Saturday, 26 September 2015

On Kerry McCarthy

It's been making headlines recently that Jeremy Corbyn, as the new leader of the Labour party, has elected a vegan as agriculture minister in his shadow cabinet. Not many of those headlines have seemed too pleased by this news.

And, going on gut instinct, I didn't think it was such a great idea right away either, I understood why people were sceptical. There are a number of vegans - enough, generally, to tar veganism with a bad reputation - that act like snobs. The people who act like martyrs because they've made this decision, the people who act like they're better than non-vegans on whatever moral or healthy grounds they might choose.

But obviously not all vegans are like that. To begin with, I didn't know enough about Kerry McCarthy to say whether she was that kind of person or not. The 'treat meat eaters like smokers' line that a lot of papers are running with suggests that she might be.

Although, five minutes of reading suggests she's probably not.

In fact, in an interview with BBC's Farming Today, she spoke about how she understands that people depend on the farming industry in the UK and that what she wants for it is for it to be more ethical and to put more emphasis on animal rights. Which isn't an awful idea. Farming in the west can be pretty horrific.

When you really think about it, putting a vegan in charge of farming could be a really good idea. A vegan who understands that it is their own choice not to eat animal produce and who respects the decision of people who chose differently would be fine in that position. The choice to be vegan is not one made lightly and it's usually based on morality.

I've always thought that's kind of a strange way to go about it. I've always thought that a better way to go about changing things would be to buy produce from ethical farms and hope that, eventually, a lack of business will put the crueller ones out of business. As long as the people who care about animal welfare are refusing to buy any animal products, the people who don't care will happily buy the cheapest produce that was farmed in the most inhumane way and they might never even know.

Having a vegan in charge of agriculture suggests that the person of agriculture has thought about the moral implications of farming, of animal welfare and also of the health of the people who will be eating that produce.

I've done a little bit of reading about Kerry McCarthy as a politician. She's not perfect. But she's stood up for some worthwhile things. Generally, her political opinions tend to be based on compassion. And I think that's important.

And I'm prepared to give her a chance to improve to this country's agriculture.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

A Note on Ariel Winter's Boobs

I really enjoy Modern Family. Not just in the "this alright, I'll leave it on" sort of way. But in the way that I'll watch each new one as it is released. So it would be silly of me to pretend not to have noticed how puberty his Ariel Winter.

Although it seemed like the kind of celebrity gossip I'd usually ignore, I was intrigued by this article about her decision to have breast reduction surgery.

My gut reaction to it was, Well, if that's what makes her feel comfortable, good for her. It's her body, let her so what she wants with it, her logic seems sound.

But after a further moment of reflection, I found myself feeling less position towards it. I still completely and wholeheartedly support Winter's right to do whatever she wants with her own body. I also think that, as far as surgical body modification goes, it doesn't seem like the kind of procedure likely to herald the start of a vanity-fuelled lifetime of dangerous surgery. It's not like she spent $86,000 trying to look like someone else. Even if it was, it would still be her body to take those risks with, her right to make those choices.

Her reasoning is actually very reasonable. It's common in women with larger breasts to experience back pain, which she describes as being horrifically bad: "I had a lot of back problems. I really couldn’t stand up straight for a long period of time. It started to hurt so bad that I couldn’t take the pain. My neck was hurting so bad and I actually had some problems with my spine."

That's a very good reason to get body modifying surgery. It, along with full-body burns and mastectomies for breast cancer sufferers, is one of the main reasons breast remodelling was invented.

But it's not the only reason she gave.

In her interview with Glamour magazine, she talked about not being able to find clothes suited to her body shape. She spoke about not being able to dress in a way that was considered "appropriate" for a 17-year-old because there simply wasn't anything she could buy that suited both her figure and her age. She spoke about people talking behind her back about whether or not her breasts were real or fake from the age of 14. She talked about having to pretend to be confident with her figure because "we live in a day and age where everything you do is ridiculed". She talks about how she didn't feel respected for her work as an actress because so many media outlets focussed so much on her breasts.

"It made me feel really uncomfortable," she says, "because as women in the industry, we are totally over sexualized and treated like objects."

I, in no way, have any objection of Winter's decision.

I do, however, object entirely to the kind of society that puts a young woman under that kind of pressure.

It's reasonable to see why those things would make her feel uncomfortable, especially as it's all happening in the public eye.

But, beyond the medical benefits it offers her, I don't think it's Winter who needs to change here.

I think the attitudes of the media and the fashion industery need to change. Photographers and journalists need to stop making objectification the primary function of stories about and images of women. Clothes need to be designed with every body type in mind, not just the contemporary 'ideal'. These aren't difficult changes to make, especially compared with the number of womn - young and old, famous or not - who feel the need to resort to surgery to conform to unrealistic standards.

I don't understand why people think it's not an extreme measure to resort to invasive surgery because it's not fashionable to be big-breasted or wide-hipped or round-bellied or short-legged. It's not okay to marginalise people with normal and naturally-occuring body shapes that don't meet increasingly unattainable expectations of beauty.

