Sunday, 22 May 2011

Ryan Giggs Shagged Imogen Thomas

Dear Ryan,

I'm sorry to have to break your injunction like that (although since it's been broken so many times now, you're probably getting used to it. Not so much as a 'injunction' as a... not-very-injunctiony-thing, right?).

Anyway, apologies aside, I've decided to write you this letter for a reason. I don't care if you decide to sue me. I'm very easy to find with a bit of internet poking (although, given that you don't understand the internet very well, you might want to pay someone to do that for you). Also, I don't have much stuff that you could take. Unless you're very interested in women's size 5 shoes (shit, did I just break another injunction? It's hard to keep up).

Here's the thing, Ryan - I didn't know who you were until a few days ago. I mean, I was aware that you were a footballer, but I don't know who you play for, who you're married to, or where you're putting your knob, and nor do I care. This post explains why I don't. I didn't know who Imogen Thomas was either, and frankly, if someone had tried to explain to me, I'd have let the words 'Big Brother' escape their lips and then zoned out. But I know who you are now, because you've pissed me off. Why have you pissed me off? I'll try and explain it as simply as I can, but put basically, it's because you're a selfish cunt.

Everything that has happened so far with this whole debacle is a result of you being a selfish cunt. Every single thing. And every potential consequence which I will explain will also be the result of you being a selfish cunt. Here's why:

Firstly, and basically, just to set the scene - putting your knob in someone who isn't your partner (presumably) without her knowledge or consent = selfish cuntery. I'm not holding up monogamy as an ideal, but if that's what you've promised someone, that's what you give them, and it's selfish, and cuntish, to do otherwise.

Then you got an injunction. Now, as I said before, I don't care about your private life, but I do care about the way the media is regulated. The media shouldn't be free to run roughshod over poor people's lives (see: Chris Jeffries) while not being allowed to talk about rich people's lives. What we need is a tougher, and more accountable, press regualtion scheme. That would solve both problems. Instead, what we get is injunctions. What this means is that poor people continue getting fucked over because the rich people (like you) are happy, because they can afford legal recourse.

Then, the shit kind of hit the fan, and here's where you pissed me off. You decided to take Twitter to court in order to obtain the details of those who had broken the injunction. It's kind of obvious that this has blown up in your face, and it's tempting to just laugh, think it serves you right for trying to censor the internet and move on. But I can't.

You've started a dangerous ball rolling here, Ryan. If you'll excuse me here, I'm going to give you a short lesson in how law works so you can understand my worries. Parliament makes a law, and it is the job of the judges to interpret this law. This is because Parliament can't anticipate every situation, so they make law intentionally quite vague, and then the judges refine it. Think of it like taking an off-the-peg suit to a tailor to have it made to fit you. Sometimes, the suit is just too ill fitting, and we can see that it was never made to be worn by someone your shape, and sometimes it just requires a few clarifications, and it's you all over. That's lesson number one.

Now, in order to keep things reasonably stable in these interpretations, we use systems called 'judicial precedent' and 'persuasive precedent'*. What judicial precedent means is that if a case with similar facts has been decided by a higher court, we have to apply the decision reached by the higher courts to the case we're looking at. Persuasive precedent is where a court looks at decisions from other (lower or foreign) courts to help it reach a decision. This isn't binding, but it's how a lot of decisions are made.

Got that? OK. Here's why you pissed me off:

1) When you act like a selfish cunt and then selfishly go to get an injunction using s.8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, you're helping to develop this judge-made law further and have it apply to more and more situations, just to suit your needs. That's all well and good for you, but what about if the law that you helped extend is then used to censor something that undeniably is in the public interest - like the Trafigura case? Then people get hurt. People get really hurt. Not like 'my husband is porking a z-list celebrity' hurt, but physically hurt. And you helped that.

2) If you eventually do succeed in forcing Twitter to hand over the details of anonymous users that apparently broke your injunction, then (aside from it being insanely hypocritical) you've potentially made it so that Twitter can be forced by other companies and agencies to give out details, because of the whole 'judicial/persuasive precedent' thing. I'm going to assume that you were too busy bumping uglies with wannabes to pay attention to current affairs, but there's been a lot of civil uprising recently, and a lot of it has been brought to attention via Twitter. Now, if you get your way, and Twitter are forced to give up the details, what's to stop other agencies using it? What's to stop the government getting the details of everyone who talks about protests on Twitter and using the pre-arrest tactic more often? What's to stop governments that are a bit more torture-happy from getting details of protestors from Twitter?

