How do we solve a problem like single parent families?

A Moment in a Tumbleweed's Life

A Moment in a Tumbleweed’s Life (Photo credit: Artotem)

England is a “man desert” and 1 million children are growing up without a father. There has been much lamentation, tearing of hair and rending of garments over this revelation in a report from the centre for social justice from the usual suspects. The assumption seems to be that a man – any man – would be better than no man at all in these situations.

What the report fails to address is the question ‘why?’ Did these women choose to be single mothers? Were they divorced? abandoned? abused? Who are the fathers in question? There are many legitimate reasons why a woman might not want a specific man around her children, male role models are great where you can find them but raising children takes more than sperm. Continue reading

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Gay people are everywhere and persecution doesn’t help

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite both the Vatican and Pakistan being incredibly hostile places for gay people, this week we have strong evidence that they exist in both. According to a recent survey about tolerance, only 2% of people living in Pakistan believe homosexuality should be tolerated in society and yet Pakistan is the world leader in Google searches for gay porn. In the Vatican the pope has given further credence to stories of a shady group of gay priests secretly running things behind the scenes. These revelations should scare homophobes because it is yet more proof that it isn’t a permissive society that ‘turns’ people gay. Being gay is a natural phenomenon. There are gay people all over the place whether it is legal or not, whether they are accepted or not and whether they’re allowed to marry or not. Continue reading

Disney’s Merida Makeover: not the only way to be a princess

Image from amightygirl.com

Image from amightygirl.com

Over the last fortnight, Disney released and quickly withdrew some sparkly, sexy Merida artwork for her ‘coronation ceremony’. The slimming down, aging up and general ‘princess-isation’ of Merida who was billed as a character who hated the fluff of being a princess spurred endless column inches about gender and femininity as well as a “Say No To The Merida Make Over” petition with 233,846 supporters to date.  Continue reading

Why the LGBT Community Should Not Dismiss Gay Marriage

LGBT History

LGBT History (Photo credit: Earthworm)

1/4 of young homeless people in Britain identify as LGBT. Bisexual women in the US are twice as likely to have experienced rape as straight women. 88% of transgender people in the UK experience workplace harassment and discrimination. All these problems exist in our back yard – never mind Uganda or Iran – and the LGBT community has a responsibility to fight those problems particularly when they affect LGBT youth. So in comparison I can understand why some LGBT people, particularly those who have experienced these problems, find the media circus around gay marriage irritating. It is even seen as being deliberately unhelpful as it draws attention away from other problems. However many of these people have taken to tumblr and other social media to present this as an either/or situation and dismiss the fight for gay marriage entirely in favour of their favourite, bigger issues.

The continuing discussion and furore about gay marriage has kept LGBT issues at the forefront of the US and UK political agenda. The news coverage has disseminated the debates across the world to people who would not normally engage with LGBT issues. It has given a large number of LGBT people a voice that would not otherwise be heard. The prominence of the issue has also exposed unlikely allies like Clint Eastwood, the Archbishop of Wales and several Republicans. In part because of the gay marriage debate, people are forced to acknowledge the existence of gay people and allies who are like them. After all, even the presenters on BBC Radio 4 are LGBT. As people are forced to publicly examine their own feelings on the issue knee-jerk reactions will be set aside; minds can be changed and opened. The gay marriage debate will also give children and teens a platform for discussions with their parents and give them a wider context for coming out.

The gay marriage debate has also helped to ‘normalise’ homosexuality for many families and may well lead to fewer LGBT children on the street. Rightly or wrongly parents usually want traditional things for their children. Parents look forward to weddings and grandchildren and for many those things are not seen as compatible with an LGBT ‘lifestyle’ as they have experienced it through the media. Into the ‘90s and even more recently, negative stereotypes and the media focus on scandals have collated LGBT relationships with abuse, anonymous sex and AIDS which makes it difficult for those who don’t know any better to be accepting. Wanting to get married brings the LGBT community into a world they can understand because the ‘lifestyle’ now has the potential to follow a more traditional pattern. Of course not every LGBT person wants to marry and nor should they. We must embrace those who choose to reject the current social norms which have shunned and excluded them for so long as well as those who want to conform. What the fight for gay marriage can do is to show that relationship and lifestyle choices are not a matter of gay or straight or trans or cis but about who an individual is and their choices.

