[SPOILERS] Jyn, Bleakness & Hope – A Quick Take on Rogue One



[preparing primary ignition sequence]


[pushing the green buttons, then the red ones]


So, today I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at the cinema.

First impressions:

Beautifully designed, loved the nods to various details. Star Wars Episodes IV-VI always sided with people who would be classed as terrorists, and Rogue One if anything takes us deeper into sympathising with a terrorist/freedom-fighter position (I suppose we’re meant to think in terms of the Free Syrian Army rather than, say, FARC – but I do wonder how the Rebel Alliance financed their operations for the 15 years that are referenced in the movie!)

A few deeper thoughts:

This is a movie filled with pain. Only the Guardians seem to be at peace in their various ways, regretting little and living for the moment. Even they are outcasts as their temple has been plundered by the Empire. (Both of them were far and away my favourite characters and I suspect I will carry the mantra “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me” for a while when I come upon hard times – along with my prayers to God.)

Much was made of how the X-Wing Fighters attack on the Death Star in Episode IV resembled a certain type of WW2 movie about daring aerial battles, and drew on them for inspiration. In the same way, Rogue One reminded me of another staple of the WW2 movie genre. From the stories that were well-known and based on true events still in living memory when the films were made, such as “Heroes of Telemark” and “Dirty Dozen” (and with a definite nod towards the style of “Saving Private Ryan”, though not so much) – Rogue One referenced a few different subgenres around the theme of a team going on what could well prove to be a suicide mission.

And here’s the big spoiler: it turns out that the final mission, to retrieve the Death Star plans, ends up being exactly that. None of the central characters introduced during the storyline survive and there’s a tipping point where you realise that they know they won’t make it home again. In this sense, it is a true “tragedy” play.

The text and dialogue of Episode IV tells us that a lot of people died to bring the information back to the Rebellion, which set me up for the possibility that the heroes were not necessarily going to make it but I’m an optimist and just hoped that maybe there would be a chance to recover quietly afterwards. Not so! As with those war movies referenced, finishing the mission became the only victory and survival was out of their reach.

Even so, the scenes where the Rebel guards on the flagship are frantically trying to escape with the plans and have to pass them on rather than escape was the real heart-wrencher: the sinister figure of Darth Vader, lightsabre blazing and rendering him immune due to his Sith powers to their blaster fire – and then slashing through them… and again, these unknown characters, barely seen before they are cut down, dedicated and sacrificing themselves just as our heroes had, to get the all-important information to those who could use it to stand against the fascist Empire.

It seems, with such a painful ending, in which characters both main and extras meet with certain and inescapable death at the hands of the Evil Empire, that this would be a bleak story. Everyone we meet along the way has regrets, choices made that meant they had to lose things and people important to them. Everyone bears scars inflicted on them by the struggle against the overbearing tyranny.

Despite this, however, the actual theme of the story is hope. The repeated refrain is that rebellions are built on hope. Everyone who faces these bleak regrets and violent deaths, makes their decisions because of hope for the future, hope for their loved ones, hope for freedom. And the hope makes it worthwhile. As long as a chance remains that the technological monstrosity of mass destruction and the will to use it can be prevented, then the struggle to stop it is worthwhile.

* * *

I cried at the end. Partly, because the final message is delivered by Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher died a few days ago (followed by her mother). Partly because the tragic ends of the characters I’d grown to love during the movie set me up for it. But also because of the words spoken.

The guard hands Leia the plans that will reveal how to destroy the Death Star and asks, “What have they given us?” She answers with one word – the theme of the movie. “Hope.” And if there’s one thing Carrie Fisher can give us still, then that is it: hope.

This feels like the perfect movie to sum up where we are now at the end of 2016. Fascism in the form of May’s Tory Party (and UKIP, and the other even farther right parties), and Trump’s new Republican nightmare, seem to be winning. They have such evil and such power that if we don’t resist, then it will be forever (to echo the language in the movie). Things have rarely felt so bleak even in the Thatcher years (I’m too young to know anything about what it was truly like before then).

But through it all – there is still hope. We are one with the Force, and the Force is with us.

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‘Tis the season to be poorly (aka my body is weird) – CN for alcohol use & vomiting

These are just some late-night musings about some weird behaviour by my body – that forced me to get out of bed (which is why I’m bothering to write about it).

Namely, late last night and today I have noticed symptoms that I know from experience are usually the lead-up to a full-on cold (I hope to head it off, but who knows?)

I’m sure whisky (specifically in this case, Glenfiddich single malt) is not really efficacious in treating colds but the myth is fun. This evening, in a slightly excessive mood, I drank 3 (count ’em! Three!) small whiskies (like, 5-8mm in the bottom of the glass, at a rough estimate). This is still a lot of whisky compared to my usual intake in a single evening.

Fast forward to me trying to get some proper sleep (which is much more useful to help my body combat disease, I believe).

Suddenly, my stomach starts to churn. I rushed to the shower room and grabbed the nearest receptacle (a small washing bowl). My belly continues to gurgle and heave, my reflexes keeping it down but losing the war there.

HEAVE! A tiny dribble.

HEAVE! a small amount of liquid, and about a dozen grains of rice.

HEAVE!!! Another tiny dribble.

A few more experimental spasms, but after that my stomach calmed down again (enough that I can sit here without worrying I’ll puke on the keyboard).

I have no idea why my body wanted to get rid of the rice. I didn’t even have rice today (and can’t remember when I did). But the fluid I’m pretty sure might have been some of the whisky – boo!

So maybe I have found my limit for drinking alcohol at least in that form?

The other thing that puzzles me: almost invariably, a precursor to my needing to puke is that I experience incredibly vivid dreams that are entirely in text form. This goes back to childhood! (And therefore is not strongly correlated with alcohol.) This time, it was a combination of what I do at work on a computer, with a chatroom I had been in about half an hour before tucking in. Other times, it’s been combinations of magazine articles I read during the day, or letters I received.

I have no idea why this happens. But I find it really fascinating.

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Reluctantly Queered

I mentioned in my review of Queer: A Graphic History that I separated out the “review” from the “philosophy” in order to write about the book rather than the subject matter. Part of that was that I felt a need to discuss the ways in which Queer theory (or at least, the basics as described in that book) intersected with my own ideas and experience.

