I joined my university’s LGBT society and a local gay choir, and met some MORE amazing people (there are apparently a lot of them).

The last person I had to come out to was my dad.

In my final year of university a situation came up that really made me realise some things. It was time to let my dad know who I was. I didn’t feel right anymore with him not knowing, and so I made the phone call. I think I said something like “I’m not seeing anyone at the moment, but if I was it would probably be a guy”, and he said something like “that’s ok, I love you, but keep an open mind just it case”, so it could have been a lot worse. And that was that, I guess.

If my story says anything it’s that coming out is not a simple process. I started my journey out of the closet almost ten years ago. I only told my dad last year, and I don’t know if he’s told my step-family or any of my extended family on his side.

I’d like to finish with a quick message to anyone out there who might be struggling with coming out:

I know it’s difficult, and I know you might be scared. It’s ok. You are strong enough to do it, and whatever happens when you do, you will not be alone. Whatever you’re going through at the moment, it really does get better.

I made a video about this. It’s somewhere on YouTube. Here. Thanks for reading, and have a great day. x

The Way of the Twitter Warrior

  1. First and foremost, you must have a non-Twitter safe haven to retreat to. Preferably this should be an irl location/activity – such as the pub with friends, a walk in the country, fish & chips on the beach etc. – but any happy place will do.
  2. Do your research. You might be thinking of an online debate as a battle of personalities – even if this is so, your argument is your sword and your shield. You have the time, so make them as strong as you can. If your argument is opinion based, try to give sensible reasons.
  3. Acquaint yourself with the correct terminology to label fallacious arguments – “straw man”, “slippery slope”, “ad hominem”, etc. This allows you to dismiss them easily, quickly, concisely (you have fewer than 140 characters, after all), and professionally. CAVEAT: try not to drop in too many intellectual-sounding words. It will make you look like a dick.
  4. Write properly. Spelling and grammar are important. Since it is Twitter, abbreviations are acceptable in the name of brevity; but use them only as and when needed.
  5. Refusing to be pulled into an unwinnable  argument is a victory in itself. Choose your battles, and choose them wisely. Choosing not to fight is not the same as losing!
  6. Steel yourself for uncouth language. It’s the internet, I’m afraid, and sometimes people say swears. If your opponent has a particularly salty vocabulary, a “why all the swearing?” or “do you message your mother with that language?” might earn you morality points; but otherwise it’s best ignored. Swear if you have to, but keep in mind that over-swearing gives a polite opponent the opportunity to score morality points off you.
  7. Know thine enemy. When preparing to engage an opponent, a quick reconnaissance of their profile can give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. Recon carefully, you may find the key to your opponent’s defeat.
  8. Love thine enemy. Your task is to enlighten, not (solely) to humiliate. Compassion is valuable because however wrong they are, they’re still a person. Try to see things from their perspective, not least of all because they might be right (and if they are, the sooner you know the better! Arguing with someone who’s right is like playing chicken with a tank – you can win, but they’ve got to be stupid and you have to be brilliant).
  9. Take the moral high ground. You can lose an argument if you have the moral high ground, but you can’t lose it badly. The moral high ground is a fantastic buffer. This means no personal attacks, and as little swearing as possible.
  10. If you want to sting your opponent, use insults that they can’t respond to without weakening their own position; specifically insults that are too complicated/passive-aggressive/backhanded for your opponent to respond to concisely, or that are so mild your opponent will look childish if they take offence. Words hurt, and sometimes less is more effective than more.
  11. Ad hominems. Ad hominems are a dangerous game, and are unlikely to work in your favour. If you’re set on an ad hominem, the less aggressive the better. Something like “17,000 tweets? You spend way too much time on here”, or “Daily Mail reader, are we?” are acceptable, though they may cost you the moral high ground.
  12. Brevity is key. Wherever possible, make your points in a single tweet. Nothing looks more amateurish (and is more tedious to respond to) than a point made over the span of several tweets.
