BBC bias

Subject of the day on Twitter (at least on many of the accounts that I follow and interact with) was BBC bias. Not accusations of institutional leftist bias, which is the the more common criticism, but instead claims that the BBC in fact genuflects to the Establishment and forces of conservatism. The idea that the BBC is riddled with liberals and agents of the left is actually a clever lie perpetuated by the right as a means of policing our state broadcaster.

Well, it’s a theory.

These claims originate from an article by Owen Jones, who now writes for The Guardian (a move which was as inevitable as Lassie coming home). To support his argument he points out that Chris Patten is the Chairman of the BBC Trust; the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson was once chairman of the Young Conservatives; Andrew Neil works there and Stephanie Flanders used to work there but has quit and taken a job with JP Morgan (because, obviously, it’s just not possible to work for a bank and hold anything even approaching left wing or liberal views). Damning evidence there. Conclusive stuff.

OK, so that’s not entirely fair. He does point out a number of other indicators including research by Cardiff University claiming to show a greater representation of Conservative politicians on BBC news than there were Labour politicians on the news when Gordon Brown was prime minister. He also names some other journalists and staff who have either worked for right wing newspapers at some point or have moved onto roles working for senior Conservative Party figures.

All of this may well be true, but it’s a huge leap to claim, as he does, that “the BBC is stacked full of right wingers”. Owen is very much to the left of the political spectrum, so of course he views the BBC as being right wing: pretty much everything is to the right of him. It’s a bit like standing at the North Pole and complaining that everything is south. Of course it is, but only from where YOU are standing.

At the other end of the political spectrum (although they agree on a lot more than either would care to admit) is Peter Hitchens who maintains the polar opposite view: that the BBC is riddled with left wing, liberal, metropolitan types and that the type of people they tend to recruit ensures that such viewpoints seep into nearly every BBC production. Hitchens recounts a number of examples to support his claims. Again, as with the instances highlighted by Jones, I don’t doubt the veracity of any of them. But Hitchens, like Jones, makes claims from his own idiosyncratic viewing point – here, the far reaches of pure conservatism. Hitchens is standing at the South Pole and complaining that everything is north.

Both of them, as far as I can see, get a fair amount of appearances on the BBC. So cry me a river.

The BBC is a monolithic beast that produces a huge amount of television, radio and web content. Some of that content might be produced by left-leaning individuals and it might show. Some of it might be produced by those of a right-leaning bent and it might show. Generally speaking, taking all its output into account, it does a fairly good job of remaining impartial and balanced when it matters.

But then, I would say that. I’m a centrist standing on the equator, with the ability to look north and south.

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So long, Norm…..

Like so many, I came to Norm via the excellent Normblog, which I first read in 2005. I was a sporadic blogger at the time and read a piece in The Guardian called “The new commentariat”, a profile of the prominent UK bloggers making a name for themselves on the web and directly challenging the editorial authority/hegemony of the mainstream press. Also profiled was Oliver Kamm, another of my favourite bloggers (who now works on the editorial team of The Times), Harry’s Place and several others. Normblog became required reading for me on a daily basis, up to and including today.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet Norm in the flesh, but we did exchange some emails (he was gracious enough to respond to my inanities on a couple of occasions) and he even, to my continued surprise and gratitude, bestowed upon me the honour of a Normblog profile. And of course there was Twitter, the great gathering hall of our age, where I followed him and vice-versa. And what a shame (for me) that, while I was a student of politics at the University of Manchester in the mid-nineties, he did not teach any of the courses I took. How nice it would be to go back and choose some of those courses again.

Norm was a calm, measured, wise voice: a rarity in an age where any yahoo can take to the web (particularly Twitter, which at times can resemble a village idiot reunion) and spew forth ill-informed gibberish as they see fit. Speaking of ill-informed gibberish, it was always a joy to see Norm take apart the arguments of certain commentators (particular favourites were Madeleine Bunting, John Pilger and Simon Jenkins) with his inexhaustible supply of reason and good sense. Said commentators would have been paid to churn out their nonsense – Norm did his rebuttal work for free, and humanity benefitted as a consequence.

