Wednesday 31 August 2016

Clowns v experts

Having been at work all day, I've not heard much of Radio 4 - other than catching up with that Gus O'Donnell documentary and hearing PM as I drove home. 

I did, however, hear Steve Hewlett's interview with former BBC DG Mark Thompson on this afternoon's The Media Show and was struck by two things:

Firstly, the specific examples of 'wrong use of language' that Mark Thompson used to bolster his argument that "something has gone wrong with political language and it's making it harder to have serious public debates about important issues" in the UK and the US included a couple of recent examples from British politics - both from the Leave side of the EU referendum: "take back control" and "our Independence Day".  

And, secondly, that Steve Hewlett pushed a 'Roy Greenslade/Timothy Garton Ash (etc)' line of questioning on how the BBC had reported the referendum, and whether BBC guidelines should be changed to stop the BBC treating both sides of a referendum equally - or as Steve 'n' Mark put it, treating 'Coco the Clown' on one side with the same respect as a 'world-leading expert' on the other. 

Mark Thompson duly went along with Steve's line of questioning and agree that if there's another referendum it should be conducted differently by the BBC and that 'Coco the Clown' on one side shouldn't be accorded the same respect as the 'world-leading expert' on the other. 

I think it's not hard to guess where that kind of argument is intended to take us - especially if there's another referendum.

A Remainocrat on Radio 4

A one-side view of Gus O'Donnell 

It looks as if we're going to have to wait some time longer for Radio 4 to invite someone who voted for Brexit to present one of its landmark post-Brexit documentaries. 

So far such documentaries have been presented by a mixture of BBC types and pro-Remain journalists (like David Aaronovitch and Anne McElvoy), and this morning gave us Brexit: The Leavocrats by Remain-supporting former head of the Civil Service Gus O'Donnell. 

This was described as a 'very personal' piece. And it certainly was that.

And despite Lord O'Donnell's statement that the Civil Service will prove its impartiality and make Brexit work, his own feelings about Brexit oozed out and turned it into something of a jeremiad. 

It wasn't helped by having such a one-sided selection of 'talking heads', with Sir Paul Jenkins, Jill Rutter, Helen Munday, Justin King, Howard Davies, Agata GostyƄska-Jakubowska, Jonathan Hill, Peter Hennessey and John Peet on one side and just John Redwood on the other.

Many of those speakers joined Lord O'Donnell in talking up the the difficulties and the 'it's one hell of a mess' angle to the prospects of trying to disentangle the UK from the EU...

...and the only interviewee challenged by Gus O'Donnell was, you won't be surprised to hear, John Redwood. Gus even introduced him as a "hardline" Brexiteer and ended his contribution by commenting, "I think he's being overly optimistic".

Were I to try and sum the programme up with jsut a single quote, I think this (from Lord O'Donnell himself) will do just nicely: "The whole process is going to much much harder than most people realise".

Now, of course, such personal takes would be absolutely fine if - and only if - Radio 4 were to makes serious attempts to balance them with personal takes from the other (pro-Brexit) side, and - so far - that hasn't happened.

Should we take bets on when Radio 4 will get round to giving a full-length Brexit-related documentary to a pro-Brexit presenter? 

I'm guessing it's not going to be any time soon, but we'll see. I hope to be proved wrong though, and soon.

Double standards

The murder of a Polish man, Arkadiusz Jozwik, in Harlow by a gang of young thugs has provoked a good deal of revulsion, and if he was murdered simply because he was Polish then that makes his murder even more despicable. 

Driving home tonight and hearing the horrific news on PM, I noted that PM focused almost exclusively on the possibility of it being a 'hate crime' and what that might mean. I also noted that Carolyn Quinn didn't hesitate to link the possibility of a 'hate crime' to the Brexit debate in her interview with the pro-Remain Conservative MP Robert Halfon, asking:
Are there any grounds to suspect that attacks on [Polish people living in the UK] or bad treatment of those people has intensified as a result of the Brexit debate?
The contrast with how the BBC reports attacks by people shouting 'Allahu Akbar' before committing similarly atrocious murders is striking. 

There they tend, very heavily, to avoid speculating on any such political/religious/racist motives. Here they tread far less cautiously. 

This isn't the first time, of course. The example of the BBC's swift (and heavy) reporting of the 'Britain First!' cry reporting in the murder of Jo Cox, in contrast to their widely-noted reluctance to quote cries of 'Allahu Akbar' in several recent murders (including mass murders) of the continent, shows a ongoing and alarming double standard in the BBC's reporting. 

“It’s a wonder I’m here at all, you know. My pussy got soakin’ wet. I had to dry it out in front of the fire before I left.”

There's another excellent piece from David Keighley over at The Conservative Woman (and I'm not just saying that because it quotes me!):

And I entirely agree with David about that 'tribute act'-style new version of Our You Being Served?

I lasted less than half way before switching off (just before Mrs Slocombe's pussy got its first mention, apparently). 

Tittered I not.

NB The quote in the title of this post comes from the original series, not from this latest effort.

And the winner is......

Not everyone thrives on being judged. No matter how proficient, clever, knowledgeable or talented one is, some people just don’t get on with the one-off exam, the test, the competition. Being judged puts some people under performance-stifling stress, while others rise to the occasion and say adrenaline spurs them on to greater heights. 

Some people rise above criticism, and are even stimulated by it - “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” while others are crippled by it, but flourish with encouragement and praise.

Of course competition is of the essence in a race, for example, or a football match. There is a winner and a loser. In many sports, success is primarily judged on set rules and technicalities that can be evaluated, in which case the result is a matter of maths, but even if the judgment is scrupulously fair it still boils down to how the competitor performs ‘on the day.’ 

