Living in a burning world

When I was a kid, I used to devour apocalyptic fiction: give me a shattered society trying to survive in a nuclear winter and I’d be all over it.

One of the most frightening ones I read was Nevile Shute’s On The Beach, which truly terrified me.  It’s set in Australia in the aftermath of a nuclear war, with the characters awaiting the inevitable arrival of the radioactive fallout. It gave me nightmares.

It’s not as frightening as this article.

The article is also about Australia, and about people stoic in the face of a man-made disaster. This one isn’t nuclear war, though. It’s fire.

Our weather apps now carry dotted lines across the shining sun: smoke haze. We learn the meaning of “temperature inversion”, in which warm air traps cool – and smoke – beneath it; our weather reports now carry air quality ratings. For the past month they’ve ranged from “poor” to well beyond “hazardous”. In news updates about the fires, it’s now commonplace to hear two horrific phrases: “seek shelter” and “too late to leave”.

…The fire danger warnings have a new category. Colours at the low-danger end are green, moving through yellow and orange. The new one is a deep, malevolent red with black stripes, and it’s called “catastrophic”.

On the first catastrophic warning day there’s a palpable fear, because even expert firefighters have never seen anything like this. The winds are completely unpredictable. Nobody knows what will happen.

The writer, Charlotte Wood, is well aware that her article centres the relatively affluent city-dwellers, not the poorer people who’ve been affected by these fires in much more devastating ways.

…as the days and weeks pass, here in Sydney the mood changes from disbelief to hypervigilant fear to a kind of WTF petulance. It’s still happening? We’re used to turning our attention briefly, intensely, to “those poor people” affected by climate change, then returning to normal life. Now those poor people include us.

Internet fights break out over whether it’s obscene to complain about the smoke. Of course it is; we’re lucky, we of the middle-class inner city. I can afford to buy a new Ventolin once a week, for example. I have time to do each load of laundry thrice before it smells clean. My work doesn’t force me to remain outside, breathing in this shit all day long. And of course, no fires have visited inner Sydney. None of ours are among the 600-plus homes burnt to the ground. None of us are among the dead.

But even as this is happening, right-wing politicians pretend it’s business as usual.

The prime minister’s family lives here in Sydney; surely by now the man must be saying something? I checked his social media pages. Prime minister Morrison’s Instagram account carried grinning images of him – baseball cap in place – atop a ladder, draping his family home in twinkly Christmas lights. No matter what’s going on each year, says the PM of a burning nation, getting in the Christmas spirit has always been such an important part of our family life.

But it’s not business as usual. The 2010s were the decade when our planet burned. From Wired:

This year, for example, wildfires in the Arboreal forest ringing the Arctic were unprecedented in both intensity and latitude, according to The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The organisation says that the Earth’s boreal forests are now “burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years.”

And fires pump more CO2 into the atmosphere, creating a terrible feedback loop.

In Brazil, wildfires – which have been at the most intense since 2010 – released the equivalent of 228 megatonnes of carbon dioxide. In an atmosphere already chock full of pollution, this is, of course, bad news.

There is much more bad news where that came from. And our response is to decorate our Christmas trees and pretend everything is okay.

We’re going into an election here where the PM can’t be arsed taking part in a climate debate; no wonder. Under the Conservatives we’re going to miss our extremely tame 2020 climate targets. We’re failing to meet our modest commitments to tackling carbon emissions, pollution, waste and overfishing. We’re also going to miss our 2050 emissions target.

We worry about Bags for Life and paper straws, tinkering with things that don’t matter while the world burns and the rich and powerful tell us not to believe the science and to keep on consuming and polluting and trashing the only home we’ve got.

From On The Beach:

You could have done something with newspapers. We didn’t do it. No nation did, because we were all too silly. We liked our newspapers with pictures of beach girls and headlines about cases of indecent assault, and no Government was wise enough to stop us having them that way. But something might have been done with newspapers, if we’d been wise enough.

The apocalyptic novels of my youth were supposed to be fiction of the most pessimistic kind. They’re starting to feel horribly real.

Library closures are a horror story

The Guardian:

Almost 800 libraries have closed since the Conservative government implemented austerity in 2010, new figures reveal.

That’s nearly a fifth of the UK’s libraries gone in a decade.

