Saturday 1st October 2016

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The Politics of Offence
Although people have always been able to take offence at the written or spoken word,
the arrival of the internet and social media has expanded the spread of potentially
inflammatory comments enormously and this fact together with the reality of being
able to respond instantly to a phrase one disagrees with, has elevated the objection
to experiencing 'offence' to a Right (and, indeed, a perceived 'legal' Right).

The internet has exposed our comments to a Global audience, across all religions,
political ideals and educational levels. Also, exposure to modern media and marketing
of all types has reduced the attention span of many people to 'sound-bites', so that
rather than consider a whole proposal or point of view, people often tend to respond
to the early stages of any such discussion.

Too many people will also use the ability to respond immediately to react before they
have been able to assess the points being made in a thoughtful, rational way. Here
is where the democratisation of the internet to all educational levels may be
considered to be problematic. Now, before you take offence at my suggestion that
only well-educated people should be able to use the internet, I shall stress that in
many ways, this democratisation of the internet is a very good thing indeed and has
contributed to rapid development of third-world countries and a growth in the peace
and prosperity of many regions.

What is of more concern is that the remedy most people seem to require is the
deletion of the offending item, a full retraction and an apology. This is nothing short
of censorship. The worthwhile response to a perceived offensive comment should be
well-argued debate giving a clear, logical, supported analysis of why the perceived
offensive statement is wrong. Forcing its removal just leaves the whole opinion
hanging, without resolution and, as such, moves us no further forward in that, or any
other debate.

Another worrying development is the large group of people who take offence, not for
themselves, but on behalf of some other, imagined group who, it is suggested, could
find any given comment offensive. These are the self-appointed defendants of moral
decency and standards. One such was Mary Whitehouse who, long before the arrival
of the internet, campaigned tirelessly against the 'smut' on TV. No-one chose her,
she passed no exams nor was pressed to defend her position as to her interpretation
of what was moral represented the views of the majority of people. As I say, the
concept of offence is not, in itself new. Had Mary Whitehouse lived long enough to
experience the internet, it would have killed her.

There is also a misconception that a word can be offensive and this has led to the
virtual eradication of the use of some words, if not their existence. As Shakespeare
claimed, 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet'. It is not the word itself
that is offensive but the intention behind the word. When I was younger, swearing
was considered brash, rude and offensive but, today, almost all of those words I
was taught to avoid in polite company are considered everyday, even to the point
that few people can swear effectively upon hitting their thumb with a hammer.
Personally, I intensely dislike being called a 'liar' because I am not. The (few) people
who have ever directed this term at me are dealing with their own inability to accept
the (unpleasant) truth.

Words are powerful and are often the means by which offence, real or imagined is
conveyed but that does not make the individual words nor their fitting together
'offensive'. The offence lies in the intention of the deliverer and the perception of
the recipient and herein lies the problem. I may not intend offence but the receiver
may have some sensitivity, history or other reason for taking exception to the
statement. Offence does not take into account the inherent truth of that statement,
only the reaction of the person hearing (or reading) it. If I were to call someone
'fat' they may well take offence but what else can be said if they are substantially
overweight? If suggesting they are of a 'heavier build' or 'statuesque' is more
acceptable, there is no less offence because the intention conveyed in those words
is the same. Also, if a statement is true but offensive, where is the gain in
withdrawing the comment? The truth (and my belief in it) remains the same.

As I write this, the Matt LeBlanc/Emilia Clarke controversy is in the News.
Apparently, they fell into conversation at an Awards ceremony and he said he
hadn't kept up with Game of Thrones since Season One but would have to catch up
as Emilia Clarke 'gets naked' in later Seasons, too. Now, I know they met on the
Graham Norton show (I saw that episode) and may even be what counts as 'friends'
in these circles but the usual flood of offended people have commented ~ NOT,
importantly, Ms Clarke herself ~ saying that his reference to her nudity is shameful.
Why? As a fan of Game of Thrones I have seen all six Seasons and, from time-to-time
she appears naked. (I would say that she has a very good body but fat, ugly people
will only find THAT offensive.) Although within the context of the scene, most of this
is gratuitous, although I would equally suggest it has relevance to the storytelling.
There is a scene in Season 6 where she appears topless and it is one of the best
statements I have seen of female power. It is not exploitative at all. Watch that
scene and judge for yourselves. Perhaps it is a shame that Matt LeBlanc may be
one of those who fails to comprehend the full meaning of that scene but that is his
problem, not mine.

The debate turned to the reverse situation and double standards, saying no-one
would react if Emilia had talked about a desire to see Matt LeBlanc naked on screen.
(She was quoted in one interview as saying that the nudity didn't bother her but
more of the men should have been seen naked, too.) However, one woman even
went as far as to say that she would still have been offended for Matt LeBlanc!!!

When I started this article, I believed I could bring some clarity to this issue but
both in writing it and watching developments like this recent example, I have
given up all hope of bringing a sensible debate to the consideration of the subject
and, so, I am going to discontinue the piece at this point.

'Year of the Cat'
I recently added  Al Stewart's 'Year of the Cat' song back into my music collection.
I'm not sure why it has been missing for so long because I believe it to be one of
the best songs of modern times. You can hear it on-line easily enough if you don't
have it yourselves but I shall talk you through it, anyway.

It starts with a very distinctive piano motif which runs throughout the song. After a
few repeats (this is long for a 'pop' song ~ nearly seven minutes) the rhythm section
principally bass and drums ~ comes in. Then the vocals start (over a minute into
the song) telling a quite engaging story. Al Stewart has a perfectly pleasant voice for
this style of song, so it is easy to listen to and his diction is clear.

We then arrive at the song's bridge which is handled by a small string section and
leads us into the instrumental solos. The first of these is an acoustic guitar solo in a
'Spanish' style followed first by a searing electric guitar solo and then by an excellent
tenor sax solo which will remind many of Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street' although it
should be remembered that this song pre-dates Baker Street by some three years.

We then return to the vocal part, which now has the string section continuing behind
it. When the vocals finish, the strings handle the outro via another tenor sax solo until
the whole song fades out. Another very typically outstanding Alan Parsons production.
Peter Wood created the piano riff, so the song is credited to him and Al stewart.

Jupiter to the right of the brighter Venus.

Rod at the 'Glen'

I haven't seen many cats here.
I suspect the Welsh may put them in pies... What is Welsh Rarebit, anyway???
[Answer: it's basically cheese on toast, almost no cat whatsoever.
I think they add Worcester sauce.]

This is Where I Live...
Here is the view from my window. It extends from the Royal Pier on the left to
open sea on the right. You do need to allow for the combined effect of the wide
angle lens (24mm) and the panorama tool, which both introduce distortion. So,
I don't live on a curve but on a straight road ~ a curved horizon would have
been far more disconcerting.