I don't think you thought about this. You just wanted to get your end away and suffer none of the ill-consequences. But you've started it, and the decent thing to do now would be to stop it, before the ripples from a few illicit fucks and your selfish cuntery lead to a lot worse things than repressing the media.

*I'm trying to write so a footballer can understand.

EDIT: Changed all occurrences of word 'superinjunction' to now read 'injunction'. I know there's a difference (even the existance of superinjunctions can't be reported), but everyone else was/is calling it a superinjunction, so I used that word to ensure people would know what I was referring to. Anyway. All gone now. Every news agency is reporting it after John Hemmings' comments in the HoC this afternoon. Even Newsround, apparently.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Morning Advertiser Think I Don't Have A Sense Of Humour

I was a bit bored at work today, so I accidentally* read the Morning Advertiser. It's a pub trade magazine that tends to boil my piss because of the sychophantic, kow-towing, deferential way they treat PubCos (who are strangling the industry with their shitty business practices), and seem to think that all pubs should be mega-glossy, gourmet gastro-pubs, with no time for wet-led** pubs. However, today was a bit different.

The last page in the magazine is devoted to the 'Snifter' column, which is sort of like a 'gossip and funny stories from the pub trade' column. This issue (May 19th) contained this:

Punter's fury over pub sign
The Hand & Spear pub in Weybridge, Surrey, has been criticised for encouraging its male customers to get their dates drunk. An irate female customer photographed a 'thought for the day' sign saying: "If at first you do not succeed, buy her another beer" and promptly sent it into the local paper to vent her anger. "I thought the sign was totally inappropriate", she told the Elmbridge Guardian. "Pubs have a duty to ensure people drink responsibly and to imply you should get a woman drunk to sleep with her is pretty distasteful and massively unprofessional." It's official - some people seem to have had their sense of humour surgically removed.

So, just a couple of points:

  1. The original 'thought for the day' is pretty damn offensive in and of itself. I mean, do I really have to spell this out? Implying you should get a woman drunk in order to sleep with her is neither a) funny or b) professional and teeters very close towards advocating rape.
  2. The language 'Snifter' uses to describe the woman is that so beloved by the closet misogynist. "Irate". "Vent her anger". "Sense of humour surgically removed". Oh YAWN. I mean, damn us humourless feminists, all seething balls of holier-than-thou anger and earnest finger pointing when all anyone wants to do is have a laugh. It's the bloody Keys defence, isn't it? "Only a joke! Sorry if you got offended!". Let me spell this out again: Implying that a woman is a hysterical banshee because you can't be arsed to engage with what she's saying is neither an argument nor a defence to what she is saying. It's you being a dick.

Anyway, I found some Morning Advertiser people on Twitter and asked them this:

One of those I mentioned (Ewan Turney) got back in touch with me and asked him to email him, so I sent him this:

Hi, I tweeted about the 'Snifter' column. I strongly object to the reporting about the Hand and Spear pub sign. I'm going to write something about it, so I wondered if the Morning Advertiser could explain why it thinks it is acceptable, and to clarify its position on rape?

I'll let you know what they say.

Oh, and just to prove I do have a sense of humour, here's something that really made me laugh:

*I was procrastinating.

**Dry sales are food, wet sales are drinks. So, wet-led pub are pubs that don't serve food, or don't serve much food. Real pubs, in other words.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Uganda's "Kill The Gays" Bill

This week, the Parliament of Uganda has revisited a controversial piece of anti-gay legislation that was originally proposed by an MP in 2009, with fears that it may be hastily implemented before the Ugandan Parliamentary session ends next week.

Although homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda, earning you up to 14 years in prison, the bill, proposed by MP David Bahati would originally have made the offence of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by death. The bill defines “aggravated homosexuality” as homosexual acts with a disabled person or a person under the age of 18, as well as being an active homosexual with HIV. Also, the bill in its originally proposed form contained a provision for capital punishment for ‘serial offenders’ under other parts of the law.