One of the awful things about this, and there are many awful things about this, is that savage cuts to library services reduce the number of library visits. That reduction is then used to justify further cuts on the grounds that fewer people are using libraries.

Libraries aren’t just places to get books, although of course that’s important: my mum taking me to the local library kick-started my imagination and ignited a love of stories and language that’s been with me my whole life. I wouldn’t have the job I have if it weren’t for those visits, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without those books.

I’m with Manic Street Preachers – “Libraries gave us power” – and Walter Cronkite here: “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Libraries are crucial for social services – librarians spend more time helping people fill out essential forms for benefits than they do stamping books; with many crucial services only available online, libraries are a godsend for those who can’t afford or who are not confident in using computers – and for people who need somewhere to go that doesn’t require them to spend money. In the absence of help for some of society’s most vulnerable people, they can be a valuable safety net.

And they make people’s lives better.

Here’s a study from the UK Arts Council from a couple of years ago.

library use is positively associated with subjective wellbeing after controlling for a wide range of other factors. Library usage is associated with higher life satisfaction, higher happiness and a higher sense of purpose in life

…We also find that library engagement has a positive association with general health. After controlling for other confounding factors, being a regular library user is associated with a 1.4 per cent increase in the likelihood of reporting good general health. We valued this improvement in health in terms of cost savings to the NHS. Based on reductions in GP visits caused by this improvement in health, we predict the medical cost savings associated with library engagement at £1.32 per person per year. It is possible to aggregate NHS cost savings across the library-using English population to estimate an average cost saving of £27.5 million per year.

…We note that this is likely to represent just a subset of the secondary health benefits of libraries, which may impact upon other medical services and costs aside from GP visits.

This vandalism is a terrible thing with terrible consequences, and it’s completely unnecessary: it’s the results of cuts forced upon us by cultural vandals who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

“If there were going to be mass gender fraud, we’d have seen it by now”

Cyclist, academic and trans woman Rachel McKinnon writes for the New York Times:

People are angry because I’m a transgender woman, and I race in the women’s category.

Soon after my win, Donald Trump Jr. threw a Twitter tantrum about me. I’ve seen a huge uptick in the volume of hate mail I’ve received in the weeks since. I have four people who monitor my Instagram to delete hateful messages; they’ve been overwhelmed by the volume. Twitter is far worse. I’ve received death threats, but I try not to dwell on them.

The article includes a key detail about McKinnon’s sporting performance that the anti-trans lot tend to omit.

I lose most of my races.

I doubt this will convince any of the haters, because they’re not interested in facts. And until they realised they could use the topic as yet another way to demonise trans women, they weren’t interested in women’s sports either.

Trans women are women. We are female. And we are not taking over. No openly trans woman has set an open elite world record in any sport (remember: mine is in masters racing). No openly trans woman has won an elite world championship in any sport, let alone a medal.

There haven’t been any reported cases of gender fraud, where a male athlete is given a female passport or birth certificate by an unscrupulous nation, for the purposes of slipping a “man” into a women’s Olympic event. If there were going to be mass gender fraud, we’d have seen it by now.

Not my movement

In the 2014 referendum campaign for Scottish independence, I was a proud Yes supporter. I wore the badge with pride, attended rallies, and felt part of something important: we had the opportunity to make a better, more tolerant, more inclusive country.

In 2019 I wouldn’t attend an independence rally because I’d be scared for my safety.

In recent years trans people have become the bogeymen among significant parts of the independence movement, especially online; this week’s news that a member of the SNP complaints committee has resigned over antisemitism has been blamed on a trans conspiracy, even though vocal and vicious transphobia has thus far resulted in zero consequences for any of the people engaging in it.  Outright transphobia has become mainstream, with even senior politicians embracing and signal boosting antisemitic trolls simply because they really, really hate trans women.

The New Statesman, hardly the most pro-trans publication, has noticed too.

In a turbulent social media microclimate that includes prominent MPs, MSPs and activists from across Scotland’s political parties, allegations and instances of transphobia and homophobia are being met by those of misogyny and abuse. Offline, the controversy has focused on provocative public meetings to discuss “concerns” about the reforms, opposed by demonstrations from LGBTQ+ activists. The issue has provoked conflict within the SNP that has spilled out into the wider nationalist movement, and also taps into socially conservative elements of wider Scottish society. The dispute has been enough to prompt a modest climbdown by the SNP leadership, which has delayed the proposed changes.