Activities where creativity, artistry and emotion are integral to the whole are often shoehorned into the world of ‘competition’. Music students undergo assessments and competitions all the time, which can be exhilarating or dispiriting, depending on all sorts of internal and external factors. Aspiring soloists go through competitions like a series of lock-gates. The ladder to success is onwards and upwards. Or not.

Which brings me to the BBC.  I have a stack of half-written essays that are out of date if I ever decide to get back to them. A week is a long time in blogging. Perishable goods, they are. But now I have an excuse to revive an idea I began writing about  back in May, when BBC 4 was showing BBC Young Musician.  Here's what I wrote: (note the quote within a quote)
The other day Craig mentioned Julian Lloyd Webber’s article in the Times(£) about classical music on the BBC.
In case you’re deterred by the paywall, Craig has provided a considerable excerpt. Here it is again:
The BBC is killing its classical creation. 
Tomorrow night the BBC will screen the final of its Young Musician 2016 competition. This will probably come as news to you as the BBC has been systematically downgrading its invaluable showcase for young classical musicians to the point where it now comes and goes almost unnoticed.....  
In its heyday the contest was truly The X Factor of its time. Shown live on BBC One on a Saturday evening, the final would attract more than 12 million viewers, ensuring that the winner became a household name overnight. In 1988 it was moved to BBC Two and by 2002 the heats were taken away to BBC Four, with only the final being shown on BBC Two. This year the entire competition has been farmed out to BBC Four and the final won’t even be shown live....  
You don’t have to be a cynic to wonder if the corporation is paving the way to kill off its own creation. If that happens, declining viewer numbers will inevitably be cited, as the BBC continues to remain absurdly in thrall to ratings despite its hefty licence fee. Television ratings are no more a measure of success than police figures telling you how many criminals have been arrested while people feel unsafe to walk the streets.... 

Julian L-W has been interested in promoting music education for quite a while, and has done a lot of lobbying on its behalf. 

I don’t enjoy the competitive aspect of music, but I do know that many of the BBC YM performances we get to see are staggeringly impressive. For me it’s the fact that there’s only one winner that spoils it. It’s not only that I don’t like thinking of the disappointments, but when the standard is as high as it is here, the choice of winner can seem subjective, and even surprising. 

For me the whole point isn’t that the concerto final is relegated to BBC Four. Or the  fact the whole BBC Young Musician competition is hidden away there.  
I would like to see peak-time coverage of music education, instrumental tuition and the ability to follow the development of  young musicians as a whole. Get a taste of what it’s like to learn how to play an instrument. What it entails. The way one can progress. A positive, engaging view of it, the ‘journey’ from novice to virtuoso if you like, or anything in between.  

The BBC could do a great deal towards promoting music education and help inspire people to take advantage of their local music service before it goes completely extinct, which is probably what’s happening right now in an area near you. 

Music education isn’t sufficiently valued by the government, or by most schools. I suppose this is quite understandable at a time when many children haven’t mastered basic language skills. One notices how people don’t know to hold a pen properly these day, so how can we expect anyone to acquire an effective bow-hold? 

We’re always saying that the BBC’s influence is disproportionate to its competence. Too much power, not enough prowess. Instead of gently lifting up our hearts, the BBC stoops to the lowest common denominator. Populism and superficiality, lack of originality, repetition and timidity. All crap and no craft.

Anyway, that’s the gist of the nearly finished piece, which missed its deadline. Now I have a fresh excuse to return to the topic.
Can you guess what it is yet? Possibly not, unless you watch BBC Four.  It’s that amateur orchestra programme. The Great Orchestra Challenge.

AAArgh! They’ve shoehorned it into The Formula! I should have guessed from the title.

Please. Why have they used that tired, exhausted, clapped-out format? The ‘who’s going home’ format, with the suspense of the long-drawn-out announcement, the elimination rounds, the judges, the mentors, the individuals with a heartrending backstory. Give us a break! 

It’s only episode 1, and forgive me if I'm being premature, but I’ll say it anyway.
Yes, it’s another Masterchef / Great British Menu / Bake-off / Interior Designer thingy, /Sewing Bee/ Strictly Come Dancing, etc. they’ve tried to fit everything into it. 
Pottery, once, wasn’t it?
Gareth Malone used a broadly similar outline for his choir series, but much less rigidly. I enjoyed his programmes. 

There’s a wealth of material in orchestras, so what do they do? Instead of imaginatively letting the topic lead the production, they squeeze it in to their tired old blueprint.

They’re determined to sap the life-blood out of everything.  
Katie Derham is very annoying.  What is her role? Gurning? Ah, now there’s an idea for The Format. A gurning competition, and a great opportunity for nepotism - the BBC could offer up plenty of in-house contenders.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Why don't you switch off the TV ?

A couple of days ago Craig included the following observation in his smorgasbord post: 
 “In a questionable editorial decision, this morning's Today chose to invite in comedian Jake Yapp to mock ITV for switching off all their channels this morning in a Team GB-related stunt to encourage children to go out and do some exercise... The BBC mocking ITV for doing something noble doesn't strike me as being on the part of the BBC. The one upside is that Jake, as ever, was funny. I like Jake. He does all the voices:”  

Over on the Spectator, ‘Steerpike’ has posted something about Mr. Yapp too, but rather than picking up on the ‘questionable editorial decision’ made by the BBC to mock ITV for switching itself off to encourage couch potatoes to “do something less boring instead” (like sport) -  Steerpike has chosen instead to criticise Jake Yapp for sneering at the working class. 

 I’m with Craig on this one. I thought Yapp’s little sketch was okay. Not hilarious, but …okay. It would be nice if Mr. Yapp did one about the BBC one day (for balance) - but we’ve had “Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos’ so we should be happy with that.

