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.

The abstract of my dissertation using the #upgoerfive text editor

Things that change the type and number of flies that land on a body after it is dead:

After a person dies, flies often land on their body. This can happen very quickly, sometimes within minutes. If we know the type of fly that is present on a dead body, we can sometimes work out how long ago that person died.

Many things can change the time at which different types of fly land on a body. How hot it is can change the type of fly, and so can the place the body is left and what the body is like. Dead bodies wearing clothes will have different types of fly land on them than bodies with no clothes on, and the flies will arrive at different times. Some of these things are more important than others, but we don’t always know which.

It is important to study these things and work out how important each one of them is so that when a person’s dead body is found it can be decided how long ago they died.

In this study, five animal legs were put in a safe outside place. Each leg was made to be different from the others. One had nothing on it and was put in a place with sun. Three had things put on them (a shirt, shorts, and a bag) and were put in the place with sun. One had nothing on it and was put in a place with no sun.

More than ten types of flies landed on all the different legs during the study, which was tried two times. Lots more flies arrived during the first time than during the second, as the first time was much warmer. One type of fly arrived the most during both times. Other types of fly arrived a lot during the first time but not much during the second time, or the other way around.

During the first time, the leg in a shirt had the most flies of all land on it. The leg in shorts had fewer flies land on it, and the leg in a bag had the least flies of all. However, some types of flies landed on the leg in a bag but didn’t land on any of the other legs.

During the second time it was very cold. Flies don’t like the cold and so not many of them landed on the legs. Because there were not enough flies, it is too hard to work out which legs the flies liked best. However, it does show that how warm or cold it is can be very important to flies.

The study has shown many things that it would be good to look at another time. First, a longer study in the cold could show the things that change the number and type of flies than land on a body in the cold. Second, some types of flies that were found on the legs are not thought of as good for working out how long ago a body died. A study looking at those types of flies could work out whether or not they might be good to look at after all.

Discordia – Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple

In all honesty, I started Discordia without having the faintest idea of what it was about. I read it because Laurie Penny tweeted that she was offering a free PDF of the book in exchange for a review. I like free things. I like PDFs. I like books. I like reviewing things (well, judging things. Same diff?). I figured I’d go for it.

I’m glad I did.

The full title is “Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens”. Last summer, journalist Laurie Penny and illustrator Molly Crabapple took to the streets of Athens in order to document the experiences of those living there. The result is powerful, to say the least.

I power-read it this evening; partly because I felt a little obligated to, partly because it was fascinating. The writing style is easy to read and the subject matter is of huge importance. The illustrations paint a far more detailed picture than I’d expected them to, and below/around each one is a quotation translated straight from the graffitied walls of the city.

My one (mild) criticism is that at certain points the narrative seems to jump back and forwards a little. I wouldn’t make an issue of this, however, as the coherence of the book doesn’t suffer.

I’m not a whizz with this politics stuff, and so I don’t feel massively qualified to comment on any kind of wider context, but I’m pretty sure I got the gist. I actually learned quite a bit, which would have been enjoyable if what I was learning wasn’t so depressing.

The book can be bought here, and if you have even the remotest interest in the subject matter I would recommend it wholeheartedly. I’m not going to come out with some schmaltzy line about how I enjoyed it so much I’m going to buy it even though I don’t have to, but if I didn’t not have to and I knew how good it was I would buy it. If that makes sense.

Under the Sheets (Part 6)

Posted by [Deleted user] on Friday 31.08.2012 at 19.27

I think Steven’s dead. At least, I hope he’s dead.

Holy shit do I hope he’s dead.

He never showed up this morning. We were supposed to meet at the pub at midday, and I waited there for half an hour, but nothing. Not a phone call, not even a text. I wasn’t surprised, but I was worried. There were police cars all across the village. The terrifying truth is that my family’s experience last night may not have been unique.

I wasn’t at all happy about going to the Johnstones’ by myself, but I knew it had to be done. Their place was only a twenty minute walk from the pub, a comparatively busy area, but I was distressingly confident that I wouldn’t run into anyone else along the way. People seemed to be staying inside today. That, or leaving the village. Walking through the village earlier I’d seen a lot of empty driveways, and a large crowd of suitcased-up travellers at the usually quiet bus station.

No matter, though. I had a job to do.

I started out towards the Johnstones’ house, mindful of every rustle I heard and every flickering shape I saw. Nothing, though, turned out to be cause for alarm.

When I got to the house I found Mr Johnstone (or should that be “Mr Johnstone’s body?) lying face down almost exactly where our last encounter had occurred. Needless to say, I was cautious. I’m not ashamed to admit that I threw stones at the body and poked it with a really long stick before I found the courage to inspect it up close.

It was, I imagine, fairly similar to most other corpses; aside from the hideous lacerations around the neck, and a smaller but more interesting wound to the upper back.

Mr Johnstone’s shirt was ripped, whether due to the rather severe bloating his body had undergone or another factor I can’t say. It revealed, however, a mark that would otherwise have been hidden.

Between his shoulder blades there was a disgusting crater, as if someone (or something) had dug out a handful of his flesh. I was sick twice… I mean, I could see his spine… but there was more.

Reaching from the hole, across his shoulders and down his upper arms, were clear indentations where it looked like some kind of foreign object had been forcibly inserted. Two others ran down towards his waist.

The conclusion was as inevitable as it is sickening.

Had there been one of those creatures inside Mr Johnstone’s corpse, making it move? Is such a thing even possible?

My sister had said that the creature had some kind of control over her motor functions, if only the ability to hinder them. But if that were possible, could the reverse be true? Could one of those things if in contact with a body, even a dead body, stimulate the nerves in such a way as to give it movement?

Which brings me to the most terrible part of my story, and what I can only pray is the end of this nightmare.

I returned to the village, immeasurably grateful for the sights and sounds of the other people around. The police presence had become heavy, there were police cars on every street and police officers taking statements from pretty much everyone they could get their hands on.

It was then that I saw him. He was walking stiffly, dressed in a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms that may well have been what passed for his pyjamas. On his feet he wore only one flip flop, the left, but no one noticed. No one but me, of course.

I yelled his name, twice, but he didn’t respond. He just kept shuffling along, a large blue sports bag in his right hand.

He was heading for the road to the city. It’s a good hour’s drive away, so there’s not even a footpath, but he didn’t seem to be concerned. He passed by me, only an arm’s length away, but his eyes were glazed and he didn’t even acknowledge that I was there.

As I watched him leave, I noted with horror the way the sports bag he was carrying seemed to ripple and writhe, and the dark red stain on the back of his t-shirt, spreading slowly from between his shoulder blades.

***

Life’s greatest miracle: that two bodies can become one… under the sheets.