Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Keep the state out of our love lives

In Opinion on February 26, 2013 at 9:28 PM

Onanists beware! The Icelandic government is trying to push through legislation that will make porn illegal – and in doing so, I imagine, create an awful dilemma for that great bastion of morality, the Daily Mail (the Mary Whitehouse in it disapproving of the porn, but its strident anti-nanny state stance scornful of the government inference). As the Observer reports, a nationwide consultation has found broad support for the measure from lawyers and police operating in the area of sexual violence and health and education professionals, according to the country’s interior minister Ögmundur Jónasson.

She also said: “We are a progressive liberal society when it comes to nudity, to sexual relations, so our approach is not anti-sex but anti-violence. This is about children and gender equality, not about limiting free speech.” To be sure, this is a well-meaning stance, but not an altogether consistent one. The stated motives behind are admirable, but, contrary to Jónasson’s claims, it is undeniably also restricting freedom (granted, not necessarily freedom of speech – not much of that in porn – but it’s a distinction without a difference). It’s the classic problem for liberalism – how far is one tolerant of ‘intolerance’. Nick Cohen summed up an equivalent problem – that of the problem of Bangladeshi integration into British society – brilliantly when he said liberal multiculturalism “contains the seeds of its own negation. It can either be liberal or multicultural but it can’t be both.” It seems the Western world faces a similarly paradoxical choice over porn – either ‘progressive’ through ‘illiberal’ means (censorship) or ‘anti-progressive’ through ‘liberal’ means (freedom of expression).

It’s a strange problem because in many similar cases of freedom of expression the cause is unarguably noble – not necessarily the case when the freedom fighters are, essentially, fighting for their right to jack off with ease. It’s certainly a significant step, not least for a country which prides itself on its liberal sensitivities. But those in favour of censorship – for, despite some claims, that’s what it is – do have some strong arguments on their side, including evidence suggesting correlations between porn and porn addiction and rises in violence and gender inequality. And the move does seem to have wide support in Iceland. But the measures do somewhat suggest that porn is some outside malevolent force, imparting evil on unwitting citizens. This is, of course, rubbish. People make a free choice to watch porn, and it can actually support healthy sexual relationships, by cordoning off more extreme aspects of sex into the realms of (sort of) unreality, just like violence in computer games. And the internet didn’t invent porn – think of all the stories of curious pre-teens raiding their dad’s cupboards and finding stashes in the woods. So, chances are, just like pirated movies and illegal sport streaming, those who want to look at horny MILFs that much will always find a way, such is the labyrinth nature of the internet.

What’s far more disturbing – if unlikely to be implemented – is the Observer‘s accompanyingeditorial, which advocates the teaching of relationships in schools. It argues “it is travesty that the mechanics of sex are a compulsory part of the school curriculum, while an understanding of relationships, a vital part of emotional and physical wellbeing, is not”. Superficially at least, it’s well-intended. But when examined it just dissolves into a heap of left-wing nanny-state rubbish, which should only serve to make us grateful that the state generally stays the hell away from our private lives – something that should be expected but looks positively praiseworthy compared to the authoritarian nature of many governments and religions (often one and the same thing of course).

The truth is relationships and sex are (literally) f***ing minefields. Any attempt for the state to intrude further into non-criminal in this would inevitably draw widespread criticism from those of all political persuasions. Just look at how Michael Gove’s proposed changes to the history curriculum are being praised by the right and condemned by the left. Personally, it’s to the great credit of UK education that it gets attacked by both the right and the left, but – having previously been a teacher (albeit a substandard trainee) – having to negotiate various political pitfalls just add to an already onerous workload.

So, any kind of ‘relationship education’ would either be somewhat radical and incur the wrath of parents, protective and angry (quite reasonably too), over the state telling their kids how to live their lives; or, more probably, it would be meaningless, cover-all-bases mush. For instance, what would teachers be supposed to say about the practices of arranged marriages and stay-at-home women, both prevalent in many Asian communities? It also puts teachers in very tricky water with personal relationships with pupils (if individual kids even give a damn what their teachers think, that is).

The reason kids are taught about the mechanics of sex and not relationships is that the former is governed by universal fact; the latter is most certainly not. What works for one, will definitively not for another. Much better, surely, for people to learn about this in the outside world, from experience, rather than textbooks or intentionally sterile words from teachers.

Ashley Cole: legend?

In Opinion, Sport on February 7, 2013 at 1:48 PM

*From a debate article with a fellow TAY writer.


The eternal dilemma posed to anyone pretentious enough to have studied a module called ‘Ideas in the Arts’ at university: Can Leni Riefenstahl’s films be considered good art? (Leni Riefenstahl was – almost universally considered – a talented and innovative film director, but who has divided opinion for making Nazi propaganda). I am not quite sure how I answered the question – a broad yes I think – but it has, strangely, sprung to the mind with Ashley Cole winning his 100th cap. As he is undoubtedly a great exponent of his craft – one of the few solid, even spectacular, England performers of the last decade – but also a bit of a dick. Or at the very least – for he comes across not unreasonably in interviews – he has…let’s say, made several ill-judged professional and moral decisions (if there is even such a distinction in modern football). Certainly in the mind of many, there’s no smoke without fire.

The combination of fast cars and faster girls with tabloids and Twitter can be a poisoned chalice, especially for young footballers. But England fans do forgive controversial moments – look at the adoration of messrs Rooney and, especially, Beckham. Even at 29, Cole was disqualified from driving for doing 104mph in a 50, and at 30 shot an intern with an air rifle. And at 31, he told the whole Twittersphere what a ‘#BUNCHOFT***S’ (nice of him to censor ‘twats’) the ‘#fa’ were for their handling of a quasi-judicial case on alleged racism.

