A Politically Neutral Guide to the Election Results

ronniblackford:

The objectivity falters slightly in the face of BNP idiocy but otherwise a remarkably factual, realist and neutral post.

Originally posted on Next Left Turn:

Let’s just take it party by party…
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  • The Tories lost 11 councils in the local elections- this leaves them with only 41 councils
  • The Tories are set to finish up with 19 MEPs in Europe, a drop in 7 from 2009, but they performed reasonably well with less than a 4% swing away from them
  • In essence, Cameron should be quite happy with his own party’s result (particularly in Europe) considering it’s only a year until the General Election
  • However, he will not take comfort from the fact that he finished an embarrassing third in the EU elections, and that his own right-of-centre party were beaten by another right-wing party, UKIP
  • It is arguable that a lot of liberal anger is now being directed at UKIP, giving the Tories more room to negotiate in the year ahead- the left of centre will want to be wary of this factor and remember…

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On Damsels In Distress

Sleeping-BeautyYesterday, a situation occurred that put into sharp relief for me the lingering inequality between genders in Western culture. Of course, it was not a new realisation, nor a sudden conversion to feminism or egalitarianism, but it proved to me on a personal level – it reiterated, I suppose – just how ingrained the sense of women’s inferiority is. I’ll explain…

I walked into a métro station on my way to work and, despite it being a Friday afternoon and one of two stations ideally situated to visit the Eiffel Tower, there were only three people there: two men and me, a solitary, young woman. One man was walking ahead of me to the ticket barrier, another was attempting to recharge his Oyster card Navigo. The latter turned to the passerby and asked him something but I had my headphones in and wasn’t really paying attention. The man ahead of me couldn’t or wouldn’t help the asker so he – the asker – turned to me. Despite having some film soundtrack playing (okay, fine, it was Frozen – yay, girl power) at a volume from which a doctor would recoil in horror, I understood that he was asking me for change to pay his fare. Being an au pair in one of the most expensive areas of one of the most expensive cities in Europe and having given money to two homeless people throughout the day, I shook my head and carried on walking, only to find he had taken hold of my sleeve and was trying to pull me over to the machine.

Before I continue, I will point out that he was pulling rather tentatively, his grip was pretty light and I easily broke free. But that isn’t the point.

The point is that he didn’t grab hold of the 6ft something man in front of me but he thought it appropriate to grab hold of me. Now, let’s initially give him the (slight) benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that the reason for which he didn’t take hold of the other man’s jacket was solely based on the fact that he knew his chances would not be good if things turned ugly, given their respective builds. However, that would suggest that he would have grabbed anyone he deemed physically inferior to him, be that a smaller man, an older man or even a child. Try as I might, I can’t see him doing that. Nor can I imagine him taking a handful of an elderly woman’s coat or that of a woman who was walking with a man. The only reasoning I can see was that, consciously or not, he saw me as unable to defend myself, unable to make a fuss about him grabbing my sleeve, just because I am a woman. With that in mind, he wouldn’t have done the same to a woman accompanied by a man for obvious reasons, and there are different boundaries to observe with the elderly and the young.

It’s the other side – the darker side – to the ‘damsel in distress’ coin: because I am a woman and had no man to come racing to my rescue, he could do anything he pleased.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this was assault or that he would have attempted anything more serious. I’m not exaggerating this tiny incident into anything awful and I wasn’t frightened for my life nor of being hurt. He let go when I turned and glared, telling him in (not very good) French that I didn’t have any change. However, it was, in my opinion, indicative of an attitude lurking not very far beneath the surface of our society.

His small action, one I doubt he remembers, less than a day later, made me feel horribly insecure. As an 18 year old living alone in an apartment in the city I’ve pretty much always dreamed of, I have the cliché, teenaged difficulty in seeing myself as anything less than immortal. Of course, logically, I know I’m not but I have one million and one plans and ambitions to fulfil before I even think about kicking the bucket. Said tiny incident shattered the illusion of my invincibility for a minute and left me having a bit of an internal crisis on the métro (I did, however, feel very French). I hate to be dramatic (that’s a lie) but it really made me question my own safety as a lone woman in a city; I found myself eyeing men very suspiciously for the next hour or so, as though behind each face was some monster determined to take advantage of my feminine powerlessness. I was also angry that a stranger had made me feel this insecure and so wore a scowl my pubescent self would have been proud of.

