Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Is independent children's television about to be starved out of existence by a ban on junk-food advertising? I have come to that high temple of British television - the BAFTA building in central London - to talk to Anna Home, award-winning children's TV producer and now leading light of the Save Children's TV campaign.

The home of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), near Piccadilly Circus, looks like it could do with some junk-food advertising revenue of its own. If it endorsed a few Big Macs it might look a little less shoddy. The brown checked carpets clash with the marbled walls, which clash with the white porthole lights and the MFI fixtures and bamboo shutters. The shiny, silver elevator shouts at the gold-coloured handrails, greasy with fingerprints. On the first floor there's a videogame convention, which means that fresher's fayre-style direction boards litter the hallways and game-dignitaries are wandering around wearing red necktags. Perhaps this distinct lack of flash, dazzle and glitz at the heart of British TV suggests why independent TV producers and junk-food advertisers have been roundly trounced by the food lobby in the battle for the soul of kids' television: they're just not coordinated enough.

Anna Home, a BAFTA-winning producer and former head of Children's BBC, sits in the middle of the caf,. She is coordinated: a haven of good sense and quiet expertise, resolutely refusing to be enticed into sensationalism. For example, does she agree with Jonathon Peel of Millimages UK, that the `difficulty with the food lobby is it's a bit like the Taliban. You can't really talk to them, they have just one view and there's no negotiation'? Her reply is tempered: `I think [the anti-junk food lobbyists] are a very efficient group of people. They're professional lobbyists and within the broadcasting industry, we are not. Behaving like the Taliban is perhaps a little extreme..

`I don't think any of us want our kids to grow up on junk food. On the other hand, if you're going to take away an important source of funding, and take it away very fast, then I think you've got to think about what you're going to do to replace it. If it could be phased out gradually - like tobacco advertising was - and give people time to think about how to find alternative funding, that would make a lot more sense.'

The Save Children's TV campaign is a coalition of parents, producers, artists, educators and others who are `concerned about screen-based media for children in the UK'. Their aim is to get both the government and broadcasting regulators to recognise and acknowledge that good children's TV programming is important and valuable - and encourage them to devise new forms of funding to replace the `revenue which will be lost if advertising is restricted'. Because what those Taliban-esque - sorry, efficient lobbyists against junk-food advertising seem not to understand, is that their campaign against such advertising may ostensibly shield children's eyes from apparently evil ads for Happy Meals, but it will also end up shielding them from any British-made programming. As revenue falls, fewer new and independent productions will be made, and children's TV will no longer be taken very seriously.

Home has no illusions about what is going on at ITV, which recently declared that it will massively cut its children's programming. `It's not a terribly happy scenario', she says. `The [advertising] ban gives ITV even more reason not to commission children's television.' She points out that ITV hasn't commissioned a new programme `for over a year', and, as a result, `children's commissioning has gone downhill smartly'. She believes that the lapse in ITV's output `is having a very serious impact on the balance of children's programming and on the industry as a whole, in terms of those independent producers who make children's programmes. It means there's only one real outlet: the BBC, which still makes a lot of its own programmes in-house. And [the BBC's] commissioning budgets are going down as well.'

Is Home worried that the BBC, without the old competition from ITV, will go further down the route of producing government-friendly children's programmes that communicate `correct' messages on everything from environmentalism to healthy eating? Already, programmes like Newsround and Blue Peter seem to come saturated with `save the environment' initiatives and Jamie Oliver-sounding items on what sort of food children should be eating.

`There has always been a tendency for that', says Home. `When we first started Grange Hill it was perceived as very dangerous, very anti-authority, anti-teacher, all those kinds of things. But gradually, when it became successful, people became aware of how many kids it was getting to, and getting to in their own terms. You could feel pressure coming to run certain kinds of storylines.'

Blue Peter and suchlike have `always run campaigns, it's part of their ethos', she says: `But I think it's certainly not something you want to overdo. I don't think you should be getting children to spend their lives being worthy.. And I think that some broadcasters have put on healthy programmes in an attempt to validate themselves.' This, she says, often does not make for very good television.