Wider access to gay marriage can also help another group of homeless people. There are a number of older gay people who become homeless as a result of improperly organised inheritance rules. If one half of a unmarried gay couple dies, even if they have been cohabiting long term, the remaining person doesn’t necessarily automatically inherit the house and even if they do they are liable for estate tax in the US. Gay marriage would help to clear up the legal responsibilities and provide peace of mind for people in this situation. It would also clear up a number of other legal issues related to medical insurance, hospital visitation and tax issues. Gay marriage isn’t just a point of principle, it will help real people.

Beyond the ideological issues, there is a problem of practicalities. Gay marriage is a comparatively easy win. There is an established legislative process that can be followed in order to make gay marriage happen. The possible routes to success are easy to see when the government can pass a law to make it so. This is not the case for homelessness which is a far more complex issue that needs collective introspection and an honest critique of our society and benefits system. It is also much more long term. While we do need to help as many people as we can there is also a benefit to helping change what we can. Gay marriage is on the brink in the US and a concerted push now could make equal rights under that area of law a reality in the next few years and change peoples’ lives for the better.

We can’t think in terms of a hierarchy of equalities. Every victory gained is important if it makes the world better for even one person. Gay marriage is not equality for equality’s sake. Every step toward true equality is worth celebrating.

Primary School Teacher Commits Suicide After Littlejohn Witch Hunt

LBC News Talk - Richard Littlejohn photocard (...

Richard Littlejohn photocard (Early 90s) (Photo credit: radiothings.com)

Lucy Meadows committed suicide on Tuesday after a sustained attack from the Daily Mail and the far-right columnist Richard Littlejohn because she was born Nathan Upton.

Following the revelation of her suicide, petitions have sprung up on the net pointing fingers at Richard Littlejohn and his column, “He’s not only in the wrong body… he’s in the wrong job” as the main agitator in a witch hunt that caused immense distress and possibly suicide. There are at least two petitions, with more than 48,000 signatures between them, calling for Littlejohn to apologise, resign or be fired.

Littlejohn’s column, while apparently acknowledging an individual’s right to transition on the NHS, has been criticised for using male pronouns and calling Lucy’s decision to transition and remain at the same school “selfish” and said the impact on her students would be “devastating”.  Many trans* people have taken issue with the validity of his comments and have pointed out, usually from personal experience, that children are generally more accepting of gender issues. In a story, publicised via one of the petitions, a young cousin reacted by saying “Oh, that makes sense. I always thought you were a boy. Now can be go play Legos?”

In the furore following her death the Daily Mail pulled the column from their website but have defended the column’s content. They put out a statement calling the responses “an orchestrated twitterstorm, fanned by individuals… with an agenda to pursue.” and specfically naming Alastair Campbell as one of the instigators. They also reiterated the point made on several blogs that there have been no explicit details linking the suicide with Littlejohn or any other member of the media. However emails have revealed that in the weeks between the publication of Littlejohn’s column and her suicide, Lucy was hounded by journalists. She had to slip out of her back door and stay late at school to avoid them. Ironically, given the statement from the Daily Mail, Lucy also wrote about how supportive parents were ignored by the media who were keen to pursue the outrage agenda.

Though Lucy was supported by her head teacher and many parents at the school the constant harassment clearly had a destabilising effect on her life and it should not be discounted as a factor in her suicide.

In the end though, whether Lucy committed suicide as a result of the harassment doesn’t matter. It is not Lucy’s suicide that needs to be apologised for. It is the harassment, the victimisation and the monstering that Lucy and the whole of the trans* community are owed an apology for.