Another great feature of Normblog was the range of subject matter. A lengthy piece about the legality of the Iraq war would be followed by a poll on the greatest Beatles songs, or maybe something about his beloved cricket or jazz, or a film he’d enjoyed, and then perhaps a discussion about human consciousness or Primo Levi. He covered many topics with enthusiasm in an accessible manner and it was a treat for all of us.

Norm had let all his readers and followers know earlier in the year that he was ill with prostate cancer, something he’d had for ten years. But it was still a shock this morning to learn of his passing on Twitter. As with Hitch a couple of years ago, I’d hoped that he was going to beat it and remain with us for a good while longer but unfortunately it was not to be.

There is much more to be said about Norm but I’ll leave that to the others who really knew him – there are plenty of tributes out there (Nick Cohen’s is particularly good). I just wanted to say something about a man I respected and admired and who, in various ways, encouraged me to blog too in the hope that I could be even half as good as he was.

So long Norm, it was a pleasure reading you.

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More unutterable nonsense from George Galloway

“The man’s search for a tyrannical fatherland never ends.”

Christopher Hitchens on George Galloway, 2005

So true. Galloway once said that “the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life.” And he really meant it. Galloway has always felt an affinity with the more oppressive regimes on the planet – on the condition that they are hostile to the biggest menace of all: the United States. Iraq (under Saddam Hussein, that is), Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba: George has been to all of them, prostrate at the feet of hideous men, before flipping over and asking them to tickle his tummy. When he’s not doing this, he’s invariably standing at a rostrum delivering an obsequious speech in praise of his generous hosts.

Now, with all the reliability of a timepiece manufactured in Switzerland, he has openly spoken in support of North Korea using the platform of a show he presents on PressTV, a propaganda vehicle for the Iranian government.

“I’m much more afraid of the United States of America and so are most people in the world. North Korea has no intention to harm any of us. North Korea’s problem is with South Korea. South Korea exists because America invaded Korea, killed millions of people, divided the country and continues to garrison South Korea with military bases, nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapon.”

It would be remarkable if it wasn’t so unsurprising. In fact, where Galloway is concerned, it would be a genuine shock if he hadn’t said this or something very much like it. This is a man whose views on everything are so predictable you already know what he’s going to say before he starts shouting about it.

But, not to be misunderstood, he clarifies his position.

“Look, I don’t agree with the North Korean political system and I’ve been there. I’ve seen it up close and personal. But there have been achievements in North Korea. They do have a satellite circling the earth. They have built a nuclear power industry even though they suspended it on false promises from President Clinton and other U.S. statesmen. They do have a cohesive, pristine actually, innocent culture. A culture that has not been penetrated by globalisation and by Western mores and is very interesting to see.”

Well, that’s true. They are certainly untouched by globalisation. Or progress, personal freedoms, human rights, literature, music, the arts, etc. They are protected from all these dreadful Western mores, quite content no doubt that their “cohesive, pristine actually, innocent culture” remains intact. I mean, many of them are on the brink of starvation and the average life expectancy is about ten years less than that of South Korea, but they remain an outpost of purity. And it’s for this reason that George would like to live there… oh wait.

“But I wouldn’t like to live there. And I’m not advocating their system. Not least because they certainly don’t believe in God in North Korea.”

Who would blame them given that they live in a hellish gulag-state ruled by a psychopathic crime family? Galloway, it would seem, is perfectly relaxed about the oppression, the grinding poverty and the death camps but takes exception to the fact they don’t believe in an all-powerful sky wizard. Actually, this isn’t even technically true. Kim Il-sung was declared the ‘Eternal President’ of North Korea in 1998, despite the fact he died in 1994. North Korea is a theocratic state, based on the cult-of-personality of a rotting corpse.