Despite worldwide condemnation of the bill, it looks likely that it may pass, apparently having the support of "99% of MPs" (according to John Otekat Emile, an independent MP). However, it may not pass in the form it was originally proposed. Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, despite voicing his support for the bill, has said that he thinks the death penalty provisions are too harsh. The Minister for Ethics and Integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, has also said on several occasions that the death penalty provisions will be dropped, and even Bahati himself has said that the death penalty provision is “something we are moving away from”.

So, this is a good thing, right? Well, yes and no. Obviously the fact that the Ugandan government now no longer proposes to execute people for being homosexual is a good thing, but in all the uproar about the death penalty clauses, people seem to have overlooked the other horribly draconian and inhumane parts of the bill that will pass.

It seems likely now that the offence of “aggravated homosexuality” will, instead of being punishable by death, be punishable by life imprisonment. It could also introduce penalties of seven years imprisonment to those who ‘aid, abet, counsel or procure’ homosexual activities, or to anyone who rents a room or house to a homosexual, and penalties of three years to anyone who is aware of an occurrence of homosexual activity and doesn’t report it within 24 hours – including doctors treating patients. It was also proposed that the law be extended to allow extradition back to Uganda for any citizen living abroad who engaged in homosexual activity.

In an email to me, Frank Mugisha, the executive director of SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) said: “The bill if passed whether in its current form or watered down will stigmatize and increase harassment of gay people in Uganda, drive them underground even further, which will hinder them from accessing treatment, and this will increase on the HIV /AIDS pandemic in Uganda.”

So how did Uganda end up taking such regressive steps away from gay rights? Many lay the blame on a workshop organised in Kampala in March 2009, which included talks by three American Evangelical Christians, Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer, all of whom actively oppose gay rights and see homosexuality as a dangerous and promiscuous lifestyle choice which can be cured by prayer. Brundidge himself is a ‘former gay man’. The theme of the conference was ‘The Gay Agenda’, and it featured talks on “"how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how 'the gay movement is an evil institution' whose goal is 'to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity'”. Some of the most vocal advocates for the bill attended and reported on these sessions.

Uganda’s opposition to gay rights may also stem from the country’s fear of HIV. Uganda is a rare success story when it comes to HIV, with the infection rate dropping from 30% in the 1980s to 6.4% by the end of 2008, despite modern contraceptive use being low. If the citizens are told by their religious and governmental leaders that homosexuality leads to an increased HIV infection rate, is it really surprising that they will turn against homosexuals?

Whatever its cause, since 2009, anti-homosexual feeling has run at an all time high in Uganda. Prominent gay rights activist David Kato was murdered in January of 2011, after successfully suing the country’s Rolling Stone newspaper, who had published his picture in 2010 (alongside the pictures of other ‘known homosexuals’), with a banner saying ‘Hang Them’.

Regardless of whether this bill passes into law in its original form or an amended one, or indeed at all, now is the time for the international community to extend a hand to the gay people of Uganda to try and stem the tide of human rights abuses that they are suffering.

EDIT: It looks like they've dropped the bill from this Parliamentary session - whether this is for good or not, we don't know. Before last week it looked like they had quietly shelved it - offering it next to no attention for 18 months, and a new Parliament is due to be sworn in over the next week. We'll have to see, and keep our fingers crossed that the legislation is not enacted. However, something still remains to be done about advancing LGBT rights in Uganda, not just stopping regressive measures.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Ann Summers: You're Doing It Wrong

While in Brighton last weekend, I walked past an Ann Summers shop and had to stop in disgust as I noticed that the mannequins had their ribcages on display. Mannequins. With visibly protruding ribs.

Yes, apparently now it's not enough to manufacture and display unfeasibly tall, skinny mannequins with concave stomachs and ridiculously tiny waists, apparently now we must all be told that to appear normal and attractive in lingerie that our ribcages must be showing. Never mind that a woman of that height and size would be dangerously underweight* and possibly suffering all manner of horrible side effects, such as osteoperosis, a weakened immune system and infertility.

