Friday, 23 December 2011

Wherever We Find Love

Christmas, as we know it, has a couple of origins.  Firstly, celebrating the birth of Christ, which does not apply to me because I'm an atheist.  Secondly, the fact that farming communities traditionally slaughter spare animals and feast upon them in the middle of winter, rather than feed them and care for them over that time.  Again, not something I wish to celebrate.  Thirdly, of course, there is the media.  Shops telling you what you need to buy to have the perfect Christmas, TV chefs telling you how to cook the perfect Christmas roast, etc.

There's nothing special about December 25th, really.  There's nothing magical or mystical about it.

So, I've decided to use it as a reminder.  A reminder to show goodwill to all people, that's a good one.  A reminder to spend time with the people I love.  An occasion on which to exchange tokens of affection.  A time to feel especially good about the world, and corny, and sentimental, and nostalgic.

Of course, all of those things can be done year round, and, to some extent, should be.  But it's useful to use this one day, a day the rest of the world helpfully reminds me about every year, to remember to pay attention to these things particularly.  It's the things you can do any time that tend to get left for last, after all.

This year, I won't have a traditional Christmas.  I won't be having a vegan roast on Christmas Day, or opening my presents.  I won't be with my family.  I won't even be at home.

Tomorrow, I leave for London, in order to start my first of five shifts in a Crisis Centre.  That's where I'll be on Christmas Day.  After that, I'll spend two weeks visiting my best friends, and I'll be singing this the whole time.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Krav Vegan's January Tour

My plans for Christmas are as follows; to visit friends all over the UK, and to treat each of them to lunch in a different vegan cafe along the way.  And then review them.

My short-list, in intended order of visit, is as follows;

Fun!  222 have very generously let me order off the menu, rather than from the buffet, as I asked in advance, and mentioned how much I wanted to try the vegan chocolate gateau (vegan chocolate gateau!).

On Friday, I'll be getting on the Megabus to London, and starting my first shift at a Crisis at Christmas Centre.  I'm doing five shifts, between the 24th-28th.  A friend of mine is also volunteering, at a different shelter, so we'll be meeting up at 222.

I'm looking forward to it, more than I was to Christmas last year, even though that was awesome and spent in Aberdeen with one of my best friends.  It just seems like it will be a really enjoyable experience.

I also made up a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, an endeavour to send presents to children who probably won't get anything else for Christmas.  On their facebook page, you can see that they've already started distributing some of the shoeboxes.  I'm really looking forward to finding out where mine ends up.  I donated £2.50 to get a scannable barcode, just so I'll find out.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Second Black Mirror Rant

I feel like I'm missing something.  Like I'm not part of this group, this group that sees a valid point in 15 Million Merits, the second episode of Black Mirror.  Maybe I'm just part of the ignorant masses.  Or, maybe not, since I make a point of avoiding X-Factor and similar programs.  Perhaps that earns me some street cred.

AlarumAlarumAlarum Spoiler Warning for 15 Million Merits.  Spoilers be here.  If you don't want to be spoiled, scroll up and click the linky or the little x.  AlarumAlarumAlarum.

15 Million Merits describes a more claustrophobic version of the world portrayed in Ben Elton's Blind Faith. The main character, Bing,lives in a tiny room, surrounded by screens.  Every time he looks at them, they show him something.  Adverts pop up periodically, and he must either sit through them, or pay to skip them.  If he averts his eyes, the image moves with him.  If he covers his eyes or otherwise blocks his vision, the screen pauses the advert and blasts an alarm at him until he looks at it.

The currency in this world is merits, which is earned by time spent cycling on static bicycles.  It is implied that the cycling creates the electricity used in this world.  When someone becomes too fat to cycle, they are downgraded to cleaning staff.

Most people spend their money on the little avatars which represent themselves onscreen, buying them accessories.  15,000,000 Merits can buy you a ticket to appear on Hot Shots, an X-Factor rip-off.  So this episode is a mash-up of Blind Faith and Chart Throb, then.

Let me say, right now, that I am not a fan of X-Factor and similar programs.  They use a number of techniques (which Brooker himself partially illustrates in this excellent video) in order to tell a story, normally one which has been drafted out far earlier than the average viewer might expect.  Chart Throb, which is one of my favourite books (as you can see in my shiny GoodReads sidebar!) describes the process of these kinds of "reality" tv talent shows in more depth.  There's a lot to be said, from the way that people are encouraged to describe themselves in certain ways, which are used to hang them with later, to the specific way that the vote is controlled by editing characters from week to week.  The program is cruel, which is why I refuse to watch it.

None of this was really dealt with in 15 Million Merits, which I found disappointing.  There is a brief moment where a character is ordered to make a specific sound-bite, but this is done with so little subtlety that you don't really make the connection that this is what happens in reality, that people are badgered, flattered, and cajoled into saying specific sentences for reality TV sound-bites. 

Bing, the aforementioned main character of the show hears a girl singing in the toilets.  He thinks her voice is beautiful.  Actually, it's mediocre, which may be a subtlety made point; X-Factor has never, ever, been about talent, and it's probable that Bing can only tell the difference between 'awful' and 'passable', if that show is all he's ever known.  It's also likely that her looks affected his opinion, as they do for later characters.

So, Bing buys this girl, Abi, a ticket to appear on the show (he inherited the merits from his brother, but couldn't find "anything real" to spend them on).  When she gets on stage, she is told, bluntly, that her voice is okay, but no one wants singers; they want her to appear in pornography, as one of Wraith's Girls, Wraith being one of the judges.

There's a bit of theme-naming with the judges, incidentally.  Wraith, Charity, and Hope.  Wraith is essentially a modern Hugh Hefner, without the latters boyish charm, and "good-clean-fun" ideals.  He and the other judges discuss Abi's body in explicit detail, and treat her as a piece of meat.  She is told not to worry about the shame - she'll be drugged out of her mind.  Already drugged before going on stage, Abi agrees.  Later, Bing is forced to watch an advert of her new program, as he no longer has the merits to skip it.

This drives him to earn another 15 million merits, appear on the show himself, and use a piece of glass to threaten to kill himself on stage if they don't let him rant.  Since he has inherited the idiot ball from last week's show, he hasn't actually planned what to say, and rants almost incoherently about the total lack of reality.  He does make a good point, within the norms of this world.

The judges then offer him a biweekly half hour slot in which to rant.  Bing accepts, and spends the rest of his life in a slightly bigger screen cage, as another part of the media landscape.

The problem I have with this episode is that it's simply too far removed from reality.  In Blind Faith, which portrayed a similar, through less technologically advanced, society, Ben Elton specifically explained events which had formed this society.  He'd taken our world, tweaked it satirically just a little, then let it run, creating the world in which his story takes place.  It seemed plausible.  It seemed like it was populated with people who could exist.

This doesn't.  The difference is that the writers, Charlie Brooker and Konnie Huq, have given it too much.  It's too extreme.  Too out there.  So, it loses value as any kind of morality tale because it simply doesn't apply.

This world is nowhere near as homogeneous as their world.  The way our technology is going is to cut us off from each other, though we still have time to change it.  More and more sites are using filters to show us the things we're already interested in, locking us in a prison of our own opinions.  Again, this is not extreme at present, and plenty of sites don't do this - compare facebook and twitter, for instance.  Facebook edits your newsfeed to things it thinks you want to see, based on previous actions (including clicking a 'like' button - how about getting an 'important' button on there as well, as Eli Pariser suggests in The Filter Bubble?).

In contrast to this, everything we see in Bing's world is samey.  Not just for him - for everyone around him.  There are clearly disagreements and different personality types, but everyone is shown and accepts the same content, with minimal personalisation, considering the level of technology shown.

My point is, I guess, that we are not all the same.  We're not a mass of ignorant X-Factor lovers who blindly follow the media gods, and nor do we all agree that a tribe of those people will someday take over and put us in screen cages.  This program isn't making a real point - it's making an exaggeration of a point with occasional real bits put in.  The objectification  of women, for instance, was dealt with well, and subtly enough to make people really think, and, hopefully connect with their own lives.  The idea that greater technology will lock us all indoors forever isn't real.  It's too removed.  It's too fictitious to have the impact that I think Brooker and Huq were going for.

That said, there is a layer of meta-reality going on.  Konnie Huq presented Xtra Factor, and this show was produced by a subsidiary of Endemol, the producers of Big Brother.

