Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

I’m trying out f.lux. My screen has gone orange and I don’t like it. This may be a very good way to get me to spend less time using my computer in the evening and more time doing something useful.

Great. Elliott Rodger killed six people and now we get to have another completely moronic debate about whether it was guns that did it or World of Warcraft or autism or mental illness or the men’s rights movement or misogyny or him being a repressed homosexual. All of these things are stuff I’ve seen on Reddit, Twitter and Tumblr in the last few hours.

Can we have like three days—maybe a week—where we can not argue about this stuff? Let all the evidence come out, let it soak in slowly and think and talk about it clearly and rationally rather than come to stupid snap judgements in 140 characters or less. That would make society far, far more sensible and make it so we could perhaps change things calmly and rationally to make it so we don’t have events like this in the future. Or we could just keep on banging on like idiotic ideologues.

I read Rodger’s manifesto. I don’t want to argue about it. I want to drink to take away the pain of humanity’s deep flaws, and I want to feel some hope that we might be able to make shit better.

Facebook is suggesting I ought to ‘like’ both UKIP and the Eurovision Song Contest…

Slippery Conservative teller in the City of Westminster

I went and voted this morning on the way to work. On the way into the polling station, I was asked for my poll card by someone wearing a blue rosette, claiming to be an election teller but otherwise looking very official. In a moment of weakness, I gave it to him. I asked him directly if I had to give it to him, and he weaselled out of telling me.

I went into the polling station and asked the election official whether the behaviour I had just observed was within the rules. Apparently it is. I subsequently asked him to remove my polling card number from his list.

I’d like to think I am a pretty well-informed voter: I keep up with political news, know a fair amount about the laws and government of the country I live in. But apparently, having someone standing around outside collecting the electoral roll numbers of people who have voted while all but claiming to be election officials is just fine.

I’ll be writing to the Conservative Party asking them to discipline this kind of behaviour—and writing to the Electoral Commission to look into this. It is unprofessional from any political party—voters should have the right to a secret ballot, including keeping secret whether they voted. There ought to be a safe zone around polling stations where citizens can know that they are safe from exit polling, people pretending to be officials and other kind of borderline scummery and tampering.

If you are voting today, don’t reveal anything to party workers outside polling stations. If a party worker or volunteer pretends to be an election official, complain like hell. It’s one thing for them to be asking for our vote, it’s another for them to pretend that you have an obligation to tell them anything. You don’t have any obligation, and they shouldn’t be allowed to ask.

Update: According to my friend Imran, this is illegal under Section 66 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 which makes it so that “every candidate or election agent or polling agent so attending… shall maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of voting and shall not, except for some purpose authorised by law, communicate to any person before the poll is closed any information as to… the number on the register of electors of any elector who, or whose proxy, has or has not applied for a ballot paper or voted at a polling station”.

This is a criminal offence conducted by someone claiming to be a representative of the Conservative Party.

“If a person acts in contravention of this section he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months.”

I will be informing my local council that I witnessed electoral fraud from a representative of the Conservative Party this morning.

Update 2: A number of people on Twitter have pointed me towards this document from the Electoral Commission which makes clear that vote tellers are perfectly legal. I still think the guy I encountered this morning may have gone above and beyond in not communicating that he was not officially representing the electoral process.

I have complained to Westminster Council by phone this morning and was reassured that my local election officer will be informed. I will also be sending a complaint to the Westminster Conservative Party and am happy to publish any response I get.

UKIP comedy hour: we're not bigots, we have homophobes

UKIP leader Nigel Farage likes to tell everyone that UKIP is all nice reasonable, not-at-all racist people with a few crazies who sneak in, and he’s doing everything he can to rinse out the crazies.

Today, the man in charge of the completely farcical Croydon gathering was a man called Winston McKenzie. Who, incidentally, is the same man who a while back said that gay couples adopting children constitutes “child abuse”. He’s not only still in UKIP, but he’s still got the ability to organise public events with media coverage. Probably because Farage needs to keep him around so as to not look racist. Having a black candidate around helps gives UKIP a modicum of cover when people point out their racism, even if the guy is a homophobe—and, we find out today’s comedy hour, not a big fan of his own hometown of Croydon, and a pretty poor party planer.

Keep it up chaps, it’s most entertaining.

We have software to place signatures on documents. The stupidity of this is beyond comprehension.

I can ‘sign’ a contract by dropping a transparent PNG on it, but I can’t sign it with my GPG key. “We’ve always done it like this, so we can keep doing so” is cargo cult security. Let’s stop this bullshit.

This post is signed by Elvis. It must therefore be written by Elvis.

