The Racing

It is rare to come across a situation in my life these days that makes me consider something that I haven't already considered. What I mean is that I have already made up my mind about a lot of what makes me "me", and day to day very little I encounter acts as a change in view point. If I hear someone being homophobic, I will say something because I find it intolerable; if I hear someone being sexist, I'll say something; and when I see something happen that is transphobic, or anything else that I find bad, I'll say something.

These things have been formed over quite sometime, and I have found that these things can piss people off. I recently lost a friend when I pointed out that he was being homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, and racist. and that I found it offensive. He told me he wasn't being offensive, and that I shouldn't be worried about it anyway. To be honest, torching that friendship didn't hurt as much as I expected it would.

Recently though, contrary to the above, I've been made to consider my position ethically and morally on something that I haven't before, and that is racing - animal racing. Horses and dogs specifically. Several years ago I was asked to put a £1 bet on the Grand National, and I refused because it was a waste of money (betting is a whole other quandary that I don't get but don't have any objections to on principle, but I do have serious reservations about the culture of betting we have in the UK, but that's another post for another time). I didn't consider the welfare of the animals at all in my decision. It was last summer when, as a team building exercise, the department in work decided to go horse racing.

I told my wife this and she was intrigued - surely that wasn't an all-inclusive event? I started to think (really think) about the event, and what it meant, and the more I thought about it the more I realised I found it sickening - that these animals were raced and potentially hurt (and destroyed) during the race.

I don't like bull fighting. I reconcile with the concept of Zoos due to conservational and educational reasons, but they still worry me, and so horse racing was a natural extension. Horse racing is something that is culturally engrained in the UK, what with the Grand National, the Cheltenham Festival, and others taking place and getting massive press coverage. Jockeys are celebrities; horses are famous; owners are rich and well known.

I told this to my colleagues who were asking if I were going, and I explained my position. They understood and respected my opinion, and I respected theirs to want to go. I mean, at it's base function, the event was meant as a team building exercise more than a endorsement of racing.

This summer they are hosting another event, this time at the dog racing. This is another event I won't be going to because of several reasons, but mostly for similar ethical reasons above. Did you know that around 10,000 dogs are retired from racing a year, and only around 20% are rehomed? The rest go to shelters, or are simply destroyed. And that's just the dogs that are racing - there are many more puppies not "good enough" to race that are destroyed or left to be rehomed, unwanted by their trainers and teams.

It actually taps into a more interesting culture that I have noticed with work events (and not exclusive to this office or these colleagues, to which I mean no ill) that they are very much geared towards getting pished. I get that - I have been more drunk at work events than not drunk at work events, and for a time they were a great vehicle to getting smashed on the cheap. But as I have got older (and with more responsibility, natch) not only has that kind of binge-ing became lost on me, but that I've lost the part of me that enjoys it! If the 18 year old version of me could read this now...

I don't mind the idea of being left out of the events that build the team when it's my choice to do so (ethically or not), but when it's starting to be a pattern it is hard to not feel a little left out or put out.

So yeah. No horse racing or dog racing. Maybe just a meal and a bar next time?

NOTE: These are my personal opinions and as stated in the bottom part of this blog they do not reflect the opinions of the company I work for, or their clients.

The World I Am In


I look at the generations in my own family and see shifting politics, thoughts and ideals. I also look at the generational groups as a whole and see good things coming and bad things coming. In my life I have seen so many social changes I can only imagine the kind that my children will see happen.

Just this week the Scottish Government managed to pass legislation that brings same-sex marriage in, which is great. There is still a lot of distance to go for equal marriage (the distinction is important, and if you don’t know what the difference is, the realisation that same-sex couples can’t have civil partnerships should make you raise an eyebrow).

Two areas I see major social change taking place in my child’s lifetime will be with respect to sexuality and gender. See, today we are on the cusp of a massive change, one that will have the same earth shaking resonance with my generation that same sex relationships had with the previous generation. That is of the idea of a spectrum of sexuality, and that of transgender issues being very important socially. Something still cloaked in taboo, the idea of being born a physically different sex to that of what you actually identify with is a greatly misunderstood affliction, one fraught with psychological confusion and a social acceptance that is very far away. It is admittedly a difficult one to really grasp, because a cis* person like me might really struggle to understand what “makes” some one think that way (of course, nothing makes someone think that way...). 

