Sunday, May 27, 2007

On Terror

Blair describes the flight of suspects under control orders as "a symptom of a society which put civil liberties before fighting terror" according to the BBC.

Under new laws being considered, people will be charged up to £5000 for refusing to answer police questions under "stop and quiz" powers. Questions that can be asked with no reason or suspicion.

That's not fighting terror. That is terror. It's not even the foundation of a police state, but one of the basic infrastructures. Under such legislation, you may be stopped at any point, questioned on your identity and movements and then charged if the police are unsatisfied with your answers.

I'm sick, fucking sick, of "terror" being used as a justification for any new legislation. We're not America, let's have a mature discussion please. "Terror" is a brush-off. It is laziness and it is insidious. Let's have a mature discussion that extends beyond lead interview on the Today programme and an unattended, unreported Commons debate. Let's have a discussion that doesn't revert to the default of Strong Leadership on Tackling Terror. Let's have a discussion, please, a mature discussion on policy. Please.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

On the Future of Political Parties

At a time when the Prime Minister-elect is one of the key architects of the last decade of government, it can be difficult to remember that this should be a time to look to the future. But we have reached a stage of party politics that could define government for a generation or more and it is increasingly vital to reflect on how we got there and what that means for the routes available to us. As ever, the future is rooted in history.

It began with Thatcher. It was whilst in her hands that the Conservative party began to crumble, shattering in a much too strong grip. And it was under her that Labour was confined to the wilderness of opposition for longer than is natural. When Major stepped up as leader it was near miraculous that he held the party together for one more parliament and the reason must lie much more in the weakness of Labour and the Liberal Democrats than the strength of his Conservative party. The fall that began with Thatcher climaxed spectacularly in 1997 with Labour’s crushing victory. The changes made to the machinery of the Labour party before 1997 are now mirrored by the changes that Cameron is making to the public front of his Conservative party.

The changes Blair wrought in the Labour party are probably best crystallised in the unceremonious dumping of Clause Four from the party constitution – the clause that called for the nationalisation of the means of production – and the manner in which the trade unions, broken by Thatcher, were marginalised. These were the institutions, the ideology upon which the Labour party was founded, founded by even, and they were discarded with an unsettling casualness. But eighteen years is a long time to be on the wrong side of the dispatch box and desperation for power began to set in, much as it is doing to the opposition now. As the years of exile to the wilderness of opposition tick by, parties have started to become rasher and rasher. Nothing is sacred; nothing is not worth sacrificing for power. Labour was hardly a socialist party before Blair, but the distance it has moved is remarkable. This is a familiar story and one that needs not to be retold. Suffice to say, nowadays power is held not by Parliament or the Cabinet, but by the press office of Number 10.

Today we can see the opposition struggling to make similar renovations in time for the next election. Again, this can be crystallised in a few acts, but these ones are much more ominous than even the loss of Clause Four. It is Cameron’s new logo that really tells us about his party. Gone is the strong, bold, Conservative-blue fist and heavy, imperious font. Instead, there is a so soft, it’s barely there scribble logo and gentle lowercase letters, in a pastel blue. If the old fist was too reminiscent of “the nasty party”, then the new tree reveals the Conservatives as a party willing to do anything they believe to be popular. What is most insidious, however, is not the logo as such, but what the change was. When Blair wanted to reform Labour, he began with the internal workings – Clause Four. Yes it was a move designed to appeal to voters he might not otherwise reach, but it was at least a policy decision. Cameron on the other hand has missed this first step and is instead rebuilding the public face of the party: everything else seems to follow from that. Policy is whatever pleases at that instant. In opposition perhaps this is a luxury allowed, but it means that there is no clear view of the party when the public comes to the ballot box.

What does this all mean? Where does the future lie? The lesson we are forced to draw from this state of affairs, then, is the danger of two parties that believe not in a theory or philosophy or even a kind of pragmatism, but in power. And they are opposed to nothing but not being in power. The boom and bust of the Conservatives under Thatcher was the beginning and we must be wary not to let it continue or escalate further after Blair. As the electorate we hold the keys to Parliament and Downing Street. We must be prudent in deciding whom to lend them to and for how long.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The level of political debate in the US

Sometimes I dispair at the standard of political debate in this country: newspapers seem to be dumbing down and Newsnight can be a little hit or miss. But much as much as I read about America's coverage, I was shocked to see this clip from Fox News: America's most watched news channel according to Wikipedia.

No one comes out well here. Rosie O'Donnel, someone I have previously had respect for, sounds like a mad ranting bint. Anyone stupid enough to swallow Loose Change's story deserves a thorough beating. Conserva-babe Kirsten Powers and radio-cockBill Cunningham are even worse. That a majority of Americans accept this idiot babble shocks me. America is the most powerful nation. It'd be nice if their media was intelligent enough to give a bit of proper discussion to its people.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The hillarious overtones of 300

300 is already a very, very funny movie. When plenty of blood, high-camp sensibilities and Miller's style clash, you know the result will be good.