At the BBC Home started out as a researcher on a programme `which eventually became Playschool' in 1965. From there she developed Jackanory, before moving into children's drama and commissioning many award-winning and enduringly popular shows, including Grange Hill. She moved to ITV for six years in the 1980s before returning to the BBC as head of Children's TV, when she commissioned a revival of the Sunday teatime `classic' in the shape of The Chronicles of Narnia. Just before her retirement she commissioned Teletubbies, to the chagrin of some parents who wanted their children to be taught to speak by the TV set, but to the delight of the nation's tots and skiving teenagers. Teletubbies, of course, became both a national and international smash. Home describes it as `very exciting. it was a completely new breakthrough in kid's programming'.

Some criticised Teletubbies for explicitly targeting very young children. Was it right to expose toddlers to the apparently toxic effects of TV? Shouldn't they `watch with mother' rather than watching weird creatures on their own? The notion that independent viewing is new is misleading, says Home. `Children have always watched television on their own. Yes, the set was in the living room and you had this concept of all the family watching together.but children used to watch children's programmes, adults used to watch adult programmes. Children now have TV sets in their bedrooms and so adults know less what's going on than they did, but even so, I don't think it's changed that much.'

Home admits that not everything currently produced in children's TV is high-quality, but a little junk is no sinister thing, she says. `There's always been dross. There's a great children's writer called Peter Dickinson, who made a terrific speech at a children's literary conference called "In defence of rubbish". He said that in every child's diet of reading, there is a place for rubbish. And I think that's true of television. After all, grown-ups are allowed to enjoy rubbish television - why shouldn't kids?'

The same, perhaps, could be said of the junk food that has precipitated the crisis in the first place: a little bit of junk food is no sinister thing, either. Does she think the proposed bans on junk-food advertising will stop kids consuming junk food? `No.'

Unfortunately, she will not be drawn to comment further. The most persuasive thing about Home is her directness, her brevity, her lack of flurry. `I don't ever want programmes to be "good" for children. That's not what it's about. When I was a programme maker or commissioner, I didn't think it was part of my job to do "good" TV, but TV they would enjoy. Yes, what would expand their minds, what would give them new ideas and new visions, but not necessarily something that was "good" for them.'

So, what does she think will be the future of children's TV in Britain? `In the next 10 years..' She pauses. `We could have some terrific mixed-quality channels including the best of British and from abroad - or you could have North American-dominated, virtually non-stop, nothing but cartoons.' If the former is to win out against the latter, people will need `to become aware that there is a great value not in doing "good" TV, but a value for children's media as a "good thing" in and of itself.'

Ultimately, Home thinks we should `set a balance': `I'm all for [children] having freedom, which at the moment is increasingly limited because of the climate we live in.where parents are very frightened of allowing kids to run free. But I don't think they should be out with bare knees and pullovers all day and all the time, and I think television is good because it gives children, who are increasingly confined, a window on other worlds. And, also, it can talk to them about their own society in their own terms.'



There have always been a few bright sparks who made it to university before their eighteenth birthdays. I knew some 17-year-olds when I was at college: they had been so far ahead of their class that their teachers let them skip a year. They didn't get any special treatment at university. Though not legally adults, they were entering an adult institution and were treated pretty much the same as everybody else.

Now with all the paranoia about child protection, universities have changed their view of 17-year-olds. Seventeen-year olds are officially children, and so a whole morass of bureaucracy is developing to protect them from the potentially abusive adults on campus. One admissions tutor at University College London (UCL) says he must now check the criminal records of any staff involved with students under the age of 18. Given that tutors are already over-burdened by bureaucracy, it's likely that they just won't bother: `The practice will be that they won't admit 17-year-olds. They will read this advice and turn down those applicants.' The tutor - who was 17 himself when he started university - argues that this `denies students the opportunity of an education when they are ready for it'.