I chose the title: “Reluctantly Queered”, because I feel that my “natural” position is somewhat at odds with the theory as laid out, but at the same time my life and sense of self intersect with the ideas and some of them have value and use to me.

Before I address the ideas in the book directly, I will make two statements about where I am. The significance of these statements and how they challenge or are challenged by Queer Theory will become apparent quite quickly.

First: I am a Dominant, but I enjoy doing submission.

Second: I find a lot of value in an idea I developed after reading about the I Ching and Taoism in general, particularly the concept of yin and yang. I can’t claim that this is an accurate understanding of yin and yang, but it’s the version I developed for myself. This is that, although yin and yang represent binary contrasts: feminine/masculine, weak/strong, passive/active etc, they are like a language with two words and the use of a word to express one meaning does not imply all the other meanings. So in describing the world, yin and yang are always mixed and every thing or situation has elements of both, and (for example) “feminine” does not imply “weak”, any more than “set a puzzle” implies placing the puzzle into a group.

Those are two positions I brought with me to the book.

Their relevance can be seen if I say that the two recurrent themes in Queer: A Graphic History are as follows:

  • Queer is doing, not being – Queer theory rejects identity in favour of performance
  • Queer theory is about challenging binaries; binaries (inherently?) lead to hierarchies and should be broken down

My sense of Dominant as something I am, and that I relate to Dominance in a different way from how I relate to Submissive as something that I do, challenges the idea that all identity can be resolved into performance – and is challenged by an analysis that is based primarily on performativity.

My sense that binaries are plural, complex and not inherently hierarchical challenges and is challenged by a position that is primarily about breaking down binaries and that sees binaries as problematic in themselves, and as simplifying (oversimplifying) the world.

One might say that my inclination is towards ideas that are antagonistic to the central themes of Queer theory.

Thus, as the ideas were introduced I found myself interrogating them and forming objections. to be fair, the authors Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele (hereafter referred to by their initials so I don’t have to type them as often!), include later in the book a look at some of the common challenges that have been levelled against Queer theory and some of these reflected or touched upon my own challenges (although in general I felt they were not the same challenges, and the answers were not necessarily relevant to the points I was questioning).

I also found myself engaging with how the ideas were useful to me or reflected other concepts that were familiar from me from other disciplines, or from other areas of philosophy and political activism.

The book (by which I mean, unless otherwise indicated, “Queer: A Graphic History”) starts by discussing some language terms, including the various ways in which the term “queer” has been used, and then a brief history of “sexology” and how the study of sex in Western academia has produced certain assumptions about sexuality – fixed, binary, and “right/wrong”.

Then we are introduced to Queer theory’s tenets. M-JB offers the following bullet points:

  • Resisting the categorization of people
  • Challenging the idea of essential identities
  • Questioning binaries like gay/straight, male/female
  • Demonstrating how things are contextual, based on geography, history, culture, etc.
  • Examining the power relations underlying certain understandings, categories, identities, etc

After looking at the history of binary perceptions of sex and gender, the next step is to ook at the history of Queer theory, starting with the origins in mid-20thC existentialism and Kinsey’s research into sexual behaviour, tracing through Black feminism and intersectionality up to Post-Structuralists.

Oddly, in this journey it was the Black feminism that spoke best to me – perhaps this is because of the summaries chosen by M-JB and JS to illustrate their contributions. Perhaps also it is because these are ideas developed by people who have a direct vested interest in the ideas because of lived experience.

Certainly, my response to a lot of the text about post-structuralism was that it seemed terribly navel-gazing and verging on sophistry. I found myself yearning for something in the book that could link this to the concrete world and lives lived in it, rather than a bunch of academics pulling ideas out their arses! The most applicable ideas I found there were those that to me harked back to concepts that for me are familiar from the previous century.

For instance, the summary of Michel Foucault’s thought brought to mind Hegelian dialectic, and Marx’s analysis of class and labour relations – ironic since post-structuralists are, “critical of theories based on grand narratives that attempt to explain all of human experience in terms of one specific structure, like … Marx (the social structure of the class system)”

Even more ironic is that Marx in many ways made similar challenges – he and Engels analysed this in terms of “how things are contextual, based on geography, history, culture” and “examining the power relations underlying certain understandings, categories, identities, etc” – the strength of Marx is that he demonstrated how these arise out of the material and shared experiences of people in similar material relations to the world.

Marx was not in any way a forward thinker (Engels perhaps more so) when it comes to sexuality, gender or race but the tools of dialectical materialism seem relevant to the types of analysis framed in Queer theory, if applied in that direction. My feeling and frustration was that post-structuralism represented a retreat into an idealism (in the sense that that term was applied by Marx to describe Hegel).

As I said, the philosophers of existentialism and post-structuralism struck me as rather navel-gazing and building ideas not on the shared world but treating it as if what we say about it is what matters (thus allowing there to be “many truths”).

(Yes, I know that with quantum superposition, entanglement and other such effects, one might argue that physics also allows there to be many equally true stories about the world; but physics also requires that interactions between those stories cause them to coalesce into a single observation. I will leave it for the reader to investigate to see if that concept has relevance in the social world and Queer theory – I happen to think that it does!)

The post-structuralist section is also the part where my sense of identity challenges (and is challenged by) Queer theory.

The post-structuralist theory states that identity is not fixed, and “there’s no single truth about who we are. We can always tell multiple stories about ourselves, and none of them is the truth.” Instead, “We come to occupy these identities through our relations with the world in which we reside”

I spoke about being Dominant and doing Submission before. I also don’t really do any of those things when I am at work – I relate to work in a different way from how I relate to my family, and distinct from that again is how I relate to friends, and yet again how I relate to sexual partners, and so on.

Queer theory would have me believe that these are all distinct identities that I fluidly negotiate and move between, but to me they are different “doings” but not different “beings”. Because I am able to observe myself from within, I can trace how the same personality traits drive and motivate my actions, how the same collection of principles and memories and needs nevertheless produce various different ways of navigating a space depending on what sort of space it is.

I feel as though a post-structuralist would look at a tall ship in clear, fair sailing weather with all sails billowing, and think it has a different identity from the one showing only its lowest sails and ploughing through a storm. It is the same ship, but rigged and presenting differently because the needs of the circumstance are different.

