Category Archives: Politics

No rioting for this single mum’s kid

Single parent? Check. Two adults intended to raise a family? No. A present father? No and then yes. Interesting characteristics, no?

I tick nearly all the boxes on David Lammy’s statement last week about the rioters but I am pretty sure it’s not me he’s talking about.

He said:

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham,

“In areas like mine, we know that 59% of black Caribbean children are looked after by a lone parent. There is none of the basic starting presumption of two adults who want to start a family, raise children together, love them, nourish them and lead them to full independence. The parents are not married and the child has come, frankly, out of casual sex; the father isn’t present, and isn’t expected to be. There aren’t the networks of extended families to make up for it. We are seeing huge consequences of the lack of male role models in young men’s lives..”

Apart from the black Caribbean ethnicity, he could have been talking about my situation. I am a single parent. The father is now part of my daughter’s life but we didn’t start our trip into parenthood wanting to be a family, nor to raise our child together.

So what’s the difference between me and the people Lammy is describing? It’s primarily a socio-economic one. I have been to university, more than once, I have a good non-manual job as a statistical analyst and I have the support of my friends and family. I am also in my 30s.

Knowing that someone is black Caribbean may make it easy to guess that they will be a single parent. However, knowing that I am a single parent says nothing about whether my child will be out there rioting in a couple of decades time.

I’ve been trying to find some redeeming quality to the way our daughter was conceived and born but I can’t. Most importantly, though, I no longer care. I refuse to feel guilty about the way this little miracle of a child was brought into the world and there’s no minister or columnist out there who can make me.

I don’t feel guilty because the bulk of evidence suggests that being a lone parent is not what causes children to behave badly. In fact “[b]ehavioural problems were less likely among children living in families with higher levels of parental qualifications” (source).

Other factors include the mother’s age, economic security, attention and guidance that were provided and the likelihood of living in a deprived area. In fact all these factors are what the government can have direct influence such as with schooling, maternity leave, austerity cuts that increase the chances of a recession and decrease economic security.

David Lammy will be more successful in reducing rioting in the future if he brings to task the government rather than point his finger at us single parents. I know he was, on this occasion, pointing at the areas with high levels of ethnic minorities but I don’t believe that race on its own makes up the difference.

Further sources.

Watershed chief backs away from film ban fight

The British Board of Film Classification has been in the news these past few daysafter banning the film Human Centipede II. Apparently no amount of footage could be cut to make the film suitable for any classification so it can not be seen or distributed in the UK legally.

The original movie is about a surgeon who creates the first human centipede by surgically connecting three tourists via their gastric systems. The sequel, which was already planned with the release of the first movie, is meant to be even worse and was described as ”sexually violent and potentially obscene”.

Bristol24-7 asked Mark Cosgrove, head of programming at the independent cinema The Watershed which showed Human Centipede in 2010, what he thought of the BBFC’s ruling and their censorship.

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The banning of Human Centipede II

My initial response to the British Board of Film Classification’s ban of the Human Centipede II was ‘good’. I was glad that the film cannot be bought on DVD or downloaded legally anywhere in the UK because it is “sexually violent and potentially obscene” [see reasoning].

The Human Centipede is about a surgeon who obsesses about creating the first human centipede. He surgically connects two stranded tourist girls and a Japanese tourist via their gastric systems. The sequel, which was already planned with the release of the first movie, is meant to be even worse but I won’t tell you how, see the BBFC ruling for more details on that.

So far I can see no merit in the movie and felt justified in being glad that it was banned but what does that say about freedom of expression and censorship?

“I do not believe it should be banned, just like I do not believe that the works of the Marques de Sade (from whose work we get the word Sadism) should have been burnt 200 years ago. Banning films is, to me, just as bad as burning books. We can’t have freedom of expression, and then put a limit on that freedom. We need to accept the extremities of artistic expression, and let those that want to face this diabolical and radical presentation of the ‘other’ do as they wish” says Oliver Connor, from Splinternet.

After all, the work is fantasy, no one really gets hurt, it’s all make believe. This is pretty much what the film’s maker Tom Six says as well.

David Cox in the Guardian points out that it is the link between sex and pleasure that was the primary reason for the ban and this brings to mind the sexualization of children and the new regulations being considered by the government about companies being made responsible.

“I fundamentally don’t believe in censorship, however I do fundamentally believe in responsibilities. Where those meet is an interesting point” says Mark Cosgrove, head of programming at the independent cinema Watershed which screened Human Centipede in 2010. Freedom of expression is surrounded by ethical and moral responsibilities. What is depicted, must have some sort of effect.

The effect of movies is mentioned in a piece on Think Progress about two new movies about mass shootings: We Need To Talk About Kevin and Beautiful Boy. Alyssa Rosenberg concludes her post by wondering how useful these movies were “in trying to make sure that spree killings happen with less frequency”.

That question feels wrong. Freedom of expression versus responsibility sounds right. Ensuring art is useful however sounds wrong. Authors and film makers aren’t here to guide reality but to represent their version of it. Unaccountable and free to do as they please, it would be a serious mistake to ask them to provide work that is for the good of society.