Harry and Paul's Story of the Twos [couchtripper] by couchtripper

All comedians seem to range from left-leaning to hard-line leftie. The more lefty the jokes, the harder it is for non-believers to see the funny side. When a leftie comedian does their thing, even if it’s funny, non-lefties won’t crack. “Not funny” they insist, sucking a lemon.

Much as I loathe Jeremy Hardy’s bizarre anti-Israel / antisemitic politics, I have to admit that when he steers clear of that topic he can be funny. Actually, on second thoughts, that’s pushing it a bit. I used that extreme example to illustrate my point, because his slap-you-in-the-face anti-Israel ‘jokes’ are a real antidote to laughter. 
Another example of the above is Frankie Boyle. I think if he was on my side, I probably would laugh, but as it is, no. His rapier-like wit is more rapier than wit. Well, there is wit, but when the ‘joke’ hinges on a falsehood it ceases to be amusing.

Here’s another example. Many ‘critics of the left’ detest Jo Brand. She used to make one feel uncomfortable rather than amused by shocking the audience with her self-deprecating, rude, too-much-information patter. But Jo Brand’s material has matured; it’s still self-deprecating but no longer obsessively gynaecological. 
Her co-authored sitcom with Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine “Getting On” was a mini masterpiece. (though I didn’t think her solo spin-off was up to scratch) 
Now when I see her chairing HIGNFY, I give her the benefit of the doubt. If she amuses me, despite golliwog-gate, I don’t try not to laugh.

Anyway before I go off on a lengthy list of drearily unfunny leftie comedians, which would probably contradict the point I set out to make, let me return to the reason I started to write this. What was it again? Oh yes.

Look at the comments below Steerpike’s article. They’ve veered away from the topic, as usual, and settled upon a generalised outpouring of criticism of the BBC.

It seems that the BBC’s bias is recognised by huge numbers of people. You see it everywhere. On both right and left-wing media. From the OMG Daily Mail to… even the Guardian.

BBC staff will soon be the only ones who are unaware of their elephantine bias. That’s the employed ones. They do have a habit of ‘discovering’ it when they leave.  

Gatecrash (from Craig): I agree with Sue (to paraphrase a famous pair of unfunny comedians). 

Those comments at the Spectator ought to give the BBC pause (but won't). 

More and more people are angry at the BBC - from the Corbynistas and the SNP on one side to all the many-and-various 'people like us' on the other.

The old 'complaints from both sides' no longer washes either. Both sides are firing from different sides at the same place (loathe as they might be to admit it): the place where the BBC sits.

And the BBC doesn't sit where many of us/they sit. It (generally-speaking) sits with people other than us/them, somewhere on the socially-liberal, strongly pro-EU, economically-centrist, politically left-leaning, pro-modern-Establishment spectrum between Ken Clarke and Owen Smith.

Still, here's more Jake Yapp (another one for Mr. Steerpike?)...

Off topic

I'm going to go seriously 'off topic' myself here again.

I wasn't intending to, but today's Making History on Radio 4 included such a delicious (and delightfully alliterative) historical exposition (courtesy of the librarian at St. Paul's Cathedral) that I thought I really ought to attempt to be public-spirited and transcribe it for you (and for posterity too)...

...and then the post expanded from there. So...

One of things I knew about the Great Fire of London on 1666 was that it destroyed the old St. Paul's Cathedral and led to the creation of the new St. Paul's Cathedral of Sir Christopher Wren. 

Of the old St. Paul's I knew very little, except for its dull-looking spire-free image on fairly crude contemporary drawings from late 16th/early 17th Century London (see below rather than above).

Enter today's Making History.

It first gave some facts about the Great Fire itself. 

That big old bonfire raged for four days, destroyed more than 13,000 houses, made some 70,000 people homeless, and wiped out 87 parish churches. 

And as for old St. Paul's...

Well, that had been consecrated in 1240. So, even without having recourse to a calculator, I worked out that it had been standing for some 426 years before the Great Fire struck. (BBC Bitesize would be so proud of me.)

In conversation, Making History historian Dr Tom Charlton and the cathedral's Head of Schools and Families Donna McDowell described its state in the lead-up to 1666, and it sounded to be in a very sorry state indeed.

Some of this, they told us, could be put down to the effects of the English Civil War, which left it in a poor state of disrepair.  

Also, it had been struck by lightning (in 1561) for the second time, which destroyed its mighty and magnificent spire. And no one had repaired it.

(The programme didn't make the date of that clear, so I had to check Wikipedia. I'd wrongly assumed, from what they'd said, that it had been struck in the years of [or the years surrounding] the Civil War).

Donna McDowell noted that the interior was in quite a state too. 

It had been used as a cavalry barracks by Cromwell's soldiers at one stage, with horses regularly hoofing in and out.  

And it was also used for social gatherings, with lawyers meeting their clients, and prostitutes meeting their clients.  

That was all very interesting, but what really grabbed me was the contribution of  the present day St. Paul's librarian Joe Wisdom. 

He's a man who can really tell a tale:
Joe Wisdom: I think the feeling, before the fire, was that St. Paul's and churches were safe places. 
And the stationers (the booksellers), whose properties were very much adjacent to St. Paul's and in the surrounding streets, stuffed their stock into the crypt of St. Paul's. 
And they stopped up any gap to stop sparks getting into their stock. 
Unfortunately, they stuffed it in with bales of cloth as well.   
John Evelyn was one of those commissioned to survey the cathedral in its state before the Fire. And it was only the week before that John Evelyn was here with Wren and some other surveyors, and they'd come to the conclusion that they were going to put a cupola (or dome) on top. 
So the cathedral was actually in a ready state to be repaired. And that was just under way. 
So the scaffolding was up, and, of course, it was wooden scaffolding. (They had no metal scaffolding in those days). 
So you had a line of flammable material set up, if you like, around the cathedral. Couldn't have been better if you like fires, but... 
Tom Charlton: And it was Christopher Wren's scaffolding? 
Joe Wisdom: It was Wren's scaffolding, absolutely. Ignited material hit the lead roof and the roof then fell through, dropping through to the crypt of St. Faith, breaking through the cathedral floor.   
So you then had flammable goods which, it is said, burned for about a week in fact. 
One of the scholars of Westminster School indicated that by the light of the burning St. Paul's he could actually read his copy of Terence that he had in his hand, over in Westminster. So the light was that tremendous.
If he hasn't already written a book, Mr Wisdom should write one.