…The various elements of Scottish nationalism that the SNP has tried to push to the fringes – such as socialists and a populist hostility to “minority” issues like trans rights – are coalescing around a new style of nationalist activism that feels, from the demonstrations I’ve attended, more like a kind of ecumenical religious revivalism than serious movement politics.

I’m saddened by this, and scared.

Update: 24 hours later, here’s the editor of the Scottish edition of The Times with an exclusive. According to the so-called paper of record:

LGBT activists in the SNP are allegedly digging up dirt on members who oppose self-identification for trans people in a campaign to “purge” them from the party.

Allegedly, of course, means that the claim can’t be substantiated. But facts don’t matter. The Times gets another bullet to fire in its war on trans people.

This, incidentally, demonstrates the problem with press regulation in the UK. You can’t complain about any of this because the regulatory code only covers claims made about named individuals. Provided the Murdoch press doesn’t lie about specific people, it can print complete fabrications about – and incite hatred of – entire groups of people with impunity. And it does, every week.

Don’t give money to the Salvation Army

If you’re considering donating to a charity this year, please don’t give to the Salvation Army.

The charity says it’s dedicated to helping all people in need irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but it has a long history of discrimination against LGBT+ people.

Here in the UK, the Salvation Army lobbied against repealing the hateful Section 28, which made it illegal for teachers to talk about LGBT+ people in schools, and against equal marriage. Last year in Australia it lobbied for legal “religious freedom” protection that would enable it to discriminate against LGBT+ people.

Also last year, it urged its members not to discuss their opposition to LGBT+ rights because if the public knew of it, it would be a “threat to our reputation, our fundraising efforts, and ultimately our ability to serve people in need.”

In 2017, the Salvation Army’s New York rehab centres refused to serve trans people; in 2013, the US operation referred people to dangerous and discredited “pray the gay away” conversion therapy; in 2012 one of its senior Australian officers told a radio programme that “gay people should be put to death”; and in 2008 a trans woman died in Texas after the Salvation Army shelter refused to let her sleep in the women’s quarters.

The Salvation Army has of course done some good work, and it’s possible that this evangelical Christian organisation has changed its spots, but given its history – and some of that history is very recent – it would be wise to assume that it’s more concerned about negative PR than it is about LGBT+ people.

Lots of other charities do good work too, and they manage to do so without fighting against other people’s human rights.

It can be lonely at Christmas

Christmas can be tough if you’re not partnered or part of a nuclear family: the ads show a family life you don’t have while every shop seems to be playing It’ll Be Lonely This Christmas on a loop. As Owl Stefania writes in Metro, it can be particularly hard for LGBT+ people. Stefania’s writing specifically about trans people here, but much of what she says applies to the wider LGBT+ community too.

…not everyone is as lucky as I am and Christmas, a time when most people go home to see their families, can be especially tough for trans people. Many trans people have been disowned simply for being themselves, while others face serious rifts at home.

I have other trans friends who simply can’t spend Christmas with their families because their families don’t want them there or they don’t feel understood. And some of those who do go home feel forced to play a role that isn’t really them to appease their family or to make them feel comfortable.

A few days ago I linked to a survey in which more than 1 in 10 parents said they wouldn’t be comfortable having their child live with them if their child was LGBT+, something that contributes to the disproportionately high proportion of young homeless people that are LGBT+.

Stefania:

If you know a trans person who is estranged from their family, please offer them support and check in on them. And if you’re someone who is struggling with accepting a family member who is trans, please set your reservations aside and embrace them – they need you.

And if you can’t be part of the solution, please don’t be part of the problem.

Bigots of a feather flock together

I wrote the other day that many bigots are stupid. So it was just a matter of time before they combined multiple flavours of stupid, as they do here.

Is a new trend that isn’t a new trend caused by something that doesn’t exist? Hoo boy, we’re gonna have to get our thinkin’ caps on for this one!

To be fair, banging on about the incredible power of things that don’t exist is kinda the raison d’être of religious loons. But even by their standards this one’s incredibly dumb. It combines three kinds of idiocy: anti-vax scaremongering, anti-trans scaremongering and deliberately misunderstanding or misrepresenting research.

The study on which this ludicrous story is very loosely based found that among a very small data set (177 people), there was a higher incidence of autism among the trans and non/binary participants than among the cisgender ones.