I want Ariel Winter to be comfortable in her body. That means, I want her not to feel pain that occurs naturally but can be avoided through surgery. It also means that I want her to be able to look her natural self, or whatever self she chooses, without being judged for it, or ogled, or objectified, or labelled, or reduced to nothing but her looks because of it.

I want every human being to feel comfortable in the skin. I want them to feel that way without having to undergro dramatic and unnecessary surgery to feel that way. I'd like to live in a world where everyone can find clothes they feel comfortable in and where no one feels like their natural or chosen body, for whatever reason, is drawing unpleasant levels or kinds of attention.

And I don't see why this is such a controversial or unpopular opinion. I don't understand why people are preapred to accept that they're not good enough in the body they were born in, for any cosmetic or non-medical reason.

Well they are good enough

You are good enough.

Regardless of whatever part of you is too big or too small or too puffy or too saggy.

What is not good enough is the culture that tell you this is not true and, worse still, makes it actively difficult for you to believe it.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

An Open Letter to British Voters

Dear supporter, begins Liz Kendall’s Labour leadership campaign video, simultaneously both presumptuous and grovelling, You probably think I’m writing to ask for you vote in the upcoming election. And I am.

Well don’t.

I know that asking for what you want may well be the best way to get it in many cases. I know that saying ‘please’ and being polite will get you a lot further than being rude or making demands or even just assuming people know what you’d like them to do for you.

But my decision in this election will not be based on who has asked the most nicely for my support. Frankly, that’s not what I’m looking for in a leader.

Nothing you produce in the brief build up to the election is going to sway my decision. Just because this is the time when people are scrutinising you a lot more closely than unusual doesn’t mean that’s what should be the foundation for this kind of choice.

My vote is going to be based on my judgement of the attitude, behaviour and actions of each candidate throughout their entire political careers. I’m going to be looking at voting records, I’m going to think about the things you’ve supported, the things you’ve fought, I’m going to think about what your impact has already been on my country and what changes you are likely to make, if elected, based on your history.

I don’t want you to persuade me any other way. I don’t want you to tell me that you’re the best candidate for the job. I don’t want you to show me all the flaws that the other candidates have because they’re human and they make mistakes. You are biased. I don’t need your help.

I am an adult, the same as everyone else with the legal right to vote, and I can make this decision of my own accord.

I have registered to vote in this year’s Labour leadership election because I care about the future of my country. I think that there is a candidate who will have a positive impact on Britain’s political future, who I would like to support. Infer whatever you will from that, but I’m not going to tell anyone that I definitely know best. I’m not going to act like my unique reasoning has got me to the only correct decision.

I know that, like any individual, I have a limited world view. I can sympathise with, but never truly know, other people’s experience of life. I can – and do, and will – read other people’s stories and I can understand, to an extent, the impact of governmental decisions on their lives. But, still, the views I hold on these stories will be my own conclusions. They, too, will be somewhat biased because of my personal worldview. I am aware of this.

This is why we have democracy. It’s why I’m not going to tell anyone that they should vote for the same person I plan to.

But I hope that people might consider their vote in the same way that I do. Seriously, thoughtfully and keeping in mind the serious consequences this decision can have for our country.

When I cast a political vote, I try to think as comprehensively as possible about the situation my country is in at the time. I think about what I want from my next leader, MP, government and I try to figure out which one is most likely to fulfil those wishes. I think about the problems this country faces and what I think would be the best way to go about fixing them. I think about what needs to be changed, about why and how. I think about what makes me proud of my country and how I think those aspects can be maximised to its fullest. I think about what is already working well the way it is. I think about how I want my country to grow over the next however long it’ll be until I get another say. I think about who I trust with the responsibility of running my country in a way that I feel will benefit as many of us who live here as possible, who will treat us fairly and will use the resources at their disposal to consistently do what is best for us.

I try to think about what each option will mean for me, for my friends, for my yet unborn children. I try to think about the impact they’ll have on the future. I try to base my projections on the information I have about their past and their promises.

I think about what I’d like to see my government do, in the short term and in the long term. I think about what would be a good first step on that path.

I critique politicians and political parties quite harshly. By voting for them, I’m saying that I trust them with a lot of power, with my country, with my rights, with the laws that govern what I can or cannot do as a free adult. As unnecessary as I think it is, I will wade through all their carefully crafted advertising, all the rhetoric they’ll inevitably spout prior to an election.

I think about the kind of person that I am trusting with this kind of power. I think about the things that they say about their opponents – whether they are fair and sportsmanlike, or if they (or their supporters) condone mud-slinging and petty childishness. I think about the candidates who have threatened to abandon their party, their supporters, their dependents if they don’t get their own way.

I think about the promises they make – not just in terms or whether or not they appeal to me, but also whether or not I believe they’ll keep them. Whether I think their promises are realistic or if they are being made by people who are na├»ve or overly optimistic, or outright lying about their intentions for my country. Whether I trust that those promises will be kept or if they are little more than crowd-pleasing BS that we’ll never hear of again after election.

I’ll consider their political career so far – have the promises they made in the past been kept? Has their voting record shown consistently held views that still correlate with their plans for government? Do I agree with the decisions they have backed or battled? Do I think they’re ready for more authority?