 

The full story:

Meet the Actor: Matt Smith

Doctor Who - Series 7B

Doctor Who – Series 7B (Photo credit: Doctor Who Spoilers)

The Regent Street Apple Store was awash with Fezzes*, bow ties and sonic screwdrivers this Tuesday when Matt Smith appeared for a Meet the Actor session. In a few short weeks he is back on television to reprise his role as the 11th Doctor, armed with the canonically impossible new companion Oswin/Clara played by Jenna Louise Coleman. The assembled fans were desperate to hear even the slightest hint of what was to come though there were also some who were only just keeping it together at the prospect of the sight of their idol in the flesh.

“And he’s mad again.”

Smith’s manner, like that of his Doctor, danced on the edge of manic as he welcomed his fans. Gone will be the hard, post-Ponds Doctor of the Christmas Special, he assured us. Instead we can look forward to cybermen, a Neil Gaiman episode, the Ice warriors, an alien market and a finale like no other going into the 50th Anniversary Episode – all the important things in a Doctor Who series.

“A sort of space safari park where he’s collated mad animals from throughout the universe”

We also get to learn more about that the TARDIS herself in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS though it still leaves some to the imagination. Of course, fans met Idris, the human incarnation of the TARDIS (and, for my money, the only woman for the Doctor), in The Doctor’s Wife last season but we get more of the interior of the TARDIS this time out. There is also more to explore about who she is and, somewhat cryptically, “what effect she can have on the shape of that”. Not all her secrets are revealed – how could they be? And Smith was happy to speculate about the Doctor’s bedroom.

For all the excitement of the new series Smith still points to Eleventh Hour as his favourite episode to film and Blink or Tomb of the Cybermen as the best of the rest.

“It’s bigger and greater and more exciting and it’s funny as well.”

Smith also revealed he has now had sight of the script for the 50th Anniversary episode and he built the expectations to fever pitch. Smith continued to heap praise on the episode describing it as “spellbinding and one of the best ever, ever.” While he promised fans would not be disappointed it is getting hard to see how it could possibly be as good as advertised.  My other concern is about shooting some of it in 3D given that it will be primarily watched on laptops and tvs which can’t handle the technology. That’s “The Moff” for you though.

“Would we want a Doctor who that wasn’t complicated? That isn’t all science-wiencey and wibbly and strange and mad with different times and wives that are from the future?”

Matt Smith is clearly a fan of the show – which is always a good sign from the lead actor – and of Steven Moffat, its show runner. He talked extensively and glowingly about Sherlock as well as Moffat’s work on Doctor Who. A lot of fans, however, regard Moffat’s choices, particularly concerning River Song and the wider end of season 6, as somewhat dubious. Even when he doesn’t get the characters right there is always something worth watching in a Moffat episode or season. What no one can question is his ability to deliver the complexity that only a show like Doctor Who can deliver and sets Doctor Who apart, even among SciFi shows. Though perhaps Smith’s comment that “children get the bits that they enjoy” was overly cavalier when talking about a family show, the sciencey-wiencey, timey-wimey is what makes a Moffat season worth it.

“Y’know someone had a baby and I was like no! That can’t happen! No way!”

Smith didn’t only talk about Doctor Who. He admitted to his own fanboy moments over Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. He also talked about his excitement about starring in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. It seems almost an inevitability that Hollywood has come to call on Matt Smith given the casual and unpretentious way he refers to himself as ‘Ben’s mate’ while talking about Sherlock. Not that Matt Smith is undeserving in his own right but it can’t hurt to have a host of friends who are rising the celebrity alphabet lists.

“It’s magical realism – I love all that stuff”

The Q&A that followed was fairly straightforward covering his favourite book (The Master and Margarita) and film (undecided but maybe the Goonies) his plans to visit Australia (Christmas/early 2014) and which Doctor Who villain he would play (The Master or Rosanna from The Vampires of Venice).  Speaking about his other projects he also talked about his excitement over branching out into directing with Cargese on Sky Arts this April.

