Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

It's been a lovely Christmas. I think the older I get the more open I get once again to the idea of family and tradition, but the next generation is making a difference. Didn't get to see my nieces this Christmas, but seeing my Goddaughter was fantastic. This is her Dad Matt by the way - I think tired doesn't quite cover it!

Doctor Who, The Royle Family, Blackadder and more, it's been great, but I can't deny the wine's helped! Will the drunken Christmas parties ever end?

How was your Christmas?

Posted by ShoZu

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Irregular Comics Review - 20/12/08

Amazing Spider-Man 581
writer: Dan Slott
penciller: Mike McKone

Not quite as sharp as the last three issues, but given that the book's semi-weekly, this is impressive stuff. Slott's clearly dictating continuity for the book, which in part makes it less interesting (Waid and Stern had more freedom by playing much faster and looser with the 'Spidey brain trust's game plan), but he's got the most interesting handle on Harry Osborn in thirty years and his explanation for his 'resurrection' is pretty good. His Green Goblin father Norman Osborn's fingers are in every pie, and his influence will no doubt be felt here too as Dark Reign hits the Marvel Universe. McKone's art is merely workable compared with what he's capable of, but it's no less enjoyable for it. The book is far from challenging, but that's not in the nature of the property, and the way which Brand New Day has been used to restore its accessibility remains hugely impressive.

Invincible Iron Man 8
writer: Matt Fraction
artist: Salvador Larroca

Not the only book this week to have had a high point with Warren Ellis and to have found a truly great run now. Fraction is full of ideas, throws the book chock full of great character beats, and is aided by Larroca at the top of his game. Norman Osborn is in charge of H.A.M.M.E.R. and effectively the world, but remains a step behind Tony Stark, who has secreted the Superhuman Registration Database in his head. Now that's a great premise for Dark Reign - on the run from Norman Osborn who has thoroughly perverted the already uncomfortable conclusions of Civil War. I honestly haven't enjoyed this character (Larroca even dresses Tony well and believably) this much this consistently since the first Michelinie/Layton era - this team needs to stay for a very long time yet!

Thunderbolts 127
writer: Andy Diggle
penciller: Roberto DeLaTorre

Nowhere near as strong as last month's opening for the new creative team, but it's a good step forward into Norman Osborn's Dark Reign which is about to transform this title once again into something new. Diggle realises the strength of this team book and core members such as Songbird and Moonstone - it's mutability. While this month the writer mostly bided his time, we've seen new alliances formed, Venom again used to horrific effect and the next step of the Osborn/Songbird death match. Where that goes in the coming months will be interesting - we're far from the model of bad guys seeking redemption, we're somewhere much murkier and its unpredictability works well. DeLaTorre's storytelling was off on a number of occasions - Deodato he is not - but I hope he gets to reach his unquestionable potential on this book. Ellis should be proud of where his strongest mainstream superheroics effort since the Authority is leading.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why I Don't Feel Sympathy

I am quite astonished by the way in which shooters C12 and C2, who shot Jean Charles De Menezes are still being protected by the establishment, be that the BBC which writes uncritically of the police and the marksmen in particular, or former policemen, quick to close ranks:
I don't know the identity of all the firearms officers involved at the tragic scene of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, but I certainly know the identity of one. I am told that I would know the others, but that is enough for me. Of one thing I am certain: that to a man they are decent, right-thinking men who are devastated by the whole issue. Their torment continues with no end in sight.
And this is where the spin comes in. Noone has said that C12 or C2 aren't decent human beings at heart, that they haven't been crushed by their involvement in one of the darkest moments in the history of the Metropolitan Police. But that doesn't mean that their shooting of a fundamentally innocent man was lawful, nor that they shouldn't be punished for it. Decent people do bad things for a variety of reasons, which are sometimes are adequate defences, but shooting a man 7 times in the head with no warning and without reason isn't one of them. C12 said he shouted 'armed police' - 17 witnesses disagreed and so did the jury at the De Menezes inquest trial. C2 said he heard a surveillance officer on the bus De Menezes travelled to Stockwell tube station on, positively identifying him as failed suicide bomber Hussain Osman. The surveillance officer in question denied this in court. He also said he made the choice to open fire because he approached him in a threatening manner. The jury's response to the Coroner's questions implied they believed he lied too.

What we had was a gung ho team of Metropolitan Police shooters, trigger happy and nervy from arriving inexplicably late to stop the man being surveilled from entering the tube network. Where any truly right minded individual would expect a police officer, even under the pressure they were under the day after the failed suicide bombings, to behave in a cool, rational manner, reacting to evidence rather than presumption, they both went straight onto the train and blew Jean Charles De Menezes away for no reason. I feel no sympathy for them at all.
As for the officers involved, they are victims too, of crushing pressures. Were we asking too much of them? What will they do if a similar situation occurs again? Can we afford to dilute their resolve? They deserve and need our support as well our sympathy. Mark my words, if this pressured and scrutinised task becomes any harder, these volunteer officers may begin to fade away.
Sorry? How are they victims when they colluded in the smearing of an innocent man for three years? He didn't behave in a threatening manner, he wasn't acting suspiciously beforehand and looked nothing like Osman. He wasn't wearing clothes out of keeping with the season, nor did he leap the barriers at the station and resist arrest, all of which have been claimed by those involved. Can such behaviour be justified through 'crushing pressure'? What if it were your friend, your brother, your boyfriend, your husband? It might as well have been. The marksmen haven't been overscrutinised since the killing - quite the opposite. They are being held, at least in some quarters if not legal ones, to account for not doing their jobs adequately. Former Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick gave testimony that they even breached Operation Kratos (the Met's shoot-to-kill policy):

"The policy says that if the firearms officers have any doubt that the suspect is a suicide bomber, they should shout a warning and react to how the suspect responds," he said. "But if there is no doubt, then you can fire a critical shot without warning. The evidence is that they didn't shout a warning. Yet we have a surveillance officer saying he didn't get a proper look at Jean Charles when he left the flat and surveillance officers with varying degrees of certainty as to whether it was [terror suspect] Hussain Osman or not. There was ambiguity and no code word."

In other words, there was so much confusion that the officers should not have been sure. So they should have shouted a warning.
They didn't, which even under Operation Kratos, makes this an unlawful killing. But the inquest coroner Sir Michael Wright prevented the jury from issuing such a verdict. Although Roger Gray and other former and current police officers might wish otherwise, it does mean justice hasn't been done and far from feeling sympathy for C12 and C2, we should expect them (not alone, I'll grant) to face justice for their actions.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Irregular Comics Review - 11/12/08

Amazing Spider-Man 579
writer: Mark Waid
artist: Marcos Martin

Marcos Martin is fast becoming the finest Spider-artist of this generation, and coupled with Waid at his best - dramatic, yet light-hearted and with fantastic characterisation - this makes for equally as good a read as last issue's effort. The new supporting cast member's reappearance forces changes in the status quo for others, as this book finds its strongest voice since the 80's. Speaking of the 80's...

Amazing Spider-Man 580
writer: Roger Stern
artist: Lee Weeks

See? You can go home again. Roger Stern returns to his spiritual home (he left at issue 250) for some old school goodness. Freely referencing his 80's Marvel continuity (which is more than welcome) with the return of the Blank, Stern's voice for Peter Parker is every bit as enjoyable, traditional and accessible as it ever was. Weeks too does one of the best jobs of his career, cementing what appears to be a continuing collaboration on the book next year with Stern. It couldn't be more welcome.

