Saturday, 7 November 2015

My Dumbest NaNoWriMo Idea of All Time

I wasn't going to do National Novel Writing Month this year. I had too much work. I had to study. I couldn't think of a good idea. The Dialectics Society kept doing stuff that sounded more fun than trying to come up with a decent plot. I was not going to let myself do NaNo this year. I lasted about four days.

If you haven't heard of National Novel Writing Month, it's more like International Novel Writing Month now. I think it started in America. Basically, you try to write either a 50,000 word novel, a more than 50,000 word novel, or 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days that make up November. I started on the 4th this year...

On the afternoon of the 4th, I sat down to do some work for my English Lit seminar the next day. This week I was set my favourite English Lit seminar task so far. I was asked to rewrite the first prologue in 'Romeo and Juliet' as Shakespeare's great great great etc granddaughter would have written it.

Well, I took the fact that the theatre was a popular mode of entertainment in all sects of society at that time and ran with it. So here I present what sparked my NaNo idea this year, the cheesy teenage dystopian fiction parody of 'Romeo and Juliet':

(Note: The society I describe somehow manages to be an ultra-authoritarian system attempting to simulate libertarianism (???) )

"When you’re fourteen, they Assign you. The moment the clock ticks over to midnight, your Chip lights up and you Activate. If it flashes red, you’re a Capulet. If it flashes blue, you’re a Montague. Nobody is scared, or surprised. Nobody can remember Before. You’re taught from birth that competition is healthy. You’re taught to solve any problem by splitting into two teams – one red, one blue – and see who can solve it fastest. By fourteen, you understand markets like you understand your siblings. So you know that this is the way it has to be. This is the best way. You’re excited to hear that beep and rush to the mirror to see whether the back of your neck is lit up blue or red.
You leave your house that morning. You leave behind family, friends, and well … those who are more than friends. Inter-team romances never last. Everyone knows that. You’d have to be monumentally dumb to even contemplate it. Well, that’s what my friends say. I prefer to think of myself as brave."
Below is a link to the first chapter. It's in a real-time collaborative word processor and it's not my only copy, so feel free to make any suggestions as they occur to you. Just use a different colour to the rest of the text so I can see it!

(Yes, the short post this week is because NaNo is greedy about time.This post was going to be about feminism before NaNo happened.)

EDIT: Since I wrote this I have caught up on four days worth of missed NaNo time. I am exhausted and slept until 3pm today. Even right now though, I recommend NaNoWriMo to absolutely anyone interested in writing. It is so, so worth it. Trust me. This is my fourth year in a row putting myself through it.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

What's My Age Again?

For the past few months, whenever the subject of votes for sixteen-year-olds has come up, I’ve been one of the people turned to. I’m seventeen, so I couldn’t vote in the General Election, but I was sixteen at the time of the Referendum so did vote then. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to vote, I don’t know if I’d have become interested enough in politics during the GE to join in May. I have told Tim Farron this, and he has repeated my words almost exactly in the Q&A at Federal Conference. I am satisfied that there will not be another election that affects me that I won’t be able to vote in.

So, although I’m not eighteen until February, I figured this was an end to it. Then I moved into Glasgow. It’s only been a problem twice, but it’s just been loaded with irony. I can’t get into places. The first time was the Dialectics pub crawl and I tried to get into Oran Mor at about midnight. I got back to my flat that night and one of my flatmates – also seventeen – was surprised that I didn’t know under-eighteens couldn’t get into pubs after ten. The very fact that I didn’t even know this should have been a clue that I’m not likely to cause trouble in a pub.

The second time was tonight (Halloween). I went to pre-drinks at a flat shared by a couple of debaters (where I didn’t actually drink) then we headed down to Hive, which is the nightclub attached to the Glasgow University Union. Waited in the queue, dressed as a Power Ranger, then when I got to the front was told that I couldn't get in tonight. Over eighteens only. Despite the fact that I got in on Thursday and am quite possibly the most sober teenager in the entire city?

On the way home (I didn’t really feel like going anywhere else), I thought about these two things that I’m three months too young to do. The main reason usually given for the voting age is that under eighteens can’t be trusted to be responsible enough to vote with a level head. So, does that mean the reason I can’t go into a nightclub is that I can’t be trusted to be responsible? I really don’t think anyone is going to Hive tonight with the intention of being responsible.

