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I never did blog about Tim Hunt back when he was topical. And that’s not really going to change now.

I read quite a bit of what was written, though. In particular, I read this article. And I also read this article. They both say things worth hearing.

ETA: Possibly worth mentioning that this most recent blog break was due to being in Copenhagen for a long weekend. Copenhagen is very good and bits of it look like this.

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Utah has cut homelessness by 74% in eight years. The radical solution nobody else had thought of turns out to be: let people without homes live in the homes that nobody else is living in. Just let them go in and live there, in the homes. Then they stop being homeless.

Meanwhile in Hawaii, one elected Democrat opted for a stint of ostentatiously destroying homeless people’s property and harassing them while they slept. Normally you’d have your ass sued for something like that. Y’know, if the victims were real people.

Hawaii has the highest rates of homelessness in the country. Hawaii has not cuts its homelessness problem by 74% in eight years.

Utah’s given us some pretty great data on how to cost-effectively address this problem. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where actually fixing the problem is not everyone’s priority. It’s what everyone says they want, but in practice it often comes below “seeming to fix the problem” or “performing the kinds of actions that will reduce the chance of political opponents being able to hurl reputation-damaging epithets like ‘soft on crime’ at me”.

For instance: Tom Brower, of the above-mentioned sledge-hammer rampage, has demonstrated fuck-all interest in helping the people he represents. (Yes, that even includes the ones with nowhere to live, whether or not they voted for him or are capable of donating to his campaign. If you’re arrogant enough to want to hold political office, you don’t get to choose which people in your district are real people and which can be safely disregarded as trash.)

The only purpose this campaign of harassment served was an attempted PR boost. He obviously doesn’t take such a hands-on approach to the running of his district in all regards. He makes the higher-level decisions and delegates everyday things like garbage collection to professionals in that area. This was a cynical, attention-grabbing, vote-wangling, photo-op of a ploy. It’s cruel and hateful, and shows him to be the kind of bell-end who thinks that such dehumanisation will have mass appeal among his potential voters. His style of political strategising leads him to assume that, when folk see him kicking the least fortunate of his own constituents while they’re down, the majority will be inclined to give him even more power to run things and kick the scum even harder next time.

Tragically, he was right enough about this kind of stuff to have got voted into office at least once.

Bullying homeless people improves nothing for anybody, and it’s hard to imagine how even an asshole like Tom Brower could be dishonest enough with himself to believe that it would. But show me another approach which has reduced homelessness by 74% in eight years, and in which most of the homeless people in question are still alive at the end of it. If you can’t, let’s start giving people homes.

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A comedy skit about sex education, put together by a comedian and a small team of writers and researchers for a weekly half-hour comedy show, is way, way more informative, more helpful, more humane, and more truthful about sex, than what millions of American kids are being told by a national education system run by the government.

As much as this clip is great, it was preceded in the show by a horrifying summary of what passes for sex education in the States at the moment, including examples of what many school districts are currently showing to young people, which are virtually indistinguishable from that Mean Girls clip in terms of parodic levels of misinformation and scaremongering.

John Oliver continues to be one of the most important and worthwhile people on TV. I can’t think of anyone doing a better job of highlighting important and appalling things going on of genuine national importance and creating one of very few sources of investigative journalism actually worthy of the name.

Someone who’s pretty close though: David Wong on the Cracked podcast.

I’ve been pretty consistently impressed with that show for a while now, and with David Wong (aka Jason Pargin) in particular. For someone who describes himself as coming from a family with a big background in law enforcement and naturally inclined to lean toward supporting the police for that reason, I just listened to him talk for most of an hour-and-a-half episode, going into great detail and with statistical citations, on everything that is terrifyingly wrong with the US criminal justice system, and the kinds of things research has repeatedly proven it should be doing if it wanted to not be utterly abhorrent.

Okay, obviously I’m exaggerating a little there. He only had an hour and a half, he’d barely got started on how totally fucked up the system is. But it was a pretty damn impressive start.

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Nine Worlds happened again last weekend. We’re three for three so far, and already booking tickets for next year. I may share my detailed feedback for them here when I get around to putting that together, as it’s not been without its problems, but it still has a lot to recommend it over other similar conventions, and it’s still way better than it could be.

deadpoolSomething that’s been a bit of a common theme for me each year has been feeling a bit disappointed with myself in the aftermath, for not throwing myself into things with a bit more gusto. Y’know, socialising with strangers, and other such nightmare scenarios that I understand are popular at many gatherings of this kind.