For example, asking many people who are not LGBT to try to grasp the concepts of what it means to be LGBT is almost impossible, which makes sense really - it'd be like asking someone who had been blind since birth to imagine what sight was like. As an interesting thought experiment, why not ask someone who identifies as straight when did they decided to be straight? It is a clever way re-framing the concept of “being" gay to someone who might not fully grasp it, or believes people "become" or "chose" to be gay.

The idea that transgender and pansexuality exists is one I can see slowly creeping in over the next 10 to 20 years – though I have no expert analysis of this, of course. I am just writing this from a keen observer on the outside with a stakeholder of a child about to come into this world. Make no mistake, the recent commentsabout the Dr. V story (a dreadful story mishandled) and the events on CNN withPeirs Morgan and Janet Mock, (sorry for the double Gawker link, Google is failing me) a wonderful, powerful women in the battle for understanding on trans issues, and a really impressive interview for showing the ignorance and sensationalism of the transgender issues that many deal with on a day to day basis.

Of course, I am a cis-male. I am straight. I am steeped in privileged, and many can argue I have a limited input into the discussion – and I would agree with you. A recent post online showed me interesting thoughts on men and their effect on feminism, and how despite their best intentions, can really make mistakes without realising it, and I am sure I have done so here. But I am open to education because I want my child to grow up understanding and not being afraid of the world that they will help to create, and the world that I am giving to them.

So yeah, I am going to be dad. Existential crisis Part 1.


*Okay, so “cisgender” is a definition that will be new to many; it is one where the gender that you were born with is the one you identify with, like me – I was born as a man and I identify as a man. Don’t think that needs a definition? Then you’re part of the problem.

PS: Google Chrome's spell check keeps telling me "transgender" is misspelled. :/

Blocked

In January (or this week if you're on BT) the widely derided "porn block" that the government are shilling will come into force. If you don't know, it's basically a opt-out system of blocking of pornography at an ISP level enacted by the government that the main ISPs have all signed up for.

What this means is that you're going to get it no matter if you want it or not. And if you want to be able to access porn you'll have to sign up for it - opt out of the block. And, at a principle level this is fair enough right? Block access to material not suitable for under 18s at the source, makes sense - I mean we do it for movies, TV, games and print pornography, right?

Well... absolutely not. There are many things wrong with this, and we'll start at the top.

1) This is Censorship
Of course, certain censorship is fine. I don't mind certain art, like films or computer games being censored, and think that it is key to keeping a powerful art community when protecting those from harmful images or powerful material. For example, I am sure no one is against the idea of keeping something like Last Tango in Paris a film that minors can't see.

However, what this block does is stop consenting adults above the age of consent from watching what they want. Pornography is not illegal (certain types are, of course) and watching porn isn't either, but blocking it wholesale and having to opt in to have it unblocked is a strange way of dealing with it. I am old enough to direct, film, write and even star in a pornographic film, but then I go home and I have to tell a company I want to watch it? That's pretty odd.

2) It Removes the Responsibility from the Responsible
This is something I've actually moaned at length about before, but it's something that this is at the core of - children shouldn't be seeing porn online. However, blocking it for everyone is not the solution. The key here is that the parents of those who are under age should not be allowing their children to see those things, and those responsible need to step up.

There are hundreds of tools allowing you to block sites even without antivirus software. If I wanted to I could easily go into my router and block access to sites for anything using my router. I know how to because in the future I will have to. I see kids playing 18+ games at the age of 12 and wonder what is going on - my parents used to pre-screen London's Burning for me when I was aged 8 for goodness sake, and all that was was fire!

By taking the responsibility away from parents you are excusing them from getting educated, and then you're also removing it from those you're are protecting. It's similar to banning sex instead of educating about safe sex, and we all know abstinence doesn't work.

3) Why Porn?
Ok, say you don't mind the idea of the government blocking porn, why stop there? Or why just porn? Why not other things that actually do harm to the country, like smoking? Or Drinking? Or... driving? People die when they drive badly.

This is the weakest point, but it's one to consider - why porn? Well, because it carries a stigma - an easy target. And I have watched porn many times in my life and I don't care who knows it. It's a normal thing to do as an adult (see Nuts, Zoo, or Playboy's sales figures). It's just a tiny bit taboo amongst a certain group of people that the government are pandering to.

