Thursday, 31 August 2017

Are you Charlie?



The response from French weekly magazine "Charlie Hebdo" to hurricane Harvey's devastation in Houston and elsewhere in Texas: a cover, portraying a bunch of Nazi flags and saluting hands going down in the flood, with the caption: "God exists! He has drowned all the neo nazis of Texas!" Sweet.  Last week the magazine published this cover in response to the murderous attack in Barcelona.
The caption reads: "Islam, religion of peace...eternal" a pun on 'peace eternal' as a way of referring to the after-life. This got them into all sorts of trouble for daring to equate the actions of the jihadis with their avowed motive i.e. Islam's call to jihad against infidels (us) and hypocrites (insufficiently Islamic muslims). They got into trouble for making fun of the truth about the perpetrators. The Texas cover, on the other hand, is an outright slur. And it's a slur against the victims of a natural disaster. Worse, it's a rejoicing over the deaths of the victims of a natural disaster, with a damnable slur thrown on top of it. I wonder if that's the kind of joy the magazine describes itself as having on its website. "Charlie Hebdo", it tells us, is a magazine that is "satirical, secular, political and joyous". But then , in English, it also says it is "a punch in the face" and "an angry magazine"; that life is too short to not be "laughing it up a storm", because "very nearly everything" is "ridiculous", "absurd or preposterous". Well, I'm going to stick my neck out here and say "Charlie Hebdo", shame on you for not sticking to your own motives. There is nothing satirical, secular, political and certainly nothing joyous about the Texas cover because there is no truth in it. And there has to be at least a drop of truth in a provocative stance to make it interesting.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

"Bake Off" on Channel 4


There's much to worry about in the world at the moment, so what better object to focus on than a baking show? The big move of "The Great British Bake Off" from the state-run, advertisement-free, BBC to commercial Channel 4 has finally materialised, with the first episode of the new series broadcast last night. A lot of fans took to social media to express their views on the added 15 minutes or so of commercials, viewing this development as either a good or a bad one. Good because it allows for tea/wine/cake breaks, or bad because it interrupts the flow of the show. I care more about the change in staff. Three out the four original presenters didn't make the move to Channel 4: baking judge Mary Berry, and the comedy duo of Mel and Sue as the jolly compères. They have been replaced with Prue Leith as judge, and an ill-assorted twosome of Sandi Toksvig and someone called Noel Fielding as the supposedly comic relief. Who - or indeed what - Fielding is I couldn't tell you. Transgender? Just a man who likes to wear weird clothes and lots of make-up? He is apparently a comedian, but is so tall and lugubrious, as well as strange looking, I had to check the impulse to hide behind a sofa every time he sloped onto the screen. He and Toksvig had no discernible chemistry. They both have unpleasant voices, and further grate on aesthetic sensibilities by being visual opposites (tall, thin, dark vs short, dumpy, blonde). There is no way of satisfyingly framing them in a screen shot. Neither seems remotely interested in baking. Channel 4 are perhaps trying to reel in a younger audience with this Fielding fellow (?). I have no idea who Toksvig's audience might be. She is a well-known 'out' lesbian, so maybe the thinking behind the new line-up is simply one of Political Correctness. (Of course Sue was also a well-known lesbian, but she and best-friend Mel balanced each other out very sweetly.) This is Channel 4, after all, and it would hardly be surprising if their take on the Great British Family Show was to make an in-your-face PC point from the start. One of the very first of the twelve bakers to be introduced last night was a female contestant who said that the sight of the famous tent had made her all giddy (or something), just like at her wedding. Then after a well-timed pause: 'Except that my wife isn't here". Well, that's us told. Of Prue Leith, all I can remember is heavy-framed dark glasses. She and her fellow-judge, BBC original Paul Hollywood, had no chemistry either.  I mean, come on, baking is all about chemistry! The cakes were pretty amazing, especially for a series opener. It would be a Great Shame if the series continued as it started last night, by undermining the talented contestants with dud presenters.  