Further to a post here on Saturday night, the ever-excellent Daphne Anson has published a piece called Something To Do With Islam: The BBC befuddles British schoolkids

Exploring further, Daphne looked at the Test at the end of the Crusades section of BBC Bitesize's medieval history course and found this question, which she rightly calls "childish": 

Note that Muhammad got a "peace be upon him" bestowed upon him there by the respectful BBC.

She also provides neat little example of the BBC making a 'value judgement' on a political issue:

One of her readers put in a complaint about that and got a swift reply from the BBC (which you'll have to click on to enlarge and read, as our blog isn't wide enough!):

The BBC is standing by its 'value judgement' by refusing to admit that it's a 'value judgement'.

Monday 29 August 2016

Driving the agenda

I once read on some internet review site that the blog ‘Biased-BBC’ had bagged the best name in the business. 

However, the downside of having such a specific remit is that it invites the accusation that the BBC has been artificially shoehorned into a topic where the link seems tenuous
Having been accused of committing such deviances, I would argue that most of the things that interest me can be traced back to the BBC’s pernicious influence on public opinion. We put the caveat into our banner to head off such accusations and give us leeway to cover anything that takes our fancy.

Remember the time when Delia Smith only had to use an unusual ingredient or utensil, to find that next day sales of said item had gawn stratospheric? Maybe this effect has tailed off because of the internet and social media, but nevertheless the BBC still has the power to sway the public. 

A news editor’s role is as follows:

Role Responsibility 

Reporting to the Director and Deputy Director of News and Current Affairs, the News Editor will be based on the Newsdesk at New Broadcasting House, where you will sit across the daily news agenda with the aim of driving key stories on behalf of all the daily news outlets.  You will also have an overview of the agendas being pursued by the Newsroom, Newsgathering, Millbank, Programmes and English Regions, and if appropriate the language services within Global News.  You will not seek to draw up running orders or interfere in the decision making of individual editors but will have the authority to demand appropriate staffing and resources on important running stories by relevant parts of News Group.

Unfortunately the job is no longer vacant. Can you visualise someone sitting across the daily news agenda like a bloody great chicken? Not necessarily hatching agendas, but viewing “the agendas being pursued by the Newsroom, Newsgathering, Millbank, ……….”  Not only viewing agendas,  but driving them!

Someone in the BBC hierarchy must have decided to drive this story up the agenda. As Craig reliably informed me,  it was yesterday’s 4th ‘most read’ story.

Of course, the BBC was not the only media outlet that thought this was an important story, (which is  another argument used to defend the BBC against accusations of bias) but making such a fuss about this particular incident seems to me gratuitous in an OMG Daily Mail kind of way

While the ‘sensationalising’ end of the media is driving relatively trivial incidents into full-blown firestorms in order to whip up as much outrage against ‘Islamophobia’ as possible, the BBC  holds back on certain other substantive stories, which would surely generate a similar amount of outrage, should the BBC choose to highlight them.  The trouble is that they reveal other side of the coin, if you like, with the agenda travelling in the opposite direction.

The BBC has an ambivalent relationship with the police. Plod frequently comes under auntie’s disapproving eye, but when the police really do behave like prize provocateurs the BBC ain’t interested.

Both these stories were cited by Sarah AB on Harry’s Place yesterday, and although she got a bit of flak for implying an equivalence between them, it surprised me that, amongst some excellent comments and observations, some of the commenters were so hesitant, so cautious, about being seen to defend Tommy Robinson. One commenter thought he was a racist. 

People often complain about the Westminster/ Metropolitan / Media “bubble”. Career MPs who’ve never had a real job. Leftie journalists who are out of touch. BBC bias. etc etc.

I wonder how many of his critics understand lads like Tommy Robinson? He seems to me to represent a complex mixture of inarticulacy and eloquence, bravery and belligerence. He has both the typical volatility of the ‘working class lad’ and the insight of the independent thinker.  All at the same time. All the video evidence that, admittedly he himself has made available, indicates that he has a very genuine grievance against the police, the state, and the Islamisation of the UK, Europe and specifically his hometown, Luton

Saturday’s spat between Tommy Robinson and the police is only the latest in a string of attempts by the law or the state to shut him up. He’s taking a stand against Islamisation, and the law and the state are taking their stand on behalf of it. 

Of course there are other ways he could have reacted to that particular policeman’s provocative attitude. Maybe some sort of psychological counselling might have shown Tommy Robinson how to handle it, perhaps with mindfulness or anger management, or self-hypnosis. Perhaps he could have learned to head it off, like lessons on avoiding confrontation with your uncontrollable spoilt brats. Tommy Robinson is probably more likely to head-butt than head off a confrontation; result: free ammunition for his critics. In the event, his unanswerable reasoning drove the policeman into a corner from which he could not back down, hence the escalation.

Would he have advanced his cause if he hadn’t lost his rag, hadn’t caused a scene, had gone quietly instead of acting like a perverse version of the Tammimis, making the kids cry for effect. “Now see what you’ve done!” 
Maybe making a scene was a way of deliberately attracting the attention of, say a news editor whose agenda was being deliberately driven in one direction, away from the scene of the crime.


