Blaspheming

Walking home earlier this week I passed a group of religious protestors outside Saint Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Not sure what they were doing there in the dark but one banner read “god save Scotland from blasphemy”, which makes me think they are one of those religious groups who think it is alright to try and restrict and control what others can say if it annoys or offends them in any way. The same sort who try to use ancient blasphemy laws and concepts to try and restrict what someone can say, what plays or films can be show or performed – while of course demanding the right to say what they want (newsflash, if an article, play, book or film says something that offends your little religion and your relationship with your invisible magic friend then don’t read or watch it – but don’t tell the rest of us we can’t). I despire blasphemy laws, they have no place in a modern society, they are an afront to free speech and they contravene the human rights legislation on the freedom of expression. Besides which, is what a non-believer says or does in a book or film or satire or whatever threatens your belief system so much I can only conclude your faith must be pretty weak or nothing could affect it.

religious protestors outside St Giles

One of the other banners had re-worked the lyrics to Flower of Scotland but now had something about the Church of Scotland and ‘arrogant popery’, so I have to assume as well as being humourless zealots who want to restrict what others can say if it offends their religious views they are also bigots, because that is the language of sectarianism. So these people demand an end to blasphemy (at least whatever they call blasphemy) but think it is okay to hold up bigoted, sectarian slogans in a public place? No, no double standards there at all.

Easter pic

Saint John’s church at the corner of Princes Street in Edinburgh, below the Castle, has appeared on here a number of times over the years because of the always interesting painting which the minister and some artists often put up on a board by the side of the church; often they comment on current events and morality and I always find it heartening to see them so prominently displayed so everyone travelling along Princes Street sees them. I was in town with Mel this afternoon when I noticed this one they had created for Easter; given the news today about the ceremony for the lighting of the Olympic torch it became doubly appropriate.

In case you missed it, as the head of the Beijing Olympic committee rose to make his speech at the traditional lighting of the Olympic torch before it is carried through various nations before going to China some pro-Tibet protestors got through the security. Sadly the television cameras rapidly panned away from the scene until they had been removed, which I consider to be utterly shameful, craven and cowardly. If China doesn’t like it, cobblers to them, but don’t censor such a broadcast to the rest of the world you spineless cretins. Further protests took part along the route as the first runner carried the torch, with local Greeks apparently being somewhat surprised and bemused by cries of Free Tibet, which strikes me as rather odd – considering Greece was under the dictatorial rule of the Ottoman Turks for centuries, fighting for its freedom you’d think the Greeks would have been applauding the pro-Tibetan supporters.

Personally I hope the progress of the torch around the globe continues to attract these kinds of protests – I’m tired of people making excuses about keeping politics out of this and how it detracts from the Games and from the symbol of the international spirit of co-operation and peace the torch symbolises. Let’s be honest, the minute it was decided it was okay to host the Games in a country with an appalling human rights record, a country which keeps down another culture by force, which restricts its own citizens, stifles freedom of speech (often with the help of major web companies, to their shame) and even harvests the organs of executed criminals (and in a state like China do you want to bet all those executed were vicious criminals or just people they wanted rid of?). A country who, when their leader visited London complained to the Prime Minister that people were ‘allowed’ to protest his country’s policies in public on his route in. Bollocks to them. Humiliate and embarrass the totalitarian sods at every single public venue while the world’s media eye is focussed on them. They wanted the Games for international recognition, they have to take the flipside of that which is increased visibility of the shortcomings of their country’s vicious policies too.

And if any Olympians are still whining about it all detracting from the games then to hell with them – human rights are more important than some numpty in shorts running round a track and rather than attacking demonstrators they should perhaps be questioning their own morality in taking part in games held in such a land.

British Olympic Association climbs down on censorship claim

There had been worries recently that the contract British athletes being included in the national team for the Bejing Olympics had been reworded to censor what those athletes may say publicly about the dire state of human rights or politics in the host nation China. The BOA has now apparently clarified this position saying that while it is normal Olympic practise to inform competing athletes that they cannot use the Games as a political platform neither is the BOA in the business of trying to censor what its athletes speak about – they can talk to journalists, answer questions and so on, just not decide to use their position at the Games to stage a protest or demonstration, something which comes from the International Olympic rules. The British Athletes Commission seems to accept this adding that it is the sport which is paramount and that they are going to compete, not to demonstrate.

