Thursday, April 21, 2011

England's Second Last Feminist on The Important Issue of the Day

[Continuing our irregular series of 'People get paid to write this shit?']

I haven't looked at 'Standpoint' for a bit, and I wondered idly what else it published apart from Nick ranting about lack of Conservative political correctness on the BBC. Never let it be said that the editors of Standpoint stand about idly in the weeks when the magazine doesn't go to press. They have 'online only' articles which, judging by the standard of Julie Bindel's laughable effort even they'd be embarrassed to ask people to pay for.

Williams and Bull say that their treatment by the bar staff was inappropriate and heavy handed, and I agree that it seems over the top to attempt to physically eject the men from the pub for such a minor misdemeanour. But was it homophobia? As a lesbian, and a life-long campaigner against anti-gay bigotry I can honestly say I do not know.

This is because Bindel's entire research consists of reading the Guardian. One of the men is on Twitter; the pub is in Soho, and Bindel lives in Islington. Could she get a quote from either? "Check facts? But I'm a lesbian! This is discrimination!"

Still, Bindel sets herself up nicely:

I have lost count of how many times I have...

Use your thumb, dear. Then there's your other hand.

All gays want is equality, but who wants to live in cheese-eating surrender monkey land when we hate people instead.

Is there a word for supposed 'progressives' whose views just happen to serve the status quo? (Not that I'm keen on the term 'progressive' but you know, needs must.)


Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Poor old standpoint. deserted by its star bloggers, it now feels increasingly like a backwater where opinion columnists take the reacitonary stuff they can't get published anywhere else; and a place for its regular writers to bang on obsessively about their chosen bugbears (looking through the archive, we learn that, shock horror, Douglas Murray is a fan of donald Rumsfeld, and Andrew Roberts is a fan of George W Bush). Unlike the Spectator, or many US conservative magazines, I can't really work out why anyone would ever want to buy a copy, let alone subscribe - I skim the online archive every month and they seem to be consistently scrabbling for content. If you comapre their treatment of Flaubert in recent months with that of the LRB, it is actively embarrassing.

bindel, though:

was it homophobia? As a lesbian, and a life-long campaigner against anti-gay bigotry I can honestly say I do not know.

that's journalism fail right here, surely?

It has been argued by the likes of gay pressure group Outrage! that police activity in known cottaging areas is fuelled by homophobia as opposed to upholding public decency. But I cannot imagine that many folk would wish to stumble upon two men having outdoor sex.

whataboutery alert, but... what about dogging? also I think she means cruising...

one man has been cautioned after being discovered having sex with another in a cubicle. This is not OK.

why not? She never actually says.

there is a time and a place for public displays of sexualised behaviour, whatever your sexual orientation. I find it distasteful and unpleasant, and have no desire to witness such intimacy between people I do not know. If I did I would go to a sex club.

or, er, a nightclub? dear oh dear. And her ocnclusion is that her lesbian friends disapprove of Public Displays of Affection. Old people in disapproval of PDAs shocker.

4/21/2011 07:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

I don't quite understand what's so very awful about all this apart from the fact it's in Standpoint. I *do* assume that the couple were ejected because they were men, rather than because they were kissing - but the point about sexualised behaviour in public seems - ok? (Although I can believe that the police *might* be more zealous about policing gay sex in (semi) public than straight.

4/21/2011 04:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

We've been talking about this over in the beer blogosphere, and a couple of people have made similar "can't be doing with all this public canoodlification" points, although not as emphatically as Bindel. Probably the most vocal blogger on this side has been a Toryish sort of bloke with a tendency to bang on about banning kids (he's in favour) and smokers (he's against), who blogs under the name of The Pub Curmudgeon. Just saying.

4/21/2011 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Sarah, I agree with OC: As a lesbian, and a life-long campaigner against anti-gay bigotry I can honestly say I do not know. = FAIL. "Was it homophobia?" was (I guess) the point of commissioning Bindel to write the bloody piece. And she doesn't know the answer, nor has she made any effort to find out. The comments take her to pieces. Witnesses have said that the pair weren't face-eating, and their display of affection was in fact pretty mild.

So IMO Bindel has only written about her feelings. I don't give a shit about her feelings, and I can't imagine anyone else would either. I'm not anti-feeling, I'm very interested in John Keats's feelings, or for that matter, kd lang's. If I wanted to share feelings I'd open the windows, crank the stereo up to 11, and play Wagner. There's someone with feelings which are worth sharing, as well as being shockingly anti-social. All Bindel can do is whine "me, me, me". She doesn't know shit, but she can't half flap her yap. It's pure "will this do?" John Rentoul has the answer to that.

