Friday, 22 April 2016

New Kings on the block

The cover of this week's "Spectator": a witty illustration of  'lèse majesté', especially compared to the persona non grata stunt on the Guardian's front page yesterday (previous post). Here we have President Obama - whose 2009 inaguration was so very much like a coronation - swooping into Britain to urge us into the 'Remain' camp: surely as patronising a use of public funds as the Government's grey and po-faced pro-EU leaflet. The term 'lèse majesté' literally means 'injured majesty'. Does even the Queen still have the power to proclaim herself slighted or insulted? Even if she did, one suspects she never would. Whereas President Erdogan freely makes use of it, and Chancellor Merkel goes along with him. There is always Kingship, in one form or another. The vital question is: what form will it take? Do we prefer sovereignty backed up by history, kinship and accountability, or do we let political leaders make a power grab for a majesty of their own devising?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

"Guardian" appoints new Queen

Today was Her Majesty the Queen's 90th birthday, and every national newspaper noted the fact on its front page - every newspaper that is, except one. "The Guardian" made no mention of the monarch's milestone, either above or below the crease. Below the crease it had news as usual. The space above the crease was all - all! - taken up by the announcement that Victoria Wood had died. A photo of the comedienne/actress/writer was set against a somber background with the simple caption: "Victoria Wood, 1953-2016". Without implying any disrespect to Ms Wood, who was certainly talented, and no doubt a lovely person, it seems to me that for "The Guardian" to communicate the news of her death in that manner was both churlish and petty. Churlish  for not being able to knock the chip off its republican shoulder and acknowledge what is a remarkable royal life, any way you slice it. Petty for driving the point home by reporting the death of Wood exactly as if she were a Queen. On the other hand, it does illustrate the broader the point that refusing to acknowledge King or Queenship where it is due merely results in the setting up of idolatries elsewhere.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

O.J. Simpson: too dim to do it?

If only there had been a real Lieutenant Columbo, he could have sorted out the O.J. Simpson case,and rescued the LAPD in the process. The last episode of "The People v OJ Simpson; American Crime Story" aired on Monday on BBC2. The series did a good job of portraying the 'trial of the century' with the complexity and crazyness it had at the time. Yet bizarrely, even this excellent last episode failed to make a clear case against O.J. - as the series obviously wanted to make. For example, the question as to why there hadn't been more blood in the Bronco and thereabouts was blink-and-you-miss-it. But it's a good question! It can't be left as a throwaway line from a biased juror in the heat of an argument in the jury room. The attacks on Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were so savage that it defies belief the killer wouldn't have been soaked in blood, and suspiciously injured himself, yet Simpson was neither. Some of the evidence does point to him being at the scene (shoes etc) but not necessarily to being the perpetrator. This is where a TV-grade CSI team would have come in handy too. But in 1994 crime scene work was not sophisticated enough to make the most of the evidence. DNA testing was new, and no one seems to have known about blood splatter analysis or other go-to methods featured in the "CSI" shows. And in the Simpson case, the crime scene and the evidence collection were infamously mismanaged anyway. Come to think of it though, Columbo might have come a cropper over the issue of Simpson's IQ. The "Columbo" films were about criminals who thought they were too clever to get caught. Is O.J. clever? Everything about him, and everything about the case, suggests he isn't. Champion sportsman, good as a celebrity, yes, but not intelligent. Dimness could help to explain his dopey demeanour during the trial (as if he couldn't quite keep up), or his decision to accept media money to celebrate his acquittal with a flashy party, or his cringe-making vow to pursue and catch the killer. Dimness goes a long way towards explaining his subsequent robbery lark, for which he has been jailed for several years (eligible for parole next year). Apparently more people now believe he's guilty of the murders than believed he was in 1994/95. My inclination is to do the reverse. I was in America at the time of the murders  and also in the year of the trial, so was able to watch all the coverage live. Though he seemed to be guilty, I'm not so sure now, especially after seeing "The People v OJ Simpson". Besides the problematic forensics, the show brought home again the prosecution's insistence that being a savage knife-muderer is but a progression from being an abusive husband. Is it really? Why haven't more people questioned that assumption? It can't be true, any more than abusive wives seemlessly turn into frenzied murderesses as a matter of course. Who knows, maybe that was one of the things that didn't quite gel for the acquitting jury. Simpson's behaviour to his wife during and after their marriage suggests a bully rather than a maniac. It suggests someone who, for all his success and his ground-breaking 'cross-over appeal', still felt out of his depth and on the defensive. It suggests someone who craved acceptance by rich white folks yet took out his insecurities on the beautiful white woman closest to him. In that light, the casting of Cuba Gooding Jr as O.J. makes some sense. "The People v OJ Simpson" was well cast with actors who were dead ringers for the people they portrayed - except for he O.J. character. Cuba Gooding was trying his best, but he is too small, too crinkly, too squeeky-voiced, too unimposing, in short nothing like the real O.J. It seemed like the one major flaw in the series, but maybe it was an accurate representation of what O.J. felt like on the inside, the big statue of himself in his garden notwithstanding. One thing I learned from the series is that Robert Kardashian gave O.J. a Bible to read in prison. O.J. is shown to give the Bible back to Kardashian on his release, apparently unread, possibly unopened. It's a powerful moment, also indicative of O.J.'s lack of insight into what that gesture might mean to the recipient.The loyal Kardashian is by now convinced of O.J.'s guilt and the return of the Bible only reinforces that impression. Kardashian is later shown leaving the Bible in O.J.'s house at the party, giving his former friend a wounded, I-wash-my-hands-of-you look. But what could have happened if, instead of merely giving O.J. the Bible, Kardashian had made a point of reading it with him during the long months he was in prison? O.J. might not have been a reader, but he might have grown up in an environment where Scripture still counted for something. One-on-one Bible readings with his friend Bobby could have worn down the Juice's defenses and allowed the truth to emerge. If the episode is to be believed on this point, that huge but wasted opportunity is one of the sadder aspects of the whole sorry saga.

