Google+ A Tangled Rope: 08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Review: Harvest of the Sixties - Patricia Waugh

 

By the seventies it was evident too that economic divisions were not the only barriers to a common culture and that other distinctions of race, gender, ethnicity, age, and region would be articulated forcibly in the eighties, bringing with them the recognition that identity is not determined through labour alone.

Such recognitions produced something of a crisis in the teaching and study of literature, for, in the new world of multicultural difference, to insist on the superiority of one variety of culture was to invite accusations of elitism, ethnocentricity, sexism, racism or class authoritarianism.

[….]

Increasingly after the mid-seventies, the concept of representative democracy was to come under strain as more and more social groups claimed the right to speak for themselves within their own terms and with their own distinctive voices. The idea that ‘great literature’ is great because it speaks for all would be attacked from a variety of new positions.

There, from the conclusion to this book – in a nutshell – we have the reasons why the study of Literature, especially in the US and UK hit a crisis period from – say – around the mid-1980s from which it yet has to fully recover. One of the main reasons for the decline of academic literary criticism into its current moribund irrelevance is – of course – post-modernism, a stance that this book, mostly, shares and promotes.

Although, in Waugh’s defence, I must say there is not too much of the polysyllabic babbling that made post-modernism into nothing more than its own parody. Po-mo created a situation where modern lit crit was lost and rudderless in the doldrums of its own sea of ‘ism’ and ‘significances’. A place where the merit of a work was calculated by the number of PC boxes it ticked on the academy’s list of right-on attitudes and ideas, and the number of worthy causes the academy currently decreed as worthy of its support.

There is too, a disappointing amount of evidence to support that other great criticism of Po-Mo, the way that its adherents – and in this book Waugh is typical of the species – indulge in an almost gleeful misunderstanding of science, and the fervour with which they indulge in misapplications of those scientific principles to literature and society. Presumably, this is done in an attempt to shore up the trite and obvious banality of post-modern ‘insights’ with a spurious and appropriated ‘scientific’ authority. Ironically, an authority that the vapid concoction of post-modernity denies to all ‘grand theories’, except – of course – itself.

Post-modernism, like all recent academic fashions in the humanities, social sciences et al is a product and creature of the Left. The Left worldview has a problem with literature: novels, poetry, plays and so forth are all the products – at least initially – of the individual mind. An individual mind thinking freely, beyond the bounds of what the Left allows its adherents to think and/or believe (hence the vigour with which correct though – Politically Correct – thought is policed) can be a dangerous beast.

The Left is collectivist and can therefore only see literature as a tool for representing groups such as the Left’s currently favourite victim groups: women, ‘other races’, the poor, the ‘dispossessed’ and ‘marginalised’ and so forth. Or, as representing the Left’s enemies such as conservatives and others who defend – despite its obvious faults – the current social order and do not wish its destruction and replacement with something that is almost bound to be worse. For example, a woman writer must be pro-feminist – good or anti-feminist – bad. She is not allowed to be both or neither, or – indeed – anything else that goes beyond these patronising labels to create the fully-rounded human being. Just as a black writer must write about the ‘black experience’ or run the risk of being labelled a traitor to the cause.

For when ‘the personal is political’ then the personal – the individual – is subsumed into the collective – the political and thereby ceases to be an individual, becoming a mere statistic.

So, in consequence, turning to a book like this to learn about English literature from the 1960s to the 1990s will, unfortunately, tell you very little about the literature itself, but rather more than you would wish to know about how various special interest groupings have interpreted and used that literature for their –often almost propagandist – purposes. This, again, shows the intellectual aridity of the Left worldview that sees things like the arts – if not elitist and therefore to be condemned outright as tools of the oppressors – as merely instrumentalist tools for the inculcation of correct views into the populace.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Poem: Roosting

[Every Monday (until I run out of them), I’m posting a poem of mine that has fallen out from the submission process for some reason. In most cases, it will be one where I’ve received no response to my submission for at well over a year or more. Maybe the magazine I submitted them to has folded, the submission was lost in the post, or whatever. So, these poems can be seen as lost, orphans, of uncertain status, or something like that.]