Does it mean nothing to anyone that the thing I’ve always complained about not being able to do is vote? I was out canvassing in Blantyre this afternoon. I am educated about politics. It makes no sense that adults who vote Labour because their parents voted Labour should get to vote and I don’t. There is nothing wrong with not paying attention to politics, and there is nothing wrong with drinking, but I read about politics every day and the most I’ve ever drank is two sips of whatever Doug had on Thursday. I should be allowed to vote, and I should be allowed into Hive.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

There are no swimming pools in Auschwitz!

Recently I decided to watch a documentary about the Ku Klux Klan. I still don't understand what possessed me to do this. I've watched documentaries about them before (there's a really good but short Louis Theroux one on the internet somewhere) and I recognised most of their answers to the questions they were asked. Same old failure to misunderstand the one-way nature of racism. Prejudice is bidirectional, true, but systemic racism remains firmly oppressive of the same groups as always. Same failure to grasp the concept of fighting back. Still terrified of any threat to their privilege.

There was one thing, however, that was new. The film-maker, Dan Murdoch, pointed to a portrait of Hitler and asked for an explanation of it. He was informed that "Hitler was a very smart man." Murdoch didn't seem too surprised at this. The guy's a white supremacist; of course he agrees with Hitler. Then the KKK member goes on to claim that the concentration camps were full of recreational opportunities: cafés, cinemas and even swimming pools. Apparently the Jews were refusing to work and Hitler was forcing them to. Never mind the fact that Jews - as well as women - weren't actually counted in employment figures in the 1930s, so if Hitler's plans to force every Jew out of work in favour of an Aryan was working, they had no way of knowing.

So there were two points in here that incensed me. The first of these is that the notion that Hitler possessed even average competence is an utter inaccuracy. He would sleep until one in the afternoon every day, go out drinking every night. His chief architect (who later became his ammunitions minister (I think)) was begged not to bring him any more floor plans because it was impossible to regain Hitler's attention once it had been drawn to a floor plan. He is painted as an authoritarian mastermind. He may have had authoritarian principles, but he massively lacked the commitment to put them into practice. He delegated almost all of his authorities to a ring of about five deputies who all competed for his attention. They figured whoever impressed him most could get the most lenience out of him. This led to an arms race of extravagance which could easily have been what led to the death camps. If Hitler had been a little more interested in getting involved, his inability to decipher policy may have saved millions of lives.

Secondly, I cannot believe there are people in this world who have been bypassed by every single film about the Second World War in which the Nazis are the bad guys. Somebody give him a copy of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'. In the film - I have read the book but it was a while ago - Bruno's father, a commandant of one of the camps, is shown a video of all the leisure activities available in the camps. He is perfectly aware of the 'final solution', invigorated by it in fact, but he still watches these videos with his men, most of whom are also aware of, and delighted by, how much of a farce the images are. Showing the KKK member that would almost be meta-fiction, but surely he would see that even the Nazis didn't believe the propaganda he is espousing.

And I know there aren't any swimming pools at Auschwitz. I've not just read about it in my Advanced Higher History textbook, or watched a movie about the Holocaust, or read a novel, or a poem. I have done all of these things - there's even a song by a metal band called 'Sabaton' I love called 'Inmate 4859' about one particular hero of the Holocaust. But I know these things because I have been there.

Last year, I was one of two sixth year pupils from my school to go with the Holocaust Educational Trust, along with hundreds of other pupils from other schools, to visit the sites of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau. We left Glasgow for Poland at about seven in the morning and returned at about eleven at night - of the same day. I spent the day immersed in the history of the Holocaust, in the geography and in the emotion. That day was saturated with information, stories and sights, some of which stuck with me, some of which have fallen away.

One thing I remember explicitly is that at neither of the sites I visited was there a swimming pool. There weren't even toilets! At Birkenau, each hut had a bench with a row of holes in it. That was the 'toilet'. The inmates rarely had enough water to drink and I imagine they'd have had some sort of reaction if they'd gone swimming. Not to mention the state the water would end up in; they never showered, and as a result were constantly filthy. The only 'shower' they ever had wasn't even a shower, but a ruse to lure them into a gas chamber.

