Category Archives: Diary

Things that happen to me, or things I do

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How Gay Marriage Persuaded Me To Get A Straight Marriage*

Hooray for five ninths of the Supreme Court of the United States of America!  Today the Court ruled that bans on same sex marriage are unconstitutional.  Same-sex marriage, which was already legal in many states, is now legal throughout the USA.

Blogger and gay marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan has returned to blogging to welcome the news.  He’s been agitating for this since 1989.

Opponents of same sex marriage often claim that it will somehow undermine straight marriage.  That’s nonsense.  In fact, I think the opposite is true.  Here’s why. Continue reading How Gay Marriage Persuaded Me To Get A Straight Marriage*

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Flags Matter

Flags are symbols, full of historical meaning.  Just ask Emily Thornberry.

Following the despicable shootings in Charleston, South Carolina last week, there has been renewed debate over the Confederate Flag, the banner under which the secessionist Southern states fought the American Civil War.  Some people claim that the flag is simply a symbol of Southern culture and ‘heritage’— that flying that flag is merely an expression of an independent, libertarian spirit.  But that is disingenuous.  The Confederate cause was explicitly racist, about fighting for the right to subjugate black people.  Ta-Nehisi Coate catalogues the unequivocal words of those men who rallied their fellows to the ideology of white supremacy, and argues “Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now“.   The recent discussion has unearthed this article by Christopher Hitches from 2008, where he excorates the former Governor of Arkansas and (at the time) Presidential Candidate Mick Huckabee for lauding those who would fly the Confederate flag.  A “straightforward racist appeal” for votes, Hitchens called it.

On a more positive note, watch this wonderful TED Talk, done in the style of a radio show, by Roman Mars (my favourite podcaster).  His show, 99% Invisible, is all about design, and the talk is about the importance of flag design.

Roman outlines the principles of good flag design, draws attention to some good city flags, some bad city flags, and some truly terrible city flags.  He also explains why we should care.

A well-designed flag could be seen as an indicator of how a city considers all of its design systems: its public transit, its parks, its signage. It might seem frivolous, but it’s not. .. Often when city leaders say, “We have more important things to do than worry about a city flag,” my response is, “If you had a great city flag, you would have a banner for people to rally under to face those more important things.”

 

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The Internet urgently needs a new ‘personal opinions’ icon

I posted this on Medium last week to almost deathly silence.  I thought it would be something people might share but clearly I’ve not built up enough of a network.


One aspect of the Internet that makes me a little melancholy is the fact that so many people have to put the same phrase on their social media bios: “These are my own views and not that of my employer” or variations of that theme.

It’s sad because the Internet was supposed to be a place where people have the freedom to explore new ideas, identities and friendships. Instead, our online discourse is polluted by the anxieties and the obtuse reasoning of the corporate world.

The all-to-common “personal opinions” disclaimer reminds us how our freedom of thought and of personality is curtailed. My heart sinks whenever I read such words, because I know that the person who is writing them is on their guard, insuring themselves against some future misunderstanding or invasion of their work life into their personal space.

And yet we need such disclaimers, because on the Internet there are a remarkable number of people who are happy to conflate the views of an individual with that of the organisations they work for. Continue reading The Internet urgently needs a new ‘personal opinions’ icon

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Human Rights as a Thought Process

Last week I was invited to attend a speech by Rt. Hon. Harriet Harman MP, interim Leader of the Labour Party, entitled ‘In Defence of Human Rights‘.  She gave a robust defence of the Human Rights Act 1998, which the Conservative Party seeks to repeal.  She called the Government’s plans ‘politically and constitutionally destabilising’ and made important points about how the proposals would give authoritarian countries the ‘green light’  to start defining human rights in ways that suit those in power, rather than their citizens. Continue reading Human Rights as a Thought Process

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Ten years on from ‘The Unrecognized’, Bedouin Villages in the Negev Remain Unrecognized

Ten years ago I was part of the 59 Productions team that produced The Unrecognized, a short documentary commissioned by Adalah, The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

Our film examined the plight of Israel’s Bedouin minority, who live in villages that the state refuses to recognise.   Despite being citizens of Israel, they are not provided with basic public services such as water, sanitation, education, healthcare, or transport infrastructure.

