JAM Yesterday, JAM for Fifty Years but No JAM Tomorrow?

The BBC has been forced to issue statements reassuring people that the world is not about to end.  ‘The apocalypse is not upon us,’ tweeted BBC Head of Comedy Julia McKenzie yesterday as Nicholas Parsons missed his first episode of Just a Minute in the show’s fifty-year history.  Shock-waves rocked Radio 4 audiences up and down the country (‘and around the world!’ as Parsons was so often heard to say) as instead of our beloved Parsons, we heard the mellifluous, unctuous and utterly irritating tones of Gyles Brandreth (for it was he.)

In all fairness, Brandreth didn’t do a bad job; in fact I found him much less irritating as chair than as a contestant as he’s forced to be impartial and can’t squeeze in any of the nauseating tributes to Margaret Thatcher of which he is so fond.  JAM is a difficult game to play, which explains why so few new contestants stay the course: Sarah Pascoe was last night a case in point, struggling to rack up more than a few seconds on any of her given subjects.  But it must also be a hard game to adjudicate as you have to listen carefully and make finely-balanced decisions whilst remembering that this is supposed to be entertainment.  Paul Merton is an excellent foil to Parsons (and toned down his usual piss-taking of Brandreth for this episode) in fact he seems to have been born to be on panel shows, which is not something you can say of every comedian.

The BBC has denied that there is anything wrong with Parsons and said that he just wanted a rest; which at the age of 94 is fair enough.  But one wonders just how much longer he can keep going.  There may be JAM tomorrow – but will it be Parsons JAM?

Kirk out

 

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Freedom of Sp-

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Freedom of speech is a very thorny issue at the moment, and the latest spike in this thorn-bush is the proposed visit of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, to the UK.  Here are two views on that proposed visit:

https://www.premier.org.uk/News/UK/EXCLUSIVE-Franklin-Graham-on-visit-to-UK-I-m-not-coming-to-preach-hate

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/07/us-evangelical-preacher-franklin-graham-uk-critics

Now I never particularly liked Billy Graham; I’m generally suspicious of popular preachers and prefer dialogue to evangelism, but his son seems to take it to a whole new level, denouncing Islam as a religion and gays and lesbians for the usual tedious reasons.  Apart from the fact that he seems to have a very short memory about the practices of Christianity (many of which are similar to fundamentalist Islam today) people naturally take offence and think that his views have no place in a multicultural society.  And when I read about him in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Graham

I tended to agree.  I don’t want those views spread over here.  No thanks.

But there’s the thing: people used to say, ‘I disagree profoundly with what you’re saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’  People used to say that freedom of speech meant the freedom to say anything except to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded building.  So here’s the question: does insulting Muslims in a multicultural society constitute shouting ‘fire!’ in a burning building?

Last weekend’s Observer contained an opinion piece entitled: ‘Even Those with the Vilest of Views Have a Right to be Heard.’ (I can’t link to it as the whole thing is behind a paywall.)  But the premise of the article is that people like Martin Sellner of ‘Defend Europe’ who stop charities from rescuing drowning refugees, or Lauren Southern who thinks Hitler was just a Social Justice Warrior who got lucky, should not have been prevented from entering this country because their views, no matter how vile, have a right to be heard.  I totally disagree.  But here’s the thing: where do we draw the line?  Where is the division between strong opinion and hate speech?

I’m quite uneasy about some current tendencies.  I disagree profoundly with Germaine Greer’s comments on transgender women (although according to the article here she seems to have backtracked a little)

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/12/germaine-greer-tells-qa-her-trans-views-were-wrong-but-then-restates-them

as they were not a helpful contribution to the debate.  But I don’t think they constitute hate speech.  They constitute strong, blunt, even rude opinion – but that is not something that should be shut down.  Yet many universities have decided to ‘no-platform’ her.

We should think about this concept of ‘platforming’.  There is a difference between somebody having a ‘platform’ – being allowed to express opinions unopposed – and being on a platform as part of a debate with other speakers.  But surely, even if you have a platform, in a wider sense the debate goes on anyway?  People respond on social media and in the press; often these things make the news and magazine programmes faster than the speed of light, triggering an even wider range of opinion.  So maybe instead of ‘no-platforming’ people like Greer we should be saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re cogent enough.’  Robust debate is essential in any healthy society – and surely if universities are about anything they are about fostering this?  If students cannot hear and rebut strong opinions, no matter how much they dislike them, then what kind of adults are we producing?  There is already too much of a tendency for people to stay in their own little enclaves (especially on social media) where rarely a voice is heard from outside.