On the Overground: I am currently being greatly entertained by idiots claiming to be in a “TfL pilot scheme” and thus not needing a ticket. Almost glad I didn’t bring my headphones because of the drama.

Thanks to technology, we have created a whole class of people whose first concern when faced with anything is “how can we make this more social?” So we’re getting everything with ‘social’ attached. Social shopping, social reading, social learning. Since when was that a good thing?

I mean, when I’m taking a shit, I don’t want to be “social” about it. When I’m reading a book, I don’t want tweets popping up and annoying the fuck out of me. If I’m writing or programming, I want everyone to leave me alone. “Please shut up and go away” is a recurring theme in my daily thoughts.

I have a whole load of browser plugins installed specifically to make my experience of using the web less social. Perhaps we should have a “solitary media” movement to fight back against all things “social”.

I’ve just seen someone earnestly use the phrase “Farage fever”. I think I may have been teleported to a region of space-time where I’m the only sane person. It’s a worryingly familiar feeling.

Stonewall don't represent me

I was tweeting a bit about this earlier, but I need a larger canvas (and preferably one I own).

I’ve had it with Stonewall. Stonewall are a charity here in Britain that campaign for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality. Which is a good thing. Unfortunately, they say and do stupid things fairly often.

The first issue with Stonewall is they fail on trans issues. Now, to be fair to them, their constitutional remit is only to deal with lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) issues rather than issues affecting the trans community. In a “different strokes for different folks” way, I can sort of appreciate this. There are issues which affect LGB people primarily that don’t necessarily affect trans people so much and there are trans issues that are unique to people in that community.

But the reality of the situation is that while Stonewall don’t deal with trans issues, trans people are widely regarded to be part of the community of people who affiliate under the ever widening umbrella. Trans people are members of the community whether Stonewall like it or not.

Maybe it would be okay for Stonewall to not be trans-inclusive if they were at least respectful of trans people. But they aren’t. Stonewall distribute a short anti-homophobia film called Fit. According to Natacha Kennedy the film

does not actually include any trans children or young people, preferring instead to talk about trans people indirectly. In the film the term “tranny” is said to be “short for transgender”. If Stonewall had consulted a couple of trans people they would have been left in no doubt that “tranny” is not short for transgender. It is the insult menacingly hurled at us in the street, along with thinly veiled threats. This rather wooden, one-dimensional portrayal of transgender people contrasts with the film’s rich, deep and varied portrayal of LGB children.

This is pretty basic stuff. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to work out that putting out a film that uses the word “tranny” earnestly to refer to transgender people is fucking stupid.

Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot: a transgender rights campaign were to distribute a video with the intention that it be used in schools to fight transphobia and it briefly and in passing noted that “shitstabber” was a perfectly fine term to use for gay men. There’d be outrage. But when Stonewall fuck over trans people? Eh.

There are other examples of Stonewall sucking at trans-related issues like them giving awards to transphobic journalists.

I’d like to say “all of which would be fine but”, but I can’t. It’s not fine that they suck at handling trans issues. It’s fucking ludicrous that in 2014, the main gay rights charity and lobbying group still hasn’t come to grips with the fact that transgender people exist.

Instead then, I’ll say: what has kept me from going from critical to all-out condemnatory on Stonewall is that they do some good work on LGB issues. They may suck at trans issues, but at least they are fighting for LGB people. And as one of them, I should be happy that they are doing that, right?

Well, here’s the thing: they suck at that too.

Where do we start? How about a nice little minor issue like… they didn’t support same-sex marriage.

Yes. Britain’s leading gay rights campaigning charity didn’t think getting gay people the legal right to get married was something worth fighting for.

It took Stonewall an exceptionally long time to get on board with supporting the campaign. The hard work was done by dozens of other groups and individuals like the grassroots C4EM, by Peter Tatchell’s Foundation and many more.

Why is this? Very cynical people have suggested that it might have something to do with the way that former Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill is very much affiliated with the Labour Party, and Labour introduced civil partnerships, and it was the Coalition that was going to push marriage. Stonewall’s unwillingness to support the campaign for marriage rights gave a helpful card to the anti-gay folk to basically say “well, even Stonewall are against it”. The institutional power of Stonewall makes it so plenty of politicians think Stonewall represents the interests of LGB(and T?) people.

In a campaign to increase rights and respect for LGBT people, partisanship shouldn’t get in the way. We shouldn’t have a situation where the party bringing in the legislation that is going to benefit the cause of equality is a reason for or against it. You can not like the Conservative Party all you like—and I’ve got my own personal list of reasons—but you have to give the Coalition their dues for passing the marriage bill.