It’s a lot of thinking to do. A lot of people won’t do it, whether that’s because they can’t be bothered to vote at all or because they picked a party twenty years ago and have voted the same way ever since, regardless of any changes in the party’s ideology or the country’s needs.

But I do it. Every time I get an opportunity to have a say in the way my country is run, I make sure I do it. Because it’s a huge thing to trust a person or a group of people with, because it’s not a decision to be made lightly.

I don’t mind if other people don’t come to same conclusions that I do. I know that I might be wrong, that what I think is best might have terrible consequences that I haven’t considered.

But if everyone puts in a reasonable amount of thought, if everyone cares enough to put in that effort, then together I believe we can come to a decision that will work out for the best.

Dear voter. You probably think this another one of those annoying letters – or emails or phone calls or text messages or blog posts you’ve already seen so many of – trying to tell you what to think in the imminent Labour leadership election. But it’s not.

All I ask is that you do think. Thank you.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

No, No One Thinks You Have to be Fat to be a "Real Woman"

Recently, there has been a slew of articles about a photoshoot of women who aren't models - popularly dubbed 'ordinary' or 'normal' or 'real' women - wearing Victoria's Secret swimming costumes. The photos they took were placed next to the ones in the catalogues, in which the suits were worn by models.

As it got thrown around social media, this was the photo that most often accompanied the headline:

Which is a perfectly valid example of a non-model wearing one of the swimming costumes the models wore. And most of the people I saw sharing it accepted that.

But I saw a handful of people making comments about it as if they were offended. Comments like:

Oh, so in order to be a real woman you have to be fat?

I see loads of women who could be models, why are they making such a big deal about it being unrealistic?

Comments that seemed to miss the point.

The point wasn't that she was fat. It was that she was the kind of woman who isn't typically photographed weaing revealing clothing, outside of pictures taken by friends and family.

It also showed they hadn't bothered to read the article before judging it. If they had looked at it, they'd see that only two of the six women involved were noticeably overweight.

Including those two women showed exactly the kind of diversity that the media, generally, doesn't. And that advertising and catalogues and other such outlets rarely do either. The difference in the shape, size and look of all of the women in the non-model photoshoot was designed to exeplify how ridiculous it is to expect all women to conform to such rigid standards of beauty as are projected in the mainstream media.

The main differences between the models and the non-models is not size. It's the wide variation between the women featured. They're not all the same shape, they're not all the same colour, they're not all perfectly tanned or waxed.

But they still look good in their swim suits, the way women do when they buy a swimming costume that suits them. They look confident and they look like they're enjoying themselves takng photos on the beach.

The point of the photoshoot isn't to show how unreaslistic the body shapes of typical models are, but to reflect the lack of diversity in mainstream modelling and to show how unnecessary that is. By taking many different kinds of women - including some whose photos aren't all that different from the originals - and not airbrushing their imperfections out, they show that modelling doesn't need to be so exclusive.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

I Miss Dawn French in Chocolate Ads

I can't remember a time when there wasn't a fair amount of hullaballoo about the kind of women used in advertising. Whatever they're promoting, they're usually models of some description designed to make the target viewer either want to be her or want to bang her. Using these idealised and, when in print form, airbrushed women doesn't make for a realistic advert.

It's just something I've become used to.

But it's also something I don't really understand. I think a really good example of this is in chocolate advertising.

A lot of chocolate adverts make it out to be a luxury item that beautiful, successful women indulge in from time to time. And that's great. Really, chocolate should be a luxury item. It's not the kind of thing you can just eat and eat and eat and not have to deal with some consequences. Presenting it as such is probably for the best.

But that doesn't make for fun advertising.

So they make it sexy, they make it naughty. They, like most other advertisers, show a typically attractive-shaped woman enjoying it in a sometimes worryingly sexual way. They're enjoying it almost too much.

Flake ad, 1991
I understand that the idea is that viewers will want to be that successful, attractive woman who still allows herself indulgences from time to time, so why wouldn't they pick that same choice of luxury sweet?

But none of them have ever resonated with me. Those adverts have never been the reason I have chosen a particular brand of chocolate over any other. Largely because I don't tend to pick my food based on advertising anyway. But also because all those very similar adverts don't make an impact on me. I care so litte about those stuck up bitches who treat chocolate like masturbation.

For a chocolate ad to impress me, it should make me feel like chocolate makes me feel. Yeah, it's an indulgence, so after I've had some I feel satisfied and happy.

Kind of like I feel after the Dawn French Terry's Chocolate Orange adverts.

They were a special kind of clever.

They used a woman who didn't look like a model. It wasn't an unattainable goal to be like her one day. She looked like a normal woman, who enjoyed chocolate enough to have the authority to comment on what good chocolate. She looked happy, too, with her Chocolate Orange. She didn't treat chocolate like a dirty little secret. She treated it like something that enhanced her quality of life.

In those ads, at least.

And they were funny. Which is probably why I remember them so vividly from my childhood. I like funny things a lot. I haven't seen an advert for anything that I've enjoyed quite so much in recent years. What makes it good advertising is simply that I remember it so well, and still find it funny, so long after it was broadcast. I have fond memories of the Terry's Chocolate Orange ad from when I was seven years old.