Just to add; if anyone feels like asking 'why do you watch it if you hate it so much?' please notice that I have not expressed hatred.  Even if I had, my blog, my time, my decision.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Monogamy Agreement

This post was inspired by two things; firstly, this post on Polyamory that Alicorn wrote in the Less Wrong community, and, secondly, a recent episode of the Big Bang Theory in which (spoiler alert) one character wrote up a relationship agreement for another to sign.

I hope you will read the above post, but I'm going to recap it anyway; the part we are most concerned with is the fact that the author, Alicorn, on deciding to enter a polygamous relationship, wrote a list of exactly what that would entail.  She began by writing down what was essential - to her - from a monogamous relationship, and seeing if those things could be met in a polyamorous one (spoiler - they could).

The thing that struck me was the fact that no one does this (except someone in the Big Bang Theory) for monogamy.  Because monogamy is the socially acceptable and normative relationship model for, I presume, the majority of people reading, we just assume that it means the same thing to everyone.  That everyone - specifically, all potential and actual partners - use the same, or very similar, models for monogamy.  We don't discuss what we expect from a relationship, we just assume we're on the same page.

(Or, at least, I assume this is the case.  Anyone who does have in depth discussions about new monogamous relationships, holler at me down in the comments).

For the sake of interest, I'm going to make a quick list regarding my current relationship, and what my ideal model of monogamy looks like.  Unless otherwise specified, all points apply to both parties, although, by necessity, the list is from my point of view.

  • I want to be the only romantic priority, and I want this to be symmetrical.
  • I want a don't ask, don't tell policy on minor flirting.  This is partly because I enjoy verbal confirmation of my attractiveness, and, if this is all expected to come from one person, it tends to create a huge strain on my relationship.  I also don't want to have to very carefully monitor all conversations with male friends.  However, anything beyond a certain limit will be considered adultery (I have yet to determine where that limit is, or how exactly it should be determined.  This is something Anthony and I should discuss).
  • Both parties acknowledge that each other has integrity.  Feeling jealous and acknowledging that is natural, and those feelings should be considered.  However, trust, and not being insane and controlling, is also important.
  • I want to have friends of the opposite gender - including one specific friend, who is an ex - and for this not to be a source of constant whining, jealousy, or emotional blackmail/abuse.  In this specific case, Anthony also has a friend whom he once had strong feelings for, and I, for my part, try not to be crazy about it.
  • Adultery consists of; dating another person, romantic physical contact (intentions are important, here), and romantic relationships with other people even if they don't move beyond the verbal.  Kissing counts.Adultery, as defined above, will result in an immediate end to the relationship.  Hiding these actions will be the worst thing you could do to me.
  • The flaw here is, of course, that my partner therefore has no incentive to ever tell me, since there is no chance of working it out.  This is where trust comes into it.
  • We both acknowledge and avoid the possibility of inter-relationship sexual abuse.  ie; yes, it is possible to rape your long-term partner, and no, that will not be happening.
  • We don't share every hobby.  I like, for instance, reading a book or knitting while Anthony watches football.  I don't want to have to sit and watch every second of the game, he doesn't have to read every book I own.  However, there should also be a mutual respect for one another's hobbies.  (I was once in a relationship with someone whose pattern for monogamy included doing everything together.  This often meant that his hobbies superseded mine, or, at least, that he felt like they should.  Trivia - he's also the reason for the "I'm-allowed-male-friends clause"!)
  • Like Alicorn, I also want to marry and reproduce exclusively.  Again, this is not on the cards for me at the moment.
  • Again, like Alicorn, I want to be able to secure attention on demand.
  • I try to avoid preparing food which is not vegan.  I have no problem with dating an omnivore, and I will cook for him (I'm cissexual), but it will be vegan food.  Open-mindedness is a necessity (but not the kind of open-mindedness where you go on and on about how open-minded and allowing you're being).
  • I am not your parent.  I do not want to organise everything.  If we attend an event together, I do not expect to have to tell you how to dress, constantly remind you of when we need to leave, or what time to be ready, or to carry snacks/water.  That said, both parties should be sensible regarding information; for instance, if we're going to an event I chose, then I will know when it starts, and how to get there, assuming it's in Birmingham, and will use this information to ensure a fun trip for both of us.  Likewise, for events in Liverpool, or that Anthony decides to attend, he will have more information than I do.
  • I don't want to do the majority of the cooking, or be expected to do the majority of the cooking.  Since I have particular dietary needs, I will do half.

The above is just a quick draft, and, obviously, there are some bugs to hammer out.   I really want to know; how do these ideas differ from what you'd put on your agreement?  Any specific clauses you wouldn't wish to include?  Anything I've missed?  Let me know!

    Tuesday, 6 December 2011

    Fucking a Pig: Black Mirror

    I recently watched the first episode of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror the other day, entitled National Anthem. The series will consist of three shows, ostensibly unconnected, but with similar themes. It has been likened to The Twilight Zone.

    After this point, I will freely discuss the events of The National Anthem, and will not warn for individual spoilers. This is your only spoiler warning.  If you want to watch the show first, go up a bit and click on the linky.  

    This is not a daffodil.

    National Anthem begins with a Princess, loosely based on Kate Middleton/Beatrice, being kidnapped. The ransom demand, made via youtube, is for the Prime Minister to fornicate with a pig on live television, approximately twelve hours later, else the Princess will be executed.

    I will say that I was honestly expecting the demand to be that the Prime Minister shoot himself in the head. Therefore, sex with a pig did seem like a slightly preferable option.

    Don't get me wrong here; this was sexual abuse, for both creatures involved. I would not hesitate to call it rape, for both parties. The pig, who has the intelligence of a three-year-old child has no way to give consent, of course. I don't even want to dwell on the physiological differences (namely, size) between a human male and a pig, and the discomfort this must have caused.

    Then there is the PM, who is forced to commit a sexual act, to be broadcast live on all networks, to completion. The show does make the horror of this clear, when the program reaches that point.

    A major focus of the show is on how the internet culture plays into the event. The video is first uploaded to youtube, and although the PM's office removes it as soon as possible, it is quickly copied and re-uploaded. It is impossible to contain.

    The PM's office then tries to use a super-injuction, which the media goes along with voluntarily. However, Twitter, as we already know, isn't bothered by super-injunctions, and as the rest of the world starts playing the story, UK networks rapidly follow.

    At first, many of the British public treat the event as a joke. However, as the PM goes through with it, their reaction rapidly turns to horror, not at the PM, but at the events.

    A few things annoyed me, within the show. Firstly, the idiot who saw a porn actor being sneaked in, took a picture, and uploaded it to Twitter, tipping off the kidnapper to the PM's attempted subterfuge. Why do that? That's like taking a picture of Prince Harry heading to wherever he's serving and inviting someone to drop a bomb on him. I have no objection to anyone discussing events like that, but an ounce of sense would tell you that some things should be kept secret - unless you want to be responsible for someone's finger being sliced off.

    Several other characters are holding the idiot ball, too. Take the news reporter who sneaks into the place where they believe the kidnapper is holding the princess. When she is discovered (by the police or army or whoever it was), she runs away, getting herself shot in the leg. Idiot.

    Then there's the PM's wife. "Oh no, poor me, my husband was forced to go through a traumatic event. I'm so disgusted! Poooooooooooooor meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

    What an awful person.

    Then there's the 'artist' himself, who was responsible for the kidnapping. In the end, he releases her half an hour before the show begins, then hangs himself. The princess is not found until after the PM has gone through with the event, as the streets of London are deserted. Later, a character says that he must have been trying to make a point.

    What point? That people would watch a broadcast like that? No shit. If that was the point, it's a stupid one. The princess was released in one tiny part of the world - what about all the people outside of London, who might have noticed her? What about the people who were in London, but weren't watching, and simply weren't outside, or in the right area, to notice her? What about the people who watched in a gesture of silent support and solidarity to the PM, as I might have attempted to, before feeling too ill and having to switch it off?

    Honestly, that artist sounds like the kind of teenage wanker who goes on about how the entire world are sheeple, etc, etc. Y'know, the pretentious everyone-else-is-so shallow! type.

