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Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Here are some things Peter Hitchens has talked about:

TSA-style security theatre.

The stupidity of Western military policy. In particular, our government’s more recent tendency for military intervention overseas.

Nebulous laws against extremism which stifle free speech.

The purpose and attitude of the police.

The fucking Tories, as well as the ludicrous state of contemporary UK party politics.

Trident.

He’s basically right about all of these things, as you might have guessed was my point. Certainly more so than many commentators who are still taken seriously by people with politics close to my own.

His concerns about new legislation enacted by the “thought police” may not precisely parallel mine, but the quashing of alternative ideas is a dangerous one, even if those ideas are icky and homophobic etc. And on our continued involvement in global warfare, he seems to be far more reliable than his late brother was.

Just don’t get him started on atheists or cannabis, and the guy actually has a lot to say.

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The response to the recent fashion for “poverty porn” says a lot about the strange ideas many of us seem to have, regarding how we’d deal with real poverty if we were ever in serious financial trouble.

We seem to think that, if times were tight, we’d be able to tighten our belts for a while, live sensible and sparsely, and ride it out. It’d just take a bit of budgeting and deliberate frugality, which it feels we’d be able to handle if we had to, if we were really tested. We’d knuckle down, we’d scrimp, we’d save. We wouldn’t waste our time and valuable resources on fripperies like a “flatscreen TV” – a fancy gadget modern enough to bewilder many tabloid journalists with its exoticism, but known to the rest of us as “a TV” and which can retail new for like £70 nowadays. But even that seems needlessly lavish, if you’re so poor that it’s a matter of survival. We’d cut back on anything so frivolous as entertainment then, and only spend money on what we truly needed.

We may not all be as deluded on this score as Iain Duncan Smith, but it’s still a prevalent attitude.

After all, we all have money problems to some degree or another. Which means it’s all too easy to sorta kinda picture ourselves in that kind of situation, and imagine how motivated we’d be to find some way out of it. The looming dread of poverty would surely be a powerful motivator that we – not being feckless scroungers and layabouts – would be inspired to leap into action, and work hard and diligently, and make our own independent way in the world. Naturally we’d respond that way, just as naturally as the world would inevitably reward our hard work by making sure we regained our financial security if we just kept at it for long enough.

Good lord it’s such obvious bollocks though. I mean, if you pay any attention to the amount of money people with bills to pay throw away on stuff that’s not strictly necessary but provides them with some kind of happiness or comfort, or if you learn anything about the psychological effects of being in constantly dire financial straits, or if you’ve spent any time actually living in that kind of world, not just on a two-week sight-seeing trip there with a paid-off house and a career in politics and/or media to come home to at the end of it all.

I’ve never lived in the kind of world where the demands and threats of destitution are constantly grinding you down, and anyone in an even slightly higher income bracket or social class can be safely assumed to be looking down on you and holding you at least partly responsible for your predicaments, and Channel 4 are making documentaries to show millions of people what scum you are, and where a nation will turn against you simply for wanting to enjoy an easy, accessible, low-cost way to distract yourself from worrying if the gas is going to be cut off this week and watch some moving picture of a world that doesn’t suck for a while. And I feel fortunate that I haven’t. The idea that the financial situation of the least well-off benefits claimants in this country is enviable is completely alien to me.

How shit does someone’s life have to be before you stop resenting them getting any help from anyone? Christ, let people have their flatscreen TVs. What the hell do you want from them?

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A comedy skit about sex education, put together by a comedian and a small team of writers and researchers for a weekly half-hour comedy show, is way, way more informative, more helpful, more humane, and more truthful about sex, than what millions of American kids are being told by a national education system run by the government.

As much as this clip is great, it was preceded in the show by a horrifying summary of what passes for sex education in the States at the moment, including examples of what many school districts are currently showing to young people, which are virtually indistinguishable from that Mean Girls clip in terms of parodic levels of misinformation and scaremongering.

John Oliver continues to be one of the most important and worthwhile people on TV. I can’t think of anyone doing a better job of highlighting important and appalling things going on of genuine national importance and creating one of very few sources of investigative journalism actually worthy of the name.

Someone who’s pretty close though: David Wong on the Cracked podcast.

I’ve been pretty consistently impressed with that show for a while now, and with David Wong (aka Jason Pargin) in particular. For someone who describes himself as coming from a family with a big background in law enforcement and naturally inclined to lean toward supporting the police for that reason, I just listened to him talk for most of an hour-and-a-half episode, going into great detail and with statistical citations, on everything that is terrifyingly wrong with the US criminal justice system, and the kinds of things research has repeatedly proven it should be doing if it wanted to not be utterly abhorrent.