It helps that I really like Dawn French anyway. But I could also identify with it, especially as a chubby kid who did horde chocolate when I had it.

There are simple reasons I still like this ad. Largely because there's not a lot like it any more.

It's an advert that shows how real people treat real things and can still make its product look good.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Shaving Ads and Sexism. Kinda.

I remember a little back, there was a bit of controversy about this waxing ad:

I understood the objections. While it doesn't go out of its way to persecute or belittle any specific group of people, I can understand why it could be considered sexist or homophobic. I understand why people might take offence at it and I understand why people disliked it.

But I also dislike most shaving or waxing ads. Anything that makes body hair removal look like a necessity rather than a luxury feels somewhat off to me.

In the same way that the now infamous 'beach body ready' ad inspired controversy, it belittles body types other than those depicted as being desirable and it is considered likely to upset people who have existing issues with body image. And so on and so forth. The key issues with it are going to the same as the ones that you could raise about basically anything that promotes unnattainable standards of beauty and expects ordinary women to strive for it.

But, at first, I didn't there was going to be a way of making a body hair removal ad that you couldn't find some kind of issue with. If you think about, most of the taglines and main selling points in those adverts are based on the assumption that women must get rid of their body hair. Probably not all, but off the top of my head (and I admit I haven't studied them in particular depth and I don't even have a TV box any more) I can't think of any that don't embrace that attitude.

And I think the problem is that it's not seen as a luxury. Hair removal is presented as a necessity. And that's why people take offence.

And it's easy to see how, without that pressure to conform, those products won't sell anywhere near as well.

But with a bit of creative thinking, there are plenty of ways that you can eschew those uncomfortable insinuations and still make an effective ad. They just have to embrace what is good about shaving for women. What, specifically, makes it a desirable luxury for the people removing their hair. Instead of making them feeling ugly or unattractive for not doing it.

Even just thinking about it, it sometimes seems that the benefit of shaving is for the people around the shaved person, rather than that person herself. For whoever looks at her or touches her. She, really, won't notice it all that much because, if she conforms to the expectations of these ads, she will be perpetually smooth. She won't experience any other way of being.

But I know a fair amount of people who hold feminism close to heart, but still shave their legs. Because it is their choice. Some of them choose not to shave their armpits, though. And considering the difference between the two areas is where you find what benefits shaving actually has for the woman doing it.

Because that benefit, simply, is luxury.

When you shave an armpit, it remains an armpit. A part of the body that, no matter how you decorate it, remains basically the same. It might get a bit more ticklish bald. But that's it. Otherwise, it's still a kind of boring and fairly unsexy part of the body that is best known for being sweaty.

When you shave a leg, though, the way you experience it changes completely. The wind feels different against it. It feels nicer. You can feel it so much more clearly. It's cool and pleasant, brushing directly against smooth skin. The same can said of lots of things - of warm sunshine and long grass and clean bedsheets. It feels different on a smooth surface than a furry one. In a positive way.

With that as the focus, I'd be far more inclined to buy hair removal products. The way that I will enjoy the world because of it, when I choose to experience that luxury. I don't want to be told that I have to shave my legs every day in order to be accepted.

But I do like having the option of going out as smooth as possible in short shorts on a sunny day and appreciating how different the world feels that way.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Why I'm Not Into Fashion, Unless I Am

I was asked at a job interview recently if I was into fashion. I didn't answer the question well.

I wasn't expecting it and I gave dithery "Um, not really. If it's doing something interesting, I suppose." My attempts to elaborate did not go well either. I explained that something unique or quirky or different will interest me, but that I'm not interested in keeping up with whatever might be new at H&M. Every year, it'll have something for when it's cold, something for when it's warm, something for going out, something casual and something professional. And they'll be basically the same as last year's lines and I won't buy any of them because I already have loads of clothes.

I stick by what I said. But I realise that while I spoke enough about what I don't like, I didn't really cover what I do.

I like seeing people do interesting things with their clothes. And I mean, something really, really unique and different and unlike as much of the rest of the world as possible, in a way that still compliments their character and form.

For instance, I have this friend who... I have this friend:

This is Hollie Would. I have never seen her looking anything other than fabulous. She does clothes well. Very well.

She used to regularly host a variety night full of people who also did clothes well. Performers including singers and jugglers and burlesque dancers and drag acts, all of them really imaginative, with their performance and with their look.

They looked interesting, they look intriguing, they looked like the kind of people I wanted to pay attention to.

People like Odelia Opium, a burlesque dancer who incorporates her costume into the dance. While I have seen burlesque dancers who do the same dance in a different outfit and call it a new act, she's different. Some burlesque performers get their gigs just through the price tag of whatever they're throwing on the floor. This one makes her clothes work with her movement. They match the theme of her dance, they are an integral part of each performance. She does burlesque a credit in the way she uses her outfits.

And it is part of what makes her consistently brilliant.