    On another note; I wonder how the show would be different if the PM had been female? Firstly, that's unlikely; by this time, it seems like the election of Mrs Thatcher was more of a fluke than a great step forward in feminism, and the idea of a female PM seems laughable (in the sense that she wouldn't be elected, not in the sense that she couldn't do it). But if she were, what would the equivalent be? To allow herself to be raped by an animal? Would that be harder to watch? From a vegan perspective, you could argue that it's easier on the animal, even if he is no more able to give consent than the pig can. From a purely logistical perspective, it does seem like it would be easier to enter a member of a larger species than to be entered by one of them.

    However, from the perspective of a woman (a woman, not all women), I don't think it could have been any harder to watch than it was. Not all rapes are the same, but rape is still rape.

    Wednesday, 23 November 2011

    Werewolves, Vampires, Sexuality, and Menarche

    This post has been inspired by two things I'm currently reading.  Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Stories, collected by Pam Keesey, and Alicorn's re-imaging of Twilight, in which Bella is a rationalist thinker.

    I feel that I should mention, at this point, that I don't like Twilight.  I do love Alicorn's take on it.  Her take on Bella is fantastic, and someone I feel I can relate to, as a person and a feminist, far more than to Meyer's original.  I highly recommend checking it out, especially if reading Twilight made you feel dirty.

    Finally, this post was inspired by a thread on GoodReads, which began with the assumption that Jacob was the 'nice guy' who 'finished last', while Edward was the 'bad boy'.  I disagree, both with that idea and with the entire concept of nice guys, bad boys, and women preferring one over the other.  This is, at least in part, because every person I've ever seen whining about how nice they are, and how women don't appreciate them, has been a whiny selfish jerk, who thinks the world owes them something.  But, I digress.

    Daughters of Darkness (which I've yet to finish) has a very interesting introduction.  Keesey talks about how, before Bram Stoker's Dracula became the vampire story, stories of lesbian vampires were very common.  (Incidentally, I also highly recommend Angela Carter's The Lady of the House of Love, which as published in The Flying Sorcerers and The Bloody Chamber).

    In our society, as in most, if not all, others, the young female virgin is the ultimate symbol of sexual innocence.  She is rarely allowed control of her sexuality; she is a prize, to be taken.  She is someone who something is done to, not someone who does.  L. Sigel does an excellent job of describing this idea in her essay, which discusses reactions to her study of pornography.

    Before quoting a short extract from her essay, I should explain that the 'Bella' she refers to is not Bella Swan; rather, she is Bella of the Victorian erotica story, The Autobiography of a Flea, a character who is seduced by several characters, including her own uncle.

    As a woman who studies sexuality, I find myself understood as part of my work. My intellectual work gets positioned where it doesn't belong--on my body. The idea that women are so finely tuned sexual creature that the contagion of sexuality must be kept from them or they will be polluted remains central to our understanding of gender. As a woman I find myself continuously positioned as Bella or against Bella. I can either be deviant or I can be against deviance. I cannot just think about the process or the performance of deviance. The process by which I have been disciplined is voyeurism overlaid with threat, intimidation, and shame. Here are two examples of the process: When I was in London for a number of months doing my research I met an interesting man. I went out for coffee with him and told me he didn't want to get involved (with me) because he had a girlfriend in California. We agreed to that. We talked, went to a movie, and drank coffee. He propositioned me and I said "No." And I said "No". And I said "No." He told me that he only wanted to sleep with me because of my research. He thought I would be adventurous in bed. I had to say "no" a number of times because at some level, perhaps on the surface, perhaps unconsciously, he couldn't believe that I was unaccessible as a sexual partner. As a woman who studied sexuality, I was sexually accessible and sexually voracious. He made that clear when he referred to my research. By referring to my research, he also meant to insult me. The sum of my worth as a sexual partner came from my "adventurousness" predicated upon my intellectual leanings. I had teased him as a woman because of my studies and he could retaliate by denigrating my worth with an "only." As a woman I did not deserve attention, my value "only" came from my deviant sexuality.

    Normative discipline works as the flip side of deviant discipline. Women are to be protected from sexuality, or scorning that, women become sexualized and accessible. Consider this: Customs, by pre-arrangement, met me when I came home. Both Customs and I wanted to make sure that I didn't bring home any illegal materials. The Customs agent, who was generally very nice, said "What does your mother think? Isn't she ashamed of what you're doing?"

    Customs, in searching for child pornography and/or bestiality which are illegal in this country, has a right to decide boundaries of normative and deviant sexual representation. Behind the practice of search, seizure, and arrest is the theory that children should not be sexual objects for adults. Representations that picture sexualized children 1) encourage adults to sexualize children and 2) provide lasting testimony to the children's shame which adults can continue to take pleasure in. The belief that the state should protect the weak is implicit in its stance towards child pornography. However, bestiality is usually just seen as wrong. When it gets considered at all, it is generally seen as degrading towards the humans involved and not the animals. Instead of protecting animals, restrictions against bestiality protect humans from the contagion of deviant sexuality by discouraging thinking about such acts and from advertising the degradation in such acts.
    In the cases of bestiality and child pornography, humans-- children and adults-- need to be protected by the state from the thought of deviancy. Voyeuristic moralism cannot be strong enough to overcome titillation or excitement. The state can only stop them in tandem, by stopping the trade in articles. However, in my experience with Customs, it was neither bestiality nor child pornography which constituted deviance. The agent hadn't seen my research materials at all and couldn't know if were deviant according to the legal definition of restricted materials. The problem was that I had pornography, that I looked at pornography, and that I thought about pornography. I broke a boundary situated in gender through which normative behavior gets defined. I thought about bad things. To demonstrate that he re-positioned me as a child by referring to my mother to place me under the protective umbrella of family and state. I was re-positioned in the materials, as one who needs protection, rather than out of them as one who studies them.

    Lesbian vampires stories were common because vampires were, and are, the most sexual of all supernatural creatures (except, possibly, the succubus/incubus, who would appear to have missed out on fame due to a lack of subtlety.  There's no slow burn with succubi or incubi; they are fucking.  That's it.).  The fact that they were lesbian vampires adds a layer of deviance; not so deviant that they cannot be discussed in public (unlike, say paedophilia), but deviant enough to be interesting).  Vampires are, traditionally, creatures who prey on female innocence (incidentally, Daughters of Darkness is not a book of erotica, despite the description; it contains stories of sexuality, few of which are explicit.  It seems that it is classed as erotica purely by virtue of focusing on lesbian sexuality).

    Edward Cullen displays none of the normal seduction of a traditional vampire.  He is not dark and interesting; he sparkles.  He does not want to seduce Bella; he wants to marry her.  He does not come alone, in the night - he brings an entire family, with parents who approve.  Meyer has effectively neutered the raw sexuality of a vampire, trapped him in marriage and a cosy homelife.  Not just Edward - the plot point of the mate bond means that all vampires are loyal husbands and wives waiting to happen.

    Instead it is Bella who is mysterious; he cannot read her mind.  It is Bella who attempts to seduce him, who would prefer not to wait till marriage.  It is Bella who has the choice to leave him, as, when she is human, she is not tied by the mate bond.

    Werewolves have been used to symbolise female sexuality, or, at the very least, contain links to menarche and menstruation, due to their mimicry of the monthly cycle  (though, sadly, not nearly often enough).  The moon, after all, is female.  Tanith Lee's Wolfland, in Red as Blood, makes the symbolism very clear.

    Again, Meyer has twisted this.  Female werewolves lose their ability to menstruate entirely, something a character describes as making her feel less of a woman, as if the whole point of being a woman is to be a mother and a wife.  The fact that (only) male werewolves imprint on (female) children also has the effect of robbing them of their sexuality; these children are explicitly groomed, in Meyer's stories, growing up with an enormous pressure for their sexuality to grow in a set, pre-defined way.

    Give me womanist female werewolves, growing into their power and sexuality.  Give me vampires who won't be caught, who won't go willingly to domesticity, who are as hard to tame as tigers.

    Put the blood back in my myths, menstrual and otherwise.


    Saturday, 19 November 2011

    My Transsexual Summer

    There has been much discussion of the show My Transsexual Summer on the blogosphere, so I won't repeat it here. What I do want to talk about is the blog of Maxwell Zachs, who appeared on the show.

