Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Absolut Vodka's Latest Ad Features Trans Story

Swedish vodka brand Absolut have released a new television advert that features a transgender woman, and has received a broad range of reactions.

The advert is narrated by a man who has attended a concert to meet an old friend of his, Dave.  Instead of meeting Dave, however, he meets Darla, his friend who has now transitioned.

'I turned around and saw Dave.  Only it wasn't the Dave I remembered.  He told me his name was Darla now.  I tried to make an excuse to get away, then she grabbed my hand.  The next thing I know we're running to see the DJ.  Darla knew somebody and suddenly we're back stage drinking Absolut Sea Breezes.'

The rest of the advert follows the two of them as they enjoy their night together and ends with the two of them talking about Darla's personal life and her transition.  At the end the narrator talks about how meeting Darla had changed him.  'She was my friend, the same person, the same heart.  She hadn't changed, I had.'

Whilst the advert has received a great deal of criticism from the anti-LGBT+ community it has also had mixed reviews from within the transgender community itself.

Some are criticising the advert for telling the story not from the perspective of a transgender character, but using the idea of a trans character to tell a story of how great the man is because he accepted his friend despite initially not wanting to do so.

Others have pointed out that the man in the advert only seems to want to spend any time with Darla after she is able to get him backstage using her connections, building the idea that he only accepts her because she's able to do things for him.

Ian Johnson of the LGBT+ marketing firm 'Out Now' spoke out about the advert.  'This advert could have been so much better.  It had a good initial set up but the writing lets it down through being clumsily predictable from the outset.  The really frustrating part here though is that the main point of the narrative ends up as not even being about Darla and her transition - it turns into a story about how impressed the cisgender character feels about himself.

'The Absolut ad is an example where an attempt at natural inclusion has tipped into something way too close to patronising.  10 out of 10 for their inclusion of a trans character but a pretty poor 3 out of 10 overall: for making the 'surprise acceptance' of a trans person the tale ultimately being told in the ad.'

Despite some criticisms many have praised the advert for its trans-inclusion and trying to spread the message that despite what some media and right wing propaganda have made out, transgender people are just regular people.

Helen Belcher of Trans Media Watch has said, 'It's refreshing to see an ad which focuses on someone starting to understand trans issues.  Adverts necessarily have to have simple story lines, so it's not surprising that some people may feel it's unnecessarily stereotypical.  But there are some welcome messages for acceptance and understanding which this ad puts across.'

Whilst the advert seems to have divided a lot of people, there is at least one sentiment that we can all agree on, that despite how you feel the advert comes across, at least it was never made as a joke or to mock the transgender community.  Something that so many other advertisements have done in the past.


Friday, 27 May 2016

The Flash 'Invincible' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

Following the dramatic conclusion at the end of the last episode that Zoom had amassed himself an army of evil metahumans to conquer Central City, and the episode's initial battle as Zooms army lay waste to the city 'Invincible' look set to be a big action packed prelude to the season finale, but found itself shifting into a fairly standard episode of The Flash, albeit with a surprise guest star.

Having freshly emerged from the speed force full of power and confidence Barry breezes through Zooms army and takes them out in record time, managing to capture most of them before the first ten minutes of the episode is even over.  Whilst this might be a way of showing how much Barry has improved in both his powers and abilities since being in the speed force it does make Barry appear incredibly overpowered, or his army to woefully terrible.

I can't help but feel that straight away the episode proves to be something of a let-down as it builds this notion of Barry and the team having to face off against an entire army of villains, but instead shifts its focus to the standard formula of the team having to fight one villain who manages to overpower Barry, the team working out a plan to beat them and then locking them up inside the particle accelerator.  

Despite falling back on this old formula and failing to deliver on its big promise 'Invincible' does manage to deliver a fairly strong episode thanks to some great acting from Katie Cassidy as the villainous Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance, the Black Siren, and Danielle Panabaker as someone left traumatised from their time as Zoom's captive.

Having recently lost Laurel Lance over on Arrow it's nice for The Flash to be able to bring her back in this kind of way and create an episode that allows her to play a completely different version of her character.  Like the Earth-2 versions of Caitlin and Cisco Laurel's double is a pretty nasty piece of work and relishes causing havoc for Barry and the rest of the team.

One of the nice things done with Black Siren is that like the comic book version of Laurel she's a metahuman, one who can produce her sonic scream herself without needing to use technology.  It's a nice addition to the mythology of the overall universe that connects nicely to the source material, something that The Flash seems to be doing a lot more this season to great effect.

It was also interesting to get a little bit of a look into the behind the scenes of how Zoom's relationship with Black Siren differs from the other metahumans in his army.  Whilst the others see him in the mask and using his Tony Todd voice Earth-2 Laurel knows who he is, that he's been posing as Jay Garrick and pretending to be a hero.  Black Siren is definitely one of Zoom's lieutenants, just like Vibe, Killer Frost and Deathstorm, so it makes me question whether the others knew he Zoom really was too, or if Laurel was a special case.

If she'd been introduced earlier in the season it could have been an interesting dynamic and relationship to have explored and something that could have revealed some more of Zoom's past and his personality.  Sadly this potentially very interesting element is being introduced one episode before the season finale and as such kind of feels wasted.

The episode chiefly uses Laurel as a way of knocking Barry down a few pegs after he returns from the speed force with too much confidence and a sense of being unbeatable.  I understand that having a force of nature literally tell you that you are destined for greatness and that it's giving you massive power will probably give you a boost in confidence it seemed more like a boost in ego.  Maybe it's just the way that Grant Gustin played these scenes, but Barry came across as more like a dick than anything else.  Thankfully this doesn't last for long as Barry learns that he needs the help of his friends to get him through and help him to not only beat Laurel but the rest of Zoom's army too.