While I appreciate that some people are naturally the size and shape I just described and are happy, healthy and normal, I think we can all agree that images such as this are designed to make the vast majority of women feel bad and to buy into the patriarchal, capitalist mindset of "if I buy this, then I too can look like that, and be valued by men and envied by other women!".

But, as horrible as that is, that's not the only reason to hate Ann Summers.

I must, here, point out that I'm not a prude in the slightest. I'm not a sexless feminist, and I'm not attacking them because I have a problem with people trying to improve their sex lives, or to increase their enjoyment. I just have a huge problem with the way they go about it.

Firstly, they try to encourage female sexuality by superimposing a version of the stereotypical 'male' view of sex on to it, and hoping for the best. It implies that we should all be hyper-sexual, all the time, and defined purely by what is going on in our (crotchless) knickers. Now, this doesn't work. Not because us feeble womenfolk can't handle the stereotypical male view of sex, but because it doesn't work for men, either. The idea that we should be primarily concerned only with shagging is, frankly, insulting. Yes, it's good to enjoy sex, and yes, it's good to have a happy sex life, but surely we have greater concerns in life? I mean, come on guys - there's Tories sliming around Downing Street and I'm supposed to be constantly thinking about knobbing? I mean, that thought alone is enough to put anyone off it for a month. But joking aside, the implication that you're nothing without an active crotch can be a very damaging one. Society shouldn't dictate to us that possessing only a narrow set of attributes makes us a valued and worthwhile person.

Secondly, on a related note, everything Ann Summers does and sells approaches sex from such a narrow perspective, and that's harmful. In their world, there's no spectrum of sexuality, there's no gender spectrum, and everyone's white and skinny and likes sex that's just ever-so-slightly-to-one-side-of-vanilla-to-impress-the-men-without-being-too-overtly-sexual-or-implying-that-we've-thought-about-it-too-much-because-that-would-be-disgusting (We need a name for this. Magnolia sex?). Again, it's indicative of a society that tells us how we should behave, and what narrow sets of attributes we must possess in order to be desireable, and it ostracises anyone who doesn't fit neatly into their box.

Thirdly, if you have a problem in your relationship, or with your sex life, that's not going to be solved by donning some nipple pasties and hoping for the best - it will be solved by honest discussion and a desire to improve things. But that would fall outside of their desire to make you believe that all life's problems can be solved quickly and easily by going shopping, so this is what we get instead. It's not a desire to help us be 'liberated' and to reclaim the orgasm, but a desire to give us a new range of things to covet and pay for, and they do it by telling us that we're not good enough and we would be much improved, and make others happier, if we'd hand some of our cash to them. It's the capitalist's wet dream.

I also hate them because they promote the same poisonous Cosmopolitan and Sex And The City bilge narrative that has dominated female sexuality for too long. The idea being that we all sit around with 'the girls', sipping crudely-named cocktails and talk about hand-job techniques, and ways to impress the men, and that's the only way to be. On the website, the tag-line for the male sex toys is: "Treat your man, with an Ann Summers male sex toy! We have plenty to choose from, all of them designed to deliver overwhelming pleasure that’ll keep him coming back for more, time after time." - the implication being that the only thing you should want to do is to snare a man and keep him, and the only way to manage that is to be 'adventurous' in bed. It's not a choice you have, or something that you're in to, it's something you must do, to impress the men. Because heaven forfend a woman should just like using toys on a man. 

Their advertising, their products and their whole ethos seems to be about displaying our sexuality to titillate men, with a tag-line of "This is how we're all doing it. If you're not doing it like this, then you're wrong and even worse, you're UNSEXY".

So fuck off, Ann Summers. I am not defined by my appearance, by my sexuality, or by how attractive men find me. If I want to have sex, I'll bloody well have it with who I want and how I want, not according to how your faux-liberation dictates. You propagate the patriarchal ideal of women as objects to be lusted over by men, and jazz it up by offering us a few dildos and telling us we are now empowered. So you can stick your straws shaped like genitalia where the sun don't shine, and stop telling me what to do.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Brighton May Day

Yesterday I was in Brighton for the May Day march. It was an eventful day:

At about noon we went to the West Pier, on the sea-front, to start the march. There were about 40-50 people there when we arrived, with a sound system playing. There were a mixed group of people, but the atmosphere was very calm, people were just milling about talking and handing out leaflets to each other. We were handed a banner to carry, but didn't open it. More people came along, and by the time the march was ready to begin, the numbers had swelled to about 200. A dice was rolled to find out the destination of the march, and landed on the Town Hall.