Monday, 31 July 2017

Not Greening but burning

Wouldn't it be nice if Justine Greening, UK Secretary of State for Education, lived up to her name and sought to implement measures promoting natural wholesomeness? But no. Her proposal to bypass the gender dysphoria diagnosis and allow people to officially choose their gender merely on their own say-so is anything but natural and wholesome. It is a further assault on the basic facts of society and civilisation, as well as an assault on sanity, particularly on the well-being of children and young people. It is like wanting to make things easier for one or two smaller or overshadowed trees by burning down the rest of the forest around them. We know the Conservative party is no longer conservative. This announcement by Greening of a reform to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to overthrow objective reality is so anarchic and destructive I can't think what it should be called. Peter Hitchens had a good line on this in yesterday's Mail on Sunday:
Let's change the Tories name - to Doris
I suspect the whole ‘Trans’ issue has been cooked up so that nobody can ever say anything about it (including here) without being somehow in the wrong, and open to attack by the Thought Police. Now that there’s no more mileage in homosexuality, it’s the best way of making conservatives look like bigots.
But those of you who have clung to the Tory Party through thick and thin must have wondered a bit last week when it endorsed the idea that anyone can be whatever sex, sorry ‘gender’, that they want to be.
Here’s the simple explanation. The Tory Party itself has changed sex, from Right to Left. It is a ‘Trans’ party. I’m puzzled that it has yet to change its name. How about ‘Doris’? And it now feels free to come out. Yet still you vote for it.
This is the best tactic if, as Mark Twain apparently said, 'Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand'. Maybe we can laugh this scorched-earth proposal out of existence. There has to come a point when turning basic, healthy reality on its head becomes too absurd and we can no longer go along with it for the sake of the feelings of a tiny minority. Tiny minorities are to be loved and cared for within the realm of sanity, not to be used as a flaming torch on the very structures which allow them to exist in the first place. 

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Doctor Who cares? and female women


People seem interested in "Doctor Who". Certainly it gets a lot of publicity, year in year out. I've lived in the UK for a total of about 23 years without ever not hearing about it - but without ever watching it either. So basically I don't care. "The Week" describes "Doctor Who" as "a children's show that has only five million viewers". Yet the promotion for the upcoming series has been particularly unavoidable, to the point of being irritatingly sneaked into the Wimbledon coverage by the BBC (who make the show). And why the fuss? Because the new, 13th actor to play the title character is not an actor but, for the first time, an actress. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of adults fans. They don't like the evermore PC direction the series has been taking, and who (so to speak) can blame them. Cue also the cover-clogs commentators who make out those dissenting fans to be knuckle-draggers. This tweet in particular, from the singer Mark Hoppus (I'd never heard of him - is that bad?) was taken as representative of the counter-backlash against the traditionalists: 


However, anyone inclined to see it as a slam-dunk should think again. Female doctors, pilots, scientists we already have. I don't hear anyone clamouring for more women in the dirty, dangerous, depressing jobs that only men do (as many others have pointed out (e.g. "Independent Man' https://youtu.be/kLvw-qEv044) and which keep us all in the comfort, cleanliness, security and satiety we've come to expect. A hollow argument. The next part of the tweet is already a non-argument. I have seen an article in 'The Times' which I could swear pointedly referred to sisters as 'siblings' to avoid gendering them. I didn't keep a record of the article, unfortunately, but no doubt there will be other instances of such neutering. In the meantime, we have pushes to make the word 'mother' disappear from birth certificates and presumably other official documents. We have the new concept that it's not only women who give birth: transgender 'men' do also. That is to say, women who identify as men, while retaining their female reproductive organs or retaining them long enough to give birth then having them removed. We have the now firmly entrenched concept that a man who says he's a woman is as much a woman as a 'cis' woman. Woe betide anyone who questions this malarkey, as once-fêted feminists have found out. The time when a woman needs to be specified as female is upon us. This recent piece in The Huffington Post is a good example. Look at the picture (trigger warning: menstrual blood).
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cass-clemmer-trans-periods_us_597101bce4b0aa14ea78a251
Read the 'poem' that accompanies the picture. By all means have compassion for the predicament of the person who wrote it, angry, confused, clearly trapped in a hell-pit of rebellion. But also consider that this person is a communicator on the subject (new to me) of 'menstrual health'. The 'What next?' in the Hoppus tweet is not clever-clever. It's already out of date.