Perhaps this information might be enough to prompt Mr Galloway to reconsider his position and relocate there after all? We can but dream.

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Please, please, please…. just shut up

Morrissey has been spurting forth opinions from his gob-piece again and it’s a grisly spectacle. He’s issued a statement following the death of Margaret Thatcher. Why? Nobody can be sure, but I suspect that the reissue of his 1991 album Kill Uncle later this week might be a contributory factor.

Last year he made himself look like a buffoon, spouting off about the Olympics making Britain resemble Nazi Germany. The highlight for me was when he said that “The ‘dazzling royals’ have, quite naturally, hi-jacked the Olympics for their own empirical need”. He clearly has no idea what ’empirical’ means. I suspect he meant imperial. Or is he referring to Prince Andrew’s hitherto unknown admiration for the works and methods of Karl Popper? We can but speculate.

The latest outburst also contains some real gems and further underlines the theory that he should be out on the street, wearing a dressing gown and selling pencils from a cup. For the most part, it’s a standard rant positing that any criticism of the former PM is stultified by the media and the establishment. Blah, blah, blah. We would expect nothing less. But the final line is a beauty, a corker.

United Kingdom? Syria? China? What’s the difference?

Hmmm. Where is the difference indeed?

I have a suggestion, Mozzer. When you’ve recovered from your illness, arrange a tour of the three countries and make inflammatory comments on stage about the present and past leaders in each location. Maybe start the tour in Syria and see how you get on? You can then prepare a full report and account of your experiences and let us know. We’ll all be here, eagerly awaiting your conclusions.

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Some thoughts on Margaret Thatcher

This piece was also a cross-post at Harry’s Place

On Twitter, Margaret Thatcher died a thousand deaths. OK, maybe not a thousand, but lots. Countless times her name would trend as some mischief-maker or other would start yet another rumour that she had passed away. This would ping around the Twittersphere before slowly receding as reality dawned on everyone. Then, a week or so later, the same thing would happen again.

So today, when the news was official, we kind of knew what to expect already, albeit on a larger, louder scale. First and foremost there would be multiple tweets of joy as a sizeable section of the population reacts to the only kind of news that can rouse it from its slumber: celebrating the death of somebody it hates. And hatred is the word here – a pure form of it.

A cursory search of Twitter alone will throw up the most extraordinary bile and hyperbole. I can’t claim to be a fan of the woman or her policies, personally, but I still recognise her achievements and purpose of vision. The reason the left hate her so much is for her very success, of course. She set out to shape the country in a certain way and met many of her targets while the left rallied around a supine Labour Party led by two unelectable leaders in the shape of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. Thatcherism was extremely divisive in ways that are still being felt across the country – it’s not difficult to see why the left disliked her so. Certainly, as a centrist liberal there’s little for me to love in her legacy, although it’s difficult to look at the state of the UK economy in 1979 and think that a continuation of existing policies was the answer. She took some tough choices and saw them through. As John Rentoul points out: she saved the economy but was indifferent about the social consequences of her policies. This pretty much mirrors my thoughts on the subject. She wasn’t ‘evil’ or a ‘tyrant’ or any of the other epithets banded about by those who despise her, but a purposefully single-minded politician elected three times by a democratic process identical to the one her opponents were taking part in. This is a simple point overlooked, I feel, by many on the left who talk of her as if this was all pushed through by some autocratic dictator. No, sorry, she won three elections by winning the biggest proportion of the votes, just like every other prime minister we have ever had.

I’m not going to get sanctimonious about the bile that has spewed forth in the last twelve hours or so (and will continue to do so). I think it demeans those responsible for it, but let them have their fun. I don’t really care. Currently there are street parties celebrating her death taking place in Glasgow and Brixton (to name just two that I’m aware of: I dare say there are champagne corks popping all over the country). This is just silly behaviour for fully grown adults to take part in.