    Here, Max reveals that no one on the show was paid, along with the fact that he has suffered great financial hardship due to the time devoted to filming, and to the pressures of being publicly outed. Max mentions that he was okay with this, as he felt he and the others were helping people to understand transgenderism, but, since seeing the show, and feeling misrepresented, this is no longer the case (I paraphrase). Max has started a petition, asking for compensation from Channel 4 for damages suffered.

    This is an awful situation to be in. I don't begrudge Max seeking a share of the profits after being used, although I don't think that twentytwenty or C4 have a legal or moral requirement to provide them. It would be awesome if they did, and great for their PR, but they don't become awful people if they don't (they already were, for other reasons).

    That said, I do think that the manipulative way Max has gone about this is appalling. I posted this comment on the post, though it has since been deleted (again, I don't begrudge him doing this; it's his blog, he can allow or disallow whatever comments he likes);

    I wrote this comment on that post, but it's since been deleted;

    Let's take your points in order;

    1. You mention that you agreed not to be paid, and that you were okay with that as long as the editing reflected the idea you had of the story that was being told. This, presumably was not specified on the contract, and instead, editing rights were granted solely to twentytwenty and C4 (otherwise you'd have recourse other than a petition).

    Please note that this is not intended as a criticism, just a summary. Naivety is not a crime.

    2. Your personal life was affected by appearing in the show. Presumably, you were aware that appearing on national television would effectively out you. That said, one would presume that twentytwenty would ensure that you were not left in a worse position by appearing in the show, financially speaking. I admit, I always had the impression that businesses received compensation in some form, in exchange for allowing their employees time off to appear in these shows. However, again, surely this would have been on the initial contract you signed?

    3. Scenes were 'set up'. Were you complicit in this? Did you refuse to take part? Again, presumably, you agreed to this in the original contract, and/or by taking part in it as they were filmed.

    4. You return to the point of being misrepresented. See point 1. You signed over editing rights. Again, naivety and trusting people is not a crime, and it is unfortunate that this happened to you. I highly recommend reading Chart Throb, and reading over contracts in depth, perhaps with recourse to legal advice, before signing.

    5. Twentytwenty and C4 earned lots of money. And? You knew that. You agreed that you didn't want any of it, as did Fox and everyone else. You don't get to decide to tear up the contract 'because they were dicks'.

    It would be kind of twentytwenty and C4 to give you and the others involved monetary compensation. It might even be good for them PR-wise. However, they have no moral or legal obligation to do so, and none of your points give you the moral high ground, as you seem to imply.

    Of course, I may be totally wrong, and twentytwenty may have totally ignored whatever contract was originally signed. In which case, a lawsuit would be a far better idea than a petition (which, in all honesty, seems to be more about blackmailing them with embarrassment as you go back on your word, rather than appealing to their better nature).

    To clarify point 5; Max knew that the companies involved would be making money. This hasn't changed since the beginning. He was okay with this.

    This is in contrast to the difference between how he expected to be portrayed, and how he was portrayed, in which he has more genuine grounds for grievance.

    In short, the profits were not a problem until Max began digging up every thing that could possibly be construed as a problem to add emotional weight to his post and petition.

    I did also suggest that Max use his blog (which appears to have been set up purely in response to the show) in order to tell the story he wanted to tell.  That comment was also deleted.

    In a second post, here, Max mentions that he and the others involved 'deserve' and 'need' money because one of them was living with a stalker during filming.

    This isn't relevant. The person in question didn't live with that person because of the show. She's already escaped from the situation and moved on, without the help of the show.

    I'm not claiming that she is in a perfect situation now, or that she wouldn't appreciate a share of the profits. What I am saying is that Max used a totally irrelevant situation as emotional fuel to inspire people to support his own monetary gain.  He portrayed a survivor of abuse as an eternal victim for his own greed.

    That is appalling.

    I've been a victim of abuse. So have many other women I know, trans or otherswise. We've been raped, emotionally abused, and attacked. Claiming that, because this once happened to us, it's the fault of whoever we choose to point at and demand money from, is sick.

    I would like to add that I have no idea whether or not the person in question gave permission for her quote to be used in this way.  I in no way intend to attack her for this.

    Wednesday, 2 November 2011

    Vegan Dating

    So, today, in my bed of sickness, I have been gorging myself on posts from the hathor legacy (which is fantastic; pick a random post, read it, pick whatever you like from the links at the bottom, rinse, repeat.  Hours of fun).  On this post, about who pays for dates in an equal world, I felt moved to add this comment;

    I’ve always been of the opinion, in any social invitation, that the one who asks should expect to pay. Of course, the person invited shouldn’t assume this to be the case, and should be prepared to pick up their own tab.

    Specifically regarding dating, I prefer a 50-50 over time split, ie, he picks up some things, I pick up others. This is very important to me, because I’m a vegan. I don’t want to pay for his animal products, so, if we split 50-50, I can justify this as my share going only towards vegan items. other words, I have bought my Anthony cheeseburgers in the past (though he does prefer falafel burgers, bless his little gremlin feet), but I consider the fact that he buys me Pearl Tea to be like I paid for the tea, he paid for his burgers.  If that makes sense.

    In other news, I really like this advert campaign.

    So, what do you guys think about who pays for dates?

    Tuesday, 1 November 2011

    Pauper's Pasta

    ...because some days, you just cannot be arsed.

    I'm sick this week. My Anthony brought flu from Telford. Not even good Brummie germs, grumblegrumble.

    So, anyway, I cannot be arsed to do anything that involves any of that fancy cookin' or whatnot. That said, I don't feel like living on crisps and bananas either, so I had the brainwave of inventing this. Quick and easy, tasty, tomato pasta (my go-to lazy pasta dish used to be pasta with melted cheese; this is better).

    As a bonus, all of the ingredients are easy to carry and store, so I'll be eating this a lot while volunteering with Crisis at Christmas.


    • 75g Spaghetti (Tesco Value, 18p for 500g) - 3p
    • 1/2 Tablespoon of Olive Oil (Tesco Olice Oil, £1.84 for 500ml) - 1p
    • 1/2 Tablespoon Tomato Puree (49p for 200g, Tesco) - 2p
    • 1 Tablespoon of Garlic Italian Spice (Scwartz Garlic Italian Sauce Seasoning, £1.65 for 43g) - 20p

    Total - 26p for one person, or 52p for two people.

    1. Snap the spaghetti in half. Leave it in a saucepan of water, on medium heat, for about 15 minutes.
    2. Mix everything else in.


    • Most of a packet of spaghetti.
    • Most of a tube of tomato puree.
    • Most of a bottle of olive oil.
    • Most of a bottle of Garlic Italian seasoning.

    Make it Cheaper/Better

    Make garlic bread by mixing some non-dairy margarine with garlic powder and dried parsley.  Spread it on any kind of bread you have lying around, and grill till melty.
    Chop up a cooked vegan sausage, and throw that in there for protein.
    Add some chopped tomato.
    Roast a tin of chickpeas in soy sauce, and throw them in there.
    Add some freshly ground sea salt.

    No pictures.  Fever says use your imagination.  Going back to my cave of sickness now.

    Monday, 24 October 2011

    So, What Have You Been Up To? - LinkStorm

    I'm so sorry I didn't call.

    So, recently, I've been busy.  Still unemployed, but sending out CVs to everywhere that seems good.  Still broke, but making it work for me.  I've been making my own clothes, which is awesome.

    Sewing/knitting are really great skills to have when you're broke.  If you have more time than money, it is absolutely worth it (on the other hand, if you have more money than time, it is completely the right decision to pay someone else to make your stuff).

    The dress came out quite short, because I underestimated the amount of fabric needed.  BUT, it can also be worn as a top and a skirt, and I am exceptionally proud of it.  You can see more pictures (plus, links to the tutorials I used) here.  I also made a tie for Anthony, using this tutorial.

    I embroidered a little cross because he works for the NHS!
    This week, I've been more into knitting, and I'm currently halfway through an autumn-themed sock for myself.  I'm using this program, which will churn out a sock pattern for you, once you put in a few basic measurements.

    It's surprisingly easy to find vegan yarn out there.  Simply have a look at the label.  You'll want to avoid wool (sheep), mohair (goats), cashmere (goats again), alpaca (alpacas), angora (bunnies), and silk (silkworms).    Cotton, linen, acrylic, nylon, and polyester yarns are vegan, as far as I know, though you may wish to do your own research and consider the dyes used.