Some might now take a moment to point out that it was one man in one station that briefly held my sleeve and that I shouldn’t generalise men in a way that I would be outraged if the situation was reversed and some teenaged boy with a blog was generalising women. This incident, however, did a hop, skip and a jump over to another issue I’ve been brooding about for some weeks now. The connection might seem tenuous at first but bear with me.

The Foreign Secretary for the UK, William Hague, recently tweeted about the massacre of Rohingya people in Myanmar (Burma). I do not dispute that the entire situation is absolutely horrific and the UK needs to do everything it can to put pressure on the Myanmar government to stop it’s systematic persecution of the Islamic group but that is a discussion for another time and place. The relevant issue for this blog post is the wording of his tweet:

He said he is sickened by the massacre of women and children. Not men. Women and children. With one tweet of fewer than 140 characters, one of the UK’s leading politicians tied women and children together in their vulnerability. The especial shock at the killing of a child over that of the death of an adult is something that has always occurred and I hope always will. Children are symbols of innocence and are inherently defenceless. Women are not. Perhaps in the past, when women were expected to stay at home, when they were not allowed to join the armed forces, when they learnt sewing and cooking at school in single sex classes, the murder of a woman was allowed to be more shocking than that of a man. But nowadays? Surely nowadays we have reached a level where we at least admit that women are able to fight back, where women are not as vulnerable as a child? Some might argue that the Myanmar culture, or that of the Rohingya people, still stipulates that a woman is a more fragile being than a man and thus the response was culturally appropriate – I would not be able to deny that as I must admit to knowing very little on the subject. However, Hague’s tweet was to a predominantly British and Northern Irish audience. By referring to only the massacre of the women and children, and not that of the men, Hague was, I strongly suspect inadvertently, only serving to reiterate the ‘damsel in distress’ view of the feminine sex. The wording smacked of Victorian Britain, where women were fighting (and dying, I might add) to even have a say in who the (male) politicians representing them were.

Every tweet such as Hague’s, every incident like my métro experience today, shows again that we still have a long way to go in gender equality. A friend of mine believes that feminism is redundant in the 21st Century West: women have suffrage, women can work where they want, in short, women have the same legal rights as men. I would argue that these two instances are evidence to the contrary. Whilst legally we might be equal, there is still this idea being perpetuated even by our Foreign Secretary that women are defenceless. Of course, Hague meant no harm by it and was instead expressing his deepest sympathy towards the atrocities currently being committed by the government and citizens of Myanmar in the name of a peace-loving religion (do not get me started on whether or not these people deserve the title of ‘Buddhists’. [hint: they don’t]) but, as I said earlier, the two incidents – the one sympathetic, the other potentially dangerous – are two symptoms of the same illness.

A post on blogging site Tumblr introduced me to some interesting information. Margaret Atwood once wrote that she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women and his answer was they feared women would laugh at them. When she asked the reverse question to a group of female friends, the answer was that the women were afraid the men would kill them. Similarly, a commenter on the post mentioned an (unsourced) article about heterosexual online dating. The greatest fear for men when it came to online dating was that their date would turn out to be fat. The women’s was that their date would turn out to be violent and kill them.

This is yet more proof of the way women are viewed, consciously or not, and how it leads to women feeling unsafe around men – the said view leads to the murder, rape and abuse of women. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way saying that men being murdered, raped or abused, or that woman on woman rape and abuse either doesn’t happen or doesn’t matter. But this view which is so ingrained in our society goes some way to explaining the high rates of male on female violence.

In fact, that brings me on to another point. The ‘damsel in distress’ image has yet another dark side to it. If women are subconsciously seen and portrayed as fragile roses needing strong men to protect them from the world around them, men are seen as needing to be ‘manly’. Hence, much rape and abuse of men is written off, ignored, or the men are simply too ashamed to come forward. Boys from a young age are told to ‘be a man’ when they are hurt, to ‘man up’ when they are sad, for fear of being called ‘gay’ or ‘a girl’ when they show emotion. How stifling that must be. I could write a whole blog post on the benefits of feminism / gender equality for men so I won’t go into that now but I just wanted to point out yet another aspect to the thought (thoughtlessness?) behind a stranger grabbing my sleeve in an almost empty station.

