Saturday, 16 May 2009

On The Future Of Cinema

Three people. That’s what really got my juices flowing on this. Three people. Three of the most influential people in the recent history of the medium. In the most recent issue of Empire, pieces of George Lucas, James Cameron and Francis Coppola were featured. Three very different directors, three very different viewpoints. In a nutshell, the three articles encapsulate the crossroads that cinema now finds itself at.


In one corner of this triangle, we have George Lucas; the biggest one hit wonder in the history of any artistic medium. A revolutionary, a visionary and a destroyer of the childhoods of many modern day 20-40 year olds with his Star Wars prequel trilogy and his reanimation and subsequent defiling of the ghost of Indiana Jones. Mr Lucas’ take on the future of the medium is quite simple: ‘Within the next ten years, every movie will be a visual effects film.’ Or, if that doesn’t want to make you slap yourself in the face in anger enough, we have; ‘Art is technology. … All artists have bounced against the ceiling of technology.’ We can sum up Mr Lucas’ opinion in a few simple words: ‘Bigger and better technology is the future of cinema.’


In another corner of our triangle however, we have Francis Ford Coppola; a man responsible for three of the greatest films ever made (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now), yet a man who, after completing his Vietnam masterpiece, pretty much never ascended to such dizzying heights of greatness ever again. Having not worked in a decade (a gap between 1997’s The Rainmaker and 2007’s Youth Without Youth), Coppola is returning this year with Tetro, a film with a budget of $15million, compared to Lucas’ most recent $185million flop ‘Indiana Jones IV: The Rape Of Your Childhood Memories’, could not be more at odds with his close friend’s view on cinema. ‘That we’re talking about now is the ‘big industry’ film – films that are packaged as a certain idea of action, and in many cases violence or thrills or mystery. These films aren’t expressions of the writer, but a compendium of ideas that could work as a blockbuster hit. That’ not Hollywood – it’s just wherever people want to make a lot of money.’ Indeed, Coppola is not interest in 3D or big budget or big events. He wants to make personal, intimate films about stories and people. He wants to shoot and write them beautifully. Whereas the future is purported to lie in one direction, one of the greatest directors of all time believes his own future, and possibly the appeal of the medium, lies squarely in the past.


And in the third corner - or perhaps it might be said – straddling the two above diametrically opposing viewpoints of the San Francisco friends above, is James Cameron. If ever the was a big budget director, Cameron is probably it. His cinematography reads like a litany of some of the greatest celebrated big budget films of all time; The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, True Lies and of course, the highest grossing film in history, Titanic. Cameron is currently working on Avatar, a film that allegedly promises to revolutionise the industry. Cameron firmly believes that 2D is dead, and eventually everything will be made in 3D, and yet in the interview, he has a very telling interesting ‘The key is to be in control of the technology, not let it control you.’ It appears, while Cameron certainly believes that the past is over, and that the future lies in 3D, he, unlike Mr Lucas, does not appear to have any interest in being a slave to it. He does not appear to hold any desire to make every film a technological marvel, rather he prefers to use the technology to accent the film and bring his vision to life, rather than have things in his films revolve around scenes that are there solely to use and show off whatever new gizmo it is he may be using.


So between the two polar opposite opinions of the San Francisco friends, there lies the Canadian. And while he leans towards George Lucas’ technological embrace, he holds back and holds firm towards the Coppola camp in that he soley wishes to tell stories. The difference is he fully embraces only the necessary technology to do so; he has no desire to use the tech for the sake of it. That, in my opinion, is the way forward, and that, in my opinion, is the only thing that will keep 3D technology away from being a fad (like it has been so many times in the past). The trick is to allow the technology to enhance your vision, to suck an audience into the believable world that you are surrounding them with.


This is where George Lucas has proved himself to be completely missing the point. A point which, in effect, he helped create. What George appears to have taken away from the success of his first three Star Wars films is that it was the technological wizardry that made them a success. He is - seemingly – incapable of understanding that it was the fact that this amazing technology that he pioneered fit like hand in glove in the telling of his epic space opera. It made space battles exciting, took you on a journey you had never experienced before and made you believe wholly in his vision. What he saw happening was people saying ‘Wow I’ve never seen that before! Wow look at that, that’s so cool!’ He didn’t get that the only reason that they’re bowled over is because they’re actually involved in the story. So when he remade the original three in the late ‘90s, and then went on to create the prequel trilogy, he didn’t realise that the simplicity of his initial story, the depth it offered to the viewer from its fairly black and white caricatures was what drew people in. He thought – and still thinks – that it was the whizzes the bangs and the booms that made people love it. What we ended up with was the most mishandled telling of a simple story ever written, albeit one that was technologically a masterpiece.


It’s funny to think that the man is so close with Francis Copolla, a man who is resolutely against the technological revolution; an artist who is quite happy to delve into the past in order to carve out his own future. As said, Cameron seems to straddle to two as the sensible influence, yet it remains to be seen whether this new wave of cinema tech will be embraced by audiences. Remember, it was not just whizzes and bangs in Star Wars that made people love it; they had already seen elements like that in other movies for almost a decade prior. It was the stories that the first new wave of tech was grafted onto that helped them be successful, not the tech itself. Up until the late ‘90s it was a tool used to enhance a story. But as it became easier to manipulate, it became something that could supplement, rather than accentuate, the story itself. The result is the wave of films we have seen since around 2002-2003 which have relied so heavily on CGI that their soul has been sucked from the screen (in most cases they didn’t even have a story). It remains to be seen whether there are more exceptional filmmakers like James Cameron out there that understand that cinema has always been about great stories bought to life in a way you could never see in reality or a live setting, rather than being the technological exercise that George Lucas and his techno-ilk wish to doom its future to.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Why Are People Happy To Let Crooks Run Their Own Trial?

There is an ongoing roar at the moment, certainly it exists within the hallowed halls of Fleet Street in our Oh so unbiased news media, but interestingly – for once – it actually seems to be reflected amongst the people that live in this country as well. The matter is that of the expenses of our MPs. On and on and on this debacle has been going, and countless dozens of headlines have cropped up to expose the abuse of the system; the most recent being the revelation that the Labour peer Baroness Uddin claimed £100’000 of expenses on a flat that she never even furnished, that she claimed was her main residence in order to claim almost £30’000 a year in accommodation expenses from the House of Lords. Her actual main residence was actually 4 miles away from Parliament.


Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone fiddles their expenses when they can (if they’re lucky enough to be permitted expenses). Everyone, now and again, will happily charge something through their company when it doesn’t really have much business being charged there. I have no real beef with MPs doing that. Is it annoying that they’re doing it with my tax dollars? Yeah, I guess it is. But do I really care? No. Because everyone would do it if they could. (We do, in fact, see another example of the empty hearted ‘moral outrage’ that rattles so frequently through our news media, expressing disbelief and outrages at MPs playing fast and loose with their expenses, despite knowing damn well that they would do the same if they were in such a position (and despite many of them already doing so)).


No, what irks me on this issue, what is kind of being skipped over and ignored by the mainstream press, and is thus not being communicated to the (and I use the term loosely as always) ‘great’ British people, is the enquiries that our lame duck Prime Minister is having done into MPs expenses. We are due to see a report into MPs expenses claims and allowances published this summer, and who is writing this report? The Commons Standards Committee. And who makes up this publishing body? Members of Parliament.


So yes, MPs are due to be writing a penetrating report critiquing their use and possible abuse of expenses, the conclusion of which could adversely affect their allowances. They’re being asked to regulate themselves. And, in turn, they are going to be given permission to censor themselves. The MPs are going to be allowed to censor ‘sensitive’ information, such as the names of hotels, destinations of taxis, names of shops and any correspondence with parliamentary officials. Basically, all the really important stuff.