And at Auschwitz I, there was no swimming pool. There was a glass cabinet of prosthetic limbs, a wall of human hair, childrens' toys, clothes, portraits of inmates taken shortly after they'd arrived. Oh, they were smiling in those photos, you say? Yes, but this is because it was 1940 and most of them had been in front of a camera at most twice in their lives. It'd be like handing a child a 3DS while you prepared a room for their extermination.

Before the visit, we had a talk from Zigi Shipper, a Holocaust survivor, who lived through Auschwitz and was relocated to Britain after the war. Incidentally he has one of my favourite lines about immigration ever: "Someone says to me, do you see yourself as British? I say, I'm more British than you! They say, what are you on about? I say, I chose to be here, you are only here because this is where your mother happened to give birth to you." He spoke to us about his experience, his childhood. He hasn't studied the Holocaust and discovered there were no swimming pools. He remembers that there were no swimming pools.

We also had a Rabbi as a tour guide. He was from London and told us about a time when protesters had marched past the door of his synagogue with signs saying 'Hitler Was Right'. As well as the implication that Hitler was the brains behind the operation, the inaccuracy of this statement is incalculable, to most of us. We learned at primary school what happened in the camps. We learnt over and over again at varying stages of historical or ethical education at secondary school. I have a friend from the internet who asked me why we always focus on the Holocaust, and not older genocides that are never mentioned any more. I think, perhaps, the answer lies in that KKK member's response.

He is an uneducated, racist, ignorant twat. I'm not pretending he represents even a significant minority of the Western population. Most people are very different from him. Sure, most people have forgotten past wars when even larger numbers of people were exterminated, when whole cities were laid to waste. But it is seventy years since liberation, and for the most part Auschwitz has been kept intact. There is still hope, in film, in literature, in visual art, to keep a clear record of what happened during World War II. And we have to keep learning about it and teaching about it, because this is what separates us from uneducated, racist, ignorant twats.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Can we have a vote of No Confidence in Steven Moffat?

A few weeks ago, I decided to write a Liberal Democrat Voice article about whether or not The Doctor should be played by a woman. I never did send it to Caron, and have since had some second thoughts on the matter. Here is what was going to be the introduction:

"Twice in two days I’ve seen posts/comments on Facebook about whether The Doctor could/should be a woman. In the run-up to Peter Capaldi’s reveal, bookies were trying to tempt gamblers with odds on Sue Perkins and Olivia Coleman, among others. This infuriated me, mostly because of its sheer cynicism. Step up to make a fast buck by a fictional character making a massive life choice and going through lightning speed gender reassignment as if it’s no big deal. If you ignore the fact that the show is fictional, then The Doctor is a person just like any other - sort of - and frankly, he’s been entertaining us for over half a century; he deserves to be considered as one."

I stand by every word of this, but my attitude towards the subject has definitely altered since seeing the opening episodes of the new series. In the planned article, I examined the subject from an English Literature perspective, as I seem to do almost everything these days. One of the first things I think about when I come to writing, as well as reading, is character. The characters in Doctor Who have traditionally been some of the most loved and loathed of British pop culture. The Doctor himself is no exception.

The Doctor is essentially a clever, but sometimes unfeeling, man, sort of like Sherlock Holmes. He loves adventure and he loves sharing his travels with friends. He is a perfect children's character. He is thoughtful when his solution will cause collateral damage of any kind. He will risk the Earth to save his friends, but he refrains from wholly destroying his enemies even when they are within his grasp. He is increasingly detached from Earth. His friends constantly worry about him and it's like he doesn't even see it. He does though, and, like with the erasure of himself for Donna's memory, he will do everything within his power to make sure they are safe.

For the period between his regeneration into Christopher Eccleston and his regeneration into Peter Capaldi, the Doctor was gradually getting younger with each new face. In the 50th Anniversary Special, John Hurt's War Doctor spots this trend and asks Matt Smith and David Tennant what they are running from by hiding in their youth. Eleven and Ten both know that they caused the destruction of Gallifrey and the deaths of millions of Time Lord children. They know exactly what they're running from.