I do recognise how small the incident was and how I’m sure I would be scoffing if a French existentialist had written this but I must admit to having felt just a little less secure and invincible since, though perhaps that will wear off in time. Writing this blog has been a good way to explore the feelings it brought up in me, though I do hope it has a less selfish purpose of highlighting the issue to just a few more people. I risk sounding overly grand but I genuinely do have faith in the upcoming generations that we can continue to fight against inequality in all forms; it is only by becoming aware of these ingrained ideas that we can challenge them.

Ronni Blackford, signing out.

Disclaimer: I might not have been so thorough with getting the permission of the twitter accounts I have quoted as I was with my last post but it’s the Foreign Secretary so I thought I’d let myself off this time.

On Macklemore And ‘Straight Allies’

macklemore_same_loveFirst of all, some house keeping is in order, I believe, but feel free to skip it and read from the first bold text, if you just want to get to the body of the post.

A) It’s been a while since my first and last post – to start with I had the legitimate excuse of exams. And then the blog posts I wanted to write were either ones I didn’t feel qualified to write about without knowing much more about the situation (for example, Egypt) or ones with a feminist theme (I didn’t want to give the impression that this would be purely a feminist blog). Inspiration and outside material – not to mention free time – have finally arrived and thus this article was written. My apologies for the long hiatus, I’m sure you were all waiting with bated breath.

B) I must declare my  bias on this subject. I love Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ music and fell in love with them via the very song in question here: Same Love (ft. Mary Lambert); in fact, I was crying so much when the duo played it at a concert in September that the bouncer at the front of the stage came over to check that I was okay. Ben Haggerty can do little wrong in my eyes. That said, I flatter myself that I can see the other side of the argument – I’m just warning you now in the spirit of full disclosure.

Alright. Let’s go.

This was a subject I’d certainly considered before: the role of straight people in the fight for LGBTQ rights. Perhaps I hadn’t studied my feelings about it in depth but it had come up a couple of times. So, when @QueerDiscOx (“an lgbtq* discussion and disco radio show”) brought up the subject on Twitter, I knew roughly how I felt about it and weighed in with my own opinion. Twitter, however, is hardly the ideal location for such a complex debate.

QDO tweets

On the one hand, Queer DiscOx has an incredibly valid point: big deal, Macklemore came out as anti-homophobia. Great. Go him. As QDO said, in such a delightfully sarcastic tone, “well done macklemore […] for in 2013 making the hugely profound morally virtuous admonition that non-heteros are okay”[sic]. This shouldn’t be a big deal. In a world where 15 countries (plus England and Wales from next year) have legalised same-sex marriage and especially in a culture that (in theory) promotes equality, coming out in favour of LGBTQ rights shouldn’t be a credit worthy action, it should be the norm. Ideally, we’d have a consensus on the belief that all humans are equal and, as the LGBTQ community is made up of humans, they deserve the same rights as heterosexuals; in said ‘ideal world’, Macklemore’s same-sex marriage anthem would have been met with a chorus of “well, duh”s and any praise and accolades it received would be given purely on a musical level instead of for its message. But the saddening truth of the matter is that we don’t live in that world yet and this message still needs to be heard. Sure, Macklemore isn’t the only artist saying this, either: the Alternative Pop band, fun., for example, have been vocal in their support for LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage and support financially charities doing a lot of good within the LGBTQ community by way of special merchandise – yet, they are much better known for their 2012 single We Are Young (ft. Janelle Monáe). Perhaps the reason Macklemore has received “a huge amount of kudos” is due to, as QDO mentioned, the genre into which his music fits. It cannot be said that the mainstream branch of Hip Hop is the most politically correct of music genres and pro-gay messages aren’t all that common. Macklemore himself said, on the anniversary of his album, The Heist, “It was scary as hell to say that [stuff] to the world, […] I assumed Hip Hop would think I was gay (which probably 25% of the world still does)”. And doesn’t that in itself indicate how rare this sentiment is? That anyone singing in favour of gay rights must be homosexual?

