Saturday, 26 December 2015

Milo Yiannopoulos - Rise of the Anti-Feminist

There are two kinds of people who want to throw themselves in front of an seemingly irresistible force. The brave and the nihilistically narcissistic. When it comes to the feminist movement, more specifically the aggressive anti-men aspect, that is a fight a fool picks. Why? Because it is a battle that is being lost. Yet, in amongst all this, one man has risen to take them on. That man is Milo Yiannopoulos and I'm still not wholly sure whether he's the former or the latter. I'd have to say he's probably both.

Gaining prominence from the Gamergate controversy, Yiannopoulos has now effectively trolled his way into the spotlight, courtesy of his strong and sensationalistic views on how white women in Western society are asserting suppressive supremacy. It's a view he quite cleverly dresses up with that problematic thing for anyone blindly passionate about female subjugation in the West: facts, science and empirical studies.

I commend him for taking the fight to the extremist views that some sections of the feminist movement prescribe to. All too often, extremism within feminism is tolerated because women have been socially stifled for so long that it is deemed okay for them to give men a few kicks back. Yiannopoulos rightly acknowledges that this isn't right. If a reasoned quest for equality is to retain its credibility, it cannot be the platform to domination. That is social injustice.

Yiannopoulos's main concern is men who are under the age of 30. He states that they will find it harder to get a job because they are men, which can be supported by plenty of studies. Men under 30 will be subject to a presumed rape culture, which is a hideous thing to impose on men; that because they are men, they either have a craving to sexually assault women or they cannot understand the concept of consent. One rapist does not make the other 99 men rapists. He does not tolerate that women get on their high horse about being objectified but quite happily indulge in the practice with men. Rebecca Reid of The Telegraph found this out quite publicly in a debate with Yiannopoulos at the University of Bristol, when he cited an overt example of it in an article she had written. These points, as well as others he makes, are perfectly valid, should be spoken and heard.

There are other things that he gets plain wrong. He uses similar rhetoric, sarcasm and sneering to make his case, like fighting fire with fire is the best method. He only makes a hypocrite of himself when he does that. He's clearly intelligent enough to know that, which makes me think that it is a conscious choice on his part.

You see, Yiannopoulos probably spotted that the ugly ultra feminist wing got noticed by using those very tactics. In fact, it is more prevalent in the social media era. Standard and moderate views are drops in a vast ocean of thought. Yiannopoulos decided to be an erupting volcano. Yes, it might get ugly but I imagine his hope is that people who listen will hear the truths and shrug off the rest.

The grand irony is his hatred for ultra feminism and all it created made him too. He is rapidly becoming the most prominent anti-feminist out there, if not the kingpin of them all. And his rising prominence could be easily dismissed as a misguided misogynistic rant but I think it is more than that. The fact that the anti-feminism movement is gathering pace, with Yiannopoulos keen to spearhead it, does suggest that feminism needs to take stock of where it may have gone wrong.

So if feminists don't like the rise of Yiannopoulos, fighting him with glibness and anger is taking him on with the weapons he's already mastered. They need to strive for equality and not demonise men. It seems like a simple thing but when Jess Phillips, a female MP, is laughing the idea of having a men's issues debate on International Men's Day out of committee, when a similar debate exists for women's issues on International Women's Day, men rightly feel increasingly marginalised. It has to stop. The problem with Milo Yiannopoulos isn't that he is a sophisticated internet troll. It's that he has a point. A valid one.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Last Minute Christmas Shopping

Anyone with any sense knows when to do the Christmas shopping. That would be in October and primarily online. Yes, the sales may kick in around late November but they are luring you into a trap with those phantom discounts. Now some of us decide that such things can wait. Even until the final week before Christmas. After all, nothing says I love you and Merry Christmas quite like charcoal bought from the local petrol station at 11pm on Christmas Eve.

If you do fall into the trap of last minute Christmas shopping, I offer this as a warning. Don't do it. Tell the kids Christmas was cancelled. Take all the excuses you handed teachers when you hadn't done your homework, bundle them into a Government style document and present it to your loved ones. Because if you don't heed my counsel, this is what you have in store for you!
  • The Slow Walkers
If you're out shopping within 7 days of 25 December, it is not for your health. It is for the urgency. Yet with this common knowledge, it appears that the Universe has unleashed an army of zombies onto the streets of retail outlets.  These creatures meander down the way so slowly, you almost want to check if they have overdosed on Valium. 

If they walked single file in a straight line, you'd be okay with it. That. however, doesn't happen. They move in groups and weave in a drunken stupor. They are like the middle lane hoggers of the motorway. Oblivious to anything around them, they block the way until someone punches them in the back of the head.
  • Blockers
Shops are generally set out very well. Big sign posts as to where stuff is and broad aisles to allow groups of two to three people by. So why do some people think that the best place to have a six person conversation is at the top of the escalator? The stupidly stand there as person after person is craned into the wall they've created. 

Hilariously, when you say to them "That's not a good place to stand", they give you a look like you've been really offensive. You can call a spade a spade but you can't call an idiot an idiot. The PC nature of the 21st century is further proof that a genocide style event is the only thing the human race deserves.
  • Beggars
I'm not talking homeless people. I'm not even talking the criminals who pretend to be homeless. I mean the arbitrary charities that use the Christmas veil as an excuse to put on half arsed money collecting exercises. Give people a nice Christmas is their mantra. Okay, does that mean I can forget about them in January? Should my conscience be clear in the Summer? It is utterly insincere. 

People need our help all year round. They don't feel it more at Christmas. They feel it pretty pointedly every day. Christmas is not a guilt trip I'm willing to tolerate but they'll try to make you if you go last minute Christmas shopping.
  • The Out of Stock sticker
"Everything we have is out on the floor" is a line I heard on a few occasions while out doing my last minute shop. Really? Everything? You're telling me that if I walk into that MASSIVE stock room you have, it is completely bare? Either the shop assistant is too busy to help these customers, which is appalling, or the company hasn't stocked up sufficiently. Fair enough if that statement is rolled out in the last hour of Christmas Eve shopping. Six days before Christmas? No, don't buy that (neither will the people who asked the shop assistant). 

It's not like Christmas snuck up on them. It doesn't move around like Easter. So when I see the Out of Stock sticker, I take it as a marker of incompetency. You'll see just how incompetent retailers are if you go out there.
  • DON'T DO IT!
Like I said, don't go out there. You'll end up hating Christmas, charities, people, in fact, everything and anything that moves, breathes or lives. You'll end up watching action movies, praying that the mad villain who wants to destroy the planet wins. Yes, you'll end up like me. That should be warning enough!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

When Are Spoilers Acceptable?

The build up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens has come with a strong caveat among all anticipating its release. That being NO SPOILERS. We've all seen films that we've gone in cold and come out blown away by the experience. Sadly, those days are harder to come by. It is all too easy to bump into a major plot twist on the internet. Marketing for films has become so aggressive that sometimes the studios give too much away. News outlets scrape the barrel for sources telling us tiny bits about the upcoming blockbuster.

Then it gets released. Friends and colleagues watch the films we all love. They openly talk about it so much that if you don't see the big film on the midnight showing, every minute holds the threat of the surprise being ruined. We all get that. If anything, especially evidenced by Star Wars: The Force Awakens, people are being more cautious. People will ask "Has anyone not seen it?" in the group before powering into spoiler land uninvited.

My question is how long should that 'no spoiler' condition stand?

I was talking about The Last Samurai and cited a pretty emotional and powerful moment at the end of the film. The response I got was "Hey! Spoilers!" The person in question insisted I had now ruined his chance of enjoying that film. In case you don't know, The Last Samurai was released in 2004. Is a movie still under the spoiler caveat after 11 years?

So when can you speak openly about the storyline and plot points of a film without having to make a check on everyone's knowledge of it? Do you have to be sure that everyone who wants to see has seen it?

There are various schools of thought. You could go with the cinema run is done. Everyone had approximately 14 weeks to get out and see it. If they didn't, they can't have been that fussed.

