International Men’s Day

Today has been International Men’s Day. The company I work for has decided to celebrate this, as represented by a wodge of papers being handed out as late as 5.30pm, including one sheet on which we are invited to design a moustache (this is also Movember) and a Word Search featuring inspirational male figures, including Walt Disney.

Quite apart from having had the lifelong impression that Men’s Day occurs 365 days a year, I’m also a little pissed off at the serious stuff at the back. I quote:

“Crime – Men are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime and are more likely to be killed by strangers and killed by someone they know accounting for more than 71% of all murders.”

Now that doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless I am overlooking some obvious category in addition to people you know and people you don’t know. As for the twice as likely and 71% bits, these presumably indicate that men make up the majority of murder victims.

These statistics may well be completely correct, but what they don’t do is take into account the commonplace fact that in order to reduce murders, you have to concentrate upon reducing murderers. And I would be interested in knowing what percentage of murderers in general are men, and even more interested in what percentage of murderers of women are men. I suspect that 71% would be left in the shade on both scores.

I have an aversion to slanted information, even when – especially when – it’s slanted in my favour.


Not always Crap Journalism (again)

Sometimes, I link to articles in the Guardian, a paper currently towing far more of the Government’s slimy line than it has ever done whilst congratulating itself on how different it is. Usually it’s to rant against Crap Journalism, most but by no means all of it coming from Stuart Heritage (that I haven’t done so lately is not down to his standards improving but the skill with which I avoid reading him at all).

But I also like to credit Not Crap Journalism and today it’s Hadley Freeman’s Saturday Column. I don’t always agree with her, but more often than not her thinking is along good lines, both good and Good.

I quote the end of today’s column. I hope it inspires you to follow the link and read the rest of it yourself. This, I believe, is writing of the simplest and highest sanity:

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect my sons to know they can’t assault women, or support a political infrastructure that benefits only them, or be compulsive horndogs like Bill Clinton. I’m good with them growing up knowing that if they are sexually or physically aggressive they will pay for it, and that voting only for their own rights drags everyone backwards.

Boys may well be boys, but one day they will be men. And being a man is not an excuse – it’s a responsibility.”

William Goldman R.I.P.

The names are starting to blink out far too quickly again. William Goldman, writer of The Princess Bride in book and film form, and writer of films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men has gone into the sunset aged 87.

I will remember him for All The President’s Men, which led me to a fascination with American political history that endures almost forty years later, for his magnificent and enduring study of Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade (and it’s almost as wonderful, twenty years after sequel, Which Lie Did I Tell?) but most of all for the sheer joyousness of The Princess Bride, one of those ten films that would go with me to a desert island, and a film that would survive a very long time if you started reducing that category one by one.

Goldman was one of my favourite writers ever. There are ever fewer of them left.

As it must to us all

It’s been announced today that Stanley Martin Lieber, known to anyone interested in comics as Stan Lee has died, aged 95. Lee’s career has been one of tremendous popularity, and no little controversy over where the credit for seminal stories created with the likes of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko truly lies, but this is not the time or place for arguments. The very least that can be said for Lee is that he created a writing style that was individual and influential, and perfect for the Marvel Revolution of the Sixties, and for that alone he deserves his place in history.

Comics writers and artists tend to live a long time, so 95 comes as no surprise. And Lee was the last of them, the giants. The world is much less colourful for his passing.

One Hundred Years: They Shall Not Grow Old

On the centenary of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, 
England mourns for her dead across the sea. 
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, 
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres, 
There is music in the midst of desolation 
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. 
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; 
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 
They sit no more at familiar tables of home; 
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; 
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, 
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known 
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; 
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 
To the end, to the end, they remain.
For The Fallen
Laurence Binyon

The Matter of Asia Biba

There’s a headline in the Guardian today, reporting that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has quashed the death sentence imposed in 2010 upon Asia Biba, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in that she allegedly insulted or disparaged the Prophet Mohammed. The decision is likely to cause deep trouble in Pakistan, where blasphemy is taken ultra-seriously, carries an automatic death sentence and, whilst no-one convicted has actually been executed, the death sentence frequently gets carried out by lynch mobs.

I’m not going to start making caustic comments in my usual manner, because I don’t think anybody needs telling what to think here. This is too serious a subject for levity: the lady herself has been in solitary confinement for eight years – eight years – under the threat of this sentence and there are political parties demanding her death, and the death of the Judges who have taken this situation. You don’t have to be an atheist to find all this horrific. At least, I hope you don’t.