Appallingly, the problems outlined in the film persist a decade later.  On the Huffington Post, Nadim Nashif and Dalal Hillou outline the current situationContinue reading Ten years on from ‘The Unrecognized’, Bedouin Villages in the Negev Remain Unrecognized

Some quick predictions about #Periscope and Terrorism

Last week I recorded a quick Periscope video blog making some predictions about terrorism and technology.

I think that very soon there will be some kind of outrage – either a terrorist attack or a shooting spree – where eye-witnesses stop to film the events as they unfold.  They may even put themselves in danger to broadcast live via Periscope or similar live-streaming apps.

Discussing this with some friends of mine, I was told that was a ridiculous suggestion, and that any eye-witnesses would simply run for cover rather than film a murderer on the loose.  But I have a hunch we will soon see examples where the urge to film and share trumps the urge to fight or flight.

I don’t know what the consequences of this will be.  I just think it will happen.  What do you think?

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59 Productions wins Tony Award

Huge congratulations are due to my former colleagues at 59 Productions, who just scooped a Tony Award for their set design work on the Broadway musical An American In Paris.  

Creative directors Leo Warner and Ben Pearcy led the team. Here’s Leo talking about the work of 59 on the BBC World Service Weekend programme (skip to the 16 minute mark) Continue reading 59 Productions wins Tony Award

Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?

A couple of people have asked me my opinion on an article published on Vox this week.  Writing anonymously, a university lecturer laments the entitled, consumerist tendency amongst his students, which means that they complain whenever they are exposed to ideas or opinions that make them uncomfortable.  The article carried hyperlinks to examples where academics—both students and in some cases teachers—have successfully shut down discussion or caused events to be cancelled because they were deemed ‘offensive’ or upsetting.

If this is a real trend then it’s appalling.  As I and others have argued previously and constantly, there are numerous benefits to having offensive statements made openly.  Such statements can be countered and challenged on the one hand; but they may actually have some merit and change minds and morality (for example, women’s suffrage or gay marriage).  Offence can shock people out of complacency, or be the only thing that makes people question traditional values and the structure of their society.  Finally, it’s far better to have offensive views out in the open, rather than driven underground where they can fester and grow, and where those who have been censored can claim to be a ‘free speech martyr’.

I do want to raise a few aspects of the article that give me pause for thought, however. Continue reading Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?

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#KillAllWhiteMen? You must be joking

Bahar Mustafa, the welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths, is facing a petition for her removal after she allegedly used hate speech on social media.  Apparently she used the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen.  Critics say this is inciting violence:  “Too befuddled by theory to know that killing is wrong“.

Obviously, someone elected to a position of authority and responsibility should be more diplomatic in their use of language so its probably right that she should be asked to step down.  But the story is a useful way to restate a point about ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege’ that I touched on a while back when Diane Abbott was accused of racism.

Its this: My white male privilege is such that when someone tweets #KillAllWhiteMen, I assume is a joke.  I read the hashtag and my natural reaction is that she’s indulging in hyperbole.  Banter. I get to make that assumption because I don’t live in a society that demeans or belittles me because of my race or gender.  Nothing in the mainstream culture or media undermines me or makes me insecure because of my phenotype or chromosomes.

Black people do not get to make that assumption.

Women do not get to make that assumption.

LGBTQ people do not get to make that assumption.

When any of these people see comparable hashtags (posted, usually, by white men) the threat feels real, and their outrage in response to such message is real and justified.  Conversely, when there is an angry backlash against people like Mustafa on petition sites and newspapers like The Daily Mail, the outrage seems (to my mind) quite false: a mask donned in order to better fight the culture war.

None of this is to defend Bahar Mustafa or to suggest that routinely posting antagonistic messages is admirable.  Rather, its just to point out that context is important.  While laws should be blind to race, gender and sexuality, our society and the interactions within it are not.  Words that bite in one context may be toothless in another.

Indeed, changing contexts mean there will be situations where white men would indeed feel menanced by a hashtag.  For example, if it were tweeted in Paris on 7th January, right after the Charlie Hebdo murders, messages like #KillAllWhiteMen would take on on a whole new meaning, and I’d think again.

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The Good Shabti now available as an e-Book

In response to the news that my book been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, we’ve brought forward the launch of the e-book versions of The Good Shabti.  It’s now available for the Amazon Kindle and the best place to get the EPUB versions is at Spacewitch.  Its also available in Kobo, Nook and Lulu stores.  A version will also be available in the Apple Store soon. Continue reading The Good Shabti now available as an e-Book