This video popped into my inbox and I thought I’d exercise my freedom to deviate from the strictly  come “Biased BBC” agenda to share it with you. 
In my opinion, it has more than a tenuous link to the BBC’s bias, because the BBC goes out of its way to ignore its content. How can the BBC promote the virtues of Islam without ever alluding to this? 

Sunday 28 August 2016

A post about Countryfile

Here's Johnny!

It's long been things like the first snowdrop of the year, gobbling down pancakes, trying to give up alcohol for Lent, hearing the first cuckoo of Spring, celebrating Easter, the coming of swallows, the Summer solstice, enjoying the seaside delights of Morecambe during the Summer holidays, blackberry-picking, harvest festivals, riding broomsticks, lighting bonfires, the Winter solstice, celebrating Christmas, and making a New Year's resolution to try to give up alcohol for January - markers of the year, reliably recurrent and reassuring. 

For BBC Countryfile watchers, however, such time-blessed calendar customs now include that yearly episode of Countryfile where John Craven takes his own sweet time announcing the twelve photos chosen for this year's Countryfile calendar.

That annual episode always follows exactly the same format, and the former Godfather of Newsround always says exactly the same things, year in year out, and always repeats those very same things throughout the entire episode - ad nauseum and beyond. 

Plus, midway though, he always makes his excuses, deserts his fellow judges in their hour of need, and goes walkabout to explore the historic location chosen as a scenic backdrop (to the strains of Vaughan Williams's Tallis Fantasia) before then returning through some ruined archway to rejoin his fellow judges and build the tension to breaking point. 

(The Daily Express is reporting that tonight's judging was more exciting than The X Factor, with dozens of people tweeting that they literally died of excitement while watching it.)

And we'd have it no other way, would we?

(I'm addressing any fellow Countryfile fans among you there rather than all of you who think the whole thing is nowt but a muesli-munching townie's fantasy). 

It's now as much a part of tradition as eating mince pies, dunking for apples, guessing who's going to be on I'm a Celebrity, burning effigies of Guy Verhofstadt, and complaining that Christmas has become far too commercialised.

I was torn (for about a minute) on which of the twelve photos to vote for (for free online, naturally). I liked the rodent nibbling on the blackberries and the dawn-on-Anglesey-with-Snowdonia-in-the-background ones but in the end plumped for this truly fabulous effort ('click to enlarge', as they say) from an estimable chap called Tony Howes:

A barn owl intently watching 'Sunday Morning Live' on a dropped tablet amidst the reeds

I'm always on the winning side in elections and referendums (except for those where it went the wrong way), so I'm confident that Tony is going to be awarded the laurels this year. 

And rightly so. (I bet his photo's one of those that Simon King felt envious about).

Burkini Divestment and Sanctimony

I think it’s fair to say that the subject of the French burkini ban and subsequent un-ban has been exhausted; but the melody lingers on.

The ban had to go. It put the French police in the ridiculous position of having to publicly order a burkina-wearing Muslima who was innocently lying on the beach  - sunbathing? - to take her top off, (while being filmed). The whole scenario looked so unnatural - but so do millions of other things these days - that the consensus seems to be that this particular incident was staged.

Over the past few days the online commentariat have said everything there is to say about the matter. They’ve drawn comparisons between the potential offensiveness of Islamic dress and Nazi uniforms or KKK hoods, and the implications and legality of wearing statement uniforms in public. 

Some have supported the ban because they fear creeping Islamisation, others have objected to it because they fear the ever-increasing infringement of personal liberty.  Some have suggested that lifting the ban amounts to appeasing Islam and encourages separatism and illiberalism, and leaves moderate Muslims at the mercy of their conservative co-religionists. Upholding the ban, they say, would have protected the Muslims who wish to modernise and assimilate, which everyone agrees would be a Good Thing.

Banning Islamic dress puts us, the non Muslim majority, in the wrong. It’s forcing us to look intolerant and racist, when it’s Islam that epitomises intolerance and racism. It’s as though the Muslims have come west, staked their claim, and thenceforth every single conflict between clashing customs is argued on their terms. 

“Wearing a burkina gives me the freedom to go for a swim” they plead, as though adhering to the strictures laid down by conservative Islam is sacrosanct and unchallengeable. Yet why should they have the freedom to swim when they haven’t got the freedom to soak up the sun, display their hair or  enjoy a pint of beer and a packet of pork scratchings?

As if all that hasn’t been said before, at length, discussed this way and that, inside, outside and upside down.

The BBC is one of the chief meddlers. They go about their daily business, manipulating the public, enabling manifestations of Islam we could well do without and relentlessly normalising them.  

You can’t win this one. The real problem is much deeper, as everyone knows but cannot say. 

Take a couple of recent examples of how the BBC has presented this current French fiasco. I’m sure there have been more, but as I have avoided watching as much of it as possible, I can only cite these.

First, a widely disseminated Newsnight interview, which I’m sure you’ll have already seen many times, starring Evan Davis, Douglas Murray and a hijab clad female named Shelina Janmohamed. Douglas Murray used this clip to illustrate  his Spectator article: “The burkini ban is a political ruse”

Here we have two openly gay men discussing Islamic dress with a lady whose head and shoulders appear to be wrapped up in several shimmering yards of fabric of a curiously saccharine colour and texture, weirdly reminiscent of icing-sugar frosting on a wedding cake. Someone described her as a talking cake. She regards her hijab as a means of self expression.   

Ludicrous doesn’t begin to describe the whole scenario. The personification of western liberalism - two high-profile, openly gay chaps - taking this religiously inspired fancy dress seriously. That is itself cognitively dissonant, for a start.