Monday, 18 April 2016

The genius of "Columbo"

The best way to get through some overdue housework on a Saturday afternoon may well be to break it up with snatches of an old "Columbo" episode on television. I tried this last week and it worked a treat. The episode in question was "Lady in Waiting" from 1971. It's a slightly unhinged tale of a rich but repressed young spinster who kills off her controlling older brother in order to get a life, and who gets a life with knobs on within a week of the inquest ruling the death an accident (as she'd planned it). She acquires a Ferrari, a groovy new hairstyle, lots of even groovier clothes, she unilaterally annouces her engagement to her by-now thoroughly perplexed love interest and, sweetest of all, she assumes control of the family firm, vigorously wielding a figurative new broom (which fitted in with the housework theme). The young spinster is now rolling in money and an unstoppable force of nature - or is she? For of course Lt. Columbo, LAPD, has come onto the scene after the murder and, as we know, Columbo never fails to uncover the truth. His polite, respectful manner might make him seem like a pushover, his shabby appearance might suggest someone who is of no consequence, but we know better, and it's always fun to watch the cuplprit trying to fight off the steely reality of what he or she is up against. This particular episode had the usual technical delights of the series: long takes, solid camera work, not much background music, and the fresh, newly-hatched look of 70s colour technology. Like most of the others it also featured a swanky L.A. location and a muderer played by someone with excellent elocution. By focusing on wrong-doers from the upper strata of society, on people who've had every wordly advantage, "Columbo" strikes a quiet blow for the 'nurture' school of thought (that crimes arises from deprivation). The genius of the show is that it unobtrusively shines a light on the fallen state of our common nature. Or, as the prophet Jeremiah put it, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (17:9) Who indeed? In the world of light entertainment, however, it's reassuring that Columbo knows. Long may he continue to do so in afternoon reruns, preferably on a Saturday. Oh, and 'Just one more thing': the meek shall inherit the earth. "Columbo" knows that too.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Feminism eats itself

Once upon a time in the West, it was thought that protecting women and children was a jolly good idea and people were taught accordingly, especially men and boys. Now, not so much. In fact the reverse now holds true, as has been shown by online pornography, and is encapsulated by current controversies regarding mass migration and transgender toilet use. The toilet use issue is ridiculously small in scope compared to the ongoing misery caused by claims that Europe welcomes all comers from disadvantaged countries, but that is another matter. For the moment, let's just say that both have an impact on women and children. Where the 'bathroom bill' is concerned, the result is that for the sake of perhaps 0.3% of a given Western population we destroy the separation between men and women in public toilets, changing rooms etc. This is a good idea? No, it isn't. Single sex facilities are places of refuge in a mixed society and one of the prized assets that allows that mixed society to maintain itself. Trashing this separation is potentially as psychologically destabilising to women as allowing women in front line combat would be to men. It means putting the vast majority at risk for the sake of the rare and particular. It means everyone always having to watch their back instead of others 'having your back'. It's the end of implicit trust, or in other words, a form of social suicide. What about the huge, epoch-making problem of EU migration? In the recent Munk debate in Toronto, Mark Steyn was scorned  to laughter by his two opponents for focusing on the sexual crimes visited on women and children in Europe by alleged refugees. Steyn magisterially took down one of these opponents (Simon Schama), while being more restrained towards the other, the lawyer and former UN human rights commissioner Louise Arbour. Madame Arbour's jibe was the lesser of the two, so Steyn's focus on Schama was understandable as well as gallant, especially as he had very little time to object to their comments. But let's have a closer look at Arbour's comment, to wit: that Steyn, and fellow debater Nigel Farage, were 'newborn feminists'. That is, by implication that conservative men are only interested in crimes against women and children in order to score a political point. Furthermore that only feminists care about what happens to women (no mention of children). So men concerned about sex crimes against women and children are either pathologically obsessed with sex (said Schama) or frauds (said Arbour). Have we got that? Well maybe that's why, after 40+ years of feminism, no Western men seem to have been on hand to defend the women and children when these crimes occurred. Feminism has been so ideologically focused on rights, and bewitched by an ideal of 'equality', that practical morality has become vilified and women and children are left to bear the brunt of these two most recent PC goals (loos and large-scale migration), no objections allowed. Feminism has in effect eaten itself. In the clip from the Munk debate that I saw, Arbour also stated that in the last few decades feminism had gone about achieving its noble aims without harming anyone, all cosy and fluffy and non-discriminatory. I was reminded of Naomi Wolf in the 1990s claiming that feminism had been a 'bloodless revolution', apparently forgetting that the abortion practices feminism is built on are always, by definition, bloody. We could just as well think that meat and fish somehow get bloodlessly packaged for consumption. The problem with 'rights' as currently understood, is that they are human inventions, and therefore finite. One right must expand at the expense of another. Always. In a closed room you can sweep one corner clean but the dust has to be heaped in another corner. Feminism, by scorning the goodwill and the enlightened interest of men, has become as oppressive to women as its own notion of a malign old patriarchy.