Captain Britain and MI:13 5
writer: Paul Cornell
penciller: Pat Oliffe

I never thought I'd like Pat Oliffe's art, but it gets the tone of the book in one. The arrival of guest-star Blade is overshadowed by a wonderful character piece between Dane Whitman and Faiza Hussain, a female Muslim superhero on MI:13, making this a brilliant jumping on point for a book with massive potential. Cornell has a fantastic ear for dialogue, and is a hugely welcome addition to the Marvel stable.

Captain Britain and MI:13 6
writer: Paul Cornell
penciller: Leonard Kirk

Cornell feels like he's channelling Roger Stern's Dr Strange run here, bringing in villains from the Dark Dimension for some challenging fun for the new team. The sub-plot between Blade and vampiric Spitfire would be wonderful to see on television (and it's no surprising it should feel like that, considering Cornell's TV background), and although I don't enjoy Kirk's artwork as much as Oliffe's, it captures the characters well (just not the action).

Captain Britain and MI:13 7
writer: Paul Cornell
penciller: Leonard Kirk

Slightly odd pacing (the story as a whole feels like it belongs in an annual or something), but the magical threat by Plokta gives the still-new characters a real workout. If you could have everything you ever wanted, would you take it - particularly if you were someone like Pete Wisdom? Brian Braddock's impatience is nicely in character, and it looks as though everything falls completely apart at the end - Cornell does do cliffhangers well! Kirk's art is still effective, if let down by multiple inkers.

Captain Britain and MI:13 8
writer: Paul Cornell
penciller: Leonard Kirk

Still not sure about the art - musical inkers aren't helpful at the best of times - but the writing by Cornell is still strong. The ultimate betrayal at the end is quite surprising, as is the conundrum faced by Brian Braddock, and the TV-esque pacing is quite delightful. You don't need to know Excalibur/Captain Britain continuity to enjoy this title, which in this era makes this book a great read, just not yet the greatest. I'd have preferred the story to be finished by now, traditional as Cornell's overall approach is.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Irregular Comics Review - 29/11/08

Amazing Spider-Man 578
writer: Mark Waid
artist: Marcos Martin

This seriously is about as good as Spider-Man gets. I was as skeptical as anyone else when Brand New Day began, but it's bearing fruit. Mark Waid brings a lightness of touch and consistency to Peter Parker not seen since the time of Roger Stern, and Marcos Martin's Ditko-esque flourishes and distinctive style are a perfect fit with the character. I'm looking forward to seeing what's made of the new supporting character.

Captain America 44
writer: Ed Brubaker
penciller: Luke Ross

The title really suffers when Steve Epting isn't on art chores, and although Luke Ross is leaps and bounds a better artist than he was when on Spectacular Spider-Man in the 90s, he isn't a fully comfortable fit with master writer Brubaker. Brubaker's pulpy dialogue is as strong a narrative voice as ever, and his transformation of the title into a legacy book was a masterstroke, but the edge the book had during the Death of Captain America arcs isn't here. That said the mysterious UN cargo which Batroc is pursuing is intriguing, as is the conspiracy around it!

Invincible Iron Man 7
writer: Matt Fraction
artist: Salvador Larroca

I was dead set on enjoying a nice, long, espionage-based run by the Knaufs and Rob DeLaTorre, but it sadly wasn't to be. This however is a delight - Fraction proving himself quickly one of the freshest and most accessible new mainstream writers in decades, taking the new edge given to Tony Stark in the Civil War, whilst blissfully retaining the humanity and warmth the character enjoyed in the 80s. Sal Larroca's been looking for a perfect fit for some time - this is it. Using Spider-Man to tell a character piece about Tony Stark is a masterstroke. Great title.

Thunderbolts 126
writer: Andy Diggle
artist: Roberto DeLaTorre

Diggle and DeLaTorre in one episode make up for the loss of Ellis and Deodato, and even run with their open subplots. They both play to their dark, espionage-orientated strengths, pushing Norman Osborn's post-Secret Invasion status quo in an unnerving and quite believable direction. I'm looking forward to seeing if the breakup of the team causes the Dark Avengers to form, and if so what Norman is going to do with the Thunderbolts. Darkness works well in comics with those who know how to use it - these two do.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sarah Palin's Phone Goes Ringy

A perfect post-script to a general election which is hard to come down from!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ellen De Generes Attacks Proposition 8

Ellen De Generes of course is famously gay and married to her partner Portia de Rossi, and is directly affected by the passing (at least for now) of homophobic ballot Proposition 8 in California. It's unthinkable to me as well that anyone could vote for people's rights to be rescinded. Gay people getting married threatens noone and undermines nothing. I remain hopeful that the legal challenges against Prop 8 bring about a happy ending to this battle for civil rights and equality before the law.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Studs Terkel Dies

One of the big names I came across in my sociology degree when it came time for independent research was Studs Terkel. Very sad news that he's died. His own account of what he did best:
For his oral histories, Terkel interviewed his subjects on tape, then transcribed and sifted. "What first comes out of an interview are tons of ore; you have to get that gold dust in your hands," he wrote in his memoir. "Now, how does it become a necklace or a ring or a gold watch? You have to get the form; you have to mold the gold dust."

Exit Austin Drage

Silly silly Great British public. Sure he didn't look remotely comfortable in his disco night performance on the X-Factor last night, but with a smile like that and arms like that who really cares? Yum yum is what I say.

And to add insult to injury:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

John Barrowman: What About Us? (Video)

Übergay John 'Captain Jack' Barrowman's video for his new pop song "What About Us?", released 17th November:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

McCain Campaign Paranoia

They're liars. They say they only use unpaid, local volunteers for local campaigning in Florida. But the reporter finds the 'volunteers' she speaks to are all paid, often agency staff. No surprise when a campaign organiser starts getting heavy - very heavy. But hey this is what the McCain/Palin campaign is all about. Vote for them if you think this duplicitous and violent behaviour is what America needs.

Friday, October 24, 2008

17 Again

It's a Matthew Perry film so it should be awful. It's a Zac Efron film so it should be awful. But but but....look at it...

And most importantly look at Zac:

Ka-ching! (with thanks to Gay Spy)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Haider Was Gay

I'd known this for some time, so it wasn't a surprise to hear confirmation after his death that he was gay, it's just a strange way for the news to be made public:
The successor to the Austrian rightwing populist Jörg Haider, Stefan Petzner, has shocked the staunchly conservative country by revealing in a tearful interview that they shared a "special relationship".

Petzner, 27, who was confirmed yesterday as the leader of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZO) after Haider's death in a car crash two weeks ago, made the admission on Austrian radio, effectively confirming long-standing rumours that he and Haider were lovers.
It's always the paradox with the far right - that they can't help being what
they despise and rail against. And ironic too that Haider's wish that Petzner
should succeed him should be undone by this revelation:
Outraged by the interviews, the party felt compelled yesterday to dismiss its leader amid reports of his alleged role in Haider’s tragic death. Local papers said that, on the night of his accident, Haider and Mr Petzner had a row at a magazine launch party.

Bill Shatner vs George Takei

An amazing rant, really amazing. I love the Shat, but someone has to stop giving him Emmys until it can be proven that he's actually acting in Boston Legal. From the looks of this performance he really is Denny Crane!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman Dies

The great Paul Newman died today, succumbing to cancer. Very sad news, but not unexpected - news of his disease had been out for a short time. In his time he appeared in all-time-great films like 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', 'Cool Hand Luke', 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', 'The Sting', as well as its sequel decades later 'The Color of Money', for which he finally won an Oscar. Privately he was a major philanthropist:
All proceeds from Newman's Own salad dressings and snacks go to charity. Newman gave away $120m in 2005 and 2006, Fox News reported earlier this year.
He was also half of the most celebratedly long marriage in Hollywood, and is survived by Joanne Woodward, whom he married in 1958. I don't normally note the passing of actors, but Newman was a true role model on top of being an amazing looker and underrated actor, and will be rightly missed. In my mind his greatest role was in 'The Verdict', a clip of which is below:

May he rest in peace.

