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Category: FPR Comment

FPR Comment: Our stance on Climate Change v The Sun

Posted in FPR Comment

Here at FrontPageRage, we prefer not to take sides, politically speaking. It doesn’t matter whether a paper is Lefty, Righty, Wrongy, Wonky – we praise the good, and call out the bad. That means we can’t take sides on things like Brexit, which party should be in power, Scottish Independence, or whether it should be acceptable to put pineapple on pizza. To paraphrase Groundskeeper Willie: we hesitate to lend our support to either side; be it the right one, or the obviously wrong one. This being said, some issues are so important that remaining on the fence would be akin to permanently impaling ourselves on it, and Climate Change is one of those issues. The planet is suffering irreparable damage, and if we do not act swiftly and decisively, there will be a climatic shift of irreversible catastrophic proportions. That’s just a fact. The “debate” is over. And if you are one of those people who doesn’t know why that statement in bold above is true: You’re not being shut down; you are still allowed to ask questions – just get someone who DOES know the answers to your questions to explain it to you. Don’t bring your questions to the political stage like they’re equally valid.

This is why we take issue with the terrible coverage regarding Climate Change in The Sun. Let’s start with their most recent “gotcha” headline; Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: Exhibit A:

NOT SO GREEN 

Eco campaigner Sadiq Khan branded hypocrite after racking up enough air miles to reach the MOON

There are several ways that this headline can be improved. (A couple of suggestions were from Grammarly, not from me). First of all, can The Sun please inform us which Airline Company is offering flights to the Moon? ‘Cause I’m researching the heck outta that. As long as the Return Flight doesn’t leave without me, and I’m not left stranded in the Van Allen belt expected to go the rest of the way via replacement space bus, I shall put in a note of interest. Judging by how far you have to fly just to get air miles, the sky should be black with smoke by now. Hey, don’t look at me like that. I’m not the one that wrote a headline that could easily be interpreted that way. Alas no; what they actually mean is that in total, Sadiq Khan PLUS staff have travelled a number of miles by air that comes to a figure higher than the distance in miles to the Moon. Sadiq Khan personally has only done almost 32000 of those miles. So again, the headline is misleading. That’s just for starters.

The Sun helpfully provides a map of where the Mayor of London (or maybe just his aides, who are being counted for some reason) has flown to – just in case their readers don’t know where Montreal, New York, Austin, Berlin, Davos and Mumbai are. Which brings me to the main question I wish to ask The Sun about this: How would they like him to travel to those places? According to my right-hand lady, who is an expert on almost all things travel, it IS possible to sail from London to Montreal, but it would cost about 3 times as much and would take TWO WEEKS. I have a hunch that the good people of London would prefer that he take the option that involves spending less of their money, and less time out of his office. After all, it is acknowledged later in the article that he was on official business. The right wing loves to use the non-sequitur that if you care about the environment and the climate crisis, you are not allowed to use aeroplanes. According to The Sun, Sadiq Khan is a hypocrite. Let’s not beat about the bush with “critics say”. THEY say. A Tory that we’ve never heard of has said that the Mayor is “open to the charge of” hypocrisy.

A discussion about whether or not the Mayor of London should be visiting these places in the first place is possibly one worth having. But that’s not the angle that The Sun is taking. They want to brand him a hypocrite for the sheer fact he was on a plane. No matter what your view on Climate Change, it is a simple fact that the planet is sufficiently large that air travel is the only practical means of getting between certain places. It is possible to simultaneously accept and resent this fact. I don’t think Rangers should be playing in the SPFL, but I still make money betting on them to win. Am I a hypocrite, or am I just playing the cards I have been dealt? Sadiq Khan did not commission the flights. They were commercial flights that would still have taken off and landed whether he got on them or not. He was not personally contributing to the problem. The Sun throws statistics around like there’s no tomorrow; quoting how long it would take a forest to offset the carbon dioxide caused by that much plane travel, and the fact the travel is 30 times’ that of the average Brit. But Sadiq Khan is not the average Brit – he’s the fricking Mayor of London. I’m not surprised that he takes more air flights than me for the same reason I’m not surprised that a taxi driver spends more time in petrol stations than I do.