Then, there was the Middle Aged Mermaid, a drag act that presents the relationship of Ariel, the Little Mermaid, a decade or so after she left the sea to get married. It's a funny act - parodied Disney songs about the high price of living in London. And the clothes are fantastically imaginative. The Middle Aged Mermaid wears a dress made of Oyster cards with a gauze tail flowing along behind her. I have no idea where the idea came from, but I love it, and I've enjoyed chatting about it to the Mermaid herself and others about how quirky and original it is.

It's that kind of weird innovation that I enjoy about the things that people wear. Even though it is just a dress, I think it makes a huge difference to my overall enjoyment of the act.

I like that kind of oddness. I like seeing when people make dresses out of Pokemon cards or Lego or bottle caps. My friend Jan went to MCM Expo this year wearing an outfit made entirely of beer cans. I have a T shirt that, while rarely worn, is cherished hugely because it changes colour as the temperature changes. In the summer, it shows off any and all sweat stains, but I think it's an incredible piece of fashion technology.

That is the kind of the fashion titbits that I enjoy. I don't keep up with what comes down catwalks, because I don't care what you wear as long as you're comfortable in it. I'll enjoy it all the more if you wear it well, if you wear it with confidence. But if you feel good in it, that's all that matters to me.

My housemate is a comedian. This is his act:

He made that mask himself. He's working on a new one. He fiddles with the costume as he gigs more often. His outfit is brilliant. It creates a character so unique that you can't help but remember him. If clothes are supposed to make you stand out, I'd come to Neuroses before I went to basically any high street or designer clothes store. We'd go round the charity shops, chop up someone else's hand-me-downs and make something of our own. We'd be creative with it. We'd make something unique and original, something that reflects us.

Which, I think, is the point of fashion.

Not to say what is good and that everyone must wear it. But to show off the way people have chosen to reflect themselves through their clothes, for other people to emulate or improve on or ignore, depending on their reactions to it.

I like the things that surprise me, the things I don't expect. The things that pique my curiosity, not because I wonder where they were bought, but because I'm wondering where the idea behind them came from. Because I want to know how they were made, why they were made, what else can be done with them - how far we can run with this idea and what more we can do with it.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Hey, look! More cool stuff I can't afford!

In my general perusals of the internet, I've stumbled across a little gadget that I'm finding myself somewhat taken with.

And, if the pledges it's racking up on Kickstarter are anything to go by, I'm not the only one.

The video on it's Kickstarter site is really comprehensive. Obviously, that bit is designed to convince me it's a good thing, that it's worth backing, and so it will have some element of bias in it. But until the thing has been finished and reviewed, it's all I've got by which to judge it.

Regardless of how the actual gadget turns out, I have fallen in love with the concept at it's core.

The Light Phone, invented by a company called Light, is a credit-card sized gadget that only receives phone calls.

Which sounds a bit useless. But there is a lot more behind it.

It's not a replacement for your smartphone. It's for when you want a break from it.

It works with the phone you already have. You download the app, you leave your phone at home. You don't have to put up with notifications from Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat or whatever else you have installed on your smartphone that will inevitably buzz at just the right time to interrupt an important conversation or ruin the mood.

More importantly, your friends don't. Or colleagues or boss or interviewer or lover. Or whoever else gets irritated when your face is in a screen all the time you spend with them.

Your phone calls get redirected from your phone to your Light Phone, so that if there is something really important happening, you can still be contacted. People can still get through to you in emergencies.

But that's it.

You don't have to deal with the rest of that crap. You don't have to worry about Twitter notifying you that someone else said something that doesn't pertain to you at all, and perhaps not even interest you in the slightest. Which my Twitter has been doing recently. I don't like it.

I do like the Light Phone.

I know I'm broke right now, but I'm contemplating getting one. Even though there are a load of other Kickstarters I want to back that I could get more stuff from for less money. Even though I'm skint enough to buy basically only Morrisons own brand food.

And pretty much everyone I know except my nan (who doesn't have a smartphone, so is still good company) will be getting one for Christmas.

I'm twenty two years old. My generation is the one that suffers most severely from smartphone addication. I think I'm reasonably distanced from my gadgets. I recently went a week without a laptop and craved Blogger more than anything else. I'm happy leaving my phone at home when I go out. But I am close to a lot of people who can't handle doing those things. Who will be sitting in a room full of close friends and stare at their phones.

I want one, even if it just to ward off potentially ending up like that.

And I want other people to have one. I want to not feel like a third wheel when I'm hanging out with one friend. Ever.

I love that this thing is so close to existing. It's cute and it's cool and, if it all goes right, could be saviour of many, many relationships.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

I'm Sick of You Already, Conservative Majority.

As anyone who caught even a passing glimpse of my various social media feeds will know, I'm not happy with the result of the recent UK election. I truly believe that having a Conservative government in power for another term will do irreparable damage to things that make the UK great. Things like the NHS.

I did everything I could to keep them out at the time - that is, I voted for another party. I shared a few stories expressing my desire for change and encouraged people to vote. And I accept that the voting system our country currently has in place ruled the Conservatives the winning party. I also think that our current voting system is hugely flawed, but whinging about that now won't make much of a difference.