We stood up and started walking down Kings Road, flanked on each side by police and being filmed by FIT members from every angle. There were about 100 police officers, and at least 4 mounted police from what I could see. People were chanting and making noise (bells, whistles, drums), and there was a nice air to the march. We turned up Middle Street, which is a fairly narrow road, and continued up it, still totally flanked by police. We witnessed our first arrest, of a young man, but the police wouldn't say what they were arresting him for. We turned into Ship Street and into our first kettle of the day.

We were kettled for about half an hour. The police numbers had gone up by this point to about 150, and there were 4 riot vans. The police were in riot-gear, with helmets on and batons strapped to their sides. A few of them looked like they were spoiling for any excuse to start a fight, but there was no violence. A few protestors got a bit mouthy, but only about the disproportionately heavy police presence for such a (relatively) small group of people. We saw our second arrest at this point, but again, they wouldn't say what for. We unfurled our banner and found it said 'A better world is possible' on it. The clowns were out, playing with the police officers, most of whom took it good-naturedly. Still, the atmosphere was very calm. People were out to have a good day, they weren't out to smash stuff up, cause trouble or fight the police. Eventually, we were allowed to move.

As we were now carrying the banner unfurled, as we turned down North Street, my friends and I were encouraged to the front of the march. We led the march down North Street, walking behind two mounted police, as photographers and passers-by jostled to get pictures of us. We turned onto East Street and walked a short way, when we heard a shout to turn the march around. When we turned around, we were kettled for a second time, but only for about ten minutes. Again, people were just sat around listening to music or dancing to it and chatting to their friends. There was no one set on violence or causing trouble.

When we were let out of this kettle, we moved through Pavilion Gardens, very peacefully. Families having picnics waved at us and took pictures. Nothing was disrupted, nothing was spoilt. Leaving there, we headed towards Regent Street. Outside Tesco, there seemed to be some kind of commotion. All that was was that the police had apparently decided that we were planning something there, and had placed a heavy presence on its doors. As people were walking by, they were shouting at the police that they shouldn't be protecting businesses, they should be protecting people.

After this, people started running. We ran around Victoria Gardens and up Church Street through the North Laines, sadly losing our banner in the process. At this point, two friends and I peeled off from the march and went to sit down for ten minutes (we're not that fit!). Checking the brightonmayday hash-tag on Twitter as a guide, we decided to head towards the station, as there were reports of a 'counter-demonstration' by the EDL in that area. Walking along Queens Road, we saw three vans full of riot police up a side road, and a very heavy police presence, but no protestors. We actually walked past the EDL 'counter-demo' without even noticing them, since their 'demo' took the form of 15 knuckle-dragging skinheads getting pissed in a pub (the Royal Standard).

We decided to turn back and walk back in the direction of the sea-front. Walking past Boots, we noticed that the side entrance was being guarded by five riot police, and the main entrance by more, even there was no protestors in sight. Everyone was just getting on with their shopping and enjoying their Saturday. There was no disruption to trade or to people going about their business.

We picked up a few people who were looking to rejoin the march, and carried on towards the sea-front. Walking down behind the Churchill Square shopping centre, we noticed a group of people surrounding a man who had been arrested (for saying 'fuck' apparently). He was pressed against a wall, penned in by four police officers. One of the group surrounding them was Caroline Lucas MP, who was trying her best to find out what had happened and what was going on. As the man was led away, I asked her if she would be issuing a statement condemning the disproportionate police response to a peaceful march, and she assured me she would. After we left, I was told that she de-arrested the young man, but I can't confirm this.

At this point, we went and had a drink on the beach. We'd been there about half an hour when we were told that people were planning to occupy Topshop. We made our way over to the Clock Tower, where we met a group of about 12-15 people. Everyone was sitting and chatting, and a couple of people were having a beer. We were being watched by about seven police officers, and after about twenty minutes, a group of twelve police surrounded us and told us to stop drinking. One of the police officers telling us to stop was nice and reasonable, allowing the people he was talking to to finish their beer. The others just confiscated it.

