Why The Sun shouldn’t apologise over Emily Brothers

That well known bastion of British decency, The Sun, has been at it again. If you didn’t see it, columnist Rod Liddle wrote this of Emily Brothers, Labour’s PPC for Sutton and Cheam who also happens to be transgender and blind:

Disgusting, right? Absolutely. Being the first openly transgender PPC is quite something, let alone being the first female, blind, openly transgender PPC. Given his record, it’s not surprising for Liddle to write something like this, but for The Sun to publish it is ridiculous.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about a petition that has been started on change.org calling on the paper to apologise. I have one simple question: why? It has become a feature of our society to say something controversial, wait for the condemnation and then issue an apology the next day. I can’t stand it. Quite frankly, I’d rather a UKIP spokesperson said something misogynistic/racist/homophopic/etc and then said ‘Yep. I stand by every word’ than issuing some false contrition.

Let’s be clear here; if Rod Liddle cared about not insulting transgender or disabled people he wouldn’t have written the article; if the Sun cared they would not have published it. What good does an apology do? It means nothing and just excuses the paper and Rod until their next scandal. Just call on people to boycott it or advertisers to withdraw funding unless the paper actually does change their ways.

I actually take a very liberal stance on crime and wrongdoing. If Rod had a genuine realisation of the offence he causes with statements like this and issued a heartfelt apology and even offered to donate to Emily’s campaign or an LGBT/Disabled charity I would certainly accept it. But we live in a world now of meaningless apologies and retractions, let’s not have another one please.

#CameronMustGo is dead, long live #CameronMustGo?

If you’ve been on Twitter at all these past couple of weeks, you will doubtless have noticed #CameronMustGo trending somewhere around the top of the dashboard. What began as an idea by two twitter users very quickly escalated into a hashtag that lasted nearly two weeks. Now, cynical as I am about Twitterstorms and the impact of hashtags, I have to hand it to them that that is rather an impressive feat. However, two days ago, the unthinkable happened: #CameronMustGo stopped trending.

The response was immediate. ‘TWITTER BLOCK FREE SPEECH!?’, ‘LOOKS LIKE #CAMERONMUSTGO HAS BEEN CENSORED’, ‘NEED A NEW HASHTAG NOW TWITTER HAVE BLOCKED IT?’. I even saw one bold user venture, ‘I’m not sure if Tory MPs or Right-wing press would be bold enough to try this. MI6??’ That’s right. Battles with ISIS in Iraq, the CIA releasing a highly damaging report on torture, and MI6 are concerned with stopping a hashtag which has made ermm … well, little real impact at best. Obviously, it has not been blocked. The idea that some billionaires sitting in Silicon Valley would care at all about shutting down a UK hashtag is laughable, and the idea that David Cameron would risk being seen to stamp on free speech to stop a hashtag which has made ermm … well, little real impact at best, is even more laughable. No, the reason for its disappearance is very simple. Twitter programmed the trending algorithm so only tweets which show a sudden spike relative to how long they have been trending/if they have trended at all will be shown. This is why we are treated to trends like #ARSvBIR when there is a football match and #StereoKicksOut when XFactor is on, and we don’t just constantly have #1DFansUnite and Zoella as the top trends.

Phew, so the dark forces of censorship aren’t out for #CameronMustGo, time to call it a day then? Well, no, the farce only continued. Another prominent Twitter user suggested using #CameronOut instead, as this would trend for as long if it got the same interest. A fair suggestion if you believe in this method of online activism surely? This is where it gets good. The two twitter users who began #CameronMustGo started a counter campaign to stop people using #CameronOut. They claim this ‘dilutes the original’ and means it won’t trend (which it won’t anyway) and, #CameronMustGo is still a great place to collect the data (whatever that means). Another claim is that #CameronMustGo is, ‘still trending elsewhere’.

Right. This last argument is absurd. As anyone who knows anything about social media will tell you, it is flippant and ephemeral, and a hashtag which yesterday had Twitter acting like an individual was as abhorrent as Fred West and the living embodiment of everything wrong with society itself will be gone tomorrow and basically forgotten (see Emily Thornberry, Dapper Laughs, Michael Fabricant, Lord Freud etc.) So yes, #CameronMustGo is still trending on sites that monitor total tweets, but no one goes on them apart from people who want to measure hashtags they’re interested in. It isn’t reaching a large audience at all. In Twitter terms, #CameronMustGo is completely dead.

And this brings me to my final point. Good. Whilst it was impressive at the start and did show there is palpable anger, the hashtag descended into memes displaying complete falsehoods, grotesque, poorly-made photoshops with lurid green and purple text that looked like they belong on MSPaint and absurdly bad taste photoshops with Tory Ministers as Nazi officers and Hitler himself. Despite the bold claims that the hashtag ‘gave people information’ or ‘collected the ammunition in one place’ in reality it just made the left on Twitter look an like ill-informed, spiteful, unprofessional mob. I am sure that for every one person who clicked on it and went ‘Interesting’, 100 went ‘Fuck me, what nutters’.

The fact is, the majority of people who use or view political hashtags either strongly agree with them or strongly disagree. If the creators of #CameronMustGo really want to make a positive change, they should now accept the hashtag is dead in the water and in risk of becoming a laughing stock and annoyance, and call on people to go out and campaign for Labour on the streets and on the telephones, rather than reaching for the next hilarious ‘IDS as Goering’ meme.