But then what about having everything freely available and letting the audience choose? The choice in our cinemas most of the time is imposed by huge American production teams presenting us with the latest Hollywood blockbusters. The same famous actors getting paid millions to act in run of the mill stories that also provide no useful lesson. I doubt they could even be called art.

Choice in capitalism is not about freedom but about purchasing power. Independent cinemas, like the Watershed, are few and far between.

While I’d like agree with the arguments for freedom of expression in this case, I won’t be doing it for the reasons of choice. There are so many things hampering choice in the movie industry that banning the Human Centipede II is but a tiny footnote and a trivial one at that.

There are more serious discussions that we could be having. After all, people being connected up and forced to digest the same ‘crap’ is not too far away from a representation of what’s availabe at the cinema these days anyway.

The crying game of aspirations

Sitting on one of the benches outside near the RWA, while eating my £3.95 chorizo, goat’s cheese and rosary goat’s cheese baguette, from Papadeli cafe, I have the song Crying Game running through my head.

It’s not playing because of the vandalised art work which is one third still standing, wrapped in bubble wrap, and two thirds down on the ground, wrapped in canvas, like a body about to be taken to a morgue. I just misread someone’s tweet about the waiting game.

I had a brief vision of the shocking end to the movie where the person you thought you loved was not in the right body after all. Now, as I watch, the body is covered by blue tarpaulin and then undressed again so Sabet Choudhury can report on it for Points West this evening.

The bronze sculpture ‘Aspiration’ by David Backhouse was worth £40,000 and showed three girls in bronze, one higher than the other. It will now probably be melted down but it was meant to inspire and bring beauty or at least a different filter on reality.

The reality of having aspirations in this day and age, however, is a lot different from any of the other decades in the 70 year old artist’s history.

Tracy Emin may seem like a fool for claiming that the Conservative party, which has cut funding on so many things is the only saviour of arts funding, but she does have a point. Who do you think buys art, she asks? It certainly isn’t the Labour philanthropists.

I question the use of the word philanthropists, which means lover of people, but agree with her contention that it is the ones with a lot of money who can afford to purchase art.

The horror of the cost of some of these works is one more example of the distorted value we place on things. A young pair of siblings have £600,000 to spend between them on a house, footballer’s wages can pay for a school but instead fund private planes, and as Del Amitri sing, Van Gogh paintings sells for the price of a hospital wing.

I am not questioning the value of the arts, indeed I think that without culture, in all its different manifestations, we become isolated and lacking in an understanding of how we all view the world differently.

We need some beauty and art to expand and inspire our lives, don’t we? Outside the RWA was a piece of art that was worth a lot but was available for 22 days for free. It was then torn down.

Next up will be work by artist Damien Hirst whose previous creations have included the diamond encrusted skull For the Love of God which was priced at £50 million. The cuts to the art world this year were worth £19.1 million and taken away from 206 organizations. The price of art like Hirst’s is sublimely ridiculous.

And why was I sitting outside to eat my sandwich instead of inside the cafe? Because I saved 20% by taking my food away with me. At a cost of over £8, my delicious meal was not cheap. I’ll happily treat myself once a month but it does make me wonder which art is for me and which is for the ones who can afford it?

Art became untouchable a long time ago and it was up to art galleries, museums and libraries to keep it safe for a while. Their upkeep has changed to a model which cries out for donations and volunteers and it is the Conservative government’s dream that this is what the Big Society will be.

The mistake here is in the definition of art and of society. Emin is not talking about the kind of art which inspires and builds aspirations, she is talking about the kind that brings in a lot of money for a select few. In the same vein, the coalition government are cutting funds from activities which they as individuals can already afford.

We are moving away from a society where we used to be able to share art and public goods to a place where you need to purchase in order to enjoy anything. Public art becomes private viewings, private care, private schooling and all the things most of us can’t afford.

Maybe it’s more fitting than ironic that it was Aspiration that was knocked down this weekend. Just have to wonder whose aspirations.

Osama bin Laden, whose justice?

Towards the end of World War II, Winston Churchill and others began drawing up plans for how to deal with the Nazi perpetrators when captured. Apparently there was suggestion of summary execution in some circumstances but he was dissuaded by the Americans. Instead, the Nazi criminals who could be tried were put through the war tribunals in the famous Nuremberg Trials.

Out of the trials came the Nuremberg Principles and Principle VI which dictates against war crimes. War crimes such as the US-led invasion of Iraq (source)

“To initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” (Nuremberg Principles)

I won’t discuss the Iraq and Afghanistan attacks further. Plenty has been written about them already [Medialens, Chomsky, Pilger]. I don’t stand judge over who did what with 9/11 and US crimes against so many countries. I just want to point out an article by which sums up my thoughts of this latest US illegal act.

There is no justice in state murder, no justice in ignoring criminal law’s due process — even if the evidence is irrefutable that bin Laden masterminded the attacks on New York, Washington and helped to plan other terrorist atrocities. There is no justice in implying that the death of one man, however notorious, can deflect attention from the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vengeance Is Never Sweet By Stuart Rees

Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, which translates to “Let justice be done, though the sky may fall.” As I tweeted on the day that I found out: even the Nazis were given a trial.