4) Do You Want to Be On That List?
I am going to opt out of the system because... well, for these reasons. And for number 5 below too. But that surely means that I am suddenly on a list somewhere. I mean, Virgin Media (an amusingly apt name) will have to track everyone who says to opt out, and then my name is on a list of people who "want to watch porn".

As we know, lists don't stay hidden. I would imagine people don't want to be on a list that is possibly accessible by anyone (Virgin Media or not) that says they're into porn, right? I can imagine politicians, media personalities, church goers etc don't want to be on the list, and thusly are blocked because of fear. That's an insane jump for our government.

I already know that Virgin have a list of where I go. That's fine, I have reconciled with that. As long as I don't do anything illegal... why should I have to ask again?

5) It's Using Bad Tech
Imagine it could work, that you could block porn. That'd be great! Then it might work perfectly. But here's the thing.

It won't.

Why do I know this? Well my phone has a block on "18+" sites when on 3G that I've never bothered to unlock (see number 7) and it blocks nonsense. Stuff that isn't even 18+ by their own definition. This is because automatic filters don't work. No technology will be perfect. In fact, by the definition of the system that the government are rolling out sites about sexuality and sex education will be blocked - blocking information for the most vulnerable of our children and teenagers (and adults, why not), who need access to this information, is borderline insane.

So yeah, the tech won't work. It can't. Because...

6) What is Porn Anyway?
What is porn? Tits? A flash of cock? An ejaculation? Well, if I can't decide (and society can't) then how is an automatic filter supposed to? I see sites like Wikipedia with their informative descriptions and pictures being blocked because of language and photos of naked bodies. Nudity is not porn. In fact, that'd mean many publications that the Conservatives endorse would be in deep shit, like The Sun. So here's the big problem - porn isn't a thing.

It's not a thing you can block because it doesn't exist as a steady thing - you could block the word "five" easily enough, because any time it comes up you can block it. Porn is a spectrum, and especially in the form that the filter will take, from nude art to illegal rape-porn.

Where is the line drawn then? Well, that's the thing - if I am in charge of my internet when I have kids I'd block it to a point. I'd block what I want to block. But it'd be me, working at it. I can't just block everything that might be porn, so why should the government?

7) I Can't Be Bothered to Change It
See number 5 - I've had a porn block on my phone since I got it in 2007. It works over 3G only, of course, but it requires a credit card to authorise, me spending £1 and them crediting it back to my account. I have never done this because it's an arse ache! Loads more won't bother to do it for their service either.

8) Who Cares Anyway?
And finally, who cares in the end, right? It's just porn! But that's the problem - here you are blocking a type of expression. No, come back, let me explain! Porn in certain circumstances (some would argue in all circumstances) is a form of art - admittedly, low art (in my opinion), but some films have money and time spent on them. And... are not real. Fictional events. So there's an odd leap for the government - suddenly you're blocking fiction. That's a very hair-raising idea, the concept of blocking something that doesn't even exist and isn't true.

The fact that there is a filter at all should alarm some people - imagine it was suddenly blocking certain websites for political reasons? The Internet is the great democratic enabler and has the power to change everything in the world for the better or worse. But if you don't allow the bad stuff, the good stuff won't be able to grow either, because what is "good" and "evil" when nothing you're blocking is necessarily illegal?

The whole thing is a farce. It's petty, bullshit, disgusting and pandering. It's a government playing directly to those who don't understand, don't grasp the enormity, and don't appreciate the implications. The same folk who complain about "nanny-state" and "political correctness" as things (which they are both not) are being played by the government as idiots and they are lapping it up. It enrages me that trans or gay children might not get to read about their options because some old twat without any understanding of how information frees people has decided that you can't see some tits on the internet.

And the worst part? I have no representation in government against it. All the parties support it. This is why politics in the UK is so terribly terribly rubbish.

A petition, if you think that'll do anything, is found here.

The Justice System

You don't have to go that far back into my musical history to discover that I used to like Lostprophets. I listened to them a lot back in 2001 and 2002, even going so far as to brag about owning a first-edition before the major label re-record version of their debut album thefakesoundofprogress. For what it is worth, that album is still a very good record for it's time, inventive and sparky. 