Which is fair enough, as far as it goes, since that is indeed what they are supposed to do. But I can’t help but wonder if the Games weren’t being held in a nation with an appalling record in human rights abuses, lack of civil liberties, environmental pillaging and few freedoms then this wouldn’t be an issue to begin with. Part of the argument for having the Games there though is that somehow it will magically make the Chinese government more accountable, allowing more freedoms and liberties – the same argument is used by giant corporations like Google and Microsoft for working with the Chinese government, then self-censoring to suit that totalitarian regime and even, allegedly, giving access to web records to track down and silence those bloggers who post opinions considered ‘dissident’. Yay for the spread of freedom by example!!!

Its an old refrain of capitalism that it promotes freedom because those are the circumstances it flourishes best in and where political argument fails to persuade those in power money and successful business might. But that’s an experiment we’re still waiting to see a definitive result on – there may be some more freedoms in China today but equally there are a lot of repressive measures, so the jury is well out on how successfully the market and giving them the Games has worked – it may have helped a bit, but it certainly hasn’t transformed the country to a land of freedom. On the Olympians front though, if an athlete does feel very strongly that an international coming together of nations shouldn’t be staged in a country where the regime denies basic freedoms, liberties and human rights then perhaps they should consider if they should take part in the Games being held there?

Because I doubt the Games will magically make things better – we’re talking about a regime, after all, who when visiting London criticised their UK government hosts for ‘allowing’ people to protest their visit, that’s the attitude they have – they think democratic countries should muzzle free speech critical of them. So I am left wondering if athletics organisations saying that the staging of the Games in China will somehow help improve that country’s lamentable record is less wishful thinking than a fig leaf to their own conscience to justify going there – honest I am not just going because I want to take part in the Olympics regardless, I really believe being there will help the people of China. Honest. Okay, perhaps that is pretty cynical, but I find it is hard not to be cynical about the whole thing. (source: the BBC)

The sentence for reading is death

Well, it is in bloody Afghanistan at any rate. Journalism student Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has been sentenced to death for reading. His crime? He downloaded a text which – gasp of horror – said that Muslim fundamentalists (those whacky, zany guys, what will they think of next!) who beat people around the head with their own fucked up interpretation of the holy Koran and use it to legitimate their severe repression and control of women were completely wrong and were acting contrary to the teachings of the Prophet. Gee, I can see where they might get a little annoyed at a document saying they might be wrong – after all these are the same shagwits who respond to a simple cartoon by killing people and demanding some beheadings. They aren’t just misrepresenting the teachings of their own religion, they are just fucking stupid, violent fools clearly terrified of women and carrying AK47s as a substitute for their very small willies.Take their guns off them and lock them in a room for a week With Anne Widdecombe, that’ll teach the buggers.

Oh but it gets better – this death sentence was pronounced by a religious court in Afghanistan (and surely that is contrary to the central Islamic tenant of learning for them to stop people reading??). Now it is bad enough that any country is stupid enough to still consider it civilised to allow religious leaders to hold people to trial (no, don’t give me excuses about respecting other cultures, this is just bloody wrong and utterly fucking stupid, its something moronic from the medieval period and they need to learn this. I respect other cultures as long as they aren’t bloody stupid). But then the case was referred to the Afghan secular government. The nice ones we put in power and are holding in power with the blood of our troops (the same troops their president recently said were failing, the same troops that are all that is keeping his arse from being filled full of Taliban bullets because his own troops are incompetent twats) – and they upheld the sentence. Yes, that’s right, the person we put in power to replace those muderous fundamentalist fuckwits, the Taliban, said yes, kill this student for daring to read something we don’t like.

Er, remind me again just why the hell we have our troops being put through the dusty meatgrinder in this godforsaken cesspit of a country? The Independent has an online petition up to give to the Foreign Office to demand they take some action – please consider signing it. (link via Yvonne)

Look, I’d had a lovely supper and all I said to my wife was that bit of halibut was good enough for Jehovah… I don’t think it ought to be blasphemy just saying ‘Jehovah’.” Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Canadian comics banned in middle of Fringe performance

The Evening News tells of The Underground Comedy Invasion, comics from Canada, who have been performing at the Three Tuns pub, who were stopped in the middle of a show by a senior member of staff and ejected, their Fringe run there canceled. Apparently they had told jokes about child abuse, which is certainly in bad taste, but part of humour, especially underground humour, is to broach subjects which we might often find uncomfortable and distasteful – one of my comedy heroes, the great George Carlin has always stood up for that principle, where he says bollocks to anyone telling him there is any subject he can’t make jokes about because the jokes are a way of talking about something, they don’t imply support for something or condoning it – in other words a joke about something doesn’t mean you are saying yeah, let’s do it for real, nor should a joke be confused with reality since telling a joke is not the same thing as doing something. And really, you agreed to host some underground comics for the Fringe then you act outraged when they tell jokes you don’t approve of??? Er, what a shock, distasteful humour in a Fringe stand-up show… Besides which, the altercation – seen on the video below – seems to have come about not when the comedians repeated the joke but when they tried to talk about how the management had told them not to repeat the joke – so telling the joke is a no-no and telling the audience that you aren’t allowed to tell a particular joke is also apparently a no-no, which regardless of the content of the original joke seems a bit damned stupid to me.