A Glenn Greenwald piece in The Guardian (mercifully brief by his verbose standards) argues that the concept of not speaking ill of the dead should not apply to public figures and I’d be a hypocrite to disagree with him: I wasn’t exactly dancing in the streets when Hugo Chavez died recently but nor was I remotely sympathetic. Likewise I cheered when Christopher Hitchens tore into Jerry Falwell when his corpse was still warm. This happens, we all live with it. (Of course, being a Greenwald piece it also suffers from some curious flights of fancy: Thatcher played, apparently, “a key role” in bringing about the first Gulf War. Which is interesting. Call me old fashioned, but I think Saddam Hussein was the main actor here when he annexed Kuwait. Still, this is just a detail. In support of this claim the article links to no less an authority than Michael Moore’s website. Let me repeat that: Michael Moore’s website.)

Of course, others have gone the other way. Guido Fawkes has shut down his blog as a mark of respect. Quite why this self-styled ‘libertarian’ feels such an affinity with someone as socially conservative as Thatcher is anyone’s guess, but to each their own.

We can now expect days, weeks, if not months of retrospective commentary on Mrs T’s legacy and I’ll enjoy reading all of it, no doubt. There is so much to discuss, more than I could ever attempt to do here: the unions, privatisation, the Falklands, Section 28, Europe, Northern Ireland, the IRA’s attack in 1984, Reagan and the Special Relationship, Gorbachev and the USSR and of course, her overthrow in 1990. Regardless of your politics, regardless of what you thought about her policies, her achievements and impact on this country were colossal – the like of which we won’t see again for a very long time.

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Further adventures with Peter Hitchens

It’s been an unusual week. It’s not often that I get to exchange opinions with a renowned conservative columnist on my blog, but that is what has been happening. Further to my previous post documenting a conversation on Twitter with Peter Hitchens about addiction, he personally responded to my points at great length in the comments section. To which I replied. To which he replied. To which I replied. To which he replied. To which I replied. To which he replied again. It’s all here and makes, I think, for an interesting read.

It was also unusual for me in that, after starting from a resolute position on the subject of addiction and continuing with this theme for most of the conversation, I suddenly found myself having enormous doubts about my stance when I attempted to respond to his following request:

You’re going to need to strip the whole thing down to bright metal, and ask yourself to answer the following question with a clear, unambiguous definition. ‘What is “addiction”?’

In short, I couldn’t do it. It slowly dawned on me, while trying to construct a watertight definition, that it wasn’t logically possible. The language involved is either blatantly self-contradictory or intellectually inconsistent.

I’ll try to summarise my newly found position. Addiction is commonly understood as being some overbearing and unstoppable illness that renders its victims completely unable to withstand its temptations. In response to his debate on the subject with Hitchens on Newsnight, for example, Russell Brand (famously an ex-heroin user) wrote a comment piece in The Spectator. Here, he wrote:

…the mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless (my emphasis) over their addiction and, unless they have structured help, they have no hope.

But this simply cannot be true from a logical point of view. If addiction really did render addicts “completely powerless” then nobody would ever give up any addiction, would they? Addiction would be a one way destination, impossible to return from. So addiction cannot mean this, we must dismiss that definition. So instead of words like ‘compulsive’ or ‘irresistible’ what should we use? Powerful? Gripping? What we have now is a watered down version of addiction which is self-contradictory. If it is a compulsion then that is absolute. We cannot then say it’s a compulsion that can be defeated – that is nonsensical. Therefore we downgrade it to mean “something that is very difficult to resist”. Difficult, yes. Impossible? No. Either way, we have either a definition of addiction that is blatantly false or a mishmash. The first option removes the notion of choice or will or determination. The second definition contradicts the first and relegates addiction to something that requires lots of willpower.

As Peter Hitchens said in one of his replies:

Of course, as I know well from dozens of these debates, you will now start to redefine ‘addiction’ for *this* part of the argument, saying that it doesn’t actually mean total compulsion. But you will retain the original definition, of an overmastering irresistible power, for the other part of the argument, the one you use to excuse the alleged ‘addicts’. This is called ‘inconsistency’, and in a serious argument it loses you lots of points.

