The Inclusivity Spiral

Hello. I am a cis-gendered white male. You can safely discount my opinion on this outright, so don’t worry. But as a cis-gendered white male, I am going to tell you my opinion anyway.

In a recent conversation with my wife we discussed gender fluidity and gender identity, along with the idea of sexual orientation. We came to the not unreasonable conclusion that, personally, if sexual identity hadn’t been so distinguished into one of three categories when we were children (those categories being straight, gay or bi) that it would have dramatically changed our lives.

Note: Bi wasn’t really an option in my upbringing mind you. If I’d kissed a man I’d have been gay,  no matter how many times I’d screamed that I was bi.

There was also this idea that if you “went” gay, you were always gay. Kiss a man, as a man, and you were gay, forever more. Nothing like this couldn’t be more apparent than when some of my close friends were coming out, and the idea was basically permeated that they couldn’t ever “go back in”, as it were.

This seems quite odd. These days, labels have become rods around which people hang certain ideals. They can be used powerfully to determine someone’s own identity, and also pejoratively as a way to cast them out. Someone who is gay is obviously then not straight, but then again maybe their explicitly saying their not straight deliberately - and so on. This is not an argument about what you personally identify with - I’m not in the business of saying you can’t call yourself something that you feel or believe you are and want to call yourself; that’d be batshit crazy.

Except, of course, that’s one of the biggest issues that the world is trying to grapple with.

One of the hottest topics that has permeated on Twitter is this idea of “TERFs” or Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. Now, I could go on for hours and hours trying to explain this, but I am not fully qualified to do so (see my disclosure at the top of this post). Instead, I’m going to call it as I see it - these are people who are worried that transwomen (that is, men who have transitioned to be women, so we are clear) are invading spaces that should be “women only” (that is, women born biologically female). They believe that this is an affront to the progress that women have been making towards feministic equality.

The arguments are heated and deep, and also not for me to really talk about (see my disclosure at the top of this post, again). One thing I have noticed though is that it is not really approaching the idea of what the discussion should be about. In the other side of the argument, the idea is that a transwoman is a woman, and that’s something I agree with. I disagree with the TERF argument, for what it is worth (see my disclosure at the top of this post, again please) but the issue I have is that this isn’t the point. It’s like arguing what speed someone is driving at when the car is going in the wrong direction.

It is arguing on a dogmatic basis that the words and labels are the battleground; not the actual rights. See, transwomen have little rights, and almost zero equality or equanimity. So instead of arguing the battleground rules, maybe we should be challenging what purpose the labels actually serve? In time, like the slow move towards sexual orientation becoming a non-issue, so too will gender identity. Those who cling to the idea they are men, or women, or transmen or tranwomen, are having to do so in our society because they are coded that way - that’s the way that the world is, and has been, for years. Like my admission in my first opening salvo - if I had been told that as a kid men and women can fall in love with women and men in any order, combination, or any variation, in a panromantic way (that’s a new label, conjured because the old labels are bullshit) I’d have felt far more secure about feelings that I had about people when I was younger.

And that’s the take away I feel - I’m a man, yes. I have a dick and balls, yes. I am biologically a man and identify as such - I am cis, as in I identify as the biological sex I was given at birth. But as a man I am not the same as any other man - I’m not a stereotypical man, as my wife would attest to. I am a spectrum of feelings and emotions that are not set in stone and are certainly not defined by my penis. My privilege is of course (my curse, I know) but the idea that when I was younger any “feminine thoughts” were supressed for not being “manly” is the same social construct that affected my romantic and sexual feelings towards men and women.

I am not saying I am trans, nor gay - what I am saying is that the spectrum exists and it has to be considered the true battleground, not the archaic definitions of what men and women are. My only solace is that there is a generation of kids growing up who are not caring the same way I did about gender, love and relationships. They will hopefully understand that you will fall in love with a person, and their gender is really immaterial to love, and that they don’t feel any shame or pressure to disavow that love for anyone, and I feel that gender is something that will follow on from that as well.

The Spiral of the post’s title comes when people tie themselves in knots in the old defined labels. Take, for example, the use of “people who menstruate” rather than the word “women”. The argument against this is that you’re erasing women if you change the term to the more generic “people who menstruate”. You’re battling the idea that women are being excluded - deleted, if you will. And you’re right to be worried about that when you consider that every single women right up until maybe right now has been deleted or excluded.