I’m by no means one of the baying, moralising soldiers-should-get-footballers’-wages brigade. I don’t expect players to know give loads of charity, have a compost heap or have read the classics – that’s not their job. So I don’t give much of a shit about him cheating on Cheryl (if anything, gives me more of a shot, if only approximately 0.0000000001% more).

But it helps if you’re not a prick. There’s always people in jobs one doesn’t like, while still recognising their talent. This arguably applies even more to an industry built on entertainment, with posters on kids’ bedroom walls. It just so happens I’m a customer in Cole’s profession, albeit indirectly. So, while it would be somewhat hypocritical – and stupid – to deny his obvious quality and commitment, I think that fact affords me a little moan over football’s water cooler – the blogosphere.

Arguably, to do otherwise – to suggest players’ personality is totally irrelevant –reduces footballers to little more than talented drones; mere collections of stats like their fantasy footy avatars (I actually have Cole in my team this season; very good he’s been too). I think football’s richer than that, though I prefer to exalt the positive – the hunger, the humour, the humanity.

So, whatever his ability, speaking Cole’s name in the same breath as the other, unarguable legends in the 100-cap bracket  – Shilton (125), Beckham (115), Moore (108), Charlton (106), Billy Wright (105) and Gerrard (101) – rings just a little hollow. And that’s only partly because Cole’s position is that height of glamour – left back (in the changing room).

So, that’s why last night I was praising Cole’s achievement, unenthusiastically.

Joel Durston

Squash’s Olympic hurdle

In Sport on February 6, 2013 at 1:22 PM

UK Sport caused uproar in many quarters recently with its unforgiving approach to Olympic funding, which saw four sports have all their Rio 2016 funding cut, leading many to claim the organisation completely threw away the much-trumpeted ‘Olympic legacy’.

I don’t want to discuss the merits or deficiencies of this policy – that’s another debate – nor to diminish the efforts of the sportsmen involved, but at least they had some goal to have funding for.

Squash has no Olympic funding from UK Sport, because, despite great efforts, it is still not an Olympic sport – something most in the sport consider a travesty.

As such, squash receives no UK sport funding. It is true Sport England recently announced it – together with sister sport racketball – will receive up to a sizable £13.5m over the next four years.

When interviewed on this, Joe Magor, Kent County Men’s Captain and Kent SRA Tournament Officer, said: “England Squash & Racketball have done a great job securing funding and helping out county associations with information on several funding schemes to build squash or grassroots levels and to build communities around squash, and this boost in funding will no doubt help.”

However, all Olympic sports receive such finance in addition to any Olympic funding (a reason why the four aforementioned Olympic sports were given no UK Sport funding).

The money is certainly welcome, but what squash would really benefit from is the exposure and glamour afforded by the Olympics, just as UK cycling has grown not only through funding, great training and individual brilliance, but through being promoted to mainstream TV channels and sports supplement front pages.

For all the plaudits Andy Murray has been (rightly) getting for reaching finals recently, Brits Nick Matthew and fierce rival James Willstrop – after Sunday no. 2 and 3 respectively (Willstrop dropping from no. 1) – have been reaching, and winning, international finals for around a decade.

On the Olympics and getting “no recognition”, Willstrop said: “We’re English, we’re sitting there in July with the world number one and two, the numbers two and three women, and there’s a home Olympics – you just could not get any more depressing.”

“Had we been at the Olympics and won medals you can’t even imagine what that would have done for the profile of the sport.”

Also, squash is great way to keep fit – with Forbes Magazine rating squash the toughest cardiovascular sport – and very well suited to modern lifestyle, being short and not weather-dependent.

The 850-plus-strong UK squash club network has a great atmosphere around it too; competitive but fun at all levels, with a culture of team squash where busy people give up time to organise, cook, transport and coach teams, and a nice culture of home teams entertaining opponents, when they congratulate and commiserate with each other. Not dissimilar from Dave Cameron’s much-derided ‘big society’, in fact.

This is not to say squash is particularly British – being popular all over the Commonwealth and also in Europe and North America – a point made by Mr Magor in favour of Olympic inclusion.

He said: “Squash has a well-established pair of men’s and women’s professional tours with events over 50 countries over all the continents (except Antarctica!)”

And in some spectacular and unusual locations too, such as the forthcoming 16th Tournament of Champions.

Such points and more were raised in the Squash 2016 bid, which, despite much IOC praise, was ultimately unsuccessful – with golf and rugby sevens the chosen winners.

Yet many people’s suspicion is that golf and rugby sevens were chosen largely for their commercial interests – a point argued by George Mieras, WSF Olympic Bid Co-ordinator, in a letter to Olympic officials.

He referred to President Rogge’s statement that golf and rugby sevens would “bring extra value to the games” (his emphasis), and claims none of the other bidding sports could match these two sports’ “potential for bringing in spectators, sponsorship and TV”.

However, he added: “What this therefore represents is a significant shift on the part of the IOC, adding the need for such commercial value to the long established Olympiad criteria and ideals, which we certainly fulfilled so well.”

The squash community can only hope Olympic officials change their mind for the 2020 Olympics, so this sport – brutal, exhilarating and (small ‘o’) olympic – gets the recognition it deserves, here and elsewhere.

Joel Durston