In defence of Charlie Hebdo

There was much wailing on Twitter yesterday after French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo came out with this cover:

“God exists! He drowned all the Texas neo-Nazis!”

The complaints were mostly in the manner of:

1. After this, don’t expect sympathy when your offices are shot up again.

2. How many Texans died saving you from real Nazis?

3. It’s easy for you to mock us when we don’t hit back.

That last one makes the mistake of thinking Charlie Hebdo stopped lampooning Islam after the massacre in their offices in January 2015: they didn’t.

To be fair, I didn’t read anyone saying Charlie Hebdo should be silenced over this – most of the complaints were from the political right, not the infantile left. But they kind of miss the point.

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine, and their MO is to publish the most offensive take on whatever the leading story is that week. They do this to shock people into understanding what thoughts might be out there, and remind everyone that people are free to hold them. Anyone who looks at the front cover above and thinks “Oh my God, they think Texans are Nazis and they’re laughing at the dead!” doesn’t understand Charlie Hebdo or satire. Whereas I have no doubt most of those at Charlie Hebdo are politically of the hard-left which dominate institutions in central Paris, you’d be mistaken if you believe their magazine exists to promote their political views. They’re a scattergun, take-no-prisoners outfit proving points which most people would rather shy away from acknowledging.

In the aftermath of the attacks, I never thought Charlie Hebdo was looking for sympathy. Rather, I think they wanted the assurance that what they were doing was perfectly okay and the attack they suffered was in no way justified. Instead they got weasel words, obfuscation, crocodile tears, and people saying perhaps they deserved it. One common opinion was that publications which deliberately go out of their way to offend people ought not to complain when there is a reaction. This misses the point: so long as Charlie Hebdo can continue to do what it does, everyone else is free to speak, write, and draw as they please. Once we enter into the territory of differentiating between deliberate and inadvertent offence, it becomes a negotiation with those who don’t recognise our right to do either and would rather silence us completely.

Charlie Hebdo is on the front-line of free speech, and they set out to prove it week after week. They don’t care about sympathy from Texans, they only want to make the point that if they can publish something as heinous as this then so can you, and if they are thinking such thoughts then so are plenty of others. Unfortunately, Charlie Hebdo is ploughing a lonely furrow. As I said in the aftermath of the attacks on their offices:

Nothing highlights the cultural gap between France and Britain more than the uncomfortable suspicion that Charlie Hebdo would not have lasted more than a year in the UK before being hounded out of business by the state and its backers in one form or another, as this article makes clear.

For all their faults, the French seem to take a more robust view of free speech than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. There is no way Charlie Hebdo could be sold in Australia or Canada, and if the past few years is anything to go by, they’d likely be shut down in the USA too. People like to imagine that the French are thin-skinned, but you don’t see the sort of hand-wringing over offensive speech and ideas here that you do in America and Britain. They prefer to ignore it and focus on more pressing concerns – like which wine to have with tonight’s dinner.

Rather than getting upset about Charlie Hebdo’s puerile and offensive front covers, we should be glad that at least someone is putting them out there. If they weren’t, how could we be sure that speech was still free? And how would we know that what we said was not going to land us in trouble? It’s startling that the French understand this and can answer these questions, but those in the US cannot.

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Yet More Jihad Fatigue

When the news of yesterday’s attacks in London reached me I was sitting at my desk diligently working on engineering designs which would, if implemented, unquestionably contribute to the betterment of mankind. The contrast between my selfless efforts and the mindless destruction of human life in Westminster could not have been more stark, and as one of the few Brits in the office I believed it was my duty to make every discussion thereafter about me and how I felt.

My first thoughts went out to those whose job it is to respond to such incidents, the people on whom we rely to bring order to the chaos, provide comfort where it is needed, and return things to normal. I am referring, of course, to those responsible for switching the lighting schemes on global landmarks into displays of meaningless solidarity. It was but a simple task to light up the Sydney opera house in the tricolor of France, or the Brandenburg gate in the red, black, and yellow of the Belgian flag. But what to do when an Islamist massacre happens in the UK?

A solution came from an expected source: Israel. Since its formation Israel has been plagued with terror attacks and hence is far better prepared to respond to them than perhaps any other nation. It was therefore unsurprising that within hours of the attack, the town hall in Tel Aviv had been transformed thusly:

Seeing this was triggering for me, though. It reminded me of the early 1990s and playing Wolfenstein 3D which would go all pixellated if you ran too close to something, like a Swastika or British flag, and this was during the time of the IRA mainland bombing campaigns and painful memories came flooding back. So although the Israelis meant well, this really didn’t help much and I might have fucked up a crucial element of my engineering calculations.

Besides, nobody is interested in how Israelis respond to terror attacks, even if their methods are strikingly effective. By which I mean air strikes on those believed responsible, of course. No, this attack on the UK required a European response, especially given the motivation of the terrorist might well turn out to be the grim realities of Brexit. At this stage, we just don’t know. So just as Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “times have changed, and we should learn to live with terrorism”, it was once again the French who provided much-needed leadership in these difficult times:

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced Wednesday evening local time that the city’s most famous landmark would go dark in solidarity with those killed and injured near the British Parliament building earlier in the day.

Given that I live in Paris I found this doubly touching, so much so that I touched a female colleague in a clumsy attempt at solidarity. I now have to report to HR this morning. However, and while I do not wish to disparage the brave efforts of those running the Eiffel Tower lighting display for one second, the whole affair does raise some worrying questions.