But the issue comes that that are women who don’t menstruate. There are women who have gone through menopause, have had hysterectomies, and biologically don’t menstruate. Then there are transwomen who are women but don’t menstruate, and then there are transmen who do menstruate. So the spiral becomes that trying to be progressive about the term “women” it ends up actually becomes an excluding term.

That’s the spiral. And it’s caused by the labels that exist. And that's the battleground. Don’t play by the old rules, instead make better rules that work better for a future that sees everyone be treated better - and personally, call yourself what you identify as. But be respectful of what others thing and feel. 

Tim Hortons and the UK - A Long Overdue Review

Way back in 2016, it was announced that the awesome Canadian staple coffee shop was coming to the UK. I wrote about it wile salivating, thinking that it could be very unlikely to match the expectations I had of it. I wrote about things I thought that it had to be able to match, to make sure that it was a success in the overcrowded market that is the UK Coffee Chain land grab.

And, largely, Tim Hortons in the UK has managed it. Against all odds, it’s actually found a space in the market that it can largely manage to keep and maybe win in. Let’s take apart what I wanted and fill in the gaps.

Key to Tim's massive success in Canada is the coffee. The coffee is cheap, strong, and always ready. They don't grind the beans as you wait in line, they have pots brewed and kept warm, and are thrown away after 20 minutes on the hot plate. So this is what I thought was absolutely key - the coffee market is filled with bullshit Costa and Starbucks wankers taking hours over making the coffee in front of you. Did Tee Hos in the UK manage to beat this? No. Not really. In fact, the biggest issue is the ordering system - we will come to that - but in reality, the coffee should be a lot quicker and it is just sitting there. At least if you go for the basic brewed coffee. They also offer a raft of other types - Espressos and such - which makes a lot of sense knowing what they are up against. The coffee is, however, fucking perfect. Dark roast and all.

Additionally the price must pass over. I don't mean exactly the same price, but I mean at least in the same ball park. The price should be around £1 a small, which would undercut the places they're probably going to struggle to get traction against. As I speak, this is one of the places they are excelling at. The price of a small is around £1.29, and is £1.79 for a large. Boy oh boy that is good prices for what I consider to be the best high street coffee you can get in the UK.

They need are the range of doughnuts which I expect will pass over directly. The range of donuts (see, using the “correct spelling” now) is pretty solid. The main stays are mostly there - the Chocolate Dip, Boston Cream, Maple Glaze, Old Fashioned Glaze. The names are also the same, which is nice for ex-pats like Con and experienced cool guys like me. There is a weird choice - Apple Fritter for some reason is over. But the key one they were missing was Honey Crueller, which appeared shortly after the launch and is, by all accounts, a smash hit. Timbits made it too, but the range is quite diminished - the franchises in Canada all have their own wee spins on the Timbit and that is yet to really make it to the UK, but maybe one day it will.

Also the sandwiches, soups (chicken noodle better come over or they will feel the wrath of my wife). This is where we start to get into the bad things that the UK Timmies has. The food has, explicably, been modified into something very different. The sandwiches and wraps are a bit shit. In fact, it’s very terrible. The chicken wraps are tasteless and burnt and expensive and crap. And each meal comes with wedges that are probably a version of the fries/crisps you get at McDonald’s/Subway. It is a strange choice, and you can’t sub in a donut like you can in Canada.

The other thing they’ve fucked is the breakfasts. They are great on paper, but they haven’t managed to get the greasiness of the cheese or the heat of the sandwiches, but the big thing is that the sausage just doesn’t match it. Anytime I’ve had one I’ve been disappointed, which isa goddam shame - as Breakfast Sandwiches are my fucking jam in Canada.

What else? Loads. The ordering, as I mentioned, is poor. One teller takes the order and you are given a number and you have to wait. In Canada, sure you have to wait - but there is about ten times the number of staff working and as such it is so much faster. Despite having the coffee on the pot ready to go they have to take ages on the staff to get it ready to pour. What’s the point?

Also, £2 for a bagel and cream cheese? Mate. Maaaaaate.

Basically, getting a fix of Tims is brilliant, and now we can do it anytime we fancy really, and it won’t break the bank, and to be honest - that’s ideal. Ideal. My final point was a self-detead final sentence. Basically, it has an impossible set of expectations that us Canadian-coffee lovers will require it to meet. Instead, maybe they will focus on their expansion. I fully expect £2.20 coffees and £3 doughnuts. And i'll be sad.