The other stand out performance goes to Panabaker's Caitlin Snow, who plays a very different Caitlin to the one we've seen so far.  Even when she lost Ronnie and when she found out Jay was Zoom she wasn't as hurt and broken as she is in this episode.  Despite not being given a massive amount of screen time she really sells the idea that being around Zoom for so long wasn't like the other times villains have taken her prisoner, that somehow he's affected her on a much deeper level.

'Invincible' is a good episode, and has some great performances in it, but it could have been a lot better if it had focused more on Zoom's army instead of an individual villain, and if they had introduced Black Siren earlier in the season.  As it is it's a competent and well-made episode, but one that feels slightly out of place so close to the finale.


Crazed Preacher Harasses School Children in Transphobic Hate Speech

As the battle for transgender rights increases in America more and more 'Christians' have entered the fight in order to decry equality and demonise victims of transphobic hate in a bid to turn America into a country whose laws are dictated by religious values.

In one of the latest displays of public hate towards the transgender community a transphobic preacher Angela Cummings took to screaming hate and abuse at children outside of Scotia-Glenville High School in New York this Monday.

The woman's crazed rant covered a wide range of subjects, including drug use and Isis, but many of her statements were centred on the LGBT+ community, especially the recent guidance from President Obama on transgender students.

As students tried to make their way home after school the woman screamed at them 'Next year Obama is going to let you men, you young men, use the girl's bathroom!  It's time for you to start homeschooling!'

As school staff tried to get the woman to leave she began shouting about sex in high school bathrooms until police officers intervened and convinced her to move off of private property.  As she left the school she continued to shout abuse at students, calling them 'fools' and 'future wife beaters'.  She went on to describe the country as 'the United States of Sodom and Gomorrah' because of legalising marriage equality, and said that the flag should be flown upside down.

The preacher posted the video on Youtube, laughingly entitled 'Scotia New York High School ... Angry Vice Principal ... Loving Street Preacher'.

It's amazing how a woman who is screaming abusive messages at teenagers, at children, who calls them fools, drug addicts and future wife beaters, who makes allusions to sexual misconduct and violence feels that she is the one being loving.

She is calling for the rights and freedoms of the oppressed to be taken away because she has a deep rooted belief that a deity may not like it based on the words in a book written hundreds of years ago and says that it is coming from a place of love.  She is using her right of freedom of speech to argue that others should not have rights and believes that to be acceptable behaviour.

This woman is not a Christian.  She is a 'Christian', someone who uses religion as a mask for their hatred and bigotry.  Someone who wants to feel superior to others.  Someone who feels good because there are people worse off in the world than she is.  Those are not Christian values, that is not how a true Christian would act.

Religion is supposed to encourage love and understanding, it's supposed to bring people together and create harmony, but whilst extremists like this woman (and the other 'Christians' who have been doing the same) exist it hurts everyone.  It makes true Christians look guilty of the same kind of hate by association, and it hurts those in vulnerable positions, such as transgender people.

True Christians need to stand up and call out these bigots for the frauds they are.  They need to tell them that enough is enough and if they want to go on believing these things and acting this way then they have to stop calling themselves Christians.

Angela Cummings is saying that America is supposed to be a great country, one with freedoms and values, but it's people like her to prevent America from actually being that.  She is the type of person that is destroying not only that country, but all countries.  As long as people can hide behind their beliefs to spread hate and fear we all suffer, even those not within those communities.  If people continue on along this road, if they let intolerance and hatred rule in the name of religion then one day people will look back on us and talk about the second religious dark age.


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Valve Faces Transgender Discrimination Lawsuit

The video game company Valve is facing a potential lawsuit for $3 million following a former employee alleging that they were discriminated against due to their transgender status.

Valve is one of the biggest names in the video game industry and is responsible for hits such as Half-Life, Team Fortress, Counter Strike and Portal as well as the digital distribution platform Steam.

The former employee, who cannot be named for legal reasons, worked as a translator for the company, translating their games and software into Spanish.  She worked for the company without incident for many years until 2012 when she informed her bosses of her intentions to transition.

Although the translators needs were initially met, she says that when she took a leave of absence from work to recover from surgery her contract was altered to reclassify her as an independant contractor.

Her employment with Valve was terminated in January 2016 after she filed a complaint with her employers describing a 'hostile work environment'.  The lawsuit alleges that whilst she was terminated for the workplace issue it also claims that the 'Plaintiff was terminated due to her transgender status.'

'While Defendants accommodated her at first, her direct supervisor referred to her in a derogatory fashion.  He referred to Plaintiff as 'it' - which is highly offensive to a transgender person.  The term 'it' dehumanises transgender persons and the usage of such a term [by the supervisor] shows that he was biased against her and shows that her transgender status was another reason he decided to terminate her.  The real reasons for termination are unlawful.'

The lawsuit is claiming that the unlawful termination has had knock on effects on the trans woman, resulting in 'actual, consequential and incidental financial' loss, as well as leaving her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It is being reported that she is suing the company for '$1 million for general damages, $1 million for special damages, $1 million for loss of earnings and $150,000 for unpaid wages'.

Valve have filed a response this week, denying all allegations, and has called for the case to be dismissed.


Ken Bayliss - In Loving Memory

I've put off writing about this, not wanting to have to face what has happened during the last week, but I feel that people should hear a little about a man I knew, Ken Bayliss, who sadly passed away last week, even if they did not know him themselves.

Ken Bayliss was the father of one of the people I live with, and the father-in-law of the other.  Just over a year ago my life was shattered and I was taken in by my friends who wanted to help me through those tough times.  That's all that Ken knew about me when he first met me, that I was suddenly living with his family.