I think we also have to consider the positives of the credit he’s getting. Whether or not you believe Same Love started or added to the discussion on same-sex marriage, you have to admit that it was most certainly talked about. Everyone knows the song. I played the beginning riff in a Parisian bookshop the other week and the 4 other people in the room knew it. They were from Japan, Brittany, Kenya and Australia and yet each of them recognised the introduction. The praise for the song’s message has increased its audience and I, for one, am glad that Haggerty waited to release it as a single after the Thrift Shop / Can’t Hold Us hype – that way he got the song out to so many more people (not to mention the perfect timing of the release – it coincided with the debates in the United States’ Supreme Court over marriage equality).

A point made by @TimeChangeGirl mentioned the issue of ‘platforms’ – there are enough openly homosexual and bisexual people in the public eye, surely, that “queer people don’t need straight spokespersons”. However, I’d argue that where are all the queer celebrities is another issue entirely. Can’t we see the positive in this that someone with such a vast platform (The Heist went platinum in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada whilst reaching gold status in the UK and Germany) is using it for the furthering of equality? Moreover, perhaps the story would be different if Macklemore was just singing some meaningless lyrics that helped him get famous and rich but the story recounted in the lyrics is true:

“When I was in the 3rd grade I thought that I was gay”?  That’s my favorite bar I’ve ever written.  Cause it’s the truth. […] If I could approach this subject with 100% authenticity, it would potentially give others a platform to do the same.

If Macklemore was talking about being a victim of homophobia, about growing up as a homosexual and struggling with internal feelings as well as the reactions of friends and family, again, it would be a different kettle of fish – some might argue that he has little right to talk about something he hasn’t experienced. But the story is true – he genuinely thought he was gay because of the stereotypes he’d learned by the age of nine and he grew up with a gay uncle; the lyrics recount a personal tale with his own feelings and beliefs. Nor is it only the song that shows Macklemore’s support. Every time he plays it live (and I have been lucky enough to experience this twice), he makes a heartfelt speech about love and equality. By the end, everyone in the room has their index finger pointed up to the ceiling and sings Mary Lambert’s beautiful chorus as one. If you think that sounds ‘lame’, you need to experience it: it is incredibly moving.

A slightly more uncomfortable idea was presented by one Twitter user: “praising people for these kind of statements just reinforces idea of straight people as arbiters of what is (and isn’t) OK”[sic]. I can see the thought behind this and it’s certainly a disturbing notion. However, I would have to argue that the LGBT community cannot afford to rule out their straight allies. If feminists ruled out all men from supporting their cause, from using any platform they had to speak out in favour of gender equality, they’d be ruling out 50% of their potential support. I, for one, would greatly appreciate a male Hip Hop artist going against the general trend of the genre and releasing a pro-feminist song. In the same way, straight and LGBTQ advocates of equality need to work together rather than the latter discriminating against their heterosexual counterparts. Moreover, many people subscribe to the theory that sexuality is a scale (read up about the Kinsey Scale here) in which case – where do you draw the line? Must every artist who speaks out in favour of LGBTQ rights expressly declare their sexuality before they can do so? Furthermore, Queer DiscOx’s suggestion that we “talk about queer hip-hop artists like @LE1FNY killing it on a daily basis” borders on positive discrimination. Whilst I’m all for positive discrimination in the form of disabled parking spaces closer to the front entrance of Tesco, I worry that listening to – and promoting an artist because of their sexuality is actually a little naïve and patronising.

I debated mentioning my own sexuality “in the spirit of full disclosure” but I actually think declaring whether or not I am a straight ally would go against my point – readers have no inherent right to know and I wouldn’t want anyone to take my views on the matter any more or less seriously for knowing whether I am a member of the LGBTQ community or a straight ally. I believe if the message being spread is positive and pro-equality, we need to hear it, no matter whose mouth it comes from. Who knows, perhaps – perhaps - it’s better than a heterosexual guy said it: some may fear listening to an openly non-hetero artist given the culture surrounding the music genre. But, like I said, I prescribe a long term course of listening to what people are saying instead of bothering with who they’re falling in love with. Surely that’s the next step to equality, right there.

As before, I would love to hear your opinions and comments on the issue!

Ronni Blackford, signing out.

DISCLAIMER: All named Twitter users in this post have expressed their permission for me to quote and credit them. Those who wished to remain anonymous or absent from the post will remain that way. Any who were contacted but made no response have been included but anonymously so.