It’s really not a forte of mine, spontaneously talking to unfamiliar people and “making friends”, even when they’re clearly there for similar reasons and can be assumed to share many interests with me.

(That’s me in the pic above/to the side, incidentally. I’m the one who genuinely didn’t know what those two were doing behind me and was just following instructions to do some jazz hands. They look like my friends, right?)

But if anyplace was going to be designed to make it easy for me, and provide a range of decent and interesting people who I’d have a good chance of getting along with and who are unlikely to be bewildered and alienated by the concept of an introvert, NineWorlds is fairly close to how it’d look. (TAM London wasn’t bad, and QED may be worth a shot someday.)

NineWorlds is the closest I’ve come to feeling like I’ve found “my people”, outside of being alone in an empty house with a couple of cats (and possibly my wife if I’m feeling especially gregarious).

And I’ve spent way too much time in my life hoping for that “finding my people” feeling, ever optimistic that it really may be about to happen. I’ve gone into many new situations, with some part of me daring to hope that maybe here, at last, I’d finally feel at home, and feel welcome, and not be anxious around my (technically) fellow humans. These people shared my academic interests, or my approach to science and religion, or my sci-fi fandoms, or something else that gave me hope that our interactions would be different, and my feelings of awkwardness would somehow melt away around this particular crowd.

Other people speak of having this exact experience when they click with the right in-group, whether that’s the first other gay people they’ve ever had the chance to meet, or whether it’s LARPers, or whoever. It didn’t seem an unreasonable hope in my case. But every time it’s left me feeling empty and disheartened, in proportion to how different I was expecting things to be.

I’ve not given up all hope that someday I’ll feel less perpetually self-conscious and overly self-critical and not just want to hide whenever I’m around people. But I’m no longer waiting for the right kind of “other people” to make it happen suddenly and all at once. If I make any progress in that direction, it’ll be through slow and steady increments of the kind I’ve been making over the past few years. A brief back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that, if trends continue, these gradual increments will render me a confident alpha-male just in time for mankind’s colonisation of Betelgeuse.

But aside from being an impractical expectation of the dynamics of social interaction (at least in my case), I’m also not sure whether finding “my people” is the worthiest goal.

I mean, if the people you meet in a gay bar or a goth club or NineWorlds are “your people”, then it follows that everyone else is necessarily not among your chosen extended kin. Now, for some folk there’s a real value in determining who isn’t part of the in-group who are known to be trustworthy, particularly if they’re accustomed to being shunned or hated or abused by others from the out-group. But however valuable a service or sanctuary the tribe might provide, there’s a danger that the same dehumanisation and contempt for “the other” might start going both ways.

I want everyone to be “my people”. That’s what humanism means to me. I’m never going to get along equally with everyone; there’ll always be folk I engage or connect with more readily, and they may share enough characteristics that they could be identified collectively as a tribe to some degree. But I’d rather avoid determining whether somebody new is to be trusted or feared, based on whether they appear to fall into some nebulously defined category. Without being too harsh on people who find that a useful heuristic, it seems worth avoiding if possible.

(Post-script: Actually I think the closest I’ve come to identifying “my people”, moreso than NineWorlds attendees, is “people on the internet who I can’t see or hear in real-time and who aren’t occupying the same physical space as me and who only communicate by text and gifs”. Those people are definitely special.)

(Oh, and double-post-script: I tumbl now, apparently, in the obvious place. Expect cross-postings but also new and original content as I become a master of cross-platform interactive brand management *punches self in face*)

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I haven’t live-tweeted a consciousness-stream of pseudo-philosophical bollocks from the bath in a while. But I did read this article while taking a soak yesterday, and although I kept my pseudo-philosophical bollocks to myself at the time, it irritated me enough to come back to.

Richard Dawkins is being sued for $58 million. The plaintiff claims to be “the only individual on earth in the history of man that has scientifically disproven Evolution”, and reckons that comments Dawkins made in 1989 were a clear and insulting reference to a book this guy published in 2013.

Furthermore, he wants Dawkins to publicly apologize and destroy “by fire or shredding” every publication that includes the statement. So every copy of a New York Times from 1989.