Hillary Voters Show Their True Colours

(via Towleroad)

We're all screwed.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Letterman Slams McCain

I thought this would be a nice segue from Matt Damon slating Sarah Palin.

John McCain's 'campaign suspension' (which might, just might be connected with opinion polls now showing Obama emerging ahead into a lead that's statistically relevant) had the side effect of cancelling an appearance on the Letterman Show. Dave didn't like it one bit. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Clay Aiken Comes Out

A story about as shocking as Will Young coming out in 2002, I know. But Clay Aiken has finally admitted to the world that he's a raving poofter. Simon Cowell's response?
"Wow. That's a shock. It's like being told Santa Claus isn't real," he told "Extra." "Unbelievable."

But he did offer some words of support for the singer: "Good for him. If he said it, it's the right thing for him. Good for him." Cowell added that he didn't think the singer's fans should be shocked by the revelation, saying, "I don't think anyone cares. Let's face it: It's 2008. You know. Who cares?"

He's right of course. The attention grabber though is that Clay, American Idol runner-up in 2003, has just become a father. May he and his son be blessed with success and happiness.

Monday, September 22, 2008

George Michael...on Crack!

This isn't a surprise but it's still disappointing. George Michael, he of the multiple drug busts whilst driving his car, and cottaging which he's since attributed to being down to depression at the death of his mother, has been busted yet again. Apparently this time it was in a notorious 'cottage' at Hampstead Heath, and he was in possession of cannabis and crack cocaine. Really sad news, but his constant protests of how happy he's been since his infamous 1998 'outing' always sounded too much, particularly in his music.

He's a great man, one of the finest pop singer song writers ever, but I really tire of this self-loathing. Some people can indeed handle their drugs, and even keep them in perspective; he clearly can't. I wonder how much better his music would become if he got clean, but remember an interview in the 'Big Issue' during the period of his masterpiece 'Older', where if I recall correctly he, like Paul McCartney before him, attributed much of his creative success to drugs. It remains a huge shame, and is quite revealing, that he's not released anything even approaching that quality since then.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Of Gay Judges and Pink Glass Ceilings

Excellent news!

Sir Terence Etherton, pictured, will be the first openly gay judge to be sworn in as Lord Justice of Appeal when his appointment is confirmed later this month.
It's a very important development for an area of civil society marked by both significant homophobia and an even greater expectation of homophobia. He's not notably the first gay judge, but the Court of Appeal has only 36 members, and is the second highest court in the land, making this quite important. As the article goes on to show, it puts him in line to become the first out gay law lord.

This was nice too
One of the most interesting things about him is that he was the first High Court judge to announce — in The Times in February 2006 — his entry into a civil partnership.
A real, non-self-hating progressive. We can only hope that our horribly unrepresentative criminal justice system will be influenced by an ever more diverse judiciary.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Matt Damon Slams Sarah Palin

If you are against the teaching of fake science on equal terms with real science, if you are against book banning, if you don't think that America's mission in Iraq is God-ordained, if you think that using executive power to resolve family battles is unacceptable, or that women should have no control over their bodies, then this is for you.

Oh yeh if you think Matt Damon's still super hot that helps too.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Russell Tovey - 11th Doctor?

In an interesting move, outgoing Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies has named Russell Tovey - Midshipman Frame (allons-y Alonso!) - as his preferred choice for Eleventh Doctor:

In e-mails serialised in The Times newspaper, Davies said Russell Tovey, who appeared in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys, would fit the role.

The creator, who leaves the show next year as lead writer and executive producer, said he thought Tovey was "going to be huge" and is "amazing".

I'll admit if I had my own way I'd get Hugh Laurie - British, older (but not that much older), has the comedic chops, and House has proven he can draw from a much darker (and odder) seam too. But he's just had a massive payrise, so I don't think that'll happen any time soon. Tovey though is interesting, not least because he's gay.

It's understood (but not confirmed) that David Tennant's not going anywhere yet - he has a Who feature film he appears to be negotiating, in addition to probably starring in Who series 5 - but it does make you wonder whether this has already been decided, and what Steven Moffat could do with him.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Time for Some Campaignin'!

Absolutely priceless American general election satire. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gay Champion Matthew Mitcham

Is unimaginably hot.

Matthew Mitcham, the 20 year old, out gay Australian diver, won a last-minute gold medal with a near-perfect dive. He came back from burnout and depression two years ago to compete in the Beijing Olympics - the only male, out gay competitor. In the 10m platform final, Matthew had been trailing China's Zhou Luxin, but defeated the Chinese hot favourite with his final dive, graduating from gay icon to gay hero in the process.

He's pretty funny, and sweet with his boyfriend Lachlan too. Noone should be allowed to be this cute.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ellen Marries Portia

I'm so pleased for them. California really had better reject Proposition 8 in November and let marriage equality stand. Only a really cold, soulless monster could look at this and find it threatening in any way. It's a real injustice that Australia still doesn't at least acknowledge foreign-held same-sex unions:
"Every time DeGeneres and de Rossi visit de Rossi's family in Australia, their rights, protections and status as a married couple will cease to exist," Mr Furness said.

"It is shameful that Portia de Rossi's solemn marriage vows are dishonoured in this way by the government of her home country."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Will Young at the V Festival 2008

A lovely little diversion for you. The divine Will Young, singing an acoustic version of his new single 'Changes' at this year's V Festival. It may be just my opinion, but I think the man is getting better and better. Not only is it one hell of a good song, but this is one hell of a delivery. Sam Sparro may be the new gay boy with the soulful voice on the block, but this is the standard he has to live up to.

'Changes' is released mid-September as a download and CD single. Don't miss it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bigfoot in the 21st Century

Oh I remember Bigfoot from my youth. I was born in the Pacific Northwest, so got caught up in monster frenzy of the 70's and got quite obsessed. I watched TV programmes, even got books about Bigfoot, not to mention all the other monsters like Nessie, the Yeti and others. Looking back as an adult it was just a bit of fun - the likelihood that there really are leftover dinosaurs or neanderthal men, who just happen to have a knack for getting into camera shots, but just not too closely is pretty slim after all. And yet...
Two men in the US state of Georgia say they have found the body of a Bigfoot, the legendary ape-like creature that has been subject of decades of hoaxes.

Great story, except the 'body' doesn't even look real, and wasn't brought to the press conference for independent verification, making the 'DNA evidence' impossible to corroborate. A rat can clearly be smelled, but hey, who says the days of childish wonder are dead?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Does Evolution Mean I'm Not Special?

"The Genius of Charles Darwin": 2
"I'm special. Made in the image of God, in the creative mind of God, creative as God is, who made me. That's the difference between the ape and me."
It's a great quote which Richard Dawkins teased out of Bonifes Adoyo, an evangelical minister in Kenya, when discussing the latter's apparent opposition to a museum displaying the oldest human skulls. But why oppose the display? Because it was to be done in acknowledgment of evolution. And that's where the 'special' comes in. I've had online arguments aplenty recently with similar evangelicals who are similarly convinced they're special because they believe it. Science and evolution however show the complete opposite - that it's staggeringly vain to believe we're special in any way. We're sophisticated, that's true, but that's because of Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection; we're a lucky twist of fate.
"There is no goal it (evolution) just happens."
A wonderful riposte once again by the famed, militant atheist. It must be hellish for a theist to think that there's no point to any of this. We do what we do, we arrange our common existence for the most part to our best mutual advantage for our best individual gain, and then we die. We are sophisticated though, and we can theorise, question, philosophise and judge. It's our constantly questioning nature that's the most difficult aspect of our humanity to live with, whilst being our greatest asset.

