Go away, we don’t want your money

There’s a stationer’s shop up the road that must be inundated with students at certain times of the year, printing out their single businesscard, their single letterhead, and single compliments slip for their Multimedia Tools & Techniques projects. It must be frustrating, dealing with these small little jobs that net you as little as 15c. So they did something logical. They instituted a minimum charge of a euro. This is fair enough, so I continue to take my business there and we all live happily ever after.

Actually, they didn’t. They informed me, the last time I went there, that any print job to the value of less than 3 euro incurs a euro handling fee. In other words, instead of the customer saying: “Fair enough, you charge a minimum of two euro,” the customer says: “Oh, really? You’ve instituted a punishment for those daring to spend less than 3 euro on a print job?” Because that handling fee means a print job of 2.95 will cost you 3.95, but a job worth 5c more will cost you 95c less. It genuinely comes down to a fine for needing a print job worth less than 3 euro.

We’re talking piddling amounts here, and I really can understand why they need to charge a minimum fee. I can even understand why they might want to scare away those one-page-please students, who clog the little shop with queues at finals time and probably cause inconvenience for higher paying customers. But give me twenty seconds, and I can think of three better ways to handle the situation, better ways to phrase the minimum charge so it doesn’t come across as a snotty punishment for small spenders. The impression they’ve now created – that they are turning their noses up at small-job-customers rather than just instituting a fair minimum fee, that they are effectively fining those who dare to ask them to print only a few pages – means when I had a bigger job yesterday, I took it to a different printer.

If you don’t want my business, don’t worry. I’ll take it elsewhere.

Let’s give more to men

I’ve been bothered for a while with how we talk about sports. It’s rugby, and women’s rugby. Cricket, and women’s cricket. The assumption is built into this way of talking that there’s the real sport, then there’s the other version. Like the priceless oil painting, then the amateur copy.

How do we solve this, though? It’s a fact that physically, men and women are different. Even beyond gender, we have different limitations which require acknowledgement for everyone to get a chance of recognition for excellence. There need to be different categories, the broadest of these being men’s, women’s, and parallel. We can’t avoid the need for categorisation.

There’s a very simple solution: a complete embrace of those categories. Why not start referring to men’s sports the same as we do to other categories of sport? Why not call it men’s cricket, men’s rugby, men’s football, on television news and in written reporting, in announcements of upcoming games, in every official and controllable way available? There will of course be massive resistance initially, but this would be nothing new. With persistence and patience, we can reach a place in a decade or two where the name of a sport doesn’t automatically mean the men’s version.

This is one matter in which fairness and equality will be helped not by giving women equal status, but instead by giving men equal status. It’s a simple matter of changing a small issue of language, but it can bring about a huge change in how we think about sport.

With “friends” like these…

You are Facebook friends with Jack. You’ve never met in the flesh, you connected because you had a mutual friend, or maybe you got talking in a group you both belonged to and discovered you had mutual interests. One day, you open Facebook and on your timeline it tells you Jack liked this:

I think blacks are awesome. I have one in my toolshed, next to my lawnmower.

If you’re anything like me, you would see that Jack liked a “joke” that is excruciatingly callous about the history of slavery, that expresses the view black people are not human, that celebrates and condones racism. I understand enough about white privilege to realise joking about such issues is like Marie Antoinette criticising starving masses from the isolation of her opulence. Clearly, our hypothetical Jack is ignorant and lacks enough higher brain function to feel empathy.

So when this morning I opened Facebook and saw a “friend” had liked this:

feminist_lesbian

…I unfriended him. I didn’t unfriend him because I think he’s a misogynyst, but because he is clearly either ignorant of the extent of the suffering, persecution, bias, violence and objectification women endure around the world every single day (with gay women experiencing even more intense suffering), or he is aware but lacking in the necessary higher brain function that would enable him to empathise enough to be repelled by a “joke” like that.

And if for a second you think: “Oh, but we’re laughing at the idiot who thinks that way, who can’t make a distinction between relationships and pornography, who doesn’t have a clue,” do me a favour and THINK HARDER. When we portray haters as clowns, we portray them as harmless. There are few more dangerous, enabling things we can do.

I get it… kind of

The world has a weird relationship with the USA. People think it’s the greatest threat to world peace, yet they also think it’s the place they’d want to live, if they had a choice. That makes sense. If there’s an army shooting wildly at everything around them, the safest place to be is probably in their ranks. However, I wouldn’t go live there if you paid me.

This country scores among the worst in most of the indicators for quality of life in the world. They have the highest  incarceration rate in the world, perform poorly in retirement security, they’re near the top in income inequality, the most warmongering nation in the world, with a resulting massive portion of the population damaged by their experience waging these wars, their human rights record is not pretty, and if you are unfortunate enough to get into a spat with their law enforcement, you’re much more likely than in countries of comparable development to end up dead. We could probably go on and on.