Which is obviously ludicrous, but that’s not even a slightly interesting observation. Creationism is ludicrous, but it’s not utterly incomprehensible. It’s not usually that hard to understand basically what’s going on in the head of someone who believes God created the universe not that long ago. They’re still living in the real world in various important ways, which this guy suing Richard Dawkins emphatically is not.

I mean, look at what he’s saying. Think about how far removed you’d have to be from reality as we know it, to embark on a lawsuit like this. The list of things you have to mistakenly believe – the mountain of basic ideas about how the world works you’d have to fail to understand – in order to act as though a sweeping generalisation made in 1989 was a personal attack on you and your book published in 2013, and that demanding all copies of a decades-old magazine be rounded up and eliminated is a form of redress that could ever possibly be either meaningful or productive – is more than I can get my head around.

This person’s relationship with reality, as far as I can tell, is beyond anything I can conceive of as part of the human experience. I’m not going to start making diagnoses of mental illness over the internet, but you can understand why I’d be tempted.

And this guy’s approach to the world is just as alien to creationists. He is not representative of anyone. He is not further evidence that those kooky god-botherers are all nuts. Most of the folk who agree with him entirely on the matter of evolutionary theory are totally on your side about what a bizarre way this is to try to sue somebody. You remember how your everyday creationists aren’t playing anything like the same game as this guy, right? Most Americans are creationists. Most Americans are not this guy. We’d notice if 60% of a global superpower was this off the page.

But what bugged the hell out of me about this story was something Dawkins’ lawyers said. Now obviously I have no legal qualifications or understanding of anything, and I’ve no idea about the specific details of this case. I’m entirely ignorant of the extent to which it’s important to frame an argument this way or how much they consulted with Dawkins over the precise wording of how they described his intentions. No doubt there are many good reasons that the highly paid experts in their field didn’t act quite how I would have done.

But here’s what Dawkins said in 1989 that’s caused this belated kerfuffle:

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

And here’s how these words have been explained by his legal defenders:

It is hyperbole meant to make a point. It does not rise to a level beyond what is decent and tolerable in a civilized society.

They deny elsewhere that he was stating a “fact”, and seem to explain his assertion in terms of rhetoric, as if he’d been obviously exaggerating just to make a stronger point.

But… isn’t it clear that Dawkins meant exactly what he said? The scientific conclusion about the obvious fact of evolution is clear, to the extent that anyone who claims to deny or reject it must be doing so through one of the obvious faults he lists.

This seems to hold up to me. To take his options in a different order, if someone doesn’t accept evolution…

…perhaps they’re evil, and lying about it for some nefarious purpose…

– they might be “insane” for some value of such, and simply be unable to build up a coherent picture of the universe which can contain even obvious truths, due to some badly faulty wiring…

– they might be stupid, which is no doubt the case for many folk who fail to grasp a relatively straightforward concept, or who have some obvious blocks or prejudices that stop them from getting it…

– or, maybe, they just don’t know what they’re talking about.

And that last one’s really the crux of this. “Ignorant” may sound like just an insult, and if you just bristle at it and don’t examine further, you may read Dawkins’s claim as amounting to “only dumb-asses don’t agree with me”. But if you understand it to be pointing out that people who reject evolution simply lack knowledge or understanding, which is all “ignorant” really means, doesn’t that accurately describe them pretty well? How many creationists have you seen convincingly pass an ideological Turing test, and demonstrate that they actually know what it is they’re sure they don’t believe in?

This isn’t to say that providing the information they lack will fix their ignorance – if only anything about human psychology were so straight-forward – but I genuinely think Dawkins had covered all the bases with his original statement, and that it should be read as a literal statement of fact. A statement of fact with room for clarification, certainly, about the use of “ignorant”, and how noting somebody’s lack of knowledge can be a sympathetic judgment, not a harsh and dismissive one. But absolutely a statement of fact.

Maybe there’s some legally useful value to claiming it as “hyperbole”, and to deny that a sizeable demographic were being labelled ignorant or stupid by Dawkins’s comments. Maybe a crucial legal point that will affect how quickly the case can be dismissed rides on it being read that way. But I think it misses a fundamental point about just how settled the science of evolution is. And it’s a real indictment of the state of free speech law, if a frivolous $58 million case can really depend on such an interpretation.

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Quoth Steampunk Emma Goldman:

You all know I am no fan of that “poor little State- and Church- begotten weed, marriage,” but I do love angry conservatives, and happy queer people, so today qualifies as a good one.

