He's no longer the freaking Pope
So the Pope has retired, which seems perfectly reasonable, if somewhat unexpected. Hopefully it'll encourage future popes to do so before becoming ill.
I am not a fan of the Catholic church as an institution. It has done real harm, both in the cover up of abuse of minors, and in their work against contraceptives leading to higher rates of HIV and AIDs. These are real serious harms that are done by it, not to mention the institutions opinion of women and homosexuals.
So can't we focus on just that? Do we really get anywhere by calling Ratzinger a Nazi, when a quick examination of what actually occurs implies quite the opposite. On child abuse and Ratzinger's complicity.. well I don't think its as cut and dried as some people argue. It seems like he may have taken some action to stamp out such abuse, but this actions may not have gone far enough. Its not easy to know, as the Catholic church is hardly known for its transparency, but I think its a leap from that to calling him a paedophile, as some insist on doing.
The left does this all the time. Blair is a Nazi, a fascist, a war criminal. I don't really care how much truth there is in such statements, but I can guarantee that people aren't going to listen to you if you make them.
Lets generally suppose that every position that those on the left wing take is correct. Well if thats the case, we should do our best to make sure everyone accepts these positions too. Now we could do that by force, which historically hasn't gone brilliantly, or we could try to change people's minds.
Changing minds is difficult. It doesn't happen over night, and its very hard to do in the sphere of politics. We don't want to be tricked into a position, we want our "team" to be correct. Ideally, our team should be the truth. Even if we think Blair is a war criminal, it might behove us to make the argument, carefully and articulately, that he has participated in a series of actions that lead us to believe that he can be called a war criminal, rather than just loudly chanting it at people.
Its too easy to dismiss the other side as unthinking and arrogant, especially if all we do is chant slogans at each other. The truth isn't always in the middle, but its unlikely to be exactly where we are either. Conversations are good, where we exchange ideas and thoughts, make arguments, try to see the argument others are making and see if they make sense. Every time we say that the Pope is a Nazi, that Bush is a moron, that Palin is insane, we shut off conversation because the people we are talking to no longer want to listen.
Freedom of Speech and Burchill's article
About a decade ago Stewart Lee along with Richard Thomas created a fantastic and very funny musical called Jerry Springer the Opera. It was a bit hit, and after some negotiation appeared on BBC television. Unfortunately at this point a moron by the name of Stephen Green (who was later accused of spousal abuse), leader of an obscure religious organisation named Christian Voice organised a massive number of complaints to the BBC for broadcasting it, on the grounds that it was blasphemous. It does indeed involve Jesus and God, but in a prolonged dream sequence which is clearly poking fun at Jerry Springer and not God. But one would need to have watched the production to realise this.
The organisation picketed various productions of the show as it went on tour, which is where the producers expected to make money, and then took it to court for blasphemy. Said law is no longer present in the law books, pretty much directly because of this case.
Thanks to their efforts, many of those involved in the production made nothing out of it, including Stewart Lee (read his fascinating biography/insight into show book "How I Escaped my Certain Fate" for more details).
So why do I recount this tale? Well as you may well be aware, Julie Burchill was recently published in the Observer for a comment piece (which can be found at the Telegraph, having been rehosted by the almost entirely odious Toby Young) which included some extremely prejudicial language against transgender individuals. [Brief aside, I think that the transgender community is somewhat split on quite the appropriate terminology to refer to its members. I choose transgender which I believe is fairly inclusive, but apologies to those offended. Unlike miss Burchill, I am willing to mend my ways if my language is inadvertently offencive].
The content of said comment was on the behaviour of certain transgendered individuals towards Suzanne Moore, who had equally made some rather ill judged comments earlier, and then compounded her problems rather than just apologising. Its entirely possible, I haven't checked, that there were some extremely abusive messages sent her way: I would not be surprised, twitter and the internet in general can be a brutal place. The actual content of Burchill's piece was not without merit, even if ultimately incorrect.
Unfortunately, as mentioned, Burchill chose to coat her article full of nasty invective of an extremely regressive nature. Reading it I was genuinely shocked by the content, more so perhaps than even Jan Moir's snide remarks about Stephen Gately's death, perhaps because of the location of the publication.
I am absolutely certain that had these remarks been addressed at women, or at people of a particular ethnic group, there is absolutely no way this piece would have been published in the first place. At the very least, the editor would have requested a strong rewrite of the piece to make it fit to appear in the Observer, a paper which at least gives the impression of being right on. I, and a considerable number of people of a similar opinion, made our voices heard to the Observer in particular, and some (including myself) to the PCC.
The Observer, after a nearly unanimous comments thread, chose to withdraw the piece. A few hours later Toby Young decided to rehost it (and good god are there a lot of articles at the Telegraph about this issue, you'd think they have nothing better to do).
So why am I writing all this anyway, and what has this got to do with the start of this piece? Well as these events unfolded, there started to be a backlash on twitter, particularly from journalists. Journalists do not like to see their fellow members turned upon, and they began to make this a freedom of speech issue.
