Religion and Politics Blog

Card-carrying Liberal Democrat. My views are my own, and do not necessarily reflect party policy.

Gawker Media and Press Freedom

Gawker MediaHow many of the people going to the barricades to defend Gawker Media would do the same for News International if they were being burned to the ground over their Hillsborough lies?

The usual suspects from the left-wing internet media are painting Gawker’s legal defeat at the hands of wrestler Hulk Hogan as a tragedy for press freedom that gives the wealthy the power to shut down any media company they don’t like. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that Gawker broke the law.

You do get the impression that this is tribal thing to them. Gawker Media have a terrible track record of violating privacy and destroying the lives of innocent people; remember Justine Sacco? But Gawker are part of the tribe, and Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel belong to the enemy tribe, so that dictates the side they must take.

There are valid issues on striking the right balance between press freedom and press responsibility. A free press should not mean a press that acts as though it’s about the law, and the law shouldn’t be something that’s available only to the rich. A situation where the gutter press can destroy the lives of the little people with impunity while the rich and powerful can use the threats of legal action to silence any criticism would be the worst of both worlds.

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Jamala bathes in Neil Clark’s Tears

Jamala
Photo Albin Olssonlicenced by, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0

Whatever the merits or otherwise of the songs themselves, Saturday’s Eurovision result giving victory to Ukraine’s Jamala seems to have produced epic levels of salt from Vladimir Putin’s propagandists.

Mark the date. Saturday May 14, 2016, the day the music died and a song contest whose well-intentioned original aim of national harmony has become the latest front in the Western elite’s obsessional and relentless new Cold War against Russia.

A blatantly political song by Ukraine – which should not have been allowed in the contest in the first place as it clearly broke the European Broadcasting Union’s ‘No Politics’ rules – was declared the ‘winner’ of the Eurovision Song Contest, even though the country which got the most votes from the general public was Russia.

What helped Ukraine ‘win’ were the ‘national juries’ panels of so-called ‘music industry professionals’ who were given 50 percent of the votes and who only put Russia in joint fifth place, with 81 fewer points than Ukraine.

That’s a vile little man called Neil Clark, who in a previous life was an apologist from the genocidal Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic, before and even during his trial for war crimes. It’s hardly surprising this insignificant far left hack is now toadying to Vladimir Putin.

His basic argument is nonsense. In the absense of any song strong enough to capture the imaginations of people who actually care about music, the Eurovision popular vote tends to default towards politics. Russia’s entry was no Lordi.

The only mystery was why the jury vote gave the utterly forgettable boy-band-meets-landfill-indie British entry any points at all.

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Boris Goes Full Godwin

Boris Johnson has gone full Godwin. More evidence, if any were needed, that Boris is an utterly cynical charlatan who says things he doesn’t even believe, and is willing to sacrifice the future of the nation to further his own short-term political ambitions. He cares far more about becoming Prime Minister that whether or not Britain leaves the European Union.

I hope a critical mass of the British public is smart enough to see through him.

And no, Leftists, this doesn’t let Ken Livingstone off the hook on anti-Semitism. Both Boris and Ken have been using classic internet troll tactics, saying something which is technically factually correct but ripped so far out of historical context it’s a dog-whistle for a far bigger lie. Hitler neither wanted to create a European equivalent of the United States nor cared about the future of Germany’s Jews “before he went mad”. To assign the same motives as Adolf Hitler to either the EU or to Israel is utterly grotesque, and it shouldn’t be necessary to have to explain why.

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Nick Cohen takes on the Right

Nick Cohen has long been a scourge of the regressive tendencies of the post-modern left, but with The English right’s Putinesque conspiracy theories he turns his guns on the equally regressive right.

Vote Leave is not a fringe organisation, like UK Against Water Fluoridation, or The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The Electoral Commission decided in its wisdom it was respectable enough to lead the official Brexit campaign. Whether it is Michael Gove or Boris Johnson, a Vote Leave politician will be the next leader of the Conservative Party one way or another, and hence our next Prime Minister. The darkness on the right of politics is about to cover the land, and it is worth peering into the murk before it descends.

The way they’re tried to bully ITV and Robert Peston threatening “consequences” once they’re in power is the sort of thing you expect from the rulers of a tinpot dictatorship, not from those who aspire to lead a major democracy.

Yet more confirmation that Boris Johnson’s persona as a lovable rogue is completely fake, and he’s actually a nasty thuggish little man. And it’s a reminder that the whole referendum debate that’s putting Britain’s future at stake is really a proxy war for the leadership of the conservative party.

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Lead Guitar is Sexist?

I am a bad, bad person for posting these things from Real Peerreview. Though I choose to spare the author by not naming them or linking back to the originals.

This one reads like a nasty collision between academia’s Critical Theory and sort of terrible music journalism that gave the 1980s NME a bad name.

