I Know A Lawyer

Just to follow up on this entry from a couple of years ago, I’m enormously proud to report that my old school alumnus Dan Holt is now officially a barrister. He passed his last exam a few weeks ago and should be called to the profession sometime this month. I find that incredible, I must say. His new profile pic on Facebook, of Dan looking smart in his curly white wig, looks awesome. I would just like to take this opportunity to congratulate him heartily and wish him the best of luck. I officially know a lawyer!

Stop Cleese Stealing Python

Is John Cleese trying to steal Monty Python and it’s legacy for the Right? I just came across this article outlining how he is now saying that programs such as Monty Python would never have come about under contemporary conditions. As the article points out, his recent right-wing pronouncements have attracted the ire of many, including from most of his fellow Pythons. By arguing that political correctness stifles free speech, Cleese is trying to claim that avant guard, barrier-challenging comedy programs such as Python could not have happened in contemporary PC culture. Yet it was precisely the liberal, educated left wing philosophies which brought about Python which now underpin Political Correctness. Python was a rebellion against the very conservatism Cleese now espouses. Python broke barriers, but there is a huge gap between challenging social norms and the type of crass, offensive humour that cleese and those who think like him are arguing is now being censored. In trying to argue that Political Correctness stifles humour, Cleese plays directly into the hands of those who would use comedy as an excuse or disguise for intolerance.

In Monty Python’s Life Of Brian for example, Python exposes the absurdity of religion, yet it did not intentionally cause offence or reinforce stereotypes. Political Correctness is an effort to steer cultural discourse away from outdated stereotypes which people may now be offended by. It is an attempt to prevent people wantonly laughing at and belittling those they perceive as different, simply because they are different. Python sought to make people laugh and question, not offend; yet the brand of humour cleese says is now being censored does just that. In effect he is attempting to hijack monty python to fit his own anachronistic right wing views, but in doing so totally distorts what python was all about.

I love Monty Python and always will, and watching them live in 2014 will always be one of the greatest moments of my life. It was a type of educated, informed humour: absurd, yet underpinned by a huge intelligence. While it challenged barriers it did not set out to offend. Political Correctness would thus have had no issues with it. By arguing that it would, however, Cleese is trying to reposition Python onto the political Right, when in fact it is squarely on the left. After all, it is conservatism which stifles creativity as it seeks to preserve the social and economic hierarchies which allow thee rich few to dominate the poor many; it is liberalism which seeks to tear such structures down. As he becomes ever more ingrained in Outism and right wing politics, Cleese grows ever more desperate to claim Python for himself, when in truth Python was the antithesis of what Cleese now advocates. It disgusts me to see this once great, intelligent, funny actor try to hijack possibly the greatest comedy program of all time for himself.

Dogmatic Speech Apps

I’ve mentioned here before that I use an Ipad instead of a dedicated communication aid these days. While they aren’t specifically designed to assist people with communication like my Lightwriter was, I find using the Ipad has various other advantages: having one on my lap when I’m out and about is extremely useful, allowing me to do anything from make notes to – when I’m connected to a Wifi network – checking my Email or Facebook. I find it practical and handy. The app I use for communication is called Proloquo2go, very kindly installed for me by the teachers I work with at school. It’s a very cool app which I can’t really fault. It has both minspeak and ordinary typing modes, the latter of which I use. It has a very good prediction system, meaning I can say what I need to quite quickly.

However, I have noticed something odd (and slightly disturbing) about it which I just want to note: the prediction system seems to have a religious, christian bias. It constantly suggests christian words for me. That is, when I type J it always suggests ‘Jesus’; when I type G it suggests ‘God’ and so on, irrespective of the context. Perhaps I shouldn’t mind, but as an atheist I resent having religion imposed upon me in this way. The app seems to assume that it’s users want to talk about religion and religious figures they might not believe in – I certainly don’t. Of course, this is only a minor issue, and no reason to start looking for another speech app; but I really don”t like the way in which whoever designed this speech app chose to force their faith upon whoever uses it.

First Contact at 25

Perhaps I should have noted on here that yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the release of Star Trek First Contact. It’s still, more or less, my favourite Star Trek film, made even more special for me by the fact that it played a major role in my MA. If you ask me, First Contact was just about Star Trek’s peak in terms of films; it was all pretty much down hill from then on. Insurrection and Nemesis were pretty dire, and then came the awful Abrams reboots. Mind you, I must confess it hass been years since I last watched First Contact, so perhaps this anniversary gives me a good excuse to dig out the DVD.

Why Is Top Gear Still Being Made?

I had just decided on what I want to blog about today and thought I better check what I’d already written about it, but it seems I just need to direct everyone to this four year old entry. I watched Top Gear last night, but I think that might be the last time I do so: it is now a pathetic, nauseating shadow of the program it once was. Even guys like me, who can’t drive and are strong advocates for good, clean public transport, enjoyed it. But now, hosted by three chavvy caravan-advocating morons, it really has lost it’s way. As much as I loathe the right-wing p’tahk, Top Gear hasn’t been the same since it lost Jeremy Clarkson, and the longer the show is fronted by three idiots who don’t actually like cars but think the program was just about juvenile stunts, the more ridiculous it will look. The thing is, I was obviously saying the same thing four years ago, yet the Beeb still insists on airing this washed out husk of a once great motoring program.