On the other side of the debate I hear stories of vulnerable young people struggling with identity and sexuality; I hear stories of attacks proliferating after certain people are allowed to speak; I hear of hatred on the rise.

So what do we do?  A line must be drawn somewhere.

Personally I was pleased that Martin Sellner and Lauren Southern were turned away at the border.  Their views are so extreme and their actions so horrid and harmful that I don’t want them here.  Then again at the same time I would like, Louis Theroux-style, to have the opportunity to debate with them.  After all, how else can we change their minds?

It concerns me greatly that nuanced debate is being shoved aside in favour of something resembling a gladiatorial conquest.  Yes, it’s painful to have your deeply-held views challenged, but it can be beneficial.  A debate can often (though not always) change people’s minds: it can also help to clarify your own views by setting them up against other people’s.  How well do your arguments stand up?  Do they have holes in them?  Are you as well-informed as you imagine?

As I’ve said before with the trans agenda, only with debate can true acceptance (as opposed to putting up and shutting up) come.  Only with open debate can understanding arise.

Yes, there is a line between free speech and hate speech.  But where the hell is it?

Kirk out

Hawking the Infinitely Prolonged

People are dropping like flies at the moment, and the latest to go is Stephen Hawking.  He was given two years to live after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and yet survived until the age of 76.  I’m trying to think of something clever to say about him, but zerothly has done it much better than I can, so all I’m going to do is put together a series of Hawking-related clips as a sort of half-arsed tribute:

https://zerothly.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/a-prolonged-history-of-stephen-hawking/#like-9043

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2980516/?ref_=nm_knf_i2

 

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09th4hf

These are, in order, zerothly’s blog post, the biopic The Theory of Everything, Hawking appearing in The Simpson’s and his voice in the latest Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Basically Hawking was up for anything and in spite of the monotone of his voice, had a great sense of humour: when asked when he’d made a mistake in A Brief History of Time, he replied, ‘I predict that I was wrong.’

Sorry I haven’t done this with my whole arse but I’m feeling a little cold-y and woolly-headed right now.

Kirk out

We Have Normality. Anything Else is Therefore Your Own Problem

I’m nearly better, though measuring your own progress is far from an exact science.  I was re-reading my old diary (from 2006) and trying to figure out if I was happier then or if I’m happier now – and I think the answer is, both.  I was happier then in the sense that I had work and money; we were involved with the children and had frequent holidays.  On the other hand the diary is full of my frustrations: people I disliked and didn’t know how to deal with; continual demands on me from work and children – and above all a total lack of time to write, which resulted in mental chaos.  My mind felt completely cluttered; and whilst I don’t have any of the external trappings I had then, what I do have is a large measure of mental clarity and plenty of time to write.  If I don’t write I get mental constipation: thoughts build up and up and are never released, like one of those progress bars which never quite gets to the end – or if it does, just starts all over again.  They ought to call them Sisyphus bars because they never get to the end…

Getting better is like returning to normal from Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex: ‘we have normality.  I repeat, we have normality.  Anything else is therefore your own problem.’

http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Total_Perspective_Vortex

I have to figure out which symptoms were due to the TVP – aka chest infection – (eg tiredness, depression) and which are now my own problem.  Of course in a wider sense everything is my own problem, but it’s good to know which are caused by a bug and which aren’t.  Though I suspect it may not be that simple.  After all, why do we get bugs in the first place?

Now there’s a question with a never-ending answer.

Kirk out

Archers Episodes

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make into drama characters.

I know a number of people who stopped listening to The Archers when the EastEnders guy started producing it: me among them.  In all the years I’d been listening, even though there had been sensational plot lines, they always seemed somehow to emerge from the soil of the programme and the seed of the characters, not just flung in willy-nilly for the sake of the ratings.  But I didn’t intend to tune out forever, and when the offending producer blew back to the city streets whence he came, I started listening again.