On Why Feminists Can Still Be Feminine

new-girl-fashion-02_612x612I recently read a post entitled “How Feminism Destroys Femininity in Women and Love”. Having seen the title, I prepared myself for anger and outrage as I read it; I expected to be left requiring a punchbag with the author’s face on it. But, to my surprise, I reached the end without a single speck of the rage I predicted. Instead, I read the entire article feeling confused. Is this a joke? Surely the author is being ironic? No one can seriously think this, surely? Upon re-reading it, I realised: though it beggared belief, the author was sincere. The author genuinely believes that feminism is turning women into, and I quote, “bestial freaks of nature”, asexual animals who cannot be seen as women due to their lack of femininity and yet cannot be treated as men, thus causing vast amounts of awkwardness for men when they attempt to interact with these no-man’s-land creatures. In the author’s opinion, feminism is destroying male/female relationships in America. Right.

Furthermore, these feminists and independent women do not like to dress feminine. They hate wearing skits [sic] and high heels (which they view as oppressive) and like cutting their hair short to look like men. How can that be beautiful or feminine to men? How can that bring out the male attraction for the feminine? How can being strong, masculine and independent soothe a man’s need for tenderness and fulfill his need for love and romance and his need to merge with the female energy?!

IT CAN’T AND IT DOESN’T!

Okay, I have three initial issues with this opinion, aside from men’s needs for “love and romance […] to merge with the female energy” being prized higher than women’s needs for equality:

1) Rather than destroying male/female relationships, I believe that feminism makes them stronger. The best relationships – be they romantic, sexual, platonic, familial or business orientated – are built between equals, where both partners feel that their needs are addressed and that they, themselves, are valued; compromise and co-operation are required and can only stem from both partners having an even footing. Thus, feminism, in fighting for gender equality, serves to enable the provision of this level playing ground and a man need only be secure in himself as a person to interact with anyone, male, female or non-binary, who supports the movement.

2) For god’s sake, I’m so bored of people using generalisations to substantiate their arguments – you cannot just ‘lump’ every feminist into one image. As a feminist who loves wearing dresses/skirts/high heels, having long hair, and all things lace, I am a clear example of just how wrong this author is. And I’m not an anomaly. A feminist is someone who believes all humans are equal and that women are humans. It’s as simple as that. And so the idea that anyone who holds those two beliefs simultaneously has anything in common with everyone else who does (aforementioned beliefs aside) is laughable.

3) Why should women aim to be attractive to men? I know this point has been well covered in various feminist articles and I’m sure I shall revisit the question at a later date, so I shan’t go into it in too much detail here. I will say, however, that the author’s argument rests solely on the view that women must conform to the Disney princess mold if we ever hope to be deemed attractive; no man shall ever love you or even find you attractive if you are yourself and express your personality through your appearance, unless you are a natural Cinderella or Snow White. Men’s approval and visual appreciation should be all women strive for in life – such achievements are the only way we can self actualize. By suggesting that the modern man is unable to interact with these strong, outspoken, independent women, the author actually weakens men, implying that men need to feel dominant and can only achieve this if women are subservient and reliant. Moreover, he paints a picture of a _____ man whose attraction to a women is purely physical – now tell me who is “destroying” modern day love.q

Unfortunately, I didn’t even need a quick Google search to find other examples of the view that feminists are inherently un-feminine, even to the point of masculinity. It seems as though it is ingrained in our psyche that feminists are butch and anti-male. I’d guess that dates back to the Suffragists’ and Suffragettes’ struggle for women’s rights to vote, with the former preferring peaceful methods and the latter group being slated as “unwomanly” by the Press for resorting to violence in order to achieve what they believed couldn’t be gained through writing letters and attending marches. In addition, feminists are generalised and branded “unfeminine” by the bra-burning myth originating from the 1968 Miss America pageant protest, which nowadays represents all that is, as Mrinal Pande said, “laughable, crazy and kinkily sexy about women demanding equality and independence”. There is a tangible reticence, I would say, amongst some women to declare themselves ‘feminist’ for fear of seeming dull and ‘nagging’ and a weariness with which a feminist comment or the commencement of a feminist ‘discussion’ is met – almost as though the feminists are kill-joys, here to ruin all that glorious, patriarchal fun.