Now is the time to be proactive about the things that can be changed. The next five years are going to be a struggle for every poor person, every disabled person, every LGBT person, everyone from a social minority. And instead of sitting back and taking it, I think that the time now is to make sure that the voice of every one of those people is heard. No matter what. I think that now is the time that as many people as possible need to start getting involved in politics, pestering their local MPs to do everything in their power to stop our government exploiting people.

While it means a lot of hassle that we could probably do without in lives that are stressful enough as it is, I think it's necessary.

The election was less than a week ago and already I'm distraught at some of the legislation the Tories are trying to pass, not to mention the horrific way they've arranged their cabinet. The new minister for equality, Caroline Dinenage, voted against gay marriage. The new justice minister, Dominic Raab, also has a funny idea of equal rights, having previously shown opposition to laws that protect both gender and racial equality.

One of the first things the Conservatives did following their recent freedom from their coalition with the Liberal Democrats (who, we are learning, did a lot more over the past five years than most of us gave them credit for) has been to scrap the Human Rights Act. It's all very well them saying they have another idea for how to go about it, but the idea as a whole utterly undermines the importance of human rights in the first place. The fact that they can just do that is horrifying. The one ray of sunshine this situation has is Nicola Sturgeon. Her, and e-petitions.

As well as this, they've pushed to restore the legality of fox hunting, shown support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and pushed forward the "snoopers' charters" bill that will require online organisations to retain and share individuals' private information.

All of this horrifies me. And it's all happened in less than a week. If I'm this distraught at what they can do to this country in such a short space of time, I can't imagine what they'll do to it in five whole years.

I will be doing everything in my power to stop them ruining the UK for everyone who lives here. For everyone who depends on it having a government that actually serves it people. This means I'll be writing about a million letters to my MP.

Who I do not expect to listen much to my concerns.

My MP is Iain Duncan Smith, who is quite well known now for figure-heading a lot of the legislation that caused a lot of people a lot of pain and suffering. His bigotry and total of lack of compassion is clear in his voting record, which shows him consistently cutting benefits, voting against gay and other minority rights and supporting war and nuclear weapon development funding.

I'm ashamed to live in his constituency. Which is a shame because I really like my house. And my area. And if I lived a few streets down, I'd have someone else. And literally anyone would have been an improvement on Iain Duncan Smith, as far as I'm concerned.

But I am still going to try. I will do whatever I can to make his toxic decisions difficult to make. I don't care how much it takes out of me or how impossible it might seem.

I suppose I shall start by writing to my MP about the things I am already taking issue with following his party's success. I will write as many letters as it takes to get his attention, to remind him that he is supposed to represent the opinions of his constituents and that I will make my opinion known at every opportunity.

After that, I'll do whatever else I have to. I hope I'm not alone.

I will not let any government tear apart my country without putting up a fight.

Friday, 8 May 2015

A Reflection on the 2015 Election.

(I really didn't mean that to rhyme, but hey, it happens.)

Last night, I knew I wouldn't stay up until morning watching the election results get gradually revealed. I might have enjoyed it, but I'd been up since 6am so it wasn't going to happen.

I looked away from the results quite early in. Otherwise they would've distracted me or maybe upset me. When I shut down my computer and started winding down, though, the country was in pretty good shape. There were three female Labour MPs in parliament. And no one else. I liked that.

I woke up this morning and everything had changed.

Somehow, the Tories were back in power.

A similar thing struck me then as it had at the last election. My social media news feeds are full of people like me. Loud liberal people. It gave off a false sense of security. Not so secure that I didn't vote, of course. But secure enough that I wasn't too afraid of what would happen come morning. I figured, whoever was going to get in, it wasn't going to be any of the far right crazies and it wouldn't still be the Conservatives, so it's all good. Any of the others would at least have been an improvement.

I was wrong. I don't think I'm the only one to have experienced that this morning.

My news feeds now are full of people saying that they're going back to bed for the next five years.

On the one hand, is hugely reassuring that a lot of the people in my life understand what this means for the country and aren't prepared to tolerate it. Whatever unrealistically comforting impression it gives me of humanity, I'm glad that those are the people surrounding me.

On the other hand, no matter how disappointing things are, that is not productive. It doesn't make a difference. It doesn't get rid of them. It doesn't put pressure on them to pay more attention to their people. It doesn't let them know that we are not prepared just to bend over for them for the next five years.

Instead, let's not go back to bed. Let's use these next five years positively. Let's do what we didn't do last time and be proactive throughout this entire period.

Everyone who is disappointed now still gets a say at some level. Giving in just because we didn't get the leader we wanted is an option, but it will suck for everyone. For everyone who didn't want the Tories back in, I say, make them aware of your disapproval at every opportunity, get involved in local politics and make sure that your representative knows your views on every issue that is raised in the next five years.

Let's continue fighting it and let's do it harder.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Your Pocket Is Not A Good Cause

At the end of last month, the world was talking about the impact of Indiana's recently passed 'religious freedom' law. Memories Pizza was among the first businesses to take advantage of it to refuse to serve LGBT customers. After receiving a huge backlash of people refusing to support such discriminatory behaviour, the pizzeria quickly closed.

