Saturday, August 28, 2010

Anna Raccoon draws contrast between 'real' and 'muscular' women

Yesterday, ConHome reported the Crispin Blunt story, but instantly disallowed comments on it. I suggested at Political Betting that they were probably more afraid of comments from their own side than from political opponents, and I think that suspicion has now been borne out by an extraordinary post from 'libertarian' (ahem) blogger Anna Raccoon entitled 'In Praise of Real Women'. Nobody could argue with the ostensible point that Blunt's wife and family have been treated cruelly and are deserving of huge sympathy - but has that sympathy really been so lacking? The post is laced with not-very-subtle homophobic language, relating as it does the story of a married woman who made a similar 'lifestyle choice' to Blunt, and confused her children with her 'rejection of men' and by bringing home a 'muscular female friend' - leading, we are told, to her daughter's suicide. Even the phrase 'real women' in the title of the post carries some fairly obvious connotations.

In truth, if a gay man suppresses his sexuality by getting married, and if there are children involved, something tragic has already occurred, and from that point on there is no 'default course of action' that a 'real man' would take. There are only a series of options which would all cause hurt to someone. Yes, the man in question has to take full responsibility for the hurt caused by whatever option he chooses, but there's no point in onlookers pretending that there's some magical, noble path that would hurt no-one. Anna Raccoon doesn't spell out, for instance, whether she thinks Blunt should have continued lying even to his wife about his sexuality. That's a perfectly arguable proposition if the welfare of the children is considered paramount - but, if so, he'd have been intensifying the pain that would have been caused to his wife if she'd eventually discovered the marriage had been a sham all along. Or is Raccoon suggesting he should have told his wife, but invited her to live out the sham for several years more for the sake of the children? It's not hard to see the unhappiness that could have been caused by that option, and it may not even have ultimately protected the children, if one or other partner had been unable to maintain the facade once the truth had come out.

Blunt didn't take either of those options - he took one which he knew for certain would hurt his children. Yes, he can reasonably be criticised for that, but for better or worse we live in a society where it's considered acceptable to risk that kind of harm to children in bringing unhappy marriages to an end. What the likes of Anna Raccoon have got to explain is why Blunt has somehow committed a graver crime simply because the marriage ended due to him facing up to his sexuality, rather than because he'd run off with his secretary.

Actually, what she's really saying is that it's (just about) acceptable to be gay as long as you don't broadcast the fact, and don't confuse children with it. But, in truth, the more that children come to see that homosexuality is not a matter of shame and secrecy, the less likely these tragedies are to occur in the first place. Few will feel the need to 'live a lie' if they've grown up in a society that values and accepts the person they truly are, rather than demands they keep it to themselves.

Big Brother : Some formats can't be left alone

Probably the most peculiar thing about Big Brother this year is that it's taking place at all. The decision was made a full twelve months ago that the format has well and truly had its day - so, bearing that in mind, what was the case for effectively cramming no fewer than three more series of the show (celebrity, regular, and "ultimate") into the last eight months? The obvious conclusion to draw is that the concept still has legs, and that we're probably not witnessing the final series at all - just the last one before a very long pause. Big Brother may not be a conventional game show, but it's worth noting that virtually every hit game show of the past has been resurrected eventually, sometimes after more than a decade - witness Mastermind, The Generation Game, and The Krypton Factor. Actually, Mastermind is a very good example, because the producers imagined they had definitively brought the show to an end with a "last ever series" to coincide with a significant anniversary (the 25th) - sound familiar? But its demise turned out to be merely a very temporary deep freeze. Another iconic show that tempted fate (and tried the audience's patience) with a supposed "last ever episode" was Top of the Pops - and yet it was easily predictable that the Christmas specials would be revived soon enough. Some formats just can't be left alone.

But, nevertheless, this is the end for the time being - so, to that extent, where did it all go wrong? 'Nasty' Nick Bateman wrote an article on that very subject before (rather hypocritically, it has to be said) returning to the house himself, and although he seems absurdly prudish about the "depraved" antics in Series 6, I think he hits the nail on the head on one point - the near-universal panning of Series 4, won by Orcadian Cameron Stout, was a huge defining moment. That series had, after all, been a worthy attempt to get "back to basics" and simply allow a group of relatively normal people to interact naturally, without the interference of too many gimmicks. But from Series 5 onwards, the integrity of the game (symbolised by the "you decide" catchphrase) was routinely sacrificed in favour of increasingly contrived - and sometimes downright cruel - "twists" to keep things interesting at all costs. The nadir arrived with Series 7 - up till then, at least the integrity of the public vote had been considered sacrosanct, but no more. The producers wanted "boring" Susie out at the end of the penultimate week, but Mikey was inconveniently topping the public vote by a country mile. What was to be done? No problem - it was simply casually announced midway through the vote that it was going to be a double eviction instead. The disrespect for the public's verdict was then compounded by Davina McCall fawning over Mikey and assuring him that he'd been a "brilliant housemate", while Susie was sternly asked why she'd wasted everyone's time by taking part.

And the trend continues right to the present. The "you decide" principle would have meant the most popular housemates from the past taking part in the "ultimate" finale - ie. the winner from each previous series, or if they had refused their place, the highest-ranking runner-up available. Instead we're presented with a selection of the allegedly "most memorable",, Coolio and Preston. With her ready-made back-story of heartbreak, and as one of the few genuinely nice people in the house, it seems inevitable that Preston's ex-wife Chantelle will now emerge as a very popular winner, but I have a feeling she'll be scratching her head as much as anyone about how it was even possible for her to wind up as the 'champion of champions'.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer quiz no. 3 : Find the Scottish MP!

