6 things to read, watch, and listen to this July

A little roundup of great things I’ve been reading, watching and listening recently.

1. A Very English Scandal – on BBC iplayer, but also a book

I’d heard it was amazing and the acting was incredible – these are true – but what I didn’t expect was how darkly and absurdly funny this was. It’s also incredibly important because it really hammers home that until recently, simply being gay was a crime, and that people were willing to kill themselves or their lovers over risking exposure.

A great quote from the series is when a character – in a house so surreal I can’t begin to describe it – talks about the suicide of his gay brother and says “this law…we are murdering them with this law“.

2. Reasons to be cheerful – Podcast

Funny, interesting and informative without every being ‘heavy’. Ed Milliband is funny in a sort of ‘peepshow‘ way; unaffected, dorky and endearing.  This is an amazing find as podcasts go.

Example for the uninitiated: Serfs of Silicone Valley

3. Adults in the room-  Audiobook.

Varoufakis is like a politically woke Oscar Wild with his own audiobook. Here he explains his side of how he sees the Greek debt crises, austerity and the Euro, but he’s able to break down complex systems like debt and the European central bank (ECB) for someone like me, in a way that makes sense and isn’t too dense.

He’s so smart, articulate, passionate in his convictions and ludicrously over-educated that I imagine he must have been HELL to try and argue with from the side of the ECB. Miguel has confirmed that people in the room with him report that each meeting was like sitting in a lecture.

When I need a break from screens, I’ll go for a walk until my fitbit beeps and listen to this. I do often need to hit the 15 second rewind to get all of the concepts, but that’s because I’m easily distracted by the flashing green man or cute dogs while walking.

4. Standard deviation –Book

You know those cute, summer romance films where the boring, uptight, or shy guy

meets a kooky, free-spirited manic-pixie-dream-girl who turns his life upside down?

This story is set exactly 13 years after they marry and shows the inner life and perspectives of the husband. It’s really cute because you also start to see the ways he’s noticing how he’s changed because of her and his own amusement and at times bewilderment. Also, there’s something really satisfying of someone giving us a follow up to these kinds of stories, because in a lot of films, while you’re happy at the cute ending, you kind of walk away wondering “but would they really work as a couple?”

5. Revisionist History – podcast

Now in its THIRD SEASON, this podcast is as good as any tv show around. If you haven’t started listening, start NOW. It’s so good. And you don’t even need to pay a subscription.

Example for the uninitiated: a polite word for liar.

6. Yeah, but it’s not as simple as that – podcast.

I probably find the bored-yet-amused, middle-class tones of this presenter as much a topic of study (seriously, how did sounding bored and sleepy come to signal being ‘better off than you’? Should I be sounding like this? No, right? I mean, EW. Right?) as I do the actual topics on a discussion, but this is pretty much what it says on the tin: a topic, and picking it apart. Again, interesting, lots of food for thought, but not in a depressing or rage, or apathy-inducing way.

Example for the uninitiated: Can you get arrested for basically doing nothing at all? 


Bladerunner, the second amendment, and the ethics of doxxing nazis & ICE employees

My favourite film is bladerunner. I’ve watched it countless times, getting something new from it each time. This week I’m thinking about Roy Batty, the replicant Antagonist to our hero, Deckard.

Batty could have finished Deckard right away.

He’s crazy fast and powerful and built to fight off-world battles. Things Deckard just isn’t equipped for. I used to assume the countdown before he comes after Deckard, the way he drags this showdown out, was him toying with Deckard- like a cat does with a mouse – or punishing him for being a replicant that hunts replicants.

I’ve come to the conclusion he’s doing neither.

He’s building up to enable this exchange:

He pulls Deckard up after this, proving that he never wanted him dead. He only wanted to reach him and there was no other way.

Q: How do you give someone who can’t empathise with you, empathy?

A: Direct experience.

Only after the power balance has been equalised, can batty talk to him. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe“.

This week, employees of ICE got doxxed, and this scene played in my head over and over.

From Vice:

Extract from vice article. Linked.

At the time the second amendment was written, the only way for the people to hold their government accountable was through bearing arms.

Today, this is done via leaked information.

I don’t know where the line is between personal harm and keeping a government in check this way – but we can honestly say the same isn’t true for hypothetical armed militias aiming at agents of the government? Wouldn’t each person at the end of those guns only be following orders, too?

It is my belief that sharing, downloading and propagating information design to keep such a government in check should be protected by the second amendment.

Other Women: the problem with Mona Eltehawi’s “Handmaid Tale” comment

First wave feminists told married women that sex was rape and that bras and girdles were oppression. The problem was the vast majority of married women did not feel they were being raped. Many had no strong feelings about bras beyond the trouble of finding a comfortable one that fit for various dress cuts. And so feminists was beleaguered by a lack of credibility from the start, even as it sought to capture the attention of women to get them to consider the more subtle, harder-to-describe ways they were being indeed pushed down, not by husbands in the bedroom but by systems designed by men like their husbands in the wider world and societal norms designed to capture and appease men like their husbands.