Or should you wait until the DVD release is done? Let people who don't like going to cinemas have their chance, perhaps?

Maybe we should wait until it is shown on free to view TV. Then those who want to see it but can't afford cinema tickets or DVDs can. There is the chance that people want to see it but are too busy.

For me, I think once the cinema run is done, your chance to moan about spoilers ends. You had the chance to see it. Anyone publishing spoilers before that is just disgusting and disrespectful. I give you the prime example in the form of Rosie O'Donnell. She had seen a preview showing of Fight Club, which contains one of the great film twists, and had decided she hated the film due to the violence in it. She took to her TV show and announced the twist to the nation of viewers, in an effort to convince people not to go. She should know the effort people go to in making a story and putting it together. Needless to say, people woke up to the reality of her irrelevance and Fight Club is now a cult classic, if not one of the all time great films.

Stories are one of humanity's great creations. I remember my reaction to some of the iconic twists and tales that have graced a cinema screen. My reaction, whether it be gleeful, shocked or visceral, is the crowning jewel of that adventure. If anything, you should want other people to have that feeling too. Publishing spoilers is just robbing someone of the experience. That's not funny or clever. It is denying other people of the key element of a story. How it makes them feel. In a world where we've become increasingly numb, doing such a thing is a crime against humanity.

So no spoilers. Let's all enjoy the story like it was intended to be done. Like life, each moment unfolding, one after the other, until the tapestry of the tale is fully revealed.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Donald Trump - A Lesson In Demagoguery

8 December 2015. The Race for the White House in 2016 is starting to gather momentum on both sides, as the parties prepare` for their respective primaries, which begin in February 2016. On the Democrats side, despite impassioned and powerful campaigning by Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton is walking to a near divine coronation as the Democratic nominee. In fact, beyond Sanders, her opposition is so painfully insipid, it's little wonder that they are getting very little coverage.

Because on the other side, in the deeply divided Republican Party, a war for the soul of US politics is being waged. While the field is filled with perfectly credible candidates in the form of Rubio, Cruz and Christie, it is being ripped apart by Donald Trump, who has a huge fortune to push him forward and polemic rhetoric to cut through the media noise.

Let me bold in my prediction. Trump will win the Republican nomination. More so, I think he will be the next President of the United States. It's not what I crave but it is a political rise that fascinates me. You see, a lot of people have fallen into this trap that he is a loud mouthed idiot. That portrays a fool who just shouts anything to get attention. He didn't fluke his way to billionaire status and he hasn't got lucky on his way to the top of the polls. This is a very clever, devious man, who is a master in demagoguery.

You can deny it but when he says these controversial things, he is appealing to a lot of people who feel cut off within his country. They have listened to politicians be ambiguous with their statements as a way of wriggling out of obligation. He taps into people's raw emotions and their personal experiences with what he says. He takes those cracks and widens them up, so the lava of people's emotion spews out in the form of support for Trump.

When he spoke of Muslims rejoicing in the streets of America during 9/11, the media instantly denied any evidence of this happening. Yet there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of it happening. I know, I'm one of them. I wasn't even in America when that fateful attack occurred. I was in Tunbridge Wells, stood in a Dixons store, watching the whole thing unfold with my American colleague next to me. I had to physically restrain him when a Muslim man came in and openly celebrated the attack. Now if I was a politically ostracised American and I heard Trump preach what I had seen and the media deny it, why would I believe what the media says ever again? 

Suddenly, Trump's demagogic tactics pay off spectacularly. The media, the only ones able to truly scrutinise the billionaire's statements, can be dismissed as running their own agenda. They will have 'lied' before, so why not do it again? Trump can then say what he wants, as long as he finds that raw nerve or that ugly opinion that people bury down deep. What happens? The people who have doubted politics have a new messiah. Left wing politics has had a loud voice for a long time in the media and subsequently social media. Now right wing politics has a brash Trump-et to make themselves heard and they want to play their tune with every last bit of volume they can find.

Trump knows this. What he has spotted is not that people in the US crave controversy but a dismissal of compromise. Americans are not the only ones to fail to understand that politics should be the arena of compromise for the greater good. Most democracies fail to grasp that, ours included. So Trump is a genius in identifying that now was the time to present a ultra-strong approach. One that wouldn't back down. One that doesn't play nice. One that plays to a lot of old American values, even if they appear to contradict the Constitution.

Trump is many things but he is not an idiot. He knows exactly what he is doing. When he said that all Muslims should be banned from the US, he did it off the back of the San Bernardino shootings, whose perpetrators were Muslims. Ugly as it may seem, he tapped into the feeling of the American people very quickly. Politicians who walk the corridors of power in Washington know that Trump's statement is dangerous. They can condemn him but that only serves to widen the perceived chasm between Congress and the everyday American. Trump shows them the empathy they crave. All the others, no matter how reasoned or intelligent, are in political checkmate. Disagree and be dismissed by the electorate. Agree and they disappear into Trump's shadow. 

It is for these reasons I believe that Trump will be the next President of the United States. He will stand atop of a mountain of bitterness, fear, hatred and disenfranchisement to rise to the very top of US and world politics. So with that in mind, it becomes me to leave you with this very American thought.

God bless us and God bless the United States of America. Indeed, God help us all.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Tory Bashing

I have voted Conservative once in my life. I'm not ashamed of that, nor should I be. Yet the tone from social media suggests I should look back on that moment like I had called for a paedophile to let loose in a school playground. To be a Tory is to be the ugliest thing in UK society. I'm not a Tory. There are plenty of things that I disagree with the Conservative Party about. Bedroom tax, the Junior Doctors contract, investing heavily in foreign aid and failing to be aggressive on big corporations avoiding tax are all things I think they fall short on. The difference is I can see why they think those things are important or may work. I disagree with them but I don't think these men and women are driven by a desire to line the pockets of the top 1% of the nation.

Why? Because the votes of the top 1% wouldn't get you elected. For all this talk about how elections can be bought, people forget that you go out and vote. You are not held at gun point in the voting booth. They do what they think is best for the country. Anyone who thinks otherwise is completely stupid. If Tories wanted to be powerful and line their pockets, they wouldn't be politicians! They would sit on the boards of major companies. It's less hours, less stress, more money and little to no heckling.

The worst thing is that it paints a picture that all the other parties are saintly. They have done no wrong whatsoever. Only the Tories crush the little people. Really?

The Labour Party did plenty of good in their time in office. Economic growth, the introduction of the minimum wage, the Good Friday Agreement, devolution of power and improving the legal equality of the LGBT community to name but a few. Or I could spend my time hammering them for all the wrong they did. The Iraq War, Mid-Staffs NHS, PFI projects which plunged public services into huge debts and failures to regulate the banking sector, leading to the Credit Crunch. For anyone keeping track, that's dead soldiers, dead patients, massive debt and bailing out bankers. That last one is something that Tories are accused of. They still are. They weren't the Government at the time!

I could go through why Tories want to enact their policies but the ugly fact is those who put themselves on this ultra left Tory hating line are ignorant. They won't listen. Honestly, David Cameron could announce tomorrow that they had discovered the cure to cancer. The Tory bashers would just accuse them of sitting on it for a decade, only to release it now so that they can line the pockets of their millionaire mates.

I am tired of people talking about politics like it is a class war. It isn't. To think otherwise has little to no merit. It is to subscribe to the idea that Rupert Murdoch can sway an election. If you believe that the public can be swayed by such things, your cynicism is as ugly as your soul. It is not evolved or clever to just bash on the Tories because they are Tories. Yes, they may have ideological differences to you. They may think that Government should be smaller, that the person who works shouldn't have to pay for the person who won't, or that the NHS has to change radically. And you have the right to disagree with that. However, if your argument is as puerile as "We hate Tories because Tories hate poor people", then you are a fool. The Tories won't waste their time explaining why they do what they do to you because you wouldn't listen.