For me, I have several online identities in which I allow different aspects of my personality to come to the fore. That ought to mean I would be directly in agreement with the ideas above, but I am also aware how all the different names also share all things in common so that they are at once different and the same.

Thus, identity can be both fixed, and yet also contextual.

The Submissive Valery is motivated by similar personality traits to the Dominant Valery, but Dominant is something I see myself as being, whereas Submission is something I see myself as doing. I think it would be a whole post of its own (and some deep self-analysis!) to dig out why, but I know that Dominance is something I revert to, whereas Submission is something I make an effort to inhabit – so that even in my online identities that I created for submissive purposes, I often find myself being cast by partners into switching and more often dominating them than vice versa.

Now, it might be questioned whether those personality traits are fixed or changing (I suspect that they do vary over a lifetime, but when I think about how I my younger self might view me, and vice versa, I think although we would each think the other a colossal twat, we would still share the same motivations and personality traits to a large extent – out mutual twat-judgement would be based more on differing understandings based on the experiences I’ve had since then and the conclusions I’ve come to. For instance, back then, I spouted a lot of Nice Guy crap! But equally, I am now more embracing of violence in a way that my younger self would reject.)

Another consequence of the Queer theory approach is that it seems to ask us to ignore distinctions and differences that have practical effects. There’s a page with three celebrities discussing gender and sexuality:

Ruby Rose “I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum”

Miley Cyrus “I don’t feel the need to label my gender or sexuality”

Kristen Stewart “I don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re ‘gay’ or ‘straight’”

While this is a great place to aim for in some ways, I feel like being able to name your attractions and communicate them is useful.

I think also that a celebrity has a lot more scope to be “different” than I have experienced.

For me, despite my binary-challenging traits (see below), I have to negotiate that reality through the socially-male-coded body that I actually inhabit, and I have to negotiate the challenges of being one thing but for safety and convenience having to perform another – which is to say, I perform “straight man” while being and yearning to perform and represent, a bisexual genderfluid nonbinary.

Queer theory as a root of activism can move towards where that might be easier for me, but it can’t change the concrete material realities of my body that mitigate against my doing so. For that, I need (for instance) laser facial hair removal.

* * *

As noted above, binaries are seen as problematic, apparently in themselves.

Much of Queer theory as presented in the book, is about opening up the spaces between the binary options: genderfluid, genderqueer, trans, and so on as other spaces in gender, for example. There’s a page of celebrities quoting their statement of rejecting gender.

I ought to be on board with this: my identity inhabits some of those nonbinary positions directly; I am bisexual, and moreover I am not evenly bisexual. Moreover, my attractions challenge the conception of binary gender: there are specific sub-genders of women and men that I find much more attractive then others; and then there are the nonbinary genders I also find hot.

And I am myself rejecting of my assigned-at-birth gender role and identity: in the way described in the book, I find myself turning my back on the designation of “man” because I cannot inhabit all that that seems to carry with it. If I had at my command some of the concepts in Queer theory when I was 8 or 9 and choosing to defy gender norms of hair length, then perhaps I might have had a place to put myself that I could make sense of myself outside of the binary a lot sooner.

And my body, as documented on this blog, is a project in becoming closer to the nonbinary gender that I feel myself to be internally.

(And here, there is another challenge to and from Queer theory – while it is true that gendering my body is a matter of perception, the concrete reality of what my body is and isn’t is still something to be related to and something that I can change only by determined action, not by changing perceptions. Remember what I said about concrete, material, facts versus idealist/perceptualist navel-gazing? Or, as Marx put it, “the point, however, is to change the world”.)

However, I am going to say that not all binaries are bad. Some are very useful.

There is, regardless of the post-structuralist idea, a real and important binary between a fact and an opinion. This is valuable and useful!

There is also a very important binary between “yes” and “no”. Which is to say, between consent and nonconsent. Even when people play with such concepts as “consensual nonconsent”, that distinction remains and is important.

Now, there are lots of nonbinary expressions within each, and some ways of saying “yes” include the word “no”, and some ways of saying “no” nevertheless use the word “yes” (but if you actually care about consent, then you will notice when yes means no, or be aware of why yes does not mean yes). But the distinction is important and valuable and it is a binary, even if there are gradations and variations and caveats on either side of the divide.

Another way I look at this is through analysis within the kink communities I’ve participated in, and some of the work that’s been done academically. There, we talk about layers of consent, layers of meaning, and layers of power dynamic – on these levels the Sub has the power, and on these other levels the power is with the Dom, and on this other level it’s sort of shared… This harks back to my conception of binaries in terms of the multiplicity of yin and yang, rather than as simple “either/or”. In some of the later pages of their book, M-JB and JS introduce the possibility of softening Queer theory by introducing “and” to represent identities such as “genderfluid AND hairy-bodied” (I keep using this example from my own experience in this discussion!) rather than out-and-out destroying binaries or erasing boundaries that might be felt to be important.

Similarly, there is a binary between “attracted” and “not attracted”. And that can be contextual and fluid, but it is still there. For example, I have been listening through my iTunes collection of “Metal Hammer” cover CDs and reassessing the tracks and how much I like them. I found myself giving track after track the same rating, and wondering if there was a reason – perhaps I was just in the right mood for heavy metal, and perhaps last time I listened I had been treating it almost as a chore and not engaging with how much I liked the tracks, so I liked them more the second time around.

But at the same time, when it comes to sex, even if I find a person attractive one day and not the next when i see them in a different circumstance, then that state is binary.

Attraction may have gradations, but it still falls into a binary.

I recall learning about binary code in electronics. (I believe this was specifically with relation to the old analogue TV “teletext” system – I did a project on it at school and the BBC engineering department kindly sent me a whole load of technical information.) We’re taught to think of switches as being “on” or “off”, and by extension, current to be “on” or “off”. In actual fact, there is a threshold – current can be anywhere between 0 and 100% capacity, so in order to declare current “on” or “off” there has to be a threshold above which the current is “on”, and below which it counts as “off” even if there is some current flowing.

So again, it is possible to be both binary and nonbinary – the important thing is, is my “attraction-current” enough to count as “on” for the given situation and purpose? That’s a binary, and as I said, I think it’s important. But the attraction itself can be fluid and multi-variable.