But hey-ho; The Sun wants to talk about hypocrisy, so let’s talk about hypocrisy, shall we? Is it not hypocritical to dismiss the case being put forward by Extinction Rebellion, while lauding the very record temperatures that are a by-product of what Extinction Rebellion are warning us about? This, we reported a couple of weeks ago. Furthermore, I think it is hypocritical to accuse the Green Party of ignoring science on fracking while ignoring science on Climate Change. We have 12 years left to save the planet. Say what you like about Extinction Rebellion, but at least they are taking that seriously. To say that you can’t take them seriously because they are writing from prison, or dismiss their demands as ridiculous, is to NOT take the science seriously. There’s no middle ground here. As a National Newspaper, if you believed that report, you would be backing Extinction Rebellion to the hilt and you’d be putting it on the front page on a daily basis. But The Sun’s lead article today, if memory serves, was what a bunch of celebrities were wearing at the Met Gala. Maybe I’m the odd one out here, but I am more interested in leaving the planet in a habitable state for generations to come than what is being worn over a pair of breasts that will take 450 years to biodegrade.

Our position on Climate Change is this: Climate Change is real, and while we believe it is human-made, the more pertinent question is whether it can be human-unmade. We believe (or we hope) that something can be done about it, but it does require decisive action and that action may be an inconvenience to us. As for The Sun, they may have accepted the writing on the wall when it comes to Climate Change, but their stance seems to be that the world is only worth saving if it can be done quietly, and without bothering anyone. If we want to have a decent quality of life 20 years from now, we’ve got to be prepared to make more effort and spend more time doing it than it takes to file our rubbish in the correct bin.

FPR Comment: Comedy and Twitter

Posted in FPR Comment

Twitter’s ‘PC brigade’ aren’t killing comedy – they’re shining a light on bigotry

GUARDIAN: LET’S MAKE A DEFINITIVE STATEMENT ABOUT A NUANCED SUBJECT

Dogs aren’t defecating on the ground; they’re fertilising the grass. Theresa May is not an incompetent leader; she’s inherited a terrible mess. Jokes are not funny; they make a point about the way the world is. Do you see what these three statements have in common? They are all false dichotomies. Newspapers are quite good at these and today’s guilty party du jour is the Guardian.

The quoted headline is a very much off-the-fence piece about Twitter’s role in regulating and distributing comedy. I just knew before I clicked on it that I was going to have some kind of issue with it, but I couldn’t immediately put my finger on what it was. It’s not like Jack Bernhardt is particularly wrong in the points he makes. He just misses the point – there is no fence. The three statements, at least the way they are written, assume that one clause or the other is true, when in fact it is entirely possible that both are.  And so it is with Bernhardt’s headline. Twitter is not either “killing comedy” or shining a light on bigotry – it is doing both.

The article comes on the back of Shane Allen’s comments that the Twitter PC brigade was imposing a “Victorian moral code” on comedians, damaging comedy’s ability to “test boundaries and challenge orthodoxies”. I think Bernhardt took this too much at face value, citing Fleabag and Derry Girls as examples of shows that don’t have a Victorian moral code and do push boundaries. Just because there are examples of somewhat edgy shows that have been supported and not destroyed by Twitter, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the so-called PC brigade will celebrate all good shows. There are examples of snowballs every year, but that does not mean the planet isn’t getting hotter. It is entirely conceivable that Derry Girls could continue to be as good as it has always been, yet make one joke that apparently pushes the boundary too far and all of a sudden Twitter has turned. What Shane Allen was voicing was a legitimate concern. Yes, it is apparently possible for comedy to challenge us without it offending anyone that matters. But there is no guarantee you will get away with it and so there is plenty of incentive to keep it clean. Bernhardt brings up that cartoon in the Mash Report. It was generally well received online – but does anyone else think the fact that it was making fun of two very un-PC people might have had a hand in that? And let’s not forget that Piers Morgan tried to use social media to take down the Mash Report, but it turned into a popularity contest and that didn’t work out too well for him. It’s also worth remembering that “Victorian moral code” is, in this case, a generic term to denote regress; otherwise jokes about 6-year-olds dying during a factory shift would be perfectly acceptable. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be anyway, but how many of us are experts on what does and does not amuse Victorians?

I’m not sure what the fact that Allen has been at the helm of BBC comedy while 1970’s shows have been rebooted has got to do with the price of tea. Perhaps Bernhardt felt that pointing this out equated to a “zinger”. From a comedic standpoint maybe it does; he’s the expert. From an argumentative one, no. Complaining about other people regressing humour toward an older standard whilst also trying to revive classic shows doth not a hypocrite make. Indeed trying to suggest it does is, in my humble opinion, lazy journalism. After all, could Allen not claim that trying to recapture the glory of those classic comedies was a result of this regress he is wary of? In a world where someone in his job will be increasingly paranoid about commissioning something “offensive”, surely rehashing a sacred institution is a safe bet? At least, it would be in terms of offence – whether it is funny or not is another matter.