This is a hatred borne out of a time from when Thatcher was Prime Minister. That is also pathetic. Hide behind your excuses of how she 'ruined' lives. I was a child during the Thatcher era and was uninformed either way of what was happening.  Now, I have the benefit of hindsight with no personal agenda. I can see why she did what she did. I disagree with some things. Other things make perfect sense. If you're slamming on the Conservative Party because of a woman who is long dead, the only decent use for you now is to join her. At least then you'd be fertilising the ground. And if you were one of those people who rejoiced in her death, you really need to consider if you have a shred of humanity left in you. You certainly don't have any decency.

I don't need to defend the Tories. I didn't even vote for them. But I am sick of the small minded memes, damning complex policies with vaguely witty one liners, and the petty news articles, masquerading as journalism when they are nothing more than Owen Jones banging his demagogue drum.

When I talk politics, I want to discuss the issues in the way the policies will work. Not on an individual level because that is grossly naive. To think "How is this policy going to affect me?" shows you know nothing about politics. True governance is about making the tough choices to get the best outcome. That means some sticky decisions in some areas. It isn't helped by whichever opposition party seemingly throwing up the criticism of "We need to spend more on..." like it's a stuck record. If the Government had a bottomless pit of resources, it would invest more. Then anyone could run the country. It doesn't though. So stop talking like a blank chequebook exists to solve all the problems.

But more than anything, can we lift ourselves above this playground mentality of bashing Tories because they are Tories, please? Yes, some of them went to Eton. It's a good school. If you could afford it, you would send your kids there. Having leaders who got a good education is a plus. Saying that they don't understand 'real life', like there is such a definable thing, shows that maybe you needed a better education. 

People shouldn't have to feel ashamed for voting Conservative or any party. And yet, they do. Not because they think they voted wrong. It's just the people who say that they are from the caring, considerate bunch are quite happy to demonise them. Tory candidates who stand in Scotland, for example, receive death threats. Hypocrisy in politics, it seems, goes all the way down to the grass roots of the electorate.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Social Megaphone

Over the past few weeks, I have become more aware of how quickly someone will convey an opinion on social media. Not a careful thought, a well constructed joke or a considered insight. A electronic vomiting of emotive reaction to an event that has happened. It is largely considered to be harmless. It is the exercise of our human right to speak our minds. An opinion can cause no injury, so we should be free to share our insights. If that's what you think, you are sadly misinformed about the complexity of the human condition and the power of words.

The social media works like a megaphone, magnifying the one small voice to make it sound like an army chanting. In reality, it tends to be a few thousand people, in a sea of millions, if not billions, speaking about a certain topic. Like a whirlpool, it sucks everyone else in. Then we have insights that shoot off on tangents. As they do, they become less informed and more damaging. Loud noises don't get people heard. They make the other side shout louder. Until all the world is deaf.

Nothing demonstrated this more clearly than the aftermath of the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015, where over a hundred people lost their lives. The shock, horror and outrage was understandable. Whether it be people who have an affinity with the city or nation, or just plain and simple human beings, to see innocent lives taken away so brutally is sickening. At first, the tidal wave of opinion was to stand resolutely with Paris and her people. Then the social megaphone went from one loud voice to a fragmented signal, filled with divisive posts and wrathful rhetoric.

People blamed the refugees and the migrant crisis, with no true evidence that such a thing was a factor. People blamed God, because a religion's name is attached to an organisation that is driven by extremist ideology and bitter politics. The irony that these posts came shortly after the hashtag #PrayForParis started to trend wasn't lost on me. Some pointed out that it was selective hypocrisy, akin to the Charlie Hebdo shootings, when we mourned the gunning down of a dozen journalists, while hundreds were slaughtered the same day by Boko Haram. Others tried to call for calm and consideration, recognising that extremism is the product of a society that has allowed people to become marginalised. Once we let people drift into the shadows, the darkness will consume them. We can blame them for their choices but we can't do it without being introspective about things.

That very introspection leads us back to the megaphone example. People's voices get more readily heard these days and those opinions feel like weapons to some groups. ISIS and all extremism is the counter to a mass of opinions and actions we and our governments have taken. We have told people that their way of life is not acceptable. We have cut them off, derided them and invaded their lands. We have lectured them on right and wrong, when we are hardly masters of it ourselves. The reaction has been a harsher response. Rather than be talked down to by the social megaphone, they entrench themselves in things deeper, so to be sure of their primary convictions.

It's not just ISIS or other extremist groups. For example, political parties are subject to it. In the UK, as the left uses social media to vilify the Government, it's almost as if they consciously shift further to the right. Either it is a "We'll show you" attitude or a "We'll stick with those who listen" belief. You see, hatred doesn't start with a bomb in Paris. It starts with someone being intolerant of someone else. One to one, that's an argument, a mere falling out. Do it on a national scale, it becomes a diplomatic situation or even a war. Do it on a global scale and you get radicalised factions, shifted into the social shadows, who will do anything to shout back as loud as they can.

Does a Facebook post bring on an assassination? No. Does a tweet motivate a suicide bomber? Not a chance. How about a hundred posts though? How about a million? Or a billion? We are entitled to an opinion but we have to be careful that our opinion is not straw on the back of the unfairly marginalised. World wars have been started on lesser things than the events of the Paris attacks.

Social media has given us a voice but with that comes the responsibility to choose our words more carefully. We should not make the villain out of anyone until the evidence proves them guilty. We should not show hatred to someone's way of life or beliefs because we don't understand them. We should not advocate the withdrawal of someone's rights for the supposed protection of our own.

More than anything though, we should learn when to NOT use social media. Knee jerk reactions are usually the most foolish. Once you share an opinion, it's hard to go back on it or change it. Vocalising it tends to solidify it in place. We should slow down, consider the facts and then seriously think about whether we are joining the conversation to improve it, or just because we just want to be heard. Because if it is the latter, then we will pay for that conceit, one way or the other.

The old saying is that you have one mouth and two ears, and that they should be used in that proportion. Well, the average human mouth is a lot smaller than the average human brain. Maybe we use them in that proportion too. Right now, courtesy of the social megaphone, the mouth is winning. And, as a consequence, we are all losing out.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Valuing Others - The Reciprocal Gift

29 October 2015. I sat in a meeting where only men were present and experienced probably one of the most feminist meetings I've ever attended. It was superb. It was a gathering to counsel us of the importance of our relationships with women, especially the most important women in our lives. It did not deify women but it established the worth they should have in our lives. It did not fall into the trap of emasculating men, something that too much of the world thinks is a suitable way to show respect to women, when it only serves to be condescending and, ultimately, more sexist. What it taught, more than anything, was that our lives should be in the pursuit of making others feel valued, rather than vainly chasing our own self worth.

Self worth is heralded as the ultimate goal by a select few who want to sell their books, DVD and audio downloads, telling you how to unlock your potential. It is a mirage. A false dawn that doesn't exist but the world tells to keep running for that horizon because it's so close. Self worth doesn't come that way. It comes from an absence of conceit. Selflessness, not selfishness, breeds self worth.

We have fallen into a trap where we believe that we live in a 'bucket of crabs' society. We think that only a few can sit at the top and the rest must first drag the others down, if only sit atop them for a short while. It isn't true. When we value people, when we lift them up and see the good in them, we get a return that cannot be measured. The reciprocal gift is self worth itself. We become surrounded by people who are invested in our success because we have been on a crusade for their victory.

Recent experiences have taught me the incredible things that can happen in people's lives when we are invested in each other's worth over our own. When a manager believes in those whom he is in charge of, they rise up to better things. As such, they can show their managers as to how they get the best out of people. When you are invested in friend's happiness, whether it be their job, their relationships or just a craving for them to do something crazy, they radiate the edification they feel upon you. Sarcasm and snide banter are replaced by genuine compliments and positive insights. They do things for you because they want to. Why wouldn't they? You were so willing to give of your time, of yourself. Why would they not want to reciprocate? From that, you're rewarded with enriched relationships and the indirect but greater blessing is the self worth that comes from it.

