Scotland’s proposed hate crime laws are an illiberal mess.

There’s a lot bout Scotland to praise from how the NHS is still free to its arts to attempts to make us more akin to a liberal Scandinavian democracy than whatever the UK is turning into. On the whole, the governing party of Scotland, the SNP, have guided Scotland in right directions over the last decade but they have a problem with well meaning, but legally troubling laws. The ‘Named Person’ idea was, and is, a great one but was badly put together legally as was The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act was an actual attempt to deal with sectarian abuse in Scottish football but again, it fell apart because it was well meaning but legally a mess.

The latest bill to come down the line in such a way is the proposed new hate crimes law which finally gets rid of blasphemy in Scottish law but replaces it with new types of blasphemies which a progressive 21st century democracy should not have. To quote from this piece

Offences are currently aggravated by prejudice against a victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or their transgender identity.

Hate crime can take many forms including verbal abuse or insults, assault and damage to property, but also online abuse on sites like Facebook or Twitter.

When a criminal is convicted of a hate crime, an ‘aggravation’ can be added to their sentence, meaning that if, for example, someone attacks an individual based on their race, then a racial aggravation can be added to the crime of assault.

The Scottish Government’s proposed legislation would incorporate the existing aggravating factors but also add the characteristic of age, with the potential to include sex at a later date so misogynistic harassment can become a standalone offence.

If passed by parliament, the Hate Crime Bill, will also make “stirring up of hatred” extend to all the characteristics, rather than just against race, which has been an offence in Scots law for decades.

The characteristics aimed to be protected under the bill are listed below.

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Transgender identity
  • Variations in sex characteristics

So far, so relatively uncontroversial though one has to ask why sex is not included in the list (it may be added at a later date) when we live in a time when misogyny is rife and other, more vague criteria is included.The issue rises when we hit what makes an offence which is the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ which under these proposals would make it an offence for a person to behave in a threatening, abusive or insulting manner, or to communicate threatening, abusive or insulting material to another person where in doing so, the person intends to stir up hatred against a group of people by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origin. The problem comes when the offence is that someone is ‘likely’ to result in hatred.

This opens up the bills from one supposedly designed to update hate crime laws to one which suddenly closes down free speech and freedom of expression while opening up a Pandora’s Box where any group could easily abuse the act to suppress an opposing opinion. Imagine a group of highly organised people organising a campaign to get someone prosecuted because they don’t like what they’ve said? Removing religious blasphemy for secular blasphemy is not progress.

What marks criticism of this out from other bills is the level in which Scotland’s legal organisations themselves are providing warning and lead the opposition to parts of the bill which will limit freedom of expression and will criminalise people who may well be unpopular among a section of people, but offering a different opinion may offend but if as a society we limit offence then we’re heading towards a very controlling, bland society. So to take just comedy, this bill could criminalise Frankie Boyle, Billy Connolly, The Life of Brian and much of the rest of Monty Python’s output, the works of Chris Morris and pretty much any important work of comedy of the last century.

Juries will have to decide if a statement, or a work of art, or just a Tweet, is designed ‘to stir up hatred and as the bill excludes protecting “expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse” it seems as said, designed for small, powerful groups to target individuals especially, If we’ve hit a point where society is so weak, and arguments are so thin that they need to game the system then we are basically fucked.

So I hope the SNP listen, take the bill back and change it otherwise it’ll become law and a few high profile cases will show it to be a mockery, and the Scottish Government will have to rethink something which will not do what it may set out to do. We need a society where dissent is tolerated.

Covid-19 has caught up with me

I hate wearing facemasks. The straps dig into my ears, my glasses steam up and I often forget my cool looking one leaving myself to use my backup medical one which is even more annoying. It is however a small trade-off against possibly dying choking for my last breath in a hospital.

So yesterday morning I rocked up to work to be met at the door and told that one of my work colleagues had tested positive for Covid-19 and that I should go home and get tested. THe building is being deep cleaned, but with all my various medical conditions it means if I catch Covid and it becomes acute, then the bottom line is I’m fucked. I was asked if I showed symptoms (tiredness, sore throat, etc) but most of the symptoms of Covid-19 are what I live with day-to-day.