Where most people would quiz me over who I was, why I was living with his family and so forth Ken greeted me with kindness and compassion the very first time I met him.  That very same day he and his wife invited me to the wedding of their eldest son.  At the time I was surprised by this, I was taken aback by how welcoming and warm he was to a complete stranger.

The more I got to know Ken the more I discovered that this wasn't unusual for him.  Ken was an incredibly kind and caring man, one who took the time to get to know people and find something to like about them.

I think this must have stemmed from his time as a teacher, and later a headmaster, where he took on one of the toughest jobs, teaching children.   It's a job that I could never do, not having the patience or temperament to be able to work with children, it takes a special kind of person to do that.  One that has patience and understanding, one that has compassion and empathy, one who can find the best in people even when they can't find it themselves.

Ken was able to do all of that.  The messages that have flooded in since his passing have shown that.  There are so many people who, like me, were shown compassion and caring from someone who had no need to, but because he was a decent person.  Young people who had lost their way or needed a guiding hand in life found what they needed in Ken.  He was beloved by his former students and his staff alike, and his loss has touched them all.

That's what I will remember about Ken the most, the amount caring and compassion he gave to everyone, and how they loved him for that.

His family meant the world to him, and he gave everything for them.  His beautiful wife, his two loving sons, his two daughter-in-laws who gained a second father, his amazing new grandson, his loving and doting dog Myla.  He loved them all so deeply.  I didn't know him for long, but he always seemed the happiest around his family, especially his grandson, who meant the absolute world to him.  The last memory I have of Ken is surrounded by his family, happy and loved.

Ken was a special man, one who has left a hole in the world where he once was.  He taught and helped dozens of people throughout his life and helped them to become the people they would grow up into.  He made everyone feel welcome and cared for.  Most importantly, though, he built an amazing family.

Ken may be gone now, but his love and his compassion lives on through his family.  They are his greatest achievement and through them he will continue on in their hearts and their memories.

I wish I had known you more Ken Bayliss, but I already think my life was improved for having known you for the time I did.  Rest in peace Ken.


Monday, 23 May 2016

Man Charged With Raping His Trans Step-Daughter

A man in Australia has been charged with rape and incest after Victoria County Court heard evidence that he sexually abused his transgender step-daughter over the course of thirteen years.

The man began the prolonged period of rape in 2002 shortly after his then 19 year-old step-daughter had undergone gender realignment surgery.  The court heard that the man would repeatedly rape his step-daughter when her mother was out of the house and at church, reportedly assaulting her three or four times a week.

The victim told the court that the first time he assaulted her he told her 'I just can't help myself, you've become such a beautiful woman.'  She went on to outline that he even told her 'I know you've wanted this since your operation' before forcing himself on her.

The prosecutor John Livitsanos told the court that the man threatened to financially destroy the woman's mother if she ever tried to reveal what he was doing.  'He would tell the complainant she was his second wife and she should be happy because not many men would want to be with a woman like her - referring to the fact that she was transgender.'

The abuse only came to an end last year when the victim was able to record his abuse on her iPad, which was used as evidence in court.  When the man discovered the plan to record him it led to an altercation that left the woman beaten and bruised, though he was arrested later that day.

It is also being reported that when his wife discovered what was happening he screamed at her, stating 'Your daughter wants it.  She wants me to fuck her.'

The court proceedings are still currently ongoing.


Sunday, 22 May 2016

Legends of Tomorrow 'Destiny' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

Well, 'Destiny' may just be the best episode of Legends of Tomorrow yet.  It looks like the last four episodes of the season are shaping up to be the very peak of the show (assuming the season finale can keep up the quality) and this episode delivers on a lot of levels.

The episode opens with the team in the worst position they've been in yet, with Vandal Savage freed by the Time Masters and travelling back through time with Kendra and Carter as his prisoners, Jax back in 2016 and Stein dying, Mick about to be brainwashed into being Chronos again and the rest of the team held prisoner.  It's one of the darkest places our heroes have found themselves, which leads to all of them getting to step up and prove just why they're heroes.  Even Captain Cold and Heatwave.  Especially Captain Cold and Heatwave.

When the show started the two of them were definitely the odd choices for Rip to bring along with him, and I and many other viewers found the choice of their inclusion on the team to be a strange one.  After just a few weeks though they proved that they did have a place and a lot to offer, but it's here that we see that they're not just valuable members of the team but true heroes.

Whilst everyone (other than Carter and Kendra) have the chance to show that they're heroes it's definitely Mick and Leonard's episode this week.  First of all Mick is willing to sacrifice himself instead of letting Ray die in order to save the rest of the team.  It's a big moment for him, and goes to show just how far the character has come in just a handful of episodes, especially since his time as Chronos.

Fortunately for Mick, but not so much for the audience, Leonard isn't prepared to lose his best friend.  Making up for his earlier betrayal in the season he knocks Mick unconscious and takes his place arming the bomb.  As the scene progresses I'm sure I wasn't the only one hoping that he'd find a way out of his predicament, but sadly it wasn't to be and Captain Cold, the show stealing criminal turned hero, gives his life to stop the Time Masters and free his friends from their control.

Out of all the cast the loss of Cold is probably the one that hurt the most, I know he was the one cast member I really wanted to stick around, and that goes a long way to show both the level of charm and acting that Wentworth Miller brought to the role and the strength of the writing.  And yes, the writers went and stole an iconic line from last years 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' as his dying words are 'There are no strings on me', but boy did they deliver a gut punch as he sacrificed everything for the greater good.

Captain Cold was the best thing that this show had, his presence and his character growth kept me interested during the start of the season when the show was still trying to find its feet.  The loss of his presence will definitely be felt, but thankfully the show has developed some of its other characters to the point where his loss won't be as crippling as it would have been half a dozen episodes before.