It is time to stop thinking that discount relationships are bargains not to be missed. It is in our interest to be invested in those we care about. The value we place in people, namely those we should care about the most, is the self worth gift that will be reciprocated to us above that which we gave. When people rise because we lift them, we soar with them to. It's not a sacrifice. It's a priceless investment. It is the one contest where we can all win. That's worth a lot and it is when we will find out just how much we are worth.

Far more than you think. Far more than you can imagine.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Emotionally Fragile - The Myth About Men & Emotions

I actually like the above photo. It improves my chances of getting a sandwich. It does, however, reinforce a notion that men are not emotional creatures and this is incorrect. Phrases like "Man up" or "Don't be such a girl" promote the idea that men are steel like in their emotional make up and that women are emotional dynamite, just waiting to go off. It demeans both genders but also allows people to play up to those stereotypes, so to exploit situations. If a woman wants to fly off the handle, she might hide behind "It comes with being a woman", where as men will not talk about something that is bothering them because "Men deal with it." Both dismiss the complex nature of what it is to be human and both have to go.

The implication is that men are weak if they speak about their problems. That leads to problems not being addressed. While the statistics suggest that 1 in 4 women will suffer from depression, the numbers for men that say 1 in 10 men will suffer from depression is now largely considered being down to men not speaking about it. Men are more likely to suffer from addictions, especially alcohol and other drugs. Suicide is now the biggest killer of men aged between 20 and 49 in Britain. Those statistics are startling and yet they are not spoken about nearly enough.

Women may say that they have pressures on them that evoke emotional responses. Those pressures exist on men too and they appear to be having similarly destructive effects. Body image expectations are still on the rise. In the past three decades, men stating that they are dissatisfied with their bodies has gone from 15% to 43%. In teenage boys, as high as 68% believe that they are underweight and need more muscle mass, when every test indicates they are in a healthy state. Men are sexually objectified just as much as women are and yet it is shrugged off as a bit of fun. Nothing is said of the man who sees this perceived perception and experiences crippling loneliness and inadequacy because of a Photoshopped reality, probably achieved with some pharmaceutical based help along the way.

More than anything though, I'm completely uncomfortable with the idea that a woman can lose control of her emotions and brush it off as part of her gender. I don't accept that. Such a standing is the soil used to bury other problems. It is known that only a tiny percentage of men who are abused by their partners report it. Worst of all, he blames himself because society all too often will say that he "let her do that to you." Abuse has no "let" in it at all. There is no consent. This is the extreme example but it can come to many men in more subtle manners. Men are considered stupid for not understanding the complex emotional needs of a woman. Maybe we don't but that isn't necessarily down to us being stupid. It may not have been explained very well. It may be completely irrational and beyond comprehension. It may just be wrong. What is wrong is making someone feel inadequate in the realms of emotions when they are something that no one truly understands completely. 

When men are demonised for not comprehending emotions or belittled for expressing their feelings, it perpetuates the myth that men are made of stone with no heart. Then we expect them to be romantic and caring, despite society cementing over them for years. It is not right. Men can be emotionally fragile too. That's okay. Sometimes they do need to be told that they are being ridiculous and that they need to pull themselves together. Sometimes they are being a cry baby for no good reason. Sometimes, however, they need someone to listen to them.

They also need women to stop using the veil of emotionality to hide behind. We get that you've got emotions and, yes, we should be more considerate of them. We'd just like some help in the other direction too. Not sarcasm or snide remarks. Just someone who listens, who cares and allows us to feel safe in expressing our emotions. Because men can be emotionally fragile too. More than you think. A lot more.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Gun Control - The Great American Divide

1 October 2015. Christopher Harper-Mercer shot and killed eight students and one teacher at Umpqua Community College. He then engaged the police in a gun battle, which resulted in Harper-Mercer being killed. This was the 19th school shooting in the US in 2015. Nineteen... 

I find it interesting that the argument for having guns is rooted in the Founding Father principles of the United States. For those who don't know, it is in the Constitution of the USA. Not the original. The fact that the principle is called "The Second Amendment" should have given it away. It came in two years after the Constitution did. That, to me, counts as an afterthought, not a core principle. The Bill of Rights seems to be esteemed above and beyond anything else in the Constitution and, as a consequence, they are the most fiercely debated points. However, Amendment number two rears its head on a regular basis these days and it does so with its hands soaked in the blood of young people.

The Second Amendment reads: 

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

For such an important legal statement, it is clumsily written. For argument's sake, let's agree that this allows every American to the divine right to own a gun. I know I could dispute that but stick with me. Every American can own a gun.

Let's look at the First Amendment, which I think we can all agree on: 

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The indisputable right to freedom of speech is clearly stated in this principle. It is less clumsily worded, granted, but there is no doubt of the guaranteed privilege that is being extended. Does that freedom come without limitations? No. Speech that stirs up the people against the Government is a crime, namely sedition. Words that incite violence against people based on their race is illegal. The revelation of Government secrets is not freedom of speech, it is treason. Even putting crass language and adult based themes on the television at certain times breaks reasonable censorship regulations.

Most people accept that freedom of speech needs a level of control. If the controls in place were not adequately protecting the nation and its citizens, they would be increased. So why is America so divided on the issue of gun control, when their children are getting gunned down on a regular basis?

You only need to find a post on gun control on Facebook to see that the chasm between the standpoints is rooted in culture and, well, stupidity. There is no other way to put it. To illustrate my point, I take comments from this meme that was posted on Facebook.

Try to forget the horrendous apples and oranges argument presented in the meme. I'm not entertaining how utterly idiotic the comparison is, even though the creator in question thinks it has merit. Maybe he thinks meth should be legal, which demonstrates just how moronic they are.

So let's go through some of the comments it garnered:
Don't like guns...fine dont buy guns...but don't call the cops either ...they have guns
The police are heavily regulated when it comes to their weapons. If anything, they are the very embodiment of gun control!

i mean theres gun control in england and people still get killed by guns
This is true. In 2010, there was one gun homicide in the UK per every 2,000,000 people. In 2013, in the US, there was one gun related murder per every 28,000 people. Or in other terms, if the UK had as many citizens as the US, roughly 175 Brits would be shot to death, while 12,500 Americans would face the same fate. If you think improved gun control is not worth 12,325 lives, so be it.

Look at how banning guns in Australia worked. They have more crime and the thugs still have guns. The only thing is now the general public can't protect themselves with the same kind of force. Banning guns is not the answer.
Really?! In 2011, one Australian died by a gun per every 116,000 people. Of that, 72% were suicides. These are still tragic and unnecessary deaths but they don't involve the savage shooting of college students. It is also about the same rate of gun suicide as in the US.  Compare the homicide rates and the picture changes. Simply, for every Australian murdered with a gun, 32 Americans are killed with a bullet. That's one Sandy Hook and half a Columbine.

The statistics bear it out. I'm not even advocating the removal of all guns, just that increased gun control is required. Sure, some people will still be able to procure a gun by illegal means. That is not a sound argument against gun control. If you say "If they want a gun, they'll get one, so there is no point in gun control" then why isn't plastic explosives readily available in Walmart? It's the same argument. If someone wants to blow a place up, they'll get it, right? But because it's tougher to get, it happens less.

Some Americans foolishly assume that gun control is part of some covert conspiracy to turn the USA into a communist country. Those people need to join us in the 21st century. Some say that knife crime will soar if guns are controlled further. Knives have a practical use, like preparing vegetables. You can't peel a potato with a Magnum, so that argument is back to the apples and oranges farce. None of the pro-gun arguments that oppose at least an increase in the level of gun control have any credibility, irrespective of the passion those points are preached with.

