False idols

The Muhammad cartoon fiasco certainly has some interesting implications for all of us. In short – Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten asks cartoonists to produce their renderings of the Prophet Muhammad (which many Muslims believe is idolatry and thus blasphemous), and happily publish a series of crude racial stereotypes, one of whom is wearing a bomb in his turban. Result – uproar in the Muslim world, leading to mass consumer boycotts of Danish products (I bet Carlsberg’s executives are quaking), Libya and Saudi Arabia have broken off diplomatic relations, death threats being made, and so on.

Right, first things first. The newspapermen are peddling simplistic caricatures and stereotypes under the guise of art and free expression. But, in a free country, they enjoy freedom of expression, no matter how idiotic this expression turns out to be. Freedom of religion does not extend to freedom from being offended; in any society where conflicting faiths and belief systems (which include atheism) exist and are free to practice, it is impossible to maintain the plurality religious freedom naturally implies and guarantee no-one gets their spiritual toes trodden on.

And in this situation, they’ve made every effort to make sure their toes got in the way. The fundamentalists who have whipped up this fervour were so desperate to make an issue of it they actually had to fabricate three far more blasphemous cartoons that were nothing to do with those published to get ordinary people sufficiently angry (and even then, it’s taken them some time – the illustrations were orginally released in September).

To call it a storm in a teacup would be an insult to weather everywhere. It’s just a fucking cartoon for fuck’s sake. It’s not as if the Muslim world is short of important news stories right now, ones that actually matter.

One of the few people to come out with any sort of respect is the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who has continually refused to apologise on the newspaper’s behalf, saying that it is not a matter for his government. The fact that people have demanded he do so while simultaneously demanding lays open the ridiculousness of the situation, a belief that governments are there to protect believers’ freedoms over those of non-believers; that a petty squabble over a few offensive drawings should be top of the bill.

But, it’s just a storm in a teacup, right Chris? So why the blog rant? Well, elsewhere in the world, there’s a religious hatred bill going through Parliament, which mercifully had the very worst parts neutered today. But its original intent by the government was that virtually any insulting behaviour against a religion (as opposed to threatening) could have been interpreted as promulgating hatred; in short, it would have criminalised even the pettiest action and made it a matter of the state to prosecute and persecute, rather than the individual objecting (or choosing not to, after all – what happened to turning the other cheek?).

Rasmussen proved that he was above complaining about a mere cartoon, which is more than Blair and Clarke are able to. The more New Labour have rolled on, the more they exaggerate the petty (marching yobs to cashpoints, banning lighting up in pubs, the whole foxhunting shebang) while trivialising the important (ancient rights and freedoms demolished, hospitals and schools can be solved by the magic wand of ‘choice’, like they’re a branch of McDonald’s or something, totally ignoring the environment). One day in the not too distant future, both those who wasted their time getting angry about the Danish cartoons, and those who promote the Blairite “it’s the little things that matter” agenda, will suddenly wake up and realise that lots of big things are quite badly fucked. Then they’ll go “How come didn’t they do anything about this?”, and well, I’m not looking forward to pointing out to them why.

Hating by numbers

The thing about the 4×4 and 7×7 memes is… it’s a little smug, a little showy-off, isn’t it? All the “I like this film” or “I’ve been to this place”, it looks a little like trying to affirm just how cool your tastes are and how what sophisticated habits you have

I mean, that’s not surprising (after all, blogging is fuelled by the compulsion to show off), but it doesn’t make for really interesting reading. So although I have been tagged (by Phil and Ben for 7×7, and Andrew 4×4) I’m not going to go through with the instructions, as exactly laid out. Instead, I’m going to be a little less smug and spin them to confess what I hate, what I didn’t like or didn’t get although everyone else did, my more irritating and less illustrious qualities, and what I remain ignorant of, and why many of my dreams will remain just that. After all, a common blogging trait is picking at other’s negative aspects, so perhaps a little introspection and confession is a good thing.