Obviously this short clip is taken out of context, but the staff member comes across rather badly in it, just steaming in to shut the comic up as he tries to explain he can’t tell a joke because he’s been ordered not to, while the staff member also seems to confuse the joke with reality, shouting at audience members (his customers!) do you want your kids fingered??? Er, no-one is doing anything to kids there, man, you were talking about a fucking joke – this is like the cobblers in the media when Chris Morris did his Brass Eye special on child abuse, where he was showing how attitudes in the public and media go crazy over anything to do with it, precluding discussion in favour of extreme reaction. I doubt any of the comics are really trying to promote child abuse, this is a comedy act using bad taste and uncomfortable subject matter, but then so do a lot of comics, its a legitimate area for comics to explore. And asking them not to cover a subject in your venue is the right of the manager, of course, but then trying to shut them up when they tell folk about being gagged is just being OTT. Jeez, if we banned every comedian who told a joke that might be offensive to someone we’d never tell a bloody joke again anywhere (another point Carlin makes well). You know, instead of being grossly offended, if I find a comic’s material to be offensive and/or unfunny I don’t demand their head, I just don’t laugh – let them stand there in silence on stage. Not gag them. Then tell them not to mention the gag and equate that with actual abuse.

Protesting is terrorism

Well, well, well, what a bloody surprise – the police, government authorities and the multi-million pound business that is BAA are using every dirty trick in the book (many of those tricks were added in recent years by Blair’s junta ‘to protect us’) to gag the climate protest camp at Heathrow Airport. Anyone who has been following the pre-amble to this will not be surprised – sites like Boing Boing have been following the attempts by BAA ahead of the camp to try and pre-emptively gag them and keep them away so no-one sees their protest about the impact of ever-increasing air travel on the environment (not just the pollution in the air, Heathrow is still physically expanding and devouring more land, creating more noise for local residents and if a new runway goes ahead more than likely there will be compulsory purchases of people’s homes as they are forced out to make way for it).

With the current terrorism threat, keeping Heathrow safe and secure is a very serious business. Any action taken by the protesters that distracts us or the police from this task is irresponsible and unlawfu.” Mark Bullock from BAA Heathrow. Methinks Mr Bullock is talking bollocks.

So in effect we have a big player in a business which is causing massive amounts of continuing and growing damage to the environment using very dodgy laws to try and stop people protesting the impact that industry is having, at the connivance of the police who are happy to employ very shady anti-terror laws to try and intimidate protesters from turning up and to harass them if they do. I’d guess this also means the usual method of police intelligence (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) units filming people protesting so they can identify them and build a file – can’t have people thinking they have the right to freedom of expression and protest in a democracy, can we? This is exactly the sort of heavy-handed action folks like comedian Mark Thomas have been protesting (Mark did a great Radio 4 show which exposed and ridiculed the laws Blair brought in to make legitimate protest in and around Westminster and the seat of government, laws supposedly to protect us but rather obviously there to protect twisted politicians).

Yeah, I know, some of you might be thinking, so what, bunch of eco-hippes, get a job. And maybe for some of them you might be right. But even if you don’t agree with their views on the environment (and there are a lot of people who still insist humans have no influence on global warming, it’s all nature – these folks remind me of the shagwits who all through the 70s said “there’s no scientific evidence smoking harms you”) then think about the continuing implications of the actions of the police, BAA and the government. Think about the fact that very dodgy laws rushed through without proper consultation or analysis in the House to cope with ‘emergencies’ sparked by the War On Terror (WOT?) are again being used to stop British citizens exercising their fundamental right to freedom of speech and to protest. Those are absolutely critical to any democratic society; people fought and died to preserve those rights and here we have a corrupt government that has abused serious global events to push through laws which can be employed in any bloody way they want to try and minimise dissent (and oh the irony of this being a government which says it is leading the world in tackling climate change). Regardless of your views on what the protesters are saying that should worry us all.

Iran outraged shocker!

