Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sexuality Sells, And We're All Buying

This morning's Victoria Derbyshire Show on the BBC made quite a big deal over the fact that a British Olympic hopeful had decided to come out to the nation as gay. Such a big deal in fact, that they teased the story on social media, but kept the name of the athlete concerned as an "exclusive" for the show itself.

It turns out that athlete is race walker Tom Bosworth. No, me neither. The fact that a major broadcaster still considered his sexuality a matter of such utmost importance that it needed to not only be revealed to the nation live during the show, but trailed in advance just to whet our salacious appetites raises a couple of questions.

Firstly, is it news? Well, no. Not in the wider definition of the word as something of interest going on in the world that we need to know about. It's probably news to Tom's family, his training partners, teammates and friends - assuming many of them didn't already know - but not particularly news to the rest of us. I suspect the reaction of the nation will have been one of "meh" and get on with your day.

Secondly, why does a major media outlet consider it to be news, if most of us know that it isn't? Well you would have to ask the producers of the show that. Without wishing to answer on their behalf, I suspect they've looked at what seems to be work for daytime TV formats and decided that a story about someone's little sexual secret fits right in with the Jeremy Kyle/Loose Women style that  ITV peddle.

In short, they are using Tom Bosworth's willingness to reveal his sexuality to a widely disinterested nation for a bit of cheap, titillating television. Are we still really at that stage of our social development as a culture? Did Back to the Future just happen and all of a sudden we're in the 1970s again?

"But things like this help other gay people to find the confidence to speak out".

Do they really? Does the fact an athlete who nobody outside those with an interest in race walking has ever heard of has come out really provide that much comfort and security to a young person that they can feel safe about revealing their own sexuality?

I don't think it does. This isn't an age where being gay or lesbian (or anywhere between) is still punishable by prison or something that needs to be kept hidden away in a metaphorical closet. There are high profile, openly gay figures in sport, entertainment and politics who are showing that being honest about your sexuality is no handicap to having a fulfilling and successful life.

More damaging is the approach taken by the media that being anything other than heterosexual is something still to be considered surprising or news-worthy. That doesn't provide any kind of comfort or solace to anyone on the verge of coming out, whether they are in public life or not. It portrays non-heterosexual love as something so out of the ordinary or unusual that a major broadcaster has to devote time to discussing it.

In short the attitude of the media towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people in public life needs to change. It informs and supports prejudice, and creates an atmosphere which prevents people being who they really are. It contributes to potential mental health issues caused by the fear of revealing your sexuality. Enough is, as the song says, enough.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

For National Poetry Day

Writing poems about poets
It really is quite hard
That's why it's sometimes easier
To call Shakespeare "The Bard"

Writing poems about poets
The tantrums and commotion
When you can't think of anything
For Andrew bloody Motion

Writing poems about poets
You're a hero or a villain
Depends on whether you leave out
That nice Ian McMillan

Writing poems about poets
To stick up on your fridge
Even ones with quite long names
Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Writing poems about poets
One of my pet hates
Is when you discover
That Keats doesn't rhyme with Yeats

Writing poems about poets
The travails and the despairs
Have finally convinced me
That I'll never be Pam Ayres

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Binary Life

It must be really nice, to live a binary life
Where everything is one thing or another
You're either left or right, either black or white
No choices to confuse, confound or smother

Run with the hounds or with the foxes, put it all in boxes
Pick a side and never cross the floor
Be messy or be neat, never the twain shall meet
Dig in those heels and stand up proud and sure

Your fact is never fiction, no scope for contradiction
All counter arguments are batted back
If you're short of a retort, as a last resort
There's always the ad hominem attack

To back up your opinions, summon all your minions
By starting all your tweets with a full stop
Make clear your intentions, by clogging up their mentions
Convince yourself that you've come out on top

So listen trolling hordes, you warriors with keyboards
From the chalice of my wisdom take a sup
Don't be a dickhead for your cause, it won't get you applause
Just told to do one, and shut the fuck right up. 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

When sharing isn't caring

Social media has been in something of a schism over the last 24 hours, as a result of the news media's decision to publicise the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean by printing a picture of a dead toddler washed up on a beach.

There are many who, for no doubt what they consider to be the "right" reasons, have taken to sharing this image among their social networks - either by re-tweeting or sharing the picture itself or images of the newspaper front pages on which it features. It's their decision, after all it is their responsibility to decide what they share or don't on their own social media feeds.

So let me tell you why anyone who shares it into mine is going to find themselves swiftly un-followed.