Saturday, 22 July 2017

O.J.Simpson again

He's in the news again, for being granted parole nine years into a thirty-three year sentence for a robbery attempt in Las Vegas in 2007. Naturally, the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her young friend Ron Goldman in 1994 get mentioned in reports or discussions of this latest chapter in Simpson's life. Those murders were gruesome and ferociously violent, impossible to forget. Simpson's criminal trial for the murders - the 'trial of the century' - resulted in a 1995 'not guilty' verdict which was infamously celebrated on one side of the racial divide and deplored on the other.  Simpson was deemed liable for the deaths in a 1997 civil trial, however, and ordered to pay over $30 million in reparation to the bereaved families - as a matter of principle (the money has not yet materialised and presumably never will).  It remains that, criminally speaking, the murders are considered to be 'case closed'. Simpson obtained custody of his two children with Nicole, and off he went on his not-merry way, a hero to some, a disgrace to most. The striking thing to me about any mention of Simpson since then is how it is taken for granted he committed those murders. It's as if it would be heresy to accept the 'not guilty' verdict. Yes, I know, there was a huge amount of racial tension in L.A. at the time, and the trial became a political hot potato. But it's also true that the prosecution bungled its case, quite spectacularly. It's arguable, furthermore, that the evidence was not entirely convincing. The murder weapon was never found, for example. And as I wrote previously on this blog ("O.J. Simpson: too dim to do it?") there was a remarkable lack of blood connected to Simpson. Or rather, an unremarked-upon lack of blood. That the blood evidence was spelled out in mere drops, in a crime of such sheer bloodiness, is bizarre at best. From a psychological point of view, I've never understood why it's assumed, as if it went without saying, that a man who pleads 'no contest' to spousal abuse (as he did in 1989) can go on to butcher two people in what must have been a frenzy of rage. One does not seamlessly lead to the other. If it did, wouldn't the criminal landscape be very different? Previous to the murders, a volatile marriage with incidents of physical abuse; after the murders, an idiotic attempt to recover sports memorabilia. In the middle of these two relatively low-grade transgressions we are to believe without question that a man leaped into the monstrous crime category for about ten minutes then came out of it again with enough composure to finish his packing and fly off to Chicago. And this from someone who based his whole life and career(s) on being a 'pleaser', someone who courted approval from the dominant culture at all times. Even his eligibility for parole came up because he behaved as a model prisoner. Of course he did. There is a narrative that does see O.J. Simpson as innocent, and his son from his first marriage as the potential culprit. (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/is-oj-innocent-missing-evidence-experts-dig-oj-simpson-son-theory-964534). Simpson did not help his own cause by penning an unpublished book entitled If I Did It, apparently featuring an imaginary person named Charlie and a convenient blackout when the murders occurred. One way or another I'm not arguing for Simpson's guilt or innocence, simply saying that on several levels the assumption of his unquestioned guilt is problematic.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

'Ladies and Gentlemen'