Dawkins also makes an excellent point about Nazism, ethnic cleansing and other forms of genocide, which many have attributed to Darwinism. It's abundantly clear that there's no connection at all. For man to determine what and who is weak is to completely misrepresent Darwinism - we have no idea what nature considers in the larger picture as 'weak'. That Hitler lost WWII and failed to pass his genes on illustrates an ironic outcome, but the decisions about who is 'strongest' and 'best' remain entirely arrogant human guesses. Evolution works through long-term processes, which can't be looked at forwards, only backwards. Surely mutual cooperation is the most Darwinist notion of all - it gives my genes the greatest chance of making it through to the next generation as much as my neighbour's, and we then leave it up to nature to find out what happens next. I'm gay, so I'm unlikely to evolve my genetic lineage, but that's not true of my sister, nor of my neighbour. And so the human race goes the way it's meant to - plan-free, but not result free.

Trust, sympathy, gratitude, altruism - what a wonderful thought that these nuanced, complicated emotions might have an evolutionary basis - that there's a natural advantage in having them. I notice that Dawkins doesn't tie the logic of that realisation into religion, nor accept that his militant atheism is most useful only as a caricature, rather than a fair and balanced perspective on spirituality and good feeling for one another. Just to argue that religion is about the worship of an imaginary deity is to miss the point surely, which many religious people haven't - that the religion is about mutual solidarity, protection and support (his 'selfish gene'), and bowing down to unicorns ultimately is a side issue, albeit a complicated one. I wouldn't presume to ask Gene Robinson if he believed in a literal God, but when I heard him speak he did use 'God' in a very general, non-personal way. I like to think from this episode that strategies like meditation, wishing good will to others, and being kind really are the pinnacles of our capacity as humans, partly because as a thinking and feeling being it just feels good to know this, but also because the goodness is borne out as a scientific necessity - it's good for all of us and we can't help doing it.

So it's 'survival of the fittest', but in our unique, human society, 'fit' is far more (blissfully) complicated than violent, strong, smart or aggressive. That our 'selfish gene' can give rise to altruism as necessity is delightfully life affirming. Dawkins' analysis that the 'selfish gene''s altruistic outcomes might arise from it's being "stuck" in its ancient mode of bringing about positive outcomes for the transmission of genes in small groups, whereas today we live in large ones where *no* favour will likely be repaid, is a challenge. It suggests, as he concludes, that we really are the first species to be able to take ourselves out of natural selection altogether. What the implications are of that suggestion might be, is no doubt yet to be uncovered, whilst we continue doing everything we can to prevent the horrors of nature impacting on the way our society operates.

Darwinism and religion aren't really that divorced from one another, what a result.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dark Knight: Too Violent?

Well I'm going to start out with my conclusion and work backwards. You can't question Dark Knight's violence without asking 'too violent for whom'? It may be true that some of the violence was excessive for a 12A rating in the UK - the scene where the Joker introduced himself to the mob was shocking to me as an adult, but even then the violence is in a very clear context. Camila Batmanghelidjh (surely too ironic a name to be real) disagrees:
Batman, as we know, tries to overcome evil. Sometimes he punches and fights, but his violence lacks the sadism of the Joker. The Joker takes delight in the torture of others. He violates because he has nothing to preserve; he's prepared to lose, and delights in the corruption of civil society. He's sarcastic about humanity. The tension lies in whether pain will eventually force otherwise good people, such as Batman, whose violence is in the service of good, to abandon decency and kindness.
You have to wonder whether she's even seen the film. The moral message which radiates from the film is that even in a state of anarchy and lawlessness, good wins. The third act scenes where the Joker tries to get two ferries of Gothamites to kill one another, shows prisoners less likely to kill innocent people than even the most rabid right winger. The Joker's shown quite conclusively not just to be morally wrong but a complete idiot. He thinks society will reflect his anarchistic, morally absent worldview if pushed just a little bit too far, but he's wrong. Bruce Wayne fights for that, Jim Gordon fights for that, and that Harvey Dent fails suggests more of a problem with our elected officials than our fellow citizens.
The day that I saw the film last week, another teenager was shot dead in south London. I have seen the Joker's sadistic, victimising smile – and his nihilism – in some of the young children I work with. It's always born of catastrophic familial abuse. The abused child watching this film will recognise the elation of the Joker at making the shift from victim to violator.
Wrong again. The Joker plays mindgames with the origin of his grin, hinting initially that it was caused by family abuse, but then contradicting that story many times. It would be an enormous shift from the book to make the Joker's madness (for that is what it is) a result of abuse, rather than being an inherent psychological disorder. That you can laugh at some of the scenes involving him is a reflection of black humour - what the Joker does is never funny and the laughter is a symptom of discomfort rather than fellow feeling. Batmanghelidjh is suggesting that The Dark Knight is some sort of abuser's charter and that's about as stupid as the Joker.
What worries me even more than the violence was the lack of human compassion surrounding it. Human life is presented as worthless. For me, the apathetic bystanders who facilitate violence are more disturbing than the Joker himself. His perversion, at least, has a sad logic to it. The indifference of the onlookers, though, is shocking.
Err this is even more stupid. The point of the Joker is that compassion is alien to him, as it doesn't sit with his worldview - it probably doesn't help either that he's insane. But no human compassion? Really? Batman throwing himself off his own roof to save the love of his life? Jim Gordon doing anything to protect his family? Bruce Wayne sacrificing his own happiness and chance of a future, to protect people he doesn't even know? He even sacrifices his alter ego's reputation in order to save Harvey Dent's so that people can still believe in the good of elected officials ahead of vigilantes like him.

I've seen articles about Batmanghelidjh before, and her work is quite remarkable. The levels of trust she's gained with inner city kids with no hope is inspirational, but this piece is deeply patronising. The point of a 12A rating for starters is to put the decision as to whether the film is suitable for younger people in the hands of adults. And secondly it presupposes that even damaged young people won't be able to read the messages in the film clearly, when all the evidence suggests that young people from all backgrounds are far more adept than people from her generation.
It's a metaphor of our time. The day that I saw the film last week, another teenager was shot dead in south London.
It isn't anything of the sort, and maybe it should be. Given that there's noone out there making any measurable difference to the lives of young people, who are murdering one another in ever greater numbers, maybe we do need a Batman, a Jim Gordon, even a Harvey Dent to cut through the crap. The root causes of teen violence has nothing to do with movies like The Dark Knight.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Myopia of Milibandmania

You've seen me writing recently on this blog about Gordon Brown's failings. Well Michael Portillo, writing about Brown's recent misfortunes, has hit the nail on the head multiple times. David Miliband, current British Foreign Secretary, last week embarked on an extraordinary media adventure, setting out what looked to all intents and purposes like an alternate Prime Ministerial manifesto. Miliband has for some time been touted as the true heir to Tony Blair, and with Brown's now numerous failings of substance and style, it seemed as though a leadership campaign was effectively started through this intervention.

Part of his argument makes sense. The electorate is turned off by exaggerations of success. Labour's success in combating poverty has been eclipsed by their embracing of corporate business and extreme wealth, which has caused the gap between rich and poor to accelerate to a size greater than ever before. They may have accelerated markets for parental and customer 'choice' in education and within the health sector, but ignore the realities on the ground which make them fail. Their foreign policy is still a mess and grossly unethical (Miliband take note), their asylum policy grossly xenophobic and homophobic, and the Home Office is doing everything in its power to restrict even the most basic civil liberties, when it should be tackling the true causes of crime. And back we go to the beginning of the paragraph.