Literature: ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ Ernest Hemingway

(Spoilers)

‘Some of the younger men spoke of her as ‘el mar’, which is masculine, but the old man always thought of her as ‘la mar’, and as something that gave or withheld great favors’

In June 2012, I finished what was to be the last novel I read until two weeks ago. The novel in question was the fantastic A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, so it was only fitting that I broke this fiction drought with another work by the same author. I found myself captivated by Hemingway’s writing style in A Farewell to Arms. I loved the simplicity which somehow managed to convey so much. To me, the great strength of Hemingway is that, by not attempting to fill every page with metaphor, flourish and allusion, anything emotive or metaphorical stands out so much more.

The Old Man and the Sea is a short book, only roughly 130 pages in my A6 copy. This was something of a blessing as my main gripe with pre-1900 ‘classics’ is their propensity to say what could be said in 200 pages in 600, and not a word is wasted in this novel. It focuses, as the title would suggest, on an old fisherman ‘Santiago’ who has failed to catch a fish for 85 days. The book really only has three characters, one of which is (at first glance at least) minor and one is a fish, so, as you can imagine, Santiago and his character feature the most strongly.

The most prominent themes in the book are themes integral to any Hemingway work, these being masculinity, the relationship between man, death and nature and personal struggle – if you really try, you can connect all three of these. Santiago is old and unlucky, and has become a subject of mockery in the town and an object of pity by the older fishermen. When he sets out on the 85th day he not only sets off to catch the biggest fish anyone has yet seen, but to prove his own masculinity and personal worth.

Hemingway believed that death and destruction are certainties in this world, and the only way for a man to conquer them is through pride and endurance. This is arguably the driving message of The Old Man and the Sea. Quite aside from the epic struggle of Santiago to capture the fish and bring it to shore, the book is filled with references to this. Midway through the book, Santiago recalls having an arm-wrestle with ‘a great negro in Casablanca’ which lasted one day and one night with the local fishermen coming in and placing bets. They wrestled till blood came out from under their nails and didn’t sleep until Santiago emerged the victor, even though at times his contestant nearly beat him.

Obviously, this is ridiculous. It’s classic Hemingway in its hyperbole and hyper-masculinity, but the theme of pride and determination is there. Likewise it is in how Santiago forces himself to eat the raw tuna even though he despises it and it makes him nauseous; ‘you must eat the tuna to make you strong, old man’ he often repeats to himself. Most obviously, however, it is most evident in one of my favourite quotes from the book, when Santiago says to himself ‘But man was not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but never defeated.’ Quite literally, as it is stated again and again, the old man is locked in his struggle with his fish and will either catch it or die doing so.

What must not be overlooked, however, is that the marlin is also locked into this struggle in exactly the same way as Santiago, and his determination reflects this. Indeed, the old man realises this is the case, stating we have to ‘live on the sea and kill our true brothers.’ Throughout the book, man is compared as being equal to, or sometimes inferior, to nature, and the old man’s knowledge of and respect for nature is deeply moving. He can tell where he is by the stars and how the wind blows, he knows exactly what species of fish he will find by the type of water he is in and what signs show fish are near. Halfway through the book, he tells an incredibly sad story about the time he and the boy caught a female marlin who panicked and thrashed around, losing all her energy, and how her male partner followed her all the way to the surface and then dived out the water to ‘take one last look at his female’ when she is hauled onto the boat before plunging down to the depths. In the old man’s words ‘That was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen them do. It made the boy sad as well.’ This is not a man who treats animals with contempt, and has built up a deep respect for them over the years.

Which brings me on to my favourite use of imagery in the book. Throughout the novel, the old man dreams of Africa and, in particular, the ‘lions on the beach’. He even states that it’s got to the point where he doesn’t dream of his old wife anymore, or the native boats coming in on the surf, but dreams of the lions playing on the beach. Frequently he wonders ‘why does he always dream about the lions?’ The answer to this is twofold. Firstly, it reminds him of his youthful time in Africa when he had his strength, and shows the circular nature of life. But, more importantly, it builds in to his character and the major theme of respect for nature in the novel. Lions are by any account magnificent, strong beasts that a single man could not take on, yet here they are showing their gentle and playful side. Likewise, early in the novel Santiago recalls seeing some porpoises playing and says ‘they are like us, they love, they play. They are our brothers.’ Hemingway is showing that while an ideal man must have pride and strength, he must also be caring, sensitive and have the capacity to love and to play. The image of the lions returns throughout the novel right to its final words ‘The boy found the old man asleep. He was dreaming of the lions.’ It is beautiful imagery made all the stronger by the novel’s blunt style.

Finally, the significance of the boy should not be underestimated despite his minor role. The boy loves the old man, who has taught him everything he knows about fishing. He cares for him despite the disapproval of his father, who banned him from going fishing with the old man due to his bad luck. However, at the end of the book the boy disobeys his father and says he will go fishing with the old man again, so impressed is he by his dedication and struggle. Here then, we see that the boy will continue everything about fishing from the old man until Santiago’s death, and in this way Santiago’s methods of fishing and respect for the world will be passed on after his death. Therefore, in a way, through his pride and determination in the face of death, he has conquered it, and proved the maxim ‘a man can be destroyed but never defeated’.

WATCH: Peter Tatchell’s strong words on the Left’s inertia towards ISIS

Peter Tatchell is one of the last great icons of the real Left which genuinely believes in freedom of speech, expression and religion, equality, social justice and a paragon of the gay rights and secular movements.

Here he condemns those on the ‘anti-imperialist, anti-fascist and anti-war’ Left who refuse to support the Kurds in their struggle against IS, calling it a ‘great betrayal’. He sums this up by saying ‘this shows that some on the Left are now the new Right’.

Strong stuff, and, sadly, completely true.