These poems are also posted to ABCTales.

Roosting

A form of words,
a shape carved
from discarded silences,
taken from the untidy
piling of thought.

Used to make
these dark formations
taking to the still evening air
flying towards silhouetted trees,
and other brooding
darkly shadowed
undefined roosting places.

Friday, August 22, 2008

From The Archive: Books and Little Boxes

From The Archive is a special Friday feature. It features posts from my earlier (now-deleted) blog: Stuff & Nonsense and a few items from previous versions of A Tangled Rope that I feel deserve reprinting here, mainly as a way of archiving them. The dates are only approximate, I’m afraid, and there is a possibility that some links may no longer work (although, I will try to remember to test the links before republishing the piece).

Books and Little Boxes - 05/05/05

The Guardian reports on yet another attempt to divide readers up into smaller and smaller marketing sub-categories. This time it is women over 45.

Now, I'm over 45, but I am not a woman. However, I am married to someone who is both, and I know how she hates being patronised like this.

I don't know if there has been any research into what effect this endless sub-sub-sub classification of things has on readers and… for want of a better all-encompassing description - consumers of cultural products. In one sense, I don't really care if there has, because I know it annoys the hell out of me and everyone else I speak to about it. I detest this atomisation of everything where we get, as Ricky Gervais once said, entire TV channels seemingly devoted to alternating programmes about sharks and the Nazis. I don't want to be shepherded into a little box that fits my demographic profile by age, sex, interests, voting preference, favourite food, and so on seemingly right down to the number of hairs on my left buttock.

Once more, we are in the Orwellian Newspeak world where the Illusion of Choice becomes a narrowing of options, rather than a widening out of possibilities.

Then there is this, 'They want exciting, inspiration heroines they can relate to'. (I presume it means inspirational), but what is this? I have noticed this increasing trend towards seeing books, novels especially as a form of instrumentalism - almost a guide for living the good life, a sort of self-help book, in a way. Are there people who read books in that simple one-dimensional kind of way, using novels as a form of instruction manual for living? I know I don't and I can't think of anyone else I know who does.

I am so weary too of that vacuous psychobabble, inspirational, relate to, empathize and all that. This words and phrases have now become meaningless (if they ever did have any real meaning beyond the vague hand-waving psychological comfort-blankets they've now become) tired clichés.

I am reassured by the generally sceptical tone of the article though, and the number of people interviewed (one including a list of a number of women writers of a certain age who I like, read and respect) who are dismissive of the whole concept.

So maybe there is some hope for us all, after all.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Alone

It happens like that sometimes. He was one who did not really expect that much. Life had let him down a great deal and he expected more of the same. There is not much any of us can do when fate twists and tangles the threads of our lives. Perhaps we expect too much, spend too much time looking for order and patterns.

He thought about so many things, so many times when he could have done something, said something, differently… that there was some way that his life could have changed. He felt, now that he was older, that his life should have more shape, more significance.

Yet, he was alone still. If he died in some accident, he felt he would not be long mourned, or long missed. Only if the accident was rare or unusual would he have a chance of lingering in people's minds.

His job, such that it was, was of no great significance or import. Anyone of only moderate intelligence could perform the routine tasks with a modicum of training. In fact when he was away, ill or on leave, other people could cover for him without anyone else knowing, or even caring, that the job was not being done by him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Review: All in the Mind: A Farewell to God by Ludovic Kennedy



The notion explored in this often fascinating book by the famous broadcaster, Ludovic Kennedy, is that rather than the religious notion that man was created by god, rather it is god that was created by man. I must say – at the outset – that this is a view that I share and consequently I found much to agree with in Kennedy’s – necessarily brief – romp through the history of human religious ‘thought’ from early mythologies and through the history of the Christian religion in the west.