What the study categorically doesn’t say is that what the article argues: vaccines cause autism which causes “transgenderism”.

From the article (no link because nutcases):

Of course, this study neglects to mention that autism is caused by vaccine damage

Because it isn’t.

Get rid of these dangerous and ineffective vaccines, and you will greatly reduce gender confusion in children

Well yes, but not in the way being suggested here. If more children die of preventable diseases, then of course they won’t want to transition after their entirely avoidable deaths.

even if vaccines were shown to cause transgenderism

Which they won’t be, because science.

the LGBT community would come out firmly behind increased vaccination rates for children, as it would be yet another way to increase their numbers.

Remember I said bigotry is intersectional, that people who are bigoted against trans people are usually bigoted against other groups too? Let’s look at the good Christians in the article comments.

That guestion is a diversion, a deceit. The cause is j€wish ‘fueled’ preschool ‘education’

A bigot being anti-semitic? This is my shocked face. There’s more.

Obviously, a major factor in promoting transgenderism is jewish propaganda

Much more.

Big Pharma is run by jews

More.

Jews sell the vaccines and run the transgender propaganda machine.

And more.

the jews are the masters at divising methods to make people more susceptible to their powers of suggestion…and it usually involves something detrimental to our health, so then they can make money from the misery they cause us.

Big Pharma. Secret Jewish funding. A conspiracy to get people hooked on HRT. These hate-filled theories may seem extreme, but you’ll find UK anti-trans activists expressing exactly the same antisemitic conspiracy theories and many high-profile figures supporting them; if they’re not pushing anti-semitism you’ll often find racism and/or homophobia instead. Just look at the various political candidates currently getting booted as their history of antisemitism surfaces: many of them were already publicly bigoted against us, but because they were going after trans people there weren’t any consequences. The same applies to the vocal transphobes here in Scotland who are now turning their attention to the wider LGBT+ community. They were never going to stop with just the trans people.

Again and again, transphobia is the canary in the coalmine: if someone hates us, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll hate other minorities too. It’s just that with us, they don’t feel they have to hide it.

This hateful, murderous ignorance

The thing about bigots is that often, they have no idea what they’re talking about. Sometimes that’s because they’re stupid. But all too often it’s wilful stupidity, where the information is widely and easily available but they either don’t look for it or refuse to believe it.

Here’s an example from this morning. Over on Mumsnet, aka Prosecco Stormfront, the anti-trans lot are appalled at the idea of trans women being able to change the gender marker on their passports without having to present medical evidence, report to a panel and so on.

The thing they’re concerned about has been law for 49 years.

Not only that, but the law simply codified something that’s been happening since at least 1942.

If you weren’t wilfully stupid that might give you pause: after all, if self-ID were so dangerous and open to abuse we’d presumably have seen a flood of passport-changing predators over the last 77 years; the fact that there hasn’t been a single case demonstrates how ridiculous that argument is. But nobody’s going to change their mind here. All they’ll do is ignore the evidence and demand the law be changed to accommodate their bigotry.

They’re not interested in facts, or in evidence. They’re wilfully, maliciously, proudly ignorant.

Their far-right friends show just how dangerous wilful stupidity can be. In Ohio, right-wing forced-birthers have introduced a bill that would force doctors to carry out medical procedures that aren’t physically possible at significant risk to pregnant women’s health.

I’m not making this up. The bill, Ohio HB413, says that if a doctor doesn’t want to face charges of murder for letting an embryo die, they must try to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy – something that isn’t medically possible.

A doctor will face criminal charges unless they:

Takes all possible steps to preserve the life of the unborn child, while preserving the life of the woman. Such steps include, if applicable, attempting to re-implant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus.”

There are no documented cases of this ever being done successfully. The likelihood of success is zero. The risk of killing the woman is significant.

But these so-called pro-lifers aren’t interested in the health of the woman. They already advocate “watchful waiting”, which means refusing treatment to a woman until she miscarries – despite the very real and significant risk that she may die of a haemorrhage if her ectopic pregnancy isn’t treated.

That’s where wilful stupidity leads you.

Women’s reproductive healthcare is not some dark art or some secret. The evidence around ectopic pregnancy, its dangers and how to minimise those dangers is solid and easy to access.