AS of this time on Saturday afternooon I’m awaiting a test which is due to arrive sometime in the next day or so I lurk in a state of coronavirus limbo…

Glasgow runs screaming back into lockdown

Over the last few months Scotland has done well to contain Covid-19, but since lockdown has been loosened up there’s been worries that another lockdown is just round the corner because well, people are twats. So now Glasgow has jumped to the top of the twat list because for weeks now people have been doing their best to ignore social distancing and other precautions so we now have to back to restrictions because people are twats.

Just as I was plucking up the courage to go to what few places are open, this rolls around ahead of what many here are predicting another full lockdown by the end of the month.

All because of twats…

DC Comics and their dismal, dark film universe

The trailer for the new Batman film starring Robert Pattinson was released. It is dark, grim and violent.

The trailer for the new Suicide Squad game was also released. It is grim, dark and violent.

Then there’s Zack Snyder’s cut of the Justice League which is grim, dark and violent.

Now there were a few shafts of light but overall the picture DC are sending out that they’re all about the grim and the dark and the violent because that’s ‘edgy’, and yes, they might be good but making superheroes relentlessly grim and overly violent power fantasies is just depressing.

Yes, the Wonder Woman film looks fun but it stands as an aberration but surely there isn’t this hunger for relentless misery? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a Batman film where he does a cheery dance instead of punching someone’s jaw out the back of their head?

The strange world of George Galloway

Galloway is an odd figure. A once-respected (well, from some)  firebrand of the left managed to destroy his reputation and image by a succession of increasingly unpleasant steps into politics that involved him becoming the sort of person he’d once rally against. His latest stunt is to ally with Tories and Unionists to oppose Scottish independence as a talking head for the Alliance For Unity party, who are a motley mix of hard/far right types and Unionists desperate for anything to fight the rise in support for independence.

He’s somehow managed to become a figurehead for these people as he goes full Farage as he too becomes Steve Bannon and Michael Gove’s latest glove puppet. The thinking seems to be that Galloway is left-wing (which is dubious), and most folk in Scotland are leftish so the people will flock behind him and chase the Nasty Nats out of town.  The problem is Galloway has an image problem and not just related to this insanity from Big Brother.

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Galloway is the act of a desperate foe. An attempt to unify the Unionist cause behind a Farageist figure who they think will win. but many soft Unionists or genuine undecideds, or simply No votes from 2014 will be horrified at his suggestion only born Scots should vote in a second referendum, and that Scottish born immigrants in the rest of the UK should have the vote. Essentially full-blown ethnic nationalism, something the Unionists accuse Indy supporters of.

The fact is the only way it should be decided is by those living in Scotland eligible to vote. Galloway is a desperate sad act who exists only for the furtherment of Galloway and this is purely his latest grift. Remember this in the months ahead as a small minority pretend he’s some sort of giant killer.

Scottish independence is now supported by a majority

The latest polls for Scottish independence put 55% of people for, 45% against which is the latest poll which shows an increase in support since the start of 2020. This of course is good news, but if you’re a Unionist then the panic is setting in, and setting in hard because simply put if Boris Johnson is the voice of the Union then fuck the Union.

Of course it is just a poll, and the other problem is the SNP are seriously dragging their feet but the fact is people are on a clear path to independence, barring the diehard Unionists of course.

Alex Salmond’s retrial by television

On Monday night the BBC broadcast The Trial of Alex Salmond, a documentary of Salmond’s sexual offences trial of early 2020 presented by Kirsty Wark and made by her production company. It is an extraordinary film in that it was clearly made to put Salmond through a retrial by television as he was found not guilty by a jury back in March.

Salmond is a controversial figure at best. I’m drawn to respect some of the things he did (there is no chance in hell we’d be having this conversation about Scottish independence and it being so close without him) but I’ve always been wary of him which is maybe a throwback to my former Labour past. He’s what’s called a ‘Marmite figure’, but that said he’s still amazingly popular among a section of SNP supporters, even the wider independence movement. He is also incredibly unpopular with a large section of the Scottish establishment which brings me to last night’s programme.

Wark clearly assumed Salmond would be found guilty as indeed, much of Scotland’s media class did but his not guilty verdict threw a wobbly for her, so she just ended up making the programme she would have anyhow giving minor lip service to the case against Salmond being thrown out.  And here’s the thing, you and I may mot like Salmond. We might find him a bit old school but he was found to do nothing criminal but Wark ensured the viewing public was retried in public.