Of course, I could could be accused of still being smug, but in a self-deprecating way, but hey, if you look it at like that then I can’t win either way. So, without further ado, here goes…

Four jobs I once aspired to but decided not to do and am thankful
  1. Tube train driver – childhood obsession with trains which sadly did not last, which is probably a good thing as I hate shift work.
  2. Barrister – for no reason other than it sounded quite a important job. Then I found out the hours and responsiblities and decided to chicken out.
  3. Accountant – I think I just for the sake of living to stereotype of the Chinese kid who can do maths. Snapped out of it by the time I went to university in favour of something interesting.
  4. Teacher – Luckily, I realised that schoolchildren would have made mincemeat of me, or provoked me into a violent rage long before my first day was out.
Seven things that I say I’ll do before I die, but probably won’t:
  1. Run a marathon – lofty aim but I’m far too fucking lazy.
  2. Learn to fly – Another lofty aim, but I’m 24 and still haven’t learned to drive yet, let alone fly.
  3. Write a novel – Occasional ego-trip I take when someone complements me on my blog is imaginging life as a successful novelist but deep down I know full well it’ll be crapper than Dan Brown.
  4. Learn to be fluent in another language – preferably Cantonese (it being the language of half my ancestors), but I passed the option to do so as a child and I know I will never be able to find the time as an adult.
  5. Run a nice little gastropub somewhere in the country – I should also ask for a golden toilet and the moon on a stick while I’m at it.
  6. Play a musical instrument – Those who can, do. Those who can’t build an enormous record collection and pretend they can.
  7. The seventh thing – I actually did. But I’m not going to tell you what it was. :-)
Four movies that I can watch over and over, even though this is no testament to their quality and more to my lack of imagination or ability to turn over
  1. Thunderball
  2. Diamonds are Forever
  3. You Only Live Twice
  4. …and any other Bond film. It’s not even like I have a low tolerance threshold – there simply isn’t a threshold, I’ll just watch any of them goggle-eyed, regardless of quality.
Seven things I can do but am neither good nor bad at, just boringly competent
  1. Drawing
  2. Sewing
  3. Ironing
  4. Give directions
  5. Cycle
  6. Assemble furniture
  7. Wrap presents
Four places I?ve been to, looked at and gone “Fuck me, I’m never living there”
  1. Singapore
  2. Newbridge
  3. Most of Northern England
  4. Plaistow. Oh, hang on…
Seven things that attract me to… myself
  1. I’ve got lovely hair
  2. Am disturbingly slim despite unhealthy geek diet
  3. The sound of my own voice (not the real sound, just how it sounds in my head)
  4. The look of my words on paper (or webpage, for that matter)
  5. Quite nice hands, despite continual biting of nails
  6. Look better in glasses than without, and I like it that way
  7. When I do go outside, I don’t (normally) get sunburn, but slowly turn a nice golden colour
Four TV shows that I really fucking hate
  1. Absolutely Fabulous – This was never funny, you can all stop pretending now
  2. Later with Jools Holland – For some reason, I just don’t like man. I think it’s the mock-urgent dashing about the studio. Shame, really, as I quite like the music,
  3. Jam – Sorry, it was just a bit too fucked up for my liking. If it wasn’t Chris Morris no-one would have liked it.
  4. Little Britain – You already know what I have to say about this.
  5. Actually, I’ll have a fifth too – Tom will hate me for this but despite trying I have never got into The West Wing – I think it’s just general fed-upness with the monumental amount of coverage American politics gets here, and TWW doesn’t help things by tantalising us with a what-might-be.
Seven things I don’t say enough
  1. “Sorry”
  2. “I should speak a little slower, shouldn’t I?”
  3. “No, I’ve drunk enough tonight”
  4. “I don’t like to mention where I went to university”
  5. “Maybe you have a point”
  6. “Hang on, I’ll turn my phone off”
  7. “Arsenal deserved to lose, fair and square”
Four places I’ve been on holiday to, but don’t have any interesting stories to tell about
  1. Tartu, Estonia
  2. Hamburg
  3. Singapore
  4. Paris (hated it, would rather forget)
Seven books that I thought actually weren’t much cop despite the gushing reviews they generally got
  1. Neuromancer (heresy, I know – sorry Sally)
  2. The Communist Manifesto
  3. Gravity’s Rainbow (although this is mainly because I couldn’t finish it)
  4. Vernon God Little
  5. Pretty much anything Shakespeare did – it’s impossible to parse in real-time
  6. Dirty Havana Trilogy
  7. 2005: Blogged (only joking!)
Four foods that I always end up cooking because of a lack of imagination
  1. Stir-fried chicken
  2. Spaghetti bolognese
  3. Ramen in soup
  4. Curried whatever’s-in-the-fridge
Seven movies I haven’t watched, but kinda pretend that I have by referencing them continually
  1. Star Wars (all of them)
  2. Citizen Kane
  3. Casablanca
  4. It’s A Wonderful Life
  5. The Shawshank Redemption (actually I’ve seen the last five minutes, which was enough for me)
  6. The Godfather
  7. Metropolis
Four sites I visit too much
  1. qwghlm.co.uk – Why? I already know what’s going to be on it, for God’s sake
  2. Wikipedia – “Turning mild Asperger’s into gold since 2001” – I forget whose quote it was but it’s a good one. I’ve wasted too much time contributing trivia here.
  3. BBC News – Even though 99% the front page is no different from the last time I hit F5, I must find out the latest news so I can form a knee-jerk opinion on it, right now.
  4. Popbitch – Actually, I no longer visit PB. Which is just as well, as it’s been crap for ages now and I only just noticed.
Eleven people to tag with this – not that any of them will, but I would just love to find out what makes them tick
  1. Osama bin Laden
  2. The Queen
  3. David Cameron
  4. Rupert Murdoch
  5. Jos? Mourinho
  6. Angelina Jolie
  7. Lawrence Lessig
  8. Thom Yorke
  9. Condoleezza Rice
  10. Malcolm Gladwell
  11. Neal Stephenson