  13. Quote sources for your facts. Sources are a “shield” of sorts, as they protect you personally from criticism – “hey, don’t blame me! I’m just quoting XYZ”. Quotes/facts are super-effective if they come from a source your opponent respects. Likewise, if they come from a source your opponent has no respect for (e.g. newspapers/broadcasters with a political bias, religious institutions, particular politicians) they’re unlikely to aid your argument at all.
  14. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Typos and other minor errors aren’t worth pointing out, as it’ll make you look petty and can cost you the moral high ground.  Pedantry of any kind is, for practical purposes, an admission of defeat. Exceptions are: if their spelling and grammar are so bad you’ve lost interest in debating with them; or if you are trolling, and can pull it off in that particular situation.
  15. One at a time. Arguing with multiple opponents will crowd your message with @’s, and you have limited space as it is. Likewise, separate threads are easier to keep track of than a single thread that multiple people are @-replying to.
  16. There is no need to reply to every @-message. Feel free to ignore argumentative messages that don’t interest you (whoever it is will very likely find someone else to argue with) and messages in which you are @-mentioned but are talking about you instead of to you.
  17. Do not feed the trolls. Ever. Exception: for lulz.
  18. Avoid obvious logical fallacies. An obvious logical fallacy (a crude ad hominem, for example) is an admission of defeat.
  19. Never delete a tweet. This is an incontrovertible sign of guilt, and will be seen as such. Try not to say anything that will need deleting. Exception: if you notice an error within the first minute of posting, in which case a delete/edit/re-post is acceptable.
  20. Tweet as if your mother/employer is watching.
  21. Sarcasm is a risky business. If it is misunderstood (which is entirely possible given that written sarcasm doesn’t often work well and people on the internet are stupid) having to explain it will make you look like a fool.
  22. Watch your crossfire! Misunderstandings and misinterpretations can lead to tense words between people who don’t know that they actually agree with each other. This is a hurt feeling waiting to happen. Read all messages carefully and critically, and check the profiles of those you speak with (See number 7).
  23. Backup – if others are having the same debate as you, give constructive back up where it is needed. Those to whom you provide backup may back you up someday. CAVEAT: be careful not to piss on your ally’s points or derail their debate, as this is unlikely to win you any friends.
  24. Keep it relevant. Do not @-reply your opponent’s past tweets – stick to those regarding the topic at hand. Preferably engage in only one thread per opponent (two maximum).
  25. When it’s over, it’s over. Winning an argument only to be ignored may be frustrating, but repeatedly messaging a person who no longer wishes to speak with you makes you look pathetic (and wether you’re pathetic or not, you probably don’t want to look pathetic).
  26. If you have to leave (for food, work, sleep etc.) before the debate is over, try to frame it in a subtle “I have a life” kind of way. In many cases you will be able to pick up the argument at your next convenience, this time with the benefit of a cooler head and an increasingly uninterested opponent.
  27. Where possible, allow your opponent the last word (particularly in drive-by quickie arguments). If the last word they choose to give is anything remotely dickish, their dickishness is doubled when you don’t respond. If they say something dickish and you do respond, the best case scenario is that you come off as kind of up-yourself and snooty (“fuck you, you piece of shit!”/”oh, how mature #eyeroll”) and the worst case scenario is that you end up looking as dickish as they do and probably also stupid (“fuck you, you piece of shit!”/”no, fuck YOU, YOU piece of shit!”). If they then don’t reply, you become the dick with the dickish last word.
  28. If necessary, admit defeat. If you lose an argument, or realise that you’ve been backed into an indefensible position, admitting defeat is somewhat akin to amputating a gangrenous leg. It will put you back on the moral high ground (or as close as possible to).
  29. Win forcefully. If you have proven your case beyond a doubt, but your opponent refuses to see sense, you may choose to end the debate with a definitive “I’ve given you the facts but you refuse to acknowledge them”. For some people, the fight is never over. Continue arguing with them if you want to, but it’s unlikely you’ll gain anything from it.
  30. Win gracefully. If your opponent admits defeat, there is nothing more magnanimous than a gracious winner. A “that’s ok, it’s been really cool talking to you!” is pretty much the best you can hope for and that, my friend, is an epic win.