* * *

All that said, I mentioned that there are some very useful tools and analyses to be found in this introduction to Queer theory, such that I haven’t rejected the idea of eroding or breaking binaries – rather, I have rejected breaking binaries as a goal in itself and the construction of binaries as “problematic” – before declaring it problematic, one must look at what it does. This is supposedly a tenet of Queer theory, but it feels like Queer would have it that we’re requiring a reason to not break it, whereas I would look for a reason to break it. Usually, the reasons to do so are easy – that’s how come Queer theory developed, and how come it is useful in a lot of cases.

Intersectionality is also an important part of Queer theory, and it came out of Black feminisms (remember what I said about finding their thought more useful?) – the idea that my kinks don’t stand separate from my genderfluidity, which doesn’t stand separate from my sexual attractions, which doesn’t stand separate from… and so on. And these don’t stand separate from the privileges that I enjoy as White, and as “socially-perceived-as-male” (I just noticed, that makes “SPAM” – oops!)

While I don’t necessarily agree with ditching identities, the analysis in terms of doing is also useful; and the analysis in post-structural terms of there being multiple narratives is also valuable, not least because it echoes an intuition I have about a lot of things, which is simply that different people arrive at similar behaviours by different routes – rather than there being a single aetiology of kink, for example, there are many different ways in which one can find oneself to share interests that fall under the kink/BDSM/fetish banner and the existence of one does not negate the reality of others. (The same goes for homosexual behaviour, for instance.)

In this sense, the most interesting part of Queer: A Graphic History is the section on where next for Queer theory. Turning its own analyses on itself, and in particular adding to that my own observations, it is possible to question whether Queer theory has become itself a “grand structure” of the type critiqued by its post-structuralist forebears and try breaking down the absolutes (such as the assumption that binaries are bad, or that identities have no place).

In the same ways as I have drawn ideas from many sources to build a worldview and philosophy of life, I find there to be useful and valuable insights in Queer theory that I can use to build a better and more nuanced picture of society and my own selfhood. But as with most philosophies, I don’t find myself able to accept all of it.

* * *

So, I cast myself as reluctantly queered – queer theory is not a realm I inhabit easily, but at the same time my reality and my experiences, my identities and roles, place me in a queered relation to normativities. Regardless of where I “would” be, I am queer, and Queer theory applies to me at least in part.

I am and I do. And in different ways, those are queer statements.

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BOOK REVIEW: Queer: A Graphic History

This is one of the more challenging reviews for me to write, because I want to engage with my reaction to the ideas presented as if they are being expounded and put forward for debate – but that is actually not the purpose the authors set out in their introduction. (So perhaps I shall discuss those points in another post.)

Queer: A Graphic History is not putting forwards an idea, but is an introduction to the field of Queer theory and the activism and academic disciplines and ideas that form, and form out of, Queer theory. As such it is more like a school textbook than a treatise or position, and therefore it is only fair to judge it first and foremost on how well it communicates its material rather than on my engagement with the positions of the material.

The school textbook analogy is apt in another way. The combination of author and artist produce on each page a paragraph or exposition with an illustrative drawing and sometimes one or two key positions of the academics quoted (sometimes they are activists, but the impression is mostly of academic-level thinking and writing). This resembled the style of many of the textbooks that I remember from when I was in secondary school, about 25 years ago now and is what made me think of the analogy in the first place.

There is another way in which I think of this as a school textbook, and that is simply that it would make a very good foundation for a syllabus at secondary level and Lord knows, if I’d had access to material like this at that age then I might have got to a better understanding of myself a lot sooner. Or maybe not, because maybe I was not ready to listen then. But I think particularly as we seem to be facing an essentialist backlash in culture at the moment, simply giving young teens tools like these to work with would benefit society immensely, whether they themselves identify in a queer way or not (since one of the themes is how queer theory looks at heterosexuality in the same ways as it does other identities and expressions).

So, I’m recommending the book for our schools, which must mean I liked it as a textbook introduction! So you know what my answer will be.

What I had been expecting was something like the rather fun and excellent “Cartoon History of Time” – an introduction to cosmology and quantum physics comparable to the Hawking book but funnier and more accessible! In that book, the concepts are introduced and expanded through a series of cartoon vignettes featuring a cat and a chicken who are best friends (it also references Dark Star and therefore earns super awesome ratings from Yours Truly).

I was hoping that a similar cartoon comicbook style romp through the world of Queer Theory would be my introduction, but I cannot really blame the authors for that – I am the only one responsible for my wishes and expectations in this matter, after all. (Although now the idea is out there, if someone wants to run with it – the style of Existential Comics could help…)

I feel like the book covered the subjects I had hoped, for the most part. I would have liked more discussion of kink theory, and I would have liked the focus taken away from “researchers” and put onto the forms that kink communities generate for themselves. But then, kink is kind of my community and perhaps people in other groups that got a similarly brief mention might feel the same. I felt that the ways in which the BDSM communities I’ve engaged with have examined (or not examined) aspects of kink would have made a good practical study of how the ideas in the book worked. Again, maybe other groups would feel the same.

That is a criticism in general: there was very little about how queer theory relates with lived experience. Indeed, in the section on criticisms of Queer Theory, this was a point raised – that many people feel that it doesn’t engage very well with practical concerns or doesn’t demonstrate its relevance very well.

The structure was very academic, and again, set out like a school textbook: “history , development, exposition, further points/challenges.” For me, this sometimes felt like I was leaping ahead with my responses to the text and anticipating later passages. That’s because one of my big reasons for buying the book was that I had already encountered a lot of references to the ideas and I wanted to fill in some of the blanks and have a better foundation to engage with them. I certainly feel like I have that, but need to go to the next level (and some of the further texts suggested in the back may be on my amazon wishlist before long).

As an introduction for someone new to feminist and queer thought, I am not sure how well I can gauge the effectiveness. As mentioned, I think as a text for a school syllabus, with a teacher to help explain points or expand on the material I am sure it would be excellent. For someone seeking to learn on their own or figure out “is this for me”, in the way depicted in the introduction, I am left wondering how steep the learning curve is, and whether or not it could be shallower without losing important elements of the ideas. On the other hand, maybe the fact that I found it easy to work out which bits were familiar and how they fit into the picture, means that it would be easier than I imagine.