    There's a livejournal community for vegan knitters here, and I also found a Birmingham based Stitch 'n' Bitch group, which I plan to get to as soon as I have a Saturday free.

    Speaking of Stitch 'n' Bitch, reading that book has reawakened my interest, since I found it in the library last week.  Both my grandmother and my dadima (paternal grandmother) tried to teach me to knit when I was about seven, but since one learned by feel rather than in words, and the other doesn't speak English (and I don't speak Gujerati), neither really worked for me.  I eventually learned to knit about five years ago, by following the directions in Penny Hill's Learn to Knit, though a quick google search will bring up hundreds of tutorials.  I particularly like this one, which I use to cast on all ribbing, including for my pumpkin sock.

    Pumpkin/Autumn sock!  The wool itself is patterned, and knits up into this beautiful design.  I'm buying more tomorrow, so I'll let you know the exact make.  This ball has lost its label.

    I have several balls of yarn under my bed, which I've collected during previous periods of interest in knitting (I tend to drift between hobbies).  The pumpkin wool is one of them, but, luckily, since the yarn itself changes colour, matching the dye lot won't matter.  The yarn is still sold (in that wonderful little haberdashery stall in the indoor market), and I fully intend to make lots of pumpkinny things.  These socks, specifically, I have earmarked for keeping my toesies warm while I'm volunteering in the Women's Shelter for Crisis at Christmas.

    I'm a little concerned about being vegan, over Christmas, while broke, in a strange city.  I don't want to buy food in London, as, firstly, shopping will be a nightmare, and, secondly, it'll be more expensive than in Birmingham.  Instead, I plan to carry tinned soup, a loaf of bread, PB&J, and a giant bag of apples.  I'll buy or carry a bottle of soya milk, then either pinch some of those little cereal packets from my cousin's kitchen (some of those are vegan, right?), or carry a tub of cornflakes with me.  I don't want to carry too many things to cook, as they'll be bulkier to carry than the finished product.  It'll be a boring diet, but it's only for four days.  Any ideas/tips, please let me know in the comments.

    Speaking of free events (like the afore-mentioned knitting group - find one close to you here), the Shout Festival is currently on-going in Birmingham.  Shout is Birmingham's festival of Queer Culture - like Gay Pride meets Arts Fest - and several events are free.  I've also been attending the Journey Film Club, which is run by someone I volunteer with at VEGed Out.

    Speaking of VEGed Out; I started out as a kitchen assistant, but after being handed more responsibility regarding meals, I can now call myself a chef.  Go me!  I invented a recipe which I have christened 'Goblin Pie'.  It involves roasted chickpeas (so you can see the Happy Herbivore influence right there), onions, carrots, and celery, all in a parsley crust.  SO yummers.  Goes well with rosemary and thyme mash.  Recipe soon!

    I'm also volunteering with Victim Support, and I hope to specialise in domestic abuse and sexual violence.  Finally, I've also been reading about/experimenting with Luminosity, the idea of being aware of how your specific mind works.  So far, I've figured out that I am a words person, as described in this first short story.  It's been very useful to go through this with Anthony (who remains delicious, and has been attempting to knit while I have been attempting to teach him).  Turns out, he's more of a "you spent hours making me something?  You must really love me!" person, which is good to know, and has helped to curb my bad habit of abandoning projects halfway through.

    Wednesday, 19 October 2011

    Happy Herbivore's Chickpea Tacos

    I won't be posting this recipe here since, obviously, it isn't mine. What I am going to do is figure out the cost, since I seriously want to recommend it to you guys. It's easy to make, requires very few ingredients and is OMG SO DELICIOUS. I am not kidding. This recipe is incredible.

    Te quiero taco.

    I had almost every ingredient in the cupboard already. I had all the spices, but no taco shells, for the simple reason that I've never had tacos before. This recipe was perfect for my first time (insert joke here).

    • 400g Tin of Chickpeas (43p, Tesco) - 43p
    • 6 Taco Shells (Old El Paso, £1.54 for a box of 12, Tescos) - 77p
    • 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce (I used this instead of tamari - Gold Plum Superior Light Soy Sauce, £1.19 for 620ml) - 3p
    • 2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice (Jif, 79p for 55ml, Tesco) - 3p
    • 1 Tablespoon Chilli Powder (Mild Chilli Powder, 81p for 50g, Tesco) - 7p
    • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin (85p for 43g, Tesco) - 4p

    I'm not calculating the costs of the other spices, as only a quarter of a teaspoon is used. I'll estimate 20p for all of them.

    Total - £1.54 for two people, or 77p per person.


    • 6 Taco Shells
    • Most of every single spice.
    • Most of a bottle of soy sauce.
    • Most of a bottle of lemon juice. other words, pick up another tin of chickpeas, and have them again later in the week.  The only time-sensitive item is the taco shells.

    Roasted, seasoned chickpeas.

    We ate ours with vegan mayo (Mayola, £1.59 for 310g, approx 20p per tablespoon), fresh tomatoes (pack of 6 salad tomatoes, 95p, Tesco, approx 16p each), tomato purée (approx 4p per tablespoon) and salad leaves (mixed leaves, £1 per bag, Tesco, so approx 25p each).  Of course, these ingredients do up the cost, which is why I've not tagged this as under £2, but they are so worth it.  I particularly like the vegan mayo - it nicely counteracts the spiciness of the chickpeas.  Anthony prefers the tomato.

    This is definitely going to be something I'll make again and again.  It takes, at most, half an hour.  You could even do more chickpeas at once, and just microwave them when you next want them.

    Monday, 19 September 2011


    So, in my last post, I mentioned a course I attended which was not able to obtain a vegan option.  Luckily, it was in the city centre, so I had a couple of options.  Both Wetherspoons and VEGed Out were not options, since I only had half an hour.  This left Burger King or Pret-a-Manger, both of which took about twenty minutes to get to and from.  I had a half hour lunchbreak.

    On the first day, I went with Pret.  Every other day, I just ran down to BK, instead.  It was slightly closer, and I normally had time to choke down an entire kid's meal, rather than have to wrap it up for later.

    On the last day, yesterday, I went to Pret-a-Manger instead - only to find that they've changed the range sometime this month, and taken their Crunchy Houmous Bloomer - the one vegan option - off the menu.  I didn't have time to talk to the staff at the time, since I had to hustle my ass back to Alpha Tower (I stopped by McDs and got some fries and a coke, so at least I had something to eat), but I did send them an email when I got back.  I'm not able to access the original text, since I sent it through their website, but I expressed my disappointment over their discontinuation of this range, and asked if it would be replaced with another vegan option, or if they had any I'd overlooked.  They can't just not sell any vegan sandwich, can they?  Not when EAT has one for sale? 

    Apparently they can.  Here's the response I got;

    Hi Kali

    Thanks for taking the time to email us. I’m sorry that we’ve taken your favourite Crunchy Humous Wrap off the menu!

    We like to keep things interesting at Pret and so from time to time we do vary our menu. Unfortunately, this means that on occasions we have to take someone’s favourite item off. We do however appreciate your feedback, and this will be passed onto our Food Development team. You never know, it could well make it back onto the shelves!

    Maybe you could try our Superfood Salad for a vegan option.

    Kind Regards

    [Name Removed]
    Customer Services

    Spot that?  Yes, I was talking about a sandwich, not a wrap.  Secondly, I wasn't asking for platitudes; I was asking for a list of vegan options, or for information on whether this would be replaced with another vegan option.  Neither of these queries were addressed, at all.

    Thirdly, I didn't describe the crunchy houmous bloomer as "my favourite".  I described it as "the only thing I can eat".  I would strongly prefer that my feedback is passed on in the form of "vegan customers have no options", rather than "someone is upset that you removed her favourite 'inaccurate description'".

    Finally; no, I will not try the salad.  Salad is not enough food for an adult to get through the day (or, at least, not me).  Besides, I can make basic salads in my own kitchen, if I want one.  I don't care how good your salad is, it is not good enough to stand up as lunch by itself, as the only option. 

    They also got rid of the sea salt crisps, though they might have brought those back.  I think it was simply that they were replacing the packaging, but don't quote me on that.

    My response was as follows;

    I was referring to the bloomer, not the wrap.  Nor was it "my favourite" menu item - it was just the only one that I could actually eat.  Is there any way my feedback can be take into account for future menu items?  I know for a fact that I was not the only vegan customer of my local store, nor in the country, and I would like to continue to be a customer.

