On James Bond

Sometimes you just have to give up. Sometimes you accept that parts of popular culture, appreciated by millions of intelligent people, are not for you.

I never got Star Trek – too sententious, too predictable, too obviously reliant on tired and worn SF tropes presented as brand new. Though I had lunch the other day with the chief executive of a highly successful high tech company who adores it.

I have never got James Bond. The films seem too kitsch, too unbelievable, too walled into the early Sixties culture of dolly birds, dinner jackets, ghastly easy listening music and outdated sexism. (Though the Daniel Craig films are darker, admittedly.)

I have never got the books either. See the above. Ian Fleming, by all accounts a pretty unreconstructed type, heavy drinker, heavy smoker (which is what carried him off), modelled his hero on himself. The books are sadistic, outdated, sexist, snobbish, reactionary and, frankly, preposterous. The Star Trek end of more serious spy fiction such as Le Carre.

They have never received the critical drubbing handed out to other authors whose outdated writing is seen to transgress today’s code of political correctness. See CS Lewis (wrongly, in my view, of which more another time. He was not Islamophobic.)

See the various 1920s and 1930s work by writers such as “Sapper”, a pseudonym, creator of Bulldog Drummond, and others where the villain is almost invariably an eastern European Jew, now literally unpublishable and no bad thing. Even dear old Richmal Crompton had to have her oeuvre purged of “William and the Nasties”. (Google it and boggle.)  And she had some pretty unsound ideas about colonialism.

Fleming has for some reason avoided all this PC-inspired revisionism. Now there is a new James Bond film out, perhaps someone will take up the challenge.


On Computer Games

There is a wonderful row that has opened up between Baroness Susan Greenfield, the respected academic and neuroscientist, and other members of the British medical establishment over our old friend, the damaging effects of computer games and social media.

I have a dog in this fight, because the Boy is a near-obsessive computer game player who has been selected by one of the big game producers to test a new, extremely high profile game. Both he and his sister are, like almost all of their age group, heavy users of social media.

Greenfield has suggested, inter alia, that the adolescent brain can be harmed by the above. Social media can affect social interaction, empathy and personal identity. It can also be a trigger for autism or autistic-like traits.

Computer games, used to excess, can lead to a shorter attention span and aggression.

Scientists at University College, London and the University of Oxford have attacked her claims as “not based on a fair scientific appraisal of the evidence” in BMJ, which I take to be what they now call the British Medical Journal. They have called on her to publish them in the appropriate academic media so they can be assessed by a proper peer review process.

Her claims are misleading and not supported by the bulk of the research. They are “potentially stigmatising to people with autism”.

It is hardly appropriate for someone like me to intervene in such a scholarly dispute, except that one of the points the scientists make immediately occurs to me. Autism tends to emerge or be diagnosed at the pre-school stage, before sufferers are exposed to social media.

Plus, we have here what looks like the usual confusion between correlation and causation. Because adolescent A plays violent video games and then commits a violent act, it does not mean one “causes” the other. Unless you can prove that a sufficiently high proportion of offenders play such games as to be statistically relevant, and that non-players have a significantly lower inclination to commit such acts. Which, as far as I know, has never been done.

Both my children seem well balanced, high achievers. Both are doing well academically. Both appear to enjoy social networks that I could not have dreamt of at their age, mainly, I suspect, because of the ease of making contact with the like-minded through social media. Though again, correlation does not mean causation.

On Corbynism, An Inclusive Church?

met Yvette Cooper once, and I can report that she is a great deal more charming in person than she appears in the media. She is, however, known to most punters for just one thing, being married to Ed Balls.

She did not strike me then as a potential future Prime Minister. Her career consists of  a succession of policy wonk jobs, a brief foray into political journalism and various ministerial posts, none of them the really senior ones in Government. Nothing outside the Westminster Bubble.