Jax also gets a chance to show just how good of a character has been hiding beneath the surface and how far he has come since the first episode as he travels back to before the team left 2016 to enlist the help of the younger version of Professor Stein to help him find a way back to Vanishing Point and the rest of the team.

Whilst the changes in Mick and Leonard were quite apparent it wasn't until I saw Jax meet up with the episode one version of Stein that I realised just how much the two of them had changed over the course of the season too.  Not only has Jax used his mechanical skills to learn about the technology aboard the Waverider and increase his scientific knowhow, but he's much more comfortable and confident in both his role as a hero and his relationship with Stein.

The fact that Stein goes into the events of the first episode knowing that he and Jax are destined to board the Waverider does change a few moments of that first episode as it seems to shed Stein's actions into a new light.  Whilst initially his choice to drug Jax and take him aboard the ship seemed out of character and something of a horrible thing to do we now know that Stein knew he had to get Jax to go on the mission in order to keep events on track.

The revelation that the Time Masters have been manipulating all of the events of the season came as something of a surprise.  Whilst many fans anticipated them being slightly more villainous than they first appeared this goes from making some less than moral choices to full on villainous.  Learning that everything that he knew about the Time Masters is sure to have an effect on Rip going forward and will hopefully change his character going into season two, hopefully to the point where he's  going to be rebuilding the idea of the Time Masters himself and doing things the right way.

Even though he had limited screen time Savage performed brilliantly in this episode as he returned to 2166 and murders Rips wife and son.  It's something that we saw in the very first episode, but the fact that we're seeing it again and Kendra and Carter are there must mean that this is now unstoppable, that because it's happened relative for Rip and the team they no longer have a chance of stopping it.

We've seen this scene before in the first episode, and the characters have spoken about it so often over the course of the whole show that it would have been easy for the scene to feel dull and overused, but perhaps because we've come to care for Rip and his loss so much that the scene becomes hard to watch and definitely cements Savage as a character to hate.

'Destiny' manages to keep the drama, action and character development going to produce what I believe to be on of the strongest episodes of the season, full of twists and turns, visual flare and even heartbreak. Hopefully the show will continue to keep this standard for the season finale and going into the second season.


Target CEO Speaks Out About Bathroom Backlash

The CEO of Target, Brian Cornell, has spoken out about the company's stand of transgender bathroom issues and the backlash they have received from Christian extremists.

Cornell has reaffirmed the company's stance on allowing trans people to use the facilities that best match their gender identity, saying that they would not back down despite threats of boycotts and protests within their stores.

During a television interview Cornell said that Target has had a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion.

'We took a stance.'  He said.  'We're going to continue to embrace our belief in diversity and inclusion, just how important that is to our company.  But we're also going to make sure our focus on safety is unwavering.  We want to make sure we provide a welcoming environment for all our guests.  One that is safe and is comfortable.'

He that the current backlash reminds him of the the criticism that Target received in the 1960's when they made the choice to feature black models in their advertisements.

'Back then, it wasn't well received.  We had a lot of tough feedback.  But sitting here today, we know we made the right decision.'

Despite the fact that Target has always had the policy of trans inclusion in place across all of its stores the issue only came about in mid-April when the company posted a statement about their bathrooms and changing rooms being open to transgender people following a number of enquiries about their bathroom policy following the introduction of HB2 in North Carolina.

The discovery that Target is inclusive of trans people ha resulted in the radical Christian extremists to call for a boycott of the retail chain in an Online petition that has already reached over 1 million signatures.  Some members for the Christian community have even taken to roaming around Target stores verbally abusing both staff and shoppers whilst quoting bible verse.

Thankfully Target are standing by their policy and refusing to back down in the face of terrorist actions, and have even gone on to encourage other chains such as Toys'R'Us and Barnes & Noble to adopt similar positions.


Lesbian Couple Awarded $80,000 After Being Arrested For Kissing

A lesbian couple have been awarded a settlement of $80,000 to settle a lawsuit after they were wrongfully arrested by a police officer who was opposed to them kissing in public.

Courtney Wilson and Taylor Guerrero were holidaying in Honolulu, Hawaii last year when police officer Bobby Harrison arrested them for showing affection towards each other whilst out shopping.  Whilst shopping at Foodland the officer saw the two of them holding hands and kissing, an act of consensual contact, and loudly told the two of them to 'take it somewhere else'.

Later officer Harrison witnessed the two of them kissing and threatened to throw the two of them out of the store.

'We were holding hands and I was kissing her cheek.  He was like 'you girls, you girls can't do that in here'.'  Guerrero said when talking about the incident.  The two of them then attempted to pay for their shopping before leaving the store, but were approached by Harrison yet again.

According to the lawsuit filed by the couple Harrison grabbed hold of Wilson's wrist whilst they were attempting to make their purchase.  Wilson took out her mobile phone and attempted to call emergency services, which led to the three of them getting into a physical altercation.

Harrison charged them both with felony assault on an officer and arrested both of them, despite the fact that they were trying to defend themselves against him.  The two of them were jailed for three days, but the charges were later dropped.

An investigation against officer Harrison was launched after the couple filed their lawsuit, but he was not charged with any wrongdoing.  Police spokesperson Michelle Yu issued a statement on the matter, saying 'The internal investigation was completed, and the allegations were not substantiated.'

Wilson and Guerrero, whose relationship has ended since the incident, have said that they plan to use the settlement to pay for their legal fees before splitting the remainder between the two of them.


Saturday, 21 May 2016

Arrow 'Monument Point' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

After a shaky start to the season Arrow is continuing to keep a decent pace and tone as it heads into its final episodes and the big clash against Damian Darhk and the forces of HIVE.

'Monument Point' plays out as something of a greatest hits episode of the last two seasons, with the episode featuring appearances from villains such as The Calculator, Murmur, Brick, Anarky, Malcolm Merlyn and Damian Darhk, along with a larger inclusion of Lyla and ARGUS.  It's a lot of characters to juggle, along with the whole of Team Arrow, but the episode manages to do it in an incredibly natural and well thought out way.