    Is a superfood salad really a comprehensive list of your vegan options?  That seems extremely limited.  Are you sure there are no other options?

    I admit, my line about "my feedback" is confusing.  I meant what I stated above, that I wanted it to be said as "no vegan options", not "you removed my favourite!", but that really isn't clear from what I actually wrote in the email.  And yeah, I was snippy.  I should eat before emailing people, huh?

    On the bright side, I did avoid ranting about being offered just a salad.

    Some of you may wish to contact Pret-a-Manger yourselves, to ask about vegan options, or to express disappointment (that was a great sandwich, even for non-vegans).  I won't be able to patronise the store until they sell something I can consume, that's actually a decent lunch.

    Update: Pret-a-Manger just sent me an allergen guide for the food. It's out of date. The fifth entry down is the exact sandwich we've just been talking about.

    I went to their website myself, and found a new Morrocan Falafel and Humous sandwich, which appears to be vegan, but is not directly stated to be as such.  I'm waiting on a reply from the manager I've been corresponding with to see if that info is (a) up to date, and (b) vegan.

    Update the second; The Falafel and Humous sandwich contains creme fraiche, and the up to date allergen information indicates that there are no vegan sandwiches on the menu at all.  I've asked if there's a way for me to be contacted in the event of a vegan option returning to the menu.

    Sunday, 18 September 2011

    A Review of Katie's Caterers

    (A quick note on the formal style used here - I have posted this on a few review sites, and I also intend to write it up in an email to the company).

    I recently attended a training course which was catered by Katie's Catering.  I confirmed my dietary needs as a vegan more than a month in advance.

    The training course was six days long, over three weekends.  For the first four days, the "vegan" option sent was a ham salad, which, obviously, I was unable to consume.  Katie's Catering was unavailable to contact by the time we had realised the error on Saturday lunchtime, both weekends, and had already left the same food for Sunday.

    The final weekend, they did send an actual vegan meal - the same salad with the ham removed.  This is not a fair amount of food for an adult to get through a seven-hour day on, particularly when everyone else was offered tuna sandwiches, ham sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, pork pies, salad, and crisps.

    There were also several complaints from vegetarian diners, as the food was not clearly labelled, and was mixed together.

    There were several, extremely simple, things that Katie's Caterers could have done to make this experience better.  Simply separating and labelling the food would have been an excellent start. 

    As for the vegan option itself, a very simple improvement would be to offer one sandwich made up solely of cucumber and salad, items which were all used within the food offered.  Also, a packet of ready salted crisps could have been kept back, rather than mixed with the others, since, when they are all mixed, it is impossible to tell which crisps contain whey powder or other non-vegan ingredients.  This was also a problem for vegetarian diners, as it was impossible to tell which crisps contained rennet or flavouring made from animal ingredients.

    An even better choice would have involved one tray being made up of houmous and salad sandwiches, which could have been offered to all diners, and clearly marked as vegan, rather than making a totally separate option.

    Tuesday, 30 August 2011

    Full English Breakfast

    ...I would define this as a fry-up, even though there's very little frying involved. Which, incidentally, makes it lower in fat than the average fry-up. Score!

    Yes.  Yes those are chocolate jammie dodgers in the background.  They are vegan.  I am not sorry.

    For this fry-up, I'll be making vegan sausages, toast, homemade baked beans, has browns, and baked mushrooms and tomatoes. Some days, I make the sausages from scratch too, but I'm hungover today.  Again, this recipe is for two people, but you'll also have two spare portions of baked beans, which you can microwave and serve with toast for a quick breakfast another day.

    I really recommend reading the directions below beforehand, because you do need to be fairly organised to get everything ready at the same time.


    • 6 Tomatoes (Tesco, loose on the vine, approx 14p each) - 84p
    • 2 Field Mushrooms (Tesco, loose, large, open, approx 42p) - 84p
    • 4 Linda McCartney Veggie Sausages (Tesco, £1.60 for 6) - 80p
    • 1 Onion, diced (approx 24p each, Tesco) - 24p
    • 2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed (30p per bulb, Tesco) - 8p
    • 1 Tin of Butter Beans, Drained (Tesco own brand, 400g) - 44p
    • 1 Tablespoon Sunflower Oil (£1.58 per litre, Tesco) - 3p
    • A few sprays of Fry-Light, or a similar oil spray (Tesco, £1.55 for 250ml) - 4p
    • 1 Oxo Vegetable Stock Cube (Oxo, 99p for two boxes of twelve, 99p store) - 5p
    • 1 Tablespoon of Tomato Puree (49p for 200g, Tesco) - 4p
    • Approx 100g-150g of Potatoes (Tesco, loose, approx 12.5p per 100g) - 20p
    • 1 Tablespoon Vitalite, or any vegan margarine (Tesco, Vitalite, £1.20 for 500g) - 2p
    • 4 Slices of Bread (Asda, discounted ciabatta rolls, 55p for 3) - 37p
    • Salt and Pepper

    I really like hash browns.  The amounts given make slightly less.

        • Hash Browns - 22p, for two.
        • Baked Beans - £1.37 for four, 69p for two.
        • Sausages, Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Toast - £2.08
        • All Together - £2.99 for two, £1.50 for one.


        No, those aren't field mushrooms, unfortunately.
        I couldn't find any.
        1. The night before, peel the potatoes and boil till tender, drain, and chill in the fridge.  Leave them in fairly large chunks, so they'll be easier to grate in the morning (this will also help to prevent them from getting too soft).
        2. In the morning, preheat the oven to 200 degrees c (approx 400F, or gas mark 6), grate the potatoes, dice the onion, and crush the garlic.  Fry the potatoes in the vitalite, in a frying pan, on medium heat.  Fry the onions and garlic in the saucepan, in the oil.  
        3. Spray two more tomatoes and the mushrooms with fry-light, and place in the oven to bake with the sausages for 15 minutes (if you use a different brand of vegan sausages,cook them however the packet says, and stick the fry-lighted up tomatoes and mushrooms in there too).
        4. While the onions and garlic are frying, deseed and chop the tomatoes.  Dilute the stock cube in 200ml of boiled water.  When the onions are translucent, add the stock and the tomatoes to the saucepan, and stir in the tomato puree.  When the hashbrowns start to brown around the edges, flip them.  
        5. Let the baked bean mixture simmer for five minutes, then add the butter beans.  Allow to simmer for another five minutes (this does not need to be precise).
        6. While the beans are simmering, start plating up; make the toast, and put two slices on each plate.  Take the tomatoes and mushrooms from the oven and divide; they're done when they're soft.  The hash browns are done when they're browned on both sides.  Salt and pepper to taste.

        Slightly browner than this.


          • 2 Portions of Baked Beans
          • 2 Veggie Sausages
          • Most of a bulb of Garlic
          • Most of a bottle of Sunflower Oil
          • Most of a bottle of Fry-Light
          • 11 Oxo Stock Cubes
          • Most of a tub of Vitalite
          • Most of a loaf of Bread

          In other words, apart from basic things like stock cubes, margarine, bread, and oil, you've also got a lighter breakfast for another two days.


          In making this, I was partially inspired by Gizzi's Erskine's griddled fry-up, which comes in at 639 calories, and 33g of fat, though it does include orange juice and blueberries.  In that episode, Gizzi was trying to cut the fat of a more traditional full English, which came in at 1270 calories per portion.

          According to My Fitness Pal's recipe calculator, each plate of this vegan fry-up has 654 calories, 80g of carbs, 38g of protein, 20g of fat, 13g of sugar, and 10g of fibre.  All of the fat comes from the sausages (10g in two), the sunflower oil, and the vitalite.  You can lower the latter two by using fry-light for everything.  As for the former, I would normally make my own vegan sausages, which only contain 6g of fat, for two, but which will bump the price and prep time up a bit. They are slightly higher in calories, but most of the calories come from protein, instead of fat, which means they are crazy filling.  Seriously, one is plenty.

          The majority of the calories come from the ciabatta rolls, and the sausages.  Using something like two slices of Warburton's wholemeal bread will knock off almost a hundred calories compared to the ciabatta.

          Wednesday, 17 August 2011

          My Opinion on Gender; A Clarification

          I would like to clarify what I meant when I stated that I think that gender roles are invented by society.