I had literally never heard of Liz Kendall before the leadership race, not being part of that Bubble, and I still have trouble remembering her name. Liz Kershaw? Liz Kerslake? My fault, I am sure.

Andy Burnham strikes me as a Blair-lite apparatchik without a principled bone in his body.

Is this really the best the main opposition party can muster?

Apparently not, because into the fray came, blinking in surprise, someone who would appear to be a genuine individual, with principles, possibly even an inner life. I have explained why, with reference to Daughter, a staunch Labour activist, the grass roots of the party have swung so far to the left without anyone apparently noticing.

Jeremy Corbyn has some very odd views, though, the imposition of which, we discovered throughout the history of the previous century, led to economic disaster. Or something much, much worse.

He also has some very odd friends. Middle Eastern terrorists, the occasional Holocaust denier. It is one of the odd facts of politics that the extreme left often ends in bed with religious extremists because of their mutual loathing of the US and Israel. Just think of George Galloway.

Attacks on Corbyn, on this basis, are having some unpleasant consequences. Attackers are seen as friends of Israel, and you do not have to look very hard on Twitter to come across what looks like explicit examples of anti-Semitism from his followers, or people who claim to be.

Corbyn has so far dodged this one and is clearly not himself anti-semitic. But it is something that his hundreds of thousands of supporters might care to consider, on perusing those Twitter feeds.

PS: Scroll forward to 2020. Prime Minister Corbyn takes office as President Trump nears his second term. As the man asked, is there life on Mars?

On Judges, And Pond Life

I know exactly who the Well Known Sportsman is, who has gone to a judge and issued a gagging order forbidding the press from revealing his – am I allowed to say his? It’s always a he, isn’t it? – affair with a Well Known Celebrity. Admittedly, I had never heard of him before because my knowledge of the sport he plays is almost non-existent.

I had heard of the Celeb too, but only dimly, and I had little idea what she is famous for. Except for sleeping around, apparently. This sort of pond life does not interest me, and I refuse to waste my time and efforts trying to keep their names in mind.

The judge, though, who I know nothing about either, has taken the view that an adulterous affair is little to be upset about because few people “other than adherents to strict religious codes” give a toss about adultery these days. So we have no reason to know about it.

Fair enough, on one level. I couldn’t give a stuff whether Sportsman A has been playing hide the sausage with Nonentity B. Who could possibly care, aside from A’s wife of fairly recent vintage? (Am I allowed to say that as well?)

You have to wonder about the judge, though. How do you end up in a position to rule on anything, least of all in a courtroom, with such a skewed view on morality? I suspect the majority of people, religious or otherwise, regard adultery as, at the very least, a moral failure. Not something rich people should be allowed to have struck from the official record because they are rich, and can afford a QC.

And what judge is under the impression that his or her ruling will prevent this sort of thing being discussed on social media? In 2015? Anyone who wants to know who the sportsman is, or the celebrity, will know anyway. Should they really care. Try Googling…. Oh, fine, find it out for yourself.

 Still, there’s a drink in it for the lawyers. As ever.

On Tom Hayes, And A Loaf Of Bread

The story of the nine-year-old hanged in the 18th century for stealing a loaf of bread is probably just that – a story. But there was a significant toughening in penal policy over the latter half of that century, especially as regards theft, with a number of extra crimes added to the list meriting execution.

Deportations were also common for even fairly minor offences. They were troubled times. The French Revolution was playing out across the Channel, and the rich in the UK, who owned almost all the property, were worried about the masses one day coming for their share.

This is the way law and penal policy works. Sentencing reflects the social concerns of the time, which can sometimes seem bizarre and shocking to future onlookers. Two other examples. The harsh sentences handed out in the 1960s to mild drug offenders, especially in the US – several years in prison for the contents of a couple of spliffs.

Society was running scared of a counter-culture that did not share its values. One of the most obvious differences that set it apart from that mainstream was the use of drugs. Cf the Oz trial here.