My response to this was thus: the Observer made a choice to publish this piece. They are not obliged to, and that is not the meaning of freedom of speech. After all, I have no doubt they have hundreds of comment articles of similar levels of hate submitted to them, and choose not to publish them. They made a deliberate editorial choice, and thus imply that this article is something that they believe is of interest to their readers, and is to a standard of other comment pieces published in their paper.
I disagree that said piece is to that standard, and chose to tell the Observer as such and that they had disappointed me by posting such language. I do not believe in banning such language, but would protest a particular publication, especially one I hold in a reasonable amount of esteem, choosing to publish an article containing it.
I do think that if said individuals want to find an outlet to publish such nasty language, they shouldn't be stopped from doing so, but its perfectly within my rights to suggest that nobody reads said article.
So here's my problem... isn't this what Christian Voice did? Ignoring the whole blasphemy nonsense, they protested outside theatres, thus making many not want to take on the show; a similar strategy has led to many American cinemas not carrying particular R rated films in the past to avoid controversy. If I, and others like me, protest enough, then very few outlets will publish this Burchill article. And that's good for me because I don't like the Burchill article, but bad for me if people get set against something I do
The protests against Jerry Springer the Opera ended its show life, perhaps prematurely, just as puritanical concerns against sexual content in GTA III San Andreas meant that few publishers have tried anything so bold again.
I want to live in a society which avoids that kind of concern, but also want to avoid hateful stuff like Burchill being published. Can I avoid both? Probably not, and that's why I do tend to argue in favour of freedom of speech. That said, I would argue that my actions are different because of specificity. I was calling for one particular publication not to publish this article, not all of them, and don't have a particular problem with the Telegraph choosing to rehost it, even if I think it is typically tedious.
So, on one final point, was I right to complain to the PCC? Its certainly true that the Observer has agreed to not publish discriminatory language, and they did so, so they have definitely breached the PCC guidelines (by my reading). But should those (enforceable) guidelines be there in the first place? Aren't they antithetical to a free press? Maybe so. One major issue with free speech as the only priority, and something which I believe Leveson needs to address most of all, is power imbalance between the media and individuals. National newspapers operate with a great deal of power that individuals do not, and when they choose to use language to slur a minority, especially one with such a small population, it is difficult for said minority to find redress. The kind of popular campaigning they did here is one way, which appears to have worked, but the PCC provides a formalised way of protecting minorities when such methods do not. Is that a good idea or not? I'm really not sure.
I do want to hold to the principle of free speech, because I believe it massively important, but I don't know what costs that brings. I'd love to hear your thoughts about all this though.
Finally got round to watching the Hobbit, so here are my impressions. The Hobbit is a good Lord of the Rings film, but a bad adaption of the Hobbit. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A film does not need to be faithful to its source material to be good, as the excellent Children of Men demonstrates. What is does mean is that people going into film expecting the colourful and simple Hobbit, a story purely about Bilbo Baggins, are going to be a bit disappointed that there is so much time spent on things that aren't about Bilbo.
It also means that the film struggles a bit. Certain set pieces clearly come straight from a children's book, modifications aside, which makes the boring discussions with Elrond Galadriel and Saruman all the more tedious. Its a film trying to be two things at once, and it doesn't quite succeed at that. I do think the film could easily have been half an hour or even an hour shorter and we wouldn't have noticed.
There is a lot of fun to be had though. Martin Freeman is well cast, and gives a likable performance that even manages to be a little different to his usual one. His encounter with Gollum is predictably terrific, and probably the best bit in the film. The fight scenes are fun and fine, and the Goblin King is really hilarious. The dwarves, despite there being loads of them, work well and you do end up caring about their collective fates, if not necessarily the individuals.
When you get down to it, if you loved the Lord of the Rings so much that the extended versions made you squee with glee, then you'll love this film. If you liked the Lord of the Rings films, you'll enjoy this film, and if you hated them, then the Hobbit is definitely not worth your time.
The BBC and newsnight
Following the news these past few weeks, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the BBC's main and only responsibility was to broadcast newsnight. After all, there has been much hounding of recent and less recents DGs for their lack of knowledge in newsnight's particular investigations.
Should the DG be aware of newsnight's particular investigations? Is the DG's job really to micro manage to such an extent, or is it to appoint responsible people who will, if necessary, report up to him? Now, of course, an argument could be made that perhaps the most recent newsnight investigation should
have been fed to the DG. Perhaps it should.
But Entwhistle had been in the job for less than two months. He was still establishing himself. The nominal heads of newsnight were actually not managing it at that point in time, thanks to the Saville debacle from earlier. Thew newsnight investigators were no doubt in a bit of a hard place: they had a strong accusation that a former public figure was a child abuser. Were they to ignore it, would the media perhaps have reacted exactly as badly as they did anyway? Yes, it was the testimony of one witness, and no-one thought to show said witness a photo of the man he was accusing but, to be clear, would you necessarily? If someone names a specific person your first thought may not be mistaken identity.