It seems clear that I am for further gun control laws in the US. Yet, it doesn't matter what I think. I'm not an American citizen. I have no say in the politics of that country. I can also rest easy because the children in my life, namely my niece and three nephews, live in the UK and Canada. The likelihood of them going to school and being gunned down are pretty slim. If you want to cuddle your guns more than you want to cuddle your children, that is your political right. May God have mercy on the souls who are murdered, not on yours who stand by and let it happen because of your precious blood-soaked principle.

Jeb Bush summed up the pro-gun feeling. He shrugged it off, with the statement "Stuff happens." That's the problem. This stuff shouldn't happen. Ever. President Obama was right - "Enough is enough."

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Sexism - The Two Way Street

A study conducted by Stanford University found that man flu may be a genuine thing. It relates to hormones produced by the different genders and, as such, men experience flu more sharply than women. I have explained this scientific finding to a number of my female friends. Without fail, they all dismiss it, saying it is nonsense. They deride the findings because "men did the study" or some other reason that lacks any rationale. Basically, they don't buy it and they think that men are being weak. Because it is okay for women to think less of men like that.

Then I see the following photos casually posted on Facebook:

These are considered as a bit of banter. Just fun things to post. You may have liked such photos on Facebook. Let's see what they actually say. The first suggests that men are idiots and women are uncontrollable balls of anger. The second one suggests that men never grow up and need a woman to help them through life. The third teaches the message that the man is downtrodden and subservient in marriage. The fourth suggests that men are all stupid.

Now, flip the jokes around, so that women are the subject. How would women take it if they were presented with a flowchart as to when they could speak? Or that they entered marriage to be cared for because they are otherwise incapable? How about that marriage is about being her husband's slave or that women are just stupid? Feminists would be rightly enraged.

Yvette Cooper rightly highlighted that women receive abuse and derision, based on their gender, that is simply unacceptable. However, men are enduring such abuse all the time. They are increasingly being belittled and the irony is that it is promoting chauvinism, as some men seek to redress the balance. Menists have sprouted up, finding ways to belittle women, because if it's good enough for them, everyone should fill their boots. Sure, feminism is now poorly namely because it should be about equality, not female supremacy, but I'd like to think we're educated enough to get past an inadequacy in language. Yet, I don't see feminists popping up to voice their disapproval to these posts. Indifference feeds intolerance.

That is because sexism has long been thought of as a one way street. That isn't the truth. It has always been a two way street, it's just the traffic has been on one side for a long time. That does mean the quest should be to have an equal stream of disrespect on both sides. We should be working to close that road down. We should be accepting, embracing and revering our differences, not using them to get one over each other.

Abuse on the internet is an inevitability and I am certainly not one who advocates broad censorship. I think such a thing is fraught with far more danger. My problem is that if someone posted something racist or homophobic, we would all jump on it and rightly chastise the person who put it up. Someone posts something sexist and we are slow to disapprove. We even support it. Well, if we really want sexism to stop, we need to recognise that it happens in both directions and it needs to stop, in both ways.

Friday, 4 September 2015

The Syrian Refugee Crisis: The Point We're Missing

The refugee crisis has gripped the nation's attention off the back of a photo that I'm not comfortable posting. The image of a three year old child, washed up on the shore, stripped of life and dignity, has focused our attention on this human tragedy. That statement alone should make us ashamed because this travesty has been going on for some time now. It hasn't been hidden from us. Boats have been capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea, overwhelmed by the numbers trying to flee war torn Syria. Yet it took such a horrific image to make us sit up and take notice. With that said, there are some things in this crisis that don't quite add up for me. I share these thoughts not to undermine the severity of the situation. This is a chastisement of the media, who have sought after the sensationalism before the story; headlines over facts, if you will. Because it is they, the fourth estate, who have an obligation to inform us of what is happening and they have had us looking at the wrong thing.

The mounting problems in Hungary are horrid. It did, however, get me thinking as to why this has become such a problem. I try to put myself in these people's shoes. I'm fleeing from Syria with my family. All I want is to get somewhere safe and know that my loved ones are fed, watered and sheltered. Everything else can wait. Get to any haven and take stock. That is not the mentality of the refugees in Hungary. They want to go to Germany. Why? Because they believe that a better life exists there. At this point, my cold hearted rational mind kicks in...

I can understand people fleeing Syria through Turkey and them thinking that they don't want to stay in the neighbouring country. Syria and ISIS are at that doorstep and they don't want those evils to creep after them. Once you get to Hungary, there is a civilised country not on the fringes of the conflict. It is safe. Food and water is being provided. You would think that for these people, a secure haven has been reached and nothing else should matter for now. That does not appear to be the case. They are willing to go on hunger strike to get to Germany. Yes, these people have had a terrible time. Yes, they are afraid and on the run. Does that give them the right to hold a country to ransom? No, it doesn't. 

These people seem to want help only on their terms. German is not their first language, so that's not why they head that way. They are flocking there because of the economic benefits they perceive to come with a rich nation. Germany, along with other EU nations, are taking in refugees from the UN camps situated on the Syrian border. Germany is not an emotionless animal that is only serving to fill a quota. However, I can see the concern about taking in people who were refugees all the way to the EU border and, as soon as they crossed it, they seem to have become economic migrants. The news has shown images of people wrestling their wives and children onto train tracks to stop the Hungarian police registering them. Hungary is offering them safe haven. Being a refugee gives you the right to safety. It does not give you the right to pick and choose where you set up.

Furthermore, I want to know why just the EU is getting a political kicking for this. I might be wrong but there are plenty of other wealthy nations nearby. If these people had fled south, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are the countries they would reach. These are not states who are struggling for a penny or two. How many people are they taking in? You would have thought that fellow Arab and Muslim countries would reach out. No one appears to be kicking down the doors of their ivory towers.

And that leads me to my point. I think our focus is in the wrong place. We've been taking a long, hard look at ourselves, when the time for introspection can wait for another day. We've been looking to Hungary and wondering what we can do, when those people are all ready safe. They no longer want safety, they want more and they are not entitled to it. We should feel sorry for the fact that they have had to leave their country. We shouldn't feel sorry that they are trying to bully their way to the richest country in the union, because they do not have the right to do that, no matter how awful the situation they have left behind. It shouldn't even be on that poor child who washed up on the shore. It's too late for him and that's blood on our hands because we didn't do enough. If we did focus on that though, we wouldn't save the next child and the child after that. Retrospect should be used to learn from mistakes, not dwell on them.

Our focus should be on the true refugees. The ones who are not in a nation free from war. They sit at the Syrian border in UN camps. It seems that because they are not barricading a train station in a European capital, they aren't that newsworthy. Those who are in the EU should be registered in the country they arrived in. It does seem that the emotive nature of the media's reporting has blinded us from being rationale about some aspects of this crisis. Those refugees in Hungary should be grateful of a government that is willing to take them in, to provide the basics of living to them, because it would appear that they went on the run to find that. Because what they forget is while they trying to get their way, the resources being used to deal with their erratic sense of entitlement could be better served helping those people they had to leave behind.

We're focusing on the wrong refugees. We don't need to help those people who are in the EU. They need to accept the help that is being afforded to them, not demand the kind of help that they want. They don't have that right. We need to help those who are left behind. They are the real refugees. They don't want to live where the best jobs are. They just want to live. Everyone is entitled to that right. Everyone. Especially a three year old boy.

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Manchester YSA Convention


2003, the person in charge of our local YSA program invited us all to attend the UK & Ireland YSA Convention in Manchester, held at Wythenshawe Chapel. I declined. I thought it was a ridiculous meat market, designed to herd every single Mormon they could find into one place in the hope of creating a lot of marriages. My cynicism was based off, well, nothing. I had been home from my mission for less than a year and already I was highly cynical about the YSA program. I found it to be repetitive and anything but conducive to its own goals. People went, they enjoyed it and I spent a Bank Holiday Weekend in August at home. It was pretty dull, to be honest.