The reaction was hard, even from people not especially on Salmond’s side. Here’s Gerry Hassan as an example.

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I’ve never known a programme to go after a person found not guilty like this without an inch of new evidence and if we see the media go after a powerful figure like Salmond, what’s to stop them doing the same to anyone? Now there is a documentary to be made about the case, the #metto connection and how the Scottish establishment reacted to it but this isn’t it. This was a personal attack borne out of frustration that the law didn’t do what it wanted them to do so they lashed back in a way which smeared someone without the fairness of a trial.

And this is the point. If the media contains people who are able to conduct personal attacks on mainstream television thanks to the BBC then we have a justice system under attack from the powerful who don’t get what they want, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out the terrible consequences of that for a supposed free and fair society.

The second DC Implosion

Back in 1978 DC Comics suffered a massive implosion of titles, creators, and staff, as financial realities kicked in as DC Comics were purged to the extent where it was questionable whether DC could even exist.  Fast forward to 2020 and DC Comics are suffering a culling of staff including long-established names like Bob Harras being given their P45. Bleeding Cool have a piece on it here.

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I expected a reaction from new owners AT & T started flexing their muscles, but with Covid destroying industries everywhere, DC were going to make changes but this is harder than expected. Also titles are going to get cancelled. As the BC articles says expect the Batman, Superman and Justice League titles to be safe. I’d assume Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to be safe too.  Everything else is at risk. This isn’t that bad of a thing as DC needed a clear out of titles, not to mention some new creative directions but this is a horrible way to enact anything like that.

Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of the end of DC as a comics publisher, but it certainly is a shifting in the American comics industry of the likes we’ve not seen in a few generations.

What I thought of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

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Comics biographies can be hit or miss as the person doing it sometimes ends up just being a cheerleader for the person they’re discussing, but in the case of Tom Scioli’s long-awaited biography of Jack Kirby it ends up being needed because if there’s one thing Kirby needs is some cheerleading to offset the decades of Kirby being ignored by the mainstream media.

Scioli does a lot here detailing Kirby’s life, and even if you’re soaked in Kirby history like myself, there’s going to be stuff you’ll read here that you don’t know. For me, it was the World War 2 section where even though I was aware of a lot of it, it really was breaking new ground. Not to mention putting it in context with Kirby’s later life gives it a resonance I’d not previously considered. As an aside I’d also recommend Kirby at War,  an excellent documentary from France which should be on streaming services.

At times the book does screen out other viewpoints of Kirby’s history to give such a one-sided view that critically, it weakens the book. For example, it’s downplayed just how awful Kirby was at business as opposed to say, his former partner Joe Simon, and drawing Kirby as a wide-eyed innocent places him as an instantly sympathetic character, however what Scioli is focusing on is telling Kirby’s story in as much of a way as Kirby would have done his autobiography while setting the world straight. And that really means his relationship with Stan Lee.

Lee is often praised as the man who created, or co-created the Marvel Universe yet comics historians have for decades fought this position, which Scioli does too by laying out a few simple facts including the main one which is what did Lee create prior and after his relationship with Jack Kirby (and Steve Ditko who is a major player here) and the blunt answer is fuck all apart from She-Hulk. Lee’s sole major creation without any aid from Kirby or Ditko was a cash-in on an existing creation.  The facts are that Lee was facing unemployment when Kirby walked through his door, and within five years Marvel had totally turned itself around with Kirby at the very least penciling and writing 8-10 titles a month plus covers, plus annuals. His body of work, and the sheer volume of it throughout the 60’s at Marvel is like no other creative period of anyone else in superhero comics. Ideas would be introduced, used and moved on from in a few pages, whereas today a creative team would milk that idea to the bitter end.

Did Lee play a major part in all this? Yes, he did. Lee’s drive and salesmanship pushed Marvel from a dying company into what it is today. If Lee had never sold comics hard in the 60’s to 80’s then you’re not going to have a cinematic universe and Disney wouldn’t have a billion-dollar money making machine sitting in its lap. But had there been no Kirby, then Lee would have tried selling weird horror tales and giant monster comics. He’d be a footnote in the history of comics so take Kirby out the equation there’s nothing to play with. We know Lee wouldn’t know anything about some of the characters Kirby would create, and we also know Lee would take Kirby’s dialogue and plot ideas and rewrite them often into something lesser than they first started out as.