I bring this up because their reactions when the War Doctor acknowledges this suggest that they haven't given much thought to this. They are not wearing young faces on purpose. Therefore, even if the Doctor is not consciously able to influence what body he regenerates into it, the process, like the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, takes his unconscious feelings and wishes into account. This would suggest that the Doctor, in twelve regenerations, has never wanted to become a woman.

I ended the potential LDV article by saying:

"However, if all of a sudden his complaint when he regenerated switched from “I want to be ginger!” to “I want to be a woman!”, I would be one hundred per cent on board with him being a woman and would heartily recommend Julie Walters. Still, this cannot be a sudden thing. There would have to be some event or change that after thirteen hundred years made him identify as something he has never identified as before. Even if he doesn’t identify as a woman, but still desires to try out a female body, it makes no difference. As long as there is an interesting storyline that leads to him giving his consent and wish to have a woman’s body the next time he regenerates, then that is all that matters."

Again, I stand by this. Only one thing has changed since I wrote that article to now. Now, I really, really want this to be possible. At the time I wrote this, all I knew of Timelord gender reassignment was that Missy had become a stereotypical 'strong female character' with little depth to her other than that. Now though, having watched the first two episodes of the new series, I have seen suggestions of John Simm's bemused detachment shine through, and it is very very clear that the complex, bizarre character of The Master is present in Missy. And now it's seen with the extra dimension of boredom with cultural norms. I really am impressed.

There is just one issue. This needs to be done right first time. If the Doctor becomes a woman and the first few minutes tank, it will be very difficult to repair the disappointment that personal attachment to such a famous fictional character will result in. And I just don't know if I have confidence in Steven Moffat enough to trust him with such a task. Yes, he may have done well this time, but second time round is not good enough.

The BBC is funded by television licenses, public money, just like the government. For a politician who messes up on the same issue (in this case portrayal of female characters) over and over again, the Vote of No Confidence is in place to ensure that they can be removed from office. Public money should not be wasted on people who are bad at their jobs. I think you must see where I'm going with this.

Steven Moffat is a perfectly good writer of 'Sherlock', and he has had some dazzling moments in his time as writer of 'Doctor Who', but I would say that most of these moments occurred in series five, when we were just getting used to new characters, new themes that he brought with him to the writing table. That was in 2010, a whole parliament ago. If the public can reject my party for "losing touch with the electorate", then they can reject a writer for losing touch with the audience.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Help, Prime Minister, My Head Girl is a Terrorist!

(Short post this week. Very busy)

The head girl at my secondary school is obviously a terrorist. I have never once heard her condemn the actions of ISIS. She tries to cover up her secrets by organising Halloween discos and getting the prefects to do their duty properly, but I know she's trying to lead us all into the Jihad.

It's a real shame. I've known her since I was four. She's always been chatty, lively, highly intelligent, and with the will to get things done. I never would have suspected her of such a thing if you hadn't so insightfully pointed out that her silence on the subject is what I should have been looking for.

You made me think, sir, that she couldn't be the only one. I thought about another Muslim girl I know. She disappeared mysteriously last year. She claims it's anorexia but you've shown me the truth.

There was a boy from Libya in my Primary Seven class. He returned to his home nation, apparently. I bet his family have been training him as a child soldier to fight for ISIS. It's obvious now.

In fact, I've left out the names of all these Jihadis, so I must be one as well. But then again, I'm white.

Disclaimer: I actually wrote this two months after leaving school but the point stands.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Help, New Order Are Following Me!

"In my youth, I was in a band labelled a 'fourth rate New Order'. This, my friends, is a first rate New Order!"

And with those slightly slurred words, Tim Farron whirled around to point at the sound system, and 'Blue Monday' by New Order started playing. I didn't actually know the name of the song at the time. It was only when I got back to my flat in Glasgow that I realised where I'd heard it before.

I typed into the Youtube search bar "starter for ten New Order" and, sure enough, was greeted with a clip from the beginning of the film 'Starter for Ten'. Brian Jackson is at his first Freshers' party, and that song is playing in the background. A little Wikipedia rooting and I had the name of the song. Back to Youtube and I soon had a New Order compilation album playing all the way through. As of Sunday 28.9.15, when I started writing this post, I have listen to this album roughly twelve times.