2004, I decided that I was being critical of something that I hadn't given a genuine chance to. So I went. £99 spent, which got me three nights in a hotel, food and fairly primitive activities. I'm talking volleyball in a hall, "Olympic" games outside, arts & crafts, lessons that were excellent but hardly TED Talks, and other stuff that was similarly cheap/free to run. Auspicious it may not have seemed but it was for me. Despite hating the formal ball and the appearance of Jericho Road, a poor Mormon boyband, I enjoyed my weekend and saw the value of such an event. I made plenty of new friends and cemented other relationships too.

So I went again in 2005. It was even better. By this time, it had moved to the Fallowfield Campus of the University of Manchester. Yet another enjoyable weekend...

Then came 2006 and disaster struck. I could sense that something wasn't right from the first evening. Every Friday night had been a dance. An over used activity in the YSA program, I felt like the first night was a waste of time and money. Then the Saturday seemed to be organised in a clumsy way. We were divided into 4 groups to send us to activities under four headings. Sadly for my group, the "social" activity was set to happen last thing on the Monday for us. I ended up going through the entire of Saturday in no position to meet new people. Instead, we sat in lessons or played sports all day. It wasn't enjoyable. Then the Formal Ball came and someone had commissioned professional ballroom dancers to perform. Not a bad idea but when the attire was a bit racy, I wondered how this had been approved for such an event. I ended up leaving the Formal Ball early. It wasn't good.

Little did I know that worse was to come. Elder Johnson, the Area President at that time, took to the stand on the Sunday and tore the convention to shreds. His talk was painfully ambiguous and left most of the congregation confused. It was terrible decision. It opened the floodgates of publicly-vented criticism over the convention, which came to a head when the chief of security was presented with a gift for his efforts. The crowd roundly booed him as he did. It was an utterly despicable moment, one that everyone involved with should be ashamed of. A good man ripped to pieces for his voluntary service. I stood at the back of the Armitage Centre with Dan Burgon, a good man who would be involved with the Convention the next year and remarked how disgusting it was. The convention had lost its way instead of kicking on to what it should be. That is not a criticism of those who organised it. I know for a fact that they worked hard but mistakes were made. The genuine question was asked as to whether such large scale conventions should be done.

It was decided to give it one more chance and the responsibility to revive it was handed to George Donaldson.


This is where I became involved. Hearing that Brother Donaldson was involved, I went to him almost pleading to be involved. He is a good man who I've always considered as a friend and looked up to all the time I have known him. He gave me the time to explain what I felt I could bring to the convention and made a deal with me. That was to come up with something better than a dance for the Friday night and if I could, I was in. Fortunately, I did and so did Jonathan Spencer, the man in charge of the Friday night activities. We created a carnival style event. It had a huge bouncy castle outside and we set up video game consoles inside on eight huge LCD screens. There were plenty of other things going around, including a text wall, where your text messages could be displayed. One inclusion was that of a barn dance. Jonathan & I were both opposed to the idea of such an event but the man in charge of events, Robert Preston, insisted on it. I'll admit to grudgingly supporting the idea but in the end, Brother Preston was right and I was wrong. It was very well received. We concluded the night with what became the standard welcoming video. So far, so good. And it meant a lot because it had been an almighty struggle to get to this point.

You see, as the convention for 2007 was being organised, it was clear that the after taste of the 2006 convention was somewhere between apathy and antagonism. We planned out a series of great activities that had never been done before. The driving force in this had been primarily Gemma Drury (nee Hoar), who came up with genuinely inventive ideas and made us up our game, not just in 2007 but in general. However, despite the high quality ideas that were being presented, attendance did not look good. At the Manchester Convention, 600 attendees were required to break even. An early entrance fee was charged to get some money in the bank for the Planning Committee to get some things booked. When the early fee period expired, we expected around 10% of attendees to have signed up. We had 12. Just a dozen. There were ten committee members and none of us got to go for free, so you can see how bad the situation was.

We went on a relentless promotion spree. Facebook wasn't big back then among YSA, although we still used it through a group called YSA UK. So word of mouth, posters and videos sent to dances were our only viable methods of marketing. We even went with the line that this could be the last convention. It was true. If the Church had had to cough up money to the University, it would have pulled the plug. Why waste money on a poorly attended convention? Fortunately, it started to bear fruit but not as quickly as we would have hoped. We crawled over the 600 break even line and had a bit of cash to spare. It was so tight though that things inevitably had to be cut back. We had advertised bumper cars but could no longer afford them, so they got pulled, along with other things. We'd get highly criticised in some corners for it but we simply did not have the cash.

The break through came in the two weeks running up to the convention though. With 650 attendees already booked in, swathes of people begged Brother Donaldson to let them come if they paid the full amount. In his generosity, he permitted this. The money paid for their rooms and food but the money that would go towards activities was dead money. We couldn't spend it because we wouldn't have it until the day of the convention. Around 750 people attended in the end.

The Friday and Saturday, including the Ball, were all very well received. The "It's a Knockout" event was a particular favourite with people. The Sunday was a nervous morning for me and the Committee members. Elder Johnson was again in attendance. We worried that he would do what he had done the year before. As such, I found myself metaphorically walking on egg shells with him. Too much so. At one point, he made a passing joke about a friend of mine's diminutive stature, in front of all the men who were in attendance. Elder Johnson may have thought it was just a joke but I thought it was ill-judged and lacked class. I heard the young man say "Yeah, thanks for that" in a slightly broken tone. Even before I heard him speak, I wanted to correct Elder Johnson. I wanted to say "That's inappropriate." I didn't because I didn't want to risk all the hard work that had gone into turning this convention around. Fact is I was a coward and it still haunts me to this day. I should have stood up for my friend that day and I didn't. I let a bully win. Despite the Sunday meetings, along with a really impressive concert, going smoothly from there on, I learned that day that there is no perfect experience on these conventions, especially for committee members.

The Monday was clumsy though. The Service Project had been outsourced to a third party who failed to deliver for one reason or another. No matter. The attendees had enjoyed themselves and we swept up the excitement with music & photos of the weekend. We had done it. The Convention was a success and a 2008 edition seemed inevitable.


And so it was. Brother Donaldson was invited back to organise the event and he asked me to be more involved this time as Senior YSA on the event, effectively his right hand man, along with my favourite person while organising these events, Becky Day. The committee was actually smaller than the previous year but what it did have was a lot of strong wills and characters. That would sometimes lead to disagreements but that was always to be expected. We decided to look at the lessons that could be taken from 2007 and how to improve it.

I looked back on my previous conventions and came to one conclusion. No matter how good the activities or events are, if you don't leave a convention having made new friends, you're probably not going to have enjoyed it. So we proposed a format change. The Saturday morning would be activities geared specifically at meeting and talking with a lot of different people. Gemma Drury used her 50 First Dates idea and I created a game called Switch, that got people to change who they were talking to based on a new statement that showed on the screen every 60 seconds. It proved to be the best idea we had and was immensely successful. From there, we would only need to come up with new ideas for activities and the Formal Ball.

On the face of it, things were great. We were the first convention to bring a series of inflatable games, like a bungee run, to a convention. The Friday night was a Wild West Carnival, with lots of games stalls, food and line dancing. The Ball was great, with a Ferris Wheel and a huge Pick 'n' Mix stall. The Sunday was well organised, although I was disappointed that no General Authority showed up. It long irritated me that due to the fact that a Mission President's convention was held the same weekend, it became tricky to get a General or Area Authority involved. I felt the leaders of the church missed a great opportunity. Around 850 future leaders would have been there for them to speak to and they never attended. The most I ever saw was a video message from Elder Russell M. Nelson in 2004. Monday was far better, with a "Night At The Proms" style event to close up the weekend. I defy any who attended to tell me that they didn't get goosebumps when the bagpipe player made his march to the front.