I want to live in a society which values tolerance and self-expression, somewhere like Belgium. I don't want to live in a place where they slap a burka on a girl as soon as her tits start to bud, lest men get the old "mmmm" thoughts. You know where they really don't like public displays of affection (along with Jews, gays, lesbians, atheists, trade unions, etc etc)? Our good old pals Saudi Arabia, and for my money Bindel can fuck off there and be miserable far away from me.

I know that the 'rising tide raises all boats' thing really only covers those who have boats (thanks to D2 for that one), but I'm pretty much with old JFK (himself not averse to spontaneous displays of affection, mostly in private alas) on the principle. Bindel seems to be with the camp who'd rather some other people's boats sank; it's not the rising up (fnarr) so much as the being able to look down on others.

Finally, I can't quite decide if there's a note of "they asked for it" in there. On the whole, though, I think there is. It's more than thirty years since The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?

And here's an old Tory's view on public display of affection. I do like the comment on Standpoint that PDAs "show a lack of respect" -- for whom? "Bonds and gestures pushed to one side/Like an outdated combine harvester" this is where I want to be.

This is part of a much longer rant against almost all journalism in this country. I just about think the only columnist worth reading at the moment is Tim Harford. Journalists used to be smart; it used to be a profession. But very few have specialist knowledge; almost none have PhDs, which is where it's at now. There's nothing new in Bindel's piece. What's the point of it? It fails to inform, it doesn't amuse, it's not well written. Maybe I can't buy a new Penguin for the price of Standpoint, but I could go into a second hand bookshop and buy 'Lolita' or 'Heart of Darkness' -- something written in someone's third language -- and it would be better written, and a better way of spending my time, even though I've read both several times before. Conrad's probably free on teh interwebs. There's always something to learn from true geniuses; something more than the constant gargling of received ideas.

It's not just Bindel, it's Nick and Aaro and Simon Jenkins and just about everybody else without a specific area of knowledge. They just insult the intelligence of the reading public. The sooner newspapers die, the better.

BTW, on the gay thing, this.

4/21/2011 09:54:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I remember being at a pub quiz a while back and one of the team names was 'the couple sitting on the table opposite are kissing too much, I think they must be underage'...

Am a bit less frustrated with the general level of commentary in this country than CC. One of the things, I think, that political commentators etc are for is to be strident; to provide practical ideas charged with ideology. People with PhDs, like (ahem) me, don't always make the best journos - and we're notoriously bad at deadlines, copy, coming up with answers quickly.

But I do think the Bindel piece was utterly pointless. There's no point in a journo writing a piece if the only research they've done is 'asking their friends' - that, I think, IS a serious poblem with commentary in this country. As I've said a few times on here, as soon as a journo starts either using their own family life as evidence for something, or relying on their children for proof of anything, they've lost it.

I think a lot of journos in this country have let themselves down as a result of the rise of the internet. Happy to accept things as fact from websites they trust not because they're rock solid on fact but because they agree with their political stance leads journos to use press releases as factual (see Nick's Standard column on the word 'Londoned'). Aaro, I think, still reads books; Cohen certainly doesn't.

the point about sexualised behaviour in public seems - ok?

Though I've no great desire to see strangers fucking in public, I can't go along with it really - not only does she equate lightly kissing in a pub with cruising, but she goes on to use as her main line of argument that 'people are arrested for dogging', despite the fact that ACPO guidelines dissuade officers from making arrests (time it took me to do that research - 10 seconds).

And, again, it's fine to dislike PDAs, but:

I find it distasteful and unpleasant, and have no desire to witness such intimacy between people I do not know. If I did I would go to a sex club.

This is just prudery. People kiss everywhere. Does she close her eyes when it happens on TV?

4/22/2011 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

Can we use a better term to describe Bindel, Cohen and co. I suggest we call them 'Opinionists' as proper journalists do a lot more than sit with their laptop in front of the telly.

4/22/2011 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I don't have a problem with real journalists writing opinion pieces on their area of expertise. Robert Fisk used to be good for this reason, Patrick Cockburn still is.

Opinionism is a very cheap way of filling space, and people read them sadly.

4/22/2011 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bindel 'doesn't know' because the two people involved aren't lesbians (or the right kind of lesbians). As for her ever going to a sex club, it's highly unlikely given her stance on other people's sexual behaviour, which reads like the screeds of c19th 'social purity' campaigner.


4/22/2011 11:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

Thanks Chardonnay Chap - but although I agree that journalists with specialist expertise/experience (eg foreign correspondents, experts on economics) are most valuable, I probably wouldn't want to read a paper which didn't have a few 'opinionists' in it too - particularly online versions where you can then offer your own opinion of course.

I find Julie Bindel's use of the word 'folk' vaguely annoying.

4/23/2011 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

did my comment get lost in the spam filter?

4/23/2011 05:37:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I wish most opinionists' comments did just that.

4/23/2011 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

OC's comment now liberated from Spam.