So let’s look this objectively, what we lowly serfs will be allowed to see, is a claim for, say, £1000. We will be able to see the date of the claim, what was claimed for and the identity of suppliers only for office goods. So, in short, we’re being told that there will be total transparency on this, total accountability, and yet the people that will be compiling this report will be the people that it will affect directly, and then they will be given total free reign to cover up that which they don’t want to be known.


Apparently, there have been several MPs on the backbench who were on ‘suicide watch’, recently, because of what might end up being revealed.  There have been rumours floating that a pair of MPs are fearful that their extramarital affairs will be exposed by double claims for their hotel rooms. But, thankfully for them, they will be allowed to cover their oily, duplicitous little backsides, because their friends who are compiling this report will allow them to do so.


What is most annoying about this whole debacle is that no one is really that outraged about this. The MPs, while coming under rightful fire for abusing their expenses, are doing every damn thing they can to continue to protect themselves. They have got their hand caught in the cookie jar, and instead of just licking their wounds and taking the punishment they rightly had coming to them, they continue trying to protect themselves and fuck over their employers (US), while at the same time having the nerve to lecture the rest of the country about fiscal and economic responsibility and to lecture bankers that their reckless spending has to stop. Their hypocrisy and two faced double standards shine through again and again and again. And what is most frustrating is that this particular caveat is being overlooked by a lot of people in favour of the more salacious examples of expense abuse. The expense abuse as a headline is all fine and well, but the real news here is that they are getting away with continued abuse of the system. Bankers do not have this luxury, social services do not have this luxury, but no one is calling out the elected Members of the British Parliament on their claiming, nay, snatching of this luxury for themselves. That is what to be outraged about, and that is what the media is sliding away from.


We should be, as usual, demanding and expecting better from both our media and our politicians. But, then again, what’s new.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Five Films That Changed My Life

People frequently write about music, songs or albums that changed their life, but having never been into music as heavily as I am into literature and the image, I decided to write about works of cinema that had a profound effect on me.

1. Irreversible - 2002

I first saw Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible in June of 2003. I have only watched it maybe two or three times in the interceding six years. To this day, I still remember how I felt as the early scene in The Rectum nightclub came to an end. I was stunned, gobsmacked and in a state of mild shock. I had never reacted that way to a film – or any art – before. It was a genuine, unfiltered emotion, and – while I can hardly say it’s the greatest film ever made – it drew out of me more than many other films I have seen and loved more since. I realised, watching Irreversible, that art did not have to filter itself. Ever. That, while it was easy to be gratuitous with violence, sex or nudity, to actually make an impact with it was still possible, provided it was treated properly. It is something that I have tried to explore since, and something that will continue to influence my work for a long time to come.

2. The Usual Suspects – 1995

October 2003. I don’t think a film has ever been more important to be creative and artistic development than Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. It was that twist at the end of the film, that moment when the truth about Keyser Söze is revealed, when my jaw dropped to the floor, I threw up my hands in shock and bowed to the most masterful cinematic sleight of hand I have ever seen. I immediately watched the film again, and perceived a totally different film, specifically the performance of Kevin Spacey. It was this film, and that twist, that made me say ‘I want to write something like that. I want to write something that good.’ I began the very next day, and wrote my first script in a matter of weeks. Was it any good? No, but it was that film that made me, for the first time in my adult life, pick up a pen and apply myself to writing. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was The Usual Suspects that made me want to be a writer.

3. L.I.E – 2001

I can’t remember when exactly I first saw the masterpiece that is L.I.E. It was sometime in 2005 I think. I remember being bowled over by how good it was. How stunning, how moving and how – some might argue – controversial. Portraying a pederast as a sympathetic character was as dangerous yet courageous then as it remains now. It was L.I.E however, though I didn’t realise it at the time, that really shaped the way I think now. It demands that its viewer disconnect themselves from whatever initial emotional response they may have, to look deeper, and look at the other side of the coin, before making up their mind. It is that demand, that requirement of consideration before response, that changed my thinking and the way I expressed myself. I stopped responding to things I read or watched or thought with immediate emotional outbursts and instead began to force myself to consider, understand look at both sides of an argument before placing my feet on any matter. It has made me the writer and thinker I am today, and for better or worse, I am indebted to it.

4. The Aristocrats – 2005

I saw The Aristocrats in late 2006, and I fell in love with it immediately. ‘Exposing’ as it did, some of the giants of American (and international) comedy in a documentary setting, where they were allowed to sit down and talk about their work, their approach to comedy, and what makes a joke work, remains to this day one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. Listening to the commentary with directors Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza is just as interesting. It really sparked my love with figuring out why things are funny, a subject I don’t really write or talk about that much, but a subject that I find intensely fascinating. It has taught me so much about jokes, words, context, my friends and myself, as I have tried to figure out why some things are funny, and why some things are not. It has led me to understand so much about myself and who and what I am, and understand how humour, and parts of my own reactions to it, work.

5. Baraka – 1992

It was last year that I saw Ron Fricke’s Baraka. I don’t think I have ever been moved so much by a film in my life. It is possibly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and really led me to reflect on my perception of the world. My thinking had been leaning that way for a long time, but Baraka is what really set a sea change about in me. It has changed parts of my philosophy and my approach to life. I look at the planet in a different way. I have different desires, I view things differently. I feel differently. I have come to view the species differently. Baraka more than any other has effected me on a more personal level than any other film I’ve ever seen, and I still watch it regularly now. It is fascinating, it is moving, it is – for me at least – life changing.

Jade Goody

I don’t have much to say on the subject, I don’t wish death on anyone, and while I have a great many opinions on a great many things that lead up to her death, the death itself can and should, in a sense, only be viewed for what it is – just another person dying of cancer. Don’t romanticise it, just as you don’t care about millions of other people around the world dying for any other reason whatsoever, there’s no reason to care anymore about another pair of young children losing their mother due to unfortunate circumstances. I didn’t see a flood of messages popping up on Facebook for Natasha Richardson, whose young children have been left similarly motherless.

What I find most depressing and disturbing about the whole situation, was how eager people were to view all the gory details. I’m not casting any opinion on a young mother trying to make as much money as she can to pass on to her children before she dies, I have no problem with that. But I found it a little strange how so many people were so eager to lap up every ‘unseen photo’, ‘deathbed interview’ and every other piece of information – medical or otherwise. All the people who had issues with Dr Gunter von Hagens and his Bodyworlds exhibit being morbid and grotesque, seemed to have little issue with watching all the gory details of a woman dying from cancer. All the people who thought that seeing a human being die on TV had no problem following the steady decline of another person through images, interviews and screenshots.

Now we know what happens when a media created entity dies. The popular line going around is ‘She died in the media like she lived in the media.’ But I have to question the eagerness of everyone else to watch that death. We now know how voyeuristic our society has become. We now know that even death, even in the most (allegedly) tastefully done manner, is ripe for being dissected, analysed, chewed over, photographed and turned into little more than tabloid fodder. How far our news media has come.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Afterlife: A By Product Of Evolution?

Is The Afterlife A Product Of Evolution?
By Miles Weaver

The second interesting conversation I had recently occurred this weekend (somewhere between the hours of 3 and 6a.m. no less), and was again part of a much larger, broader range of topics.

This encounter was something I have briefly touched on before (in the article entitled ‘Death’). my belief that the most basic function of life – all life – is to end. Irrespective of our own human perceptions on the matter - ideas about higher purposes or concepts like peace or love or whatever - we are still just living organisms this planet, ones that share our living space on this green and blue ball of rock with everything else. Our function is simple, breed and die. Spread the genes, give rise to the next generation, then kindly get the hell out of their way. That is the function of all living organisms, to ensure that the species survives and to be sure that the process of life itself continues. It is hardwired, instinctual and completely unwavering. A cold, marching unstoppable machine that drives forwards without any regard to us homo sapiens searching in the dirt for deeper meanings.