This is the problem with needing to get attention to get an issue talked about and the deeper problems considered. It’s the problem the facing Mona Eltahawi’s claim that women in Saudi Arabia are already living the Handmaids Tale. Telling Gulf women that the abayya is oppression often lands with the same confused expression – I know, I’ve done the former – as telling an average woman that her bra and heels are oppression. Trebly hard as a judgment on Gulf national women, since they wear all three. They can tell, just like married women in the 60s, that there is something on one hand disingenuous in the statement, something that treats them – ironically, since the speaker claims to fight for their autonomy – like dumb animals, not able to know their feelings or voice them, simply being herded by society.
They can only be speaking under the duress of some sort, the speaker will claim, and cannot be trusted to even see the reality in which the subjects live. Unless they agree with your assesment of them. These women know on one hand that their lives are being misrepresented to fulfill the speaker’s agenda, as much as the western women in Gadaffi’s audience knew that this was not the “liberator of women” he claimed to be when he claimed that the demands of working were a form of oppression that women in his country were well free off.

On the other hand, the women will know that something even deeper, wider, more subtle and much scarier is wrong and that the speaker of these overblown statements is trying, for whatever purpose to shine a light on it. Even as the speaker uses every tool in the otherisation toolbox to do it. Even as the speaker is blind of her own oppressions by the standards of feminists yet to come, or even by some standards of those in years behind (makeup, bra, heels, maybe even getting married)

For this reason, I don’t support Mona’s statement, but I can’t denounce it either, it simply follows a precedent set long ago in the form of discourse within activism.

The difference for me is the question of harm. Because when white women speak about white women, it is understood that each person is speaking as an individual whether they agree or disagree, have experiences that match or clash. When brown women speak about brown women, we are treated as representatives of “our people” and used to further the agendas of different political fractions whatever our views. Our clashing experiences are used as proof of brainwashing or mass jihadist thinking on one hand, or that feminists are crazy liars on the other hand. Our agreeing experiences are used, frustratingly, only to further bash us: showing us as complacent for lack of resistance – by the way, how well is that working out in Syria? Algeria? Libya? Egypt? – or being dangerous radicals for resisting, to place more personal interviews before granting a visa, more searches before boarding, more detainment in airports after landing for further questions, more barriers against immigration, work visas, sharper looks in the subway stations, being ranted at in trader joes, and landlords who can say no to us because they don’t want a “curry smell” in their rental flats around dinner time.

And we have to be honest. No one in power will cut ties with Saudi because of that article or any like it. No the UK, not the US. So far, the cause of women in Saudi is only championed by Sweden. Meanwhile, the people doing things like the landlord-curry clause are using articles like this as a moral cover for uglier motives.

I appreciate Mona’s spunkiness. her doggedness. Her refusal to back down, ever. Her speaking for those afraid to publish their name. I will always support her right to be noisy, opinioned, often dogmatic, sometimes wrong.  Her existence is proof against some of her most extreme claims. She didn’t rise up from seafoam on a shell to save us. She didn’t escape from the matrix. She was born in Egypt, not even in Cairo. Nothing, but nothing about her is special if you know more than a handful of Arabic women or any educated Egyptian women. She must continue as she has done. And because Saudi must never be normalised.

But- Saudi Arabia is best understood as the fullest manifestation of rape culture arguments I hear in ‘western’ countries all the time. Many Saudis feel arguments for advancement of women are just arguing for their daughters to be “put in the position” to be raped and it’s hard to argue that point when people in our own cultures –even judges– belive that where a woman is, what she is wearing, and how much she drank made her a target.

Saudis have acted like the AI robots in Dr Who’s “Smile” episode, implementing solutions to the wrong problems. They’ve solved what she wore by creating a standard outfit, who she was with by ensuring a ‘guardian’ at her side at all times, banned alcohol, and decided dating was way too much of a grey zone so ban that too. It’s hard to argue to change the symptoms in Saudi when the illness is still so prevalent in so many cultures. In world leaders, even.

Finally, to everyone involved in activism or social justice of any kind: consider where your words can further be used to harm, otherise and place more barriers on the people you are trying to help.

When men in tech talk about helping women enter tec, or food bloggers talk about how time-pressed women don’t feel like cooking at the end of the day, there’s almost a feeling that they’re describing helpless orcas stranded on the beach that need manipulating for their own safety, and not people who can participate and maybe shift the viewpoint of the speaker to help in more meaningful ways beyond their pet passion.

When women speak about the rights of “other women” in “other countries”, whether they are holding up placards claiming not to need feminism or placards that emphasise that they do, whether they stood with her or wanted to make America great again, from where I sit, the language used to talk about us is all but indistingushable.

And when a boat of people is allowed to sink while the lifeguard ignores their multiple calls, it’s because of ideas, transmitted via malicious or thoughtless word choices, that Muslim refugees are too fundamentally, culturally incompatible with Europeans to be allowed in.