Now, however, it is invariably tainted by what is probably the worst child abuse case to make the headlines in recent times. I even mentioned them with glee in a post back in 2007 (a post with a few odd jokes that now seem rather unsavoury).

I am absolutely shocked and beyond appalled at his crimes. As an old fan it belies belief that this is what happened to that band and the lead singer, one I would have happily said were my favourite band of a time (a long time ago mind you). And their first two albums did get occasional spins on Nostalgia trips (they have 219 plays on my Last.fm profile, for example, which is more than some artists I would consider to be my favourites at the moment).

I have seen a lot of correspondence online under articles (I know, don't go below the line), on Twitter and Facebook (seeking it out, mind you) that was mixed up, misplaced and disoriented. It has seen various "innocent" campaigns that were quite ludicrous looking back to the vilification of "he deserves to die" schools of thought, which brings me onto my point.

A discussion with a friend a few months back brought up something that I'd not considered regarding crime and their resulting sentence - is that the punishment, or is it something else? Do people go to jail to be punished or are they sent there to either be changed or rehabilitated, or for societies own protection?

The reason that this came up was the spotlight shone on the Norwegian prison system in the aftermath of the sentencing of Anders Brevik. At a prison in Norway, prisoners are "treated like people" - and these are rapists, murderers and the worst sort. Bastoy Prison island is somewhere the cells are fashioned with TVs, computers, en-suite showers, sanitation in cells that are not cells, but actually small hotels rooms, situated in clusters of a few rather than the rows and rows of cells that we have in the UK. The prisoners are put through college and university education, with real life skills training and the simple idea that even those in for the maximum 21 years shouldn't be dehumanised - the only thing that the prisoners don't have is their freedom.

My friend was appalled at this - he was adamant that those in jail should face hard time - implying that the current UK system of segregation, poor living standards, and the lack of luxuries should be kept because it is the punishment. I entirely disagree - the prison population in Norway is proportionally a lot less that the UK, but the most stark comparison is the reoffending rate - from the article "in 2007, 14 prisons in England and Wales had re-convictions rates of more than 70%" where as in Norway the rate is "...less than 30%, the lowest reoffending figures in Europe and less than half the rate in the UK".

Of course, we can't directly compare. We have vastly different cultures. But I think it is a good point to be made about the respect that we show the prisoners who our society has let down, where they have either decided to, been forced to, or chose crime that it is then that same society that deals them an even worse hand when in prison, and then they have to live a life without it afterwards. It just seems to me an absolutely absurd idea that people should be able to come out of the prison system and be expected to just survive without the support that the Norwegian system gives them.

To further qualify my post I am not talking about sentences or guidelines on who to jail and how - just that many people see prison as the punishment that fits the crime, but it's not in my eyes. The loss of freedom to do what you want and whenever you want is the punishment, and if those who are incarcerated are there anyway, we might do better to treat them with respect and help them out. It just feels like good practise.

Trying to tell that to someone who has been personally affected by a crime would be hard though, of course. Which is the exact reason that vengeance isn't allowed in our justice system.

Respectful Language

Last night at Scouts I over heard a kid call something or someone "gay". I gave them a stern talking to, saying that I do not want to hear that kind of language at Scouts, and that they shouldn't be saying that anywhere. I have noticed a serious issue with language at Scouts, and I can confirm that it's not because I am "older" in that sense - I was a Scouter for six years previously, but since coming back this April I have noticed that the language of the Scouts is a lot worse than it was when I was a Scout and when I had previously been a leader.

Of course this is quite specialist knowledge and not many of you readers will actually have any experience with Scout troops, so I will generalise and say that it's actually less about the swearing or the actual words used, but it is actually a deeper sense of the lack of respect it shows. What I mean to say is that the fact that they do swear and curse and use certain words shows that firstly they don't care about what they are saying in the same way I did or who heard it - I can genuinely remember the first time a Scout leader swore, and it was used perfectly for effect. I remember too the first time a teacher swore - before that, yes swearing at School and Scouts was common, but I'd never do it within possible ear shot of a teacher or leader. On any given night I can hear more racial and homophobic epithets without even trying than I might have done in a month or more a few years ago.