Our search for that deeper meaning, I would argue, comes out of a certain conceit that we have as the only species on the planet and the universe (that we know of) that is consciously aware of itself, the privileged few who can gaze out at the stars that have watched over us since the birth of our species and wonder what, where and why they are. Our questioning of why we are here has led to some interesting theories and ideas about our purpose and our mortality. Yet in looking past the cold obviousness of the truth – that we are nothing more than organic life slavishly serving the same purpose as every other organism on the planet – I think that we have tried to elevate our thinking and our species above all other living beings. We see ourselves as something that has evolved to a higher state with a higher purpose, one not bound by the simplistic universal law of ‘Born, breed, be gone’.

Even our most distant history demonstrates this perceptive, from the earliest worshipping of the mysterious and unexplainable forces of nature as conscious entities like ourselves (albeit ones with far more power) our religious perceptions grew and grew, to the extent where we took ourselves out of the circle of global life. This was where we made the distinct definition that we were not like everything else; where we refused to be bound by the instinct that life hardwired into us. The planet’s oldest religion, Hinduism, teaches that when we die, we are reincarnated as another entity in the circle of life. Death is not something to be feared, merely just a transition from one temporary body to another, our soul will maintain itself. We can see a step our clear desire to transcend death, to laugh in the face of the inevitable. While our bodies may die, our souls just slip into a different suit. We are still bound by death, but not longer have any reason to fear it, for it is just a transition.

If we look, however, only a couple of thousand years further on from the genesis of Hinduism, we see that the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks – what many would argue to be the first truly advanced ancient societies – had reached the point where human beings were elevated out of the cycle of mere life and had managed to transcend death altogether. I am referring, of course, to the afterlife. Now, when we die, our souls leave our body and go and party with the Gods for all eternity. Death is not something that affects us, for our consciousness, the think that makes us so very different, so very special, will survive death and be maintain forever.

We here put ourselves as separate, distinct entities. An anomaly to the rest of the planet, one that has no reason to fear death, because for us, it is just the end of the mortal world; there is a whole other plane of existence we have to get to, one where death cannot touch or bother us at all.

I would posit that the concept of the afterlife is a product of the evolution of the thinking of our species. In our effort to escape the confines and diminutive stature of being simple organic life, our religions have all ended up promising some sort of afterlife. Even the eastern religions, which began with Hinduism merely telling us that we were part of an ongoing cycle, have us progressing toward Nirvana, where we can retire our souls from the cycle of existence. In our afterlives, we never really die, we just move onto ‘the next life’ in heaven we get to hang out with God for all eternity, never knowing the fear of death again.

Our initial efforts to separate ourselves from other animals, and also escape the instinctual, constant fear of the finality of death, have resulted in our thinking evolving to a state where we believe wholly and entirely in a another plane of existence waiting for us beyond this one. That a mortal death isn’t really the end of our precious consciousness, our tool that lifts us above our fellow animals, rather that it is only the transition from one point of awareness to the next. It is, in a way, our coping method, an evolutionary by product of our consciousness to try and deal with the finality of death, and remind us that we are different from every other animal on planet earth.

Looking at things clearly though, it is clearly, painfully obvious that there is no evidence whatsoever for an afterlife. Oh sure, we have religious texts, we have beliefs, we have unexplainable things like déjà vu or small Tibetan children answering questions they’d never heard of to prove themselves as the next Dalai Lama, but is there any evidence whatsoever that there is anything at all waiting for us beyond the end of all things? Do not fall back here on your beliefs or your comfort systems, but ask yourself, is there even the remotest hint anywhere in existence that could tell you what happens after you die? The answer is no. We have beliefs, we have faiths, we have feelings and anomalies that are interpreted into giving an indication, and it is not my intention to tell anyone what to believe, but the simple fact is that we have no evidence at all for what happens after you die.

So why did all our beliefs end up promising eternal life after we die? It is easy enough to understand where concepts of God developed from, but where did the notion of the afterlife end up taking such a firm hold? My theory rest above, that it sprung from an early desire to remind ourselves that we were the special ones on this planet, and what could be more special than removing the instinctual fear of death. Over time it grew and grew into what it has come today, where billions of people are convinced, without any evidence to support them, that death is not the end. The afterlife is a by product of our brains evolution. An accidental off shoot of the conceit of intelligence. Now there are some people who are so excited about the next life that they cannot wait for this one to end, and that is sad. For whatever you believe, no matter how firmly believe it, you don’t know what happens at the end. You only know for definite that you’ve got this life, and you should seize the very brief opportunity that it gives you.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Perception Is Reality: God, Destiny & Free Will

I had a pair of very interesting conversations the past two weekends, the first of which I will touch on in this article. It was only a brief part of a conversation that was had, but the topic got me thinking.

One of the biggest problems that I find with God – theologically that is (there are many other issues I have with the notion of a complex universal creator) – is the concept of free will and fate. Logically speaking, the two cannot co-exist, it is impossible. If one is in control of one’s own destiny, there cannot be a set fate, a destiny, awaiting us. If there is a set fate, a fixed end point in our lives, then we cannot have free will, as we are essentially little more than passengers on a ride through existence.

The problem comes with the logic of God. For God to exist as truly omnipotent– which, logically, it must have to be – it must be all knowing. This would lead one to believe that God has a set fate for us, a plan in which he knows every decision we will ever make, every thought we will ever have and every feeling we will ever experience. This is fine, until you call into question the motivations of the deity. The majority of belief systems tell us that God loves us and cares about us, that we, as its creation are something that, at the very least, interests it.

Now, if we take God as being a loving being (again, my interest in this argument is from a theological standpoint, one that deals with the religious depiction of the deity), the issue of a predetermined fate becomes something that raises serious questions. If we do have a preset fate, then God is most definitely a sadist. Why otherwise would a child be born in Africa, spend 2 years of its life barely able to eat with flies nesting in its eyes, knowing nothing but constant struggle, only to die by malnutrition and starvation, having done nothing but essentially suffer for its entire life, if God did not enjoy our misery? Why are things like cancer permitted to exist if God knows everything that can and will happen in a persons life, and can obviously influence the outcome?

No, if fate is something that exists, then God is one of the sickest beings in existence. The sickest in fact, as it is its existence. However, if God truly loves us, refuses to muddy himself in our affairs and permits us true free will, it cannot be an omnipotent being, thus cannot be God. True free will means we make all our own choices, meaning God would only be aware of them once we make them. If such a deity were unable to know what we were going to do, that would render it something considerably less than omnipotent.

So we are presented with a problem. Either God is an absolute bastard – something totally anathema to what all religions tell us – or is unable to know every, and thus, does not exist (it is not a God). The problem is a one that appears to run directly in contradiction with the accepted philosophy of all religions. It, essentially, negates the very idea of God in the first place (looking at it through the prism of God being an entity that actually likes us and this reality).

Prior to last week I had never received an acceptable explanation for this issue. The one I received was surprisingly simple, but once considered actually explains a hell of a lot. Essentially it boiled down to ‘Perception is reality’. The logic was that, while yes it’s true that God has a plan, and does know everything, we as a species are so unaware of it, and so apparently able to agree with free will that we do not really perceive it; it is never apparent. In not being able to perceive it in any way, can it ever really be said that we don’t have free will? As far as we are aware every action leads to another, every reaction to another, and every opinion we think we choose to have is built off of something else we experience. Just because we are unable to perceive these things happening to us, rather than them actually happening doesn’t – to us – make it seem any less like free will.

It has also recently been discovered in the past few years that the brain actually makes decisions before we are consciously aware of them. The subconscious mind reaches choices and what not without our self aware selves realising it. So, essentially, there is already a degree of fate working in our lives, as we don’t consciously make our own decisions.