With Darhk having engineered the massive prison break a few episodes ago he's got a lot of the shows former villains owing him a favour, and doesn't appear to be afraid to call those favours in as he sends Murmur and Vinnie Jones' Brick after Felicity's father in an attempt to kill him.  He may be a little over the top but it was definitely fun to see Jones back as the minor villain reluctantly agrees to act as a henchman instead of the leader for once.

Bringing the Calculator back into the story as both a target for Darhk and a potential ally for Felicity and the team was a good way of further exploring the relationship between the father and daughter that we only got to see briefly in his previous appearance, as well as giving Felicity a little character development on a more personal level rather than a romantic one for once.  

I've not been a fan of the Olicity relationship, but have appreciated it when it's been handled well, but I've always found that Felicity is a better character when her growth is coming from something unrelated to her relationship with Oliver, and this episode gives us more of that as she begins to gain a greater understanding of her parents past.

Really, this is Felicity's episode to shine.  She has some of the best moments, some of the best character development and even goes on to save the world, though at a terrible price.  With a nuclear missile heading straight for Star City, poised to kill millions, Felicity is forced to alter its targeting systems and directs the missile to detonate at Ravenrock instead, though still killing tens of thousands of people.

It's one of the show's darker moments as they take one of the lightest characters and make her, in a way, responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.  Okay, so it's not really her fault, and she is saving countless millions more whilst also saving the whole planet, but we all know that this is something that is going to haunt the character for a long time to come.

It's been a long while since Arrow has been able to play with such moral ambiguity as the recent seasons have made a very clear distinction between the heroes and their adversaries, but the show began with Oliver as a killer who readily took the lives of thugs and criminals.  For one of the first times since the end of the first season one of our heroes has had to twist their own moral compass in order to save the day.  Something that connects with Diggle killing his own brother the episode before and Oliver's vow to kill Darhk for the murder of Laurel.

At this point it seems like season 4 is trying to put all of our heroes into positions where they question the nature of what they are doing, to make them face the reality that despite noble intentions they are surrounded with so much darkness that they cannot always keep the blood off of their hands.  It will certainly be interesting to see how the events of this season and the lives our heroes have taken will play out going forward, whether it will motivate our heroes to embrace the light even more, or push them down a much darker road.

Outside of the drama of Felicity and her father working together to stop an all-out nuclear apocalypse (seriously, why aren't the military all over this by now?) there's plenty of action sequences to keep the pace going as Ollie, Diggle and the ARGUS forces repeatedly clash against Darhk's men.  As cool as it is to see Team Arrow running around the streets of Star City watching them team up with ARGUS is always enjoyable, especially when Lyla is the one giving orders in the middle of battle instead of Amanda Waller.

Hopefully the show will realise that with Lyla in charge of ARGUS the team now have a much bigger pool of resources to call upon and will do so every now and then.  I don't want to see a full blown merger of Team Arrow and ARGUS, that'd be too much like Supergirl working with the DEO on 'Supergirl', but utilising the extra manpower in situations like this makes a lot of sense and should not be something the show just forgets about in the future.

Sadly the episode does have some weak points, this time being the Thea storyline.  Thea isn't a bad character, but it would seem as we head into the finale the writers aren't exactly sure what they want to do with her.  She's a captive of the villains, but not a prisoner because of Merlyn, she's in a relationship but it's so underdeveloped that I can't find myself giving a shit when he gets killed (seriously, I don't even remember the character's name) and they've given her this very weird relationship with Anarky.  

Her story here feels like it was included simply because the writers had to include the character.  It all seems to have been created as a way of at some point getting Ollie into HIVE's secret underground village and they thought Thea would be the best way of doing that.  

I think a lot of the problems with some of the writing around Thea is her relationship with Malcolm Merlyn, and this is readily apparent here as she's only a captive because of his quest to protect her.  I think that Merlyn has been too overused by this point for him to still be interesting anymore, and everything he does regarding Thea is just dull and stupid.  I know that the showrunners want to keep John Barrowman around as much as they can, but they need to seriously think about exactly what they should be doing with the character, because it's having a knock on effect.

'Monument Point' is the episode with the biggest stakes the series has ever given us as the team fight not just to save Star City but the entire planet.  They manage to bring back and juggle so many characters without it feeling overcrowded and bogged down.  Yes, there are some issues that stop it being perfect, but on a whole it's adding the the overall improvement in quality the show has been delivering the last handful of episodes.


Christian School In Kansas Threatens to Expel Students With LGBT+ Family Members

Trinity Academy, a private Christian school in Kansas, is reserving the right to deny enrolment of students, as well as the right to expel exiting students who have LGBT+ family members.

Following a document leak to the Atheist publication 'Pathos' it has been revealed that the school has been using a document that states their intention to discriminate against people for having LGBT+ family members, a document that they require all of their students and their parents to sign upon enrolment.

The document says, 'Given the debate and confusion in our society about marriage and human sexuality it is vital that Trinity families agree with and support the schools traditional, Christian understanding of those issues.

'Therefore, when the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home is counter to the school's understanding of a biblical lifestyle, including the practice of or promotion of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) lifestyle or alternative gender identity, the school should have the right, in its sole discretion, to deny the admission of an applicant or discontinue the enrolment of a current student.'

In the US the Education Act means that schools with public funding are legally unable to discriminate against students due to their LGBT+ status, however, religious schools are able to request exemptions to this.

Following the release of this document and the subsequent media attention Trinity Academy have released a statement denying that they have ever acted upon this agreement they have been making their students and their families sign, claiming that they have never discriminated against a member of the LGBT+ community, or a member of their family.