This paper critically examines the gendering of electric guitar technique in its limited scholarly reception. Focus is given to the work of Steve Waksman, specifically the “technophallus,” a coinage through which he engages feminist scholarship to interrogate the electric guitar’s masculine performative identity. This paper offers a counter-archive of punk guitarists whose work, when approached with a queer analytic, problematize the pairing of virtuosity with heteromasculinity. Synthesizing the work of José Esteban Muñoz and Jack Halberstam on queer failure and virtuosity, I offer disorienting guitar practice as a critical lens which can materialize efforts at refusing the linearity of guitar technique as well as guitar hero worship. Consideration is given to St. Vincent’s pairing of a disorienting virtuosity with her extension of the guitar’s sonic possibilities through effect pedals.

Let me get this right; lead guitar is sexist unless  you play it very badly. Or use a lot of effects. Or am I missing something?

OK, so I get that there’s a lot of coded sexism in genre snobbery. But surely the author is guilty of the exact same mistake, by using critical theory to suggest their taste in music is somehow morally superior?

It’s not even being iconoclastic in this day and age. Today’s focus group driven mainstream rock has largely pushed virtuoso guitar to the margins. Genres like blues-rock and power-metal that still celebrate virtuoso guitar are niche scenes nowadays.

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Salsa Dancing is Sexist and Racist

Or so claims this academic thesis, via the imimitable Real Peerreview

In a discursive context where Europe is associated with modernity and ‘progress’, salsa dancing is often claimed to offer ‘difference’ in terms of the gender roles it propagates. The multi-million salsa industry sells the dance practice as ‘sexy’, ‘hot’ and as the epitome of heterosexuality. This thesis explores gender and sexuality discourses among salsa dancers in Switzerland and England. Drawing on unstructured in-depth interviews with heterosexual and lesbian/gay salsa dancers, it traces culturalist understandings of salsa genders that defer heteronormativity and ‘strict’ gender roles to ‘Latin American culture’. Based on queer-feminist, postcolonial and race critical theory, this thesis offers an analysis of how gendered and sexualised formations come into being on the salsa scene. It will do so by deconstructing Latin American gender stereotypes, narratives of passion and heterosexual romance as well as heteronormalising processes that inform the salsa dance studio. Overall, it will argue that claims to gender and sexuality on the salsa scene are racialised in the way that they reflect broader discourses of race in contemporary Europe. This thesis presents the first analysis of salsa dance practices in Europe that is led by postcolonial and queer-feminist theory. Beyond an analysis of salsa from this perspective, it aims to contribute to the study of postcolonial racisms in Switzerland and England. Additionally, it makes a case for the study of Latinidad in Europe and the gendered and sexualised stereotypes associated with it.

Sometimes I worry that I’m perpetuating white supremacy and The Patriarchy by highlighting this sort of thing. But I do believe there’s a dangeous totalitarian ideology behind it that does need to be called out and ridiculed. As has been said before, our future politicians, bureaucrats and chief police officers are currently studying in establishments that teach this stuff.

What comes over in the above abstract is the sheer joylessness of the mindset behind it. Take a popular cultural activity that brings pleasure to many and declare it harmful because reasons. The one thing it most strongly recalls is the 1980s “Satanic Panic” when everything from metal music to Dungeons and Dragons was declared “Satanic” and claimed to be a gateway to demonic possession.

That nonsense faded away with the decline of the Religious Right, but the same sort of censorious and joyless puritanism has reappeared in left-wing academia. One can only hope it fades away in the same way.

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Election entrail-readings

Britain had mid-term elections on Thursday. Some in the media used the horrible Americanism “Super Thursday” to describe the combination of elections for the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the election for the Mayor of London, local government elections throughout England, and a couple of parliamentary byelections thrown in for good measure.

It was a mixed night for the Liberal Democrats; modest gains in the English council elections and just about holding on in Scotland, but very poor results in London and in Wales. One extrapolation of the results into a possible parliament puts the party on 19 seats, an improvement on the eight in the current parliament, but a long was from the 57 of the last one.  It’s a small step on a very long road to recovery.

It was just as mixed for Labour, with Sadiq Khan roundly defeating the disgusting dog-whistle racism of Zak Goldsmith in London, but at the same time the Scottish Tories have come back from the dead and pushed them into third place in Scotland. Scotland now has very different politics to England, and what was once the dominant party is facing a third-party squeeze. Scotland may be heading towards a two-party system, and Labour won’t be one of them. That has huge implications for British politics as a while.

Writing in Politics.co.uk, Ian Dunt minces no words, and says the zombie result is worst possible outcome for Labour.

So this week’s elections might just be the worst possible result for the party. There’s enough there for Corbyn supporters to pretend everything’s fine and that arguments to the contrary are a product of media conspiracy, but not so much that they might, you know, actually win a general election.

Dunt thinks Labour are dead, but like Zombies, they don’t know it yet.

Meanwhile Jonathan Calder asks why via Labour did surprisingly well in the south of England, and talks of his expreriences campaigning in Richmond & Barnes in the 1983 general election.