Through this prism, one can come to the conclusion that God – if it exists – is a benevolent sadist. While there are things, like the African child I mentioned earlier – that seem cruel, working through a religious prism, this child, it should be assumed will be relieved in a rather lengthy afterlife (though that’s a whole other ballpark (especially when one considers the problem of hell, but that is a uniquely Abrahamic concept)) – it seems that the dramas, hardships and traumas of life would be permitted to endure so that, essentially, it broadens and enriches our experience down here in our brief corporeal form. So while we must endure suffering, we do so in a way that contributes greatly to our experience. It’s something that is difficult to endure, as hardship is something we would naturally want to avoid, yet it is important to our development, our interactions and our understanding of the reality we inhabit and we are definitely better off for it.

Whoever said God works in mysterious ways may not have known how right they were.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The ‘N Word’

Six letters, one word. That’s all it is. But, it could be argued, never has any other word in human history been steeped in so much hatred, cruelty, debasement, pain or darkness. For one people it reflects a time in history when they were less than human, valued as only half a human. The word, to this day, is so often used to remind them of that time and that unenviable that they were forced into. For another people, it reflects a time when they reached, as a race, the lowest point of their collective history. For all the wars and genocides they have been involved in, nothing should embarrass and shame the white man today like his involvement in the slave trade.

The word was born out of that horror of a time, when over a hundred million people were kidnapped from their homes and put to work to serve owners. That word to this day is, arguably, the most poisonous word in the English language. That word is ‘nigger’.

The writing of this piece is not intended to be a critique of modern day racism, or of the past history of slavery. It is this writer’s opinion, that every human is entitled to their opinion, racist or not. I will also say that while white people should be aware of the slippery slope that led to the global slave trade, just as they should be aware of the slippery slope that led to the Holocaust, no white man or woman alive today should have to apologise or feel any guilt for what happened in those dark days. No one alive today was around for it, no one alive today was involved in it, and no one alive today owes any debt of apology to anyone for it. Just as the children of Nazis are not responsible for their parents mistakes, the children of slave owners are not responsible for the mistakes their parents/grandparents/great, great, great grandparents made either.

What the writing of this piece is intended to be, is a look at a very common occurrence that sweeps throughout western society today, and that is the use of the word ‘nigger’. My points here should be transferred to any other word of bigotry used to demean a minority, but the N word is by far the most poisonous of any such term out there, and is thus ripe for discussion.

A huge problem that a lot white people seem to have with the word is that they are aware that a significant proportion of the black community use the term frequently and without care for its poisonous meaning or history. A frequently used argument, one that often comes from a perspective of incredulity and misguided ‘reverse racism’ (yes it does exist, but not in this case), is that ‘If black people can use it, why can’t we?’ Or, upon understanding that a lot of black people – right or wrong – say they use the word as a way of reclaiming it and dealing with the brutality of that part of their (even very recent) history, as a way of taking the pain out of the word, white people will say that then they should accept that everyone can thus use it, so that all pain is taken out of it by everyone.

These arguments, sometimes, come from a place of good meaning, but from a fundamental misunderstanding. For a lot of black people around the world, hearing a white mouth say the word ‘nigger’ is a painful experience. Aside from the Jewish people, there is probably no other group of human beings in the world that can understand what it would be like to hear such a term spoken from the mouth of the ancestors that enslaved you. In America, only forty years ago, that term was still frighteningly common, many of the users of which are still alive today. No white man could ever understand that pain, and trying to equate a word like ‘cracker’ or ‘honkey’ is just ignorant. We (by which I mean the vast, vast majority of white people) have never had to deal with real discrimination based on our race or skin colour. We do not understand. But we have an obligation, if we want to get anywhere as a united species, to try to do so.

Now, one can make the argument, for very good reason, that if the N word is so toxic, then black people should not be using it themselves. It was a word used to debase, dehumanise and destroy an entire race of our fellow humans, and black people, just like white, yellow, red or brown people, should not be using the word either. There is a very strong and valid case for this, but one that will essentially and always be trumped by the importance of free speech, and that, in a civilised society, no word, however ugly, should be outlawed, and other person has the right to tell another that they cannot use such a term. (They can say they should not, but not cannot). My personal perspective on this is very strong, for I believe that any words and all words can and should be spoken freely. Will there be consequences? In cases such as the casual tossing around of the N word, then yes. And the speaker must be prepared to face them and answer to those that question them. If you want to use such a term, you’d better have a good reason for doing so. However, we should never forget that these terms that we have loaded with such ammunition are, at the end of the day, just words. We do not get outraged when Richard Pryor referred to black people as ‘niggers’. There’s a two part reason for this; the first is that he is black. Richard Pryor, using the definition, was a ‘nigger’ himself, and we know and understand that he is not being racist in his use of the term. The second part is that, so often, the problem with the use of the word is not, necessarily, the word itself. It is, after all, just a word; a collection of sounds that we associate meaning with. No, the problem is not with the use of the word, but with the context in which it is used. So often it is used in a derogatory manner, so often it betrays the truth that there are more racists out there than people – of every race – would like to admit. So often it angers people because it demonstrates a common ignorance for where such a word came from and what it was created to describe. So often it may anger people because the use of the word demonstrates a lack of care for what they (their race that is) have been through and overcome to get to this still unequal point which they are at today.

But the question, knowing all of this, must be asked: Why would anyone want to use a word so steeped in hatred? White people can complain that they are always seen as racist if they use the word (they’re not (remember; context)) and that it’s not fair that black people can use it and not get the same heat. It should be asked of those complaining people then, why do you want to use that word? What is the need to use it? I am not questioning anyone’s motives or saying that they should or should not use the N word or any other such term; it is a free country and you are free to do so. I am asking the question, however, of why you would want to use such a term?

I used to use it. I did not use it in a derogatory manner, or in a spiteful way. Did I, use it as a punchline in many a joke? Yes. Just as I also used gay people as punchlines in many another. If I find it funny, I find it funny, and I will not apologise for it. But I have thought, been educated about, and analysed my use of that term and many others, and in doing so, I came to understand many of the above points that I made. While I am not saying that I will never use a bigoted term again, far from it, as I believe that no word should ever be made taboo, I understand the importance and power of such terms, and am far more mindful of what it is that I am actually saying, why it is I am saying it and whom I am saying it to.

I believe it is important to think about these points and consider why it is one may choose to use such words. I think it is important to ask oneself why one would desire to use them. I think it is important to truly look at all perspectives of the issue, to consider why some people may hate it and others may have no problem with it, and figure out – for yourself – if you are comfortable with saying words so steeped in bigotry. Do not be so arrogant just to say, as I used to, ‘It is my right to use it just as I can use any other word, and it’s other people’s problems if they don’t like it’ because your arrogance blinds you to the truth of what you are saying. Just as I loathe people that hardly or don’t even know me being shocked that I’m a homosexual because I don’t act like Alan Carr, just as I loathe certain homophobic terms and not others, I have come to understand that there are others in the same position who may loathe some racist terms, may loathe none of them, or may loathe all of them. And it is they that have the right to be outraged about the use such terms, not the speaker, who so often may think they are hard done to if they are chided (at best) for their use of it. All I ask is that you just think about what it is you are saying and what your reasons are for doing so, before you actually go ahead and say it.

‘I said, ‘I ain’t never gonna call another black man ‘nigger’. Y’know because we never was no niggers! That’s a word that’s used to describe our own wretchedness, and we perpetuate it now ‘cause it’s dead; that word is dead. We’re men and women. We come from… We come from the first people on the earth! You know? The first people on the earth were black people. (…) So black people, we’re the first people on the earth to have thought! We was the first ones to say ‘Where the fuck am I? And how do you get to Detroit?’ So you can take it for what it’s worth, I ain’t trying to preach to nobody, I’m just talking about my feelings about it. And I don’t want them hip white people coming to me and calling me no nigger or telling me nigger jokes. I don’t like it. I’m just telling you, it’s uncomfortable to me. I don’t like it when black people say it to me. I really don’t no more. It’s nothing. It don’t mean nothing. So I love y’all, and you take that with you.’
Richard Pryor

Friday, 13 February 2009

Why Is ‘Freedom Of Speech’ Such A Hard Concept For Some People To Understand?