          What I meant was;  little girls don't have to like pink.  They don't have to like dolls.  They don't have to like playing house, or make up, or clothes, and they don't have to grow up to be mothers who watch soap operas and gossip.  Those things do not make you a woman, and, likewise, things like liking blue and toy cars do not make you a man.

          Baby Krav Vegan rejects your gender norms and replaces them with the Wombles.

          This doesn't mean that gender doesn't exist or doesn't matter.  Just that you don't get to judge someone as not being a 'real' man or woman based on such ridiculous criteria.

          I am cisgendered, and I think this is why my gender is not a big issue for me.  Air isn't a big deal for me either, and that's because I can breathe right now.  However, for those individuals who are not cisgendered, who, for whatever reason, feel that their outsides don't match their insides...I have no problem with them fixing it.  I don't see why it would ever be my (or anyone elses') business to have a problem with them fixing it.  I do not mind sharing a public bathroom with those individuals, or seeing them at a feminist meeting, or even having one as a rape counsellor.

          I felt the need to clarify this, as the statement 'gender doesn't exist' has been used by Julie Bindel to mean something very, very different to what I meant when I said it.  To my mind, her opinions are cruel, narrow-minded, self-centred, and reprehensible, and I do not wish my opinions to be confused for anything like hers.

          Transgendered people are not unhappy with the constraints of "their gender", by which Bindel means their biological gender.  It's more that their biological gender is not accurate, as far as I understand.  It's like calling me male, or a natural blonde; there's nothing wrong with those things, but they simply do not describe me.  It has nothing to do with gender constraints, it has to do with accuracy (as far as I understand, for most people I know, bearing in mind that I am both young and cisgendered).

          While on the topic of Julie Bindel's opinions, I was very surprised to find that sexuality came with a uniform, as she describes in the last few paragraphs of that article.  For reals?

          As a feminist, I do not object to anyone expressing their gender however they choose.  What I object to is other people telling them that this is wrong.

          Monday, 15 August 2011

          Feminista Summer School 2011

          This weekend was the Feminista Summer School, 2011, which was held in Birmingham. This Guardian article, which I'll come back to later, describes it as a training camp for Suffragettes, which is a very inaccurate description. They also describe feminism as "a set of decades-old beliefs being repackaged for the 21st century", which is not how I'd describe it.

          The Summer School, despite the name, didn't have "classes" as the article describes, and those attending weren't new recruits who were being trained in our way of feminism. Rather, the two days consisted of a variety of workshops, and were more of a way of getting together like-minded people to discuss issues they cared about, or to offer information on issues that some people may not have been able to find out much about, or may not have thought of before.

          Saturday consisted of a few rousing speeches, with an introduction to the way a few different women are living and working as feminists. One of the speakers was Hannana Siddiqui, who brought an interesting point to my attention. She represented Southall Black Sisters, a group of non-white feminists. It seems that the group uses the word 'black' to describe all non-white people, and I asked about the thought process behind this.

          I am writing this from memory, so it's possible I misunderstood, or misrecalled some points, but, as far as I can gather, the reasoning is that, as minority groups, non-white feminists in the seventies found it easier to band together under one collective name, for solidarity.

          This isn't something I feel comfortable with. For a bit of context, my father is Indian, while my mother is a mixture of English, Irish, and Welsh. I am a Balti - part Indian, part British, all Brummie. I am not black, in the same way that I am not a man, or I am not Chinese, or I am not in my thirties, and I feel that labelling all non-white people in that way is rather like putting the Smurfette label on all women. Of course, I am coming from a very different perspective - I was born at the end of the eighties, I have no idea how the world looked in the seventies.

          Later, there was a choice of workshops to attend, as you can see in this scan of the day's timetable (this is my marked-up copy, so apologies for the scribbles).

          On Sunday, I spoke as part of the Everyday Activism panel, as a member of the Birmingham Fems, and as 'the one who wore pyjamas at the SlutWalk'.  I think it went well.  My desire to have EVERYONE LISTEN TO ME far outweighed any nerves, and I hope I got my points across.  I had quite a lot to say, and I'm not sure it always came out in fully formed sentences.  Most of all, I hope people enjoyed the weekend, because I certainly did.

          Going back to the Guardian article; many of the commenters, apart from those who mutter darkly about lesbians trying to take over the world,  seem to feel that a feminist is a hypocrite if he or she is not concerned with male rights.  In fact, many seem to feel that the fact that the feminists commenting do not mention male rights until asked means that what they say doesn't matter.

          That is bullshit.

          I've seen the exact same argument in veg*n forums, against vegetarians.  The fact is, everyone does what they can.  There is too much to tackle in the world, and it's not hypocritical to not be too worried about leaving someone out to do anything.

          Personally, as I mentioned (I'm Bartelmy), I would be very happy to work with Father's 4 Justice, or similar groups.  This idea, that men are the "lesser" parent, while women are, naturally, the "primary care givers" is damaging to both genders.  It means women think of themselves as failures if they are not natural earth mothers.  It means men find it harder to gain custody of their children.  However, as a twenty-three (as of last Friday) -year-old, childless, single (in the sense of unmarried) woman, this is not an area that often comes to my attention.  It does not naturally pop up on my agenda.   That doesn't mean I don't care, or I don't agree, or that I wouldn't help if asked.  Just that I, like everyone else, don't have the time or energy to do everything., so, yes, I do focus primarily on the issues that I am most concerned with.  Just because you can't clear up the whole world doesn't mean you can't take care of your little bit of it.

          Wednesday, 10 August 2011

          In Which Kali Rants Uncontrollably in Order to Feel Slightly Productive

          From today's Metro.

          "It was good fun"? Destroying people's livelihoods, things they've worked hard for, is "good fun"? What the fuck is wrong with you, you sociopath? Would you think it was fucking fun if you were mugged, if it was your belongings that someone took?

          "Free things"? They were not fucking free, they were paid for by someone else. Put that back, you greedy fucking scumbag.

          "It's the government's fault. I don't know, Conservatives, whoever it is". Okay, new rule. If you don't know who our fucking government is, you don't get to state what they are or are not to blame for.

          "the rich people who've got businesses and that's why all this happened". Oh, sweet Jesus Christ. Those 'rich people' who own businesses worked hard for their money. They work hard on their businesses. What about Hat Man, that little family owned place that was looted to hell and back? They weren't taking home a fortune; if they were, they'd have opened another fucking branch.

          Okay, basic economics 101. No one leaves money on the table. In other words, if someone owned a store that was making a fortune, they would open another store, they wouldn't just take the money and run, not when there's more to be made. As long as a store is making more than its operating costs, there is a market for another one, if not of the same brand then selling similar products. Rest assured that no one is raking in tons of money from stores, whether independent or chains - they will be making their running costs, including all staff wages and a cut for the owner (which may be large, but will certainly not be unearned). No more.

          Furthermore, these people have a right to their money, even if they were raking it in. They earned it - they didn't steal it, which is certainly more than you can say for the fucking looters.

          Tuesday, 9 August 2011

          My Evening; Getting Home in the Birmingham Riots

          I got into New Street Station at 7:19pm - trains were running perfectly on schedule.  In Liverpool, all the jewellery shops I saw had removed their stock from the windows, and several places mentioned that they were closing early that evening.  However, shops in Lime Street Station were open, and expected to close at their usual times.

          It was very different in New Street.  Everything was on lockdown.  Absolutely everything, including the escalators to the Palisades.  So, instead, I went out of the ground floor exit, near the Bullring.  The path up to the bull was closed - by one lonely policeman who was being sworn at - so I carried on down Moor Street.

          See that figure in the lower right, with the backpack?  Yeah, fairly certain that's me.  I found this image on the Birmingham Riots Tumbler.

          I needed to be in Five Ways, but all of New Street and Corporation Street were closed.  There was also a fire starting in the grassy bit on the corner of Moor Street, but I stamped that out.  Don't think it helped much.

          I walked past Aston Uni, and managed to get onto the other side of Corporation Street.  Headed down the side of Lloyds House, but veered off into the side streets after that, rather than run into a group of people wearing balaclavas.  I ran into another group of officers in the Jewellery Quarter - which was guarded, with all the shops closed, but not actually closed off.  They advised me to get a taxi home, and to avoid the new Tesco in Ladywood, as there was a large gang surrounding it.