A Widening, Worrying Disparity

I think I’ve mentioned on here before how much I love London. Having lived here for almost twelve years I have become intoxicated by the sheer vibrancy of this metropolis. Yet the fact remains that I come from a small Cheshire town, and to be honest I think I’ve started to miss it. As much as I love London, I’m a northerner and always will be. That’s why I was so dismayed to hear that the tories are abandoning the planned infrastructure upgrades up there. Every time I go out for my trundle, I see new buildings being constructed and improvements being made across this city: it’s now clear that, for all the governments talk of levelling up, there is still a huge north/south divide in terms of investment in this country. When you remember that, fingers crossed, Crossrail will start working next year, a transport project costing billions, but which will benefit more or less only London, but a project intended to improve transport between northern cities can get binned just like that, that imbalance starts to look quite obscene. At the end of the day I come from the north; to see it being left behind like this when everywhere around me brand new buildings are rocketing into the sky really is troubling.

Apart from the occasional couple of days here and there, I have barely been ‘home’ in the past decade; the pandemic has obviously made it especially hard. To be honest I think I miss it. I wonder what places like Stoke, Crewe and Macclesfield look like these days? I wonder what I would see if I could trundle around them as I now trundle around London. But then, I’m told public transport is still not as accessible there as it is in London, which I suppose is part of the very issue I’m trying to get at. The disparity between London, the South-East and everywhere else is vast and growing. It’s starting to worry me. This week’s cancellation can only cause more division and resentment.

I Can No Longer Respect America

I have to say that, after yesterday, I cannot respect the USA. How can any society let anyone walk free after he walked into a town, armed and looking for trouble, and killed two people? Yesterday’s news that Kyle Rittenhouse was let off scot free is surely a travesty; it will only encourage more vigilantes to go looking for trouble. This verdict just about gives the green light to any hot headed American kid to pick up a gun and shoot whoever they like, safe in the knowledge that if they play their cards right (and have the right skin colour) they can get away with it. It plays straight into the hands of far-right American gun culture, which more or less holds that you should have the right to shoot whoever you want. You really must despair that a nation which prides itself on being so advanced and noble can sink to such depravities.

A New Bus Rule

Today I would just like to suggest a new rule for London public transport, which I thought of a couple of days ago. If someone is running for the bus just as it’s about to set off, the driver should only reopen the door to let them on if they are wearing a mask. Sat in the wheelchair space, I have lost count of the times I’ve seen people run up to a bus just as it’s about to leave a stop, and practically beg the driver to reopen the door. At least this rule might encourage them to mask up.

How the Beeb will mark it’s centenary

This might not be particularly fashionable, but I must admit I’m a bit of a fan of the BBC. Like the NHS, it is a UK institution funded by the public which we can all access equally, free of adverts. Among other things, I trust it the most as the source of my daily news. I think it is worth cherishing and defending. I just read that next year it will be celebrating it’s centenary with a range of programs including documentaries and comedies, including a three-part series titled David Dimbleby’s BBC: A Very British History. If you ask me, it will be an occasion to support: we are lucky to have a broadcast institution as highly respected as the Beeb in the UK. For one thing, the greatest natural history broadcaster ever, Sir David Attenborough, will be marking seventy years since he started working for the Beeb and sixty since his first documentaries aired: that in itself is quite incredible and worth celebrating. Thus I think the Beeb has every right to mark it’s centenary, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it does so.

I Don’t Read Enough

I don’t read enough these days. Well, let me put that another way: I probably read loads, but all of it on my computer or Ipad. It has been ages – years, possibly – since I last sat down and read from a book. The truth is, it is’t that comfortable for me to do so any more: I struggle to hold the book still, and turning pages seems to be much harder than it once was. I find it generally a lot easier to just sit at my desk and read from my screen, or have the computer read it to me. The problem with that is, I then only consume the short, direct, largely artless prose one finds on the web. I suppose that’s okay, if you only want to read news articles and facebook updates; yet part of me misses the more involved, elaborate writing you only find on printed pages. Surely that is what proper reading is.

While I have my excuses, however, I worry that this problem is much more general. Nobody seems to be reading anymore. A combination of the Web and celebrity culture means that most people seem to have the attention spans of five year olds. Everyone wants everything delivered in snippets or clips. If it isn’t happening at that very moment, people loose all interest. You only have to look at Saturday evening television and the editing of programs like Strictly Come Dancing to see this MSG-type entertainment. While that might be just as well – who am I to judge what other people watch? – I fear it turns us all into shallow, uncritical consumers as opposed to analysts aware that we are being shown something for an underlying reason. To read anything properly you must engage with and think about what you are consuming; in this sense reading is, by definition, an active process.

I suppose that’s why I miss books: sitting down with a text written by a single author allows you to truly engage with a subject; thinking is actively encouraged. Browsing the web might be far easier, but on it you can only glance at a subject rather than read about it. I fear that superficiality is the direction we’re all heading in.