Okay, obviously I’m exaggerating a little there. He only had an hour and a half, he’d barely got started on how totally fucked up the system is. But it was a pretty damn impressive start.

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Rejection

Well, it finally happened. I am officially now that wanker who, when you tell him “Hey, I liked your blog post, you should pitch that to Comment is Free,” actually goes and does it.

They didn’t take me up on it, but maybe I’ll keep trying once I’m more regularly producing words. For now, one brief thing that’s been on my mind.

I have no truck with “-isms”, and I won’t be a part of any movement that defines itself in that way. From fascism to feminism, they’re dogmatic, tribalistic, and offer a narrow and prescriptive view of the world. They encourage strict black-and-white thinking, and don’t allow room for nuance and complexity. Isms define everything in relation to the strict bounds of their set-in-stone doctrines, and demand rigid adherence to a predefined code, in a way that stifles genuine freethought and curiosity.

And that’s why I utterly reject on principle any set of ideas which share this particular suffix.

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Yeesh, over a month. The progress bar has inched a bit further along but we’re still not in our new house. There’s less still to do than there was a month ago, though. I mean, there must be. It’s mathematically necessary, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s true.

I don’t have any original thoughts to share about Robin Williams, but I guess I can at least signal-boost the sensible advice I’m seeing repeated a lot in my internet circles, in case some of it hasn’t made it to yours.

There’s an organisation called the Samaritans, whose aim is to provide some kind of support to anyone in acute need of it. If you’re lost in the world, feel you can’t cope, or are simply desperately sad, and there’s nobody whose personal relationships you feel you can rely on, the Samaritans are the ones who want you to know that they exist for this reason, and they can be contacted at any time.

Something else they provide is a set of best practice suicide reporting tips. Basically, for individuals who are especially vulnerable or experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are some ways they might hear about suicide being reported which will put them at a greater risk; whereas, hearing about it in other ways might make them more aware of the support options available and encourage them to make use of these. The Samaritans want to help make that second kind happen more often, and have offered some specific advice to this end.

Some amount of research has been done, and as a result advocacy organisations know a thing or two about the impact that reporting has on vulnerable people. This potentially life-saving knowledge is broadly ignored by the media.

Whenever you discuss things like this, though, please try and bear the information in the above links in mind. The things you say and do about a subject like this can really matter to people. Perhaps not as significantly as a tabloid front page, which seem to have more or less universally got it wrong (example links not provided), but you’re never too small to give some thought to how you’re affecting people and whether you could be helping them out a little more. Not even if you get as few hits as this place lately.

And it’s seriously not a free speech issue. I haven’t seen anyone get into that kind of tizzy over this advice, but I’m sure they’re out there. Discussions like this always seem to devolve into that kind of rabid right-libertarian defensiveness eventually. Yes, government restriction of speech is bad. I don’t want you to be arrested for using inappropriate terminology when discussing suicide. I’m just asking you to pay attention to what is known to prevent further deaths, and try doing some of that, rather than being an asshole.

It’s sad that Robin Williams is no longer with us. It’s sad that he couldn’t find the help and support he clearly needed while he was alive. Trying to make sure nobody else feels that way in future would be a worthy goal for our species. If you need to say more about it than that, regardless of being told that you’re putting people at risk or adding to the trauma already faced by many people, then you really need to look at yourself and your priorities.

Anyway, I suppose there’s no point being too frustrated over the newspapers breaking every sensible guideline and making things worse for everyone. Doing whatever makes you money while not giving a shit about negative externalities like the deaths of non-customers is basically what capitalism is.

Also, everything Dean Burnett says.

See you in, I don’t know, another month maybe, for another progress report, and perhaps some actual sodding progress this time.

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Only a brief one, though, which expands slightly on all the excellent, thorough coverage there’s already been.

Lucy Meadows was a primary school teacher who died this week. It’s thought she took her own life. She’d lived most of her life as Nathan Upton, and had only recently made a public transition to a gender with which she identified.

David Allen Green has posted a good summary of the circumstances, in which he discusses the negative attention the mainstream press had often applied to Lucy Meadows, and to people who fall outside of standard accepted gender norms more generally.

That particular round-up notably doesn’t mention a column by Richard Littlejohn, which was published in the Mail last December, but quietly vanished from their online archive in the last few days. Almost as if what they thought they could get away with saying about her while she was alive, suddenly seems grossly insensitive now that she’s dead.