In this argument, because conventional opinion and majority opinion are behind you, and because you (and intellectual fashion in general) have a deep dislike of the concept of free will and full human responsibility, you can dance around it and pretend that you haven’t committed an offence against reason. Most people listening or reading will applaud you. But you will still have lost the point.

This was the killer blow for me: it clanged like a bell in my head, arousing the dormant logician within. I had unwittingly fallen into a semantic bear trap of claiming that it is a truly powerful force that compels the user to continue but not so powerful a force that it negates free will entirely. It cannot be one *and* the other and I had to acknowledge this.

From everything I have read so far on the subject, much of it on Mr Hitchens’ own blog but also elsewhere, similar nonsensical positions are advanced on such a routine basis that it’s staggering that the contradiction is not more frequently pointed out.

In this piece, for example, which heralds a new definition of addiction by the American Society of Addictive Medicine (ASAM), there are a number of inconsistent statements in the very first page: (the words in bold are my emphasis)

If you think addiction is all about booze, drugs, sex, gambling, food and other irresistible vices, think again. And if you believe that a person has a choice whether or not to indulge in an addictive behavior, get over it. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) blew the whistle on these deeply held notions with its official release of a new document defining addiction as a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions, most notably a devastating imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry. This fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling.

So the person does not have a choice, they are literally compelled. If this is true, if this is really what addiction means, then there is nothing that can be done is there? Once addicted, there can be no way out. But how does this square with the fact that many people do overcome their addictions? Not easily, not without setback and almost certainly not without support – but they do it.

There’s more (in this quote the italics are the emphasis of the original article, not mine):

In other words, conscious choice plays little or no role in the actual state of addiction; as a result, a person cannot choose not to be addicted. The most an addict can do is choose not to use the substance or engage in the behavior that reinforces the entire self-destructive reward-circuitry loop.

In the preceding quote, it was claimed that it’s not possible to believe that a person has a choice whether or not to indulge in an addictive behaviour. Yet in the same the article, just a paragraph or two later, they unwittingly water down the definition by saying that conscious choice plays “little or no role”. They’ve let a chink of light in there – they’d just told us that there is no choice, but now there’s at least the possibility that choice can play a little role. Well, which is it? Such language, in my admittedly limited reading on the subject (hell, I’m no expert, but I can spot inconsistent language, even if I didn’t originally see it in my own) is routine.

Peter Hitchens debated the subject recently with Damian Thompson who uses similar contradictory terminology, stating that addiction is compulsive behaviour but it remains a matter of choice. It can be compulsive, it can be a matter of choice, but it cannot – by definition – be both.

I have written much more here than I intended to do. Indeed, anyone still reading this rambling post might conclude that I am crazy to a) reach consensus with Peter Hitchens after publicly baiting him about the subject and b) then write a lengthy follow-up post that details just how wrong I now consider my original position to have been. And they may be right. Nonetheless, my exchanges with Mr Hitchens were educational and forced me to forgo my original complacent position and to delve a little deeper into a subject that is extremely ambiguous.

My initial exchanges were based on a misunderstanding of what I thought Peter Hitchens meant by saying that he doesn’t believe that addiction exists. I think this is a common misunderstanding by his critics, many of whom, I suspect, choose to misunderstand him deliberately. I initially thought that by denying its existence he was actually denying the reality of being drawn to a substance. But of course he doesn’t mean any such thing (at least, I don’t think he does). Such feelings, cravings and desires are as real as any other. But this isn’t ‘addiction’ in the popular understanding of the term, because it can be conquered by anyone determined enough to do so. Some people won’t overcome these desires, some won’t even try, but others do.