Which leads me into my second point - their lack of respect for their elders. Now, I am not "old" (I keep telling myself that) but then I realise that these kids, the youngest in my troop, were born after September the 11th, some in 2003. Which means that there are children that have started Beavers (or will this year) that are younger this this very blog that I write on. That is mental. So, I am 28 years old and probably to them look impossibly old (I think back to my thoughts when a 10 year old first year Scout and how old the leaders felt then, yet they were actually in their early 20s).

I know this is going to come across as "goddang those youngsters these days" and sure, I am a full generation away from them (for example, I have no mutual cultural references to these kids whatsoever) but I also know where they come from, the towns that they grew up in and the schools that they go to (in some cases intimately) and it's crazy to think that they are from the same place I was. Where have they been taught or maybe more importantly not taught that this is not acceptable? Is Scouts the only place that they are told off for this kind of thing?

If that is the case then that is fine. I've repeated many times to anyone who will listen that Scouts made me who I am today, for better or worse, and gave me some of my closest friends. I learned a lot about respect from the Association, and it's the reason I am back being involved with the troop today - because I feel that I can give to some kids the advantage I had. Of course, telling the Scouts that is a one way ticket to them not caring...

I guess I am just disappointed to hear the words "gay" or "jew" used in a pejorative way. In my adult life I've only came across a few people who say those things that are so disrespectful and I have let them know that I feel that way and that they offend me, and most have reasoned with me respectfully back (thought not all). I don't expect a Scout to reason with me or truly understand (I mean, I used to use the word "gay" back then, something I deeply regret now) but that doesn't  mean I can't be tough.

And there's always something that needs cleaning at the end of a night.

Reasons Why I Have Started to Buy Vinyl (and Other Musings)


In 2008 I decided that I would buy a record that I loved, and it was Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F#A#∞, an experimental album of post-rock and field recordings. Why did I chose that album? Well, it was at the time my favourite album, and still ranks highly up there as one of my favourite albums to play, but also it came with a comprehensive package – not just the actual record it’s self, but a range of post cards, notes, different photographs, and other bits and pieces that added to the whole concept behind the album. It was the first time I admitted to myself that music and the actual object that I owned was an important distinction. I am old enough to have grown up actually buying music – I spent weekly £10 on albums in Fopp during my late teens, and have an extensive (but poorly maintained) CD collection at my parents that at some point I will obtain, catalogue, and purge.

Buying vinyl seems like a polarising thing to do now a days. It’s seen as the source of much derision – many people marking it as the final moment where the music industry becomes self parody. The advent of streaming sites and MP3s killed the CD but in my eyes has reignited the vinyl and the sales figures suggest that exact thing. There are many multitudes of reason for hating this, and even more for thinking it is great. But my own personal reasons might be different to what many other people think or have said, and they might actually seem more pretentious than some – for I only very recently received a turntable on which to play my vinyl records on this past weekend.

You will immediately ask me why I was buying vinyl when I don’t own a player on which to spin them. It’s a very valid question – I mean, why the hell would someone buy MP3s if they didn’t have a MP3 player! It sounds mental, and I appreciate that. So here goes my attempt to explain it – I like owning something.

See, most of the music I listen to is on my Google Play Music account, or via Spotify, or via music I have downloaded and then synced to my phone. These methods of consumption have eroded what it means to own an album. Back in 2000 before Napster was something I really understood or had internet capable of downloading music my CDs were what I owned, and they were physical. I loved leafing through the inlay as I played it for the first time on my Walkman on the bus home (Christ, how nostalgic does that sound?). But now all my music is not consumed that way – so buying a CD is wasted, because I don’t use it beyond ripping it on to the computer.

It then makes more sense, to me, to have the vinyl. If it comes with a download code I’ll download the electronic stuff and then I have the large format artwork and the actual object of the record. It feels like I own something else, and it adds more to the experience.

I have no opinion on whether or not the vinyl sound is better – that is all down to the equipment used – but the romanticism of turning my phone off, closing the PC, and listening to music via the record player as an event rather than just something that is on in the background is a nice idea.

So yeah, this might not make sense to a lot of you reading this, but it’s my personal take on it. And I love getting the massive 12’’ packaging through. I bought the most recent Boards of Canada album on double LP and can’t wait to listen to it.