In a move which surprised many those laid-back lovers of multiple viewpoints and open debate that are the wacky guys in the Iranian government/religious police (hard to tell them apart) have been deeply offended by something. This time not newspaper cartoons from neighbouring Saudi, not the film and comic of 300 (and before that Alexander) or the film and comic of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis or… okay you get the point, they are a bunch of whining twonks who declare everything they dislike is deeply offensive to their nation and obviously the Prophet, blessings be upon his name and all of Islam (which naturally they feel entitled to talk on behalf of all). What are the daft smeggers upset about now?

Well Salman Rushdie was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours list (sadly there was no such honour for me), which the Iranians claim is a deliberate attempt to insult them and Islam because Rushdie wrote the Satanic Verses several years ago. You may remember good ol’e Krazy Khomeini, that laugh-a-minute mullah with a twinkle in his eye and a song in his heart declaring a fatwah against it and offering a huge reward to any of the Faithful who murdered one of the most respected novelists in the world for insulting Islam in a work of fiction which he hadn’t actually read.

Oddly they don’t mention how insulting it is to all civilised people to burn books and threaten the life of writers you haven’t even bothered to read; as a devout follower of the church of freedom of speech and a disciple of the Tower of Books I find their attitude highly insulting to my beliefs and I declare literary jihad on their infidel arses. Of course, our form of literary fundementalism is more civilised – we don’t place death sentences on their heads, we want to capture them, tie them to a chair and force them to read books. That will teach the bastards.

 

Filming in the Gardens

I was asked recently to do another interview about blogging for an upcoming TV programme. They wanted to avoid the normal static interview so opted for asking me questions while walking alongside me with a camera in Princes Street Gardens, which was fine, except being a sunny, spring day the place was full and, not unnaturally, everyone was looking at us (is it for the telly? Who is he?). I’m pretty far from shy but neither am I a total extrovert (regardless of what some folks think! I think I am a bit of an introverted extrovert actually, which, if it sounds like a contradiction in terms is fine, because I’ve always enjoyed being one of those) but jeez, talk about self-conscious! This is why I much prefer doing radio (plus I have a good body for radio) or being on the other side of the camera.

Anyway, it seemed to go well and I managed to forget about everyone watching us as I got onto my High Horse and discussed freedom of expression in blogging and tried to relate it to the growing culture of censorship we seem to be experiencing from governments and corporations alike. How much of it ends up in the cut I have no idea, although the folks making it did tell me they had interviewed someone at the LSE before coming to see me and he had apparently been interested in seeing my interview because that case still comes up; I quite liked the idea of my overly-opinionated blog posts being referenced in an academic essay, it appealed to the part of me that is the Eternal Student (frankly I’d be happy spending half my life studying one degree after the other if it was feasible, purely for the pleasure of learning and applying it). It does all make me wonder what my old computer mediated communications lecturer would make of it all; I’m sure Mad Dog McMurdo would probably find it amusing.

Apart from some mild embarrassment though it seemed to go quite well and they will let me know once it is all put together, etc. Not sure I actually want to see it since frankly I avoid being in pictures for the most part, but I know my mum will want to see her wee boy on the screen; before anyone asks, I am not available to join other Z-list celebs on I’m A Talentless Twat Get Me Out of Here or Big Brother, although I am available to kiss Shilpa Shetty. Talking of which, how mad was that reaction to a very showbiz kiss? I’m told that public kissing is frowned upon in much of India; I know one shouldn’t disrespect different cultures, but burning effigies because someone kissed in public? Good grief, get over yourselves you stupid, uptight numpties!!! Can this really be the land that gave us the Kama Sutra?!!? And you just know most of the guy burning those effigies and professing outrage at this kiss would bloody love to get a chance to snog Shilpa, hypocritical tossers.

Funny thing was, as we were setting up to film I got a phone call from my Norwegian friend Vidar; by coincidence he and his friend were lying on the grass in the Gardens enjoying the sun and nursing hangovers and had spotted us, so I went off to join them afterwards. When they asked us what it was I told them we were location scouting for a new Scottish porno movie “Tossing the Caber”, but alas these days I suspect I would be relegated to a bit part (mind you, depending what bit it could still be interesting). Since it was a warm, sunny evening I ended up doing the Annual Rite of Spring, which involves paying homage to the return of the Earth Goddess in the time honoured Celtic tradition (we went to the Pear Tree and sat out in the huge, cobbled beer garden for some al fresco drinking).