Those under-age students who do make it through the door will find themselves subject to a distinct system of protection, with a whole special layer of restrictions and protective measures. The University of Glamorgan sends students a letter informing them of their special status. `The university is also required to offer you special protection against sexual harassment, and this responsibility we take very seriously', it says. Even though over-16s can give consent for medical treatment, the university `follows good practice and seeks to involve those people with parental responsibility', asking students to get their parents to fill out a form about medical treatment.

The University of Kent reads both 17-year-olds and their tutors their rights and responsibilities on matriculation day. University advice states: `The Head of Student Guidance and Welfare will contact all U18 students at the start of term to ensure that they are aware of the university regulations and any restrictions placed upon them as a result of their age. `One member of academic staff should be put forward to act as personal tutor for all students who are under 18 and this information provided to the Director of Student Guidance and Welfare Services. That person must undertake a Criminal Records Bureau [CRB] check.... That person should be reminded of the special duty of care owed to underage students and in particular of the offence of abuse of trust under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000.'

As for accepting students younger than 17, Oxford is turning around its traditional habit of accepting child prodigies. At the start of term last year, university authorities said they just couldn't cope with the need to monitor and vet everybody with whom the child came into contact. Ruth Collier, a spokesperson for admissions, said: `Suddenly we can't offer one-to-one tutorials, while the people who do administration in our colleges have to spend a great deal of time making absolutely sure they are not inadvertently placing a child in a potentially dangerous situation with anyone who hasn't had a criminal records check.'

Interviews and university open days have become a minefield. The University of Essex requires that student mentors and helpers undergo a CRB check. It also insists on the presence of two `designated child protection officers' for school visits where students are not accompanied by a teacher or parent, and these officers' `names and contact details must be communicated to the young people involved in the activity, their parents, and staff members'.

Behind all of this lies a changing definition of adulthood and childhood. When adult meant `mature', the existence of 17-year-olds on campus wasn't such a big deal. They couldn't vote or drink legally, but it was only a question of a few months. Since becoming adult was a about becoming gradually more mature, the grey area of 16 to 18 could be fudged. Now, `adult' and `child' have come to mean potential abuser and potential abuse victim. This sets them apart as two completely separate groups, with completely different interests. Children are not in the process of being assimilated into the adult world, but instead need to be protected and defended from it. When this is the view, there is a legalistic obsession with age. A person flips, on their eighteenth birthday, from being abused to abuser, from being protected to regulated. So a person aged 17 years and 11 months would need their tutor to be CRB-checked; if the following month they were to help out at a university open day, they themselves would need to be CRB-checked.

UCL recently changed its regulations from covering students under 17, to covering students `under 17 years and 3 months' - presumably those who would not turn 18 in the course of the year. Somebody's months and years are counted precisely, to decide which side of the abuser-abused line they fall down on. Challenging this ridiculous treatment of 17-year-old university students would be one way to take on this poisonous view of adult-child relationships that is widespread today



From Aynsley Kellow []

Dear Mr Ward,

I must say I was somewhat amazed at your letter to Nick Thomas of ExxonMobil of 4 September. That such an august institution as the Royal Society is attempting to suppress scientific argument is one thing, and that it relies upon notions of corporate influence that would flunk any reasonable examination in political science yet another.

I could write you a lengthy discourse on what is wrong with your line of reasoning, touching on the $1 billion Exxon is spending on its own corporate response to climate change, the amount it donates to Stanford University alone to research solutions (an order of magnitude larger than that your analysis indicates Exxon provided to organisations you consider 'misinformed' the public), and so on. I will save such an analysis for my own research on the politics of climate science, for which your letter will constitute an excellent example of attempts to suppress dissent.

Instead, let me address the basis of your claims about the IPCC - and here I write as an expert reviewer for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

You take issue with Exxon's statement that the IPCC relies for its conclusions 'on expert judgment rather than objective, reproducible statistical methods.' You cite a conclusion to Ch12 of TAR stating that 'most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greeenhouse gas concentration.' You do not seem to appreciate that Working Group I adopted quite specific meanings, specified in the Summary for Policy Makers, where expressions such as 'likely' quite explicitly refer to the subjective level of confidence of the Chapter Lead Authors.