The answer to the second quiz was Caron's Musings.

For the third installment of what is already starting to seem like an utterly interminable series of summer quizzes (me and my bright ideas), you'll be looking for the name of a Scottish MP at Westminster. As before, find the answers to all the following clues, take the first letter of each answer, and jumble those letters up until you find the name of a current Scottish MP.

Clues -

1. A seaside town that's elected both a Prince of Darkness and a Monkey Mayor.

2. The US president Mrs Thatcher once harangued for invading a Commonwealth country.

3. The country in which the estranged husband of the former Olympics Minister ran into some legal difficulty.

4. John Prescott's pet name for a crab.

5. The voting system that neither the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats actually want, but are kindly giving us the chance to have anyway.

6. The huge Scottish local authority branded a "monstrosity" by the Tory government which abolished it in 1996.

7. The English public school that has been attended by 20 British Prime Ministers, including the current one.

8. The part of London that is the "HQ" for both a sport and a former Glasgow Labour councillor.

9. The colour of suit that Neil Hamilton's vanquisher was noted for wearing.

10. The TV comedienne who persuaded Neil Kinnock to appear in a pop video.

11. The country to which the Liberal Party's "strange death" was apparently confined.

If you can contain your excitement, the answer will appear alongside the fourth quiz!

Labour are the party in greatest need of allies, whether they realise it or not

Via Joan McAlpine's blog, I've just caught up with the story about a "senior SNP figure" supposedly sounding out Labour about a post-election deal. Of course, in the terms in which it was reported by the Scotsman, the story is a pure slab of Labour delusion. It presupposes that the SNP are resigned to defeat (in spite of two opinion polls putting them just fractionally behind Labour), and are so desperate for a deal that Labour can essentially dictate its own terms - ie. the dropping of the policy of independence, only dealing with the bits of the SNP they find less objectionable, and naturally Salmond would have to go. The complacency that is seeping out from Labour's every pore at the moment makes me wonder how on earth they would cope with the psychological trauma of a second defeat next May that could still very easily happen.

But let's just assume for the sake of argument that Labour do emerge as the largest single party, and then find themselves entertaining the idea of a deal with the SNP. Obvious question - if they're doing that in the first place, doesn't it indicate that they have no real choice? And if that's the case, who exactly is going to be dictating terms to whom? The lesson of the Westminster coalition negotiations this spring is that it's the smaller party that holds the whip-hand - after all, it was Nick Clegg demanding Gordon Brown's departure, not the other way round. So if Labour-SNP talks take place after the Holyrood election, it's safe to infer that Labour are the party with the most to lose. Indeed, from where I sit, the SNP already look like the party with the greater range of options for post-election cooperation - Labour can't credibly do even an informal deal with the Tories, and while it would be premature to completely write off the chances of a renewed understanding with the Lib Dems, it's hard to imagine such a relationship being anything other than deeply uncomfortable and unstable for as long as the Westminster coalition is in being. So how are Labour going to function, even as a minority government? A deal with the SNP may be 'unthinkable' at present, but as the UK Tories discovered in May, when something is the lesser of several unthinkable options, it can often be the one you end up pursuing.

It's clear from the original Scotsman article that this penny hasn't quite dropped yet, but in such a scenario Iain 'the Snarl' Gray and co are going to need the SNP far more than the SNP will need them. So at some point they'll have to forget the hubris about remaking the SNP in their own image under a more pliant leader, and start thinking instead about what carrots they can offer - which probably means either the prospect of an independence referendum, or the beefing up of Labour's own policy on further devolution. The Scotsman cites the example of the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition in Wales, suggesting that Plaid 'reduced its constitutional aspirations' in order to secure the deal. In truth, of course, it was entirely the other way round. Labour knew that without Plaid they might very well not have a role in government at all, and consequently simply swallowed hard and conceded what the nationalists had been seeking all along - an early referendum on Scottish-style powers for the Welsh Assembly. Something similar in scope will be required from Gray if he shortly finds himself in need of nationalist friends.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sometimes the real 'conspiracy theory' is the official version of history

Apologies for returning yet again to the subject of Lockerbie, but there's an article in the Christian Science Monitor relating to the "conspiracy theories" that Libya may not have been responsible, and it includes a truly extraordinary quote from Richard Marquise, who led the FBI investigation into the bombing. Referring to Megrahi, he says - "There's nobody else that I'm aware of anywhere in the world that has such evidence pointing to their guilt."

I mean...what? As far as I can see, now that Tony Gauci's identification has been discredited, the 'evidence' against Megrahi consists of the following :

a) Libya were known to be in possession of the correct kind of timers (although others may have been as well).
b) An unaccompanied bag may have been transferred on to Pan Am 103 at Frankfurt from a flight originating in Malta (although this has not been proved definitively, and in any case there is no hard evidence that the bag in question contained the bomb).
c) Megrahi was in Malta at the relevant time.
d) Megrahi was a member of the Libyan Intelligence service.

And that's it. In contrast, there have been people caught committing murder by CCTV cameras, with scores of corroborating eyewitness testimony, and DNA evidence to boot. And Marquise would have us believe the case against Megrahi is superior to all that? When someone starts overhyping their rather thin pickings to such an absurd degree, you begin to suspect that deep down they know perfectly well they're in some difficulty.