The return of Asia Bibi to the headlines awoke a memory of a short piece I offered to the Guardian at the time her story was in the news. It was considered but rejected by implication (i.e., it never got printed and I didn’t make any money off it). Given what’s happened today, and the piece’s transition from the micro to the macro, I’m giving it here:

“I’m not a stranger to insecurity: that undermining sensation that whatever you say or do, you’ll reveal your ignorance, your inadequacy, your lack of… well, whatever seems important at the time.

But, years ago, I first noticed a form of insecurity that only seems to be growing, despite the fact that it’s based on massive, unalloyed success.

I’d moved to a new branch, done the usual ‘what do you do/what do you watch/what’s your music?’ questions, and slightly flummoxed my new manager by mentioning Shawn Colvin. Her reaction – as soon as she actually heard her first Colvin song – was to start having a dig at me every opportunity, over how Colvin was ‘bloody rubbish’. Then came the fatal moment.

Diana Ross was in town, and my manager was going. What did I think of Diana Ross, then? With some care, I avoided giving her a true but unflattering response and settled for the ameliatory, “She’s not my kind of music, really.” “She’s better than Shawn Colvin!”

After that, it got bad. I endured endless snide remarks, all aimed at one end: getting me to admit Diana Ross was the better artist.

What I couldn’t understand, then or now, was why my manager was so vehement in her efforts. Diana Ross was, and for decades had been, an international star, beloved by millions. She sold out concerts world-wide. Every album she released probably sold more than Shawn Colvin’s entire career. Even at the height of her commercial success, Colvin was, and would stay, a cult artist. And an enthralling one to this day, needless to say.

If you saw it as some kind of contest, Diana Ross had already won. My manager had backed the victor, agreed with the majority. So why did it matter so much to her that one person preferred a nobody? Make no mistake, this wasn’t fanaticism, which we more often see in the young, defending their choices against the most fleeting criticism. I knew insecurity when I saw it.

So, when you follow a mainstream, majorly successful artist, where does the insecurity that keeps you from just enjoying your favourite, that compels you to howl down even the slightest criticism, come from?

Multiple examples of this were seen in response to Alex Petrides’ review of the posthumous Michael Jackson CD. Collectively, it can seem hilarious, but when you read fans proclaiming ‘My life is better for having lived during his era’, the laughter starts to sound hollow. The same fan, asked why no MJ fan seemed able to accept any criticism, replied that he ‘would defend MJ in the same manner (he) would defend a family member, such was (MJ’s) impact on (his) life.’ (He also claimed that MJ made Quincey Jones, which is equally worrying.)

It was the same as the cries of pain from Take That fans responding to Johnny Sharp’s article about Deep And Meaningless Pop Epics. We can all cite similar examples (is life actually worth living when you cross a Robbie Williams fan?)

But whilst it can be amusing to watch fans of the biggest acts clamber over themselves to get a lonely non-believer to take back what he said, that still leaves the question of why they can’t accept less than 100% approval. The religious parallel is immediate, especially given some of the comments of the Michael Jackson fans.

Worrying as it is to think of today’s Pop Idols – even the dead ones – becoming the fount for someone’s spiritual needs, it is equally worrying to recognise the even greater depths of insecurity underpinning religions themselves. The women of Asia Bibi’s village claim that “She is Christian, we are Muslim, and there is a vast difference between the two. We are a superior religion.” Yet they also demand, “Why hasn’t she been killed yet?” If their religion is superior as they state, why are they afraid of the ‘damage’ one woman can do?

The East is not the only part of the world where superiority hasn’t managed to convince the superior that they are actually so superior after all.

Can we think of a country, not further than an ocean away, which has enjoyed unparalleled military, economic and cultural dominance over the whole planet, for more than half a century, yet acts with childish bafflement and complete incomprehension – shortly followed with anger, outrage and rank bullying – whenever someone so much as smiles, nods and says, ‘very nice, but I think we’d prefer to keep doing it the way we’re used to, thank you.’

And given that this country is going to lose it’s economic supremacy in the foreseeable future, are we entirely comfortable at how it’s going to react?

Would you find Take That fans quite as risible if you knew they were armed, and really, really wanted you to take back what you just said about Gary Barlow?”


Our Sorrow

After mourning the passing of Leicester owner and Chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, I’m back marking the passing of one of our own, a Manchester United man, former Manchester Evening News United correspondent David Meek, aged 88.

Meek became a football writer by accident, pressed into service in emergency, from news and politics, when the MEN’s United correspondent was amongst those killed at Munich. He took to the job, holding the position for 37 years and, what’s more, earning the trust of Alex Ferguson and holding that for 26 years. Meek was never a flashy writer, but he was solid, reliable and faithful to the Club, which makes him one of us and ours. David Meek never betrayed Manchester United, and his favourite moment was a George Best goal.

The Football Pink of Heaven has gained a new correspondent.