But as a general rule, if you want to find opinions I agree with, you are more likely to hear them voiced by someone shouting interruptions at a politician giving a speech than in a supreme court decision. Let’s keep fighting for all the LGBTQ folks whose problems aren’t solved by access to marriage.

I'm pretty much down with that. This week's marriage equality news from the US is a great sign that compassion and reason are both winning the battle at a rate of knots. It opens up opportunities for numerous families who've been waiting for acknowledgment, and bodes well for a near-future where same-sex relationships are sufficiently normalised that this isn't even a question any more.

But it's worth remembering that the government didn't itself achieve anything progressive or positive. All it did was finally got the fuck out of people's way, in this one area, once it became sufficiently politically expedient to do so. It deserves minimal credit for making a small step towards butting out of everyone's personal business, so late in the game. Love was already happening, people were already finding and creating beauty in their relationships with each other, no thanks to the government, which is just oppressing them a little less now.

A lot of prejudice and inequality is still universally pervasive, much of it built into the fabric of the state. The very fact that nine people making a 5-4 decision can have such a sweeping influence over the entire country is bizarre in itself. Ideally, there wouldn't be marriage equality because the Supreme Court declared it thus; there'd be marriage equality because what the fuck business is it of yours who we love and build our lives with, and who the hell's going to stop us?

So, you're still on notice, America. Don't start thinking you can distract us from the prison industrial complex, continuous indiscriminate killing and torture of innocent foreigners, systemic police brutality, the war on drugs, and the rest of the bullshit you’re still failing to deal with, just because you're suddenly throwing a hundred thousand or so totally fabulous parties.

Well, okay. Maybe for the rest of this weekend we’ll be distracted by the fabulous parties, and all the fabulous people who get to celebrate their love and feel more validated and accepted than they’ve been allowed to up until now. Have fun, fabulous people, and congratulations.

But then it’s back to work. There’s still a lot of shit to straighten out. Marriage equality’s a good start. Next stop: polyamory!

(Seriously, a lot of critical commentators have brought this up, as well as at least one of the dissenting Justices: if you let gay people get married, what’s to stop the same reasoning being applied to relationships with more than two people? These people are making an excellent point, entirely by accident.)

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Okay, so, if you’re going to mock Men’s Rights Activists with contempt and create Facebook pages devoted to taking the piss out of their ideas, you really have to try not to be the caricature they hate you for being.

I mean, you shouldn’t have to try very hard. But at least check once in a while. Those loons on the other side of the debate stop being so laughably wrong if you start turning into their ridiculous straw man.

Case in point: two people were recently arrested by police officers and ended up in court in front of a judge on a charge of “manspreading“. Which is that thing where a guy on a train sits with his legs unnecessarily wide apart taking up too much room. Arrested. Taken to court.

I don’t really want to bring this case up by talking about men’s rights and feminism. The abuse of authority by state agents grossly overreaching beyond any reasonable interpretation of criminal action is a far more relevant and important angle than the gendered aspect, and it was originally reported in the context of some unsettling data about numbers-driven policing. I should be putting on my anarchist hat for this one and leaving my feminist headwear on the rack.

But it was the feminist blogosphere that drew it to my attention in the first place, and the context of the way it’s been reported there doesn’t seem to go any further than “lol, men”. And this drives me crazy, not because I’m worried about being a member of the most oppressed demographic suffering at the hands of those evil feminists, but because that’s the standard dumb MRA narrative and you’re playing right into it.

The Internet provides a surfeit of wankers who claim misandry at any opportunity, no matter how ridiculous, and who absolutely do not need to be handed any more ammunition. “Feminists want me to be locked up just for sitting down in a way they don’t like” is exactly the kind of ludicrous, persecution-complex nonsense they’d have been saying months ago. And now there are sizeable feminist groups online who seem willing to abandon every other principle for the chance to score a point against those terrible MRAs – but are actually doing unprecedented work to vindicate their victimised worldview.

This isn’t about me shifting from one side toward the other in some notional “feminism vs. MRA” battle. The Men’s Rights Movement has very little to do with men’s rights and is far more interested in misogyny and disparaging feminism at any opportunity. And the people I know who’ve been most effective in actually supporting men’s rights have been strongly-identified feminists, for whom understanding and combating the way men are systematically harmed and demeaned by sexist assumptions and prejudice is an integral part of that philosophy.