The school has said that the document only exists to make prospective students and their parents aware of the values that the school has.  When speaking to KSN News they also went on to say that they would not and have not denied admission to a student for having an LGBT+ relative.

'The foundation of Trinity Academy's success is that we are dedicated to the partnering with our families for the education of their students.  Because of this dedication, our entire application process is designed to make sure new families know who we are and what we believe.  Trinity Academy hold biblical views on human sexuality and gay marriage and we want prospective families to understand that.  We feel that it is only fair given the disagreement and discord in our society over such issues.  It is then up to the family as to whether they feel they can partner with Trinity and support these biblical Christian views.

'Trinity would not and has not denied admission to a student simply because they have a sibling who is gay.  Neither would we necessarily deny admission to a student with same sex attraction.  We do not condone sexual activity of any kind for our students whether heterosexual or homosexual.

'Again, Trinity's whole intent is to make sure families know what we believe so we can partner together successfully for the good of the students.'

The Human Rights Campaign President  Chad Griffin spoke out on the issue, saying; 'The alarming and growing trend of schools quietly seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT students, and not disclosing that information publicly, is what spurred our call for greater transparency.  We believe that religious liberty is a bedrock principal in our nation, however, faith should never be used as a guise for discrimination.'

Despite Trinity Academy denying that they have ever discriminated against any students, or potential students, over the policy it should be noted that this information was only made public following a leak, and that before that their website displayed a 'friendly' faith statement.

The school policy that they believe their students and their families should live a biblical lifestyle only seems to take into account LGBT+ issues, and does not extend to areas such as eating shellfish or wearing clothing made from two different types of fabrics, all things that the bible says people should not do.  As with other 'Christian' groups who speak out against LGBT+ rights Trinity Academy would appear to be picking and choosing which parts of the bible they want to uphold in an attempt to justify and uphold discriminatory viewpoints.


Thursday, 19 May 2016

Supernatural 'All In The Family' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

'I've never seen so much porn.  Not in one sitting.'

This week's episode picks up where last week's ended, with Sam and Dean coming face to face with God.  The first moments of the episode are played brilliantly, with Sam and Dean having very different, but very believable, reactions to discovering that Chuck is in fact God.

Sam is ecstatic at finally getting to meet God, after years of praying to him and having his view of the universe expanded by the discovery that angels exist he's getting to meet the biggest supernatural creature of them all (at least as far as we all know) and the creator of the entire universe.  He's full of hope that God has returned, and eager to quiz him in all kinds of areas.

Dean, on the other hand, takes things less than well.  Whilst Sam is pleased at God's return Dean is angry.  For once he tries not to show his anger, from fear of pissing off the most powerful thing in the universe, and this actually makes the scene a lot better.  Instead of raging and shouting Dean is teetering between anger and heartbreak and Jensen Ackles plays it brilliantly, tears and all.

Once these initial tense moments have passed the brothers end up with God essentially living with them in the bunker, complete with stealing Dean's robe, singing in the shower and marvelling at how much porn Dean has on his laptop.  It's an interesting dynamic for the episode, with Dean skirting between treating him like the old Chuck and him being worried about annoying God.

Elsewhere when Amara unleashes her fog on another town a new prophet, Professor Donatello Redfield, gets activated.  Surviving the effects of the fog Sam and Dean are led straight to Donatello, and once they realise that he is a prophet realise that they might be able to use him in their fight against Amara.

After being contacted by Metatron, Sam and Dean discover that God has a plan up his sleeve for taking on Amara, and it's not a good one.  Metatron tells them that God is planning on sacrificing himself to Amara and wants to make a deal with her, one that everyone knows she won't uphold.  Afraid that God is ready to throw in the towel he reluctantly agrees that he might be willing to change his mind about fighting her if the Winchesters are able to bring Lucifer on board.  

With some help from Metatron and Donatello, Sam is able to track down Lucifer's location and manages to free him whilst Dean distracts Amara.  Sam manages to get Lucifer to agree to work with God in the fight against Lucifer, but due to the extensive torture at the hands of Amara he doesn't have the power to teleport the four of them to safety.

In an unexpected moment Metatron steps up and sacrifices himself in order to buy the others the time they need to escape.  It's a move that I wasn't expecting to come from Metatron, but following his great performance in last week's episode and now this the character has come a long way to redeeming himself and his previous actions.  It's sad that the show is losing yet another recurring character, but at least his exit was handled in a good way.

By the end of the episode Lucifer is back in the bunker with God and the Winchesters, healed up and in an uneasy alliance to fight the Darkness.  There might not have been a lot of action in this episode, but there was a great deal of character and story development as the writers start to put the final pieces in place for the season finale.

'All In The Family' is a stage setting episode, one that is designed to put some of the last plot lines in place for the end of the season, but contains enough fun and interesting moments that it stays entertaining and engaging throughout and even has some laugh out loud jokes too.

With Lucifer and God working with the Winchesters in their fight against Amara, and possibly more allies yet to join the fight, season 11 is gearing up to be one of the biggest finales the show has had to date.


Sunday, 15 May 2016

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 'Emancipation' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

'Rasta-Hulk is your husband?!'

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. nears its end point and manages to tie into Captain America: Civil War in a very believable and competent way, whilst still managing to do its own story development.

When General Talbot comes to visit the base following the events of Civil War in order to evaluate S.H.I.E.L.D.'s enhanced agents in the wake of the Sakovia Accords.  It's a very believable scenario within the world that the series has created, with several outside parties becoming more concerned about Inhumans, as well a tying into the new status quo created by the events of Marvel's latest film.