At the risk of being accused of wanting to have my cake and eat it I’m still not sure that I would state with absolute certainty that “addiction does not exist”. I don’t know enough about neuroscience or the validity of studies of the brain’s so-called “reward circuitry”. However, I am able to say that I haven’t come across a definition of addiction that stands up to rigorous logical scrutiny and on the semantic point of “what is addiction?” I now understand Mr Hitchens’ argument.

If you don’t agree with me, let me know. And if you can conjure up a satisfactory definition of addiction, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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You’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to Peter Hitchens

The 1992 horror film Candyman is based on an urban legend: if you look into a mirror and say ‘Candyman’ five times, the eponymous protagonist will appear from nowhere and slaughter you with the hook on the end of his arm. In 2013 there is a less violent but equally chilling phenomenon on Twitter whereby if you use the words “Peter Hitchens” in a tweet there is a strong possibility that you will get a reply sometime later from the man himself if, as is likely, he’s not happy with the content of your tweet.

He uses the Twitter handle @ClarkeMicah (alluding to the book Micah Clarke by Arthur Conan Doyle) and by all accounts it really does seem to be the man himself.

I experienced this on Friday when I posted a couple of tweets about his pronouncements that addiction does not exist. He had a notorious argument with Russell Brand on the subject on Newsnight and also, more recently, the journalist Damian Thompson in The Spectator (they have both written books on the subject, drawing opposite conclusions).

My tweets were irreverent, but I was trying to make the point that denying the existence of addiction is as absurd as denying the existence of any number of things.

A little while later I received the following response:

Now, for anyone unfamiliar with how Twitter works there is only really one way Mr Hitchens could have become aware of these tweets. They did not specifically mention his username so he would not have received any notification. It is not possible that he would have seen them retweeted by another user as, in keeping with his obvious contempt for the platform, he doesn’t actually follow anybody. No, he clearly uses Twitter for one purpose only: to search for his own name, see what other people are saying about him and reply in kind. His prerogative of course, but this is akin to walking around a pub and eavesdropping on conversations to determine if people are talking about you, then taking them on if they are.

I’ve been aware of this phenomenon for a while as Micah Clarke is renowned for popping up in conversations with the immortal opening line “This is Peter Hitchens”, something for which, along with constantly referring to himself in the third person, he has been frequently lampooned for.

So while I was aware that this does happen, I was still surprised to get a response. And rather an unusual one really. Was he really suggesting that I genuinely do not know the difference? Was he taking me literally? He’s not renowned for his sense of humour or appreciation of irony but surely he doesn’t think anyone could be serious about this?

So I replied.

And in return I received:

“You’re just not as clever or funny as you think you are.” Ouch! A a punch in the kidneys! (But not literally a punch in the kidneys. You see, Mr Hitchens? I really can distinguish between the material and the non-material world.)

I responded again. What the hell, this was more interesting than work and besides, how often do you get to debate with a Hitchens?

And, dispatched from Mr Hitchens, one for one:

Of these responses, the first is the most curious.

“You say it exists. Burden is on you to prove it. Science needs objective description, repeatable experiments, prediction.”

The burden of proof. No objection whatsoever to this claim, and he is right. What makes this particularly interesting is that this would be the line of reasoning taken by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and, yes, Christopher Hitchens when debating the existence of god. As a renowned Christian and frequent debater on the subject I don’t ever recall Peter Hitchens acceding to this point on the issue of his own faith. Religious faith, it seems, is immune to this kind of scientific enquiry. It’s got a special permit. But here, the tables are turned. ‘Addiction’, something experienced by millions of people, must be scientifically proven otherwise he’s not going to believe in it? A staggering logical volte face there.