On the last weekend of the contest the young activists (this was a long time ago) were sent out to call on the Labour supporters identified in our canvass and ask them to consider a tactical vote for the Liberals.

This approach received two distinct reactions. Working class voters were generally happy to consider the idea, even if they had a Labour posters in their window.

Middle-class Labour voters, typically teachers, however, were often offended to be asked. You had to vote for what you believed, they told me, even if your candidate had no chance of winning.

It is this second group of voters, I suspect, that Jeremy Corbyn appeals to. Which means that he may well be surprisingly successful in maintaining his party’s Southern outposts.

But it also means that he may struggle to resist the appeal of Ukip to working-class Labour voters.

And speaking of UKIP. reports of their death appear to have been premature. Seven seats in the Welsh Assembly and second places in both byelections suggest that their rightwing populism is going to be around as long as nobody else is willing to address the concerns of the traditional working-class vote. More ominously, the odious BNP came within a whisker of winning a council seat in Pendle, Lancashire, which went to the Tories with Labour a distant third.

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What’s needed now are real left-wing radicals

Nick Cohen writes in The Spectator about how the left’s problem with anti-Semitism is a symptom of a deeper problem and suggests what Labour needs now is a takeover by real left-wing radicals.

Perhaps anti-Semitism is not taken as seriously here because the Nazis stopped at the Channel and we never had to live through our own version of Vichy. But there is a more contemporary reason for the failure to tackle it, or even admit its existence, that could unravel social-democratic politics.

Most Jews are white. And across the middle-class left, it is held that racism is not racism when it is directed against whites in general and that entitled aristocrat of our age, the straight white male, in particular. The dangers for centre-left parties should be obvious. In Europe and in Donald Trump’s America, the white-working-class base of social-democratic parties is falling away. Voters will carry on leaving if they keep hearing expensively educated voices tell them in perfectly constructed sentences that they are the oppressors who must be overthrown. Why should a white man with miserable job and no prospects tolerate a left-wing elite that casts him as an overprivileged villain? If I were in his shoes, I would loathe the lies and point-scoring and want nothing to do with such politicians.

A ‘left-wing’ egalitarianism that takes so little notice of class is fake. Like a ‘left-wing’ foreign policy that is on the side of the reactionary and obscurantist, it will first infuriate and then fail.

But he fears that when the left abandons the currently-fashionable middle-class identity politics, what will replace it won’t be the genuine radicalism that the centre-left needs, but a timid acceptance of a consensus set by the Tories

Like a case of dysentery, the Corbyn moment will pass. My fear is that it will be replaced not with a serious commitment to reform, but with the terrified conformism that characterised the Labour party after Tony Blair became leader. Labour will be so desperate to prove it is strong on national security that it will agree with whatever the generals and security services propose. It will be so desperate to appear economically reputable that it will endorse rather than oppose the stagnant system the Cameron government has presided over.

Nick Cohen is sounding more and more like a stuck record on this issue. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t right.

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Ken Livingstone and the Anti-Semitism of the Left

This is the state of British politics in 2016

Anti-Semitism is of course no laughing matter, and the Labour Party have done the right thing and suspended him. But Livingstone and his apologists have doubled down and insist he’s done nothing wrong.

If you make no distinction between a nation’s government, its people, and those worldwide who share the same ethnicity, you are a racist. It really is that simple. Trying to deflect the issue by pointing out all the horribly racist things Boris Johnson has said in the past just doesn’t wash. That’s classic “whatabouterty”; as my mother always said, two wrongs don’t make a right.

When the left have adopted a form of radical identity politics in which everyone is classed as either “Privileged” or “Oppressed” on the basis of their ethnicity, gender and sexuality, it’s hard not to see a connection with the rise of anti-Semitism, something that always used to be associated with the far right. Jews, like Gay Men, have been moved out of the “Oppressed” category because a minority of them have become wealthy and successful, and some very old and very dangerous bigotries have been allowed to come back to life.

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Boris is the British Trump

Boris Johnson’s attack on Barack Obama belongs in the gutter, says Nick Cohen in The Spectator, not mincing his words.

I am therefore writing with the caution of a lawyer and the deference of a palace flunkey when I say that Johnson showed this morning that he is a man without principle or shame. He is a braying charlatan, who lacks the courage even to be an honest bastard, for there is a kind of bastardly integrity in showing the world who you really are, but instead uses the tactics of the coward and the tricks of the fraudster to advance his worthless career.

Boris doesn’t care whether Britain leaves the EU or not. It’s all just a means to an end in his ambition to become Prime Minister. He has no underlying principles whatsoever; everything he says or does is based on cynical calculation around what he thinks his audience wants to hear.

The parallels with Donald Trump run far deeper than the terrible hair. If Boris thought being a massive racist would gain him support, he’d be as racist as Trump. The fact that he isn’t says more about the British people than it says about him.

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