We wandered over to Topshop in groups of 3-4, and when we arrived up there, we found four hired security guys looking extremely conspicuous in the doorway, and about eight police officers. The protestors were stood to one side, not doing anything. We quietly decided to cross the road and try to occupy Vodafone, but couldn't get in there because of another group of hired security. We stood outside, chanting 'Vodafone, pay your tax!' and singing 'If you don't pay your tax, we'll shut you down'. There were around 15 of us there, and I counted at least 20 police officers that I could see then (including the now ubiquitous FIT). After ten minutes we crossed back to Topshop and stood there singing and chanting for about another fifteen minutes. The numbers of police were increasing, there were about 30-40 of them by this point (there was still only 15 of us). One protestor was arrested and dragged off, and we all ran over to find out what was happening. We then found that we'd, rather stupidly, let ourselves get trapped in a very small kettle. There were lines of about 15 police at our front and back, and a riot van on our sides, penning us in. There were lots of other police hovering around behind the lines.

We accepted that we'd been tricked and were trapped, so we sat down and started listening to music and talking among ourselves. We rang a legal support group to find out what we could do, and were just told to sit tight and not say anything.

Then the police began removing us one by one in order to search us and get our details. I was one of the first to be taken away - I was walked up a side street that had another 30-ish police officers on and asked my name, date of birth and full address, and searched. I was threatened with arrest if I didn't comply and the whole thing was filmed by FIT. This happened to each of us individually, and nothing was found on any of us (apart from a pen-knife which the owner had forgotten about which was confiscated, and a back-pack full of 'ASBO Army' t-shirts that were being taken to be sold at a gig. The police were not entirely amused by this).  The police weren't interested in dispersing us, even though that was the power they used to search us, as once they had our details, they let us continue to stand around and wait for our friends. The kettle ended with one guy remaining being guarded by 30 police. He gave us a sing-song to keep us amused. Once that was over, that was it, and we went for a well-deserved pint.

I saw nothing yesterday indicative of any violence, any planned violence, or any disruption to the usual running of the town. It was a group of people who wanted to take part in a Workers Day march, and a completely over-the-top police response. One can only imagine how much police money was wasted by the excessive deployment of resources - especially the final encounter we had.

However, an important point to bear in mind is that this wasn't the fault of (all of) the police. It's easy, when faced with having your civil liberties infringed as much as ours were yesterday, to simply say 'all coppers are bastards' and take against them as a group. Yes, I saw some police yesterday who were being facetious, who were refusing to tell us things for no reason other than to annoy us, and who looked like they were waiting for any excuse to give us a good kicking. But the majority of them were just people who were trying to do a job, and it's not their fault that the plans of their superiors were so obviously over-the-top and counterproductive. If we are to condemn anyone for what happened yesterday, we should condemn the commanding officers and the people making the decisions and calling the shots, not the majority of the front-line police, who were just doing as they were told - because, let's face it, they are the ones who will soon be hit by the cuts we are against, not the top brass. Just as we don't want to be judged by the actions of a violent minority, we shouldn't judge the police in that way.

The local paper, The Argus, has included in their article a list of the eight people arrested, and what they were arrested for:
They were: a 25-year-old man, who refused to provide his address, on suspicion of violent disorder following the TUC march in London last month; a 23-year-old man from Chiselhurst, Kent, on suspicion of using threatening and abusive language; a 22-year-old woman from Macclesfield, Cheshire and a 28-year-old man from Brighton, both on suspicion of failing to remove face masks; a 30-year-old man, who refused to provide his address, on suspicion of assaulting and obstructing police; a 25-year-old man, who refused to give his address, on suspicion of assault, obstructing and resisting a police officer; an 18-year-old man, who refused to give his address, on suspicion of common assault and using abusive language; a 28-year-old man from Brighton on suspicion of failing to surrender alcohol.
Hardly the result of violent extremists wreaking havoc on the streets and terrifying ordinary citizens.

One set of pictures from the day

Some of my pictures from it