The primary argument for doing so appears to be that it "raises awareness" of the true extent of the humanitarian crisis happening in the area, caused by ongoing civil wars and unrest in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

What I'm not quite sure of is whose awareness it is trying to raise. Those with access to Twitter and Facebook also have a world of electronic news media at their fingertips, in addition to television and radio news as well as the printed press. I find it highly unlikely to the point of flabbergasting that any of them are not already aware of the horrible situation which faces these people (I won't call them refugees from here on in, they deserve better than that). It has been the main focus of the media for the last couple of weeks at least, usually focused on the humanitarian cost in terms of lost lives.

In short, if you didn't know this was already happening, you must have been living in a cave, with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears going "lalalalala".

So no, it's not "raising awareness" as the overwhelming majority of people you are sharing it with are already heart-breakingly aware thank you.

Neither is it helping the plight of the people suffering. Treating their corpses like some sort of merchantable commodity in order to sell newspapers, or attract television news viewers to your channel is an act every bit as inhuman as packing people into overcrowded, unsafe vessels in the first place. It gives these people no dignity, no respect, none of the things they are desperately fleeing in search of. It is simply picking over their corpses like vultures. If you choose to be complicit in that then fair enough, but at least have the decency not to try to drag me down into the cesspit with you.

Let's just posit an alternative reality shall we? Imagine if on 8 July 2005, the British press and news media had been full of lingering shots of the bodies of those killed in the attacks on London's transport network. Not photos of their happy, smiling faces provided by loved ones, but actual shots of their corpses, not covered by sheets on trolleys but lifeless in the streets of the capital. How would the public have reacted to that?

I'd wager they'd have been outraged. They would have regarded it as callous, insensitive acts of barbarism. After all, these people were someone's spouses, siblings, children, parents. Don't they deserve better than to turn on the television or open a newspaper and see the corpse of a loved one who lost their life in an unnecessary act of inhumanity?

So why is it different when it's a small child that nobody in the UK knows or is related to?

If you really, truly want to help reduce the human cost of this situation you're not going to do it by hitting a button and sharing an image. Lobby your MP to change the UK's attitude both to leaving countries unstable after half-arsed military interventions and to how it deals with the humanitarian crisis it leaves behind afterwards.

Give to one of the numerous relief organisations trying to put a sticking plaster over the top of this gaping wound in our humanity because governments are too scared of public opinion to dress it properly. It doesn't need to be financial. Donate food, clothing, anything that can be sold to raise funds rather than sat gathering dust in your spare room. Give your time to help these organisations who are not just "raising awareness" but actually doing something on the ground to help the most helpless.

If you've read all that and still think it's fine to go around using a dead toddler's image as a mark of your humanity go ahead, it's your life. But don't surprised if I and those like me choose to treat you with the same respect you treated that dead Syrian boy.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

An Appeal On Behalf Of Victims Of Human Trafficking

As you may have seen on the news recently, there has been a substantial rise in the number of people - particularly young men - being trafficked across borders all over Europe.

Often, these people leave behind well-paid jobs and relatively luxury in order to go in search of a better, more stable life elsewhere. A place where they will no longer feel threatened or unappreciated. Where mobs don't bay for their blood on a weekly basis.

This dreadful human cargo reaches a peak towards the end of August, where the traffickers are at their most active before winter nights start to draw in. It's important that we make a stand at this time of year against this despicable trade.

This is David.

David lives in the north of England. He paid people traffickers 10% of a significant signing on fee to take him to Spain. Only by our operatives disabling a fax machine at the Spanish end of their operation were we able to save him and enable him to return to Manchester, where he has a nice, comfortable bench to sit on.

There are hundreds of young men just like David, being taken from their homelands to be left all alone in a country where they don't speak the language, have no friends and only a pittance of £120k a week to fall back on.

Please help us to stop this cruel trade in human lives by refusing to support those who perpetrate it and televise it for the amusement of their viewers.

Thank you for listening.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Enemy at the Gate?

As you might have noticed, there's a bit of a thing going on at Calais at the moment.

Lots of people (many of them from countries where we've either actively bombed their infrastructure into rubble, or supported dictators who did it for themselves) are quite keen on getting into the UK. Many of them have survived hazardous journeys across the Mediterranean on unsafe, overcrowded vessels having paid people traffickers all their worldly possessions for the privilege.

They now sit by the side of the road, looking for ways to find some sort of egress into the UK, either in the back of a lorry or by walking 30 miles down a tunnel used by 150mph massive hunks of metal that would vapourise them on contact.