Portillo says:
A year ago Miliband famously predicted that we would soon be yearning for Blair again. That is certainly not what most of the Labour party feel. They supported Brown for the leadership, expecting a move away from new Labour. Tired of Blair’s adulation of wealth and of the United States, they looked for a fresh commitment to social justice.
And he's quite right. Miliband isn't offering anything of the sort. He talks of 'belonging', of 'modernising', whilst ignoring the diviseness of the policies which he offers no respite from.
Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few. When debating public service reform, tax policies or constitutional changes, we apply those values to the latest challenges.
And yet New Labour does put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of the few; this is a complete lie. Poverty isn't being combated in any meaningful way, and it's far from the only 'value' being ignored. 'Protection' policies allow the perception of crime to be hyped up far higher than it actually is. We're so afraid of the paedophiles lurking around every corner or every mouse click, that we fail to see abuse where it's really occuring and become paranoid about the wrong people. Asylum seekers are blamed for their own persecution, as New Labour reformulates the world around us into something it isn't, as worker protection offered by the EU continues to be rejected by a government timidly kow-towing to the corporate world. David Miliband, despite what he might say, offers no 'change' from this. Portillo continues:
Last week Bob Marshall-Andrews, the veteran Labour rebel, called on Brown to fire the foreign secretary. He is absolutely right, although if Miliband survives the weekend it may already be too late.
He is indeed right. Miliband's intervention was a thinly-veiled attack on Gordon Brown's authority (admittedly what little there is left of it). A Miliband leadership challenge, if successful, would ignore what Portillo rightly points out is an important lesson of modern history. The Conservative Party and electorate as a whole would much rather now have had the chance to have had Margaret Thatcher voted out, rather than evicted. Her authority had similarly dipped, through similarly falling completely out of step with the country, had clung to power for the sake of it, rather than continuing to offer substantial change, and had tried to legitimise the arrogance which is now (in many quarters) her legacy. Yet in flip-flopping to Major to Blair now Brown, none of them ultimately satisfying anyone, the country was denied a clear picture of the social and political alternatives before it. Blair paints himself the heir to Thatcher, as Cameron does to him, but New Labour has turned out to be a shallow sham, with politics not having truly moved on from the Thatcher era.

Brown might well be an awful Prime Minister, timidly appeasing the right wing whilst merely tinkering with left wing policies, but the electorate is already irritated that he didn't even triumph in an leadership election - that even the Labour Party didn't even truly decide they wanted him rather than a true alternative to Blair. To impose a second Blair clone on Britain, a smug one at that, would indeed be a catastrophe for the party. Under Brown they'll fall, but at least have the opportunity to debate what really should come next, and live to fight another day. Under Miliband, who hasn't even the groundswell of support Blair did in 1997, they would lose all trust and spend another quarter century tearing themselves apart. For all his numerous failings, Tony Blair must be spitting blood.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Restrict Religious Groups?

I don't think so. Take a look at this:

Four out of 10 Muslim students in Britain support the introduction of sharia into UK law for Muslims, according to a YouGov poll. Almost a third of them said that killing in the name of religion was justified; 40% said they felt it was unacceptable for Muslim men and women to associate freely; and nearly a quarter do not think that men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah.

A quarter of Muslim students said they had little or no respect for homosexuals. As for whether British Muslim servicemen should be allowed to opt out of hostilities with Muslim countries, 57% said they should and a further 25% said they were not sure.

More than half of the Muslim students were in favour of an Islamic political party to support their views in parliament. A third don’t think or don’t know whether Islam is compatible with the western notion of democracy, and a third said they were in favour of a worldwide Islamic caliphate based on sharia.

Alarmed? From the words, you're clearly supposed to be. An Islamic political party? What a terrible thing. Next thing you know we'll have a Calvinist as Prime Minister...and a quarter of Muslim students with little or no respect for gay people? Why not try canvassing Christian students and see if you get an even bigger number! And speaking of Christians, Muslim servicemen should 'opt out' of hostilities with Muslim countries? Gosh you'll get civil registrars and policemen trying to opt out of their secular duties next.

What follows inescapably from this is that religious people and their views should not be officially recognised in groups. Religion should not be allowed a public space or public representation. This is hard for those of us who used to love the muddled Anglican compromise; it means the disestablishment of our national church – if it doesn’t self-destruct first.

The challenge of other, fiercer and more divisive convictions has forced the issue; multiculturalism has been subversive. There must be no more religious schools – personally I would leave those that exist alone. There must be no public recognition of religious associations as representatives of anything or anybody: not on campuses, not in student unions, not in government consultations or in parliament.

Absolute hogwash, and I say that as an atheist. Whilst I agree that Church and state should indeed be separated, this argument is tantamount to advocating that all MPs should be atheists, which is ridiculous. But for religion to have no public space at all would be insane. In a recent talk I watched by Bishop Gene Robinson, he and Sir Ian McKellen jointly argued that we can only progress together in society - that means atheist lobbyists working alongside gay bishops, that mean civil rights and religious rites side by side, but not one excluding the other. Only by making the civil and religious spheres distinct can we see the deficiencies in both and how each can aid the other.

Sure it's past time for the sake of fairness in society (for Muslims and non-Muslims alike) that disestablishment should take place, but to then say that religion should as a result wither on the vine would be ignorant. And to exclude religion from places of learning is downright inane. I agree that it should not be the means of learning (you're right, I think faith schools should be stopped - by which I mean Anglican and Catholic ones too), but not to allow its free expression by those best able to articulate it would be the most dangerous act of extremism of all.

Yet how can young Muslims fit into a liberal western democracy if they believe things that are intolerant, illegal and, in plain English, unBritish?

There's that fear thing again - the writer blaming Muslims for attitudes widely held by Christians. Want Islamophobia? That's how it's transmitted. Try attacking the levels of domestic violence and rape perpetrated by chuchgoing Christians. Try attacking the Christian Institute for trying to change the law to allow religious opt-outs such as Lillian Ladele's disgraceful example in Islington. And for that matter if we really don't like dictators maybe we should try to oust all of them rather than just the Islamic ones.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Homosexuality and Heinz

Dear old Heinz. First they run a humorous ad featuring a New York deli chef kissing another man, implying pretty strongly in the script that the chef is actually their mother and it's Heinz's Deli Mayo product that makes her appear this way.

Then when about 200 viewers complain because it was 'offensive', 'inappropriate' and 'unsuitable to be seen by children', Heinz pulls it, just like that. Considering that the ad wasn't allowed to be screened during children's scheduling because of the product's extreme unhealthiness, surely that 'unsuitability' argument should have been immediately discounted. And Zoe Williams is right - what makes this so inappropriate when Bounty (the kitchen roll) is still running a series of ads with men dressed as women. So transvestism isn't 'inappropriate' or 'unsuitable to be seen by children'? But the bigger question is why Heinz pulled it at all. Spokesman Nigel Dickie said:

"Heinz is a global company and we respect all universal rights. The advertisement was intended to be humorous, not designed to cause offence to anyone. Clearly it failed in its intent to amuse and that is why we took the decision to withdraw it."

Says who that it failed to amuse? 200 complaints is hardly groundbreaking, and why do you think it makes more sense to offend gay and gay friendly consumers by bending to homophobic pressure? Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill advocates a consumer boycott of Heinz (and I agree with him), saying:

"We're shocked that an innocuous ad should have been withdrawn in this way. I can't imagine that Heinz would respond to protests about black people featuring in their adverts."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Brown is Gutless and Hypocritical

Gordon Brown indeed witters on again and again about 'Britishness', as did Blair's first Home Secretary David Blunkett. He discusses new ideas about 'British' bank holidays, citizenship ceremonies, flag flying, all sorts of petty nationalistic ideas which might buy him some extra time with the electorate, yet when challenged by David Davis to fight a by-election on civil liberties and their 'strangulation' he bottles it again. Surely Davis is right, that these values are quintessentially British, and to fight for them is the most British quality of all.