(As a footnote that took me ages to do. So bollocks to memes – I’m not doing another for a long time, no matter how many people tag me… )


I’ve been tagged twice (by Phil and Ben) for this 7×7 meme that’s been bouncing around. But I’m gonna hold out until someone tags me for the 4×4 meme too, so I can combine them in some unholy 11×11 meme that will swallow us all.

Speaking of numbers, for some reason the linklog on the right keeps on shrinking to just two links (rather than ten). If I delete the cached object on my server, it rights itself, but then it happens again. It’s either bitrot or del.icio.us keeps on producing broken feeds. Anyone else having this problem? Maybe I should just upgrade to WP2.0 and it will sort itself out.

The media, and institutional racism (and sexism, classism…)

One of the nice things about people is that even if you spend all your time disagreeing with them, every now and then they can still come up with something that you do actually agree with. It makes life interesting, means pigeonholing never works, and (best of all) gives you something to blog about. Such is the case with Sir Ian Blair, who has drawn howls of protest after suggesting the media’s reporting of crime is institutionally racist; white victims are often given far more coverage than black or Asian victims, which in turn implies the police spend more time investigating their murders.

Actually, perhaps I’m being too lenient on Blair, as I don’t totally agree with him. The coverage of someone’s murder isn’t merely down to the colour of their skin, but there is definitely a nasty streak of differentiating between the “undeserving” and the “less undeserving” (or even “deserving”) dead, which Blair has touched on.

(Of course at this point I should start a rant about the other Blair, whose sanctimonious style and arbitrary designation of the deserving and undeserving poor, deserving and undeserving sick people, deserving and undeserving victims of foreign dictator’s repression etc. is partly to blame for this attitude, but I’ll stick to the point – I want to keep this first blog post reasonably short).