Blogging anniversary

Bobbie Johnson wrote a feature in the Guardian at the weekend celebrating the tenth anniversary of blogging (ironically just as I was celebrating the fourth birthday of the Woolamaloo blog), running through various events, from the first blogs, to the appearance of Boing Boing, politicians joining the blogosphere, blogs from inside Iraq, regimes trying to censor blog and imprison their writers, the first high profile ‘doocing‘, the recent case in France with Petite Anglaise (who I’m glad to see won her case against her employers) and hey, what do you know, a mention of myself and a certain sandal-wearing Evil Boss at the Bookstore That Shall Not Be Named. Funny old world. The Guardian, along with the Scotsman, was one of the first print newspapers to pick up on that case, here it is a couple of years on still being mentioned there.

The man doth protest too much

No, really, he has an official Guinness Book of World Records entry for most political protests in one day! Who am I talking about? One of my comedy heroes, Mark Thomas; Radio 4 has his show available to listen to on the BBC site detailing how he decided to play with the dreadful law that freedom-curbing git Blair passed to try and make it harder for citizens to stage lawful protests in and around Parliament and Whitehall. As Mark points out a friend of his was arrested while enjoying a picnic because some heavy handed plod decided she was making a protest and hadn’t gotten police approval beforehand. No, I am having a picnic, she replies, pointing to the food, blanket on the grass etc. Ah yes, but your cake has ‘peace’ written on icing on it, that makes it a form of protest. Yes, in the French revolution Marie Antoinette was famously (if mistakenly) said to ‘let them eat cake’, while in Blair’s police state you can get nicked for eating cake near the House of Shame.

That said some of the coppers in this come across as equally pissed off at having to enforce a clearly bonkers law as Mark increasingly makes a fool of it – one senior officer who has to pass the requests for demos in the area comes in to see him when his constable passes to him Mark’s latest demo – calling for said senior officer to be sacked because of his role in enforcing this law. In he comes, looks at Mark, laughs and says “that’s bloody brilliant.” I do like Mark Thomas, he does that great thing of mixing comedy and politics effectively, exposing ludicrous laws and corrupt politicians and dodgy dealings with humour. Caught him at the Edinburgh Festival before and he is even better live. One of the few things better than seeing someone ‘sticking it to the man’ is someone using humour to humiliate the man while he does it. God bless satire, our last and best hope for freedom and a good, sharp pole for sticking it to the man.

Npower and the freedom of the press

Following up from me on my high horse blogging last week about energy company Npower bulldozing its way through both the environment, local opinion and the freedoms of speech and the press, here’s a proper link to the Channel 4 item I mentioned, with a link to the report and a blog entry by Alex Thomson on Npower’s (ab)use of the law and their sinister, masked security goons to overturn basic democratic freedoms at Radley Lakes.

Who was that masked man?

Channel 4 News tonight carried the frankly scary story of masked private security guards garbed in black, black masks raised over their faces to create an anonymous and threatening-looking appearance, going up to British citizens on a public road in a public space along with a pinstripe suited lawyer and violating their freedom of speech, freedom of expression and clearly, to my mind, violating the freedom of the press. Locals in the area of Radley Lakes have objected to shameless energy company Npower chopping down trees and planning to use the nearby lake for a spot to dump waste ash from their power station in. Many locals have objected and been ignored, a study into the impact is under way but Npower are just carrying right on with their task while it goes on so the study will be academic. Worst of all these creep security guards who look like a cross between something from a totalitarian regime and a masked Old West bandits and the corporate lawyer have persuaded a judge to grant an injunction, based largely on some anonymous witness statements with no actual cross examination which has banned even accredited journalists from taking photographs in public spaces to cover issues which are clearly in the public interest based on little to no proper evidence.

Masked, black suited, menacing looking guards who spent most of the C4 report denying citizens and reporters their basic rights while happily filming everyone present themselves; the injunction the foolish judge gave the company on their flimsy ‘evidence’ (supposedly to protect staff, although so far no-one has proved there was any real threat) is so vague that apparently just watching the report means the viewer is also injuncted! How ridiculous is that? I’m glad C4 News reported on this because I hadn’t heard of this until tonight and from what the usually highly dependable C4 team said other large corporations are using similar dirty tricks with corporate lawyers who would be at home working for Monty Burns and their own private rent-a-cops around the UK. I find myself getting irate quite often at some reports on the news, but this made me bloody furious, that some large company would not only ignore their local residents but then use a mixture of lawyer’s tricks and sinister, masked security to violate one of our most precious freedoms. Npower, you are utterly despicable and shameless. Editorial Photographers UK has some more on this story.