But that just makes it all the more important that feminists take stories like “arrested for manspreading” seriously as an issue of government intrusion, and don’t laughingly support the same kind of coercive state power they’ve objected to before, now that they’re finally not the ones getting screwed over for once.

Otherwise what happens is: MRAs see women cheering while men are arrested for a seemingly trivial offense; they post their own pictures of women similarly guilty of taking up unnecessary space; they get mocked and accused of being creepy for taking pictures of women on public transport; they note the disparity in the way the genders are treated and conclude yet another case of sexism against men; the “evil man-hating feminists” narrative is reinforced; and this time they haven’t even had to distort reality to do it.

I’m a feminist because we’re supposed to be better than this.


Two posts in a row about standing up for people I disagree with, because ideological consistency is more important than maintaining tribal bounds. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go for the hat-trick and write about my soft spot for Peter Hitchens.

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Hey, it’s Friday night, the weekend is here, and it’s time to paaaaaar-tay, if by paaaaaar-tay you mean find myself largely agreeing with a Christian voice article.

Seriously, I think their objections to the conviction of a street preacher for “delivering homophobic sermons” last year are basically spot on. And while this guy doesn’t sound like someone I’d generally find myself siding with, having the government take action to curtail your free speech in what seems like a pretty clear-cut case of unjust state censorship is the kind of thing that can quickly bring me on board as your ally.

I’m not going to join Stephen Green in praying that the judge in this case will repent and find Jesus, but I am going to keep looking out for chances to defend my principles at the expense of my personal biases. Threatening someone with jail time for speaking his mind in public should feel no less palatable just because I disagree with his message.

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I tweeted something of a stream of consciousness the other day, about the recent vote on same-sex marriage in Ireland, and in particular against the response to those who vainly railed against it.

I managed to Storify it over here, and I’m re-creating it below as well, because apparently I’m some sort of multi-platform SEO-conscious content-guru now. Ha. Oh god I hope I’m joking.


Finally watched the video the #VoteNo campaign seemed to think was their trump card, and I’m glad I did.

It’s still quite wrong, and #VoteYes was undoubtedly a triumph for compassion and equality and basic good sense.

But there’s more of a case to argue against than blunt, nuanceless, medieval homophobia fuelled by nothing but hateful bigotry.

Anything that reminds me that my ideological opponents didn’t all just wake up and decide to be evil anti-humanists is worth looking at.

It’s a much more feeble victory to be right about #VoteYes if we can’t sincerely and compassionately consider the arguments against.

Which doesn’t mean agreeing with anything they say or accepting that they have a point. They don’t! They’re still wrong!

But I spent too long doing that instinctive flinch thing against the whole #VoteNo tribe and made their wrongness their defining trait.

You do your own philosophy a disservice if you only let it be challenged by the weakest caricatures of the other side.

There can be nuance and intelligence to what your enemy is saying – and maybe even truth, if you try hard enough to understand them.

It’s a rare but vital skill to be able to do that, without flinching defensively against the feeling that your world(view) is under assault.

I still kinda suck at it. As ever, this is a note to self more than a lecture to others.

This has been “I should figure out how Storify works for this kind of thing. And hey, didn’t I used to have a blog?” with me, @writerJames.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled radio silence while I read Neal Stephenson books on my kindle in the bath.

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Christ, it’s been ages since I last posted about how it’s been ages since I last posted here.

I guess I’ve been too distracted with BUYING A HOUSE and then LIVING IN THAT HOUSE and hiring people to PLASTER AND PAINT THE WALLS OF THAT HOUSE and then waiting for different people to FILL MY HOUSE WITH AWESOME NON-MANKY CARPETS, and I just haven’t had time to think about this place, and also I can’t really set up my computer properly because everything’s been getting repainted and recarpeted and so most of our stuff is still shoved out of the way in the cellar.

The point is holy crap I actually have somewhere to live and it’s starting to look gorgeous and it’s nearly done and after well over a year of being stuck in a weird transition limbo I almost get to just be at home again.

I have been properly twitching for some kind of creative output lately and I really hope this site’s going to be part of it again. My hobbies once my life resumes will include writing, blogging, playing the piano, travelling the world just a little more adventurously than I’m entirely comfortable with, and paying off alllllllll the debt.

Betting is now open on whether the next thing to appear here will be just a regular post about whatever this blog is supposed to be about, rather than another personal update promising regular content soon.

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