One of the texts for an online course I did recently was a transcript of lectures given more than a hundred years ago to undergraduate students of English at Oxford. The text had often triggered previous participants of the course therefore it came with caveats from the course leader about the sexism involved. For the terrible truth is that the lecturer addressed the students as 'Gentlemen'. They were all young men, so it made sense for him to address them that way. Furthermore, (gentle)manliness was the main theme of the lecturer's teaching: writing like a man, with purpose and clarity and so on. There was perhaps also a class element underlying the disapproval of 21st century students: those young men were almost certainly gentlemen in the socio-economic sense as well, and therefore privileged. This was Oxford, after all. The young men would soon be sent to fight, die or be maimed in the trenches of World War I, and consider it their duty to society to do so, but let's gloss over that. What grated on contemporary ears was that it was 'Gentlemen' and not 'Ladies and Gentlemen'. Since those benighted times, I think it's fair to say that 'Ladies and Gentlemen' has become such a normal, polite and inclusive form of address that we have ceased to see how courteous and progressive it is. How else to explain the recent decision by Transport for London to axe 'Ladies and Gentlemen'? It must now be perceived as a non-inclusive form of public address because it apparently leaves out the non-binary who didn't exist until about ten minutes ago. In its public announcements, TfL will replace the gracious "Ladies and Gentlemen' with an infantile 'Hello Everyone'. It is worth pausing to reflect how the Ladies have disappeared from this particular public discourse, and with not a peep of outrage from anyone, least of all from feminists.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Love is not illegal

The BBC promises to teach us, yokel payers of the license fee, all about "Gay Britannia". In their own words, this is to be a season of "Bold and provocative stories exploring how far we've come since being gay was a crime". The 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act (the decriminalisation of homosexual acts) is this year, and evidently the BBC does not want to let this milestone go unnoticed. Although why the title they chose is not deemed to show an offensive disregard for L, B, T, Q, etc etc people is unclear. I guess BBC writers are as fallible as others in not being able to resist a neat pun, in this case a pun on 'Cool Britannia'. Now, it should go without saying that the Sexual Offences Act was quite right. The fewer aspects of private behaviour that come under the purview of the law, the better. Hurray for that. Two anomalies have developed since then, however. The first one is that the notion of private behaviour has disappeared. Everyone's sexuality is now everybody else's business. And if you're not interested in celebrating the sexual acts of total strangers, you are on the wrong side of history. This is how decriminalisation has turned into 'Pride'. This is why all manner of activities, and indeed identities, are being pushed on children at ever younger ages. Decriminalisation was only the starting point, as it turns out, not an end. The goal has turned into the constantly receding rainbow end of 'exploring' not just 'how far we've come' but how far we can go - or at least how far we can go until the children thus educated murder and dismember their parents, as James Woods recently tweeted. The other anomaly that has developed in the last fifty years is the total equation of sex with love and love with sex. So for example there is the advert for "Gay Britannia", (shown immediately after Wimbledon and thus guaranteed a large viewership). This advert asks us to imagine a situation where being in love is illegal (or some such) while showing a couple of heterosexual old dears blamelessly waiting in a bus shelter together, but photographed as if they are on some incriminating CCTV footage. Or, another example, the cover of "The Week Junior" which I saw today in the supermarket. "The Week" for adults (the one I know) always has brilliant caricatures on its covers. I don't know what The 'Junior' edition usually depicts, but certainly the one in the stands right now is nothing to laugh about. It is a photo of wholesome-looking adults (and children, I believe) at a parade and wearing t-shirts of a recognisable Mickey Mouse shape rendered in rainbow colours. The title proclaims 'PRIDE' in big letters over the caption: "Londoners celebrate love for all". But in the words of the song, what's love got to do with it? Love has never been illegal, nor can it be criminalised. To think love and sex mean the same thing is to hold an unbelievably reductionist and false view of love. To teach this to children should make the responsible adults (using the terms loosely) feel ashamed of themselves. If sex and love are interchangeable then there is no disinterested love, no familial love, no Christian agape, and no Godly love that makes any sense except for the randy goings on of ancient gods, and the kinds of worship they demand including the associated delights of 'religious' prostitution, child sacrifice and what not. As I think I've written somewhere else, seeing how far we can go, as garden-variety sinful human beings, usually means ending up in the very same messes our predecessors worked so hard to get us out of.