The Problem With Freedom of Expression

Two news stories today highlight double standards in our defence of freedom of expression.
The YouTube clip of “Innocence of Muslims” has offended Muslims around the world and that offence is about to be compounded by the publication of some caricature cartoons in French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, but the loudest voices in the UK and France are those calling for our right to express an opinion to be protected, even if it does cause offence to a lot of people. The argument goes: if you are offended by this person’s opinion then don’t watch the movie/buy the magazine, or exercise your freedom to respond with your own views. But to attack foreign embassies or arrest the authors is seen as oppressive overreaction.
The second story is related to the recent murder in Manchester of two unarmed policewomen. A man was arrested for creating a Facebook page in praise of their murderer. The majority of people seeing the page would rightly be offended by it, but surely–isn’t the creator just exercising his right to freedom of expression? Shouldn’t the appropriate response be the same as has been suggested to the outraged Muslim community?
The two different treatments here highlight the real issue: whose definition of “offensive” do you respect and uphold?
In my opinion you can’t have it both ways without being a hypocrite. It is right that we should defend the right of Charlie Hebdo to comment satirically on the news, even if Muslims find it offensive, and it is wrong to arrest the man who set up the Facebook page in praise of the policewomen’s’ murderer. Far better in the latter case to let social network forces do their thing, in which case I expect Facebook would have taken the page down in response to an overwhelming number of user complaints. The end result would be a removed page and a discredited crackpot, and our right to freedom of expression would not have been compromised.

Rant over. Back to the usual inanity next time.

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My New Bike Is My Old Bike

About ten months ago I wrote a blog post about my next choice of motorcycle, the main thrust of which was that in an ideal world you would have several bikes to cater for your changing mood and needs. At the time I was convinced I would end up replacing my beloved Honda CB1300 with a Yamaha, and I listed four of their models that, put together, would represent motorcycling Nirvana. There was a street roadster, a sports tourer, a racing superbike and the MT-01 in a category of its own. This is the trouble with motorcycling: sometimes you want comfort, sometimes speed and great handling, sometimes head-turning good looks, and there are precious few bikes that deliver all three. Tourers are super-comfortable and have loads of accessories, but they can be a bit dull to ride. Sport bikes are thrilling to ride but bum-numbingly and back-breakingly uncomfortable on a long run.

Like most bikers I can’t afford a multi-bike stable so, for me, if it’s to be my one and only bike it needs to be a great all-rounder: fast enough for an adrenaline fix yet comfy enough to ride all day long, while looking great too. It then occurred to me that I was describing my CB1300. So, I already own the bike of my dreams but I still yearn for something new: whatever should I do?

Buy another CB1300 of course!

My Precious!

Say Hello to my new Precious.

I wasn’t looking to buy right now; I just started looking around at used CB1300’s to see what the market was like, but then I found this bike advertised by a dealer in Milton Keynes. At two years old and with only 2,000 miles on the clock it’s almost brand new, but much much cheaper. In short, a bargain I couldn’t pass up. I phoned the dealer and left a deposit to hold it until I could get there, and bought it without even riding it. There was no need for a test ride: the bike is in pristine condition and I already know the superb inline four engine, so all that was required was for them to swap my after-market exhaust can over to the new bike and do the paperwork.

I had only three days to get acquainted before flying back to Luanda so I covered about 200 miles on each day, in weather varying from blue skies and sunshine to torrential rain, and I loved every minute of it.

I never thought I’d buy two of the same bike, but the CB1300, for me, IS the perfect all-rounder. I have found my biking soulmate.

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The Other Side of the Street

I’ve been gazing longingly at that greener grass lately. It all started when–on a whim–I treated myself to a new phone. My new Samsung Galaxy SII was a first bite of the forbidden fruit that is Android, and now I’ve had a taste I want more. So I’ve told my iPad its days are numbered and ordered an Android tablet.

Regular readers will doubtless be wiping spat tea off their computer screens after that bombshell.  How can a dues-paying Apple fanboy like me even contemplate such treason?

I have four reasons:

1. I am growing bored 0f the iOS/iBooks/iTunes experience. In an effort to protect us from the dark side of the force Apple acts as arbiter of app suitability, publishing only those it deems suitable and barring the rest. This gives us and our families a safe, polished, user-friendly experience that is about as white-knuckle as Disney’s It’s A Small World ride.  I’d rather have a freer app marketplace and judge for myself.

2.  Android is really nice, and if you don’t like the stock version the device comes with you can download and install a different one for complete control of your UI (techies only).

