Thursday, 31 August 2017

The End of The Guardian, deleted from my Favourites Bar

The Guardian was on my Favourites Bar together with The Financial Times (to which I have a subscription) and Al Jazeera. But, really, I  have wanted to delete it as I did some while back delete the absurd Huffington Post. I left it there partly because it does give me some headlines, though not always things which turn out to be important. Occasionally, there are important investigative stories.

There is something deeply wrong with The Guardian. It seems without intellectual or moral compass, floundering and even desperate – at the moment, desperate for Good News. Not so long ago, when  a beautiful young woman with style and attitude came along (and I admit, I was happy to heart it for Saffiyah Khan confronting Ian Crossland), the sense of The Guardian falling over itself was palpable. It was just over the top and often is.

It’s  priorities are bizarre. There is, for example, an obsession with Hollywood and the Oscars which seems quite misplaced. Why would anyone care about Hollywood to this degree? Why not just take pleasure in good films?

Then there are the writers of the very many Opinion pieces. I hesitate to name names. Very rarely does anyone in the large cast of writers manage to say anything which isn’t self-serving, puffing up my grievance to be bigger than your grievance. Worse, there is what reads like competitive grievance invention. The rhetoric is tired, like that of a superficial undergraduate essay written in haste. The range of positions is of course predictable, even with some of the contributors designated to take a “Different View” but always the same different view (the ones who are there to speak up for Russia or Brexit or whatever). When I read the Opinion writers in the FT, I feel I am much more likely to be surprised and challenged. And informed.

All the Guardian Opinion pieces are routinely shot to bits in the Comments below. For a long time, I thought these Comments the poor taste and poorly argued work of nerds and trolls. Increasingly, I think that they are actually on target. They are appropriate attacks on rubbish writing. I treat the ridiculous respectfully when I treat is as ridiculous, said the young Karl Marx. I have joined in myself but I don't feel comfortable in the role, which is another reason for deleting from the favourites bar.


If The Guardian folded, those who don't want to line up behind the programme and fantasy vision of the National Conservatives would have to start again somewhere else and I think that would be a good thing provided it was a genuinely fresh start and not the wheeling out of tired leftist hacks. The Guardian is going nowhere and it’s not helping in these difficult times.

It's true, it's also the case that Opposition politics in England is headed up by intellectual flyweights, including  Mr Corbyn,  who struggle to articulate a clear position even when the National Conservatives are also fielding flyweights - Johnson, Leadsom, Fallon, Grayling and winning by a mile, May herself - with the difference that those flyweights know how to be nasty in a way that Mr Corbyn doesn't.

Maybe if there was a new Editor at The Guardian with some intellectual sharpness and  global vision,and a clean sweep made of all the  hanger-on Opinion writers of whom there are simply far too many anyway, then it could survive. But not in its present Sunday School,  awful, cluttered, scatter-shot form.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Sex and Gender: Binaries and Continuums


I think of sex as mostly binary and gender as pretty much a continuum. There are intersex individuals but not many, and to treat sex as binary has always been a fairly good approximation for practical purposes, Women and Children first when the lifeboats are lowered and it's not a time for argument. But gender characteristics are distributed along a continuum rather than distributed into a binary of trans and cis. Most boys, by whatever are the accidents of their upbringing, acquire some feminine characteristics and most girls some masculine ones. Some children end up more thoroughly transgendered than this but manage to find niches in life which suit them.

There are a very small number of people who feel strongly that their gender character is misaligned with their body and who want  to change their body, and some do so using whatever chemical and surgical methods are on offer from the current medical profession. But I doubt that those who change sex in this way end up completely cisgendered in relation to their new body. They will still have gender characteristics left over from the sex they are leaving. It can get very complicated and that’s fine, though complicated does not mean heroic.