David’s chosen not to focus on Littlejohn in particular, because this diminishes the extent to which numerous other newspaper columnists and editors are guilty of exactly the same cruelty and inhumanity on a regular basis. Also, the Samaritans have been reminding people of their media guidelines for the reporting of suicide, in the wake of some commentators being overly hasty and certain in apportioning a direct causative link, or even absolute blame. Richard Littlejohn may be a terrible human being, but nobody has the authority to reliably declare that he drove anyone to suicide.

Taking one’s own life is rarely, I suspect, a simple decision resulting from an easily comprehensible mindset. Understanding what’s going on in other people’s heads is a challenge at the best of times, let alone when the actions they’re taking are quite so far removed from my own. (I hope that ending your life is a distant and unrelatable premise for all of you reading this, as well. Even if not, I imagine you’re well aware that your demons are your own, and not automatically shared and understood by anyone else who experiences any similar turmoil.) It’s good advice, to avoid being too sweeping in our declarations of what it was that pushed someone we never knew personally over the edge.

But this sensible advice leaves one aspect of the whole unpleasant business not fully addressed.

And that aspect is that Richard Littlejohn is a terrible human being.

I can’t do anything to help Lucy Meadows now. But I can repeat this fact.

I say this without holding Littlejohn the slightest bit culpable for the death of Lucy Meadows. Whether or not his column directly affected her life, or indirectly contributed to a culture of prejudice and othering in which she eventually couldn’t bear to live another day, is not for me to say.

But even if we stipulate that Richard Littlejohn is not responsible for her death – even if Lucy Meadows had managed to live a full and happy life – what he wrote about her would still be loathsome and despicable.

The fact that she took her own life is, of course, the primary tragedy, the one point of real significance. But it’s not the only relevant factor to my assessment of a thousand-word article in a widely read national newspaper, devoted exclusively to demeaning and vilifying a troubled individual who’d done nothing to deserve it.

He asks us to think about “the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter”, explicitly declaring that Lucy Meadows herself didn’t matter a damn to him. He bewails the primary school children’s being “forced to deal with the news”, as if to give kids a chance to learn about people different from themselves were to inflict on them some form of bereavement or abuse. He calls it “selfish” for her to go back to the same school she used to teach at, rather than moving away just so that her freakish aberration didn’t bother anyone.

This from someone who claims to have “every sympathy” for those who undergo gender realignment surgery. Littlejohn seems to think he’s a compassionate and understanding person, who’s simply standing up against those values being taken too far. When you’re standing up against compassion and understanding because you’ve found someone who doesn’t deserve it, that’s called bullying.

Littlejohn quotes the way teachers discussed things with Mr Upton’s class, and explained that Miss Meadows would be teaching them in the future:

Teachers told them that Mr Upton felt he had been “born with a girl’s brain in a boy’s body” and would henceforth be living as a woman.

If I ever have children, and I find myself discussing transgender people with them, I imagine that might be pretty close to what I say. I think I’d certainly talk about the differences between how you feel inside, and how you look on the outside, the relative importance of each, and the way they can both affect each other – I might use their mother’s tattoos as a familiar example, to talk about your body acting as an adaptable, malleable reflection of your internal self.

I don’t think they’d have too much trouble getting the hang of it. If we’ve raised them well up to that point, and encouraged a basic level of tolerance and acceptance and humanism, then I don’t see why they’d be “worried and confused”, let alone “devastated”. It’s only Littlejohn who still finds it too much to get his head around.

(Exactly the same argument, of course, has been made about openly gay teachers, among members of other professions. I wouldn’t expect a conversation about homosexuality with my kids to last more than five minutes, should the need arise. It’s a lot simpler than many right-wing bigots seem to think.)

The point is: Littlejohn’s article is full of the kind of wilful ignorance that makes the world a worse place, even without laying the death of an innocent teacher at his feet.

The end of the story for Lucy Meadows is awful and saddening. But this article was vile and horrendous on the day it was published, even when she was still trying to forge a new life for herself. You don’t need to wait to find out how the story ends to see that.

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Here’s a tumblr you should be watching, as a regular reminder that basically everything you read in most newspapers is bollocks. I still forget every so often and go “ooh, fancy” at some entirely fabricated pointless gossip.

I mention it now, partly because I’ve spent my day at work and my evening watching The Third Man with Kirsty and struggling to persuade her not to leave me for Orson Welles so I haven’t had time to write anything more substantive, and partly because it’s just recently started updating quite consistently. Marsh seems to have found the angle for it, namely:

“Headline-grabbing but probably misleading and badly sourced soundbite!” says group with an obvious vested interest in promoting whatever bollocks they’ve got some dodgy research to support.

It’s fun. Go have a read. Don’t believe the churnalism. I’m off to bed.

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