What’s more, at least one of the two is accepting the premise that compulsory Islam-inspired modesty is a Muslim’s inalienable right, while they both must know that alongside this person’s religiously inspired opinion of modesty, undoubtedly lies some very negative opinions on homosexuality. 

Still, if we can accept Grayson Perry dressed up as little Miss Muffet, perhaps we should accept all ‘uniform’ type statements, including swastikas, and welcome them as freedoms of expression,. We’re half way there as it is, what with bushy beards, hijabs and burkas.

Shelina Janmohamed is an author, by the way. She’s well educated too. Been to Oxford. Here she is Tweeting about a new release. “Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World”

Shelina is jubilant that young Muslims are changing the world, and she’s probably ecstatic that we are letting them.

The other example that I failed to avoid hearing was on the Today Programme the other morning. Mishal Husain got the hijab hebe jeebies topic of course. She has to have it, ‘asaMuslim’, otherwise one of the infidel presenters might come across as racist. 

Being a Muslim, Mishal Husain has free rein to probe hijab-wearing Muslims as well as Muslims who have decided to give it a miss.
“France's highest administrative court is being asked to overturn beach bans imposed by 26 towns on women in full-body swimsuits known as "burkinis". Nadira Mahamoud has stopped wearing her hijab after being racially attacked and Duree Tariq wears her hijab proudly.”

I assume the two women featured represent the young Muslims who are changing the world.
You might want to listen to the first speaker, Nadira Mahamoud who had been experiencing unpleasant reactions to her hijab, culminating in one physical incident. She was pushed from the platform into the tube train by a stranger, which she saw as an Islamophobic attack. It’s hard to tell if it was intended as such an attack, but she deserves the benefit of the doubt. After this, she decided to stop wearing her hijab, and now her life is much easier. She is still a Muslim though, and if anything, more devout than before. 

This raises the obvious question, how essential is 'extreme' modest dress for a practicing Muslim? Maybe it would be easier if they gave in on the necessity of wearing the burka and its variants, and called it quits. The weirdest thing of all, for me anyway, was the incongruity of this girl’s religious language and her street-wise delivery. She said she wanted to emulate “the prophet’s” wives, but she said it in the kind of affected drawl that young people from, say, “Essex” might use. She came across (in my opinion) as affected, quite unnatural and very whiney.  Grievance mongering. Yet Mishal Husain questioned her gently. No schoolmarmish tones from her today.

I cannot imagine how that degree of sanctimonious religiosity would have sounded if it been uttered by a young person from any other religion.  

Which brings me to Sunday Morning Live (SML). See Craig. They also discussed the burkini farrago, but with nothing new to say, apart from some staggeringly dumb comments from Kate Williams, TV historian and fashion expert
Even Deborah Orr, the controversialist spouse of controversialist intellectual Will Self, had the courage to say she just didn’t like the burkini. 

Tommy was there as usual, improvising some of  the inane comments from ‘YOU”. I suspect he added at least ten imaginary words, which we could all see weren’t on the screen. 

I do actually think this subject has just about reached its use-by.


It's been a funny old morning on the BBC. 

Sunday went with a campaign group to Calais and only gave us the voices of supporters of their campaign (for unaccompanied migrant children to be brought to Britain). 

Then Broadcasting House discussed Jeremy Corbyn's week with two loyal Corbyn supporters (Paul Mason and Rhea Wolfson). Even the Corbynistas on Twitter seemed pleased at that. (Paul Mason was floating in an alternate universe here, even more than usual). 

And then Sunday Morning Live discussed the burkini ban with four people (Deborah Orr, Faeeza Vaid, Tim Stanley, and Kate Williams), all of whom oppose the ban - a remarkable thing for an 'impartial' programme to have brought about. (And there was no Douglas Murray, David Vance or Jon Gaunt today to balance things out either).

Even Broadcasting House's paper review discussed Brexit with a gaggle of like-minded people. All three were Remain supporters (Sir Vince Cable, Daniel Glaser and Val McDermid), and they duly moaned about/sneered at Brexit. They then moved on to discuss the burkini ban and, inevitably, all three of them opposed that too.

And as for The Papers on the BBC News Channel at 9.30 (with two strongly pro-Remain journalists - Matthew Green and Yasmin Alibhai Brown), well, let's just say that the meeting of minds over the folly of Brexit and Brexiteers was quite something to behold. 

Outbreaks of BBC-style harmony everywhere!

Sunday Morning Live's burkini debate began with Naga introducing the burkini as "a cover-all costume of choice for some Muslim women". Then Tommy Sandhu went to canvass opinion at the beach in (Clacton) Brighton, Britain's most liberal seaside resort. And Tommy's selection of viewer comments ended with Tommy questioning the truth of the last comment he read out (a comment critical of burkini wearers) and Naga and her panel agreeing that the comment wasn't sound. Nice. 

Broadcasting House also ended with a comic piece based on The War of the Worlds which mocked a particular politician (I bet you can guess who. Clue: His surname rhymes with 'Barrage') and joked about the British holding a referendum on whether to allow the invading alien force to blow them up or not, and "incredibly, the nation voted by a small margin for Brexplosion". Very droll. 

Apparently The World This Weekend is going to lead on the UK Black Lives Matter campaign. Must go and listen to that. 

Such fun!

PS Oddly, The World This Weekend continued in the same vein.

There were two main topics: (1) Black Lives Matter/Mrs May's diversity audit and (2) the unrepresentative nature of our present electoral system.

On the first subject, everyone agreed that there's a serious issue that needs tackling, and on the second subject, everyone agreed that there's a serious issue that needs tackling (the answer to the latter presumably being proportional representation).