To say that the PC brigade “does not kill comedy” is incredibly optimistic. Unless you want to go down the route of “it must be true because comedians still exist”, then the argument is clearly false. Comedians have been fired for jokes; that’s just a fact. Ask Gilbert Godfried or Catherine Deveney. And again, even if you think those sackings were justified, you’re missing the point. Such is the power of Twitter. James Gunn was fired for an old joke, Stephen Colbert was almost cancelled for a joke taken out of context (see later), and Joss Whedon (not specific to comedy but an excellent example) was bullied off of Twitter by a mob of people claiming to be feminists who didn’t like a storyline in Avengers: Age of Ultron – these people somehow having missed the memo that Whedon was the genius behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not just a great feminist show but one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Also, it doesn’t have to be comedians. It can be a couple of friends sharing a joke between themselves that someone with a stick up their rear end happens to overhear. It’s not hard to find a well-known comedian talking about the worry they have about being held to too high a standard or having already told the joke that will get them fired (for example Jack Whitehall). So the premise that mass groups on Twitter do not constitute a threat to freedom of comedic expression is not one I buy.

Bernhardt then defends against an attack nobody was mounting. “It might seem unfair to take Allen to task… but his comments have weight”, he writes. In other words, he’s writing not because of the context in which the comments were made, but who was making them. No. You’re absolutely allowed to have an opinion on Allen’s comments; just like I’m allowed to have an opinion on yours. It might be different if these were comments made in private that somehow became public, but Allen knew what he was saying. Presumably, he stands by those comments. Allen is fair game. So is Bernhardt.

Which brings us to a central point of Bernhardt’s article: that comments like these make it easy for the right wing to caricature social media as censors of comedy. But do you know what makes it even easier? Yes; social media censoring comedy. Allen’s comments in isolation mean nothing; if they didn’t correspond with reality, there wouldn’t be a story. It’s easy for the right wing to say that there is a PC brigade on Twitter because – well, there is. There are plenty of examples (see above). Plenty of examples are plenty too many; one example of the “PC brigade” going after an innocent target is proof enough. If you want to shine a light on bigotry go ahead – but don’t be wrong. That is a big ask; folks on Twitter are not renowned for due diligence. As for phrases such as “check your privilege” and “identity politics” – is Bernhardt seriously trying to claim that this doesn’t happen? “Check your privilege” is as common in online debates as a Dalek in Doctor Who – not there all the time, but does appear more often than it should.

All right then, let’s talk about context. According to Bernhardt, “taken out of context” is a go-to response for comedians that have been caught out and the defence often does not stand up to scrutiny. He cites two examples where – according to him – context doesn’t improve the situation. The first is Louis CK’s joke about the Parkland survivors and I agree – that was neither funny nor appropriate. That is, however, just my opinion. He goes on to say: “Did we really miss a wider comedic point buried in Mark Meechan’s antisemitic videos that context could have provided? No.” Here, I wholeheartedly disagree. Markus Meechan’s video – there was one video; so the plural form should not have been used in any case – was NOT antisemitic. Unless saying that Nazis were “the least cute thing I can think of” is antisemitic now; I must have missed that meeting. It wasn’t buried in the video at all; it was quite plain to see for those who have watched it (which most people who say it is antisemitic have not actually done). Thus, just going by the two examples Bernhardt gave, I would have to conclude that the “out of context” defence is valid more often than he thinks it is. Since we’re mainly talking about Twitter here, let’s talk about #cancelcolbert shall we? An excellent example of attempted firing by someone that didn’t get the joke. In fairness to her, there’s no particular reason she should have understood the context at first, but I think it is also fair to ask that if you’re going to call for someone to be fired, you better make sure you fully understand the context first. Otherwise, you get Clarksongate. Sorry, Mr. Bernhardt, I don’t think it was Shane Allen that was missing the point.

Of course, none of this means that Twitter cannot be used for the forces of goodness. It is a fast and effective means of sharing information. But a racist joke that doesn’t get shared on Twitter is still a racist joke. Of course, in some circumstances, it is good to share so that someone is exposed for who they really are. The flip side of that particular coin is someone’s distasteful views might get more publicity than it is entitled to get. The information sharing, I can generally get behind. But that is hardly ever what Twitter is these days. The bottom line is that Twitter is just a tool. Like all tools, it can be used for both good and evil purposes. It’s on the internet; that’s really the first clue. To say that it is only used for one is, if nothing else, rather naive.