          I did, and ended up near Dudley Road hospital, where I could see smoke over the buildings, presumably from the cars on fire in Winson Green.  Most of the shops along here were open, though.  After that, it was mostly a case of cutting through Summerfield Park and the Edgbaston Reservoir, which were both refreshingly normal, and full of runners and dog-walkers.

          I'm now hearing reports that Paradise Forum has been wrecked, along with Broad Street.  Still hoping that VEGed Out Cafe, in Fletcher's Walk, is okay.

          Edit; Just heard that a friend of mine was attacked near Five Ways. If the roads hadn't been closed, or if I'd turned right instead of left from New Street, that's where I would have been.

          I'm also hearing that there are guns in Aston and Lozells, and that groups of young Asians are fighting back against the looters. I hope everyone's okay. Someone in my class in primary school, Aaron James, was shot in the Lozells race riots five years ago, and we don't need anything like that to happen again.

          Monday, 8 August 2011

          UK Riots

          I've been hearing bits about the riots all evening, but it's only the last hour that I've actually sat down to watch the news.

          I'm mostly concerned with Birmingham, obviously. I'm in Liverpool at the minute, and although there are riots here, there is very little information. Birmingham seems to be the second worst struck, after London.

          I called my grandmother a little while ago, at 1:45am or so, and although she can hear sirens, she hasn't been otherwise affected. According to this tumbler account, there's been some activity only a few minutes down the road from where I live, but it seems that this was only a small gang of youths, rather than any kind of organised, violent activity.

          The Bullring and Mailbox have both been broken into, although I hear that staff from the Bullring were all allowed to leave very shortly after the riots started. Shops on New Street and Colmore Row have had their windows smashed, and, from what I've heard, the rioters seem to be heading away from the city centre, along the Bristol and Pershore roads. That said, I hear that bars on Broad Street have been locked down - no one's going home tonight.

          Arrests in Birmingham have gone from 35, at 10:25pm, to 100, at 2:30pm. There are several fires in London, but I've yet to hear of any elsewhere.

          Tomorrow, I'm supposed to be travelling from Liverpool Lime Street to Birmingham New Street.  I don't know what the likelihood of that is, right now.

          Tuesday, 2 August 2011

          The Smurf Movie

          Honestly, I didn't even realise that the Smurfs were still a thing.  However, since a new movie has come out, all the unfortunate implications of Smurfette being the only female (and, furthermore, female being her only mentioned trait) have come to the surface again.  So, rather than make a long preaching-to-the-choir post, I have made a simple decision;

          ...I am going to refer to Smurfette as CEO Smurf from this point on.  Why?  For the hell of it.

          Join me.

          Monday, 1 August 2011

          How to Make the Best Hot Chocolate Ever

          This may seem really obvious, but, personally, it's something I didn't figure out until recently.

          See how foamy that is?

          • 1 Tablespoon Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
          • 2 Tablespoons Demerara Sugar
          • Non-Dairy Milk (to fill mug)


          1. Place the cocoa powder and sugar into your mug. Add a tiny bit of non-dairy milk - something like a tablespoon is plenty - and mix into a paste. Add more milk, slowly, stirring constantly, until your mug is about 4/5's full.
          2. Microwave for one minute, stir. Repeat.  Top up with cooler milk, if desired.

          That's it.

          Other Stuff
          •  If you don't mix it into a paste first, it's a lot harder to get the lumps out. 
          • You could heat the milk on the stove-top, but I always manage to burn it that way. 
          • You can make it with hot water, instead of milk.  In that case, add a tiny bit of boiled water, mix into a paste, and then add the rest.  Otherwise, lumps.
          • Don't try to save time by microwaving it for two minutes in a row, as it may become superheated and explode.
          • You could also add a tablespoon of peanut butter, some ground almonds, or some jelly tots (but that last one would be weird).
          • I used unsweetened cocoa powder and unsweetened soya milk, which is why I used quite a lot of sugar.  Use less, if you like.

          Sunday, 31 July 2011

          Pasta with Red Lentil Sauce

          Okay, seriously? This is the most filling pasta sauce ever. And the non-dairy margarine gives it an extra little je ne sais quoi that makes it even better.

          I used this recipe, though I made a few changes. I used a yellow pepper, since we didn't have any red ones, and, obviously, I didn't add parmesan cheese. I did use a bit of vitalite instead of the optional butter, though, and, as I said, it gave it a really nice touch.

          The sauce serves four people, so if you're feeding less than that, as I am, it'll need to go in the fridge and be reheated.  It's just as good a few days later, as Anthony and I discovered when we took it on a picnic.  I've yet to try freezing it though - feel free to experiment!

          Once again, I didn't buy anything new for this recipe, so I'm using Tesco online for prices.  For the vegetables, you will almost certainly be able to get them cheaper elsewhere.  I'd try an Asian supermarket, for those and for the lentils.

          • 1 Onion, diced (approx 24p each, Tesco) - 24p
          • 1 Clove of Garlic, crushed (30p per bulb, Tesco) - 4p
          • 2 Tablespoons of Sunflower Oil (£1.58 per litre, Tesco) - 5p
          • 1 Teaspoon Dried Basil (69p per 16g, Tesco) - 2p
          • 1 Bell Pepper, chopped (3 pack for £1.65, Tesco) - 55p
          • 1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes (33p, Tesco Value) - 33p
          • 4oz Red Lentils (88p for 500g, Tesco) - 22p
          • 1 Tablespoon Tomato Puree (49p for 200g, Tesco) - 4p
          • 3/4 of a Pint of Water (if you want to figure out the cost, be my guest!)
          • 50g of Pasta per Person (89p for 500g, Tesco Wholewheat Fusilli) - 9p per Person
          • Non-Dairy Margarine (Optional) (Vitalite, £1.20 for 500g) - 2p per Person (approx)
          • Salt and Pepper (Optional, to taste)
          Total - £1.93 for four people, 97p for two people, 49p for one person.

          The cheese was for Anthony.  I'm told it went really well.

          1. Fry the onions and pepper in the oil for a few minutes.  Incidentally, there's a great video here on how to efficiently fillet a pepper.  Don't say I never teach you anything.  You can also find out how to correctly dice an onion there (remember to use a very sharp knife, and aim away from your fingers).
          2. When the onion is translucent, add the basil, chopped tomatoes, water, crushed garlic, tomato purée, and lentils.  Bring to the boil, then turn down, and simmer for twenty minutes.  Do not add salt at this point, it will make the lentils tough.
          3. Cook the pasta, and drain.  Return to the warm pan, and toss with the dairy-free margarine (if desired).
          4. Season the lentil sauce with salt and pepper, add to pasta, and serve.
          • Most of a Bulb of Garlic.
          • Most of a bottle of Sunflower Oil.
          • Most of a jar of dried Basil.
          • Most of a tube of Tomato Puree.
          • 3/4 of a packet of Red Lentils.
          • Most of a tub of non-dairy margarine.
          • Most of a packet of pasta.

          Please note that, if you want to make this recipe again, you'll just need to buy a tin of chopped tomatoes, an onion, and a bell pepper.  Tinned tomatoes keep forever, or near enough, and onions are something you'll want on hand for a lot of meals, which makes it even handier.

          Man, that was a good picnic.

          Make it Cheaper/Better
          • Add this bread.  I'll be working out the cost and posting it up later, as something you can add to a wide variety of meals.  I'll say that that recipe makes between 4-6 portions, depending on personal taste.  We ate it with our picnic.  For our version, we use wholemeal plain flour, which made it super hearty and filling.  Neither of us could finish it, though Anthony made a very valiant attempt.
          • Speaking of picnics, if you have a bag which will keep food hot, I highly recommend it.  We heated the food up at home, then headed to the Edgbaston Reservoir, which is a five minute walk away.
          • To cut costs, do not buy your vegetables from Tesco.  Try a cheaper supermarket - Anthony seems to recall getting three bell peppers for a pound from Aldi - or an open market.
          • Use less oil for the frying.  I think you could get away with as little as half a tablespoon instead of two tablespoons.  Incidentally, this will cut a hundred or so calories from the total, so about twenty-five per portion.
          • Use fresh basil instead of dried.  You can buy a basil plant for 49p from Aldi, then put it in the garden, and use it for other things in future.
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