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"We're shocked that an innocuous ad should have been withdrawn in this way.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.