It’s better – but it’s still not back to how it was; and after the wholly gratuitous return and downfall of Matt Crawford, the latest in a series of OTT plot lines is the sudden and unexpected death of Nic Grundy.  Just to turn the knife in the wound of brotherly hatred, the sepsis which killed her came from a rusty nail which she encountered in the course of helping her sister-in-law – which presumably means that next week Will is going to hunt Emma and Ed down and kill them.  There was also a possible death-bed confession which people are speculating means that it was Nic who ran over Matt and put him in hospital.

But compared to Episodes, Ambridge is paradise and everyone in it a saint.  This deceptively blandly-titled sitcom cleverly bridges the Atlantic.  A couple of writers (married couple Sean and Beverley Lincoln, played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig – an Archers connection there) take a successful British sitcom over to LA.  They are excited by the possibilities, especially as they are told the network head, the improbably-named Merc Lapidus (but then improbable names are a trope here as his boss turns out to be called Eliot Salad) ‘loves, loves, loves’ their show.  But from the moment their planes wheels hit tarmac, it’s downhill all the way.

Of course the network doesn’t want to do the show as it is; and in a series of increasingly humiliating negotiations the pair are forced to see it morph from a witty, urbane school drama to a run-of-the-mill series about a hockey team featuring an unpleasant coach (Matt leBlanc) and a sexy librarian, played by someone called Morning who is about a hundred and five and basically made of plastic and filler.  In the course of all this the writers learn a devastating truth:

‘There’s a chance Merc hasn’t actually seen your show.’

‘Has he seen it?’

‘No.’

The comedy of Episodes comes from the clash between the relative sincerity and integrity of the British pair and the utterly self-serving fakeness of Hollywood.  No-one is happy; no-one is for real (either physically or in any other way) people sleep around with abandon, cheat on partners, get divorced, steal one another’s stuff and generally act as if nothing and no-one matters.  It’s a completely ego-driven society and in the midst of it all the Lincolns (some irony in the name?  Are they being shot in the theatre?) are a sort of wobbly moral centre who come through it all with their marriage just about intact.

But nothing else is intact.  As flies to wanton boys are these characters to the writers: it’s not just that no good deed goes unpunished; no deed goes unpunished.  The characters are punished just for existing; for having talent and for wanting success.  Series 5 ends with the worst possible scenario; their new series (of which they had such high hopes) being hijacked by Sean’s old writing partner who claims ‘came up with the idea.’  Nobody wins here except the a**holes; but even they don’t win because the life they live is not worth living.

As comedy it’s horrible, gruesome, even degrading.  Thank god for Ambridge…

Kirk out

TV Martyrs

Imagine my surprise!

Go on!

Well, have you imagined it?

What’s that?  You want a reason?  OK well imagine that yesterday morning it’s early.  Too early.  That’s not the reason – I wake up early every bloody morning including Sunday.  Nor was it the fact that OH made tea early: that was no surprise either.  This is my life – everything is early.  Nope, the surprise was that as he came in with the tray the news also entered the room that the Church of the Martyrs was on the radio.  Not local radio, national.  Radio 4.

Let’s backtrack a little.  Immigration is a big subject for debate at the moment.  The other week I had a disagreement with someone who thought there was a link between the churches and far-right groups.  No, I said.  Absolutely not.  Maybe in the US but not here; in the UK, churches of whatever persuasion would not touch far-right groups with a bargepole.  And I stand by that – but the programme (which was also on the TV) gave me pause for thought; because it appears that 66% of Anglicans want immigration to be reduced.  That’s 66% of churchgoing Anglicans, not people who just put ‘C of E’ on application forms without ever setting foot inside the porch.  The figure for non-churchgoing Anglicans is 88%, which is more understandable, but the figure of 66% is quite concerning because it means Anglicans are more hostile to immigration than other denominations.

https://www.christiantoday.com/article/majority-of-anglicans-want-immigration-levels-reduced/125319.htm

First on the programme was Billy Graham’s son Franklin, who defended his attendance at Trump’s inauguration by saying, in effect, ‘no-one’s perfect’ and declaring that God intervened to appoint Trump as President.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09qb053

it’s about 7 minutes in.