However, this was an immensely tough convention for me. In the build up to it, I had, under the instruction of Brother Donaldson, become the public face of the convention. I accepted that being under such a spotlight would bring as much bad as it did good. Sadly, during the organisation of this convention, I received three anonymous emails that amounted to death wishes. Until a short time ago, I had never told anyone about them because they were my burden to bear. I didn't want any negativity seeping into the equation. At times, I wondered why I was even bothering and there were days that the only thing that kept me going was my fairly sad attempts to impress the hot red head I was working with. Becky wouldn't let me sulk. She would drag me up by the scruff of my neck, tell me to suck it up and go again. She doesn't know it but she was my strength through the process of the 2008 Convention.

Furthermore, several friends came to me on this weekend with heartbreaking tales and sorrowful confessions. I'm not a Bishop and therefore not someone who should be hearing it. Yet, I felt an obligation to all those people who seemed to want to turn to me. Their faces stuck out in the crowd as I would speak from the stand. I didn't feel like I was much help to any of them but they all seem to be well now.

On top of this, I was ill on a weekend where I got little sleep. 7 hours actually. In the entire weekend. During the weekend, I was pumping myself full of Anadin to get me through. By the Sunday night, I was out of energy. Elder Kerr, who was visiting to give an evening Fireside, made a small joke about me reading his bio out like I had read his obituary. 850 people laughed. Then I knew how that friend of mine felt in 2007. I deserved it but I was angry about the cheap shot I had just taken in front of everyone. I didn't have the energy to walk out. I don't know if anyone noticed but I fell asleep for most of Elder Kerr's talk. I went back to my room, got a further 3 hours sleep and found the strength to get through the last day.

We had built on 2007's success and made it better. The convention was nearly to the point that I was completely satisfied with it. The only thing I wanted to improve on was the Service Project, which had amounted to a poor rubbish collecting exercise. I was ready to call it a day with the convention though. I was exhausted and more than a little upset by several things.


I got invited to a meeting in Ashton in the build up to the 2009 convention. I had gone purely to offer my insight from the year before and wrap up my work with the convention. Elder Kerr had other ideas. Despite me being almost certain that Elliott Blakemore would get the call, Elder Kerr asked me to be Senior YSA again. President Warren Ferguson took over from George Donaldson and I requested that Rebecca Wild be the female Senior YSA. I knew Rebecca to be someone reliable, committed and diligent. Also, she could put up with me. I'm a bull-headed fool and tolerance is a required trait to work with me on these things.

One thing I will say about the 2009 committee is that they were the finest group, as a collective, that I got to work with. I put Elliott Blakemore in charge of Friday. Elliott has more energy than a nuclear power station and the charisma to get a crowd going. He put on a brilliant Friday, putting on a series of live acts to go alongside creative stall ideas.

For the Saturday activities, I put Jai Turner in charge. I'd always considered Jai to be a mercurial genius who had never been utilised properly. The inflatables gig had run its course. I was out of fresh ideas. I just had a feeling that Jai had the capacity to come up with something crazy. I gave him a week and when I sat down with him, he said to me "I want to have a snowball fight at the convention." A snowball fight. In August. But he had a plan how to do it. He had an incredible imagination and I loved his suggestions. The only one I had to veto was the foam party. Somehow we got the toilet go-karts approved! The activities were brilliant. We did have one complication with the snow though. We had tasked a company over by the Trafford Centre to bring us a huge heap of snow. The Wednesday before the Convention weekend, they pulled the plug on us. Suddenly, one of our big selling points was gone. I phoned Jai in a panic but he stayed calm. He sourced a new batch of snow from as close as he could. Sadly that was Castleford. It meant that the snow had melted and compacted into ice. That didn't seem to phase 200-odd YSA engaging in a massive ice ball fight. It was one hell of a spectacle.

I assigned Leah Smith to oversee the Formal Ball and she also did a great job. She sorted the band, arranged for ice cream stalls instead of Pick 'n' Mix, small marquees for people to sit under to give an extra touch of flair and sourced a small Carousel for outside. Despite her and her sub-committee having to travel a fair distance for meetings, they did a job that Leah could be very proud of. One of my favourite moments from that Ball was the text wall. People would send me their text messages to put on the Wall. One made reference to how they loved Top Trumps. It seemed an odd message but harmless, so I put it up. Then I got one that read "Power 128." Again, harmless, so I put it up. Shortly afterwards, I got another text that read "No! Only 117. Your go." Two people were using the text wall to play Top Trumps across the hall. It carried on all night. I didn't find out who won but I thought it was hilarious.

Ed Wild was put in charge of the Monday Service Project and, finally, we had something to be proud of. Ed brought together a series of ideas to go towards different charitable organisations. It was fun, unifying and memorable. It did a lot of good. Plus someone got duct taped to a wall. It sounds ridiculous and it was, but it was also superb.

Organisationally, things went relatively smoothly. Marketing wise, things went smoothly. Attendance was up to its highest figures, topping over 900. At one point, the numbers were rising so quickly that we had to look into the possibility of using nearby hotels as an overflow.

There were a few niggles with this convention though. Some church members attempted to profit out of activities they were providing. To put this in perspective, we had one man, not a member of the church, come to do a presentation and all he wanted was his petrol money and lunch. We offered him £50, which was more than his petrol and lunch but for 3 hours work it represented good value for us and showed a bit of respect to him. However, one member requested £180 for his workshop. This was someone who was attending the convention but effectively wanted £55 and to attend for free for doing 3 hours work. The entire committee would be working the entire weekend and they would not get that perk. If anything, it cost more for them because of all the money they spent going to meetings and getting things sorted. We had another person put on a workshop and made the request that they attend for free because they were saving for their wedding. We agreed to it and then found that the person in question announcing on Facebook that they had spent the entrance fee and more on a pair of jeans. Such things did leave a bad taste in my mouth

We also had a huge kick off about one of the posters we used. We took the High School Musical 3 poster and altered it so it advertised the convention. In it, one of the girls was wearing a bright pink dress and a graduation gown. However, as she was jumping up in the air, the gown revealed, wait for it, her armpit. I kid you not when I say nearly a dozen of Stake Presidents complained about the poster being inappropriate. We withdrew the poster, wondering how many YSA would break the law of chastity because of an armpit. It led to us finding that some Stake Presidents were just plain antagonistic towards the convention. This was an astonishing revelation. One I called up was downright rude, saying that I was just trying to take away money from poor YSA and that he had counselled them not to go. Let me make it clear, at no point did I or the church profit from this convention. Any monies left over were used in the following year's event.

I got death threats again. This time I just brushed them off. Par for the course.

Another thing that reared its head at this convention was people sneaking in. We had noted it in previous years but this year was chronic for it. What was the most common tactic was for people to let someone sleep in their dorm with them. They would then say that they lost their wristband and needed a new one. This was a problem for several reasons. One, people doubling up in a dorm room invalidated the University's fire protocols. We would not be protected by the insurance the University had. Two, it meant that people were getting something for free when others had paid a lot of money. We knew that the convention was not cheap but we tried to get the price down as much as possible. For a convention costing the YSA £125, around £100 would be on rooms and food. That left £25 for activities and water (of which a lot was needed on this weekend). Three, it was a deceptive act, effectively stealing money from the church.  In one planning meeting in 2008, it was suggested that people found doing this should be reported to their Bishops for discipline, as such actions were bringing the church's name into disrepute. Ultimately, it was not a policy that was pursued, barring a few exceptional circumstances.

With the common use of Facebook, the minority that sought to openly criticise the Convention got louder. Criticism is fine when it is valid. None of this ever was. False figures about the number of YSA who had to use Church welfare to attend were spouted. Very, very few YSA had to rely on that. An event was even set up as some bizarre pseudo protest. Generally, the YSA in Leeds and London at that time had an issue with the convention, saying it was a waste of money. I found it insolent towards YSA who didn't live in areas densely populated with other YSA. Some Manchester YSA also wanted to know why they couldn't just pay an attendance fee and go home. I just found that stupid. So the person who only needs to pay £5 to get to the convention should have a cheaper deal than the person who paid £50 to get to the convention? A flat fee for everything was the fairest way. Anyone who couldn't see that were just being selfish. The critics still exist and I always invite them to do what I did when I was a critic. Tell me what you would do differently. Tell me how you would make it better with the limitations we had.