So, the British Government showed what a bunch of giant, brow beaten pussies they are once again, and banned the elected Dutch MP Geert Wilders from entering the country to attend a discussion about his anti-Islamic film ‘Fitna’ at the House of Lords.

There are two major threads that tie together in this debate, both of which are becoming an ever increasing threat to our society. The first is the issue of free speech. Whether you like what Mr Wilders has to say or not, whether you agree with his film and his opinion on Islam, censoring his work and banning him from entering the country in order to attend a debate on the issue he is tied so closely to is abhorrent in any society that wishes to call itself free. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, whether you like it or not, if you want to advocate free speech, then you have to take both the rough and the smooth that goes along with it. I.e. just because you are offended by what someone has to say, be it racist, homophobic, insulting, sexist or just downright ugly or insensitive, they have just as much right to say it as you do to call them an idiot. That’s it, case closed. You do not ban words. You do not ban thoughts. You live with it. You try to educate people as to why they shouldn’t hold such viewpoints, but you have no right to stop them from having them and airing them.

The exception comes in the case of inciting violence however. If someone is saying ‘I think all gay people should be killed’ that is fine. Is it an ugly statement? You bet your ass. But do they have a right to say it? You bet your ass. If, however, they say ‘I want you to go and kill all gay people’ they are directly inciting violence. Now, if some idiot takes their words in the wrong way, and goes and kills gay people after hearing ‘I think all gay people should be killed’ then that is not the speaker’s fault. The speaker was voicing an opinion, not giving an order. It is not his fault that someone took his words too far and went and killed gay people, just as it is the responsibility of a celebrity who’s been photographed snorting coke when a fan dies of a drug overdose.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, you can like it or not, but just as you have the right to call someone an idiot for whatever reason you choose, they have just as much of a right to call you an idiot back for whatever reason it is that they choose. Just because we may find their reasons horrific does not mean we have any right to shut them up.

The second point is that, once again, the reason this brew-ha-ha came about was because it had to do with someone offending peoples religion. There seems to be an unpleasant wave of thought in this country that people of faith have a right to be protected from criticism. They don’t. You can believe whatever you want to believe, as can I , and we can both call each other idiots because of it. For some reason however, if you go to a church or a mosque or a synagogue or a temple, people in power are much more likely to try and protect you from that criticism. Uh, why? You believe one thing, I believe another. It drives me up the wall when the religious – Muslims specifically – often demand special privileges in being protected from such criticism. Christians and Jews often have to just bear the brunt of it. In the case of Mr Wilders, it was the peer Lord Ahmed, who said that he would mobilize a protest against the entry of Mr Wilders into Britain. You know what then, Mr Ahmed (your title means nothing to me)? Mobilize. Exercise your right to protest. And let Mr Wilders exercise his right to free speech. It disgusts me that anyone is allowed protection from things because of the crazy screwed up beliefs they may have. Did you see mass homosexual protest when yet another West Indian artist was allowed into the UK to perform a collection of his greatest hits advocating the rape, abuse of and eventual extermination of homosexuals? Hell no.

Now, Mr Wilders is on record saying that he wants to ban the Qur’an, while at the same time blathering on about free speech. A double standard. But a spokesman for the Muslim Council Of Britain called him an ‘open and relentless preacher of hate’ and no one made a point to ask this spokesman where he stood on preachers like Abu Hamza, who was allowed to operate openly and freely for years with funding from and the approval from the MCB while banging on about how great suicide bombings were and how Western values should be destroyed and Islam imposed upon them. Why does no one call out that double standard? Because no one wants to upset a religious person.

I’m sorry, but fuck your beliefs. Just like you don’t give much of a shit about mine, I don’t give a shit about yours. We all share this crazy messed up world together, and whatever you need to believe in to get yourself through another day without killing anyone is fine by me. But don’t pretend that that entitles you to any kind of privilege, just because lots of other people believe the same thing. I’m specifically referring to Muslims here, but I’m also generalising to Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Atheists. Whatever you choose to believe in does not automatically give you protection from criticism.

We are a multicultural, open, free and (allegedly) tolerant society. That means tolerating everyone’s views. It doesn’t mean agreeing with them, but tolerate means that you put up with something, not agreeing with it. Just as conservatives have to tolerate the views of liberals, gays have to tolerate the views of homophobes, ethnic minorities have to tolerate the views of racists, atheists have to put up with the views of the religious, liberals have to put up with the views of conservatives and women have to tolerate the views of sexists. No one is asking you to agree with them, but they are asking you to give to others the same rights of free speech that they afford to you.

Sometimes freedom means putting up with more than you’d like to. It’s not selective based on political correctness, religious beliefs or political views. It means that in a free society, everyone is free, whether you agree with them or not.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Circling The Drain: The Fall Of The Human Race

This has been on my mind for quite a while, and I’ve finally got round to formulating an opinion on it. Unless something changes in our collective thinking, unless something drastic occurs to really make us do something, I strongly believe that the human race is finished.

A drastic statement indeed, and one that needs to be explained. Clearly.

I’m not sure when it began exactly, though I think it was sometime in the 1980s. It was caused by a perfect storm; a unity of the two things that had long since proved themselves to be two of the most destructive things our species has ever encountered: Technology and greed. Technology has long since been our most beloved and destructive toy, but in the 1980s it reached a point where it ceased to be a beneficial accessory in our lives - things used to make work easier, things used to entertain us for a passing period – to becoming the thing we lived for. We finished work and marched diligently home to watch television or mind numbing movies. We hurriedly prostrated ourselves before glowing green computer screens. We ceased interacting with other humans and began to block them out by putting miniature speakers in our ears. We tossed out the entertainment and information to be gleaned from books that took time to read and started feeding our imaginations with other peoples pictures, our knowledge with other peoples words and opinions.

And our greed fuelled this insatiable drive for more. Our drive for more entertainment, more disposable garbage, more exotic foods, more pictures of other peoples lives to distract us from our own. We wanted more, more, more. And companies, corporations and conglomerates were more than happy to oblige us. With the advent of true twenty four hour television came the advent of true twenty four hour advertising. Shopping channels and infomercials ran round the clock, offering us every kind of unnecessary disposable product imaginable. We had encountered advertising in the decades prior, but now the medium had begun to hone its methods. And it had the perfect crowd to work on: The baby boomers.

The generation that grew up in families that had very little money or comforts. The generation that grew up in the bleak, dark penniless years that followed World War 2. They were the generation that were given chequing accounts and limitless lines of credit. They were the generation that had grown up with and were used to absorbing the advertising messages. They were the generation that had lived with the new medium of television, and invented computing. They were the generation that, in their maturity, wanted the lavish, constant excess that they never had in their youth. They wanted ease, convenience, accessibility, the opposite of what their formative years had been furnished by. They didn’t want to have to go out or to put in effort for entertainment, they wanted it wherever they were, whenever they were. They didn’t want to wait for a letter, or wait for you to get home to communicate with you, they wanted you on a mobile phone or a fax right now. If they didn’t have it, they wanted it. If you had it, they’d get one better than yours. ‘Gimme that it’s mine! Gimme that it’s mine! GIMME THAT IT’S MINE!’

And in that perfect storm developed the cancer that is eating away at our species today. From one moment to the next we sank deeper and deeper and deeper into social apathy. We developed mobile phones that could connect us wherever we were on the planet, replaced brief chats were with texting, face to face contact with webcams and video calling. Bluetooth activated our ovens before we got home so we wouldn’t need to do it ourselves. We exercised on electronic mattresses in our living rooms so we wouldn’t need to bother going for a run outdoors. Soon our all phones will make pancakes, play movies and scratch our balls for us so we won’t need to bother exerting any effort to do anything. Email replaced letters. Instant messaging replaced quick emails. IM and text speak replaced standard language. Quicker and quicker, shorter and shorter, faster and faster. ‘Send it in a minute, send it in a second, send it now, why haven’t you sent it already?’