You can however now make your own mind up properly without the endless pumping Marvel/Disney version of history playing in your head, and now you can get Kirby’s side of the story.  Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, flaws aside, is widly entertaining for what is a history lesson and a much needed counterweight to the myth of Stan Lee. Now perhaps more people can treat Kirby with the respect he deserves.

Why did Tom King shame Jae Lee?

Tom King is writing DC’s new Rorschach maxi-series which is yet another example of them milking Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen for everything it can. Of course Moore famously wants nothing to do with DC or what they’re doing to work he doesn’t fully own himself, or with co-creators, plus the idea of making Rorschach even the anti-hero of his own series would probably leave a bit of sick in his mouth.

rorschach_1A

There is a massive issue here of the creator’s rights. Moore has been stripped bare by DC over the years, not to mention this sends out the message that if DC Comics can fuck over Alan Moore, they can fuck anyone over. Of course, they can’t do it without the aid of creators which brings us to Tom King doing this off the back of the dreadful Doomsday Clock semi-sequel. King’s participation in this has already caused controversy outwith the creator’s rights issue, and frankly, the blurb does not fill one with confidence.

“This is a very political work.” he said in a statement. “It’s an angry work. We’re so angry all the time now. We have to do something with that anger. It’s called ‘Rorschach’ not because of the character Rorschach, but because what you see in these characters tells you more about yourself than about them.”

But this is how DC and Marvel operate these days. Things won’t change, especially in a Covid world. So last weekend during the virtual San Diego Comic Con, King Tweeted this.

tomkingtweet

The hate group King refers to is Comicsgate, who are indeed full of hateful racists and misogynists, but they run crowd-funding campaigns for their comics which end up raising their goals. They’re awful, but this is still a tiny part of comics even if they are painfully vocal, especially with their daft wee boycotts. The variant cover King is talking about is this one.

rorscacha

Lee was then promptly canceled. Boycotts were organised, and fans pushed for Lee never to get work at DC, all the usual stuff you’d expect when there’s an online swirl of shaming and canceling going on. Problem is Lee wasn’t asked by King his version of the story until the damage was well and truly done, but of course this wouldn’t have attracted any attention.  Lee was busy dealing with the death of his dog and isn’t on Twitter, nor does he know what Comicsgate is. It appears he did the cover because he drew a Cyberfrog cover back in the 90s, plus as a freelance artist it was a job.

tomkingtweet1

Which has seen people further point out the fact why didn’t King do this in the first place? Was it really so urgent that it’d not have waited a couple of days til Lee had made clear his side of things. But no, people want blood, and if he’s innocent of anything then they still want blood. For example.

tomkingtweet2

Lee was not fine. Lee will probably lose work over this. He’ll forever have the labels of racist and bigot hanging over him. People will want Lee to ‘learn’ now he’s been so publicly shamed, but Lee did nothing more than do one cover for someone. He’s not a Comicsgater, nor does he seem to want to do anything but make art, but King has used his position of power to taint Lee which means people aren’t talking about King’s next project in the light of creator’s rights, or any other criticism prior to this weekend.

In most companies, King would be facing possible dismissal. At least he’d be disciplined for what he did to a colleague. I would hope DC’s H.R department move on this and bollock the living hell out of King because we live in a time where cancel culture is real, and people know they can weaponise it against someone, or use it to get likes or detract from anything rattling in their cupboard and an ex CIA operative will have many a skeleton rattling away, and one can only imagine how Alan Moore feels about a former CIA man working on his creations when Moore’s written a comic about the CIA’s bloody history.

So we have here an example of the horror of living in the 21st century. Public shaming is fine as long as you discuss facts after the shaming is done, and if the damage lives with someone for a lifetime well they’ve learned a lesson haven’t they? This is the weird bizarro world we now live in and how amazingly toxic it has become. If I were Lee I’d be crowdfunding for legal action, and I’m guessing the reason King has backed off is he’s now fully aware he’s open to be sued, and I hope Lee does because if this is the way to stop people leaping to cancel then so be it. There’s no point asking for kindness because many of the people holding up pitchforks are those who consider themselves ‘kind’ or progressive, but are happy to destroy lives for shits and giggles because it isn’t just the right doing this, but the supposed left.

And what’s going to make this worse is that the horde will move onto their next victim probably as I type this…