There may well be serious issues that need tackling on both subjects, but having everyone roughly singing from the same hymn sheet on them (including the presenter) doesn't really strike me as being the sort of thing the BBC ought to be doing (as it doesn't seem at all impartial)...

...and yet they've been doing it all day so far.


Saturday 27 August 2016

A smorgasbord for a Saturday evening

It's a while since we've had a proper 'smorgasbord' post.

A 'smorgasbord' post is all I can manage today, so please prepare for a whole load of utterly random stuff.


Shaun of the (Dead) BBC

Today's Dateline London was one of those editions where a single right-winger is allowed onto an otherwise entirely left-liberal panel (which is always preferable to those editions that have an entirely left-liberal panel - and, unfortunately, Dateline now appears to be regressing in that respect). 

Today's lone right-wing Daniel was Alex Deane, and the left-liberal lions roaring around him were Abdul Bari Atwan, Eunice Goes and Michael Goldfarb. 

The result was both fun and thought-provoking, and well worth watching (and Daniel did good). 

They discussed Syria, Trump 'n' Farage, and the burkini ban.

Presenter Shaun Ley gave the following three introductions (one to the entire programme, the others to the final later topics):

President Erdogan of Turkey has certainly bounced back after the coup attempt. This week he appeared to have the United States eating out of his hand. After a Turkish excursion into Syria to deny the group that calls itself Islamic State its only border crossing the US obligingly instructed Kurds to get out of the way if they wanted to go on receiving American support. Mr Erdogan is not the only populist politician basking in American adulation. Nigel Farage - one of the prominent voices in the successful campaign to get Britain out of the European Union - appeared at a rally with Donald Trump, telling his supporters the Establishment can be beat. Even as in Syria some women were celebrating liberation from Islamic State by taking off their burqas those wearing burkinis on the beaches of France were being ordered to take them off,
Second topic:
Let's move on to another populist leader - like President Erdogan perhaps! Donald Trump received some international aid of his own this week. Nigel Farage, who was instrumental in the campaign to get Britain out of the European Union, joined Mr Trump in Mississippi, where he suggested they were soul-mates battling the Establishment. 
Third topic:
Now, it was Churchill who promised to fight them on beaches - French beaches in the Second World War - but he certainly didn't have this in mind: The modern-day battle on the beaches (as Eunice was suggesting there) - and, yes, there has already been a punch-up in Corsica - is over the burkini ban - swimwear that covers almost all the entire body. Photographs of a woman being instructed to remove hers by four male police officers was deeply unsettling for some. Others insisted Islamic dress was provocative - a perhaps surprisingly statement when the French are unmoved by the sight of people sunbathing in the nude. On Friday the bans were thrown into doubt when the Council of State - France's highest administrative court - suspended the ban at Villeneuve-Loubet, pending a detailed judgement later in the year.
Were I some A-level student presented with those statements blind and asked to 'discuss' them, I'd say:
(1) that the speaker didn't approve of the US backing Turkey at the expense of the Kurds. 
(2) that the speaker called Turkey's president a "populist", and then called UKIP's Nigel Farage a "populist", and twice linked them together, and didn't sound complimentary about either. And then Trump.
(3) that the speaker really didn't approve of a 'burkini ban', given: 
(a) his pointed contrast of the liberated women of Syria with the burkini-wearing women being "ordered" about by the French
(b) his sardonic reference to Churchill's 'We will fight them on the beaches' speech to make the 'burkini ban' sound ridiculous, and...
(c) his mocking of those who argue that the burkini is provocative by sarcastically saying "a perhaps surprisingly statement when the French are unmoved by the sight of people sunbathing in the nude".

A pretty mosque, Brexit Street, Thornaby-on-Tees

Over at Biased BBC David Vance posted a piece sent to him by a reader concerning the History section of the BBC's educational resource BBC Bitesize (a widely used tool in UK schools) - specifically the component in The Middle Ages section called The Islamic world in the Middle Ages

The B-BBC reader's complaint was that the BBC was projecting an extremely rose-tinted view of the medieval Islamic world whilst simultaneously mocking medieval Europe:

I would ask you (especially as it won't take you very long) to read the whole eight pages of the BBC Bitesize revision module and I think you'll agree that the B-BBC reader has a very real point. 

Take this, for example:

There's no mention of the term 'dhimmi', nor of those non-Muslims religious communities being 'second-class citizens'. And there were many times - as even Wikipedia admits - that non-Muslims were persecuted under Muslim rule. 

I would have hoped that the BBC would have encouraged nuance at the very least in their schools' history study guide instead of sounding oddly like proselytisers.  


Oh, and the lefty BBC-haters are going mad for an LSE study that doesn't even mention the BBC. 

The LSE study found that the UK newspapers have posted lots and lots and lots of negative headlines about Jeremy Corbyn. 

Avoiding the possibility that some if not most of those negative headlines might have arisen because Mr Corbyn isn't really up to much, they say that the media is being soooo unfair to Jeremy.

The foreword to this LSE report comes from Nick Couldry, head of the LSE's Department of Media and Communications, and the report's lead author Bart Cammaerts. And if you're wondering who they are and where they're coming from, well,....:

Of course, the fact that a pair of Corbynistas have produced an LSE study proving massive media bias against their hero might be taken as automatically self-destroying their findings. But that's to succumb to the ad hom fallacy. Their findings, in fact, appear fair enough - except that, as I said above, they (fatally) choose to magic away the possibility that their magical leader might have deserved most of those headlines.

Academic studies of BBC bias are always to be questioned. Stick to blogs, folks! (h/t Michael Gove).

That said, they are probably right that the media is heavily biased against the Bearded One.


RS Thomas, appearing on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

Meanwhile, I  was sitting in my sunlit garden this afternoon looking at the sky, the trees, the flowers, the birds, the butterflies, the bees, and a very colourful green-and-red fly that looked in shape just like the kind of fly people itch to swat but was so green-and-red that no one would ever want to do it harm. 