That gender is a continuum has  always had some recognition. The terms cissy and tomboy indicate very obviously that there was long ago a recognition that some boys had more than their average share of feminine characteristics and girls ditto for masculine. Cissies had a bad press, but tomboys usually a more indulgent one. The differences sometimes had obvious explanations in accidents of parenting and the sex distribution of siblings. An isolated boy growing up with six sisters would probably end up playing their games; a girl growing up on a farm often got handy at doing things that we might think of as very masculine, like killing. And, living on a lighthouse, Grace Darling knew how to row a boat in a storm.


Parents very often try to ensure that their children get gendered in as binary fashion as possible and schools to their shame often co-operate in things like school uniform and separate classes for this or that, swimming or cookery. But children are not docile in these matters and may resist. They are very alert to other forms of fun than the ones they are being channelled towards.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Monumental Sculpture

"I would find myself in a desert of the past, filled with nothing but monuments" - Svetlana Alexievich, The Unwomanly Face of War.

All things change and what goes up must come down. I can’t think that monumental sculpture was ever a good idea, bigging up things in order to magnify, glorify and fix the memory of mostly bit players in history. It was basically a job for skilled technicians who rarely had any more sense of form or style than those, lower down the market, who mass produced angels to droop over graves. The angels should be bulldozed (nowadays - shortage of space - they often are) and so too should the equestrian statues of generals, the politicians puffed up on plinths, the liberators who should be content with a popular memory that once upon a time they liberated.

I’m only familiar with near to my home, Europe’s capital city centres littered with statues to individuals, both statues and individuals generally meritless and now of interest only to dogs and pigeons. The money, often raised by grateful public subscription and, if not, paid for from the taxes of the poor – well, the money could have been much better spent. There were, from time to time, people who got the message and spent instead on useful buildings. Andrew Carnegie did that, giving away a fortune worth in modern terms about $80 billion which, among many other things, funded the building of three thousand libraries. I double checked. Three thousand. True, he put his name on them - and if you were mean-minded, you could take that off and still have the building. With a monumental sculpture, you don’t have that sort of choice and my choice would be to take them all down.

That’s one reason I could both sympathise with Oxford University students who wanted to topple Cecil Rhodes from his perch on Oriel College but also feel that they had mis-diagnosed the problem. The problem is all these sculptures, even the ones to the Goodies of history whose goodness is, in my eyes, always diminished by a stonemason’s assertion of that goodness.

I made myself go and look at Cecil Rhodes last time I was in Oxford. There’s not much to look at and, I suspect, until his presence was highlighted, nothing about his bird-shit spattered statue which would have attracted anyone’s attention. In contrast, the anonymous heads of thirteen men with beards which provide a boundary for the Sheldonian Theatre do attract attention, even though they are the modern (1972) replacement copies of Victorian replacements of the 1669 originals. These heads are anonymous and so feature neither the virtuous or the wicked except insofar as they are all men with beards. I can’t find any trace of a suggestion that seven should be removed and replaced to create a gender balance and I’m not sure how I would feel if someone did make the suggestion. But their anonymity is one reason why I would be inclined to leave them all in place.

That opens the way for someone to say that it’s valuable to be reminded of our history, even if we would not repeat it the same way today. The statues and sculptures provide incidental prompts to think about our history as we go about our work and play. Nelson atop his column in London, Peter the Great riding his horse in St Petersburg - don’t these things give us at least some sense that the history of a country, the history of a city, is layered and not merely spatial? Aren’t they, if you like, part of a city’s archaeology?

Quite a good argument and so I’ll offer a compromise. Let each city draw up an inventory of the public monuments dedicated just to named individuals. Then let the public vote for a handful they would like to keep. In London, they would surely keep Nelson on his column. But those chaps on the three surrounding plinths? Not even a reasonable General Knowledge contest question: George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier, Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. All of them Baddies, as it happens, but that is really incidental. How many Londoners who walk through the Square on the way to work could sketch the statues from memory? But they could all sketch the Column.


I don’t mind what happens to the monuments which come down. They could go to some open air museum or simply go to recycling. The main thing is that our cityscapes would look and feel so much better – so much more decent is the word that comes to mind - without them. The worst thing that could happen is that we topple one lot only to replace them with another lot.