However, when the propaganda and xenophobic overtones smacked me about the face, it was wonderful. The story is one of the "free men" of Greece - freedom is an oft-mentioned concept in 300 - against the forces of "mysticism and tyranny" of Persia. The Persian God-king is fabulous (Iranians are sissies) and commands an enormous army of mutants (brown people and muslims are monsters), whilst the Spartans are almost unbearable masculine. They are all muscle and testosterone and rarely wear clothes, compared to the headscarves and leering masks of the Persian menace. The civilizations clash and the Free Men of Sparta gladly lay down their lives for their state.

Honestly, it was hillarious. The politics was so overbearing, even more than the gore, but twice as enjoyable.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Zurich's slogan

Zurich's new slogan is "Because change happenz".

I don't think I can say any more about that without vomiting.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sexism on Campus

Originally appeared in Nouse.

It may be many years since feminism’s peak, but apparently sexism still blights our society. York University has recently been in the spotlight for its alleged “institutional sexism”. Online magazine The First Post published an article singling out this university for its chauvinistic campus practices, primarily Goodricke’s Playboy Mansion and the Pole Exercise club. York was not alone: Loughborough’s student union was criticised for extending an invitation to both Nuts’ Brat Pack Tour and FHM’s High Street Honeys. Kat Stark, NUS Women’s Officer even compared such things to a theft of feminism, a claim that, if fair and accurate, should be troubling for just about everyone.

The most important question then is: are we at a university infested with sexism? Or, more prosaically: is there really such sexism on York campus?

Those who have had criticism levelled at them naturally disagree. Ben Wardle, Goodricke Chair, and Matt Hood, President of Pole Exercise, both outright denied the charges of sexism, and it seems with good reason. Goodricke has yet to receive a complaint about its events and their popularity on campus can barely be denied. Last year the AU nominated Pole Exercise as its club of the year, not least in recognition of their charity achievements: last year Pole Exercise raised almost £1,500 for Medicine Sans Frontiers with a single event.

Besides, perhaps Pole Exercise is liberating and empowering for the women of York. But Club President Matt Hood dismissed this idea out of hand, and rightly so. As he put it, “it’s just an exercise class. We keep people in good health, that's the point, that's the only point.” Pole Exercise is fun and healthy and, even better, most people don’t seem to realise that they were even exercising until after the classes. The sessions focus on fitness moves rather than dancing and are open to anyone. The nearest thing to sexism in Pole Exercise is the logo: a girl on a pole. But even that is stylised and abstract. Is there really a problem here?

What of Goodricke’s evocation of the Playboy brand to market events? Playboy is a name that is certainly connected with pornography and the objectification of women, undeniably so – from the polyamorous Hugh Heffner to the famed centrefolds and Playmates. But, as Ben Wardle emphasises, describing Goodricke as the Playboy Mansion becomes ironic as soon as one calls to mind the less-than-palatial hall in which the event takes place. Irony is, of course, subjective and maybe its invocation is an ad hoc defence. Further, if irony is a defence or not is even more difficult to say. But if we can accept the rampant anti-Semitism of Borat or, less controversially, the high camp irony of the recent Yorkie adverts without harm, can we not also make space for the Playboy Mansion? That Goodricke JCR is yet to receive a complaint implies an agreement across campus.

However, maybe things aren’t quite so positive as the picture just painted. Perhaps it is true that York is not a festering hot bed of chauvinism, misogyny and testosterone, but that might not be the whole story. Perhaps the complaints made by The First Post should be reflected onto current British society as a whole rather than just our little corner. It cannot be denied that the maxim “sex sells” still hold currency in the advertising world and the steady liberalisation of our culture has been trailed by an equally steady sexualisation. From the cheek-caressing temptress promised by the Gillette adverts to the proliferation of “lads mags” – FHM, Maxim and Nuts – sex is everywhere. And if at any point this seems like a singularly male phenomenon, do not forget the “Top 10 Tips to Please Your Man” features in the aspirational women’s magazines, the orgasmic Herbal Essences adverts or the media obsession with whom our celebrities sleep with. But so often, this sexualisation leans in favour of the masculine, certainly in favour of certain gender stereotypes. The often-raised example is the difference in connotation and meaning between the word “slag” and the word “stud”. There is even an asymmetry in the terms “man” and “woman” that could be seen as revealing - though the etymology of these words is not necessarily indicative of sexism.

Relative to the rest of British culture, the name of a termly campus event and the nature of a fitness club seem moderate and tepid in nature. Yes students should be progressive and radical: that is so much of their social role, but there are certainly better places to direct energy and anger. The sexism in British culture lies at a deeper level than the Goodricke ents team.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

British Weather and the Death Toll

A horrific implication of the immediate nature of new media has been making itself much too apparent today, as storms have whipped through much of Britain. I've been internetting on and off all day, and watched as the death count has risen on the BBC RSS feed, from two this morning to eight now.

This is not pleasant. It means I know that five people died whilst I studied and another one whilst I played Wario Ware. It's a stark and grim and deeply uncomfortable thing to watch.

LATER: The number went up to nine whilst I wrote this post. It's awful.