For instance, is turning off lights really the same as displaying the national colours? Why, given how commonplace these attacks are becoming in Europe, were lighting systems not upgraded to cope with all national flags? If the Israelis can manage it, why can’t we? Surely it can’t be a matter of cost? We were perhaps fortunate that this time it was just London. A friend back in the UK overheard a worried-looking policeman say to his colleague “What if it had been in Cardiff?” One can only imagine. I can only hope and pray that no such attack takes place in Croatia, Slovakia, or even Portugal but if it does I further hope and pray that the appropriate authorities will be ready this time.

Having been calmed down somewhat by the prompt actions of the Paris mayor, my next concern was perhaps equally unsettling: what cutesy image can I put on my Facebook profile to show that I care? I waited and waited for a graphic artist to come up with Cutesy Image of the Massacre™ for this particular event but none came, and I was feeling completely helpless. I even asked one of my more talented colleagues to design one for me as visions of cashing in big-time flashed before my eyes, but his initial idea of a teddy bear in a bobby’s uniform left me cold, especially when I saw it was carrying its own severed head. Perhaps I should have asked somebody other than Abdul. Fortunately, the stoic Londoners shrugged off adversity as they always do and came through with this:

I felt better immediately, although if I’m honest I wasn’t afraid before: I’m in Paris after all, miles from Westminster. I wasn’t even afraid when Islamist nutters were on one of their rampages around these parts because by the time I heard about them everyone was already dead and I was still alive and well. So I wasn’t afraid. Perhaps I ought to have been angry, but alas these days I just feel so weary. I spoke to a doctor and he said it was simply a case of Jihad Fatigue. There’s been a lot of it going around lately, and my symptoms were so far gone that when people mentioned the one year anniversary of the massacre in Brussels, I’d completely forgotten it had taken place.

The words of Manuel Valls quoted above, which were echoed by London’s mayor Sadiq Khan last September when he said terrorist attacks were simply “part and parcel of living in a big city”, were absolutely right. Random people being murdered by Islamic terrorists is something we’re going to have to get used to, because the leadership isn’t interested in doing anything about it and the majority of citizens are not interested in electing leaders who are. For my part, I intend to sell everything I own and invest the proceeds into the suppliers of high-resolution, large scale lighting equipment. The world is gonna need more of them.

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Middle-Aged Women on Dating Sites

What They WriteWhat They Mean
Looking for a serious relationship.Having spent ten years fucking about, I now want men to take me seriously.
I like Italian food/travel/sunshine/music.Who doesn't? I just have no imagination whatsoever.
I might not reply straight away.I am far too busy and far too important to make the minimal effort to respond to those showing interest in me in a timely manner. How come I still haven't met anyone?
Must have good manners and be polite.I find myself attracting rude, abusive people. None of this has anything to do with my personality.
Sapiosexual.Look at how cool and edgy I am by using descriptions of myself that most people won't understand, thus proving themselves to be less enlightened than I.
I hate smokers!The lack of men in my life has led to me trawling the internet to meet strangers, but I'll throw up extra barriers anyway just to make it a bit harder.
I'm looking for someone non-judgemental.I have issues dating from childhood that were never properly dealt with, and these have led me to engage in extremely dubious sexual practices with substandard men almost non-stop since I was 16, which in turn has left me mentally scarred and not speaking to my parents. I am currently in therapy. Kindly disregard all this when considering me for a lifetime together.
Married men: no thanks!Having found myself in a demographic that overwhelmingly attracts married men looking for a bit on the side, I'll pretend they are a minor nuisance distracting me from all those single guys that are lining up around the block.
Please read my profile!Anyone who contacts me must immediately know exactly what I want, even if my profile is as contradictory and confusing as a tax declaration form.
Must have good personal hygiene.My last boyfriend stank to high heaven. I lived with him for three years anyway.
No bad habits.I will complain incessantly about every tiny thing I don't like.
No time wasters!I am incapable of compromise; only perfection will do.
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A Working Class Liaison Officer

I came across this via Obo the Clown on Twitter and thought it was good, especially given it concerned idiotic policies at the University of Manchester. I particularly liked this bit:

But words can maim, as proven by the recent disturbing video showing a female SJW reacting to the words ‘Hugh Mongous’ as if she’s been kicked in the tits. But while we outright condone micro-aggressions aimed at working-class students based on their race or gender, it’s perfectly legitimate and not micro-aggressive at all to smear them as knuckle-dragging racists one Sun headline away from setting fire to a mosque.

Luckily, the job criteria was simple: the successful applicant need merely ‘identify’ as working-class, leaving the door open for Princess Eugenie to apply just as long as she woke that day and decided she was a brickie called Keith. Because actual experience is no substitute for imagined empathy and it’d be a sad day if the student union discriminated against a plethora of capable candidates just because they’d never eaten a kebab, appeared on Jeremy Kyle or drowned one of their illegitimate children in a bath-tub.

The author, who goes by the name of Ben Pensant, has a blog here.

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Amazon Go

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about Amazon Go.  This is a supposedly groundbreaking new concept whereby people walk into a supermarket, take what they want, and then simply walk out again without stopping at a checkout.

Personally I don’t see what all the fuss is about: I used to see chavs in Adidas tracksuits and Rockport boots doing precisely that in Manchester stores as far back as the late ’90s.

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