4/23/2011 05:49:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Cheers. In other news, Nick Cohen's changed his mind - shock horror - on AV, and is now in the 'Yes' camp!

His arguments for it are pretty weak, but they're a lot stronger than his arguments against it.

4/26/2011 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

OC, yes, I saw that via Twitter, and have been mulling over posting on it. Various thoughts not yet knit together. Aaro is in favour, and has been consistent here, I think because he's a staunch Labourite and PR was a Labour policy at one point and DA has too many principles simply to reject on the grounds of "Nyah, we're in power now, so fuck changing the system."

Harry's Place is near-hysterically anti. The posts on this have slipped back too far to locate easily, but they were arguing that the "BNP don't want it" was only believed by the wetter members of the sandal-wearing classes. (The BNP don't want it, but hey ho.) See also Harry's Placers all act like loonies.

As you say, Nick isn't convincing, and I'm not very impressed that a political journalist changes his mind on AV in the middle of the campaign. I mean, he should have been exposed to all the arguments when the system was chosen -- if he were actually following British politics. I'm all for changing your mind when new information arises; and the point of both campaigns is to inform the don't knows. But I can't see what new facts can have swayed Nick.

That said, of course I agree with him about landslides. But, again, I think he's wrong about the politicians being "frightened" thing. Large majorities mean that it's almost impossible to get many MPs to dissent from party policy because they know it'll make no difference to the outcome, while making them unpopular with the whips. Narrow majorities mean than all MPs can, in principle, change things, and this seems to be a for the good.

Aaro linked to Dan Snow's video which I find far more convincing.

4/26/2011 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

and PR was a Labour policy at one point

Never in my lifetime - more to the point, never since Labour started benefiting from FPTP instead of being squeezed out by it. (You may be thinking of the Jenkins report, but what that committed Labour to was more on the level of "Really seriously having a proper look at doing something about PR some time soon, no seriously".)

Peter Hain wrote a scaremongering book denouncing PR in the 1980s (before he was an MP); he concludes by advocating AV (a) to make people shut up about electoral reform and (b) because it's not PR. Communists like Aaro always did have a certain affinity with Liberals like Hain - and subsequently with travelling-light Labour modernisers like Hain - so some of that may be relevant.

4/26/2011 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Yes, Phil, of course you're right. But the Jenkins Report (which I was thinking of) was commissioned because the Labour Party had been in favour of changing the system. The 1997 manifesto does say:

We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.

This comes in the section "An effective House of Commons". Labour rightly believed that Parliament needed reform, and that was the first stage to make the Commons more democratic.


For Scotland we propose the creation of a parliament with law-making powers, firmly based on the agreement reached in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, including defined and limited financial powers to vary revenue and elected by an additional member system. ...

The Welsh assembly will provide democratic control of the existing Welsh Office functions. It will have secondary legislative powers and will be specifically empowered to reform and democratise the quango state. It will be elected by an additional member system.

Labour seemed to be committed to a) reforming FPTP if possible and b) any new elected offices created would be chosen by a proportional system.

In short, I stick by what I said, although it's not 100% accurate.

Back to Nick, I'm pretty sure his argument about Labour being unpopular in the 1980s is wrong. Labour wasn't popular, true, but it wasn't that unpopular either. Rumours of its death following the 1983 manifesto are greatly exaggerated (by Oliver Kamm among others).

4/26/2011 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

More from me on this later maybe, but Aaro retweeted this recently which is quite good, I think:

4/26/2011 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, a referendum on AV was government policy before the last election.

And although there are plenty of reasons to dislike Simon Jenkins, lack of qualifications doesn't seem one of the good ones. He has been deeply involved in local government/architecture/urbanism issues for longer than most academics in the area - he wrote enough about it in the Standard in the early 1970s to turn into two books, going on to work with London Transport, BR and English Heritage - and has almost as extensive a record in covering media and high politics.

4/26/2011 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

CC - PR has always (in my lifetime!) been enormously unpopular with large numbers of Labour MPs, some of them on the Left. The New Labour clique gave a lot of ground under sustained pressure both from groups like LCER (which they also colonised) and from common sense, but never committed the party to any more than holding a referendum on it. The tiny amount of progress on the issue between 1997 and 2010 tells its own story.

4/26/2011 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Phil, all true, but reform was Labour policy, and its that to which I'm saying that Aaro was loyal. Labour MPs opposition seems to come from self-interest rather than party or national interest, and Aaro picked the right side in this.

AFAIK, Aaro's belief in reform goes way back. Nick's position, as so often, I can't understand. As someone who follows British politics enough to write an Observer column and a few books, he ought to have been conversant with the arguments. None of the facts have changed: I can't see why he changed his mind.