Except, according to Stonewall, you should congratulate them for the passage of the marriage bill. After it came into effect, Stonewall were tweeting and posting about how wonderful they’d been in getting it passed. The chutzpah of it was truly spectacular.

There have been other things. A particular bugbear of mine is Stonewall’s campaign with mobile company O2. Stonewall released a guide to protecting LGB teenagers on the interwebs with O2. In this, it told parents of said teenagers to report their own children to the police if they found evidence on their child’s phone they had been sexting. Just think about that: your parents find not only that you’ve been gay sexting but have you carted off to the cop shop for it.

Worst. Coming out. Ever.

And to do it with O2 of all companies—the same O2 that block the Wikipedia articles on “gay”, “lesbian” and “transgender” in the filter category LIFESTYLES. When Pat Robertson attacks the “gay lifestyle”, we laugh at him. When O2 categorise being gay as a “lifestyle”, Stonewall partner with them on a project to tell scared parents to have their gay kids arrested for sexting. Absolutely ridiculous.

And this week, the new acting chief exec at Stonewall, Ruth Hunt gave us very good reasons to think that nothing over at Stonewall Towers has changed. We can thank an editorial—improbably published on the Telegraph website of all places—titled Why Stonewall isn’t joining the Dorchester boycott.

The Dorchester boycott, incidentally, is a boycott of Dorchester Hotels which are owned by the Sultan of Brunei. This is as a response to Brunei’s imposition of harsh sharia-based law including stoning of gay people.

In the piece, Hunt has this corker of a sentence:

We’re renowned for our pragmatism and our belief that talking is usually more effective than protests - however satisfying protests may be, in the short term they’re often most rewarding to the individuals taking part.

It struck me: here’s where Stonewall is getting it so wrong.

The reason Stonewall is called Stonewall is precisely because its historical namesake didn’t follow this tactic.

If Stonewall the charity had been at the riots at the Stonewall Inn, they’d be trying to talk calmly to the police rather than taking off their stilettos and beating the cops around the head with them. The thing which started the modern gay rights movement wasn’t people being respectful and not making a fuss, it was brave and courageous people standing up and taking a risk. It was people with nothing left to lose risking being beaten up by cops or homophobic thugs or both.

As it was with the Stonewall rioters and the Gay Liberationists in the sixties and seventies, so it was with the courageous activists in the eighties and early nineties who—with nothing left to lose—set up ACT-UP and Queer Nation and fought for action on HIV/AIDS. What got anti-retrovirals into the hands of people dying with AIDS? Groups like ACT-UP acting up rather than just chit-chatting.

The reason we can live outside the closet and not be chemically castrated by the state, treated under barbaric reparative therapy regimes and chucked in jail for gross indecency is because courageous people protested, fought the police, and marched with pride rather than hid in fear. If we’d all followed Ruth Hunt’s advice, there would be no modern gay rights movement.

Ruth Hunt runs a charity named after a riot and she doesn’t believe in protest. She’s either ignorant of the very basics of the history of the movement she—by dint of her position—now helps lead, or she’s suffering some extraordinary cognitive dissonance.

I get not liking protests. I don’t like protests. I’ve been to a small number and… they’re not for me. I’m a writer not a fighter. My idea of political activism is poring over a long boring policy document and unpicking the gnarly details, the crazy assumptions and the fallacious reasoning. I’m so much better at pedantic philosophical wonkery than I am at placards and shouting. I’m not a “radical queer” by any stretch of the imagination: I don’t think we need a revolution.

But even to a liberal wonky type like me, Hunt’s response to the Brunei/Dorchester boycott shows Stonewall to be so mediocre and so inadequate to their mission, I can’t help but say “enough”.

Stonewall don’t speak for me or a lot of other LGB people I know, let alone T. We need a new national LGBT (and, yes, fully trans-inclusive) campaigning group. It doesn’t have to be radical. It doesn’t have to “kick the shit out of the system”, as Vito Russo put it. But it needs to have enough courage in its convictions to stand up for the people it claims to represent, and have enough vision to see beyond partisan hackery and beyond the self-interest of being nice to your corporate backers to what it is worth standing up for.

It needs to reflexively and institutionally know that transphobia is harmful and wrong and to act in a way that matches this. It needs to not have to be told that Internet censorship will harm young LGBT people seeking anonymous help on the internet. It needs to not have to think about it when presented with the opportunity of getting same-sex marriage. It needs to be fit for purpose because Stonewall isn’t.

We can do better than this. If we care about improving the lives of LGBT people around the world, we have to collectively do better than Stonewall.