I suppose one of the few faults I find in the book is the concentration on the Christian religion at the expense of other religions, but then it is Christianity that has helped shaped western thought to a far, far, greater extent than any of the other current religions.

However, the period of the church’s greatest influence was also a period of almost stagnation in the intellectual life of the west – a period which later became known as the Dark Ages. It was only when the church’s power and influence was challenged, questioned and finally broken from the Reformation on through the Enlightenment and the rise of science, humanism and rationality that mankind was then able to take the great strides it has done over the following centuries.

Probably the best part of the book for me is the last third where Kennedy sketches the rise of atheism from Sozzini, d’Hobach, through Hume and Paine and on to Darwin and evolution. Then – post-Darwin – the rapid growth in atheism from that point on to the present day where religions – despite their increasingly frantic rearguard actions continue their inexorable decline into irrelevance as mankind leaves behind its superstitious childhood at last.

Kennedy concludes that he finds spirituality, the numinous and al those other consolations that religion is supposed to find in nature and in art. Here, in addition, I would come down on the side of Kennedy, but also adding Richard Dawkins contention that science does far more to aid our understanding of the universe and our appreciation of its beauty to a far greater extent than religion ever could. All in all, then, All In The Mind is an excellent book, one that I highly recommend.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Afternoon

She was always the one. I can remember her naked and laughing in her bedroom on one afternoon we had off work together. The way she stepped out of bed and strolled across the sun-bright floor to change the record.

She knelt down in front of the record-player and began to sort through the pile of records. She seemed so natural, so at ease in her nudity.

She had said earlier that she often took off all her clothes once she got back into her room from work. She said that her clothes felt contaminated, unclean and dirty from the way everyone stared at her. She knew they all hated her, and hated me too now for being on her side.

We were made into outsiders, alone together against the rest. So, our being in her room together had become inevitable.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday Poem: One Such Morning

[Every Monday (until I run out of them), I’m posting a poem of mine that has fallen out from the submission process for some reason. In most cases, it will be one where I’ve received no response to my submission for at well over a year or more. Maybe the magazine I submitted them to has folded, the submission was lost in the post, or whatever. So, these poems can be seen as lost, orphans, of uncertain status, or something like that.]

These poems are also posted to ABCTales.


One Such Morning


A misty early morning, barefoot run

in dewy grass. You in a floating dress

so thin, I can almost see right through it.


And your night tumbled hair and summer smile

with fading memories of falling rain

still fresh in your so eager morning eyes.


One such morning in any single life

should be more than enough for anyone.



Friday, August 15, 2008

From The Archive: Election Special

From The Archive is a special Friday feature. It features posts from my earlier (now-deleted) blog: Stuff & Nonsense and a few items from previous versions of A Tangled Rope that I feel deserve reprinting here, mainly as a way of archiving them. The dates are only approximate, I’m afraid, and there is a possibility that some links may no longer work (although, I will try to remember to test the links before republishing the piece).


Election Special - 03/05/05

If anything, this was supposed to be a literary blog, talking about the world of literature and letters, and about, and featuring, my writing. However, I have a habit of being easily distracted, for the last few weeks, mainly by the current general election. This election is a bore, but thankfully, it will all be over soon.