So Entwhistle resigned, and now some other news heads are resigning too. Perhaps this was necessary, although I don't think so; other media organisations have not behaved in this manner in the past. My big worry is that the BBC will do what it always does when it suffers a crisis: over compensate. Micro manage journalism to the point where nothing gets done. I hope not. For all the Murdoch press is braying for blood, the BBC is much more thna newsnight, and is a fantastic organisation. I don't want to see it silenced.
The main issue with prison is that we release people at some point. It would certainly be easier if we didn't let people out again. More expensive, certainly, but recidivism rates are pretty damn high: around 50% according to a quick google. It would, perhaps, be a little unfair to the remaining 50%, but its really the only way to be sure.
After all, what precisely is prison for? It is to protect society from criminals? Is it to punish said criminals for their deeds? Is it to help said criminals reform? The issue is that it is all these things simultaneously. As a society, we have never really agreed that prison is for something particular, and thus we end up with the situation we currently have, with people on a merry go round of crime.
Is it terribly surprising that after locking someone up for several years and then releasing them with a criminal record (making it harder for them to get jobs), that people then continue committing crimes? The pragmatist in me will always want prison to be about rehabilitation.
If we don't have the chutzpah as a society to keep burglars in prison for the rest of their natural lives, then we need to try and design prison to prevent them from stealing again. Yes, it might be a little frustrating to hear that committing a crime doesn't lead one to 10 years of sitting on a stone bed being whipped, but provided prison isn't actually preferable to life outside (and it would be difficult to do so. We as free people under estimate the loss of freedom of movement. Imagine being stuck on a cruise ship that never stops for 10 years) then its probably fine. It just seems like a massive waste of our resources to not give prisoners any options when they leave prison just so we can feel they have been appropriately punished. I don't want the lesson of prison to be not to get caught next time, but that there might be a better option for said criminals.
There are societies that do it better: Denmark has a 27% reoffending rate, for instance. It is possible, we just have to gather our collective will to do it.
I consume a fairly large amount of media. I've read a lot of books, seen a lot of films, watched a lot of television, played a lot of video games, and seen a fair few plays and musicals. Despite all of this, there are massive gaps in my cultural knowledge. I've never watched a Marx Brothers film, only one Chaplin, and until a few months ago, hadn't seen any Buster Keaton. I have read one Jane Austen novel, two Dickens and very little other classic literature. While I'm vaguely familiar with the shape of much Sherlock Holmes, I don't think I've ever read a story to completion I haven't seen Rocky, the 39 Steps, the original King Kong, past season one of the Sopranos or Dexter, any of Boardwalk Empire, even a complete episode of Poirot. Hell, I still haven't seen the end of the Great Escape thanks to the video cutting out.
So it always annoys me when someone dismissively says "urgh, hasn't everyone seen that yet?" There are very few pieces of media that can be claimed that everyone has seen. Even pieces of culture which have become ingrained, such as star wars, still need to be watched at some point. If you'd gone back in time to child me and ruined the reveal in Empire Strikes Back I would have done... well nothing because I was pretty young, and my ability to get revenge was limited at that point, but I'd definitely be annoyed.
Look, there is more to most stories than the dramatic reveals at key points in the story, and I have watched many things that have been spoiled for me and still enjoyed them, but spoiling thigns can rob that key moment of surprise. I watched Planet of the Apes unspoiled and was actually surprised by the ending (although I have a feeling rewatching it would reveal it as a bit hokey now), and am glad I got that opportunity.
Yes, there are plots you can spoil for me if you want to, and theres not much I can do about it, and by doing so you will have made the world just a tiny bit special. Congratulations, I suppose. For me, I'm going to do my best to let people experience media on their own terms and then have a discussion with them about it.
Labels: books, film, rant, television
In which I defend a conservative
So it transpires that an angry and tired conservative whip may have sworn at police officers when they wouldn't let him cycle through the main gate, as he was accustomed to. Upon being accused of such an action, he apologised for his manner, but claimed that the exact words attributed to him were not those he used.
Now, as many of you may be aware, I am not a huge fan of the conservative party, and am not usually inclined to defend them, but if we are to call out their behaviour, perhaps we should pick on more egregious examples? Which one of us haven't been frustrated with people in positions of authority being (we feel) over judicious in the application of their duty. Which of us haven't, when tired and frustrated, snapped at someone we shouldn't have.
He has, in fact, apologised for his behaviour. I also don't really care about what language he used, and whether he said pleb or not. I think in the heat of the moment we might all say things which we might regret, and I'm not sure being a snob should deny one office as head whip.
There is, of course, an actual issue, which is why this story hasn't quite gone away, and that is that he has denied saying pleb, while the officers have insisted that he has said so. If he has persistently lied about the language he has used, then there is an issue there, although I'm not entirely sure how we are meant to establish the facts of the matter. It would not be the first time police officers have lied, nor a politician, so we shall see how that plays out.
One final note. Twitter points out examples of people who have been jailed for swearing at police officers. To me at least, this is an argument for legal reform in that instance, rather than continuing an injustice by jailing the politician.
Labels: politics, rant