It's also the only time other than Winter Soldier that the series has tied into the events of one of the Marvel films without it feeling forced or disjointed.  The Thor: Dark World tie in was lacklustre and dull, and the reveal that Coulson was behind the Avengers discovering the location of Loki's sceptre, and where Nick Fury got the helicarrier from, felt very shoehorned into the second season.  But here it not only makes perfect sense, especially as S.H.I.E.L.D. is starting to become part of the government again, but it's a good way of bringing Talbot back into the proceedings, which is always enjoyable.

The episode also brought Yo-yo back under the pretext of being one of the enhanced agents there to meet Talbot.  Hopefully the show will keep her around for more than this one episode (especially with only two left to go) as she's a good presence.  She has a very cool power set that doesn't require a great deal of the effects budget like Daisy or Lincoln, plus she's just a genuinely nice character whose relationship with Mack is interesting.

Carrying on from the previous episode we discover that Lincoln is still being kept under quarantine, partly because of his testing the Hive cure on himself, though also because the team appear to believe his judgement has been compromised by his feelings for Daisy.  Now, by the end of the episode we find out that this whole thing was just an act in order to get their secret weapon to Hive's doorstep, but it seemed so in Lincoln's character that I did genuinely believe it.

I've not liked Lincoln for most of the season, I've found that his motivations for being there have been fairly dull and centred only on wanting to be around Daisy.  With so many other great characters dedicated to the cause that we've lost over the course of the show, such as Tip, Hunter and Bobbi, it annoyed me that someone with his kind of character was kept around.

Thankfully from the little double-cross at the end of the episode and the reveal that Lincoln was working with May and Coulson the whole time helped to redeem his character a little for me.  I'm not saying that I like him much more than I did before, but if they can keep developing him like this and make him more than just a lovesick puppy it'd help a hell of a lot.

One character that really shone this week, and if I'm being honest somehow want to end up on the team, is Hellfire.  Not only is the character a lot of fun, channelling a little bit of the wisecracking attitude that Hunter used to bring to the show, but his powers are being utilised in some cool ways.  The scene where he took on the group of Watchdogs in the alley was particularly good.

Speaking of which, I can't be the only person who saw him with the flaming chain and immediately thought that Marvel are practicing their effects for Ghost Rider can I?

Whilst the episode did do a lot right I can't help but feel that it let itself down slightly towards the end.  As soon as I found out that Lincoln wasn't inside the Quinjet I immediately knew that it'd be Lash, and that we were going to get a confrontation that I'd been eagerly awaiting for weeks.  The Quinjet lands, the ramp lowers and Lash and Hive come face to face and I'm ready for one of the best action sequences the show has given us.

Then not a great deal actually happens.  The two of them throw each other around a bit, and Hive is definitely on the back foot here, which after seeing him take out the Kree Reaver last week shows just how powerful Lash is, but the fight feels very slow and sluggish.  This sense of pacing isn't helped by the action cutting back to the team on the base, but then that might be to try and hide the fact that there isn't really that much of a fight.

It's not all bad, there are some good moments in here, watching Lash deflect Hive's sand attack stuff with his glowing energy is kind of cool, and the moment that he burns a chunk out of Hive is awesome, especially because of the look of fear on his face as he's realising that he's probably going to lose the fight.

Sadly for Lash, and possibly for the world considering Hive's plan, due to extracting Hive's control from Daisy and saving her life by putting her inside the Quinjet, he leaves himself open to a sneak attack from Hellfire and dies.  At this point Lash was definitely the best, if not only, weapon that our heroes had at their disposal.  Killing Lash does take that away and raise the stakes going into the finale, but it does rob May from the chance of getting her husband back.

I think it's a shame that we get only a brief shot of May stroking the hair of her dead husband instead of getting the chance to see more of how that scene could have played out.  Yes, May was probably resigned to the idea that Andrew was lost, but there would have still been emotional impact from losing him, especially with as we saw just before he died he could have had some last words with her.

By the end of the episode the team have Daisy back, with makes things a little easier going into the finale as they not only have one of their strongest fighters back, but they no longer have to worry about trying to save her, or at least not kill her, in the middle of a fight.  Unfortunately the team also discover Hive's plan, that he's planning on using a missile to release a terrigen cloud in the atmosphere that will turn every human into a primitive Inhuman slave.

One last thing of note from the end of the episode too, Elena gives her crucifix necklace to Mack.  As we saw in the episode 'Bouncing Back' and in Daisy's vision a member of the team is going to die in a Quinjet floating in space that suddenly explodes, someone who has that necklace.  At this point it looks highly likely that a member of the team is going to sacrifice themselves to destroy Hive's terrigen missile, but will it be Mack or will someone else be lost in the final episode?


North Carolina School Encourages Students To Use Pepper Spray On Trans Classmates

A North Carolina school district has voted to allow students to carry pepper spray and mace on school premises, which one school board member claiming that the weapons are necessary for students to be able to defend themselves from transgender students entering bathrooms.

North Carolina's Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education board member Chuck Hughes has justified the decision as a defencive measure for students that he believes will be attacked by transgender students.  'Depending on how the courts rule on bathroom issues, it may be a pretty valuable tool to have on female students if they go to the bathroom, not knowing who may come in.'

After concern was raised about the decision a fellow board member, Travis Allen, argued that the policy shouldn't worry people, justifying the decision by saying that being doused in pepper spray isn't as bad as being attacked with a baseball bat.

'Having been pepper sprayed numerous times and being the school resource officer, the baseball bats that your team brings every day to school is a bigger weapon than a canister of pepper spray, that's my thinking on it.'  He told local news station WBTV.  'A chair from the cafeteria is a bigger weapon than a can of pepper spray.'

Yes, you read that correctly, a member of the school board has justified the use of pepper spray on transgender students by saying 'well, there are worse ways to be attacked'.  I guess by his logic it's okay to be shot because someone could always set you on fire, which surely must be worse right?