We're told by the government and their usual rabble of media acolytes that these folks are trying to get here for two reasons.

1. They want to claim benefits, and/or

2. They want to blow us up

Let's take a look at why both of those statements are absolute piles of bollocks, shall we?

They're only coming here to claim our benefits

So, you're sat in a crumbling house in Syria with bombs and rockets going off all around you, or starving to death in Sudan and you think "where shall I go to escape this hell?"

Obviously the clear solution is to whip out your smartphone, search "benefit rates and qualifying periods in the EU" and make your choice from there, right?

Do people not get how ridiculous that sounds? 

Even if the infrastructure existed for them to be able to make these considered comparisons, are we seriously suggesting that people climb off a boat on the Greek mainland and then in order to get their hands on £60 per week embark on a 3,000 mile overland journey with nothing except what they can carry in their pockets?

On the way, they pass through other countries that have very similar conditions for the receipt of benefits to the UK and indeed plenty who pay at a higher weekly rate. Surely if it was all about the benefits they would stop off in any one of those and make it their home?

They're coming from Islamic State to blow us up

Again, let's examine how logical that statement is.

IS clearly has no trouble getting its hands on money to buy weapons. It is funded in part by rich people from what is an incredibly rich part of the world and centre of its oil production.

It puts time and effort into recruiting and training its soldiers and planning guerrilla military campaigns and acts of terror.

So are we seriously saying that after all that effort, the most effective way it has of getting its operatives into the UK is to try and sneak them onto the back of a lorry at Calais having exposed them to potentially fatal journeys over land and sea to get there?

Terrorist 101 suggests that if you want your operatives to be able to move freely and without suspicion around the world, you either recruit ones that already have the right to live in the place you want to attack or you create false identities to get them into your target country legally, on student visas for example.

What you don't do is stick them in a leaky, overcrowded boat then bank on Barry leaving the back doors of his lorry full of Ginsters pasties open while he nips for a slash. It's ineffective, highly likely to be unsuccessful and basically plain bonkers.

Alright smart arse, why are they coming here then?

You want to know why? Simple really, it's because they like us and have heard good things about us.

They know we're a country which has a history of being racially tolerant. One where if you are prepared to knuckle down and work hard, there's a fairly decent chance you can make a reasonable life for yourself. One where the fact you're the wrong religion won't get you kidnapped, tortured and killed by your theological or political opponents.

In short, they like the image Britain has created for itself in large parts of the world as being a capital for enterprise, fairness and opportunity.

It's just a shame that so many politicians and media outlets are determined to ruin that image, by acting exactly the opposite in order to distract the indigenous population from the damage they are doing to it.

So next time you see a refugee camp at Calais, or a boat bobbing in the Mediterranean full of men, women and children that your government is quite happy to let drown, have a think about whether you would be prepared to put yourself through that for the promise of an extra £60 a week rather than barking to the dog whistle.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Dead Politician Sketch

Scene: The interior of a pet shop. The shopkeeper is waiting behind the counter, as the door opens and the bell rings.

SK: Ah, Comrade Corbyn. Good to see you again. What can we do for you?

JC: I wish to complain about the politician I bought from this here establishment not hours ago.

*puts cage on counter*

SK: Oh yes. The Burnham. Lovely plumage, changes to suit the political climate. What's wrong with him

JC: I'll tell you what's wrong with him my lad. It repeats everything I say, that's what.

SK: No it doesn't!

JC: Yes it does!

AB: Yes it does!

JC: See!!

SK: That wasn't repetition, it can't have been. Look, he's resting.

JC: Resting? Resting? If I hadn't covered it in manifesto commitments it would be pushing up the deficit right now

AB: Up the deficit! Up the deficit!

JC: There! It did it again!

SK: No, that was me. It couldn't have been the Burnham because it's...err....dead. That's it, dead. 

JC: Dead?

SK: Yep. Dead. If he wasn't laying on his back you would be able to see the stab wounds. He's a stiff. Bereft of votes. Giving a speech to the conference invisible. Climbed up the party hierarchy and gone to meet his backers.