However, on the subject of the election, I read this a couple of days ago:


It seems hard to believe that the hordes of pollsters, image consultants and television producers, the frenetic chase around the country and the constant exposure of one stunt after another can really have made for an election duller than that in which Mr and Mrs Atlee trundled around the country in their family saloon, he with his crossword, she with her knitting. But it is true. The reason is not hard to find. In between filling in his crossword, Atlee was fighting for 'the establishment of a Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain', as the Labour manifesto promised. The contrast with modern elections is not merely that it is hard to imagine Cherie Blair knitting, but that the more fuss campaigns make the less they have to say. The fleets of buses, the chartered trains, the camera crews and satellite dishes, the cascades of balloons, the soaring campaign theme songs, are deployed in the service of more and more similar objectives. No one seeks the creation of a socialist commonwealth any more. With the end of ideological conflict, instead of being offered a choice of philosophies the voters were being offered a choice of managers. When Atlee faced Churchill in 1945, some 73 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote. When they clashed again in 1950 and 1951, the proportion rose even higher, to well over 80 per cent. Yet, in the 2001 election, the number voting fell to below 60 per cent for the first time since the election held in December 1918. Curiously, the turnout was highest in places where people found it hardest to get to the polling stations, like Brecon or Galloway, while in parts of inner-city Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds, where polling stations were within walking distance, half - even, in one constituency, two-thirds - of those who could have voted simply didn't bother to do so. There is a way of construing this indifference as a good thing. It might, conceivably, be the sign of a healthy society: people who are relatively happy with their lot may not feel impelled to go out and vote. It might, perhaps, reflect a recognition of the declining powers of the national parliament. But what it clearly demonstrates is the paradox that those who are most dependent on the state seem to have the least engagement with it.


From: The Political Animal - Jeremy Paxman, talking about the 2001 General Election.


If anything, it seems to have got worse for this election, and there are all the signs that as the parties further hone their marketing strategies, and have even less to say, and as the gaps between them narrow even further as they concentrate even more on the centre ground, this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. [BTW, I've read nearly half of the above book, and I do recommend it if you've ever read anything else by the great Paxman, or if you ever wonder what politicians are for.]


There was supposed to be something new - and interesting - about the current election, though. This election had been claimed as the first election where blogs would make some kind of difference. But what that difference is - beyond mostly sneering at the opposition parties, and the mainstream media - we have yet to see.


Of course, there are some good political blog and a few excellent ones, but most of them have suffered from the same difficulties as what they like to call the MSM, a lack of anything of real substance to write about.


During this election, most of the political blogs have become the online equivalent of the Sealed Knot and other such societies that exist to re-create the battles of yesteryear. Blogs of the right and left still appear to be fighting the quaint old class wars of the 19th and 20th centuries. I could have sworn I saw one right-wing blog call Tony Blair a socialist - really, how quaint can you get?


Reading the majority of the political blogs - at times - seemed almost akin to stepping back into the muddy fetid trenches of the class wars of the 70s and early 80s. But then, as the Labour party has already dumped its socialist past, and the Conservatives will have to dump their more rabid free-market, anti-immigration, anti-EU, anti-modern world dinosaurs too if they are going to survive past the beginning of the 21st century, it seems as though the blogs will be the only place to see these unreconstructed political obsessives in something akin to their natural habitat - boring all and sundry at the local political club bar.


A far more knicker-wettingly exciting prospect for politicians, their whores and groupies will be the fate of all three major party leaders from Friday onwards.


Blair is the easy one. Once he has outdone his spiritual mother - the blessed Margaret - and beaten her record of days in office he will feel he has proved something - even if only in the narrow confines of his own mind - and make way for Brown at long last. For those of us who vote Labour in spite of Blair, and not because of him, it will be a day of quiet relief.


All in all, Kennedy has been a failure for the Lib Dems, seemingly unable to capitalize on all the gifts he has been given by the woeful inadequacies of the other two parties. At times, he seems to be becoming a kind of invisible man, the more you see of him the less there seems to be of him. He seems - at times to be lost and out of his depth, even in the shallows of this campaign. The Lib Dems too have fallen victim to the ideological timidity and lack of vision that seems to permeate the entire current crop of parties. So, their claim of being a real alternative is as hollow as a very hollow thing indeed.


Even the loony parties: Respect, UKIP, Greens and so on and on and on - can only define themselves by what - usually single-issue - they are against, rather than offering any kind of vision of society in their particular bright and shiny future.