What Hitchens (how strange it feels to use that name and not mean his brother) means is that what we call ‘addiction’ is nothing more than a lack of self-control on the part of the ‘addict’. That by succumbing to the concept of ‘addiction’ we absolve the ‘addict’ of responsibility. It’s not their fault. They can’t help themselves. Up to a point he is correct. The first step that any addict would need to take to deal with their substance dependence would be to recognise that they have a problem with it and either seek professional help or resolve to give it up. But this overlooks a couple of uncontentious facts. Firstly, many substances do create dependence in an observable, biological sense. To use a mundane example, anyone who has ever been a regular smoker can testify to this. The desire for that first cigarette in the morning is not just habitual, there is a tangible, nagging craving in the body every bit as real as any physical sensation: accelerated heartbeat, salivation, twitchiness until the need for nicotine is satiated. Secondly, and of course this follows on from the first point, if addiction is a fallacy, how then to explain withdrawal? If addiction doesn’t exist then, presumably, it is not possible for anyone to become physically dependent on a substance. I think five minutes in the presence of an alcoholic at the end of a binge or a heroin addict going through cold turkey would rid him of that fantasy. Then again, perhaps it wouldn’t. Perhaps they just need to pull their socks up and keep a stiff upper lip. They are just weak, after all. It’s a bizarre position to take.

Following his logic it would be possible to claim that depression or any number of mental illnesses are not real either. Perhaps he does believe this. After all, he has argued that ADHD and dyslexia are non-existent conditions, like some austere Victorian physician who thinks anything can be overcome by just bucking your bloody ideas up.

I made these points in some subsequent tweets:

I didn’t get a further response. Fair enough, I’m sure he’s a very busy man with better things to do than argue with strangers at great length on the internet. I disagree with him on this and nearly every subject under the sun, but it was still interesting to have the exchange. That said, it’s a bit rich to be told that I’ve been taught what to think but not how to think. What he really means is that my thought process must be substandard as I haven’t come to the same conclusion as him. Presumably my own personal experiences don’t count for anything either. Oh well. And I don’t care if he did think it was ‘feeble’ I liked that Asperger’s analogy and it worked just fine.

I finished with one final remark:

I didn’t want to be rude. Despite everything I can’t really help liking him. Decca Aitkenhead made a similar point in an interview in The Guardian last year. Yes, he’s every liberal’s bogeyman and his opinions sometimes make me foam at the mouth, but he does it so well. It’s an uncomfortable fact, but liberals NEED Peter Hitchens.

Face it, we are addicted to him.

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You can’t avert our gays

Upon hearing the news, I turned to Mrs Sane and said “Well, that’s that then. Do you feel it? Do you feel the undermining of our marriage?” We got married in October 2008 and have since had two children. “Things were going so well. But now, now, well…. it all seems so hollow, so cheapened doesn’t it?”

For last night, the House of Commons approved same-sex marriage in England and Wales by passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill with a majority of 225 votes (400 to 175).

“Of course not, you idiot” said Mrs Sane. “How could the private concerns of other couples possibly have any bearing on our own relationship?”

Of course! What a fool I was being, worried that my own, unique relationship with my wife could in any way be affected by other people – gays! – also entering into their own private, personal marriages. I heaved a sigh of relief and went back to staring blankly at the television.

A little over forty five years since homosexuality was legalised (in England and Wales, that is – incredibly, it remained illegal in Scotland until 1981 and Northern Ireland until 1982) this landmark legislation will ensure that marriage is no longer exclusive to heterosexual couples. It feels like progress to me and a step forward for equality generally, so of course I welcome it. Inevitably, however, not everyone does. Indeed, it has split the Conservative Party in half. Full credit to David Cameron for backing this legislation all the way: he recognises that this is essential to modernising his party and it’s reminiscent of Tony Blair tackling the dinosaurs of the Labour Party in the 1990s. Heartening to see for a liberal centrist such as myself, although the size of the opposition within the Conservative Party (139 Tory MPs voted against, 132 for) shows how much work is still to be done there. It also served as a nice reminder that, however disillusioned I might be with the current crop of political parties, the Tories are still toxic to me on issues such as this.