Some of the points also felt as if they were skimmed over – for instance, the presentation of “sex-positive” as a problematic binary and a “celebratory” stance bothered me, but I do recognise that the way people use that term has drifted from the original principle it represented so perhaps it is fair. On the other hand, some recognition by the authors of that drift would have been good to see.

In conclusion:

I think the best uses for this book are the aforementioned “school textbook”, and for someone who like me may have encountered some of the concepts “in the wild” and wants to find out what it’s all about. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a cold starter. As always, in order to keep it short and comprehensible, some details have been left out and it is less than comprehensive.

But as a starting point for study, it offers a lot and is definitely worth seeking out.

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The General’s Aide (A Sexual Fantasy)

CONTENT NOTE: This fantasy involves “dubcon”, i.e. situations in which the consent of the imaginary partner(s) is not clear (perhaps through expressed reluctance being overridden, or the bottom not being prepared). It also involves military power structures and abuse of authority in that context.

* * *

This is a sexual/masturbation fantasy I have been playing with recently, with minor variations (which are described in the text). It developed about a week or so ago and I’ve returned to it quite frequently since. I hope it inspires similarly erotic feelings in you, dear reader:

* * *

A young and attractive army officer or NCO arrives with a message for the general, who’s set up base in a chateau or palace of some kind (the look/feel is sort of WW1 but I don’t feel like it’s set in a time of conflict as such). The NCO is sometimes female, and sometimes feminine male – if female, it’s set in a time when women weren’t supposed to serve but (in the fantasy) a blind eye is turned to women who dress masculine to join up. So the NCO is effectively nonbinary, and the fantasy varies which genitals they have. They always use binary pronouns though (usually using “he” because of the custom of only men serving).

Another point of variation is whether I’m the general or the NCO. So bear that in mind in the following!

The general finds the NCO attractive, but also admires his smartness, dedication and also recognises the admiration and awe with which the NCO views him. The NCO is impressed by the power and confidence and fairness of the older, and higher ranked, man.

So the general decides to invite the NCO to be his new “batman” or personal assistant, with quarters in the chateau.

On his first day, at the end of the morning session in the general’s sumptuous office, the general makes the NCO stand facing the wood-panelled walls and place his hands on the wall. The NCO’s reluctance varies, but he is always innocent and shy about what is about to happen. Of course, the general pulls the NCO’s trousers and underwear down around his ankles. The general’s baton maybe traces up the NCO’s inner thigh and across his genitals (be they cock and balls, or cunt). NCO always shivers at this point.

General unzips his flies and nudges his cock against the NCO’s arsehole. NCO always protests, but as I said, the level of reluctance varies. “All your predecessors liked it,” the general claims, as if such relations between the commanding officer and his batman are completely normal. If the NCO is female, he asks the general to use his cunt instead, and the general explains that the risk of pregnancy is too high: “And I don’t want to lose you. You’d be given a dishonourable discharge, at best…” knowing that the NCO is a devoted soldier and would hate to have his dream dashed that way.

Often, the NCO is excited at the prospect of being buggered by the general, and the admiration and awe was always tinged with a sexual element. Sometimes it’s a bit darker, but this fantasy plays for me as being consensual/reluctant. The NCO at least feels flattered to be wanted in this way (although apprehensive and reluctant about the actual act).

The general lubricates the NCO’s hole with butter (I know it’s not a great choice in r/l but I don’t really know what alternatives there were in the sort of historical setting I have in mind, and anyway, it’s just fantasy!) and slowly forces his cock up inside the younger soldier’s arse. The NCO always whimpers as this happens and it hurts him a bit (because I’m a sadist and masochist). The general’s hands stroke down the uniform jacket along the NCO’s arms to link fingers and grip the NCO’s hands, leaning into the fuck as he starts to bugger him more forcefully.

At this point, when wanking, I tend to start skipping forwards and backwards along the fantasy timeline to whatever feels hottest in each moment, but the storyline develops that afterwards, the general is very appreciative: the NCO is the best fuck he’s had in a while and will certainly have this added to his regular duties. He explains that the NCO is to have regular enemas to keep his back door clean and ready for use by the general. Fellatio is also a common, regular duty. From time to time, the general also invites the NCO to share his bed, with romantic cuddling/spooning going on. These elements are introduced in roughly that order in the timeline (though as I say, when I fantasise and masturbate, I skip between the various scenes).

There isn’t really an endpoint. The relationship trends more romantic (although still plenty of filthy fucking) as the general and NCO spend more time together (and more time fucking each other) but really there’s no conclusion. The relationship itself is the fulfilment emotionally for the NCO’s original needs to serve in the army, and to be close to the general. The general has his needs met with a capable young NCO/officer, and also a wonderful, sexual, partner.

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Song Parody: “I Fucked Your Beau (and he liked it)”

A lyric that scans to, and could be performed to the tune of, “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry.

Credit goes to Jemima of Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar who moreorless dared me to write this after I commented that her “I fucked your husband and he liked it” wouldn’t scan, but this title would.

As a result, the lyrics owe more than a little to various comments she’s made about sex work, helping men live out their fantasies and fetishes, and certain people’s attitudes and remarks about both men and sexworkers.

I Fucked Your Beau And He Liked It (Lyrics: Valery North)

This was not the way you planned
Such feminism
You had your tame / Man in hand
Progressive living.

It’s not what
You’re thinking
Just wants to have some fun
Forbidden and kinky
That’s what makes him cum:

I fucked your beau and he liked it
My strap-on and schoolgirl outfit
He hired me just to try it
He knows you wouldn’t allow it

It isn’t wrong, it’s what it’s for
Don’t mean he’s a predator
I fucked your beau and he liked it – he liked it!

No I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter
I’m his experimental game
Just human nature

It’s not what
Good girls do
Not how they should behave
Your head gets
So confused
(I) Broke your theory!

I fucked your beau and he liked it
His hard-on, my tongue and lipstick
He hired me just to try it
You think it’s gross to suck on his dick

It isn’t wrong, it makes him come
Don’t mean he’ll give you the thumb
I fucked your beau and he liked it – he liked it!

Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so fuckable
You want women untouchable
You try to deny it
You’re no big deal, so full of shit!

I fucked your beau and he liked it
My strap-on and schoolgirl outfit
He hired me just to try it
He knows you wouldn’t allow it

It isn’t wrong, it makes him come
Don’t mean he’ll give you the thumb
I fucked your beau and he liked it – he liked it!

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Compassion, obesity, the NHS and “bad choices”

It transpires that in Vale of York, access to some NHS treatments may be restricted on the basis of BMI – people deemed “obese” (a BMI of over 30) will find themselves no longer covered by the universality of the NHS. Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar writes eloquently and passionately on the topic, and her critique is probably the best I’ve read.

All the same, I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own about this, because it affects me directly. My BMI is in the region of 40. I am, for want of a better term, a tubby B-word.

One common objection to the BMI calculation, and its association with “bad life choices” and “ill health” is that BMI is a poor indicator: many very fit and healthy athletes in various sports (American football, weightlifting, etc) easily score well over 30. For myself, I am not so bad on fitness, although I judge myself harshly on some scores.

But that’s basically only to excuse those who are actually fit. It’s the wrong argument – like advocating gay rights for those whose homosexuality is the right sort, or legalising (as opposed to decriminalising) sex work, on the basis of “escorts are okay, whores are not” or whatever. It’s still about making judgements about people that should not be the basis of whether you treat them as humans.

I’m not bad on fitness. But I am also not “healthy”. Most notably, and clearly, linked with my obesity is my gout. This is currently treated preventatively on the NHS by a regular prescription. I used to have prescription painkillers to handle the disease. All of this was on the NHS, and because I was unemployed for much of that time, I got the prescriptions for free (I have to pay now, since I have a proper job again).

I suffer from depression.

(Interestingly, depression has been linked in recent research with inflammation and trials of anti-inflammatory drugs seem to show that they can be used to treat depression. Gout, or “metabolic arthritis”, is a form of inflammation and I have certainly suffered less from depression since my gout has been controlled properly.)

I suffer from depression, and have done for a long time. One of my ways of coping was to eat. On a deep, primal level, somewhere in the lizard-brain, there must be some kind of evolutionary logic that if I have a full belly, I am doing well, I am in less peril. Eating made me feel better, and eating high-calorie stuff made me feel best of all.

There has also been a lot of financial insecurity in my life (remember, being unemployed, and before that, I was struggling to make ends meet on a student loan). There was a subtle imperative to eat while I could, because I never knew for sure if I’d be able to afford food later. Free food was an opportunity to stock up while I could. That obviously keys into that evolutionary lizard-brain imperative.

This added up to a significant eating disorder of comfort-eating that required a lot of mental toughness to break even enough to get to where I am today. Between ages 18 and 28, I increased in weight by about 50% (yes, that’s not a typo – I added half as much again to my body weight) and really only stopped gaining weight a few years after that. The key events were defeating my most serious bout of depression (aged 28) and then having to go on gout medication.

In that time, I only rarely had any kind of financial security. My obesity can be linked quite closely with the worry, stress, and depression associated with trying to survive on the pittance that Tony Blair’s, Gordon Brown’s, and David Cameron’s governments begrudged me as an unemployed person.

But it’s also linked to bad choices. Yes, it is. You see, when I was diagnosed with gout, I was told that certain foods and drinks are high-risk, and that I should probably reduce my intake. I don’t drink alcohol, or rather, only rarely. I was okay there. But red meat and caffeine… I drink cola like an addict (probably, I am addicted *shrug*) and I like my beef burgers and pork and so on. And because I am weak, although I have managed to reduce my intake, I do not have the willpower or inclination to use it, that I would need to cut them out completely. And to be fair, they are pleasurable and the gain is not certain to follow.

* * *

There’s a really big problem when you start to decide who is deserving and who should not be helped, based on the idea that they have “brought it on themselves”.

The problem is simply that we all make bad choices. No one lives a perfect life, no one manages to follow perfectly all the rules that the latest research says we should in order to stay perfectly safe, perfectly healthy, perfectly “good” and “deserving”.

Do I think it’s fair that a lifelong 40-a-day smoker should take up so much public money for treating the diseases their smoking has caused? Not really. But then, I know that someone else can (and it seems, has) say the same about me and my cola, and my enjoyment of “bad” foods. Do I think it’s fair that people should risk their lives to save people who went fell walking in shorts and t-shirts and got themselves into trouble? Probably not, but at the same time, there but for the grace of God go I. And, no matter how careful you are, there’s always something more you might have done to prevent this or that disaster befalling you. If you’d cut services to obese people, then perhaps we should also say that the police need not attend if it turns out you “accidentally” left a window open or your door unlocked when your car was stolen or your house burgled? Perhaps you’ll agree that that time you pulled out without looking both ways, if another car had hit yours, then you should not have received any medical care for the injuries you might have suffered?

Emergency services, the Welfare State, health care provision, and so on: these things cannot be based on “deserving”. Because no one is “deserving”. No one lives a perfect life.

If this sounds familiar, then you’re probably a Christian. It’s the same basic principle as the concept of Grace, that none of us are deserving of God’s forgiveness and no one is untainted by sin. But regardless of that, God extends the possibility of forgiveness. As long as there is the will to do better, then forgiveness is offered and we can be restored, whether or not we deserve it. However badly we don’t deserve it.

You don’t need to be a believer or a Christian to understand the point, though. You just need to see other people as people: flawed and doing the best they can, just the same as you are. You just need to feel that another’s suffering, regardless of the cause, regardless of their own complicity in it, is something to be alleviated, to help them out.

When your friend starts dating someone you know is bad news, who’ll use them and hurt them, you might try to talk them out of it but in the end, you know they’ll make that bad choice anyway. Do you then refuse to help when your friend is dumped, hurting, maybe the arsehole they dated ripped them off, maybe kicked them out of a shared home? After all, you warned them this would happen! They brought this on themselves by not listening to you, didn’t they?

You know – instinctively, I hope – that the right thing to do is to help in any way you can, however much your friend was complicit in creating their own current misery. To make sure that, despite their bad choices, whatever they may have been, their suffering and misfortune do not destroy them or lay them low.