And as things got faster and faster the effort needed to produce them grew less and less. The cognitive thinking, the mental gymnastics needed to read or write or think or engage with something, anything, anybody at any kind of length reduce itself by degrees, over and over, shorter and shorter until it became practically non-existent.

And it is here we find ourselves. We live our lives through the lives of others. Our dramas, our existences, our gossips, we subjugate them and instead take more interest in those that occur in the lives of celebrities and public figures. We don’t have to really analyse our own personalities, eccentricities and flaws, we can instead pick on and gossip about those that we see in the flavour of the month conveyor belt that is paraded before us on the endless loop by the “news” and entertainment industry.

Our ability – as a society – to analyse and interpret, to think cognitively, to engage with causes and purposes and thoughts larger than ourselves, has been worn down, reduced, and crushed. Our need to protest, to express ourselves, to form a discourse with our Government, our media and our employers seems to have vanished. We’re not interested in the rest of the species unless we are told to. Unless the 24 hour news channels, or the papers, or the three minute news bites that pop up in between shows we’re not really interested in watching tell us that we’re outraged at monks and civilians being slaughtered in Burma, we don’t bother to think about it. We just consume it and move on.

For corporations and governments, it’s great. They don’t want the majority of their population and workforce to be able to think critically, to engage and analyse why and how they’re being screwed over by them and their minions. We express indignation in the form of comments on news articles that tell us how our Members of Parliament are working to keep us from knowing how much we pay them. We snort and bitch and complain about being forced to bail out banks that took our money, sold it back to us at an inflated cost and have now taken more and are rewarding their own failure with it. Do we actually do anything? Do we protest like we used to? Do we march, do we strike, do we flood phone lines and switchboards like we did when we were told we were outraged because someone said ‘fuck’ on the radio? No. Most don’t care, those that do don’t know how to organise a fluid means of protest in the face of the media endorsed apathy.

Schools refuse to tell pupils that they’re stupid or intelligent, so everyone feels happily average, and they go on to enter their adult life thinking that way. As I.Q points dip slightly lower, the next generation of obedient workers are just smart enough to use the machines that they need to use to work, but not so smart that they’d ever realise how badly they’re being screwed over by their employers. And they’re certainly not left dumb enough so they couldn’t turn on their TV, log into their email, or switch on their phone in order to buy this, download that or subscribe to this. They, like us, will be willing and ready to spend money they don’t have on shit they don’t need. Money we don’t have on shit we don’t need.

And here we are then, left in a little corner of freedom in an internet being crushed under the weight of corporate interest. We’ve squandered our gift. We evolved the most magnificent organism in the history of any species: the human brain. A mind, a consciousness, an organ that allows us to think rationally and critically, that allows us to interact with each other with language and literature and art and intelligence. It allows us to look at the world, to see things wrong with it and ask why it is the way it is and what we can do to make it better. We look at the stars and wonder about what is out there and how we got here. We have a long history of public figures that were famous for invention, for talent, for creating beauty and making us think.

And we’ve been bought off. Nowadays, some of our heroes have talent. Most however, have only moderate amount, and are more famous for being famous, famous for being thin or a well dressed or an emotional train wreck. We are told we want to look like them, live like them and act like them. And so many of us go along with it.

I hope we can buck the trend. I hope more people will realise what it is they’re missing. That real beautiful conversation can be based on more than celebrities or sport. That beautiful art can be complicated and difficult, rather than instantly accessible and a constant feel good trip. That we are not servants to the politicians or corporations or media titans that we think rule us. They depend on us for their existence. Not the other way around. I hope more of us will realise that we are not the servants that so many of us have been conditioned into thinking we are.

But as it stands right now, we’re circling the drain. We started many years ago, but just like water going down the plughole, the circles keep getting smaller and smaller, shorter and shorter, quicker and quicker until…

We’re gone.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Wrestler: The Reality Of The Fiction

As a self professed wrestling fan, I was very eager to see The Wrestler. I thought the film was quite magnificent, and was quite bowled over by Mickey Rourke’s performance as Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. One of the things that stood out to me from the film though, was the reality that Darren Aronofsky produced when it came to referencing the truth behind the professional wrestling business.

There were several moments in the film that I had seen previously in wrestling rings, documentaries and films that I wanted to highlight. I feel that knowing about these truthful situations gives an extra dimension to the film, and to the viewer’s appreciation of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson and what he’s going through (it also leads a further wow factor to Mickey Rourke’s performance, as it is amazing to see how truthfully he captured the real lives of the men that have become his character).

1: The Daughter

Taken from the excellent documentary Beyond The Mat. Randy’s whole relationship with his daughter is a direct take off Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts’ ongoing trials and tribulations with his daughter. The true sadness of this clip (and Randy’s journey with this in the film) is that it is not fiction, it is real.

Points of particular: 1:42 – 2:35 / 3:17 – 4:13 / 5:00 – 6:00

2: The Injured Horse That Won’t Quit

The denouement of The Wrestler is of course, Randy’s rematch with old rival The Ayatohlla (a feud that seems cribbed from the Hulk Hogan/Iron Sheik rivalry in early 1984). Randy chooses to wrestle the match, despite the knowledge that a doing so might kill him. In 2003 Kurt Angle wrestled in the main event of Wrestlemania (against the current UFC champion Brock Lesnar), despite having a broken neck that desperately required surgery. One bad bump could have paralyzed or even killed him, yet he still went out and worked anyway. The excerpt is from the 2004 documentary ‘The Mania Of Wrestlemania’.

Points of interest: 0:00 – 0:38 / 1:10 – 1:45 / 2:40 – 3:00 / 6:35 – 7:47

3: The One Trick Pony Out Of His Depth

The scene where The Ram has to face off against Necro Butcher in a hardcore bout is particularly interesting. It is a very clear example of how the business has changed since the hey day of The Ram in the ‘80s, where wrestling was punching and kicking and bodyslamming. No longer. We now see tables, ladders, chairs, barbed wire, glass, fire and all manner of other things (who could ever forget the staple gun) being used to take the craft to new extremes. The above clip is a collection of highlights from a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match held in 2006 between Edge and Ric Flair. Flair, much like The Ram, was a wrestler from the ‘80s, who had never, ever been in any kind of match like this, but went out there and tried his best to keep up, despite the punishment his 56 year old body had to go through to keep up. The video is a collection of highlights from the match. Just imagine your father going doing that to get some idea of what the Old Dog might be going through. (And ignore the crappy music on the video).

4: Doing It For The Fans

The speech that Randy gives prior to his final match with The Ayatollah is a combination of a lot of teary eyed speeches given by wrestlers to the fans in the past, but I am pretty sure that this speech, given by Ric Flair after Raw went off the air in 2003 was probably the main body of the source material. It encapsulates why so many of these wrestlers cannot quit, why they can’t give it up and why even in the face of injury (or in The Ram’s case) death, they still go out to perform.

Point of interest: 7:00 – 9:05

These are just a few examples of the real life scenarios that went into making The Wrestler such a believable film. Props should go to Aronofsky for his research, to Rourke for his amazing performance, and to the wrestlers themselves who live these lives for the entertainment of others.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Bye, Bye Bush: A Legacy Of Incompetence And Arrogance: The Middle Finger On The International Stage

Bye, Bye Bush: A Legacy Of Incompetence And Arrogance
The Middle Finger On The International Stage

In trying to reflect on a man, an administration and a political movement that has so crippled America and the West in the eyes of the world for almost a decade, I found it a little difficult to figure out where to begin. The last eight years that we in the free world have had to endure with George W. Bush as our ‘leader’ has been a long litany of screw ups, and to try and figure out where to begin in reflecting on this legacy of incompetence is difficult. So I figured I’d start at the point most immediate to me, as a British citizen, how Bush’s America has fitted into the world of the 21st century that the rest of us co-habit.