He added: "Mr Brown likes to talk about Britishness - fundamental to Britishness is being free. He should come out and argue the case."

Why not? Unless of course Brown feels that being free means to have a surveillance society, ID cards and the hugest period of allowable time for detention without charge anywhere in the Western world...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Britain Moots Internet Regulation

It's hardly surprising from a government that thinks it knows best about everything and tries to control the electorate accordingly, but it's now mooting applying televisual standards to the internet. Excuse me? Is it not bad enough that the corporatisation of the internet is already introducing massive unwanted, unnecessary controls? Are the freedoms which the internet allows, and the likes of which have never previously been known, to be sacrificed for the sake of inhibiting truly dangerous content? Isn't that backward? Then again, this is the government that is so clued up on technology that they think ID cards are a good idea.

Except of course they have a point. The genuinely good on the internet would hardly be touched, if at all, and it would take a brave or foolish person to say that the continuing explosion of objectively dangerous and wrong internet pornography shouldn't be somehow stopped, but there's also huge swathes of grey area, which would likely be trampled by such regulation. The internet has the levelled the playing field for diversity more than any previous technology. We can understand the full spectrum of people's cultures, sexual behaviours, private lives, most personal and uninhibited thoughts. Of course this has opened the same door wide open to child abuse, fundamentalist violence, neo-Nazism and bullying. Should all those things be allowed to occur freely when we aren't remotely comfortable yet at mediating our relationship with this technology?

Of course not, but the absence of regulation also gives us the ability to question whether our national laws and national ideas are sound, by being able to see everything about the way everyone else does things. That in my mind is a freedom we mustn't even accidentally give up, driven by moral panic or not. So do require ISPs to block child porn - it's been a mystery to me why that hasn't been done for a decade or more; it's not like some places don't do it. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater - blocking Flickr in the Middle East has been a retrograde step, and forcing national filters on that site (which ostensibly doesn't harm anyone), for countries as close as Germany is completely wrong. For the rest we need better intelligence, better ISP, website and governmental intelligence, taking a close look at the individual cases which might cause damage to young people (for this is surely the point of regulation?) or others and deciding case-by-case what needs to be tackled and how. Big governmental decisions on this subject tend to lead to undesirable outcomes.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Apprentice (UK) 4:12 (Spoilers)

Aaaargh. I got it wrong. I really thought Alex was going to win. He fit the description from what Alan Sugar has gone for so precisely, I'd been pretty sure it was cut and dried. Lee it was though - the cheeky chappy who lied on his CV wins the day.

Hmmph. Ah well. I'd have been happier if Claire had won out of the two of them.

A Lack of Principle

It may have started before Tony Blair took office in 1997, but New Labour sure has made the disengagement of the electorate from their elected representatives almost an art form. Sleazy financing, friendships with war criminals, launching illegal wars, privatising almost everything that moves, and of course trashing civil liberties. Gordon Brown came to power saying he'd listen, and that his would be a new government. Don't you believe it, it's more of the same bilge. Without any change in circumstances since his predecessor tried to raise the potential period of detention without charge to 90 days, Brown is now trying to raise it from 28 (already too high) to 42 days. What's deplorable is that out of what used to be a left-wing party there were only 'rebels', and now even many of them are being successfully bought off, ostensibly to shore up Brown's crumbled authority and to recast him as a strong, decisive Prime Minister, even though he's anything but.

Mohammad Sarwar, Labour MP for Glasgow Govan, has also decided to back the government after he was given an undertaking that anyone locked up for as long as 42 days and then released without charge would receive compensation on a day-by-day basis.

I'm sorry but this is dreadful. The very basis of doing this is wrong, as former Prime Minister Sir John Major quite rightly pointed out. But it also shows no understanding of why it's wrong. Financial compensation couldn't hope to repair the damage of the destruction of someone's life without definite proof. And it's naive beyond words to think that these powers wouldn't be used abusively - even local councils now regularly abuse the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). And they're all like this - principle used to be the guide at least to most of the Labour Party, but no longer. They're more interested in voting tactically to shore the worst Prime Minister in generations up in the futile hope they'll keep their jobs in 2010. It's no wonder people aren't voting in general elections anymore

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jesus Christ, It's Iris Robinson!

As many of you already know, Democratic Unionist MP and MLP Iris Robinson, wife of Northern Ireland's new First Minister Peter Robinson, is a died-in-the-wool, fire-and-brimstone 'born again' Christian. Well when on a phone-in radio programme last week, she was asked for her response to the news that a gay man had been viciously beaten up and left for dead. She admittedly condemned the violence, but then qualified it by saying gay people were an 'abomination', who could always seek therapy with her pet psychiatrist, because he's good at turning gay people straight! You thought crap like this left with the Paisleys? Not a bit of it. I have a considered response here, but I wanted a freer word here too.

The woman is mad, bonkers mad. When challenged on TV she followed up her earlier slurs by likening us to murderers, and then complained about a 'witchhunt' against Christians speaking out! Of course she defended that by saying 'it's not me, it's God's word, and you can't disagree with Him'. How convenient - wanton bigotry by someone in a position of power, and an argument that can't be contradicted. Her husband needs to fire her as Chair of Stormont's health committee - that if nothing else is an abomination. This is not what someone in a position of a responsibility, in a devolved government statutorily committed to equality can be allowed to bleat about. Why? Because it's bonkers, does anyone really need that explaining?

Shut up, Iris (or at least laugh at your own madness in likening gay people to murderers in front of a TV camera again - that was priceless)! If only theists knew how hilarious their rants really were.

Leave Fern Britton Alone

I don't feel quite as strongly about this, as a famous individual did about Britney, but it's still wrong that Fern Britton should feel the need to take a break from This Morning because of nervous exhaustion. As I said in my last post her body isn't the property of the public and it's certainly not the property of TV executives:

Television executives have given Britton some time off, although they are
said to be privately angry that she was not open about the operation at an
earlier stage.

It's not a programme I watch, but I hope she's back soon and doesn't feel the need to address this non-issue continually. Fern you're fabulous and always have been. Her detractors need to get some perspective - this is an unhealthy public row to have, clearly particularly for Fern.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I Heart Fern Britton

I've loved Fern Britton as a TV presenter since I was a kid. At a time when all TV presenters (and certainly news presenters) were boring and old, she made a splash on 80's BBC-training-ground 'Spotlight South West' (followed soon after by Jill Dando) and it didn't take long for BBC London to notice her. In those days she was glamorous and thin, and her popularity was full deserved. Her personality shone through in the age of Kenneth Kendall, a permanently frowny Jan Leeming and Richard Baker.

Her run as co-presenter on ITV's 'This Morning' with Phillip Schofield unexpectedly eclipsed that of her predecessor Judy Finnigan, except this time she was significantly overweight. The suspicion was that she had become a national treasure in part because of her weight, which became borne out when she recently went for her dramatic weight loss. She didn't initially reveal that she'd had gastric banding surgery and much of the tabloid press decided she'd been dishonest in some manner with her audience. Excuse me, how exactly is it her audience's business, even if she'd only told part of the story? I think Fern is as fabulous now as she was when I was then, and Lowri Turner is dead right - her appearance is her business. If she wasn't being truthful about being happy being fat, it indeed shows just how difficult her body image as a TV presenter has been for her. And how she went about her weight loss is also irrelevant - might I remind the tabloid scum that her Rivita commercials were supposed to be ironic in the first place?