“That’s a wonderful thing to say – ‘the lady in the fez’”

There was of course the token quivering fangirl in a fez who started innocently enough with a question about Sherlock which prompted the revelation that Matt had auditioned for John Watson (and what a change that would have been from Martin Freeman). She then had to ask whether Matt Smith shipped ‘Johnlock’, which is just bad fandom etiquette. For those to whom ‘Johnlock’ might be unfamiliar it is a couple name, like Brangelina, that designates John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in a romantic relationship. I want to make it clear fandom, fanfiction, ships and slash are all fine by me but not when you involve the actors. Some, like Misha Collins, invite questions about fandom and shipping etc… Matt Smith, to the best of my knowledge, does not. Keep it on the internet fez girl.

“I would apply to the National Youth Theatre – that’s what encouraged me into acting”

Matt also had some patient and heartfelt advice for a Dilan, a fifteen year old, high-functioning aspergers sufferer who wasn’t in school and who wanted to get into acting: First, get back into school. Second, audition for the National Youth Theatre. Third, everyone has a camera so go out and make a film about a girl who can’t get back into school and put it on the internet. His advice and attitude was so overwhelmingly positive he may well have changed a girl’s life. It is perhaps a small reminder of the power that celebrities hold and how it can be used for good as well as evil. And I urge you to keep half and eye on the internet for a film about a girl who can’t get back into school.

As the applestore people kept saying, the full interview will be available as a podcast via i-tunes in case you think I’m being over hard on girls in fezzes.

*I had to look up the plural of fez – the things you learn for fandom

The Dangers of DRM: just give it up already

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

E-reader (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love reading books. I love my e-reader more than I ever expected to. I want to support book shops and authors and libraries. I want to give them my money.

So why do e-readers make it so hard?

There are so many things you can do with an e-reader that Amazon etc… didn’t envisage when they first came up with the device. We have the pleasing oddities like the humble eBook bundle, practical extensions that import articles and Google docs from browser to e-reader and new avenues for acquiring eBooks such as Project Gutenberg. However the theoretically simple act of buying an eBook from a high street shop website is more complicated than balancing the government’s budget. Not only is the download process often strangely convoluted and poorly explained but having downloaded and paid for the book there is a high chance it will not be compatible with your e-reader of choice.

Yes, it is that worst of all eBook afflictions: DRM.

There are plenty of, easily available ways to circumvent DRM but the only legal option is to read the eBook on a laptop or buy the compatible e-reader, neither of which is exactly a viable option. While the theoretical logic of DRM is obvious, even a brief investigation of the practicalities shows up serious flaws. Most obviously, nothing drives people to piracy like having to jump through hoops for something they have already paid for. EBooks ought to be available to read on whatever device happens to be available, no matter where it came from. If an e-reader breaks or dies all the books on it should transfer to the next device without any fuss. The fact that this is not the case borders on the ridiculous especially when it is so easy to pay nothing for an eBook without DRM. The reality is that DRM makes eBooks inferior to both physical books and pirated eBooks. In order to abide by the law customers have to make a conscious choice to spend money on a worse product than the illegal version. Clearly this is not a sustainable model.

English: Librarians against DRM

Librarians against DRM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other irritation that people have started to run up against more and more is the fact that eBooks cannot be lent to friends. Marketing studies have shown time and again that word of mouth and sharing books is the most effective way to boost book sales yet lending remains anathema to eBooks. Amazon has started to make steps in this direction, though only for their US customers but most publishers in this country are still struggling with lending libraries. EBooks have been a significant part of our culture for enough years now that the negotiations on this point are looking increasingly like petulant floundering.

Though I was not a fan of Pirate Cinema, Cory Doctrow’s article for the Guardian last year is an incredibly thorough look at the draw backs, for both customers and retailers, of continuing to use DRM. Some retailers are finally starting to wake up to the harm DRM is causing though it lingers in the majority of eBook sales. Last year Tor started selling their eBooks without DRM and others must surely begin to follow. Hopefully as more independent booksellers start to embrace e-readers they will have learned the lessons from the big chains and will steer well clear of DRM.

Ultimately, books are too important to be chained up by DRM and kept behind bars. Reading should be a joy. Reading should set you free.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like DRM?