When all the dust had settled, 2009 was the convention I was most proud of. It felt as close to the complete experience as we could get. I probably wouldn't have had Kenneth Cope there but that one wasn't my call. He was in place before the Committee had even been organised. Other than that, I had no complaints. I stood before the 900 plus attendees at the end of the convention and knew that was it. I was done. The Committee had been amazing, YSA and senior couples, to a man and woman. At the end, as the Armitage Centre emptied and I helped clear away, I slung the final crate of water over my shoulder and walked to the car park. The place was filled with YSA talking to each other, laughing, smiling and swapping phone numbers. I put the water down and shouted that they were the last bottles. Nobody acknowledged me. They were busy socialising with their new friends. I honestly walked to my car with a smile on my face. This was a job well done. The convention was exactly what it should be. A place where people could make new friends and, more importantly, make their first memories together, whether they be silly, social or spiritual. That's all the convention was ever meant to be.


I honestly believed that when I woke up on 1 September 2009, any hint of involvement with the Manchester Convention was done. It wasn't. First, Elder Kerr asked to see Rebecca Wild and I to discuss what things needed to change for the 2010 convention. The meeting was fleeting, 15 minutes at most. None of my suggestions were taken up (they are listed at the bottom of this article in the first comment).

I was asked to work in a consultant capacity for the 2010 convention. The idea being that I help the committee which had so many new members on it and then walk away around April/May time. I ended up sticking around for the whole of it but no major decisions were taken by me. My major contributions to the 2010 Convention was Ben Barnett, The Sax Man who played on the Friday night, and the photo videos at the start and end of the convention.

It was also the year that my Facebook account was cloned and then used to announce the "cancellation" of the convention. This announcement came through the Facebook group YSA UK. It was an ugly episode. When the message was sent, the group had four admins. This had been a group that had ceased to support the Manchester Convention after 2007, knocking back or ignoring any requests from us to share messages. Suddenly, they insisted that this cloned account had contacted them and asked them to share this cancellation message. I was enraged. The Chairman, Dave Hoare, asked me to stay calm and to write a rebuttal regarding it, explaining what had happened. In the intervening period, YSA UK added seven more admins, almost as if the original four were trying to cover their tracks. Ironically, it went on to be the best bit of advertising for the convention that year, as application forms flooded in off the back of that. However, I still think the people who did that, whether it be as a joke or for malicious motives, should really take a long, hard look at themselves. For me, I thought they brought the church's name into disrepute and should have been disciplined.

I later found out that people would attribute false quotes to me. Some say that I said that failure to attend the convention would result in them going less active. I never said such a thing. I did encourage YSA to attend to help others who were weak in spirit to have an edifying experience. Other ugly rumours were spread about me that I would only find out years afterwards, all of which were untrue. It led to a lot of people having a preconception about me and I felt incredibly isolated, socially, by 2011.

Looking back on it, there was plenty to be proud of. I got some messages of thanks. Some nice stories that came from the conventions I did. I worked with some great people. Two people definitely worthy of a name check are Mal and Gordon Smith. Gordon is no longer with us but they embodied everything good about these conventions. Commitment and diligence. We did a lot of good.

What would I change? If I could go back to where it all started, I probably tell myself in 2007 to keep that idea to yourself. I lost more than I ever gained. I left parts of me in those conventions that I never got back. I had bits chipped off me in the aftermath of the event. I watched the legacy of my efforts drain away in just two years, as the appetite for this big event seemed to dissipate.

Sad, I know. Was it worth it? For those who attended, I hope so. For me? No.... No, it wasn't.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Marvel Cinematic Universe - Phase 2 Report Card

So with Ant-Man being released, Phase Two of Marvel's Cinematic Universe is complete. Launching from the success of the Avengers, there were two schools of thought as to how this would go. Either it had peaked with The Avengers, and the standalone films would just hold us over until Age of Ultron came along, or we'd get sick of comic book films and stop going. Neither happened.

To give some kind of context to the job in hand, you have to remember that Phase One was not that impressive. Sure, we enjoyed them but looking at the standalone films, the first Iron Man was the only 3 stars or higher score in there. Phase One had two genuine hits in the six films. That was fine. Like a rising music artist, it's wise not to put your best stuff out on the first album. Phase Two, however, needed to offer more. Raise the stakes. Be more compelling. Avoid clich├ęs and predictability. So how did Marvel do?

The most successful standalone film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it felt more like a Tony Stark film than it did an Iron Man film. That's not a criticism. It was a fresh take and gave us a story that was driven by the character, rather than cataclysmic events. This is worth noting as the Iron Man franchise has successfully steered clear of the "end of the world" stakes. It did set the tone for the MCU in providing us with a big twist mid-story that very few saw coming. Some it irked. Others, myself included, thought it was a brilliant play by Marvel. Riding the crest of the Avengers, it was a good start out of the blocks by Marvel.

An improvement on the previous instalment, it still didn't feel like the definitive Thor film. If anything, it felt like a definitive Loki film. This film ticked all the right boxes and was enjoyable but it proved that the MCU doesn't have a villain more compelling than Tom Hiddleston's god of mischief. So much so that Malekith started to fall in that odd category Marvel has of a "Use once and dispose" baddie. Not one you'd mind watching but not the first you're going to pick off the shelf.

Game on! For me, this is still the best film in the MCU. A taut thriller that takes a believable political subterfuge plot and blends the superhero element effortlessly. Filled with slick action sequences, a clever streak of comedy and plenty of twists, it revitalised a character that needed to be elevated to iconic status. It also shook the entire MCU. Suddenly, every film was unmissable because it could contribute massively to the next film and the next phase. Off the back of this, Captain America: Civil War is now hugely anticipated and rightly so.

Marvel's big movie risk came off spectacularly well. Led by Chris Pratt, who might as well change his name to Mr Franchise at the moment, it was like a Diet Star Wars for this generation. What it did was give us characters to care about and once they were off, we wanted to tag along for the ride. It had just enough snark in it to keep us amused, plenty of action and deep roots in where the MCU is headed. The only criticism is one that could be levelled at the entire of Phase Two, that being the villain, Ronan the Accuser, was horrendously under developed. No matter. We loved it and for many people, it's the best film Marvel has ever made.

Four Marvel films at its back, three of them stand out hits, this was Marvel's chance to cement its dominance as the lurking DC started to gather strength. Instead, it turned out to be a missed opportunity. Age of Ultron is not a bad film. It's just not on a par with its Phase Two counterparts. Where did it go wrong? A familiar sin for the MCU, namely a poor fleshing out of the main antagonist, was a key factor. The reality is that Loki drove the story in Avengers. We understood his motivations and all things happened because of him. In Ultron, he would often become a side show to the Avengers squabbling, instead of being the genuine cause. It was such a waste, made worse when you consider that Spader was probably the best thing in the film. The tension was lacking, the pace was choppy and the story was clumsy. It was still a thrill to watch but it wasn't the step up we had all hoped for.

Under the cloud of Edgar Wright leaving, this long developed film finally made it out. It is an enjoyable romp but not one to rock your world. It will be one of those Marvel films that will forever sit in the mid-table position when Marvel films get ranked. Well acted with clever ideas and a fresh concept for a superhero film, namely a heist movie, it falls back into the category of holding us over until the Marvel film we want to see shows up.

Six films. Three hits. It is an improvement on Phase One and filled with entries Marvel should be proud of until its dying day. Moving into Phase Three, which will feature nine films (ten if you include Sony's collaborative Spider-Man film), the challenge is now to make a majority of them hits, not just "fun to watch" films that could have been just as viable on Netflix. DC, and to a lesser degree Fox, sit in wait, ready to fight for the throne of comic book films. In 2019, we'll know if Marvel is king or if it missed its chance with a Phase Two that started well, got better but tailed off at the end.

Grading: Better but more expected.