Following the idiocy of these claims and the numerous people who have spoken out against them Hughes has attempted to retract his comments.  'It was a whimsical, inappropriate comment that I regret.  I never intended to slur, disrespect or deprive the GLBT students of the rights to which they are entitled.  Nor did I suggest that GLBT students were problematic.

'It is the 'straight' perverts within our community that concern me, people who might well take advantage of our students, straight or GLBT, in and out of schools, if the 'experiment' initiated by Charlotte should spread, as it might well if the state loses its legal challenge.'

The Board Chairman Josh Wagner spoke to the Huffington Post about the incident and insisted that the 'decision in no way addressed the issue that Mr Hughes brought up' and that the comments he made were not a factor in the decision on this issue.

Wagner insists that the choice to arm students and encourage them to target transgender individuals was never the main issue, but that they were concerned about the safety of female students travelling to and from school.  Despite these claims that discrimination against the transgender community was never the aim, the damage has already been done through the comments they have made.


Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Flash 'The Runaway Dinosaur' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.

'I'll always come back when you call.'

With a title like 'The Runaway Dinosaur' I was expecting something a little crazy from the latest episode of The Flash, instead we get a very personal story about Barry, with the occasional bit of zombie meta-human action thrown in to keep thing moving at pace.

After tricking no one in the audience into believing that Barry was killed during the events of the last episode his friends and family quickly discover through Cisco's vibes that Barry is stuck inside the speed force. 

Inside the speed force Barry finds himself going through something akin to a spiritual journey as he interacts with the speed force itself, who is taking on the forms of his family in order to both guide him back onto the path to being the hero he needs to be, as well as testing his resolve.

Making the speed force into some kind of sentient being was an interesting direction to go, and one that I was initially unsure of.  After all, in the comics the speed force has always been treated as something scientific, like gravity or time and there's even a moment here where Barry addresses that by saying it's like having a conversation with gravity.  

Thankfully the choice to make it into some kind of supernatural force works more down to the writing of the interactions between Barry and the people the speed force is appearing as, as well as some superb acting from our main cast.  My only concern is the idea that the speed force chose Barry, rather than his metahuman ability allowing him to tap into it.  It moves away from this simply being who Barry is and more into the realms of a 'chosen one' type scenario.  I just hope the show doesn't go down that route, as 'destiny' is a very lazy plot device that has been used poorly a lot in the past.

Whilst Barry is taking his mystical journey the rest of the team are working frantically to find a way of bringing him back to the real world, save Jesse after she's been hit by the particle accelerator energies, and to stop a reanimated Girder who was brought back to life as a shambling zombie like creature.

Whilst the first two are legitimate plot lines that would happen following on from the last episode the Girder story does feel very forced here as a way of adding extra drama and a sense of impending trouble.  Despite that the story does give Iris and Joe a lot to do as they are the ones who take on the job of finding Girder and getting him back to Star Labs whilst everyone else works on the other problems.

With Barry stuck in the speed force this is a really good episode for taking the time to look closer at the supporting cast and giving them more to do, rather than them acting as the support.

At the end of the last episode both Wally and Jesse were hit by the particle accelerator explosion, in what appeared to be the writer's attempt at giving them both their comic book counterparts speedster abilities.  Whilst that does initially appear to be what has happened with Jessie (she does end up in a similar coma to Barry after he got his powers, and he wakes her up with a spark of energy when he returns) so far it seems like there was no effect on Wally.

Whilst it might be possible that Wally will develop speed powers after a short while the idea that the writers have subverted expectations and not given him powers is much more appealing to me.  We don't know if Jesse and Harry will be sticking around for season three or if they'll be returning to Earth-2, but we may already be looking at three speedsters in the finale, and a fourth would definitely crowd things a little.

Speaking about Harry and Jesse sticking around, whilst I'm not really attached to Jesse that much I'm really hoping that Harry does stay on as he's developed some great chemistry with the rest of the cast.  The moment where he and Cisco try to catch Barry up on what's happening when he returns was incredibly funny and enjoyable to watch.

There was a lot of fuss made around this episode because it was directed by Kevin Smith, and whilst many were eagerly awaiting to see what he would do with the show thankfully the only thing that makes it stand out as a Kevin Smith affair is the terrible and unfunny cameo from Jason Mewes.  This might be down to the fact that Smith wasn't allowed near the script, so it kept its regular quality of writing, but I'm also thinking that he was probably asked to keep his episode in line with those that have been done in the past.

'The Runway Dinosaur' is a good character driven episode that gives us a brief moment of downtime to tell an emotional story before we head into the action packed finale.


Kansas Wants To Ban Transgender People Updating Their Birth Certificates

Kansas has become the latest state to step into the fight against transgender people as the state reveals plans to prevent transgender people from being able to change their birth certificates.

The new regulations, which could come into effect as soon as six weeks from now, would block members of the trans community from being able to alter their birth certificate to reflect the gender they live their lives as.

Not only will these regulations prevent transgender people from being able to live their lives effectively, as the gender listed on a birth certificate plays a massive role in helping transgender individuals prove their gender identity, but it could go so far as to lead to an increase in the suicide rates within the trans community.

Preventing trans people from changing their birth certificates will cause countless situations where trans people can be denied access to facilities, or certain rights simply because their birth certificate has them listed as the gender that they were assigned at birth, rather than their correct one.

Mary Pilcher-Cook, the Republican Kansas senator, said that 'a birth certificate is a record for future generations', going on to state that she feels that the document should represent 'the science behind a person's gender, not political issues'.

'Men and women are biologically different', she said, 'I don't think we should become detached from reality.'

This is the latest attempt from the religiously fanatic and bigoted right wing American government to make the lives of transgender people unnecessarily difficult, in what I can only imagine to be an attempt to wipe out the community completely.