Well, they didn’t. And I’m not sad. Jackpot.

Glasgow, Again

I haven’t written a blog post on here in over a month and a half. It has been for many reasons; Connie’s mom was here. My sister got married. I have been sleepy and tired. And, after three years in England, Connie, Joni, Etta and I moved back to Glasgow.

The decision to move is borne from a few different things; namely, our life in England was not working out when compared to the way that we felt when we were in Glasgow, and mostly it was because we wanted to live in the city again.

This won’t be news to you who are close to us. But the story is long and started way back in Late 2016.

But it’s not for posting on here.

What will change is the stories this blog will tell. And they are going to come thicker and faster than before.

Rocket League: Some Thoughts 2

In November I got Rocket League and I played it a lot until I got Zelda. After playing Zelda for near 100 hours and enjoying every second of it, Connie got me Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which is hard as nails but brilliant. And once I got stuck, I went back to Rocket League.

The break was needed. As I said in the first post, I left it because it was causing me stress. It's a brutally difficult game, with other players playing better than you and worse than you on every match up, and slight discrepancies in ability can derail an entire play session.

When I came back to it, I found that all my hard work to get rankings had been wiped out, and I had to "place" again. This is the method in which Rocket League gives you a few players worse than you, and then better than you, over ten matches and ranks you based on how well you play in those matches, and then you're placed based on that. In Standard more (that's team based 3vs3) I was ranked Silver. That felt about right.

The ranking is a black box and necessarily so, to prevent folk "gaming" the system. It does meant that results are pretty important and a streak of wins or loses will affect your rank deeply, which can be frustrating if you're on a bad run.

When I came back I found that a few of my skills had been wiped out - jumping was something I had to relearn, as was some of physics of the game. But what had also changed was my mindset, and I found that I was enjoying playing really strongly right up to the point where I wasn't.

One night, I managed to crack Silver III, Division 4. This is the "highest" division in the Silver tier before Gold, a level I'd never reached. The run I had been on was incredible, and I felt good. I went to sleep, excited to take the streak further. The next day however, I got a bad run of matches and lost a lot. That one night, I think I lost fourteen games in a row, some through terrible play, others through folk quitting out on me, and it felt distinctly unfair. I dropped all the way to Bronze. That's a big drop.

It was infuriating. I was angry I'd lost all that hard work, and reasoned the game had failed me, and I was losing not because of my own ability, but the lack of the other players. They were holding me back.

And then, after a long conversation with Connie about how I sound when I play the game, I realised that I'd gone full circle without realising it. I'd gone back to the place where I'd ended up the first time I'd got obsessed with the game, and found it detrimental to my mood. I wasn't having any fun anymore, again! What an idiot.

So I decided to change. I read online best new tactics that "Pros" use, and decided to start using them. These include

  • Defending. I went and read a lot about skills needed to be a good goalie. One of my main frustrations was that any time I'd go up front to take a play, and fail, the other team mates would have invariably followed me up too, in an aggressive play, leaving us wide open. I decided that if the two other players are doing that, then maybe I shouldn't. We started winning a lot more games when I learned to do that.
  • Goalie Skills. In tandem with the above I needed to actually be good at saving goals. This is a skill the game doesn't lend it's self to, and it takes  a lot of failure to get it "right". So I went into the training and did a lot of aerial and goalie work, and now feel comfortable to sit back and save shots from a lot of random angles.
  • Reading the Play. Positioning in all sports is key, and in Rocket League it is a very interesting aspect that many players just don't care about. They will steam about the arena ball chasing, but if you anticipate you can be where the ball will likely end up and get a quick shot off, while everyone else is not ready.
  • Bumping other players. This is a skill I hated before I realised how powerful it is. When defending, it's neat to be able to jump up and knock the ball out of the air, but instead what confuses other players more is if you just budge their car away from the possession, because they won't even know what hit them quite literally.
  • Slowing Down. Early on, one fo the key skills I learned that confused a lot of players is if you slow down. Stop boosting everywhere and getting ahead of the play, and instead just sitting nearby, in high pressure situations, and let the rest of the team mates or opponents "whiff" the ball - that is to miss it. Then you can be there to pass or dink it in.
  • Aerials. This is the holy grail of Rocket League skills, and I'm just getting the confidence to do it. Jumping is easy, but there are all manners of tricks that Pros do to get air on the ball, jumping off the roof and off the walls to score goals and play passes. I'm working on it, and getting there.

