“I don’t mind Julie Burchill being on Desert Island Discs, as long as I can choose the island”

So last month Julie Burchill got to write a hate filled column about trans people in The Guardian; this morning she got to have a nice old chinwag with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. Seems wrong somewhat, doesn’t it? The BBC wouldn’t let a Nick Griffin on the programme, so why give somebody who is clearly bigoted against trans people a pass?

To be fair, Burchill isn’t that similar to Nick Griffin, a better comparison would be Christopher Hitchens: a self identified leftist who always was a bit of a bully and who made a sharp rightwing turn once being leftist fell out of fashion. Like him, she’s has always moved in media circles –”queen of the Groucho Club” and such nonsense– and I have the suspicion that this cuts her a lot of slack outsiders, like Griffin, don’t get. It’s annoying as fuck to see those smallminded fools get media attention because of who they know and took coke with twenty years ago when so many much more interesting people are ignored.


It’s super crip!

You know how sometimes you notice something interesting but can’t really talk about it because you don’t have the right words for it? From an Canadian course about disability in the media:

The second disability stereotype that will be explored is “disability as hero by hype”. This stereotype is more commonly referred to as “the super crip” pereception. When not pitied, persons with disabilities are sometimes seen as “heroes,” or in other words, outrageously admired for their “courage” and determination. This stems from the belief that life with a disability must necessarily be horrific and unsatisfying, and as such, we must admire persons with disabilities for being able to live “the way they do.” Much like portraying disability as a form of lesser self-worth (as is often the case with the “disability as pity” stereotype), placing persons with disabilities on a pedestal is another way to denote this social group as “other”. This particular stereotype is also linked to the idea that disability in one area is complimented with superior abilities in another area (for example, the misconception that people who are blind have superior hearing)

“Super crip” is a good term for an phenomenon that has long irritated me, the way in which certain disabled or chronically ill people are periodically held up by the media as heroes for “overcoming” their disabilities. It’s always some nice middle class boy who got paralysed in a car accident but doesn’t let that stop him from fullfilling his dream of going white water rafting in the Amazon or mountain biking off Everest or whatever, who always take pains to distinguish themselves from all those other disabled people by showing how little they let their disabilities dictate their lives.

To be fair, it’s not so much those people themselves, though they can be annoying, as the narrative in which they are placed, which is threefold. On the one hand, it’s all about how, if only you believe hard enough, you can overcome any adversity and still be what you want to be, as a moral example for all us ablebodied people struggling with our petty problems. On the other hand, these are also stories about assuaging our own fears about becoming disabled and worthless, by showing disability as just another obstacle to overcome, rather than something that shapes your day to day life. Finally, on the gripping hand, it others all those disabled or chronically ill people who can’t or won’t fit the super crip profile, who just live ordinary lifes of quiet desperation like the rest of us. If you’re not hang gliding off the Niagara Falls you’re just not trying.

The super crip than is the other side of the coin of the stereoype of disability as pity, the idea that if you’re disabled or chronically ill your life is basically worthless and you’re very brave if you haven’t killed yourself yet — “in your place i’d killed myself! — cheers. Sandra, who of course had been chronically ill in one way or another, hated that. She was very firm in insisting that she wasn’t a hero, she was just an ordinary person dealing with life just like everybody else, even if she had to be more aware of her limitations than a temporarily able person need be.

The super crib stereotype is a stick to cudgel both temporarily able and disabled people for not being good enough to be as wonderful as them, yet another tool to keep the status quo. Clearly if Oscar Pistorius can compete in the regular Olympics on prostathic legs, surely you in your wheelchair are able to make your way through everyday life without our help and we don’t need to worry about ways to make society as a whole more accessible, physically and mentally, for people with disabilities. Similarly, why are you, a perfectly healthy worrying about your trivial problems when heroes like Pistorius can make history? Surely there’s no need to do anything for you, when he can pull himself up by his bootstraps and he doesn’t even have feet!

(Nothing against Oscar Pistorius, who seems a perfectly decent chap and who I hope will do well in his races.)

This is the strictly impartial BBC news, operating on behalf of the Conservative Party

Here’s how the BBC reported the news that the sacked Jarvis employers will finally get the money they have a right to:

Taxpayers will have to pay more than £3m in unpaid wages to former employees of York-based Jarvis Rail after the firm collapsed last year.

Trade unions for the 1,200 workers argued at an industrial tribunal that the company should have given 90 days’ notice of compulsory redundancy.

The claim is eight weeks at the maximum £380 per week under employment law.

The workers were made redundant when talks between Network Rail and the administrators finished in April 2010.

More than 350 jobs were lost in York, 300 in Doncaster and 80 in Leeds.

As Jarvis Rail no longer exists, the government has to meet the bill.