Fuck you, Jeremy Irons

I’ll be honest: up until earlier today I didn’t actually know who Jeremy Irons was. I knew he was an actor, but I wouldn’t have been able to pick his face out of a crowd. So yay, I learned something today.

Here’s the video, by the way, of Mr Irons explaining his personal take on the problems associated with marriage equality:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/04/04/jeremy-irons-would-gay-marriage-fathers-marrying-sons-avoid-inheritance-tax-video_n_3012356.html?1365068494

Apparently, while he has “no strong feelings” about the subject, he opposes marriage equality on the basis that it would allow fathers to marry their sons in order to dodge inheritance tax.

Holy. Fucking. Fuck. How can I…? I don’t even…

Here are his top five mistakes (for a two minute clip, five mistakes is not bad going). In no particular order:

  1. Gay or straight, you can’t marry your immediate family. I don’t know how to start finding a reference to back that up, because (just going out on a limb here) I don’t think the issue comes up very often. You know, because most people aren’t idiots.
  2. There’s a bunch of issues with his characterisation of wealth passing down between the men in a family – antifeminist much? Fuck you.
  3. If the whole intergenerational-marriage-for-inheritance thing actually was an issue, it would have come up already in civil partnerships. You know, the civil partnerships that are exactly the same as marriages apart from the name? Methinks you haven’t really thought this through, Jeremy.
  4. The scenario you describe would proscribe both father and son from marrying anyone else until the father dies. I know that some people really love money, but that seems like an unreasonable sacrifice.
  5. Current marriage laws can be abused. Two situations that seem to occur fairly frequently (on TV) are the “marriage for money” and the “marriage for citizenship”. Neither of these are an indictment of hetero-marriage as a whole.

Also I’m pretty sure he just said that if gay marriage is legalised then he personally would consider marrying his own son in order to avoid paying inheritance tax. Re-watch the clip and then take a minute to think about whether or not this man is worth listening to at all.

There are a bunch of other things in that video I’d like to pick apart, but I’m not quite on my A-game today. I didn’t blog at all in March (BAD Jack!), so I might have fallen out of the swing of things. I’ll be back soon, though, and hopefully with something more interesting to say! Thanks for reading 🙂

Julian Brazier on equal marriage

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about why marriage equality matters to me, and I said that I hadn’t written to my MP about it. Well, shortly after I’d posted that piece I decided to bite the bullet and email it to my MP (Mr Julian Brazier) after all, despite the fact that it wouldn’t make a difference.

It didn’t make any difference (shockingly), Mr Brazier still voted against equality, but what can you do? He has a lot of constituents to represent, and some of them are probably glad he voted the way he did. He did send me a reply, though, which arrived earlier today:

Dear Mr Lee,

Thank you for your email on the issue of same-sex marriages and for the very evocative picture you painted – I know that it can be very hard for young people to come to terms with their own sexuality and to deal with the reactions of other people to it. This is a contentious issue, which has aroused very strong emotions on both sides.

I will be frank with you that my disagreement with the issue of same-sex marriage is part of a wider disagreement with the current prevailing socio-political philosophy which cuts across so many areas of our national life. My great-grandfather’s younger brother was gay and tragically committed suicide, before I was born, while a student at Oxford, so I have certainly never  supported any form of persecution of gay people.

Basically my position is that I believe that our modern obsession with rights is deeply mistaken and bad for the long term health of society. I am against persecuting people, not because of any concept of rights (plural) but because it isn’t right. I don’t believe that categorising people by their sexuality is meaningful, not least because some people change their sexual preferences at different stages of their lives. There is also the key question – if people are categorised by sexuality, then what about those who, by choice or nature, have no sex life – are they not people too?

In addition, all the legal advice I have heard is that the practical effect of the legislation will be to expose those who are practising Christians  (and other faiths) to legal action if, for example, they are teachers and choose to teach a traditional Christian view of marriage.