All of this would be for nought if it wasn't making the game fun, but it is. I am getting better, and results are getting better in turn, and so is my rank. After being down at Silver I Div 2 for weeks, bouncing around, I've slowly dragged myself back to Silver 2 Div IV and maybe higher. But now even if I lose I feel like I've made progress.

This also adds to my mental state when playing; I've entered a new zen-like state. I'll still mutter "oh, for fucks sake" when someone does something wrong sure, but I don't get angry and try to avoid frustration. Any game I'm losing - it's a learning experience.

That's why I love Rocket League again, after hating it again.

The Age of Ignorance

I am someone who loves to read shit on the internet. Connie would rightly contend that not only is it my favourite past time, surpassing the Nintendo Switch, reading books, and watching TV, but something that I waste my life doing. I read Twitter with folk tweeting about ambient music, and read forums that talk about music here and there, and love to read articles on subjects that I find interesting.

I'm the epitome of someone who live within an echo chamber. I follow people who believe similar things to me, read and share similar articles to me, and like similar video games, dogs, and music to me. So my curated list of things I see on a daily basis are things I want to see.

But I know this.

I know that there is a whole world out there of people who are the anti-me, who blame immigrants for their problems getting jobs, or the lack of services when they go to the NHS. They see the anti-Semitism row rolling through the Labour party and wonder "when will they think about me?". They believe Brexit is a taking back of control that we desperately need and cannot fathom how it could possibly be bad for this, our Great Britain. They read articles by Boris Johnson and wonder how anyone could disagree with someone just "saying what the man on the street thinks".

And they, like me, get fed a personalised feed of articles backing this up. They see real articles, in real newspapers, confirming this view point to them. On top of that, they see posts by other people who believe this sent into their feeds. And to cap it all off they also get the new Fake News micro-adverts and micro-articles being syringed with medical precision into their feeds, confirming even more their bias.

In that above paragraph, replace "they" with "me". It happens to my feed, and it happens to yours.

The issue is that it breeds ignorance of not just other things that are happening, but also an ignorance of critical thought. I follow Donald Trump, the current President of the US, because his feed is full of things I don't want to hear. I then go and look at the comments made by those who also follow him, and most of them I disagree with, and what stuns me isn't the idea that there are people online who repeat him, scream adulation at him, and agree with what he says - that's not surprising. He did win the election after all, someone must agree with him.

What is incredible is that there are a group of people on all sides of the political divides across all western democracies that are taking everything as black and white. They do not understand that there is, and that there has to be, a middle ground. Somewhere that we can meet to discuss the events of the day. That despite it all, you might think that Scottish Independence is abhorrent, but I don't - and there is a playing field on which we both can talk, and that is the common ground of "let's make this a better place, shall we?". In there, we can talk about what we want, and then the how falls out, be it independence or staying in the UK.

What has fallen apart in almost all other parts of the world is the fact that being seen to aim for the grey area is now seen as conceding, and that is the problem with the world of ignorance. You won't see a right wing or staunchly left wing voter being given something into their feed to coax them into the middle ground for that doesn't get clicks, it doesn't get them on board, and it doesn't pull them to the grey area where commonality can be found. Peddlers of hate reinforce this, and that is not just news sites and Facebook's feed algorithms, it's the way the world is rewarded in black and white terms. I feel like the rise in Twitter's combative and hostile environment also coincided with the decision to change "Favs" to "Likes", because with Faving something there was ambiguity on what it meant. I faved things I disliked or disagreed with to read later or to bookmark, but today it's a love-heart, and you can only like it. It's black and white.

This blog post is, I should point out, not me being sneering at those who have this happen to you - it's not a new thing really, as the theory of this has been in play since the day newspapers were first published. Conflict sells papers, and now conflict sells shares online.

I have no idea what can be done to bring the world's discourse back because people like it so much.

The other thing that I find is crazy is that when someone is presented with an idea that is plainly obvious, this combative world of never being wrong, something I have a hard time personally with admitting even in the most low-impact of scenarios, is the pure cognitive dissonance from the truth. People will argue against provable facts, or powerful theories, or even tangible analysis of statistics and trends. But these words - facts, theories, or analysis - are now considered by those who cannot believe for a second that they could be wrong to be pejorative. I don't need your facts, they'd say, for it doesn't agree with my belief and therefore must be wrong.