JC: Well if he's dead, I want a replacement

SK: Sorry chief. We don't have any more in stock. I could do you a Cooper or a Kendall

JC: What's the difference between them and a Burnham

SK: To be honest with you mate, fuck all.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Tube Strike Blues - with apologies to W H Auden

Stop all the trains, close off the underground
Prevent the customers from queueing, clutching their hard-earned pound
Silence the tannoys and with muffled moan
Turn out the public, have them find their own way home

Let the traffic copters hover, whirring overhead
Clog the streets with buses, a stationary sea of red
Put hi-vis jackets on the staff manning all the doors
Hire out a Boris bike, without reading every clause

Clapham North, East Ham, South Ealing, Acton West
My morning rush and bus replacement day of rest
My late nights, my weekends, my never having to wait long
I thought the Tube was here forever: I was wrong

Departure boards are not wanted now, put out every one
Ascend to the surface, step out into the sun
Mop away the urine, sweep up all the litter
For all you'll hear on Wednesday is Londoners being bitter

Monday, June 15, 2015

Human Rights Act Song

(To the tune of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive")

I never used to be afraid
Never petrified
Because I had the Human Rights Act
Sitting by my side
Now you spend so many days
Trying to get it repealed
But it won't yield
No matter how much force you wield
So now you're back
From your disgrace
Dressed up like a berk
That gormless look upon your face
We should have changed the bloody locks
We should have paid some of the fuzz
To say you called them plebs
And save us all this fuss

Go on now Gove, walk out the door
Just bugger off now, cause you're not welcome any more
Weren't you the one, with your sodding bill of rights
Stealing our freedoms
Giving us sleepless nights
Oh no, not I
I will survive
As long as there's democracy
We'll keep the HRA alive
We've got all our votes to give
We've got all our lives to live
It will survive
It will survive 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It's Just Not Cricket

Evolution is a wonderful thing. In the animal kingdom, it produces all sorts of varied fauna and flora, perfectly adapted to its environment. Without it, we wouldn't be here as a species with our capacity for language and innovation.

Even sport is not immune from the effects of evolution. As sport comes to the realisation it's part of the entertainment industry, it adapts and changes to ensure it can continue to attract the important spectator and sponsor income essential for its survival. Is it possible though that some sports have pushed the process too far, to the point where the sport itself has become lost?

The essence of cricket is the contest between bat and ball. The batsmen are trying to avoid being dismissed while also looking to score runs, while the bowler is trying to keep the runs to a minimum while taking wickets. In their attempts to engender entertainment though, have the administrators of the game pushed that balance past its tipping point?

Cricket has equated entertainment with one thing only - runs. The art of bowling well, whether that be the giant pace bowler sending down 90mph deliveries, or the spinner bamboozling the batsman with flight, drift and turn isn't regarded as what the spectators want to see. 

Every boundary struck is greeted with a Pavlovian burst of disco music, fireworks and cheerleaders, accompanied by the crowd waving the plastic signs provided for them by the sponsors. In contrast any wicket - particularly of the home side - is greeted with silence irrespective of the quality of the delivery that brought it about.

In an attempt to generate more "entertainment", laws and playing regulations have been tinkered with. Boundaries have become smaller and smaller, so even miss-hits and top edges fly over the ropes. Bowlers are given a much narrower window to aim at for a delivery to be legal. They are restricted on how many short-pitched deliveries they can bowl in an over. Captains are prevented from setting fields to stem them flow of runs by the number of fielders they can have in different positions.

Even that would perhaps be manageable, as the bowler still has one element in his armoury that he can call upon for assistance - the pitch. However, even these are now being increasingly tailored towards assisting the batsman. Lifeless, beige strips of turf that offer neither sideways movement nor excessive pace to provide hope for the bowler. In baseball, a pitcher can still throw a 90mph curveball irrespective of the ground beneath his feet. In cricket, the fast bowler can put in all the effort he likes but if the pitch sucks the pace out of the ball life becomes easier for the batsman.

Seven or even eight runs per over is becoming the new normality in the shorter formats of the game. If this continues though, then even that will be greeted with a "ho hum" response from spectators, who will want more and more. So what do administrators do then? What cricket has done is equivalent to football doubling the width of the goals to make it easier to score.

At the recent one-day World Cup in Australia, they used some of the largest grounds in professional cricket such as the SCG in Sydney and the MCG in Melbourne. Boundaries weren't brought in significantly, which meant batsmen had to work hard to hit fours and sixes and slower bowlers in particular got some protection from being slogged out of the game.

There needs to be a rebalancing of the game of this type between bat and ball, whether that is a relaxation to the fielding restrictions or guidance issued to groundsmen about the kinds of pitches they should be preparing and the size of boundaries. As it stands, the one-day game may be entertainment, but it's really not cricket.