The recording of The Martyrs came as a breath of fresh air.  It was made during a recent ‘Tomatoes’ breakfast cafe about which I have blogged many times:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/tomatoes-and-tomatoes-and-tomatoes/

and talking about a Christian duty to welcome the stranger and the refugee.  It included an interview with Evernice, whom I know well, who is a refugee from East Africa and now a valued member of the church.  There was also an interview with vicar Richard who reiterated the point about the Christian duty to welcome the stranger.  It never ceases to amaze me how people can ignore key aspects of the gospel when it suits their particular prejudices.

Kirk out

Never a Crossword?

Part of my morning routine is tackling the Guardian crossword: not the quick one but the cryptic.  Since I started these a few years back I’ve got quite good at them, so I thought I’d post some tips about how to crack the cryptic without breaking your brain.

First, the composition of the clue.  Every clue consists of two parts: the definition (this is the part that’s like a quick crossword) and the composition of the word (bits which are put together to make the word.)  So, if you can’t get the answer from one bit of the clue, you can get it from the other.  Here’s an example from today’s cryptic:

Filthy place ultimately became eyesore (4)

The definition is at the beginning or at the end: therefore it’s either filthy (or filthy place) or eyesore.  Let’s start with filthy place; one possibility would be sty.  The word ultimately generally denotes the last letter of a word; the last letter of became is e; put together they make stye which is a sore on the eye, or eyesore.  Part of the skill of the setter is to channel your thoughts in a certain direction; so that you think of eyesore in terms of something ugly, rather than focussing on the literal meaning, a sore in the eye.

Another feature is anagrams.  Let’s consider this one:

Maiden, with tact, ordered entree (10).  Now, words like ordered often indicate that the letters are scrambled (scrambled is another anagram indicator, as is mixed, confused, jumbled etc).  So having decided that, we have to figure out which words are in the anagram and which constitute the definition.  From the wording of the question it seems that maiden and tact make up the ten letters of the answer, so the definition is entree.  I was on the wrong tack with this for a long while, thinking in terms of food and restaurants; however the answer turned out to be admittance – as in, gaining an entree into a place.

Another common feature is a pun.  Here’s a nice example:

Consummate marriage?  Not so (9).  In order to get this, you have to understand that a question mark denotes a pun and to think of consummate  as a noun, meaning highly skilled, rather than the verb which it appears to be.  The answer is matchless, being a pun on match as in marriage and matchless meaning peerless or consummate (as in a consummate liar.)

The word regularly or oddly often an instruction to pick alternate letters from a word or phrase, like in this one:

sluggish ferrets regularly found beneath home (5)

The definition could be either sluggish or home.  Let’s start with sluggish and concentrate on regularly.  If the instruction to pick regular letters refers to ferrets then that could be either f-r-t or e-r-t.  The latter is more promising.  Now to the last bit: beneath home.  The word home often translates as in, which would fit the number of letters.  So supposing we put them together – this gives ertin.  Not a word.  Ah, but we’ve missed the word beneath.  If we think of a word from top to bottom, the end of the word would be beneath the beginning, thus giving us inert.  Check the definition – sluggish – and you’re there.

OK here’s a couple for you to try.  Answers are below.

drug finally injected into bare elbow (5)

a supporter of mine (3-4) 

decent sandwiches start to entice relative (5)

Seeing how much I enjoy these puzzles, you’d think I’d be more excited about the fact that ‘Round Britain Quiz’ – which is basically a cryptic crossword on the radio – is celebrating being the longest-running quiz show with 70 years on the air.  But the sad fact is that I find it unbelievably tedious: OH and I used to joke that the most exciting thing about it was when the signature tune changed from a minor to a major key at the end.  But they’ve even changed the signature tune now, so all that’s left is one giant yawn-fest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qxpr

And here, just in case this post has left you too excited, is an edition with the old theme tune:

 

Here’s today’s cryptic, whence I got all these clues:

https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/cryptic/27406#5-down

and if you want an easier one, here’s the quiptic (a cross between quick and cryptic)

https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/quiptic/948

Kirk out

Answers to crossword clues:

nudge (drug finally = d; bare = nude; elbow as a verb = nudge)

pit-prop (a pun on mine)

niece  (decent = nice; sandwiches = wraps around; start to entire = e; relative = niece)