All was well with the world and I was happily reading the Collected Poems 1945-1990 of that English-hating Welsh vicar and semi-fascist (well, at least as far as us English were concerned) RS Thomas. 

He was echoing my mood, talking about a view from his window, writing that "these colours/Are renewed daily with variations/Of light and distance that no painter/Achieves or suggests". I thought, yes, that's true. (Sorry, M. Monet).

And now I feel I ought to add an "I suppose"....

....which is just typical of me as a blogger (these days). 


No need for a caption here. See above. (Not Camilla B)

I've not had the time to monitor much of the BBC's reporting of Theresa May's proposed audit on inequality, especially racial inequality, but I heard the coverage on this morning's Today and watched this evening's BBC One evening news bulletin and both followed a basically similar pattern. 

On Today, we got two main segments - at 7.16 at at 8.10. The first was an inter-BBC discussion between Simon Jack and Ellie Price. It gave Mrs May a favourable review. Ellie talked about "how important to her this obviously really is" for Mrs. May, and Simon said:
And she does have some form on this because, of course, when she was Home Secretary there was the racial profile of the stop-and-search and she made some progress there. So she's on quite firm...on quite familiar territory.
(Some might say Simon's use of the word "progress" there was telling).

The interviews after 8.10, with (a) Simon Woolley of the campaign group Operation Black Vote (and the Equality and Human Rights Commission) and (b) Danny Dorling, the left-wing geography professor, also welcomed the move, whilst stressing that there's a heck of a lot to be done. Prof. Dorling, however, also complained about the effects of Tory cuts on making the problem worse.

On BBC One tonight Elaine Dunkley's report followed a fairly similar trajectory. It started with Elaine at the Notting Hill Carnival, talking about how multiculturalism is being threatened by unfair treatment of ethnic minorities. Three 'vox pops' attending the Carnival said, yes, the problem is very real. Mrs May's Downing Street speech was recalled before Elaine said that Mrs May would "have her work cut out". Then a lady from a campaign group Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (picture above) denounced the effects of Tory cuts. 

I suppose you could call that balanced in that in both praises the (new) Tory government for doing what it's now about to do and damning the (previous) Tory government for partly causing the problem in the first place - except that both BBC programmes seemed to be acting in full support of Mrs May's new strategy. 

Critics of that strategy from people who aren't from the pro-multiculturalism/anti-cuts Left seemed conspicuous by their absence...

...well, at least in the little bit of the BBC's coverage that I saw and heard today.


Ellie Price of the BBC. Impartiality personified

During her 7.16 chat with Simon Jack on Today, Ellie Price let slip a turn of phrase that hit me as being 'very BBC'. Talking of Mrs May, she said: 
And this is a prime minister, of course, who's going to be laden with the legacy of taking Britain out of the EU.
"Laden" is a rather loaded word (appropriately enough), and it's not a positive one:

She could have said something along the lines of "...who's going to be busy with" or "who's going to be strongly engaged with" the legacy of taking Britain out of the EU but she said "laden with" instead.

Am I reading too much into that?  


Ayatollah Khamenei and his friend Jeremy (in their younger days)

In a questionable editorial decision, this morning's Today chose to invite in comedian Jake Yapp to mock ITV for switching off all their channels this morning in a Team GB-related stunt to encourage children to go out and do some exercise...

The BBC mocking ITV for doing something noble doesn't strike me as being on the part of the BBC.

The one upside is that Jake, as ever, was funny. I like Jake. He does all the voices:
You're watching ITV One, the home of Saturday morning children's entertainment, with Ant and Dec ready to go live...fifteen years ago. 
Today though the channel's a bit different on Saturday mornings. It's time for all you kids to go completely wild for...Murder She Wrote. 
Man: Hello Angela Lansbury.  
Angela Lansbury: Hello dear old male friend with who I have a romantically ambiguous history. Oh dear, it looks like you killed someone. Oh well, it never would have worked out between us. 
As Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (is he still alive?) would say, lol!!


Naga O'Brien

Talking of being still alive, Clive James was on last night's Newsnight, still being alive. 

Last night's Newsnight marked the debut of Naga Munchetty. She was wearing James O'Brien-style intellectual glasses, but, thankfully, wasn't James O'Brien. 

Clive was talking to Steve Smith of the BBC. Clive was funny. Steve asked him about his affair, among other things. (A time and a place please, Steve!)

And Clive admitted that he'd outlived that famous maple tree - the subject of a beautiful, moving poem of his which I (among many others) quoted (in full) this time last year

The point of the poem was that that newly-planted maple tree would outlive the dying Clive and be a source of joy to his children. 

Unfortunately, the famous tree has now died while (not at all unfortunately) Clive is still going! 

He's planted a new maple tree.

Oh, I do like Clive James. I even bought his Collected Poems in my recent poetry-buying splurge on Amazon. Whether they are all as good as Japanese Maple I'm yet to find out.

Presumably all his widely-mocked royal stuff will be in there too. (I've got a thing for the poetry of William McGonagall too, by the way).  

Of course, Ted Hughes, while Poet Laureate, used to get mocked for his royal poems....

....which gives me the chance, finally, to post my own sub-Private Eye Ted Hughes parody from my early Twenties (long, long ago):
The Corgi 
Slipped, a stone god, from entrails
Bloodied like lizards' skulls.  
Scarred black, the moronic silence
Raises a gloved hand of guts and carcase
Waving like a holocaust.    
Caton Moor, black, black.
A beefeater's hat,
Pouring down blood. 
A wound on earth, slitty-eyed. 
Pass, Raven (of the Tower of London). 
Happy birthday, Your Majesty!