Such an opinion – that of all feminists being these manly women – doesn’t account for two very important aspects. The first: the amount of men who identify as feminists. And not only to the point of respecting women and believing in equality in theory but many male activists and writers can be found supporting the feminist cause on sites as popular as HelloGiggles: (exhibit A). The second: little old me, the feminine, occasionally to the point of ‘girly’, feminist – hell, last week, I dyed my hair blonde, wore a lace bow in my hair and proceeded to argue with a friend over a certain tweet which said that beer is a man’s drink.

I believe that I, as a woman, deserve the right to be paid the same amount as a man doing the same job, that I deserve to be able to compete from the same high level jobs or promotions as a man with the same qualifications and skills, that I deserve to wear whatever the hell I want without being called a ‘slut’, that I deserve to have any sexual harassment charges I file taken seriously, regardless of what I was wearing or how much alcohol I’d drunk at the time, that I deserve to sleep with whoever I want as my value as a person has nothing to do with my vagina. And, hell, if I believe in something so strongly, I don’t know about you but I’m going to speak out about it; I’m going to pick up on comments or ‘jokes’ with which I disagree and, whilst I’m doing that, I’m going to identify as a feminist. Why should that have any say on whether or not I cut my hair short or shave my legs?

Take racism, for instance. You get rich, old, white men who are racist – I mean, Prince Philip’s made some pretty dodgy comments in the past. You get middle aged racists, young racists, male racists, female racists, intelligent racists, uneducated racists, black racists, white racists, Asian racists, poor racists, rich racists… you get the picture. You would never suggest that racism – or anti-racism, for that matter – rested solely amongst one type of person. So why suggest that feminism does? Such an idea is a pure fallacy. Beliefs transcend any class, gender, race, age, wealth or orientation boundaries.

If I were asked how my ideal life would plan out, it would include marriage. Hell, when (yes, when) I have children, I’d like to be a stay-at-home mum for a while. I could see myself spending the day baking cupcakes. In a goddamn apron. But I want to do that for me and I’ll be damned if any man – or woman, for that matter – is going to tell me that I have to do so. Just because I’m feminine in a traditional sense does not mean my feminism is insincere. In fact, the argument makes me want to ‘Zooey Deschanel-up’ in order to make the point even more – I’m talking nothing but dresses, cardigans and ribbon hats to accompany my feminism. Moreover, I’m not doing it to spoil your fun, I’m doing it so that my nieces, daughters and granddaughters can grow up knowing they won’t be held back because they’ve got a vagina; I want their views and opinions to be as valuable as their brothers’ and I want them to feel comfortable in who they are and how they look, based on their own values and not those of the men who surround them. How such an opinion dictates my hairstyle and destroys my relationships is something I cannot understand.

This is Ronni Blackford, signing out.

On The Purpose Of This Blog

Hi, there.

I guess the first thing is to say ‘welcome’ and thank you, whoever you are, for checking out my blog.

Okay, now, a brief introduction: if you don’t know me, I’m Ronni. Hey. I’m not entirely sure how this blog will pan out, what it will include or how frequently I’ll be updating it but I think it’ll pretty much be my view on the world in which we live. Politics, equality and social justice interest me greatly so I guess it would be fair to say that such topics will dominate. I think making yourself consider and write about a topic can allow you to educate yourself in areas you might not have previously looked into. Also, it allows you to explore exactly how you feel, to change and develop your ideas. So, in a way, I guess you could say this blog is as much for me to work out my own thoughts as it is for me to publish them and for others to read and (hopefully!) learn from / develop their own views from.

If you do know me, you may well feel that I’m rather jumping on the blog bandwagon. I guess that might be, in part, true, but I would say that I’ve wanted to write articles / a blog for a long while – when I was about 12, I was set on being a journalist for The Guardian. Rather than ‘copying’ close friends who have blogs, I guess I’d argue that they, in fact, gave me the idea and confidence to actually start one for myself.

Well, I hope you enjoy this, whatever it turns out to be,

Ronni.

Ps, I’m still new to wordpress but I hope to enable comments so do feel free to weigh in on anything – I’d love to hear your opinions and counter arguments.