Then there is Michael Howard - oh dear. Deary, deary me. I never used to believe it, dismissing it as something akin to an Old Wives Tale, but my jaw really did drop on the day the Tories announced her would be taking over as their leader. Major, Hague, IDS - then Howard. It seemed that the party was so intent on reaching further and further into the barrel that by the time they were scraping their collective fingernails on the barrel bottom in order to grasp at Howard they were so deep inside that barrel they'd completely lost touch with the outside world. In retrospect, it is hardly surprising that the barrel has tipped over and is now rolling off down the hill accelerating towards electoral oblivion.


The simple answer is that politics has failed. All its great utopian schemes - of right and left - have floundered in the face of reality, leaving us with at best this dull grey managerialism. After the failures of the 20th century, it seems unlikely that any utopian vision will ever be able to survive the cynicism and doubt of the people. Maybe the bland empty faces of Blair, Major, Bush Clinton - promising nothing but more of the same, but in a slightly different suit - are the faces of our political future.


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a grey man in his underpants eating peas FOREVER!



Thursday, August 14, 2008

After All These Years

It seemed so strange to see her again, after all these years. I couldn't tell if she was looking any older. I just saw that it was her, and that was enough. It was as if the intervening years had never happened. We smiled; said hello, and then went to bed just as easily and simply as we always had done, all those years ago.



Afterwards she said she was married now, with children. We lay in bed together that afternoon, showing each other photographs of our families, each other's children.





Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Walk

A walk through a summer evening spread out into misty distances, hazy with the dust of dry summer. Insects circle and circle, and only a few birds call as they search for night-time places, roosts in the treetops.



The day turns a weary grey. Days are long in the summer. The night comes as a cooler relief. Stars in cloudless, clear skies.



Now, we know the sky and stars go on forever, further than we could ever realise. It makes us so very small and so hard to see. We have no special significance now, except to each other, and we find that so difficult to make sense of.





Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dream Of A Perfect World

Perfectibility is not possible, but people have the power to dream of a perfect world, inhabited by their version of what it is to be perfectly human. Not only that, there are some of us who seem to have the power to infect others with our own idea of this perfection, to persuade them that this is the true, destiny, fate, or inevitable end of the human race’s desire to find some kind of mystical and mythical place. Some have called this place heaven, nirvana, utopia. Whatever name they give it doesn’t really matter. It is seen as a place to which – if we only follow the rules properly – we will end up arriving there.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Poem: Ritual

[Every Monday (until I run out of them), I’m posting a poem of mine that has fallen out from the submission process for some reason. In most cases, it will be one where I’ve received no response to my submission for at well over a year or more. Maybe the magazine I submitted them to has folded, the submission was lost in the post, or whatever. So, these poems can be seen as lost, orphans, of uncertain status, or something like that.]

These poems are also posted to ABCTales.



Ritual



Are these the hands that shaped these times from soil,

and took each precious stone down to the sea

to wash it, bring it back, arrange like shapes

that will become significant and pure?



But we have been to this place once before

and these are memories we placed up here,

reminding us of times and days and dreams

of how to move through landscapes like this one,



and how the sea can wash us both so clean,

removing stains of history and of loss.





Friday, August 08, 2008

From The Archive: Silly Norm

From The Archive is a special Friday feature. It features posts from my earlier (now-deleted) blog: Stuff & Nonsense and a few items from previous versions of A Tangled Rope that I feel deserve reprinting here, mainly as a way of archiving them. The dates are only approximate, I’m afraid, and there is a possibility that some links may no longer work (although, I will try to remember to test the links before republishing the piece).


Silly Norm – 11/04/2005


Normally I would find myself in general agreement with the estimable Norm of Normblog fame, but this time I must disagree most heartily indeed.