What's alarming remains the suggestion that part of her popularity came from her size, that being fat and seemingly happy with it made her the safe repository for a huge proportion of her audience's insecurities, and that going thin was thus some sort of betrayal. Barbara Ellen is right here - her popularity really should only be down to her disproportionate skill as a TV presenter. I wonder if Dawn French would suddenly get it in the neck if she revealed she hated her weight and actually did something about it. What a damning indictment that would be on us. The lesson of this storm in a teacup is that yes, it is ok to be fat, yes it's ok to be slim, and that judging people for their bodies whatever their size couldn't be more out of order. And good for Fern for sticking up for herself (below).

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Virgin Attacks Internet Users

The corporate world is going for a nuclear strike against internet freedom, with Virgin Media (formerly NTHell) agreeing to ban illegal downloads. They will warn their users they could be prosecuted, and will institute a 'three strikes and you're out' policy, disconnecting repeat offenders. Filesharing is one thing and using the internet for clearly illegal purposes is another (why is this being discussed for music instead of pornography - oh yes this is all about money not about the principle), but this isn't theft. Whilst I stopped going anywhere near filesharing some time ago, preferring iTunes for its ease of use, relative value for money, and to support the Apple brand, I'm also aware that musicians make no money at all out of downloads, and almost nothing worth talking about from music sales full stop. So it's a complete con when Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive of the BPI says:

"Virgin Media is the first ISP to publicly address the problem. It is a socially responsible ISP and I think other ISPs will look at this and see progress. I am very encouraged they have engaged with us. They understand the rights of musicians," he said.

It's got nothing at all to do with musicians' rights. If it were a rights question there would be an attempt to generally police the internet by the ISP for all sorts of activity. Why not police porn for women's rights and children's rights, or movies for actors' rights or far right websites to protect gay and ethnic minority rights? Oh right because it's not about that, it's about a cheap and nasty money grab, and we'll just blame the users yet again rather than the technology which makes it possible. Of course the BPI could adapt its entire structure to be able to deal with the new technology, but is instead chooses to languish in the past and blame its own future customers for bypassing traditional delivery systems.

It's insidious, and the BPI should concentrate on producing more music which people actually want to buy. NTHell Virgin customers should leave now if they have any sense. The company isn't liable, and allowing interference like this in how it operates is an outrage.

The Business minister, Shriti Vadera, said: "This is a very welcome first step ... to educate consumers about unlawful file sharing, which damages our vibrant economy."

It does nothing of the sort. How stupid she is, but what do you expect from an investment banker who doubles as a politician?

Friday, June 06, 2008

John McCain is a Liar

Which shouldn't shock anyone. After all this is the man who on gay rights is far further to the right than even George W Bush, who wants in all but name to walk away from the UN and fight on for another 100 years in Iraq! But the worst Republican candidate ever has also decided not to support environmental legislation, just when on the campaign trail he says he does.

Who is advising this man? There's getting off on a maverick reputation, and there's just plain stupidity. Why did he go on the 'Ellen' show? Why did he try such a petty speech on Obama's victory night and not have any idea how to deliver it? He is a failure in every conceivable regard, and if he loses in November (remember the incumbent was also a failure before being appointed elected) I wonder if this will become important:

Other influential backers of the Senate climate change bill include 13 leading US energy companies and California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Photography is not a Crime

Not a single terrorist has ever photographed their intended targets. This whole nonsense which the police in this country wilfully propagates is just that - a nonsense. Their reasons are more difficult to determine, if you assume there's much going on other than stupidity. But Bruce Schneier thinks much of the reason why it's taken hold so successfully is because it mirrors plotlines we see in the cinema. I wonder. It would take postmodernity beyond itself into almost living irony.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

This Country is NUTS

Maybe one of you can explain this to me. A man wearing an Optimus Prime t-shirt was prevented from boarding a flight because the Transformers cartoon character was holding a gun. Said BAA (one of the most disreputable companies in the United Kingdom):

"If a T-shirt had a rude word or a bomb on it, for example, a passenger may be
asked to remove it," he said.
"We are investigating what happened to see if it came under this category.
"If it's offensive, we don't want other passengers upset."

I simply don't see how passengers could possibly get upset by a cartoon character, but we are entering the stage where the thought police are now trying to ban drawings of things they don't like rather than just photos. Maybe this is part of the first salvo. I'm truly dumbfounded.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another Bewildering Murder

Kids are killing each other in London, and it's getting to be a habit. They're shooting each other and using knives, and noone seems to be immune. And the more senseless they get, the more upset I'm feeling in response to them.

Over the weekend Robert Knox was killed. He was only 18, and had just finished shooting the new Harry Potter movie. By all accounts he was intelligent, talented and well brought up - a peacemaker. In Brown's Britain that's not in vogue, and he was stabbed to death whilst trying to protect his brother who'd been targeted in a vendetta over something as trivial as a mobile phone. Unimaginable. As a society we clearly failed Rob, we must also have failed his murderer for him to think that killing was an idea even worth having.

Is the solution to introduce harsher penalties for gun and knife possession? Maybe, I honestly don't know. There just seem to be more and more losses, and everyone seems powerless to stop them. My heart goes out to the family.

"To my big bro. As much as I used to piss you off and call you names, ask for lifts everywhere, I loved you so much and I know you didn't know it. I looked up to you so much ... I thought you were invincible."

That just made me cry.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Enough Eurovision Nonsense

This isn't so much of a new complaint as a final one. Terry Wogan is right - it's time to leave, at least for the UK. The nature of the Eurovision Song Contest has always been in flux I guess, but it's now evolved (devolved?) to be largely about voting patterns of migrant workers, and scoring regional (and by regional I mean eastern and south-eastern European) points off one another, regardless of the merits of the music. Andy Abraham is actually an extremely good singer, and you could quite easily argue that he was competing in the wrong competition last night (I think that's true), but his last-place finish was a joke. The voting for Russia was strategic (Terry kept remarking on the oil, and who's to say he was wrong?), the regional Balkan and Scandinavian voting didn't take the music into account at all,but at the end of the day despite the hideous mutual appreciation societies (Germany & Turkey anyone?), it was clear these audiences no longer listen to our stuff. We're part of a mainstream in the UK, Australasia, German and Japan, whose audiences either can't watch this show or don't vote for it. Ergo there's no further point in competing.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gay President Delanoë?

It's a great thought about the mainstreaming of diversity, isn't it? Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë has signalled he's likely to run for the leadership of the French Socialist Party at the end of the year - if he were to win, putting him on a collision course with the hugely unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy at the next presidential election in 2012. This would be routine but for one important factor: Delanoë is gay. It's not unknown for the leaders of major cities to be gay - Klaus Wowereit in Berlin and Mayor-elect Sam Adams in Portland, Oregon are current notable fellows, but none has so far made an attempt to make the transition to the national stage.

So far Delanoë has travelled on the same path which took Boris Johnson to the top in London - that in this day and age, if you offer a certain level of professionalism, straightforwardness and accountability voters are indifferent to your background. There are hints in the UK that that trend will successfully convert to national politics, but despite currently favourable opinion polls, it remains to be seen if the same is true in France. We can but hope - Royal ran a spectacularly unfocused campaign last year against a man widely known to be a monster (who proved to be as well). France needs more competent and likable alternatives.

Gordon Clearly Doesn't Get It

Gordon Brown brings the Labour government closer to inevitable defeat, almost by the day.

Harriet Harman, the Labour deputy leader, acknowledged there were "discordant voices" in the party but insisted: "The overwhelming majority of people in the Labour Party – and I speak to constituency chairs up and down the country in my capacity as deputy leader – are solidly behind Gordon Brown and what he stands for, which is a strong economy and fair society. He is the man with the experience to make sure that happens."