Imagine that! Three million pounds is almost half a banker’s bonus, which “the taxpayer” is also “footing the bill for” in the case of all the nationalised and subsidised banks… And it’s almost 3/1000th of the cost of those 14 new Chinook helicopters the Ministry of Defence has today announced it’s going to buy. But even though this too is “a bill footed by the taxpayer”, the BBC does manage to report that piece of news much more matter of factly, without cheap populist language. Apparantly wasting a billion pounds on war equipment is okay with the BBC, but helping some 700 or so families whose wage earners got sacked through no fault of their own is beyond the pale.

Guy Halsall has a blog

Bully for him, you might think, and just who is Guy Halsall anyway? Well, he’s an historian specialising in the period I’m most interested in myself at the moment, Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages, who I first heard of being slagged off gently corrected by Peter Heather in his latest 1,000 page history, Empires and Barbarians for getting the impact of barbarian invasions on the Roman Empire All Wrong. So I had to read this fellow Halsall’s work for himself and found Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West 376-568 one of the better one volume explorations of how the Western Roman Empire came to an end, his differences with Heather being one of degree rather than kind, as far as I could make out. In our always on, 24/7 wireless mobile internet connected world it should not come as a surprise a professional historian like Guy Halsall has a blog, but I still can’t take this for granted, especially not when it leads to posts like this, where Halsall examines why we are so wedded to barbarian invasions as explenation for the “Fall of Rome”:

The barbarian is the classic ‘subject presumed to’. The barbarian can change the world; he can bring down empires; he can create kingdoms. The barbarian dominates history. ‘He’ is not like ‘us’, enmeshed in our laws, our little lives and petty responsibilities. The barbarians in the vision of Peter Heather, are peoples with ‘coherent aims’, which they set out single-mindedly to achieve. No people in the whole of recorded human history have ever had single coherent sets of aims. Well – none other than the barbarians anyway.

And finding Halsall’s blog (through a post from Nicola Griffith I should add) led inevitably to discovering a whole slew of likeminded blogs, now listed under “Science” in my blogroll. There are days when the internet looks small and dreary and all your usual blog friends are silent, not saying anything of interest. And then there are days when you cut around a corner and find whole vistas opening up. This is one of those days. It’s not any day I find four new brilliant blogs: Guy Halsall’s, Blogenspiel, Medieval History Geek and last but certainly not least, A Corner of Tenth Century History, where posts like this one make me very jealous and slightly in awe — why can’t I write like this?

Wilderness of mirrors

Simon Reynolds reviews an Indonesian rock anthology:

another example of the trend of reissue labels moving into the pasts of foreign countries and finding there a kind of narcissistic mirror image of Western pop and rock, a mirror-image that’s slightly askew. but only very slightly. so Those Shocking, Shaking Days is really hot, fiercely played early 70s hard ‘n’ heavy rock with a bluesy groove funk energy (the kind of stuff Woebot might dice into chunklets for recycling) but betrays zero traces of gamelan or much else Indonesian… so it’s like we’re going abroad but all we’re discovering is another facet of ourselves, our own cultural hegemony…

Which is sorta-kinda another example of what I was getting at yesterday. This isn’t quite cultural appropriation because nothing of the other culture is taken; it’s just feedback from our own cultural imperialism. Importing this feedback just reinforces our own cultural narcissism without engaging with the people behind the product we’re consuming or the cultural context in which they operated. It’s still all about us.

Confusing “available in English” with “worldwide success”

Earlier this week, Tom Spurgeon linked to an article in The Irish Times on French comics and their supposed failure to become a success abroad:

Perhaps the chief reason for this relative obscurity is that the festival celebrates a cultural product that has, to date, stubbornly resisted any and all attempts to export it. Unlike cinema, or jazz, or any of the other artistic endeavours for which France is regularly feted, Francophone comics have, for reasons mysterious, never quite managed to “cross over” and translate local mass-popularity into success on an international stage.

There are, of course, exceptions – most notably the peerless Franco-Belgian duo of Asterix and Tintin, two series that have conquered minds and markets both regional and global. Yet for all their success, these venerable titans represent but the uppermost tip of a thriving, prolific and progressive creative iceberg.

Which is only true if you define “success on an international stage” as “popular in the UK, US and/or other English speaking countries”. It’s true that Franco-Belgian comics have done badly in English, but that doesn’t go for the rest of Europe, or large parts of the rest of the non-English speaking world. That this sort of success is invisible in the Anglo-American parts of the world is due to the failure of the former to pay much attention to anything outside its own borders, rather than due to the lack of this success.

Can’t find Wikileaks?

Try this: No luck? More mirrors.