What the Bush Administration bought to the world was a foreign policy of absolutes. Rather than understanding – or even attempting to understand – any geopolitical situation for what it was, the higher ups in the Cartel of Incompetence had only one view; every situation, conflict or political deal boiled down to ‘Good vs Bad/Right vs Wrong’. There was no nuance, no carefully figured out shades of grey, merely black and white. America – and her allies – was right, always, by default, and any who opposed/disagreed/refused to comply with her was wrong. Totally. They were portrayed in the national media as cowards, traitors, elitists, uncaring snobs, uneducated terrorist loving socialists or grave threats.

And how did Bush seek to deal with those that refused to toe the line with his Government? Well, there are two examples, you have the way that they dealt with France, those boneheads who refused to along with the brilliantly planned and genius invasion of Iraq, where the media and the political system drip fed insults, encouragement to xenophobia or direct, open lies and hatred abut a country that stuck to its principles and backed the law. Who can forget ‘freedom frees’ – McDonalds’ cheap gimmick of refusing to use the name ‘French’ in its products – or talk show host Bill O’Reilly talking about how – on his encouragement – the fact that several (stupid) American businesses refusing to trade with France had crippled their economy and cost them billions of dollars. When ideological opposition presented itself on a national scale, the Bush policy was clear; they’re too big to invade, so we’ll just destroy their image.

Of course, that option is immensely preferable to the approach they took toward a smaller country that had less clout on the international stage, like say, Venezuala. They started with calling the democratically elected President Hugo Chavez a socialist, communist and sponsor of terrorists, but when he refused to do business with the Red, White & blue Empire, when he refused to ship his vast reserves of oil at cheap price, when he refused to let American industry buy his country and his people, the Bush CIA simply helped stage a military coup within the country, and had him overthrown, plunging the majority of the population, who prior to Chavez had never, ever been able to call any politician someone who stood up for the, into turmoil, for they were well aware that things would go back to the old ways, where the rich got rich and the poor stayed in the barrios (slums). It was only after a massive display of people power, when they marched on Caracas and Miraflorez Palace and demanded the return of their leader, that things were reversed.

This is the shadier side of the Bush Administration, that viewed things only in terms of right and wrong, coming into play. This was the way they handled the middle east (to be covered in a later article) and how they would have built the case for war with Iran had they the time.

It is in this manner that the Administration has dealt with the rest of the world throughout its time in power; you’re either with us, or against us. There has been no political give and take, no deals, no middle ground, nothing, only the ultimatum; stand by America’s might, or in front of it. It was this bone headed, dim witted diplomatic direction that Bush and Cheney took their nation, lecturing the planet on the needs to stand up for what was right in one moment, and then illegally invading countries, using nations like my own as pet poodles, or sullying the name of others the next. While Tony Blair stood by George W Bush, gently made Britain grip it’s ankles tightly and wait for the big red, white and blue shaft of ‘freedom’ be embraced by its people, he allowed our prostrate nation to march happily into an illegal and wholly unsupported war, he allowed our airspace, planes and airports to be stop off points for Bush’s extraordinary rendition kidnap victims, he decided to play soft on Bush’s continual middle finger that waved in the face of combating climate change and he decided to follow his old Christian pal’s example and began stripping away the civil rights of the people of a country whose established democracy is older than America itself by half a century.

But Tony Blair got his medal at Bush’s dog show for Best Poodle, and George W. Bush and his legion of dolts are able to con themselves – and probably no one else – that they stood up for the side of ‘good’, whatever that means in their heads, and refused to compromise America’s integrity, telling the planet what it was going to do and when it was going to do it. Those Governments, like my own, that went along with this misguided, deluded concept of diplomacy should rightly hang their head in shame, those that stood against them, that stood for true goodness and what was right and the population of billions that resented every second that they had to tolerate the hypocrites and criminals within Bush’s regime, can breathe a sigh of relief. We’ve reached the end of that long night, the new dawn is almost here.

Bye, Bye Bush: A Legacy Of Incompetence And Arrogance: The Exploitation Of The Religious

One thing that the Bush Administration has been so very, very good at is using and exploiting people for their own ends. They have been shameless about it, playing the unity card one minute, and then hurling their one time friends under the bus the next. No political figure, party or group has been more politicized and exploited by the Bush Regime than the religious, namely the Christian right. Where they saw a fellow born again man of God, Bush and his team saw idiots who could win them elections, toe the line and fight the opposition on any issue. They saw pawns that only had to be rewarded with more neo-conservative policies and practices already favoured by the Bush Drones.

The exploitation of the religious right by the George Bush and his handlers has been an on going experiment. It was they that helped win him the Governorship of Texas back in the ‘90s. Most of them couldn’t have cared less about his conservative policies, the fact that he was an ex-alcoholic now born again warrior for Christ was enough for them. The fact that he was in favour of rewarding rich white people – people he called friends – while also being a Biblical literalist who thought that the death penalty was important to utilise and that evolution and global warming were ‘theories’ just sat perfectly with the lambs of God, the flock of sheep, that swallowed his drivel hook line and sinker.

His first (illegal) election was not, largely, due to the Christian voting, but following 9/11, his drawing of the line in the sand of history, proclaiming that the threat the nation faced was nothing more than a case of good vs evil, repeatedly using phrases like ‘crusade’, and underscoring that the America that believed in freedom, Christ and faith was under threat bought the once fringe idiots of the extreme right of evangelicalism to the forefront of their communities, with the tone that they had been preaching for years now being echoed by the most powerful man in the world.

Next came the ‘faith based intiatives’, the abstinence only sex education programs, the repeated attempts to have creationism taught in science classes and the horror of boys kissing boys. As Bush’s support grew in the wake of 9/11, he and his acolytes began to roll out a litany of strict, conservative policies, that found support in one of the most vocal, overzealous and combative areas of the country; the Christian right. It was this kind of forward thinking from Bush’s election guru Karl Rove that allowed them to roll perfectly into the 2004 elections. Despite the catastrophic failure that the Iraq War had turned into – even at that point – Rove’s concept of pushing ‘traditional American values’ into a battle with ‘elitist, liberal, progressive reformers’ that wanted to do away with everything that America was built on, and pushing gay marriage as a hard issue to battle on, worked perfectly. Bush was re-elected, and then the shit really hit the fan.

The horror of the bungling of Katrina, the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, the scandals involving Scooter Libby, Mark Foley and Ted Haggard, the continual misery coming out of Iraq, none of these things could dent the unwavering support that Bush and company maintained from the religious right. The faithful flock of sheep fought Democrats on every issue they could, whether it benefited the country or not. Torture was a good thing, illegal, warrantless wiretapping was a necessity. George Bush was a good, Christian man who would stand up for God. True to the nature of the extremely religious, they never looked below the surface.

The promises of an outlaw on gay marriage never happened, the idea that prayer would be re-established in schools never materialised. It came to light – and this shows how truly cynical and exploitative Bush’s lackeys were – that Karl Rove, the architect of the Bush Presidency, was an atheist. He didn’t believe in any of these causes, but he knew that playing to this audience of over a hundred million would keep him, his friends and his boss in power.

And what is America left with? What has been the knock on effect around the world? A resurgence of extreme right wing religious values in Christian nations. In this country we have seen theatre shows cancelled and the rise of faith schools, spearheaded by our ex Prime Minister, the formerly Christian, now Catholic Anthony Blair. In America the resurgence of religious right has been far more alarming, with widespread intolerance for alternate lifestyles, religions and viewpoints rising with almost militant ferocity in many red states. We see things like Proposition 8 passing in California, the outright outlawing of same sex marriage in states like Florida, repeated attempts to change school boards and curriculum’s, and even attempts to repeal/challenge Roe vs Wade, the lawsuit that legalized a woman’s right to have an abortion in America.

