Archive for the ‘ Politics ’ Category

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.

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.

Why marriage equality matters to me

I have a confession to make. I haven’t written to my MP, Mr Julian Brazier, about the government’s equal marriage proposals. It wouldn’t, of course, have made the slightest difference if I had (not least of all because Mr Brazier has other constituents to represent, many of whom are backward and bigoted); but I should have done it anyway. I should have done it because marriage equality is important.

I don’t have a sob story. I had a happy childhood – I wasn’t bullied at school (more than any other weedy geek, anyway), I had great friends who loved me for who I was, and when I came out to my family I wasn’t assaulted or even disowned.

Marriage equality matters because there are thousands of other children who aren’t as lucky as I was. Thousands of children (I can’t stress that enough – children) face verbal and physical abuse from their parents and peers just for being who they are – and it takes a horrific toll. A 2008 research report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that young gay people are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.

It’s tragic, but it’s not surprising. As they grow up, gay young people discover that (legally) they are not equal. The playground bullying is legitimised, particularly when it is tacitly endorsed by authority figures.

The angry queen inside me blames a lot of people for every gay teen suicide. Everyone from the people who bullied the kid directly to people on the other side of the world who use the word “gay” as an insult, to mean “rubbish”. We’ve all contributed, and we pay for it every time another child takes their own life.

Playground bullying and homophobia in society will probably be around for a long time, but homophobia in British law doesn’t have to be. We have an amazing chance here to change the experiences of young people for generations to come – young people who will grow up knowing that they are equal, no matter who they are or who they fall in love with.

That’s why marriage equality matters to me. Maybe someday I’ll fall in love and settle down, and then it’ll matter to me for a whole bunch of other reasons, but this is enough.

Legal highs

The front page of yesterday’s Kentish Gazette is a story about a new shop that’s just opened in Canterbury. The shop’s called UK Skunkworks, and apparently sells legal recreational drugs and related drug paraphernalia. The story made the front page because recently, tragically, two local young men died after taking methoxetamine; a drug that was at the time legal but has now been banned under new government powers. The tone of the article is generally negative, and features our dear MP Mr Julian Brazier explaining his objection to the shop’s existence.

I’m troubled by this for several reasons.

Firstly, although the drug has been implicated in several deaths, as of the 23rd of March 2012 no deaths have positively been linked to methoxetamine use. The government and the media consistently misrepresent drug harms, as we saw in 2009/2010 with mephedrone and the late 90s with Ecstasy and the death of Leah Betts. That being said, methoxetamine has a whole heap of nasty effects and people have been hospitalised as a direct result of the drug.

Secondly, when it comes to drug use I believe that people should be able to make their own decisions. Why should any action be illegal if it doesn’t cause anyone else any harm? I’m not saying that we should just wash our hands of those who, through desire or ignorance, are going to hurt themselves; I’m saying that if a person has made an informed decision about what they want then I would rather support than condemn them.

Condemning and punishing a person for drug use doesn’t do any good. Recreational drugs such as ketamine and cannabis are still produced and distributed in the UK, despite the fact that they’re illegal. If they were legal they could be subjected to regulations and quality control, increasing safety. Making something illegal doesn’t mean people will stop doing it, it just means that they’ll be less safe when they do. Not to mention, of course, the fact that money raised by the drug trade is a motivator for violent crime and encourages organised crime. Just like in America during the prohibition.

… which leads me to my next point – something that always winds me up. Alcohol and tobacco, two of the most harmful drugs, are not only legal (though subject to age restrictions) but people are legally encouraged to try them (through adverts/common use on television and in film). In my opinion, the restrictions on alcohol and tobacco should the same as the restrictions on any other drug. This would mean that either all drugs would be legal (with restrictions) or all drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) would be illegal, to varying degrees. Personally, I’d prefer either of those scenarios to our current situation.

Neither scenario is perfect, of course. I can imagine that problems would occur if big companies were allowed to push other drugs the way they push alcohol and tobacco.

Look, I’m not a drug taking person. I drink alcohol every so often, and I once took a few puffs of a mate’s cigarette. I just can’t understand why a personal decision that doesn’t harm anyone else should be illegal. The opinion of the moral majority shouldn’t be law. I guess if it was up to me, I’d legalise it all but place heavier restrictions on advertising. I’d like to see people having to earn a license to buy drugs, the same way people have to earn a license to drive a car, by taking lessons on drug safety and proving they know how to access help if they need it.

Maybe if this were the case, if drugs were subject to quality controls and if people who chose to use them had the knowledge to use them responsibly, fewer young people would die drug related deaths. Moreover, I don’t think it’s fair to use stories about people who’ve died after taking a drug to push for harsher drug laws. It doesn’t seem like it’s what they would have wanted.

Whatever, I don’t have all the answers. These have just been some ramblings that were too long and complicated for twitter, and too boring for facebook. Leave a comment to tell me whether you agree with me or not and why. I look forward to hearing your feedback 🙂

Biometrics – an invasion of privacy?

Biometrics is the science of identifying a person by their unique biological characteristics – their DNA for example, or their fingerprints. There’s currently an enormous range of technologies designed for this (and more currently in development), but they remain comparatively underused. Why is this?

The question that is invariably asked is that of safety. Who’s collecting my data, and why? Could it be used against me? Is it safe? Newspapers publish sensationalist anti-biometric articles, but the public are surprisingly unconcerned. A 2006 survey of the British public showed that by and large we trust the technology. 83% of respondents claimed they felt “comfortable” or “extremely comfortable” with fingerprint recognition technology.

Counter-intuitively, the aspect of biometrics that people seem most resistant to is its use in crime prevention. DNA evidence has been used in the UK since the late 80’s, but it still draws criticism (despite it’s incredible reliability). The National DNA Database (established over 15 years ago) has faced attacks from all political parties, as well as organisations such as GeneWatch UK and the Human Genetics Commission.

It all seems to stem from a belief in a “right to privacy”. In 2011, the headlines were dominated by the phone hacking scandal – a story revolving entirely around privacy issues. 2011 was also the year Clare’s Law was proposed, a law that would allow the police to inform a person if their partner has a history of violent offences. This faced significant opposition, due to the fact that it would violate that sacred “right to privacy”.

I don’t believe that anyone has a right to privacy. It doesn’t make sense. Why do you need it? A violation of someone’s privacy doesn’t *necessarily* harm them in any way. I think it’d be better to say that people have a right not to be humiliated. I mean, who really cares if the government has your DNA? What kind of juicy information are you expecting them to extract from it?

My personal opinion is that everyone should be on the National DNA Database from birth. Controversial I know, but think of the benefits! Any criminal that leaves DNA could be caught before they reoffended. There would be vast rewards for medical science as well – genetic risk factors for diseases could be identified, and people could apply the appropriate steps to reduce their risks.