Meanwhile, Counterpunch on the reality behind the rape charges against Julian Assange:

Swedish bloggers uncovered the full story in a few hours. The complaint was lodged by a radical feminist Anna Ardin, 30, a one-time intern in the Swedish Foreign Service. She’s spokeswoman for Broderskapsrörelsen, the liberation theology-like Christian organization affiliated with Sweden’s Social Democratic Party. She had invited Julian Assange to a crayfish party, and they had enjoyed some quality time together. When Ardin discovered that Julian shared a similar experience with a 20-year-old woman a day or two later, she obtained the younger woman’s cooperation in declaring before the police that changing partners in so rapid a manner constituted a sort of deceit. And deceit is a sort of rape. The prosecutor immediately issued an arrest warrant, and the press was duly notified. Once the facts were examined in the cold light of day, the charge of rape seemed ludicrous and was immediately dropped. In the meantime the younger woman, perhaps realizing how she had been used, withdrew her report, leaving the vengeful Anna Ardin standing alone.

However, before we absolve the Swedish police as unwitting, if zealous, dupes, please note that Swedish law strictly forbids police and prosecutors to release to the media the details of any rape-connected complaint. The Expressen had all the details of the case, including the names of the accused and the complainant, within a matter of minutes. Please note further that the right-wing tabloid Expressen belongs to the Bonnier family, the biggest media owners in Sweden, who are not only pro-American but very much pro-Israel, too. As you know, the pro-Israeli lobby is warmly supportive of America’s Middle Eastern wars, while Assange and his WikiLeaks have the potential to undermine America’s weakening support for the war.

Wikileaks is a necessary corrective force against all our governments, as the past decade has proved that our socalled western democracies do everything to escape public accountability. Having a dedicated organisation that is able to provide us with the 21st century equivalent of the Pentagon Papers on a regular basis is a good thing. So donate.

Behind the Times

Jamie writes about strange way in which The Times not just disappeared behind a paywall, but from public consciousness:

But back in the pre-internet days I was certainly aware of the Times as an institution. I had the sense that it would always be there and that it fulfilled a need of some sort. It had an ambient presence, and quite a large one, extending far outside its actual readership.

And now, nothing. Nothing at all. It’s not just a case of not missing it but of forgetting that it was ever there, which is quite odd when you think of the wider social role and meaning it used to have in British life: from Voice of the Establishment to Hermit Kingdom. Or perhaps it’s a consequence of the whole debate about the paywall. If you’re constantly reminded that something is no longer there, then you’re forced to conclude how little it matters. I suppose that’s what happens to hollow institutions when they stop constantly reminding people that they are institutions. I wonder what would happen if you put the Royals behind a paywall.

I’m not sure it’s the dpaywall itself that’s to blame for this. The Times has never had the place in the internet’s public consciousness that a rival paper like The Guardian had. In my own experience, few bloggers actually linked to Times stories and when they did, nine out of ten times the links just disappeared ins blauen hinein anyway. Their competitors like the Indy, Daily Mail and Guardian/Observer were much quicker and smarter in exploiting online attention and controversy, aiming beyond their traditional readers at the casual browser, including large foreign audiences.

The Times has always been something of a prestige object for Murdock, not necessarily needing to make a profit as long as it got the ears of the Westminister elites. Even today that audience is notoriously webshy and technophobe so it maybe that this online disappearance of the newspaper is of less importance than that people like us, for whom nothing exists if not reachable online would assume. That we don’t notice Times generated buzz doesn’t matter, as long as the politicians and Westminister orientated media still do…

Types of skepticism

In the midst of a discussion about woo, medical science and the (misplaced?) priorities of people like Ben Goldacre at Daniel’s site, he asks an interesting question:

What interests me is that the strategy of marginalising the “anti-vaxers” and treating them as fringe loonies who didn’t have to be listened to worked so much worse in the medical sphere than similar strategies worked against “conspiracy loons” in the political sphere.

While I’m not sure his characterisation of the MMR “controversy” is accurate, it is interesting to see how quickly these fears about the MMR jab causes autism were taken up by the media and respectable, mainstream politicians and media commentators. This in contrast to e.g. the runup to the War on Iraq, where the quite obvious guff about Saddam’s WMD was barely questioned until years after the fact, with those skeptical of the evidence being given little hearing. Why is it that one type of skepticism, no matter how ill-founded, found an eager audience in the British media, while another type of skepticism, with much more evidence for it was dismissed as conspiracy theory?

Because one story slotted right into existing rightwing media narratives while the other doesn’t. The tabloids, especially the Daily Mail have always been suspicious about government propaganda about health care, mistrustful of the NHS and medical science and friendly towards alternative treatments. Having real true “scientific” evidence that the NHS and Labour were poisoning our children with autism was too good to pass up. Meanwhile, why would these same tabloids be skeptical about a war they supported anyway?