'Likely' quite specifically means that the Lead Authors believe there is a 66-90% chance that the science is true. The Exxon statement in its Corporate Citizenship Report that you cite is thus entirely consistent with the IPCC conclusion that you cite.

Sadly, we have now reached the point where the Royal Society is a less reliable source of scientific advice than Exxon Mobil. A sad day indeed.

I am copying this letter to Benny Peiser, who runs an excellent newsletter on such issues.

Professor Aynsley Kellow
School of Government
University of Tasmania


Greenpeace co-founder asks Britain's Royal Society to stop playing political blame game on global warming

Greenpeace co-founder and former leader Dr. Patrick Moore said the United Kingdom's Royal Society should stop playing a political blame game on global warming and retract its recent letter that smacks of a repressive and anti-intellectual attitude. "It appears to be the policy of the Royal Society to stifle dissent and silence anyone who may have doubts about the connection between global warming and human activity," said Dr. Moore, Chairman and Chief Scientist of Vancouver, Canada-based Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. "That kind of repression seems more suited to the Inquisition than to a modern, respected scientific body," said Moore.

In a letter dated September 4 and published this week in a London newspaper, the Royal Society's Bob Ward accused ExxonMobil of misleading the public by daring to question the link between human activity and increases in global temperatures.

Dr. Moore responded today in an open letter sent to the Royal Society: "Certainly the Royal Society would agree there is no scientific proof of causation between the human-induced increase in atmospheric CO2 and the recent global warming trend, a trend that has been evident for about 500 years (sic), long before the human-induced increase in CO2 was evident. "While I may agree with certain statements made by the IPCC, surely you and the Royal Society would respect my right to disagree with other statements or at least to call them into question."

Dr. Moore writes further, "I am sure the Royal Society is aware of the difference between an hypothesis and a theory. It is clear the contention that human-induced CO2 emissions and rising CO2 levels in the global atmosphere are the cause of the present global warming trend is an hypothesis that has not yet been elevated to the level of a proven theory. Causation has not been demonstrated in any conclusive way.

Dr. Moore also notes in the letter that while the Royal Society likes to quote from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the IPCC itself admits its conclusions are uncertain. "The Royal Society needs to retract its anti-intellectual and heavy-handed letter to ExxonMobil, and allow reasoned scientific debate on this issue," said Dr. Moore. Dr. Moore said he is speaking out on this issue because "the last thing the world needs, in the midst of a warming trend, is for the Royal Society to cast a chill over science." Dr. Moore and his firm Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. have no links, financial or otherwise, to ExxonMobil.


Life's ultimate short straw

By irreverent British motoring writer Jeremy Clarkson

My local petrol [gasoline] station has employed an elderly chap to run the pumps, no doubt to satisfy the recent European diktat that bars age discrimination.

Good. I’m pleased as punch that the old boy can now fill his days. However, I do wish the owners of the garage had explained to him how the computerised petrol pumps work, that the cash till is electronic, and how best to operate the chip and pin system while wearing bifocals. By the time you walk out of there with a receipt, and your Smarties, all the fuel you bought has evaporated.

In a world that worked, petrol stations would all be run by spotty young men from Poland or Pakistan. But that simple dream can now be undone by four separate pieces of legislation. Age, sex, race and disability.

This means that if British Nuclear Fuels wants a person to monitor the reactors at Sellafield, it is duty-bound to at least consider someone whose CV reveals them to be a hormonal Afghan school-leaver with a keen interest in Middle East politics, a degree in chemistry and epilepsy.

Of course at this point you’d expect me to work myself into a state of righteous indignation and say: “Idealism? Pah. It’s a lovely thing to have, but God, it’s a dangerous thing to use.”

My wife has said on many occasions that she’d like to have Jamie Lee Curtis’s body. And I agree. I’d very much like to have Jamie Lee Curtis’s body. But it cannot happen because life is not fair. Some people win the lottery. And some don’t.