Today, any racial element to a crime means it will be treated more seriously. If someone is beaten up for the colour of their skin, the perpetrator will be treated more harshly than one who committed the same offence after taking exception to, say,  their posh accent.

Both are a form of discrimination. But in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society where a lot of different races and religions have to rub along together, anything that makes the process more difficult is anathema, and treated accordingly by the courts. Probably rightly.

Tom Hayes worked for a number of City banks, and seems to have misbehaved at all of them. He has just been given 14 years for rigging the key Libor rate. The sentence is wildly disproportionate and will probably be reduced on appeal, perhaps to a more reasonable seven years.

He would probably have got less had he stabbed to death a colleague on the dealing floor. It is not even possible to work out who lost out because of his misdeeds, or by how much.

It does suggest that, seven years after the financial crisis started, sentencing policy is beginning to reflect the public mood towards those seen to have caused it. Hayes is largely blameless in this respect. His actions had nothing to do with the roots of the crisis, though his behaviour typifies the sort that went on elsewhere and did cause it.

Not a good time to be an errant banker, then. Though in that late 18th century, they and their sort would probably have ended up on the gallows.

On Spotify

I have signed up to Spotify. Not a lot of choice, Daughter insisted and steered me through the complicated procedure required, courtesy of Apple.

For £7 a month – I went for the Premium option – I get almost unlimited music onto my iPhone. That £7 goes to the company, and not to the artists, several of whom have as a result refused to allow their material onto the site. Including Thom Yorke of Radiohead, though the work by the group itself is available, and Taylor Swift.

I cannot shake off the impression that this is legalised theft. Daughter explains that it is not because I do not actually own the music, I can just listen to it. It is held out there on the cloud. I am not sure that, if I was a struggling artist trying to get by on CD sales, I would appreciate the distinction.

There is, I understand, a move afoot by the company behind Spotify to find a way of getting more revenues to the artists themselves, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. Daughter and her generation are not bothered, because they don’t see why they should have to pay for intellectual property, as I have suggested here before.

I shall salve my conscience by continuing to buy CDs for listening to on my hi-fi at home, possibly by artists I have been introduced to by Spotify.

On The Cambridge Folk Festival

I have just returned from the Cambridge Folk Festival, as those who follow me on Twitter will be all too aware.

I went with some reluctance and a few preconceptions. I don’t particularly like traditional folk. The event would be full of people with beards and sandals, chugging back real ale and singing “hey nonny nay”. And that’s just the women.

Daughter and the chief executive went with me, both being into folk. The Boy remained at home with his rap CDs.

I was quite wrong. I have written here before how folk has become fashionable among many young people. It has to do with its perceived authenticity, and how it seems set aside from a mainstream music industry that they know is greedy and manipulative. It is also cheap and easy to make.

Many of the performers, then, were staggeringly young, highly talented and energetic. You had to be moved by their enthusiasm, including one fiddle quartet who had come all the way from the Orkneys. Much of the actual folk was taking place at fringe venues, sometimes impromptu. On the main stage, the acts were pretty mainstream and would not look out of place at any other music festival.

Wilko Johnson, still mercifully with us, Frank Turner, Nick Mulvey, Joan Armatrading. Even Joan Baez, now 75 and a living legend. And a Northumbrian act called The Unthanks, who combined some ECM-style modal jazz with harmony vocals. And, er, a bit of clog dancing. And performed King Crimson’s “Starless And Bible Black”. Dad’s record collection, surely?

The audience were in the main middle class and middle aged. Nice people, with whom you could strike up a casual conversation without difficulty. An awful lot of drinking, mainly ale, but only one seriously out of order. A youngish girl being helped by solicitous security people.

The odd spliff, especially after dark. But virtually no one smoking cigarettes. Goes with the demographic, I suppose.

An annual event for us, then. As with other festivals, you have to book before you know who is on, but with the range available there you can safely buy unseen.