But these murderous yahoos don’t want evidence. They don’t want facts. They want doctors to do what they’re damn well told because they know better than so-called experts with their “facts” and their “science” and their “not killing women”.

As Grazia Daily put it:

This is what happens when people who know nothing about women’s bodies make laws about women’s bodies.

A song about the lost and the lonely

All good things must end, and that includes me blogging about our Christmas EP. I hope you’ve found it interesting; I like reading other people’s explanations of how they come up with stuff because we’re all so different in how we work, how we approach things and how we end up with a finished product.

This is the final track from Didn’t Kiss You This Christmas, and it’s called A Christmas Prayer.

As I’ve written previously, I like to set myself challenges and our Christmas songs are examples of that. With this one, I wanted to write something that nodded towards religion but wasn’t religious (I’m not a person of faith), a prayer that was secular and crucially, not shite.

That’s harder than it sounds. Just ask Cliff Richard, who got bored halfway through writing The Millennium Prayer,  chucked The Lord’s Prayer in there and successfully created a song so awful that it killed Santa.

So I decided to try two things in the song: to genuinely wish people well – because Christmas can be brilliant – and to sing about the other side of it too.

The run-up to Christmas can be oppressive if you aren’t happy, partnered, a proud parent or the child of proud parents, every advert apparently showing a nuclear, cisgender, heterosexual  family laughing in expensive knitwear, every supermarket tannoy playing It’ll Be Lonely This Christmas. I wanted to reflect that too.

I hope you have a good one, I hope your Christmas is fun
I hope you’re with your family and there’s something for you under the tree
And I hope you thank your lucky stars

I’m not trying to be Moaning-Faced Mandy here, spoiling everybody’s Christmas fun by pointing out that not everybody is having a good time out there. I’m channelling Kurt Vonnegut, who quoted a family member that’d say “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is” to make himself mindful of happy occasions. There’s a lot of sadness in the world, which is why we should celebrate and take joy from the good times when we can.

But I think we should also recognise our privilege, and try to do our bit to leave the world in slightly better shape than we left it. I worry that we live in increasingly hateful times, times when it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that – Vonnegut again – we are all here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.

Say a prayer for the lost and lonely
Pray for the battered and the bruised
Raise your glasses and remember
The ones who didn’t make it through

I’m not going to go into specifics here but many people I care about have had to deal with loss this year, as I’m sure you may have had to do too. I think part of the Christmas season involves thinking on that, remembering those we’ve lost and recognising when the circumstances that contributed to those losses are within our collective power to change. Many of us know too well how thin the line between waving and drowning can be, and how little support there can be for people who find themselves struggling to stay afloat.

I find this kind of thing difficult to articulate. Empathy’s a hard thing to do in a lyric. Take Band Aid for example: while it’s clear what they were getting at with the line “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”, it does sound rather like gloating rather than empathy. Not a great look at any time, but particularly bad when you’re singing about dying children.

I know, I know, it’s not like me to go off on an opinionated tangent. Back to the song. The final part of the lyric is my secular equivalent of a prayer:

I don’t believe in a god up there
but i offer up a Christmas prayer
fill every aching heart with love
fill every hateful heart with love
fill every broken heart with love
fill every empty heart with love

The song fades out over the same line repeated in multiple melodies:

fill our hearts with love

It’s hard to write this kind of thing without getting stuck in a trite “love is all you need” trap, but it strikes me that the common denominator in so much pain and sadness and hate is love: the lack of it or the love of the wrong things.

I’ve mentioned Kurt Vonnegut twice already so I’ll finish this with another quote that sums up 99% of my lyrics these days.

There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.

A dangerous obsession

Let’s compare two numbers.

In a typical year, the UK Gender Recognition Panel will grant around 320 gender recognition certificates to trans people.

Over the last year, the UK press printed more than 6,000 articles about trans people, most of them negative, many of them scaremongering about the imagined dangers of letting trans people get those certificates in slightly less expensive, time-consuming and humiliating ways.

As the analysis notes, much of the coverage is carefully worded: there’s been a shift from obvious abuse to “reasonable concerns”, although the message and the negativity remains the same.

As of last summer, the UK government had issued a total of 4,910 GRCs over a period of fourteen years. The UK press printed that many anti-trans articles in less than one.

If the trend continues, the UK press will soon be printing more pieces scaremongering about trans people than there are actual trans people.