The NHS, the Welfare State, the emergency services, and so on, all work the same way. If you would not wish they come to the help of everyone, just try for a moment to imagine that they wouldn’t come for you when you are in need. Because, believe me, whoever you are there’s bound to be some reason why people might feel it’s “unfair” if they do.

– – –

Edit to add: see also Stavvers: Blocking fat people and smokers from accessing healthcare hits our most scapegoated punchbags

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Involvement in democracy

So tonight was the CLP Supporting Nomination Meeting, about the only way for a local Labour Party to hold a meeting of its members given the current lockdown imposed by the NEC.

This was to replace the Emergency Meeting that had been agreed at the previous CLP meeting should take place in the event of a leadership challenge being made in the Labour Party.

There are strict rules about how a Supporting Nomination Meeting should take place: a 30min debate with a maximum of 3min per speaker; a strict cut-off time for arrivals, and so on. The only topic is which candidate our CLP will declare support for in the leadership campaign. Only those eligible to vote in the leadership election could attend.

The attendance was, the Chair said, the highest he had ever seen for a CLP meeting. The opportunity to speak was therefore decided by lots, and it was requested that for balance, if the first person spoke for 1 candidate, then the next had to be speaking for the other; although the order could be switched (e.g. 1 and 2 must be different, and 3 and 4 must be different, but 2 and 3 could be the same in that case).

The chair drew numbers from a bucket, and each ballot had a number on it; if your ballot matched the number called, you could decline to speak, or speak for a candidate subject to the rules of balance (so, if you wanted to speak for the same candidate as the one before, you might have to decline). What was interesting was how many of those selected who stood up and said they hadn’t prepared, weren’t really planning to say anything, but then gave their views calmly and honestly (if sometimes hesitantly and repeating their words out of nerves). I suspect some of them were people who weren’t used to speaking up at all but because they had been chosen, they answered the call (I could draw a Biblical analogy or two there, but I’ll leave you to think of those yourself, if you like that idea).

The other thing that was clear was that while someone was speaking you could tell some people disagreed fundamentally with what they were saying, but the same people who disagreed applauded just as firmly as they did when they agreed with a speaker.

As luck would have it, I was the penultimate speaker, and gave some of the positive thoughts about Corbyn from my “open letter” post a couple of weeks ago, and the point about stirring up passion and involvement from my post about anger at politics. And I quoted Clause IV (the new one) and invited those there to decide who best fit that ideal.

I was also one of four selected by lots in the same way, to act as a counter for the ballot. I think it worked out as a Corbyn supporter and a Smith supporter at each desk, and we double-checked the number of votes before announcing the figures. I won’t give the exact figures but only percentages:

55% Corbyn
41% Smith
4% spoilt

That wasn’t the point for this post. The point was that we debated the issue. We held a ballot, and we came to a declaration as a collective voice. People were empowered to speak and be heard, sometimes, I suspect, people who did not often feel that. And above all, people were involved in what happened and how things turned out.

There is a lesson here, for those who care to heed it, perhaps?

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Buying webcam sex: just like any other

So last weekend, I was feeling needy for some online sexytimes and (as often happens) suitable partners were not obliging in terms of either not being online or already busy with someone else. New suitable partners whose kinks and style were compatible with mine did not materialise.

This time, however, I was not going to log off in dissatisfaction. Instead, I decided I would pay for someone to entertain me sexually. I had a decent chunk of credits on Adultwork and worked out I could probably get a decent half-hour of webcam performance, if I chose my provider wisely; and that this would be good enough to give me lots of lovely visual memories to play with.

So that’s what I decided to do. I don’t want this to be a piece reviewing the performance like a field report or whatever; I’m more egotistical than that! I want to write about what was a new experience for me in many ways, and the sorts of things I felt and thought about. Shut up, this is my blog, i can do what I want!

WordPress rules say I can’t advertise adult services here but phooey to them: I’ll just not post the links. The performer I chose had a name with the elements Kinky, Milf, and UK in it (and underscores to link them!) – (fyi my “Offering Services” name there is like my current name except there’s no “ery” and the last letter is “e” instead of “h” *whistles innocently*)

I chose “K_M_UK” because I was looking for BDSM kinks to be a part of the performance, and her profile promised several of the things I like especially. I visited several cammers’ “free preview” chats (I wasn’t willing to buy from those who didn’t offer free previews, and you’ll see why in a minute). The purpose was to see what sort of conversationalist I was going to get (so, no free preview means I can’t tell if we’re on the same wavelength, so I don’t know if I’m getting what I want on that level). For me, at least, the talk is a big part of the sales pitch and then the scene as well.

I should probably be less shy: she was responding and chatting away with other free viewers and I didn’t like to interrupt! In the end, I said as much and of course she gave me permission to give her my money… so I clicked “Private Show with this performer” and my credits started trickling from my account to hers.

Paying someone does give me confidence to ask for what I want. (Playing for free with them online by text chat also gives me confidence, but I gain more confidence from reminding myself that I use Adultwork to charge for text-only sex chat and if my partner isn’t pleasing me in a free chat then I can just say “give me money or go away” if they want my time and erotic words.) The session included her using double-penetration toys, breast bondage, and deep throating a dildo (she asked for extra payment, which I was happy to pay).

I have a curious mental state regarding the feedback I got during the play. Part of my mind goes, “This is all a show, she’s a professional and it’s her job to make me feel like it’s special” – the other part is willing to believe that it’s genuine and to let her get on with that job and basically tells the first part of my brain to shut up and not interfere with her doing her job. Naturally, I go with the second part (because that’s hotter) but I do so without feeling under any illusions. So when she told me that she “didn’t get to play this hard very often – thank you!” – I could question every element of that statement, or believe that the surface meaning is true also, even if it is also part of the performance and has other things beneath.

(I’m not sure what to make of the fact that after I closed the private session, I popped back into her free preview a little while later to say another thank you, and she was describing the session she’d just had with me. She sounded like she did like it, but…)

As much as this was a financial transaction, I still felt grateful for the performance. I felt a duty to offer thanks and appreciation for each act she performed for me. As much as I liked the idea she was enjoying all these sexual things she was doing, I knew that it was for my pleasure and my benefit, so naturally, thanks are in order.