Bush and his cronies have exploited the religious, feeding their fervour, their paranoia and their conviction that they are the only ones who are right. It has coloured American thinking, American policy and American interests abroad. It has, in effect, opened up a Pandora’s box, that will not be quietly closed. Those that were once the fringes of nutty religious society are now the mainstream, with tens of thousands of followers. They attack, relentlessly, until they get their way. They have been led to believe, by Bush and his attack dogs, that they are in a war for their own survival and the survival of the America they love, and they are too gullible, too eager to swallow the misinformation, double speak and lies of the President that they adore, to look at the obvious facts, and the truth and realise that they have been exploited for nothing more than an easy vote.

American culture has been thrown to the wolves, left to fight for its survival in the face of resurgent religious extremists who want a theocracy established in their lifetime. Those that believe in freedom, liberty and equality have been left to fight this battle, all because encouraging these psychopaths, this American Taliban, was an easy way to get public support and faithful votes. Once again, America’s future was up for sale, it was the needs of little George and his minders that came first.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Don’t Kill Me, I’m You

Here’s something I was thinking about while reflecting on this dreadful Israel/Palestine ‘conflict’ (or, as I prefer to call it: ‘The suffering of mostly unarmed civilians who are being held hostage by a very small cartel of heavily armed religious psychopaths that hold influence in their democratically elected Government being assaulted by a heavily armed military nation whose Government is influenced by a similarly small cartel of religious psychopaths that have no problem murdering said hostages because they believe in a the correct version of the divine sky pixie and think they have undying support from the international community because of the attempted genocide of their people that occurred 60 years ago allowing them to break ceasefires at will, act unilaterally across the region declaring wars on whoever they feel like and in a both funny and saddening way starting to become and act like those same monsters that tried to exterminate them from the face of the planet all those years ago’), that led me to reflect in a wider way on the futility of human conceit:

Regardless of what faith you believe in, whether we came from a big bang or a supernatural finger poke into dirt, we are all made of atoms. We, the entire species, the entire planet, every object in existence, are all formed from the same building blocks. In that sense, the fear of death, the fear of the unknown, the fear of other creeds, beliefs, races or beings out there is stupid, because it’s just part of me out there. My atoms are not unique. Before me they were dirt, water, air, rabbits, gazelle, puppies, coke cans. As I exist I consume food, alcohol, oxygen, medicine while I expel faeces, urine, skin cells, hair cells. Atoms leave and atoms re-enter. We are all made from the exact same stuff. I am a part of you, just as much as you are a part of me. We are all part of nature.

So the idea that you need to be comforted with the idea of an afterlife, or you need to be comforted that yours is the superior race, or that you have to be comforted that you have a right to this land, is ludicrous, because all that awaits you after death, all that awaits you in a different race, all that awaits you on that part of land, is you. The same building blocks across the universe. You are intrinsically tied to it. Doesn’t that make the killing of other people – for any reason - or the destruction of the environment, or malevolence towards animals, seem kind of stupid?

In killing each other, all we are doing is killing ourselves.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Sexual Freedom

There is an extremely unpleasant movement rolling through our fair isle. It appears to move in the shape of something altogether good and wholesome, something which aims to protect people from an unscrupulous and morally degenerative few. But looks beneath the surface, and you will see that it is not that, it is, in fact, something quite the opposite.

I am talking of a new law that the Government is intending to pass, one pushed by a grieving mother who’s daughter was murdered, that will decriminalize the possession of ‘violent or extreme pornography’. Possession of images deemed to be ‘sexually violent’ will incur up to three years in prison. The law was pushed by Liz Longhurst, whose daughter, Jane, was murdered by a man who claimed to be addicted to violent pornography.

One’s heart, of course, goes out to anyone that loses a loved one under such horrific circumstances, but one’s head has to triumph over one’s heart in such an instance, when the consensual, adult, private lives of at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in this country are under threat by a vaguely worded and emotionally driven law.

To understand my outrage at the potential passing of this law, one must understand what is meant by ‘violent’ or ‘extreme’ pornography. We against it, we who may find ourselves accused of criminal behaviour should the law come to pass, willingly accept that things such as necrophilia or bestiality are aspects of the sexual makeup that should remain illegal; for simple reason, they are non-consensual (and yes, I don’t care if a horsey has a hardon, that doesn’t mean the horse is in anyway consenting to being bothered by one of us (to say a physical stimulation is an indicator of consent is to justify rape should the victim’s nipples be erect)).

However, beyond this initial boundary, I’m afraid it has to be said to this grieving woman, Liz Longhurst, that neither she, nor the Government that rules the land in which I live, has any business deeming any act between consenting adults to be illegal. If I choose to consume material that depicts something as mundane as simple BDSM, or something as heavy as simulated rape, provided that material is produced by two consenting adults, who have decided to enact these scenarios under their own free will and share the images with others, neither I or anyone else has done anything wrong. If I acquire images of genuine rape, then I understand the problem. But should I consume images of simulated rape, or consensual violence (again, something like simple S&M play could fall into this category), that has taken place between people who chose to do so, how can I be called wrong?

You see, what this law is moving to do, is to criminalize human emotion, human desire, and – most alarmingly – human thought. The Government, or anyone else, has no place trying to regulate what goes on inside the privacy of my bedroom. I’m sorry, you have no business there.

The disturbingly vague language of this law also leave it open to a horrific level of manipulation. Just wait for some overzealous moral crusader to start calling sodomy a violent sexual act. Just wait for those that enjoy dictating how others should live their lives to begin dictating that all pornography is, in its essence, unnecessary and untoward.

Initially, I was willing to give the woman who pushed this law, Liz Longhurst, a decree of leniency, given the trauma she has been through. But then I came across this disturbing quote:

‘Sometimes the freedoms of like-minded, decent people have to be curtailed because of a few others.’

I am sorry, Mrs Longhurst, but the words you spoke here are anathema to any free society. Let me ask you this, had the man that murdered your daughter been a heavy drinker, would you have sought to criminalize everyone that ever chose to get drunk? If the man had stabbed your daughter to death, would you have sought to criminalize anyone who ever chose to purchase a hunting knife? No one’s freedoms, NO ONE’S, should ever be put up for a vote, or ever put up to a committee to choose if they may exercise them. For such a thing to happen means that I no longer enjoy ‘freedoms’ I enjoy ‘privileges’. What you are saying, Mrs Longhurst, is that I am not free to choose the sexual stimulation that arouses me, rather, that I am permitted, for the time being, to do so.

Just as the Government has no place inside my bedroom, neither does anyone else. You are entitled to your opinion, just as it is your opinion that your daughter would still be alive if the man that murdered her had not been ‘addicted’ to violent pornography. But that is an opinion, Mrs Longhurst, not a fact. And even if it were, then should you not be seeking to deal with the obvious mental illness of this man, rather than potentially criminalizing the thousands, probable millions of us across the country that choose to indulge in pornography that revolves around power exchange, pain or violence?

Someone took away the right that Mrs Longhurst’s daughter had to life. In turn, Mrs Longhurst has pushed this Government to take away the right of others to enjoy consensual sexual lifestyles. Benjamin Franklin said,

‘Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lost both.’

To think that making any kind of violent pornography illegal would help in combat the very serious issue of sex crime is ridiculous. Those that are a genuine danger will merely disappear deeper into the psychosis of their own minds, while those of us that know where to draw the line between fantasy and reality, those of us that understand what is real and what is not, those of us that choose to indulge in such pursuits have to face up to the risk of being called criminals. The freedom of few should never be put at risk to ease the minds of the blinded many.