If you are born to a wealthy, intelligent family, then you will go to Eton, get a brilliant education and end up, having expended almost no effort at all, in a hedge fund, wealthy and contented.

If you are born ugly and with ginger hair, to a stupid family, things are likely to be a little more difficult.

However, here’s the thing. I absolutely support legislation that forces employers to consider people from all walks of life, no matter how much they dribble, or how many times a day they need to pray.

Sure, for every idiotic Stan who wants to become Loretta and have babies, there’s a Douglas Bader who overcame the loss of his legs to get back in a Spitfire or a Michael Bolton who overcame that astonishing haircut to become a pop star. Ian Dury. Franklin D Roosevelt. David Blunkett. Admiral Nelson. History is littered with disabled people who have not just got by, but got on.

Andrew Lloyd Webber made it even though at some point in his teenage years his face melted. And every year 200,000 people have to overcome the massive problem of being born American.

So, if I were an employer and wanted a footballer, I’d get someone who was good at football and wouldn’t care where they were from, what shape they were or even if they were a horse. If I wanted a secretary, I’d get someone who could type, and wouldn’t care how long her legs were or if she had sumptuous breasts. Much.

In fact, there’s only one type of person I wouldn’t employ under any circumstances. A small man.

Smallness trumps everything. It transcends national characteristics and traits written by the stars. I’ve said before that to be born Italian and male is to win the first prize in the lottery of life, but that isn’t so if you’re the height of a normal person’s navel. It doesn’t matter if fate deals the shortarse a hand stuffed with aces, or what new laws the government imposes to smooth his way into normal human life, he simply won’t be able to achieve a state of happiness if he has to go through life banging his head on coffee tables.

If you’re small, it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich, poor, Aries, Leo or ginger, you will be consumed with a sense that people aren’t just physically looking down on you, but mentally as well. This will make you permanently angry, and equipped with a chip so deep you need to wear a tie to stop yourself falling in half. I’ve never once met a small man who is balanced. They misinterpret every kind word and treat every gesture as the opening salvo in a full-on war.

It’s true, of course, that each generation is taller than the one that went before. I recently had a look round the restored SS Great Britain and the beds on this ocean liner were not even big enough for a 21st-century child of six.

It is therefore true to say that taller people are at the cutting edge of civilisation. Those of, let’s say, 6ft 5in are bound to be the brightest and cleverest and most advanced humans the world has ever seen, and those under 5ft 5in are somewhere between the amoeba and the ape, and there’s plenty of evidence to bear this out. An American man who is 6ft 2in tall is 3% more likely to be an executive and 2% more likely to be a professional than is a man who stands 5ft 10in.

It’s often been said that Randy Newman’s song, Short People Got No Reason To Live, is actually a metaphor for the stupidity of racism. I’m not so sure.

And nor, it seems, is the EU. Because while it’s now illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age, race, sex or disability, it is perfectly legal to push small people over in supermarkets and steal their milk in the playground.



For an account of how vast is the incompetence of the modern-day British police, see here

`Police officers obviously don't understand the difference between seriousness and satire.they need a crash course in the meaning of irony and the positive reclamation of taboo images.' So says `Geoffrey Cohen' (I'll explain the quote marks around his name in a minute) of the satirical Jewish community group Jewdas, four of whose members were recently arrested in Trafalgar Square, and then stuck in a cell in Charing Cross, for the crime of handing out a `pisstake' leaflet.

It happened at the end of September, during a festival of Jewish celebration in Trafalgar Square. The four were distributing flyers advertising a party due to take place in Hackney this month. The party was called `The protocols of the elders of Hackney', a pun on that old fraudulent anti-Semitic document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Even though their leaflet was clearly satirical, the four pranksters were arrested on suspicion of spreading anti-Semitic material. Following complaints from a handful of members of the public, the police arrested and detained the four leafleters under section 19 of the Public Order Act, which covers suspicion of distributing racially inflammatory material with intent to incite racial hatred.

Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers confiscated the `inflammable leaflets', as Jewdas now refers to them. The fact that the leaflet was produced by Jewish members of Jewdas - the self-appointed `radical voice for the alternative Jewish Diaspora' that wants to `celebrate being Jewish' - seemed to make not a blind bit of difference to those who complained of anti-Semitism or to the police who acted on those complaints. When a group of young Jews who exist in order to celebrate Jewish culture can be arrested for inciting hatred towards their own community, it shows up the ridiculous nature of today's anti-hate speech legislation and the politics of inoffensiveness. These days you can't even make a joke without having your collar felt by the cops.

Getting an interview with Jewdas is not straightforward. After sending an email to a generic address I found on their website (, I receive a reply from a `Geoffrey Cohen', who lives in Brighton. He tells me that Jewdas is not keen on giving interviews, but they might make an exception for spiked. He promises to make some calls, but warns me that his friends in London might not be able to meet up as it's a Saturday, the Sabbath, and the next evening would be the start of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It seems that Jewdas' subversive instincts have their limits.

He managed to persuade a friend and fellow Jewdas founder to meet me in London on Sunday afternoon. Braving an early autumn hailstorm, I make my way from south London to West Hampstead, home to large parts of what Jewdas refers to as the `Jewish establishment'. Cohen's friend turns out to be a musical composer in his twenties who also goes by the name `Geoffrey Cohen'. Apparently, all Jewdas leaders go under the same name because it `creates a mystery element', says Geoffrey Cohen No.2, and because `there are a lot of people who hate Jewdas'. The real Geoffrey Cohen is an orthodox rabbi, who I assume is not a fan, much less a member, of Jewdas.

Jewdas was founded by a group of friends who felt that the British Jewish community was becoming too conservative. Their satirical website includes slogans such as `UJS: Undermining Jewish Students', `Yes to hummus, no to Hamas' and `United Synagogue: promoting moronic Judaism since 1870'. Their `Make Melanie Smile' campaign urges supporters and readers to send emails to the conservative Daily Mail columnist, Melanie Phillips, which might help to cheer her up. `Perhaps you know of gay couples splitting up? Or single mothers having their children taken into care? Or an increase in carbon dioxide emissions? Send them all to Melanie', the site says. Why give Phillips such a hard time? `Because she's awful!' exclaims Cohen. `You really couldn't make her up. She's like a new Jew of her own.' He does give her credit, though, for at least being outspoken at a time when `most people in the Jewish community think it's better to just keep to themselves'.

Jewdas was inspired by Heeb, the satirical New York magazine and growing movement of Jewish hipsters, and it is gathering quite a following both in and beyond London. Its debut event, Punk Purim, was a packed-out party in a run-down squat adorned with posters of a joint-smoking rabbi and Che Guevara as a Chassidic Jew. It featured Jewish hip-hop, Palestinian poetry, Kabbalistic graffiti and a peepshow with Jewish girls. According to Cohen, Punk Purim `is already legendary' - and, he proudly tells me, it was condemned in the Jewish Chronicle, the mainstream newspaper of Britain's Jewish community.

Jewdas is run by a bunch of pranksters who want to wind up the older and more miserabilist members of Britain's Jewry. They also claim that there is a more serious purpose to their pranks and parties: to `bring out the message that Judaism is not a fixed thing' and to `reopen the debate on who owns Judaism and who has the right to speak for the Jewish community'. These young synagogue-goers are hardly a threat to the continuity of Jewish life in Britain - and there is certainly no call for sending the police to investigate them. So why was there such a strong reaction against Jewdas in Trafalgar Square, culminating in arrests for handing out leaflets?

`Most people in the Jewish community have a very fixed view of what identity is and they feel threatened by us', says Cohen. `Any criticism of Israel, for instance, sends them into a frenzy. We have received quite a lot of hate mail, but you know, it's all quite funny. The accusation that we are self-haters is just ridiculous. The Jewish community needs to be woken up. It is largely affluent, comfortable and unthinking - and that goes for all denominations. In relation to Israel, it takes a very right-wing stance. The community is materialistic; it has swallowed the middle-class dream.'