Opponents of the bill brought up predictable arguments:

  • “Gay marriage will erode religious freedom.” But the bill allows religious organisations to opt out, indeed the Church of England is entirely exempt.
  • “Marriage can only mean the union of a man and a woman, with the stated purpose of procreation.” Which is terrible news for those unable to conceive, or anyone who gets married in their advanced years or couples who decide that they don’t want to have children at all.
  • “Gay marriage will dilute the institution.” I’ve never understood this one: how can more people getting married make marriage weaker? Marriage isn’t being redefined, it’s being extended to those who were previously excluded.
  • “Marriage is ordained by God.” Well, mine isn’t – we were married in a registry office and had a Humanist ceremony afterwards. God wasn’t invited. The same is true for millions of other people. The objection on religious grounds really boils down to: “I oppose gay marriage because a wizard told me it was bad.”

I have yet to see an argument against gay marriage that doesn’t ultimately stem from prejudice of some description: at best, its opponents consider gay couples to be of less importance than heterosexual couples; at worst they think homosexuality is a filthy deviance or a “sin”. Of course very few would proclaim this outright. All kinds of intellectual arguments are offered to justify their position but they only mask what really lies beneath: naked prejudice.

It is a tenet of a modern liberal society that all citizens be treated equally. By removing the barrier to full equality of marriage we have just taken another important step towards that goal.

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A tired man makes a couple of observations about music

BBC 6 Music have published the results of their poll to find the top 100 songs released in the station’s lifetime (the station launched in March 2002). Strangely, for a station that champions music of a more ‘alternative’ and left field variety, the #1 spot went to ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay which suggests that, perhaps, the station’s target audience isn’t listening and the people who do listen want something else entirely. Radio 2, perhaps?

Not that there’s anything wrong with Radio 2. Nor is there anything wrong with the Coldplay song in question, per se. But it’s a strange winner, especially considering that it isn’t even the best song that the band themselves have released in this time, let alone the best song of the last eleven years. As for the rest of the 6 Music list, I was surprised to find that I am very familiar with 50 of the tracks in question, so perhaps I’m not quite as old and out-of-touch as I thought.

In other music news My Bloody Valentine surprised everyone by releasing a new album this morning, a full twenty two years since their last, the highly rated ‘Loveless’. Highly rated by everyone other than me, it seems. I’ve tried countless times to ‘get’ this album but have always come to the conclusion that it’s just somebody mumbling through a sock over the sound of somebody hoovering and somebody else chopping onions in a food processor. Lots of people are very excited about it but frankly I could conjure up new My Bloody Valentine music by developing tinnitus in both ears.

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Unfinished monkey business

Iran made headlines on Monday for apparently sending a monkey into space and bringing it back down to Earth again. Having previously sent a rat, turtle and worms (I’m not sure if this was on separate occasions or a group deal) into orbit, delivering a primate into the stratosphere had so far eluded them.

The stated aim of the theocratic republic is to send a man into space by 2019. For what purpose, I cannot be sure, but the real concern is Iran’s covert intention to develop nuclear warheads and a mechanism for delivery, something their ‘space programme’ is surely designed to obfuscate.

However, it would appear that all is not what it seems and the entire thing may have been a fabrication. Observers have pointed out that there are clear differences in the appearance of the ‘before’ monkey and the ‘after’ monkey and that, apart from the footage provided by the Iranian government, there is no other evidence of a rocket launch taking place. So did they launch a rocket but not return the monkey? Or was the entire event just a piece of uninspiring theatre? Given the Iranian government’s reputation for evasiveness we will probably never know.

Really, though, this is a wasted opportunity on their part. If you’re going to lie about something like this, then lie big. Go to town with it. Say you’ve blasted a walrus to Mars or that you’ve perfected time travel and sent a duck back to Weimar Germany or something. If you’re going to waste everybody’s time on a ruse, then at least be creative. Both the USA and the USSR sent monkeys into space in the 1950s – this is no longer considered impressive. It’s been done before. You might as well claim to have invented butter or the combustion engine. Come on, Iran, raise your game. We expect better.

Clearly, theocracy stunts the imagination.

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Citizen Sane
Citizen Sane

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