And was then suddenly thrown an enormous amount of conservative report. Fuelled by famed American bigot Rush Limbaugh, the pizzeria owners were gifted nearly $850,000 by homophobes across the US.

In reaction to that overwhelming hate, Pizza 4 Equality was founded.

It seems wonderful.

In response to people funding hate and bigotry, Scott Wooledge created the Pizza 4 Equality GoFundMe page to prove that there are more people who would support love and acceptance for non-heteronormative people then would continue to throw money at the late Memories Pizza. The aim was to raised more than $850,000 to put towards Cyndi Lauper's True Colours Fund, a charity which promotes equality for LGBT people. In particular, the money is said to be going towards tackling LGBT youth homelessness, as it is estimated that 40% of homeless youth in America are LGBT teenagers who have been shunned or disowned by their families because of their sexuality.

This is a wonderful idea. The way that this campaign has tried to bring people together is a beautiful example of how humanity can combat hate. I got really excited about it. I even started writing about it in a feel good, 'look at all the nice people doing nice things' style article for the website I regularly contribute to.

And to do that I did some research to make sure I had all the facts right.

And came across this PDF of Cyndi Lauper's True Colours Fund's tax exemption form from 2013, which is marked 'Open to Public Inspection'.

And I was disgusted.

On the front page of it, there is a breakdown of all the money raised for the charity and how that money is then spent.

In the 'Prior Year' section, the money is broken down quite responsibly. Out of a total of $732,141 raised, a reasonable amount was spent on staff salaries and other expenses, leaving a grand total of $418,678 that actually go towards LGBT support.

That's fantastic. That's a lot of money that goes towards providing help for people who are regularly and cruelly prejudiced against in American culture.

But it didn't last.

Look back at that same section of the page to the 'Current Year' section. In 2013, the True Colours Fund raised a hell of a lot more money than the year before - when combining grants and contributions, investment income and 'other revenue' reaching a total of $874,467. That's nearly $150,000 more than in 2012.

That's incredible.

So how did they only have $40,509 going towards LGBT support in the end?

It even says in that one small box, before you look into anything deeper, salaries and employee benefit costs rose in that year from $127,653 to $391,500. That's more than double the amount. There is also a mysterious $391,437 in 'other expenses' - again more than twice the amount spent in 2012.

How is it possible that a charity can raise more money than ever before, and still put less of it towards actually doing good? What is the point in actually being a charity if it puts so little of its proceeds towards making a difference in the world?

Page 10 of the PDF offers a breakdown of functional expenses, noting the $337,951 spent on salaries and wages, on top of the $142,000 salary, plus nearly $8,000 in benefits of Executive Directer Gregory Lewis (found on page 7). Along with spending over $36,000 on 'office expenses', nearly $29,000 on 'information technology' and almost $53,000 on 'travel', their largest expense of $181,243 is categorised under 'Fees for services: Other'.

This is unbearably vague and an insult to the people who have donated money in good faith to this charity. It's disgusting behaviour and it exploits the people that the charity is supposed to support and the people who want to help do that. A lot of money is getting thrown away on unidentified, miscellaneous nothing.

There is no way that this is an acceptable way to use money that people have given specifically to further what is supposed to be a good cause.

And while the True Colours Fund is far from the only charity doing it, it is one that is currently claiming to be making a conscious effort to stand up to exactly that kind of exploitation. At least Memories Pizza was honest about its seediness.

Often, when people want to do something nice within the world, they put money towards a charity that they believe stand for something worth believing in. If the charity then keeps that money, no good is done. People who are entrusted with doing good in the world are doing nothing more than abusing the kindnesses of others. It's morally despicable.

People who want only to do a good deed should not have to do tons of background research into charities to make sure that the money will actually go to a good cause. The money simply should. It shouldn't be an option that it goes into someone's pockets.

It's fair to pay charity CEOs and Directors and whatever other big administrative roles pull in such huge cheques a comfortable amount of money, because their job is important in making a difference in the world. But when it leaves so little left to the actual charity, they may as well not bother running a charity at all. For all the good it really does.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

If You Want to Run a Country, Grow the Fuck Up.

I am quite openly disappointed with the state of politics in the UK. I think a lot of stupid decisions have been made in the time I've been paying attention to it, particularly in the last five years. I think that not enough is being done to educate people about politics for the general public to properly understand it, unless they go out of their way to learn. Which is difficult because political journalism is in an equally pitiful state.

Most of the things reported about politics is either scare-mongering or stupid. A lot of the governmental decisions reported are the ones that wind people up or cover up something more serious or just make it look like politicians are doing something more than wasting tax money. Of the rest, most political news is only scandal - MPs have been claiming expenses they're not entitled to or having sex with someone their not supposed to, somehow.

Or it's gossip.

Recently I was flipping through a Metro and saw an article that had no other news but that a Labour MP thought Ed Milliband was a wanker.

I don't really care what anyone thinks of anyone else. People are entitled to their opinions. And Ed Milliband isn't doing a great job of making Labour look great right now. So it's not an unreasonable opinion to have.