Listening to Cohen, I realise that Jewdas is not that different from today's environmentalist and anti-consumerist movements: their criticisms of the `establishment' - in this case the Jewish establishment - are motivated by anti-materialism and a call for more meekness, it seems, rather than by anything truly radical or earth-shattering. Cohen was reluctant to be interviewed over a latte in Starbucks, because Starbucks is `an evil chain'. Jewdas' satirical website and unconventional parties are an attempt to reconcile these fairly mainstream anti-consumerist sentiments with Jewish culture; so Jewdas is also an expression of today's politics of identity, which is equally pervasive among young Londoners, many of whom seem to seek out a particularist national, religious or cultural identity through which they might define who they are and what they want.

Cohen says Jewdas is inspired by the dynamism of Central and Eastern European Yiddish culture during the interwar years. `We're talking about radicals here, who took on the rabbinate - the Jewish establishment.' He admits, though, that Jewdas is `definitely also coming out of multicultural politics' and hopes that `those two worlds' - of earlier radical Judaism and contemporary me-centred multiculturalism - `can be bridged'. It seems unlikely to me; the former was based on taking action and changing things, while the latter is more about the politics of complaint and victimhood.

Cohen says he adheres to Derrida's idea of a radical tradition. `It's not about the polarities of either abandoning the past or returning to it. This is about choosing elements of the past and we want to challenge nationalism and materialism.' In other words, it's all a bit of a postmodern mess, but, admittedly, a very funny postmodern mess.

The `radical Jewish tradition', as Jewdas sees it, includes the work of such diverse figures as Emma Goldman, Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Martin Buber and Amos Oz. `Political activism was not separate from their Jewishness, whatever they claim', says Cohen. Jewdas feels that British Jews have forgotten about their `radical past'. Their Punk Purim party was held in London's East End because it used to be home to Jewish immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, who came from that `radical tradition' that Cohen so admires. I can't help thinking it's deeply ironic that Jewdas wants to reclaim a past which their grandparents' generation worked so hard to move away from. When Jews moved from the East End and went north to the nice suburbs, they were trying to rise above slum conditions and leave poverty behind. It seems that `celebrating tradition' can cross the line into glorifying the poverty and hardship of yesteryear. Cohen himself lives in West Hampstead. `Yeah, I'm the black sheep of Jewdas', he admits. According to the website, a `true Jewdas' lives in Hackney, prefers bicycles over SUVs, and is a post-Zionist vegan with a Jew-fro.

Whether you would wish to aspire to such a Jewdas lifestyle (it's not for me), Cohen is surely right when he says `closing down debate is not the way to build a tolerant society'. He says it is important to be able to criticise religions and cultures. The right to ridicule religions and their adherents is a hard-won liberty of any secular society worth its name, and we should not sacrifice it at the altar of `protecting minorities from being offended'. Under the cover of stamping out offensiveness, the New Labour government has seriously restricted free speech, and has set about outlawing anti-religious `hate speech', the justification or glorification of terrorism, or any other words it deems to be inappropriate or distasteful. The sentiment behind such stringent restrictions is that speech is a dangerous thing, and that the public must be protected from it by the caring and gracious censor. No thanks.

So, for Cohen, would it be different if non-Jews were to satirise or ridicule the Jewish community? `Non-Jews couldn't do it the way we have', he says. `We deliberately make very specific references which demonstrate that we know the culture very well. The use of humour is also a good way of waking up the Jewish community. If we had just set up a website with serious articles, it would have been ignored.'

It is nonsensical that Jewdas should have to ask for permission from their own community to make fun of them. Those who feel uncomfortable with Jewdas' irreverence should show a bit more chutzpah, rather than running for cover under the government's absurd attempts to legislate offensiveness out of existence.


Sad when the Arts writer of The Times of London does not know the difference between a canon and a cannon. It's an interesting article on John Mortimer ("Rumpole of the Bailey") though.

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