I am sorry if I have disappointed you in this. As an MP, I clearly cannot be in agreement with all of my constituents all of the time – I am elected as a representative, not a delegate – but I am always prepared to listen to alternative opinions and to respect the views of those who disagree with me. I do hope that you will be generous enough to do the same.

It was well meaning, I’m sure, but a million miles from perfect. Here are my concerns, laid out neatly for your viewing pleasure:

  1. “Thank you for your email on the issue of same-sex marriages”
    equal marriage.
  2. “I know that it can be very hard for young people to come to terms with their own sexuality and to deal with the reactions of other people to it.”
    – I’m prepared to give the benefit of the doubt here, but the problem isn’t really “how hard it is for young people to deal with the reactions of other people to their sexuality”, it’s the other people’s reactions in the first place. But whatever.
  3. “I will be frank with you that my disagreement with the issue of same-sex marriage”
    equal marriage –
    “is part of a wider disagreement with the current prevailing socio-political philosophy which cuts across so many areas of our national life.”
    – … wut?
  4. “My great-grandfather’s younger brother was gay and tragically committed suicide”
    – since this is about the suicide of a family member I’m not going to make a big deal out of it, but it is pretty much just the “I have gay friends”/”I met a gay person once”/”my sister’s hairdresser goes to the gym with a gay person” fallacy. It doesn’t actually give you any greater credibility on gay issues.
  5. “so I have certainly never supported any form of persecution of gay people.”
    – that’s just a flat out lie. Have a look at his voting record on gay rights (and, tangentially, the legal recognition of trans* people). Not cool.
  6. “I believe that our modern obsession with rights is deeply mistaken and bad for the long term health of society.”
    – that’s because YOU ALREADY HAVE ALL YOUR RIGHTS.
  7. “I am against persecuting people, not because of any concept of rights (plural) but because it isn’t right.”
    – I kinda get what he’s going for here so I’m prepared to cut him some slack, but even if it made sense it still wouldn’t be an excuse for voting against equality.
  8. “I don’t believe that categorising people by their sexuality is meaningful, not least because some people change their sexual preference at different stages of their lives.”
    – … did he just come out to me? I joke, but seriously a surprisingly enlightened view of sexuality here. The problem, unfortunately, is that this is not a discussion about the ins and outs of categorising people by their sexual orientation. It’s a discussion about whether or not two people who love each other, be they hetero/homo/bisexual, have the right to legally marry each other.
  9. “if people are categorised by sexuality, then what about those who, by choice or nature, have no sex life”
    – props to Mr Brazier for repping the asexual community here. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought? The problem is that A) people who don’t have sex have a category, asexuality, (if they want it) and B) love is actually about more than sex – people who don’t have sex can still be straight/gay/bi and should still have the option of marriage.
  10. “the practical effect of this legislation will be to expose those who are practising Christians (and other faiths) to legal action if, for example, they are teachers and choose to teach a traditional Christian view of marriage.”
    – Ok, firstly: the practical effect of this legislation will be to allow gay couples to get married. The fact that he prioritises the right to discriminate over the right to be treated equally under the law pretty much says it all. Secondly: I genuinely don’t know what he thinks these teachers will be saying. It’s simple: “According to Christian teachings/the Church of England/(insert faith here), marriage is between a man and a woman. British law also allows same-sex couples to marry.” – was that so hard? School is for facts, Brazier.
  11. “I’m sorry if I have disappointed you in this.”
    – you have, a little, but at least you’re sorry about it.
  12. “As an MP, I clearly cannot be in agreement with all of my constituents all of the time”
    – very true, and IMHO a huge problem in British politics, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
  13. “I am always prepared to listen to alternative opinions and to respect the views of those who disagree with me. I do hope that you will be generous enough to do the same.”
    – thanks, but it’s not really just an “agree to disagree” situation, is it? If I walked into your house and said “hey, you’re not allowed to marry the person you love. In my opinion it’s not right, and I’d appreciate it if you could respect that.” you’d probably be pretty pissed off. That’s why this is an issue, Brazier. Quit fighting it. You’re on the wrong side of history, and I think you know it.