Norm says:

As I've said before, the rationalist and secular critique of religion is one I entirely share. I have done since I started to contemplate these matters seriously. I do not think there are any good evidential or other reasons for belief in a supreme deity, much less a benign and all-powerful one. But to speak now, in the face of a historical experience stretching over millennia, as if religion is no more than a silly mistake of silly people - answering to no real human concerns, meeting no deeper needs, all just froth - is (not to put too fine a point on it) silly.


However, that is just the thing. To me - and quite possibly many other non- and un-believers - continued religious belief in the face of what seems like more than overwhelming evidence to the contrary does seem - to be polite - a little bit silly, if not downright perverse.


Maybe it has been answering to real human concerns, meeting deeper needs for millennia, but so what? It doesn't mean that it is right, and should be immune to criticism, including ridicule, just by virtue of its history, or through the number of its adherents, or how earnest those adherents are.


There are many things once earnestly believed in the past that now seem ridiculous - a flat-Earth, the harmony of the spheres, astrology, divine right of monarchs, phrenology, spiritualism, communism, Tony Blair and so on and so forth.


It is way past high time that religion should added to The Very Big List of Silly Things, and then consigned to the dustbin of history.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Not ‘Progressive’ At All

Ironically, the left has done far more to commodify the individual than the right, turning each person from an individual into a representative, or statistical unit, of a sub-group. The status of that group – either a worthy victim group, or an unworthy oppressor group – dictates the worth of that individual, but only in terms of the group, not of the individual.


It also infantilises people who turn into helpless wimps who constantly seek even more increasing protection from the state, even for such trivialities as statements they find ‘offensive’ to their insecure feelings of belonging to a particular grouping.


Rather than being ‘progressive’, the left is actually regressive. It turns everyone from an autonomous individual into a whiny petulant child dependent on the mummy state, who it goes running to every time a bigger boy says – or does -something nasty to it.



Wednesday, August 06, 2008

This Is Not Me

This is not the time and this is not the place. I have been here too many times. I need to find something new, some new story to tell myself. I haunt those places of my past; searching for a moment I can return to, and unravel what has gone wrong with my life from that moment on. Something, somewhere, changed, something – sometime - happened to lead me down this road, taking me away from the person I thought I was going to be.



Here I am now living a life - or rather, inhabiting a life - that doesn’t feel like mine. It sounds like a cliché, but I feel like an actor playing a role. Something I stop, having said or done something, and feel that it is not me speaking those words, doing that action, deed or whatever.

This is not me.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Her Name

She has a name and she remembers it at odd times, almost as if it is the name of a stranger, or someone she once met, fleetingly. It feels odd on her lips when she says it out loud to her mirror. She watches the shapes her lips make as the strange sounds form in the air around her. She thinks she must be looking for something, some sign that the words she utters have a meaning special to her, that by saying her name over and over again she can find some familiarity there, something she can holds onto to keep herself from becoming an even deeper mystery to herself.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Monday Poem: Dreaming of Summer

[Every Monday (until I run out of them), I’m posting a poem of mine that has fallen out from the submission process for some reason. In most cases, it will be one where I’ve received no response to my submission for at well over a year or more. Maybe the magazine I submitted them to has folded, the submission was lost in the post, or whatever. So, these poems can be seen as lost, orphans, of uncertain status, or something like that.]



These poems are also posted to ABCTales.



Dreaming of Summer



"I was fast asleep,"

she said. "I dreamt of summer.

But all we have here

are these long cold dark winters

where no fire can warm

our lives, to melt this ice sheet

that covers it all,

or thaw this frost that clutches,

holding our lives hard and tight."





Friday, August 01, 2008

From The Archive: Balancing Act

From The Archive is a special Friday feature. It features posts from my earlier (now-deleted) blog: Stuff & Nonsense and a few items from previous versions of A Tangled Rope that I feel deserve reprinting here, mainly as a way of archiving them. The dates are only approximate, I’m afraid, and there is a possibility that some links may no longer work (although, I will try to remember to test the links before republishing the piece).