What this all leads to is the collapse of a workable democracy. It doesn't work unless you're willing to accept that there might be good ideas that you disagree with. You might disagree with Brexit, like me, but if there was any positives you might be able to be swayed. I see it with clever and well meaning Unionist friends who despair at the thought of Scottish Independence, and I wonder what it would take to bring them to a position of commonality, for they might be able to convinced me a different way. In the wider world however, "hot-takes" and "outrage" powers the internet today, and that means the death of political discourse and difficult, hard to swallow ideas.

Like, for example, the almost insurmountable evidence that Brexit without a deal is demonstrably a bad idea. No one thinks it'll be good - and if you do think it'll be good, you're either a multi-millionaire with skin in the game, or someone who has believed the lies they've peddled to you to get what they want. If we, as a country, decided we don't want it to happen it's the biggest political climb down in history - and one, that as a society based on black and white ideals, the populace probably can't stomach.

If someone can't come to say that they are wrong when they've supported Trump and he does abhorrent things, we've gone off a cliff and it'll take something huge to bring the world back.

Someone is Wrong on the Internet

Sometimes I just can't leave things alone. Earlier today I stumbled into a bit of a Twitter storm with another user, someone who is ostensibly Pro-Union, whereas I am pro-Scottish Independence. This tweet wasn't about that, but instead, it was about copyright.

The whole thing reminded me of this from XKCD. 

xkcd

Over the weekend Wings Over Scotland, a site needed online as much as any you could imagine for it's critical thought on Independence matters (full disclosure; I don't care for the owner of the site and the writer's personal views, but that is by the by when it comes to the subsequent tweets), lost their YouTube account in a strange turn of events involving copyright strikes and a few other oddities. It made it on to the BBC Radio and later the BBC News website, and is causing a bit of a stooshie.

I waded in when someone conflated the BBC's copyright actions with the Twitter actions of Mr Campbell, the owner of the Wings site. In the reply to the BBC's tweet about the news, they asked simply if the use of Twitter's block function, and Mr Campbell's use of a "block list" of people on Twitter, amounted to censorship.

The answer is no, it does not. Censorship, of the kind this person was suggesting, has to be state mandated. This is common knowledge, of course. It is implicit knowledge.

Screenshot_20180801-165224_Chrome.jpg

Censorship of television and film is undertaken by the state by regulations created by the government; ie, it is censorship, and ones that we are happy with culturally. I have blogged about censorship in the past in my wee flit with viral fame a few years ago.

To avoid any doubt, here is the tweet, and my reply, that I am talking about.

Screenshot_20180801-165856_Twitter.jpg

I know, i can hear you groaning in the back - I shouldn't have taken the bait. I should have walked away, because who cares? This person isn't going to listen to the account of a middling ambient podcast by a bearded pretentious fool, are they? Right?

Well they did. They responded by "comment retweeting", which is a neat feature that allows you to slip the persons (in this case, my own) tweet directly into their timeline with a pithy comment insert above it. In my case, the pithy comment was a slanderous suggestion that I am a fascist. Things on the internet rarely go at a normal pace.

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Obviously, this didn't go down well. Instead of back tracking on their statement, they repeated in, and then made the claim that "encourage others to attack me" when I had done no such thing. I called them out on that as well, as that was two complete untruths in a few exchanges about something they were demonstrably wrong about.

The simple fact is that someone blocking someone on Twitter does not amount to censorship in any way, shape or form, even if that is "concerted" by someone else, a third party. Even if you vehemently disagree with that person, it's just simple - it isn't censorship, in the same way that me not buying the Daily Mail isn't censorship.

But of course, this person has around 800 more followers than me and who actually care about this, so a few people steamed in to like the tweets and, rather ironically, block me as a result, which amused me greatly.

The thing is that I was mid dinner making and it was a diversion, and one I actually enjoyed. A wee bit of fun, chatting with someone on the other end of the spectrum politically - until they started to post endless screenshots of Mr Campbell's more controversial (that i am no way endorsing) personal Twitter postings as a way of showing that I was defending a "vile little man", for some reason, which lead to me realise - in this scenario - I'm not the one who is refusing to back down, they are

It ended as abruptly as it started really, with not a bang but a whimper. And I am only writing this post because it amused me.