I ended the private session when I felt I was running low on credits – I lied and told her that I had orgasmed as well as that my credits were running out. Why did I lie about it? Well, because I did feel close, but having to type as well as wank was making it difficult and because I felt like just leaving would have been rude (especially as she was offering to make herself come for me!) She told me she would take a moment to finish afterwards (again, how much was that performance and how much real? I don’t know and don’t need to). So, I gave an excuse as well as the truth.

My overall feelings afterward were basically *fapfapfap* as I focussed on memories of various images from the session. Okay, that was kind of the point, after all.

My overall feelings once I’d dealt with that, then.

As I said, I felt grateful (I popped back in to say thank you, after all). I felt the same way as I do after hiring any professional – dentist, workman, restaurant staff, etc. (Professional here is basically anyone who knows what they’re doing and how, and does it to a high standard, for money.) It’s a combination of time and money well spent, of something worthwhile having been gained, respect for their abilities and gratitude for all of these.

(This is what I don’t get about those who have a problem with adult entertainment and sexwork. I wonder if they ever feel that sense of gratitude towards anyone they employ, or if their lives are based on a sense of entitlement that means they don’t see the value of the work they pay for? Or does the fact that it’s a skill at sex and causing arousal puzzle them?)

There isn’t a lot more that I can think of to say. I somehow thought it would feel more transgressive to do this but ultimately, I’m not that shocked by anything to do with the internet or sex. It was just a transaction between two adults. Maybe I’ll feel more like a transitional moment when I hire a sex worker (something I hope to do this summer) but for now, it all just seems very much normal.

And I’m sure any sex worker appointment will feel equally person-to-person, adult-to-adult.

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The political equivalent of rioters: verbal violence and anger in 2016

Ever since the referendum result for “Leave”, I have been spewing far more insults, obscenities and expletives at the television whenever the news comes on. This is not a spurious correlation. There has been a second increase since the Labour Coup plotters swung into action and events have progressed. Again, there is a definite causal relationship here!

My point is, I’m angry.

I am not the only one.

Feelings are running high: racists are targeting people who look different for them. And Labour Party members and supporters are angry that the PLP are trying to take their party away from them again.

The past 12 months or so have seen an incredible uprising of passion about political issues: and these have been set in motion by Corbyn’s campaign for Labour leadership, and by the referendum on whether to remain in the European Union.

It’s good to be passionate, but passion can so easily become anger or hatred. Hatred of foreigners, with racist hate crimes increasing by huge amounts, and anger at people perceived to be “the enemy within” on both sides of the Labour Party issue.

There are a lot of people who love the Labour Party who felt that in the Blair years the Party had turned its back on them, and when Corbyn’s campaign last summer took off they were swept up in a wave of love because it felt like the Party had come back to us. We feel passionate again about it, and there is a man who stands for us, and for our beliefs, and for our principles. A man worth going to great lengths to protect and to support.

Passion can so easily turn to anger. The feeling is that the Blairist plotters (who intended this showdown all along, and said so openly back in September last year, and ever since) and those who have followed them since they launched their coup attempt in the wake of the Brexit result, have betrayed us, and are trying to take away from us what we so recently regained. There is outrage and there is righteous anger! What they are doing is just plain wrong!

It is easy to start a revolution if you have a groundswell of emotion. You give people a focus for it, and belief that they can change something for the better, they will do anything for your cause.

It is a lot harder to stop them, when that turns to anger and the vision of a better world is overtaken by the anger at those who stand in the way.

Jeremy Corbyn has always talked of a kinder, gentler politics. He has been true to that vision and that ideal. He is a towering example of integrity and of how to be angry peacefully. But there are too few like him, and enough angry people who believe in him but who believe that the rightness of their cause makes any action, however violent, justifiable in pursuing it and in overcoming obstacles (including human ones).

People are angry. People are scared. People are turning to hate and violence. While I am very prepared to believe that the plotters would employ agents provocateurs to send hate to their own side while masquerading as Corbyn supporters, I am also forced to conclude that some people angry about the PLP’s treatment of Corbyn believe that this is justified behaviour.

Indeed, it seems as though they believe that any and all measures in pursuit of the goal of preserving and protecting Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party are justified.

This evening, Channel 4 News interviewed a Corbyn-supporting MP, and a National Executive Committee member, side by side. The NEC member described the weight of angry, threatening, abusive communications she’d received. We don’t like that they held a secret ballot but it was at least apparent why they might have felt scared enough to do so.

This woman was not the enemy. She wasn’t a plotter, she wasn’t Angela Eagle running against our man. Even if she had have been, this type of tactic is not okay. It’s not okay turned against the good guys, and it’s not okay turned against the “bad guys”, and it’s certainly not okay turned against someone whose only role is to be part of the body deciding on what the rules are. We hads that debate, exchanged out views on the right or wrong of it, and it would be foolish to think that wasn’t taken into account.

Some people, even a lot of people, must have felt that since she was part of this decision making process, any and all pressure must be legitimate to get the “right” decision. Because in their minds, righteous anger means that the harm you do is justified.

They are wrong. They are WRONG.

But they are also motivated by anger and emotion, not by reason or considered tactics. They are the political equivalent of rioters whose violence inevitably becomes generalised and no longer focussed on the object of their anger but against anything and anyone within reach that seems to bear their characteristics.

It is foolish to dismiss rioters as mere thugs and hooligans; even while we deplore the damage they do, we have to look at the sparks, the legitmate grievances that provoke such outbursts of destructive emotion. Doing so doesn’t legitimise their behaviour, it seeks to understand and avoid situations that provoke it.

There is organised political violence here (figuratively, not physically) but it is on the side of the Blairite faction. They knew what was coming and planned it. They planned this moment before Corbyn was even declared the winner last September. They said so publicly! They knew what they were bringing down on the Labour Party and the damage that they would do – if we are to believe them, because they considered Corbyn’s leadership was still more damaging. They unleashed the prospect: “ditch Corbyn or we will split the party” and they knew that was the choice they were presenting us. This was their violent rhetoric and their violent behaviour.

I am sickened by the violence I see on all sides in 2016. I too am angry, I too feel betrayed. I too feel the hurt and the dread that my Party could be stolen from me again. It doesn’t justify betraying our principles.

Violence has begotten violence. And I don’t know how it can be stopped.

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