The first time I listened to it, it was because I wanted to see what Tim was on about. The second time I didn't really have anything else I fancied listening to. Now, when I click on that album, Youtube starts it at the point I left off last time. The music is nice enough, quite fun to sit in a spinny chair and dance to. But that's not why I've been listening to that album so much.

None of us knew how to dance to it. I don't think any of us were born earlier than around 1990. Tim was at first the only non-LY member on the dancefloor - well, that part of the dancefloor; we were so intrigued by his ... vintage ... style of dance that we sort of swarmed around him - so at first he was pretty much the only one dancing. We started to notice that his movements weren't totally smooth. He sort of bobbed up and down as his arms glided this way and that through the air. Slowly, and not very surely, we started to imitate him. Except Jack Davies and Julia Wright. They'd been going for it from the start.

I remember turning round to see what kind of crowd had amassed. It actually wasn't all that large, but the look on everyone's faces was one of joy and surprised amusement. I was standing next to Ryan Mercer and Hannah Bettsworth and I don't think any of us could stop laughing. I remember thinking to myself that I was happy, forcing myself to remember the feeling of calm that was washing over me. At one point Tim leaned in to me and Ryan and said, "I am moderately embarrassed." He just kept going though, and so did we. It was that image of Tim unashamedly dancing his wee eighties heart out that I wanted to preserve. That image and that feeling.

That is why I keep listening to New Order. I was walking along Byres Road on the way back to my flat from university one day and saw an advert in the window of a shop called Fopp: "New Order: 'Music Complete'. CD £10, Vinyl £20." I grinned and seriously contemplated going in to buy it. (I ended up deciding to wait for reviews. New material from 80s bands is never an insta-purchase). I grinned because I was immediately picturing Tim shuffling around, doing the best Dad-dancing I've ever witnessed, and the smiles on everyone's faces as they forgot their disputes and differences over motions that had passed or hadn't passed that day. That's why I grin every time I listen to that New Order compilation album.

However, it isn't all about Tim. I loved that night because it was a party - the kind with glowsticks, not the kind with voting passes - with friends I will see at most three or four times a year. That was my favourite thing about conference. It may be because I'm young, or new, or both, but the social aspect of the party - in both senses of the word - is what pulled me to the far end of Britain for the two days immediately before I started my first year of university.

I have so many memories of just hanging out with my friends at conference: Gareth Ogg and I going on a desperate quest to find a poke ae chips; Natasha Chapman, George Potter and I deciding to privatise Ryan Mercer so we could buy shares in him; sitting with Nomi Farhi on the beach as she serenaded Bournemouth with her song 'Ode to UKIP'; Chloe Hutchinson, slightly tipsy after the disco, leaning on me and talking about I don't even remember what; Jonathan Waddell and Hamish MacKenzie reassuring me before our flight that I wouldn't miss it.

It's not that there aren't Liberal Democrats in Glasgow. In fact, here is a link to the Glasgow University Liberal Democrats Facebook page. I've met six Libdems at the uni so far and they've all been lovely. But it really isn't about being Libdems. I loved that weekend because I was with my friends, who happened to be liberals. Never mind being able to discuss Libdem policies without having tuition fees thrown in my face every two minutes. Never mind England being a safe space to criticise the SNP. Never mind my house being in a ward where the Libdem candidate got 32 votes in a recent by-election. The simple fact of the matter is: I miss you idiots.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Internal Screaming and can't wait to get started

I told myself I was only going to post once a week so I didn't run out of steam, but this is just too important. Still, the principle applies, so this is going to be short and unofficial.

I just got elected onto the LY Campaigns Committee!! I know what you're thinking, it's just the committee. First of all, this is a big deal for me. I only joined four months ago. At Scottish Conference next month I'll still be a New Member and it means a lot that people trust me after what is a relatively short space of time.

Secondly, this may not be a big deal now, but I am going to make it one. By the time I am finished with this position, it is going to be something to get excited about.

Lastly, I hope that this isn't my peak. I hope that this election will be the first step in me helping the Liberal Democrats achieve stuff...nothing specific...just stuff. I'd love to kick some SNP butt if that's a possibility :P

So I might use this blog for campaigns committee stuff, or start a new one with the other campaigns committee member. Either this space.