Balancing Act - 18/04/2005


A disturbing trend from the current election is the way the leaders of the parties - in this case labour - are protected from reporters in increasingly stage-managed appearances. Quite simply the media - especially the BBC - should refuse to co-operate with such stunts. The politicians are just using the media as an uncritical conduit to reach the viewers/ readers/ listeners without the reporters having a chance to interact with the politicians. How long will it be before the political parties start sending out 'interview packages' instead of getting engaged in the awkwardness of a possibly unsympathetic situation?

The media should - quite simply - refuse to be use as propaganda outlets.

This is not an isolated incident, though. It is yet another example in an increasing trend both from within the media, and by those who try to manipulate the media for their own ends.

I used to be a compulsive viewer / listener to Current Affairs programmes on the holy BBC. Nowadays, I don't bother that much. Another one of the main reasons is the outworn notion of having opposite sides for each and every position, this has arrived at the point of ridiculousness, stopped for a quick cup of tea, and then dashed off over the horizon of absurdity without bothering to send back a postcard.

Having two - or three, or even seventeen thousand, nine hundred and thirty-two - different opinions treading and re-treading their well-worn stamping grounds does not make a debate. The media folk claim they do this in order to generate drama and conflict. We don't want artificial drama or conflict in news and current affairs - we want rational, sensible, constructive, useful, meaningful stuff - all the things, it would seem, that would have the average programme-maker reaching for a gun.

If we want drama we could… quite possibly… watch some drama (that is if there still is any to be found in-between the 'reality' shows and makeover programmes.)

Then there is the sudden appearance of these so-called community-leaders, whose proclamations are all accepted at face value. No-one ever seems to ask how they got the job, who appointed them, what authority they have to make pronouncements on the behalf of others, how much of the alleged 'community' they speak for, or even what 'community' is it they claim to represent. No such - seemingly basic - questions ever seem to be asked. They are paraded in front of the viewer or listener - described as a community leader and then allowed to make a statement that is not questioned in any way at all as to its validity - merely taken as being a representative view of this 'community' they claim to lead.

The same - or similar sorts of questions are never asked about the self-appointed - and, therefore unrepresentative - Moral Guardians who can - apparently - decide on what the rest of us must see, think, believe, say or do. Rarely do they contribute anything, apart from yet another - usually woefully un-informed - opinion to the discussion. They set themselves up as some kind of superhero saving us all from our own degradation with their marvellous ethical superpowers.

But, as with all super-heroes the Moral Guardians have fatal weaknesses, a seeming inability to use the off switch on a TV or radio, or to pass by a cinema or theatre without thinking that what goes on inside must conform to their ultra-slimline notions of what is seemly and decorous, or to believe there are other people on this planet who do not share their narrow blinkered world view, or even share the rather odd notion that censorious blindness is somehow a virtue.

There is little point in having two sides to everything, even when one of those 'sides' is patently ridiculous. For example, the patent absurdity of claiming that there is a 'debate' between evolutionary theory and the 'Intelligent Design' nonsense-peddlers. There is no such thing. It is more than obvious to anyone without a vested interest in perpetuating ignorance that evolution is about as well established as anything could be. It is as certain as gravity, as the sun, as reality.

It is important to remember that open-mindedness and credulity are not synonyms. They should also understand that while it may be important to respect people's beliefs, it doesn't mean that those beliefs ought to lie beyond investigation. Furthermore, anything that lies outside what is established and verifiable should be - ought to be - treated with great, exacting and rigorous scepticism. Every responsible person in the media should have Hume's dictum that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof' tattooed on some always clearly visible part of their anatomy.