FPR Comment: What was left unsaid about Dyspraxia

Posted in FPR Comment

WRITING’S ON THE WALL 

Teacher sent to work at top secondary school despite being unable to READ or write

 

Teacher at Catholic London secondary school is suspended after it’s discovered he ‘CAN’T READ or write’

Above: Two good articles in The Sun and The Daily Mail Respectively – but here’s what was left out of the discussion

Here at FrontPageRage, our raison d’etre is making fun of poor or wasteful journalism that does nothing to improve the informed opinions of the general public. But sometimes, like now, we like to give credit where credit is due – particularly when we think we have something to add. A teacher that can’t read or write? Let’s face it: that’s a story. Both papers covered it well; explaining what happened and why. The Daily Mail acknowledged that they got the story from The Sun, and only missed one detail – that the subject that this wannabe teacher was “teaching” was business studies. Subject is, of course, important – the offence is far more serious had he got a job as an English teacher as opposed to, say, a PE teacher (the subject of choice for those who can’t teach, as the axiom goes). That notwithstanding, both papers confined themselves to the facts of the case really well. They spoke about how the “teacher” in question, Faisal Ahmed, defended himself by saying that he had dyspraxia. They correctly reported that Mr Ahmed had unsuccessfully sued for constructive dismissal and subsequently unsuccessfully appealed. Jolly good. That’s all I can expect of them for a fact-based article. But I want to take a closer look and zero in on the problems I have with Mr Ahmed’s pathetic and frankly insulting defence – a matter the papers were not at liberty to get involved in, but I am.

Dyspraxia is a genetic condition that affects hand-eye coordination. That’s the nutshell version – it manifests in slightly different ways to each individual sufferer. Two dyspraxic people can have two completely different life experiences. Unsurprisingly therefore, it is not a particularly well-understood condition and it does have knock-on effects, such as on organisational skills. It is an invisible illness – my favourite example of this being a former girlfriend claiming she had never seen any evidence I was dyspraxic while my hand was bleeding from sustaining a dyspraxic injury. Indeed, one of the problems of having dyspraxia is that you’re prone to forget you have it until you are painfully reminded. Only now is it beginning to get proper representation in media, and like most disability representation, it’s not particularly good at first – the portrayal of Ryan Sinclair in Doctor Who was certainly not offensive, but neither was it accurate. Mr Ahmed will not have helped in this regard. Sure, it’s plausible that one result of his dyspraxia is experiencing pain when writing. But practically impossible to read? Pull the other one. That’s dyslexia – dyspraxic people have enough problems with non-sufferers not knowing the difference without having to worry about people who ought to know better. Dyspraxia is a rare, non-fatal and usually non-serious condition – it does affect day-to-day life, but please don’t use it as an excuse for getting sacked from a job you were incapable of doing. Mr Ahmed’s sacking was not because of his dyspraxia, but because of his dishonesty, and indeed Teach First’s inability to see the potential problems of sending someone basically illiterate to teach at a Secondary School. By trying to put dyspraxia front and centre of a defence he shouldn’t have even been mounting, Mr Ahmed has insulted and potentially damaged dyspraxic people everywhere. How are employers who have read this story likely to react when a dyspraxic person applies for a job at their company? Do you think it is possible, perhaps, that some of them might, as a result of this case, think that dyspraxia equates with illiteracy? Teach First, of course, will endeavour to NOT make the same mistake again and make sure they tell everyone from now on that the candidate they are putting forward is dyspraxic. Net result: dyspraxic people have it that bit harder to find work than they already do. A dyspraxic person wrote this article. The same dyspraxic person has a Master of Arts Degree from The Scottish University of the Year 2019, and considered a career in teaching but is now hoping to make it as an author. He is the humble editor of this entire website. None of these are things I could do if dyspraxia were as much a burden as Mr Ahmed asserts. Even if – IF – all of his problems are rooted in dyspraxia, that still does not excuse his actions here. He had to know that his condition was so serious he couldn’t possibly teach Business Studies, and not accept the job in the first place. But he didn’t do that. He took a job he couldn’t do, then wasted taxpayer’s money by suing the school when it took the only sensible course of action it had available. Not only did he put his own self-interest ahead of everyone and everything else, but he also did it in such a way that there may be damaging consequences for honest dyspraxic people who may yet find themselves unwillingly linked to something that should have nothing to do with them.