The Thinness of Our Emotional SPF

We live in an age of cognitive dissonance. Where things are what we say they are, yet also their polar opposite, and in which we are all the things we call others.

Liberals are simultaneously soft hearted, emotion lead hippies without jobs, yet also mean, non-accepting and media controlling elitists.

Progressives who detested the tea party are eager to act like them. People who supported the Take Back The Night and #stillnotaskingforit attacking a woman for posing nude with no sense or irony. People who are against marital abuse or blaming a victim making jokes about Meliana being held against her will, without ever thinking “but what if we’re making fun of an abused person? An immigrant, married to the most powerful man in the USA, to boot?”.
It should go without saying that attacking a child is beneath any decent human being.
But here I am, saying it.

We live in a time where conservatives boast of being pragmatic and tired of identity politics, yet have voted based on a collective white identity above all other issues in the USA and call liberals “obsessed with fact-checking”.

We live in a time where “triggered” is an insult from the alt-right, and “sheeple” is from alt left, but the same supporters are too mentally fragile to read news sources that contradict their pre-existing opinions, preferring their tiny (fiction filled) pool of naturalnews, breitbart, infowars and self-styled experts who think Birmingham is under Sharia Law and mushroom spores can penetrate the sun.

The alt-right think someone else complaining about a lived-experienced social problem makes them “a special snowflake”, but complaining about the complainer is “edgy”.

The alt-left think criticising the medical establishment is revolutionary and truth speaking, but talking about how a lack of timely vaccines and antibiotics being administered robs people of lives or physical ability (in my case, the latter), is oppression and we should stop to spare their feelings.

Their collective feelings matter more (to them) than -for example- black lives, or my ability to breath and walk at the same time.

What’s ‘snowflakeir’ than asking people not to talk about their lives because your feels can’t handle it? Or expanding your feelings of discomfort into a national “divide”?

It’s all about feelings. We vote for who makes us feel good and respected and smart. We read what does not ask us to change our mental frame of the world. We isolate ourselves from offence in our timelines but claim tiredness of people being offended “for the sake of offence”.

So my question is this: when did people become so thin skinned?

I’m genuinely interested to hear if this thin skinniness is new or if was always there and untested. If what we’re seeing now is like a collective psychological sunburn from too much exposure to news and ideas.

  • Was it when news stopped being hourly and started streaming in our phones in real time?
  • When unpopular opinions weren’t just slipped out in the office occasionally at lunch or by family members at Christmas, thanksgiving, purim, or eid, but posted every morning by all 300+ of our contacts? Did our Emotional-SPF just get overwhelmed?
  • Was it after ratings and click metrics became the gold standard around which content was designed? And click bait titles and non fact-checked stories took centre stage in respected newspapers and news channels?

Or was it developed from the ease of which it is today to connect to the opinion holders who agree with us and isolate ourselves from those who don’t? Before, we just had to sit with our discomfort and develop that thick skin.

For myself, I’m reading The Times and Telegraph more lately. And I find the tone of both less grating than my habitual read, the Guardian. At least when the tone does bother me, I can remind myself they don’t represent or pander to me, so it’s forgivable.

We have to agree on a few things if there is ever to be a discussion and one of them has to be that facts matter and legitimate, high-quality publications are not lies. And that they have more weight that niche interest publications. You don’t see me telling you to get your facts from “Green Haired Parrot Lover Daily” now, do you?

After that, we can agree that everyone’s lives do matter, but that in triage living and dying are a higher priority than living the dream. That people who go unpunished are a bigger threat to the public than the ones caught and put behind bars.

That yes, your feelings matter, whether it’s feelings of discrimination or discomfort or even alienation in your community, but asking someone to suffer discrimination in silence to spare your feelings is oppressive even if that’s not what you meant. I’m Arab. I walk around feeling responsible for everything from slavery, to 911, to the horn of Africa crisis, so I feel ya, brah. But I’m still able to read about those subjects and empathise with the victims, and not like, blame them.

That social healthcare is a real thing in many countries and guess what? They still support chemotherapy because there’s nothing else that works more effectively for the money. If there was, I promise the UK would be on it. This is a country with a government that sanctioned a man with a heart condition from benefits payments for failing to complete a fitness to work test. His reason of failing? Having a heart attack because- guess what? The heat condition clearly described by his doctor on his forms was exactly as described- disabling. This is a government that tells people in mandatory weekly seminars that their attitude is what’s preventing them from getting hired in reception or serving sandwiches despite having 30 years experience in car sales (attitude, not age and gender). This is a government that has proposed an obesity tax for the extra burden the obese will place on the NHS. If they could blame a person for getting cancer or tell them to juice, or think it away, they would.

Phew. Sorry for going off on one. This is extremely hard for me as a cell & molecular biology graduate, former NHS worker, and someone who gets tested for cancer on the regular, to ignore. Back to my point….

That speaking up and calling out stuff is important, but if you don’t agree with a muslim ban, then please don’t similarly generalise with signs about “white people” or “men”. Or even “conservatives”.

I promise to try, ok?