There are also the - again, self-appointed - pressure groups, NGOs and single-issue campaigners, and again the media is guilty of accepting their pronouncements uncritically. Taking the word of groups like Greenpeace, et al without checking, questioning or even examining their claims plays along with their need to exaggerate and exacerbate everything into a crisis. For, unless they can create a looming crisis that only they can save us from, then they no longer have a point, or a purpose. In short, it is in their interest to turn every slightly untidy molehill into a whole mountain range of vile polluted putrescence that is on the brink of bringing about the end of the world within a fortnight. Whole swathes of recent current events would have all looked very different if the claims of some of these pressure groups had been critically examined rather than accepted at face value in order to create some 'opposition' or 'debate'.

Interviewing PR reps or PR companies instead of getting it straight from those concerned and involved in the issue under debate is a complete waste of time. PR mouth-monkeys are trained to blather on without saying anything. If the choice is between one of these creatures and saying nothing then the best option is nothing. So, any offer of comment from the PR of a company, or whatever, should be refused and it should be made clear to the viewer or listener that the company - or whatever - is attempting to hide behind a hired mouthpiece. The viewers and listeners can then easily draw their own conclusions.

The use of gossip, speculation and tittle-tattle from the
Westminster village soap-opera instead of real news. No-one cares, except when it is about the unlikely sex lives of politicians. Then the only wonder is that apparently there are people in this world either sick enough, or brave enough, to mate with politicians. Is there anyone who has managed to think of David Mellor in the infamous Chelsea shirt without even feeling a little unwell? I still can't get my head around the thought of John Major and Edwina Currie actually… y'know… doing it with each other.

Pre-emptive news reporting. What is the point? The number of times where are told something is - possibly - going to happen, and then… it doesn't. The reporting of speeches - and their contents - before they are given - what is the point of the speech then? Not that anyone in their right mind would want to sit through a politician's speech anyway. So, I suppose saving us all the bother could be seen as fulfilling the BBC's public service remit.

The BBC was once the best broadcasting company in the world, and something every Britain could regard with something approaching pride, when all else British was - at best - an embarrassment. Now, there is little left of what once gave it its worldwide high reputation.

The other aspects of the BBC's output are for other posts at other times, but this one is primarily concerned with its current affairs and news output. The main reason for the decline - including the use of the shoddy and lazy practises outlined above has to be the constant desire to tamper with the news and current affairs programmes to make them - as the buzzwords have it 'accessible', 'relevant' and all the other empty mouth-music.

They try to change it - 'dumb it down' - to attract viewers and listeners who would not otherwise bother. However, most of those are not interested because they are… well, not interested. There was a time when such a strategy may have worked, back in the old - and, it now seems, far better - days of limited channels. Unfortunately, though, multi-channel means there is always something even less demanding for the totally-mashed couch potato to gawp at. The BBC ought to face up to it, that sort of people are lost for good and disregard them.

Meanwhile, this attempt to cater for the lowest of the lowest common denominators means that those of us who are more demanding lose interest and wander away. So the audience falls even more, so they dumb it down even more, the audience falls even more and so on and on and on, until we end up with a future where the Tweenies will read the news and vapid talentless twerps like Graham Norton present Newsnight, while Question Time features a debate on Law and Order between representatives from Westlife, Emmerdale and When Celebrity Knitting Patterns Attack chaired by the singer of that year's British Eurovision entry.

The BBC should get some courage. It must dare to run the risk of boring, or - shock horror, the greatest crime in dumb-down PC land - 'alienating' some viewers and listeners in order to satisfy those of us who demand some depth and seriousness. There may even be others like me - weirdoes who enjoy thinking. Some people would actually like to be challenged instead of patronised and infantilised.

The BBC must also have the courage to stand up and say that some things, for example creationism, astrology, alternative medicine and therapy, are - unless then can convincingly prove otherwise - nonsense. The BBC should not constantly try to be 'inclusive' and so 'open-minded' that anything could crawl in. In short, it should have standards once again, standards of truth, of accountability, of rigour, of courage in the face of those who try to subvert the truth and reality for their own ends and agendas.