Tag Archives: civil liberties

Go Read a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman

I hesitate to say this because I am white and I am English, but I am calling bullshit on much of the discussion I have seen about Go Set a Watchman. The discussion about this book  should not be about whether or not it should have been published or whether or not it’s a good book. The discussion should be about racism.

We should be talking about institutional racism (a subject the book raises explicitly and addresses unsatisfactorily). We should be talking about what we do when good people we love expose themselves as racists (the central topic of the book and presumably of Lee’s life, and one it addresses discomfortingly). We should be talking about what we do about changing racist communities we are part of (again a central topic of the book, and one it answers weakly). We should be talking about being a White Ally, especially about being a bad White Ally, and about racism in the Northern States (all things the book exposes, possibly without meaning to). We should be talking about hindsight bias and revisionism, confirmation bias and blind-spots (again, exposed on every page). We should be talking about the links between the easy assumptions of class superiority that Lee makes and the racism she rejects.

These are the elephants in the room and the fact that the conversation is not about any of these things tells us so. And the more that people make the conversation about other subjects, the more they are sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “la, la, la I can’t hear you”.

So, yes, the book should most certainly have been published and yes my friend it’s worth reading. I will go further – I think you should read it because of Charleston, because of Portland, because of Ferguson, because of Mark Brown, because of Trayvon Martin, because all of this is happening now 50 years after Lee drafted the manuscript and submitted it to a publisher.

Is it well written? – Yes, but not as well written as Mockingbird. Get over it.

Will it change your view of Mockingbird? I don’t know.

It changed my view of Mockingbird, though I want to read that book again.  I now think of it as a fairy story and as a dangerous one at that because it’s a way for people to say “Oh, I’m not a racist, I’m Atticus, or Jem, or Scout”. I now see the artifice in Mockingbird: I see Scout’s clear-eyed wisdom as artificial, no six year old was ever that wise. I see also the naïveté in the assumption that Atticus and the Finches could possibly not be racist in a society where people owning other people was still a matter of living memory. It’s hard to read Watchman as a draft not a sequel but at one point in Watchman the adult Jean Louise says to Calpurnia “Please, I’ve got to know. Did you hate us?” and shivers go up your spine as the silence lengthens. Having said that, I link below to clearer-eyed reviews of Mockingbird which see it in a more nuanced light.

Did Lee give full and knowing consent? – I don’t know. She seems worryingly vulnerable, so possibly not. I am however certain that circumstances have given us a double gift, and we should read Go Set a Watchman, engage with it, and be grateful.

Taking Liberties – a matter of style

I’m going away for the weekend but I don’t see why y’all should rest easy on that account. Here, my dears, is a trailer for a film on limited release, but it is a film that everyone in the UK should see.


This isn’t Eric Blair’s 1984, this is Tony Blair’s 2007. It’s here and now.




Weep, you’re on Candid Camera

1984Closed circuit tv is everywhere these days. I remember realising some time in 2002 or so that if I wanted a knee-trembler in a side-lane in London then I should be prepared for security guards to watch and replay. These days of course it would be the entire bloody Internet.

But what, I want to know, is the thinking behind putting a CCTV in a crematorium? What actual events which have taken place in crematoria would have been the better for the presence of CCTV? I’ve led a very sheltered life; maybe CCTV tapes from crematoria are turning up in court cases and insanity pleadings and judicial reviews every day of the week. Maybe people do vastly inappropriate things there all the time and CCTV is just one flimsy strand in an endless, hopeless fight against it. Perhaps it is just naive of me to assume that it is a thoughtless and lazy intrusion done in the name of mindless security, and who cares that it objectifies individuals at the time of their greatest grief?

It feels like prurient voyeurism hypocritically masked as deep concern. I found it disturbing. It clicked into place with a comment from James Poniewozik in Time Magazine about Virginia Tech, Web 2.0 and the web-enabled way in which the shock and the grief of the killings and the killings themselves are being experienced, both by those who were there and by the rest of us.

Yet technology also conferred a shroud of privacy amid the spectacle. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith noted seeing students silently text-messaging before the Tuesday memorial service. “It feels like there is an undercurrent of information being passed that doesn’t reach to our level but is remaining within the Virginia Tech family,” he said.

Good. These are people who have been as traumatised as is possible in the West, barring rape and war. Give them their privacy, for goodness’ sake!

There are issues clanking around in my brain with regards all this. Words like respect, privacy, objectification, de-personalising, de-humanising are all bumping in to each other. I am shocked by Smith’s comment, and shocked that he isn’t.

I don’t know where these thoughts are leading me. As I looked directly into the eye of the CCTV camera in the crematorium, I realised once again that this is one of the things I find disturbing about living in the future.

Abortions, sex changes, genetic defects

I offer you two thoughts from two different sites.

First – 21st century data in the UK: “A patient will not be entitled to refuse to make their personal data available to the [NHS] Spine [data systems]. Data about all patient events may be routinely communicated to the Spine without the consent of the patient. … The citizen has no legal right to stipulate what will and will not be recorded … nor where those records will be held.”

And secondly – 20th century data in Germany: “Only after Jews were identified — a massive and complex task that Hitler wanted done immediately — could they be targeted for efficient asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, enslaved labor, and, ultimately, annihilation. It was a cross-tabulation and organizational challenge so monumental, it called for a computer. Of course, in the 1930s no computer existed. But … punch card technology did exist. … [and] Hitler was able to automate his persecution of the Jews … from the identification of the Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor.”

The problem of course is not with data, per se. NHS staff are a pretty benign bunch. The problem comes when people with strong convictions have relatively friction-free access to data, and it is compounded when data becomes more enduring.

In this world of increasing fundamentalism, I am not comfortable that the health service can record abortions, gender re-assignments, genetic abnormalities, and other politically, socially or financially sensitive information, that they can record it in ways that mean that the data is pervasive and enduring, and that they can record it against our will.