Well, thank you for reading. Corrections and constructive criticism are always welcome 🙂 or just leave a comment!

Nineteen Eighty-Four

I’ve been in more than one argument that’s ended with people pointing at me and yelling “1984! 1984!”. I always had a suspicion that the book wasn’t being referenced accurately, and so recently I decided to read it for myself. I found it immensely enjoyable. It’s captivating, chilling, and supremely relevant to the context in which it was written.

I have to admit that history is not my strong point (unfortunate, given that ignorance of history is one of the novel’s central themes) but the current political climate is worlds apart from that of 1940s Europe. As such, I don’t think that Nineteen Eighty-Four can be used to “shine a light” on the actions of modern governments in the way that many people seem to want it to be.

The stereotypical “Nineteen Eighty-Four” comparison arises in discussions on surveillance; be it via CCTV camera, email scanners, or DNA sampling.

I personally couldn’t give a toss. I don’t believe in this “right to privacy” that people are so attached to. In my opinion, there are two problems with a “right to privacy”:

  1. The phrase “right to privacy” is meaningless. What is privacy, and how is it violated? How is it measured? Is a glance enough to violate privacy, or does it have to be a thorough inspection? Does it matter whether you are in a public or private space? Why? Does it matter whether or not you’re aware that you’ve been observed? Why? Does it matter whether the observer is a human or a machine (or a monkey, or a flower, or a ghost)? How far does your “privacy bubble” extend – does it only cover you, or does it cover your property; and if so how long does it cover your property for once you discard it (old laptops, clothes, family photographs etc.)?
  2. Privacy is not a necessary condition for a happy life. The government could have read every single email I’ve ever sent, and there would be no measurable impact on my quality of life. Strangers could walk past my window all day long and I’m pretty sure I’d be OK. I could get caught on CCTV cameras from every single angle, and it wouldn’t hurt me. There are almost infinite situations in which privacy is unnecessary.

I believe in a right not to be humiliated. I believe that there are sets of circumstances where privacy between two or more specific parties is necessary. A teenager might want to keep their browser history private from their family, for example. A job applicant might want to keep their personal life private from their potential employer. I believe that in any situation in which public knowledge of personal details could lead to any measurable harm, privacy should be an option. In a relationship between an individual and a disinterested government, however, why hold back? Yes I would find it a bit weird if there was a camera in my bathroom, recording my lavatorial exploits, but if there were cameras in every bathroom who would care? (Why put a camera in a bathroom?)

The disinterested government is the real issue, not the methods of surveillance used. In Nineteen Eighty-Four the telescreens and hidden microphones are a tool used by a zealously authoritarian government to eliminate the freedoms of its people – and before anyone starts talking about British authoritarianism I’m just going to have to go ahead and point out that the British government does not track down, torture, and murder its citizens for expressing anti-government opinions, talking in their sleep, or having extramarital sex; so it’s not really an accurate comparison now is it?

And THAT is why people who blabber endlessly about Big Brother piss me off. No one is watching you, and no one cares what you’re doing. Even the people who know you don’t care what you’re doing. The government cares even less.

… unless, of course, you’re doing something illegal. Which is an issue that needs a certain amount of discussion. I’m not going to say “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”, because I hate that argument. It’s unpleasant and accusatory, and not worth the breath used to speak it. Instead, I’d like to address those who are concerned about being caught on CCTV doing something illegal: surely it’s more sensible to protest the illegality of your action, whatever it may be, than the method of detection?

Example:

  1. I want to do X (graffiti, protest, shoplift).
  2. X is illegal.
  3. If I do something illegal, I will get caught and punished.

If you believe that what you’re doing is right, then the problem is at step 2, not at step 3 – if you do away with step 3 you’re hindering the enforcement of all laws. If your problem is with step 3 then fine, you might have legitimate beef with surveillance.

But enough with the Big Brother bullshit! Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a novel about the inherent evil of being watched all the time, and if you sincerely believe it is I suggest you read it again.