Critics of Blair’s attack point out that ethnic minority victims do get coverage in the press – think Damilola Taylor, or Anthony Walker, both of whose murders got large amounts of press coverage. But it is interesting to compare their deaths with those of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare – two black girls in Birmingham who were killed on New Years Day 2003 in crossfire after a gunfight between rival gangs, and whose murders received far less coverage, and whose names are not as recognisable today. Press coverage of Walker’s and Taylor’s deaths made much of the fact both were highly studious, quiet boys who attended church. Shakespeare and Ellis, on the other hand, were both promising sixth-form college students themselves and in no way criminals, yet because they had connections (mostly familial) to the gangsters who shot them, the press dwelt on those. This is most tellingly demonstrated in the photographs of the victims used by the press – both Walker and Taylor (and many other young murder victims) are usually shown in official school portraits, dressed in their school uniform. In the case of Shakespeare and Ellis, such pictures have been ignored, in favour of a photo from the night of their death, at the party where they died. The implication is clear – it doesn’t matter what else they’d done in life, their association with gangs (no matter how tenuous) and their attendance at that party, mingling amongst gang members, is the lens through which the media decided the two should be portrayed (and one I thoroughly disagree with).

Thus, from the very outset, the portrayal of victims, and their background and circumstances in the press is subject to certain prejudices. These prejudices are often along racial lines, but they need not always be; as well as race there are issues of class, gender, sexuality, occupation, education, age or even mere looks. The murder of a young Cambridge-educated lawyer is going to attract more attention than a middle-aged van-driving builders’ merchant, as was the case with Balbir Matharu, as opposed to Tom ap Rhys Price (as cited by Blair); his race is part of the reason why his death has received so little coverage (even the local press in Newham haven’t dwelled on it too much), but also because in the eyes of the press his background wasn’t particularly interesting, nor did he have a “bright” future ahead of him. Perhaps the fact that Ian Blair’s very job is under threat thanks to these certain prejudices has made him more aware of this; if his men hadn’t gunned down a law-abiding Brazilian electrician at Stockwell, but an unemployed Muslim with a history of petty crime and drug abuse (though with absolutely no links to terrorism), then the result public outrage over the slaughter of an innocent man would not be as strong, I fear.

To wrap up – we’re all guilty of this to some degree (even in this post, some of my rhetoric above slips into it). Blair is right to point that race is a factor, even if he should not have used the Soham murders as an example (right or wrong, you don’t try to point out people’s prejudices by attacking the most infamous and emotive recent example – you’ll be proven right, but they’ll never come round to your point of view). But just as it’s wrong to ignore race as a factor, it’s wrong to say (or make out) it’s the only factor – it makes it easy for fatuous and simplistic “disproving” of your point (as all anyone who disagrees is show one example of a high-profile ethnic minority murder victim), and any meaningful debate gets shoved to one side.

Nearly there

Stirring somewhere deep inside me is the urge to blog again. Not sure what it’s going to be on – the contemporary orthodoxy of choice (or, why trade unions are here to stay), the perfection that is Dennis Bergkamp, why Wikipedia is becoming LiveJournal, how both tech-evangelists and neo-Luddites now totally agree with each other, why your blog is shit (yes, I’m talking about you), my thoughts on folksonomies/Amazon’s Mechanical Turk/other human services to machinekind, the f-word (and I’m not talking about “fuck”), why every time I make a Tube journey a little piece of me dies, and conversely, how to make yourself feel a little bit more alive. Oh, and my grand masterplan for a perfect society, naturally.

It could be one or many of the above. It will certainly be less pretentious and enigmatic than this post. I don’t know what I will write about, or when. I would put the choice of topic to a vote, but this ain’t a democracy; I only really posted this to tell you all I am still alive (especially those of you whose emails, to my horror, I’ve realised I’ve left unanswered). But anyway, normal service may resume sometime soon*. Promise.

* For all values of ‘soon’.