So while I get it, kind of, I also don’t get it, at all. Why would anyone willingly go live there, unless they have ties in that country? It really boggles my mind.

I can’t celebrate with you

There is nothing like an outsider to look at something a society does and go: “What the hell, people? Ew.” It can pop a bubble around you, inside of which something was just normal, just the way things have always been done, and open your eyes to how weird it really is.

I had a similar epiphany about Afrikaner school anthems a while ago, and when I mentioned to a Northern Irish friend that as a child, black adults would refer to me as kleinmies (little miss), and my brothers as kleinbaas (little boss). Believe it or not, my family were considered progressive, because we were required to be respectful to black adults, but while we were required to address white adult men as oom and women as tannie (literally uncle and aunt, but in practice simply a less formal title than sir or madam), black adults were addressed by their first name. It never occurred to anyone that this was strange, because it was the norm. The sheer, staggering brokenness of what was simply normal when I grew up, simply the way things were done, never really hit home until someone else said: “What?!”

You wouldn’t think, coming from a society as messed up as Afrikaners, that I could look at anything Ireland does and go: “What?!” You’d be wrong. In the same way you might describe the weird habit of Slovakian men whipping women with willow branches at easter, I describe the utterly bizarre Irish ritual of dressing their kids up in wedding outfits and dedicating them to their church.

To me, the horror is confounding. Here is an organisation which has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide the sexual abuse that was rife in its ranks for decades (centuries?), that ran slave camps for women who dared fall pregnant without being married, that ran schools which indeed filled a gap in education, but was a gift wrapped in brutal abuse which caused festering trauma people still suffer from to this day.

This organisation then used the deference of the government of the time to make sure the victims of their abuse paid their own compensation. Let me repeat that: these feckers raped Ireland in every sense of the word, then cosied up to a spineless bastard to add insult to injury and make sure the long-suffering Irish paid for their abusers’ wrongdoings again. They were cynical, calculating and absolutely put corporation before people, more so than the most slimy banker you can imagine.

Parents across the country respond by dressing their little boys and girls up as brides and grooms every year, and watching in delight as they declare themselves dedicated to this stinking, corrupt pile of manure.

Forgive me if I don’t show enthusiasm for your kids’ confirmation pictures, or clap my hands in delight at how pretty they looked in their little outfits for their first holy communion.

France makes laws to push social responsibility, while US makes laws to screw the poor

This morning I saw an article on my Facebook newsfeed:

“It is now illegal in France for supermarkets to throw away food. They can donate it all to charities, or as animal feed.”

Underneath, as usual, was a list of related articles. One of them had this headline:

“It is now illegal to distribute food to homeless people in 21 cities.”

You seldom get a complete blog post more or less written for you in two headlines, but there you go.

Control, again

Ireland is set to vote in a referendum about same-sex marriage, and some other thing almost nobody can remember. It’s all about whether we should or shouldn’t allow people of the same gender to get married. The Yes side has dubbed it a question of marriage equality, the No side has dubbed it a question of anything but what it’s really about, screaming alarm over adoption and surrogacy, both completely irrelevant to and unaffected by the outcome of the referendum. This obfuscation manifested in both their claims of what motivates their opposition of the proposed amendment to the constitution, as well as their denial of what really motivates them.

While of course there will be exceptions, the vast, vast majority of those who are campaigning for a No vote, are motivated by a religious-based conviction that homosexuality is wrong. The Bible says it’s bad, the Church (in this country that of course always means the Roman Catholic Church) says it’s bad, therefore…

And this is where my disagreement with these views goes from “whatever, dude” to “stop, because what you’re doing is wrong”. That sentence above ends with “…I want everyone else to live according to my convictions.”

Of course, society often enforces legal prohibitions not everyone agrees with. We strive, hopefully, to limit such contested bans to activities that can clearly be shown to be harmful to the greater good if allowed to go unchecked. Murder and theft are two perfect examples of this. Someone else’s relationship with a consenting adult cannot possibly fall into this category. It’s clear the No side understand this, which is why there has been this remarkable distortion of the facts and intense effort to obfuscate the issue on hand.

But the truth is that a No vote is rooted in the very Catholic desire to not only live your life as you see fit, but to also force others to live their lives the way you see fit. This country is still steeped in that kind of approach.

On 22 May, I will be voting yes for a number of reasons relating to my conviction that deeply loving and committed couples should be able to make that relationship official, and that homosexuality is as normal a variation in the human condition as is being left-handed, though apparently slightly less common. Primarily, though, I’ll be voting yes because what consenting adults do with their lives is none of my fucking business. Society in Ireland crosses a line when it comes to control of individuals. We go way too far, still, in dictating forced organ donation onto women, in our interference with how people raise their children. A yes vote would be a step in the right direction, following a good few before it, and hopefully to be followed by many more in the future.

Bring it on.