Anon, you're quite right re Simon Jenkins. I shouldn't have included him, although he does annoy me sometimes, and does spout on things he doesn't know enough about. My real grouse with columnists is Melanie Phillips on Andrew Wakefield, which was a shameful episode, and should have seen her sacked by every publication which printed her jeremiads in his defence, all of which were completely wrong. His science was junk and he was being paid not to be disinterested. In 1998 there were 56 cases reported; last year [2008] there were 1,348, according to figures released last week that showed a 36% increase on 2007. Two British children have died from measles... Did she apologise? Did anyone who published her print corrections saying "sorry, we hired a hysteric with an English degree who knows less about science than Madam Blavatsky and whose columns should be preceded with a warning that everything below is pure dribble"? Did Nixon say, "I am a crook"? Has the nation of Israel been thrown under a bus? John Rentoul has the answers.

Hmm. Maybe I agree with Aaro after all. Maybe some messengers should be shot. Journalists should be liable for what they say, just as lawyers and doctors are. And if they don't have specialist knowledge, they should STFU.

4/26/2011 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Labour MPs opposition seems to come from self-interest rather than party or national interest

Sometimes. Sometimes not. And certainly no more than is the case for MPs from the minor coalition party.

4/26/2011 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

That's true too, Justin. But I think that Labour Party policy (as in the manifesto, and as carried out with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly) was correct, and individual MPs who dissented were wrong.

4/26/2011 07:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

reform was Labour policy

No, it wasn't. (If it had been, don't you think we might have had reform some time in the thirteen years they were in power? Even the corporate manslaughter law they promised in 1997 eventually got passed.) Labour policy was to have further consultation about reform, with a view to ultimately holding a referendum whose result the party would be committed to honour, eventually. The party's been deeply divided about PR for the last 30 years, and the leadership's hardly been passionately committed to reform. Blair turned his party through 180 degrees on a whole range of issues; on the electoral system he leant on the tiller for a bit, while he thought nobody was looking, then went off to start a war somewhere and forgot about it.

In that perspective, I don't know what underlies Aaro's enthusiasm for AV; I don't think it's ever been anyone's preferred system here, apart from Peter Hain (as noted above) and a couple of other "can we have reform but not electoral reform?" merchants (I think Robin Cook had a pro-AV phase, although I may be traducing him).

4/26/2011 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Nicks' not exactly on coherent form generally. Witness this car crash:

there are good arguments in favour of, and against, AV. But Cohen's managed to provide rubbish reasons for and against. His whole argument against was that in 1997 it might have led to an increased Labour majority - that was it. And now his reason for yes is that landslides are unlikely now (and thus for all time, one assumes).

4/27/2011 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Janosch said...

That is a car crash. Cohen has such a dreadful ear for dialogue that all his quotes sound made up, even if they haven't been.

4/27/2011 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thing is, Phil, I don't disagree with you at all. I'm not saying that electoral reform was (what to call it?) *serious* policy, but it was in the 1997 manifesto, and the arguments which were good at the time are still good now.

Aaro's not an MP, so he hasn't had to twist as much as some. In other words, he's been free to make up his own mind. However, I still think that his enthusiasm for electoral reform isn't just coincidence. It was a Labour party enthusiasm, and the party never argued against it as such, they just put it off and forgot about it, so there's been no reason for him to change his mind on it. As I've said, I think Aaro's pretty sound on domestic policy; it's only when he considers our international obligations that he gets trigger happy. Anyway, I'm going to write a new post because this has drifted too far off topic. Feel free to continue there.

4/27/2011 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

This bit from Nick's 'imagination'

Liberal: "Hamas won Gaza in free elections. Palestinians must unite against the colonial enemy and the Israel Lobby in the West."

Nick: "But they cannot unite"

Runs bang into the brick wall of reality.

'Longtime Palestinian rivals Fatah and the terrorist group Hamas are understood to have reached a deal to form an interim government following reconciliation meetings in Cairo.'

Epic Cohen fail!

4/27/2011 06:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Thing is, Phil, I don't disagree with you at all

You may not think you do, but I still disagree with you!

it was in the 1997 manifesto

I think there's a huge difference between committing a Labour government to actually doing something and committing a Labour government to talk some more and see what happens.

It was a Labour party enthusiasm

It really wasn't. PR was an enthusiasm of some in the Labour Party, and staunchly opposed by many more; AV was an enthusiasm of an even smaller group. Electoral reform was something the New Labour leadership thought they should do something about, where "doing something" was mainly motivated by keeping the PR advocates quiet and the "something" consisted mainly of being polite to Roy Jenkins.

Anyway, see you at the other post.

4/27/2011 06:46:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think Aaro's pretty sound on domestic policy; it's only when he considers our international obligations that he gets trigger happy.

Well, except domestic shooting-Brazillian-electricians policy perhaps.

4/28/2011 06:59:00 PM  

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