3. Goldilocks screen size. My iPad’s screen is too big, my phone’s too small. I reckon a 7-8 inch would be perfect: big enough for ebooks, web, and movies yet small enough to be portable and easy to hold in awkward positions (bed).

4. Samsung kit is very well built and designed. My Galaxy SII is small and light yet robust. It looks gorgeous and works really well, so a Samsung tablet would do all of that, bigger.

As I wait to get my hands on my new Galaxy Tab 7.7 I feel a bit like someone working their month’s notice: I still pick up my iPad and use it but I’m just going through the motions, feeling a mixture of guilt and excitement that pastures new are just around the corner.

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Today’s blog post: The Director’s Cut

I started out intending to write a diatribe about movie “Special Editions” and “Director’s Cuts”, preparing to denounce them all as blatant exploitative rip-offs that are produced with no respect to the original but aimed only at squeezing more money out of us poor fans by conning us into believing that this version is the one the director really wanted us to see.

I’ve changed my mind. A bit.

My default position is anti- when it comes to “special” versions of movies. This is partly a simple resistance to change (human nature, we all have this. Yes, you do) and also partly a symptom of my increasing grumpiness, which seems to be maturing and hardening and growing fatter along with me. On seeing the words “Director’s Cut”, “Extended Edition”, or “previously unseen footage” I immediately adopt a cynical yeah-right-who-are-they-trying-to-kid attitude and quietly wish there was a cheaper, basic no frills DVD with just the original movie on it.

I was seduced by The Dark Side over Christmas. Santa brought me my first Blu-ray player (If I’m honest that’s what I asked for in my letter, so it’s my own fault really) and a few discs, including Gladiator and the Alien Anthology. Both are favourites of mine (talking only of the original Alien here) and both directed by the great Ridley Scott. I’d never played with Blu-rays before so I was quite impressed with the menus and navigation systems, the one exception being the stupid sound effects added to the Gladiator menus. Each time you select an option you get a futuristic zap gun sound or a camera shutter; totally incongruous to the type of movie. How does this kind of stupid mistake slip through the net?

Anyway I digress…

This sent shivers down my spine when I first saw the cinema release at The Odeon Leicester Square in London. I was eighteen.

I perhaps shouldn’t have been but was surprised when both discs offered me a choice of version. In the case of Alien it was between either the 1979 Theatrical Release or the 2003 Director’s Cut, and with Gladiator either the 2000 original or the 2005 Special Edition. Being (literally) a kid with a new toy I went for the bestest most special-ist of course. Both later editions opened with Ridley Scott doing an intro to camera, beginning with “Hello, I’m Ridley Scott. What you’re about to see when you press Play is…”. My inner Mr. Grumpy railed at the prospect of having to listen to him boast about how brilliant he is and how this “special” edition was put together by his own two hands just for my viewing pleasure, so I skipped over both intros.

I enjoyed Alien about the same as the original, and only noticed a couple of changes (but then, I wasn’t really looking for them). Gladiator on the other hand was worse than the original. At about 17 minutes longer it included several scenes not in the original, and I felt none of which added anything.

"What we do in life, echoes in eternity."

Anyway I’d been thinking about doing a blog rant about this and this morning decided to watch Scott’s two introductions and check some further facts, by way of research. Although the two intros look similar on fast-forward they actually couldn’t be any more different. With Alien he talks about how he was pretty proud of the original but has reviewed it several times over the last 25 years (recorded in 2003 when the D.C. came out), and he ends by saying this is the version he prefers. He added about four minutes of scenes, but also trimmed about five minutes elsewhere, leaving the Director’s Cut a few seconds shorter than the original. (Note to self: need to watch it again now armed with this new information). In the intro to Gladiator Special Edition Scott had this, and only this, to say:

“I consider the Director’s Cut of the movie to be the version released in cinemas. Here is the special edition, which contains some scenes that were deleted during the editing process, that might be worth seeing.”

Quite clearly he was contractually obliged to produce this by 20th Century Fox. It’s interesting how a director can have such a different feeling about two of his movies, yet have to ‘play the game’ all the same.

So, what’s my position on ‘specials’ now? I’m still ‘agin ‘em by default but I will at least hear out the details on a case by case basis before passing judgment in future.

What Director’s Cuts, or Special Editions to you love/hate? Please let’s keep Lord Of The Rings out of this? Still drunk on a cocktail of HD entertainment I just received my order of LOTR: Extended Edition box set. Fifteen discs. Fifteen.

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Gimme a “Zac”!