But it's not the kind thing that political journalism needs to be focussing on. Most of the places that actually convey useful, worthwhile information are private blogs that are committed to making sure that someone reports properly on politics because the media sure as hell isn't going to.

More importantly, it's nothing like professional to talk that way about the representative of your own party. Firstly. it makes him look childish and immature. And it shakes people's faith in the whole party. How can anyone expect them to run a country if they can't even keep their own MPs from calling them petty names?

I tried to find the article on Metro website, but I couldn't find it online. But it's not like there aren't plenty more instances of MPs slagging each other off like stroppy teenagers.

Nick Clegg was a guest on Adam Hills's The Last Leg recently and got a huge laugh by intimating that he thought Boris Johnson was more tosser than statesman. Which doesn't generate faith in the his commitment to the coalition, but it was at least on a comedy show, designed to make people laugh rather than educate people about the political situation of their country. In that kind of setting, it can be excused.

But when politicians and MPs bickering at and about each other makes the mainstream news, then it makes the country as a whole look petty and silly. If the people in charge of running the country can't even treat each other with respect, as adults and colleagues, as people who have a serious job to do and need to work together to it, then how can any of the general population feel comfortable depending on them?

It's getting worryingly common seeing people with this kind of authority behaving like toddlers. It's no wonder the UK is in worse shape than it has been in years.

Right now, the person who seems to taking politics seriously - and getting attention for it - is Eddie Izzard.

His intention to run for London mayor has been publicised for a while now. The vast majority of interviews concerning it focus on how he'll make the shift from comedy to politics work. But when he speaks about other politicians, he does it with respect even when he disagrees. He said of David Cameron:

“He is center-right, so I’m okay with that. He’s not my party — ‘It’s more about the few than the many.’ He said he wouldn’t take apart the National Health Service, and he sort of did.”

And that's it.

He doesn't call him a prick or a wanker or a tit or a waste of public funding. Which I sometimes do. By speaking frankly and tactfully, he acknowledges that it's up to Cameron to make the decisions he wants to while he's in power. He isn't petty or childish or mean. He recognises the difference in their political views and the right of people to hold views that contrast to his own. And he doesn't judge any person's character or personality because of it.

He knows that there isn't space for bickering and name calling when it comes to something as  important as running a country.

I can call politicians a tit. I am 21. (For three more days.) I am less than a year out of university. Most importantly, I am allowed to be immature sometimes because I am not in charge of a fucking country. Comedians can call politicians a tit. It's their job to make people laugh. And the fact is, it makes the general public feel good to mock the people in charge, the people who make the rules that in turn make them feel exploited.

It's different if you are also a politician. If you have any responsibility over other people's lives, you have to work together with the people who are supposed to be doing it with you. You don't achieve anything by squabbling. And you definitely can't be trusted with governing other people's lives if you don't understand that.

Izzard is about the only person behaving like an adult and it's ridiculous that there aren't more people treating the government of our country like the serious deal that it is.

Monday, 23 March 2015

I Want Mars, But Not Like This

Since Curiosity landed, the scientific community has been all kinds of excited about mankind's plan for Mars. While generally, the most reputable organisations are keeping fairly low-key about their plans and expectations beyond learning a few bits of stuff, some people got really excited.

For a while, there was a fair amount of talk about Mars One. And it did seem legitimately cool. And, while it didn't seem likely to happen immediately, it didn't seem all that far-fetched in the long run. It admitted that it was a fairly new project that still required a lot of work and it was backed some really cool people, including Nobel Prize-winning CERN scientists. Who else are you going to trust with your trips to Mars?

And then this happened.

And it broke my heart.

I won't say I had the best hopes in the world for Mars One, but I really did love the idea. I thought that if something like that could really get done, then maybe humanity was finally learning something. It would finally learn to work together, to watch how a society can work when it started over from scratch. It could teach us so much about what we're doing wrong here on Earth and make a huge difference to the way society is run.

And that's on top of all the cool stuff we'd learn about Mars.

Which would have been a lot.

And would in turn have taught us more about the universe, the solar system, our own planet. We could have made so much progress from being there. It is literally a whole other world for us to explore and learn from and utilise.

And even if Mars One didn't work out like it had hoped to, it would have at least made some kind of headway in getting us to Mars. Having a well written plan might have been enough to make a difference to what other organisations are doing about space exploration.

So I feel bad for everyone involved. I'm happy that I missed out on what looked like an incredible opportunity.

I'm aware that, given Lansdorp's response, there is room to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I don't think I want to. I'm sick of putting my faith into people who claim to care about something other than profits.

And what disturbs me is that once people decide this is a scam, they'll start to gradually stop caring about the genuine ventures people want to take. All too often, people make assumptions based on one experience. Or one high-profile story. And it does damage to the enthusiasm behind legitimate enterprises. And it's going to happen now.

I'm still excited about exploring Mars - about exploring all of space. I'm still going to follow Curiosity. And Cassini. And the Voyagers. Because I enjoy learning about the universe. I think it's the most exciting thing there is. Space didn't do anything wrong.

But I'm disappointed in people. And, while that's not new, it still hurts.