No, he isn't. He himself contributed to the current credit crunch by building an economy on the basis of cheap credit; he encouraged us to spend irresponsibly for a decade. That was always an artifice ready to collapse at a moment's notice under the right conditions, and they're now here. Even now he and his idiot counterpart in America are trying to get us to spend, and to get the banks to revert to form, but noone's having it. And I'd love someone to tell me where this fair society is. Under his and Blair's watch, British society has become more unequal than at any time in history. It's true that poverty has been tackled, but the top end has raced away disproportionately. And this whilst Blair and Brown have wantonly ran away from civil liberties as if they didn't matter. They do, and everyone knows it. From ID cards to 42 days, to the police abusing legitimate protest and the Border Service abusing asylum seekers, this country under Brown couldn't be more unfair.

This is not at its core about high fuel prices, high energy prices or high food prices. This is about an electorate so convinced the government isn't listening that it's even prepared to look at the party which didn't listen in the past. It's a real tragedy - I remember watching Brown on 'Question Time' before Blair snatched the top job from under his nose and he was all about progressive politics. But he's so wedded to New Labour triangulation that he's unable to see that the electorate aren't just trapped between two unpalatable choices, but they're so fed with him being the one to listen least, that they're leaving him and not coming back.

The other week he tried to buy off the electorate from the 10p tax debacle, but it made no difference to his popularity. What the electorate wants is honesty and backbone. He needs to do something, not just play for short term gain, but he's like a rabbit in headlights. Even just a commitment to walking away from ID cards would make a difference, but I bet he doesn't.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Liberty vs City Police

Epic Nose Guy, the teenage Anonymous protester stopped by the City of London Police at the most recent anti-'Church' of Scientology demonstration, was told today that he won't in fact face prosecution after all. His bravery, and the conduct of the Anonymous protesters in his support, has been an example for us all. And I find it delightful that Liberty isn't letting it lie - the behaviour of the City Police was incompetent and thuggish at best, corrupt at worst, and Liberty is going to investigate what really happened.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Better Transport? Maybe...

It's interesting at a time when Gordon Brown is so weak that new, environmentally friendly transportation policies are being pushed so hard. Given this government's failings on the environment and in transport, we can only hope that they listen in the time they have left.

On the one hand we have a cable car being recommended by the Stockholm Environment Institute, University College London and the University of Wuppertal, in place of the much-derided and unwanted Thamesmead Bridge. It's a novel and worthy idea, getting neatly around the 'if you build it they will come' maxim. But of course the drawback is an existing need for some road link between the Blackwall and Dartford tunnels. Would this cut the demand for road users crossing the Thames?

The Sustainable Development Commission, chaired by Sir Jonathon Porritt, said there were big question marks over the environmental and economic arguments underpinning the proposals for British airport expansion.

Yet the government and the disgraceful BAA have already dismissed its findings; hardly surprising considering the report questions the entire economic and environmental rationale for a third runway. Is the solution to this though to get the aviation industry to 'pay its part in meeting environmental costs'? I don't think so.

The Apprentice (UK) 4:9

On the male side of the UK's fourth series of 'The Apprentice', there are: Lee, Michael, Alex and Raef.

I'm going to go out on a limb and call series 4 for a woman. Just a hunch...

On a happier side Margaret is as awesome as ever, and if Nick Hewer purses his lips and breathes through his teeth any sharper, the front of his face might fall right off...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Russell T Davies Exits Doctor Who

It's been rumoured for some time, but Russell T Davies has now formally announced his departure as executive producer and lead writer of Doctor Who. Whilst many may be disappointed at the loss of the man who returned 'New Who' to our screens in 2005, I'd like to point out that his replacement in both roles is (again as rumoured) Steven Moffat. I couldn't be happier. Whilst RTD has been guilty of some shockingly poor writing ('Last of the Time Lords' anyone?) and some pretty weak story bibling ('Bad Wolf' anyone?), Moffat has won awards for 'The Empty Child', 'The Girl in the Fireplace' and the remarkable 'Blink'. He's also cut his teeth in charge of a series with the unexpectedly good 'Jekyll'.

It remains to be seen whether or not Davies will tie the elements of his four series together before his departure, to leave a new (or old) status quo for his successor. There are hints already that the 'Bad Wolf' meme will be revisited and tied up, and that even the part-closed subplots may be heading for a complete resolution. The length of time it's taken proves just how much RTD has borrowed from Chris Claremont and Joss Whedon. I can't wait not just to see what Moffat brings, but who his Doctor will be.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Stem Cells are the Future!

The House of Commons has just voted down a cross-party attempt, led by arch Conservative Edward Leigh, to ban the use of hybrid human-animal embryos. Good. The Bush administration may have been highly successful in its anti-science polemic, but I'll be damned if it gets exported here.

Mr Leigh (Gainsborough) said the use of "admixed" embryos, using genetic material from both humans and animals, would cross an "entirely new ethical boundary," and turn the UK into a scientific "rogue state".

For those who don't know, Edward Leigh is the rabidly anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-contraception Tory former minister, famous for being sacked because of his opposition to the Maastricht Treaty (so anti-Europe too). And he's failed at blocking stem cell research, failed at blocking 'saviour siblings', in addition to his legion of other failures at codifying bigotry and backwardness in law. I'm tempted to start on Ruth Kelly too, but maybe that's just too easy...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The World of Work is Secular

In yet another case study of the resurgence of religion, and the way in which the state's pandering to it post-9/11 has caused upswings of bigotry instead of the opposite, read the case of Lilian Ladele. She's a civil registrar in Islington, north London, who is suing for the right to discriminate; yes, she's suing because she believes her religion has been legislated into enough of a position of privilege that she can get away with not marrying gay couples in civil partnerships. As Janine at Stroppyblog quite rightly points out, it's not clear whether or not gay couples in Islington can refuse to get married by her!

Of course the only correct outcome is to say 'do your (secular) job or get fired', and it's shocking to think that we are back in an age where people feel they can get away with opting out of aspects of their job which don't sit well with their religious beliefs. But Ladele's employer is covered by the Civil Partnership Act and the Sexual Orientation Regulations, neither of which ended up with civil opt-outs.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations have been criticised by some religious groups who say people will not be allowed to act according to faith.

Yes, I remember - I was there with my camera when the religious challenge to the secular law crashed and burned, but it wasn't without a tremendous fight, both inside and outside Parliament. But they did fail, and Ladele isn't being discriminated against - she's suing for the right to be a bigot. She says she can't go against what it says in the Bible, but a) it doesn't say she's not allowed to conduct gay weddings and b) it's that inconsistent argument again, isn't it? Bet she wears mixed fibres.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gay Hip Hop?

Are some famous 'singers' and industry luminaries in the most homophobic area of popular culture about to come out? It seems ludicrous doesn't it, given the level of hatred built into the most commonly promoted form of hip hop, but Terrance Dean, a former executive at MTV is about to publish a book about the thriving, largely underground gay hip hop subculture, now he's come out.

There are signs that things are changing. Several leading rap artists, including top seller Kanye West, have admitted that homophobia is rampant in the industry and they have spoken out against it.

Dean, however, hopes that hip hop will soon put its homophobia behind it. He says the music changed dramatically from hip hop's roots in nightclubs and parties to a celebration of urban violence and gang life as 'gangsta rap' became the norm. Homophobia grew up alongside that musical shift as most successful artists used songs that idolised guns, drugs and crime. 'We need to get hip hop back to those party roots and away from the gangsta rap culture,' he said.

I really wish that were true, except there seems to be such a vested interest in promoting and maintaining this 'gangsta' culture, with all its components (like violent homophobia) that I can't honestly see that changing any time soon. For the life of me I don't understand why that culture isn't changed, but it would have to either change by government pressure - which wouldn't work - or would have to come from the ground up, and it's only gay campaigners who are doing that so far.