Life can be tough for a Diplomatic Spouse, particularly when you’re a lazy Englishman who can’t be bothered to learn the local language. It’s enough of a challenge for me to explain to my driver Dino that I want to visit the Barbeiro, so to convey to said Barbeiro how I want my hair cut is fraught with risk: last time I went I stepped out of the shack salon looking like a middle-aged skinhead.

But that was then — well before Christmas — and my hair has done its usual thing and grown back as scruffily as it knows how. So today it was time to return to the Barbeiro and make myself look beautiful for my birthday; which is also today! Happy Birthday to me!

How can I explain to my Portuguese-speaking barber how I want my hair done?, I asked myself. I know, I’ll search t’Internet for a photo of someone with the kind of haircut I usually have, and take that in on my phone. A picture’s worth a thousand words after all, whether in English or Portuguese.

So, I surfed over to and typed in “Men’s hairstyles No.4 tapered neck”. I was surprised how poor the results were. Surely this is a common problem and loads of people are looking for hairstyle photos to show their barbers? I really didn’t get what I was looking for, but I did find one pic that quite closely resembles my ideal look:

I taught him everything he knows about tonsorial style.

Yes, as it turns out Zac Effron has copied my style and been snapped sporting this Caesar Cut. You can’t blame him really. So I copied this pic to my phone and took it along, and when the Angolan barber asked me what I wanted (I couldn’t actually make out the words but it was that point in the proceedings so I could guess his meaning) I produced my phone with a flourish, pointed to the photo of Zac and said, “Assim!”, which means “Like this!”

Much clipping, snipping, and scraping with a naked razor blade ensued, during most of which I tried to relax by closing my eyes. But when I finally opened them I was pleasantly surprised. He had actually done a pretty job of giving me a “Zac”.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. It's not Zac again, it's me!

When Karen got home from work her first words were, “Blimey, it’s Zac in my living room!”, so that clinched it. I made her take some front/side/back mugshots so from now on I can tell any barber, whatever their tongue, how to Zac me up.

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Drive-By Luanda

First proper post of the New Year and we’re staying with the photography theme. In Johannesburg last week I bought myself a Fujifilm Finepix X100. I’d been coveting this little beauty for weeks, and during our New Year’s trip to South Africa I finally gave in to my desire.

The gorgeous Finepix X100

The X100 is much more than a compact digital camera, and I was about to say it is in between compacts and digital SLRs, but that’s not strictly accurate. The camera has so many great features, and a truly wonderful lens combined with a revolutionary hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, all wrapped up in a well-built retro design that reminds me of my old Olympus trip. It has all the quality and features of leading DSLRs, all it does not have is interchangeable lenses. Instead it has a prime 23mm f2.0 lens with the shutter built in.

Another classic camera. This time from the Old 35mm Days.

Anyway I returned to Luanda with my cherished new possession, and couldn’t wait to try it out. A photographer’s article on Google+ about zone focusing gave me the idea to try and shoot some Luanda street life from the passenger seat of the car. With Dino driving me to the supermarket I (here comes the techie part) set the X100 to manual focus and pre-focused the lens to 2.5 metres, and set an aperture of f8 with the ISO set to 800. This combination would allow me to use shutter speeds fast enough to capture images from a moving vehicle without blurring, and without the need to wait for autofocus to engage (through a dirty car window) (end of techie part) I was able to snap away quickly.

The resulting collection of candid shots pleased me as a first outing with the camera. Right, I thought. All I now need to do is to upload the pics to my Smugmug page, then embed a slideshow in this post, and we’ll have a winning first posting for 2012 on our hands!

But No.

WordPress has pissed me off today. In an apparent attempt to coerce its users to keep their images on WordPress and use its own image features rather than those of another site they have blocked the adding of third-party embed code to posts. Long story short (and jargon-free): I can’t show you a slideshow directly on this page without copying all the photos here first, and I’m not going to give WordPress the satisfaction of doing that.

So, instead, here’s a static image that, when you click on it, will take you over to Smugmug to view the slideshow there.

Click image to jump to the Smugmug site and then click Slideshow (Grr!)

Is that what you wanted WordPress? I hope you’re satisfied!

Hmph. (hope you like the pics)

Posted in Photography, Rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

I’m Back!

What does that title stir in you? Are you excited? Angry? Ambivalent?

So, I have completely neglected this blog for the last four months. That’s a record, even with my dire track record at updating it. Yet I love to write, so whassup with that?

The short answer is, I don’t know. I’m just useless I guess. Sorry. On the plus side I’ve come to the realisation that none of you cares about my lame excuses for not writing so I’m not going to bore you with them. It’s a New Year, so let’s all turn over a new leaf and see if 2012 has you coming back here for more wit, hilarity, and incisive commentary.

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