Tag Archives: 9/11

Other people’s lives and why Monica Lewinsky caused the 9/11 attacks

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, maybe in the 1970s. Time can warp.

I have talked to a few novelists in my time.

They mostly admit that much of the fiction they write is actually the truth, but toned-down because the actual truth would be too far-fetched to believe. Especially where coincidences are concerned.

Yesterday, I bumped into Scottish comedian Jojo Sutherland.

I mentioned to her that today, bright and early, I have to go see my second cousin near Perth. At least he might be my second cousin. He is my mother’s cousin’s son. I think that might be a second cousin, but who knows?

Somehow I mentioned to Jojo that my mother had been born in the small village of Dunning near Perth.

JoJo said that, the day before, she had been in Dunning. Several comedians met there to leave cars and congregate on their way up to Elgin.

Dunning does not seem far from Perth. It does not seem far off the main road. But it takes forever to drive there, because the road to the village is in some sort of 1920s Einsteinian time warp. In the time it takes to drive there, you could raise families and empires could rise and fall.

There is no reason to go to Dunning (admittedly a very nice village) except for very specific reasons. Few people go to Dunning.

The fact that Jojo went there the day before I accidentally met her in Edinburgh would be laughably impossible in a novel.

The reason I am telling you this is because, yet again, I have no time to write a ‘proper’ blog before I drive off to Perth.

So here are some copy-and-pasted extracts from my electronic diary in – for no particular reason – 2001, the year Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick chose for their depiction of a futuristic science fiction world.

My father died in the early hours of Wednesday 27th June 2001. So it goes.

Russ Conway in 1962. He died in 2000

Russ Conway in 1962. He died in 2000, aged 75

On Saturday 1st September, my mother asked me if pianist Russ Conway had died. I said, “Yes. Last year or at the beginning of this year.”

She told me: “I always said I was OK provided he was OK. Because he had his strokes just after I had mine.”

Sunday 2nd September was my mother’s 81st birthday. She was breaking down in tears all day.

Meanwhile, other people lived their own, separate, lives.

I had a chum who was working for a PhD at an English university. She was having problems.

She had access to unused unique research material which NASA was willing to supply to her for her English PhD, which she was working on at NASA’s Goddard Space Center facility in Maryland. Her English university told her it would not allow her to continue nor give her a PhD unless the research work she produced was first published in scientific journals under the name of her supervisor at the university.

NASA said they wanted her to publish her own research under her own name thus getting credit for what she had done and that it was outrageous for the English university and its professor to take and get credit for research they had not done.

But that is the standard method of people getting PhDs in the UK – the university publishes students’ research as their own. The university staff get credit and perhaps a knighthood; the students get a PhD. But not in America, where the people who do the research publish their own work under their own name.

NASA was refusing to release the research material unless my chum got the credit; the English university was refusing to allow her to continue unless it was agreed up-front that their man got his name on the research.

On Tuesday 11th September, the World Trade Center was destroyed in New York.

On Wednesday 12th September, I wrote:

The mural on the side of Dave Courtney’s house

Two-storey mural on the side of Dave Courtney’s family home

Went to Plumstead to watch an interview being filmed with gangster Dave Courtney. He lives in an ordinary late Victorian road, his house mostly white and blue on the exterior: battlements on the white walls with large blue and grey Camelot scenes. On the side of the house, there is a 30-ft high brightly-coloured painting of him as a knight, seated with his wife on a stallion.

Above the door, there is a painting of a shield with a white fist on which is a knuckle-duster; beside it, a royal crest. Beside that, on the patio, is a 20ft high white flagpole with a tattered Union Flag. Invisible on the ground but visible to police helicopters, two eyes are painted on the roof. His motorbike has a painting of him brandishing a knuckle-duster, aiming a gun etc. In front of the front bay window stands a miniature 3-ft high sculpture of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur stuck in a white stone.

Inside the house, his living room has a wooden ceiling. On one wall, there is a large painting of him; on other walls, three giant swords. His girlfriend is thin, black and bald except for a black velcro-like band of black hair on her head. Their daughter Courtney Courtney is 3 years old, small, golden brown and sweet. Two young men in black suits, white shirts, black ties and highly-polished black leather shoes sat on two grey sofas watching television coverage of the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. 

Later, outside, I watched a bespectacled Sikh walking past in a white turban with red dots pushing a bright yellow bicycle.

On Thursday 13th September, I got an e-mail from the director of the Dave Courtney interview:

The World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001

The World Trade Center attack on 11 September 2001

My friend in New York tells me the entire reason for the New York atrocity is down to Monica Lewinsky – President Clinton a few years ago tried to bomb Bin Ladin to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair. So apparently Bin Ladin has never forgotten it. So this is payback apparently. All over a blowjob!

On Friday 14th September, I got this message from a chum about her new boyfriend, who had just come over to the UK:

He is not used to people en masse. He has been living a solitary existence in the rainforest for ten years and is fairly knackered after the stresses of trying to decamp to the UK. He has a condition we call ME – good days and bad days – so needs a bit of a rest before meeting people.

On Monday 17th September, I got this message from a friend in England whose mother lived in New York and was there during the attack on the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington:

Thankfully all my friends and family are accounted for but it took until late on Friday/early hours of Saturday morning to get the OK from everyone I know and care about in New York and Washington. 

My Aunt is a medic and has been working flat out to cope with the casualties and fatalities that arrive at the medical centres/ hospitals around New York. She will need post traumatic stress counselling, as will all the rescue workers and medical staff. 

I did hope that the events of last week would prompt my sisters who haven’t been speaking to one another for the past 15 months to make their peace – they haven’t.

On Thursday 4th October; I wrote:

When clearing lots of my father’s spare bits of wood out of my mother’s side shed with neighbour Jenny and husband Albert, Jenny said – quite shocked –  “She’s getting rid of all trace of him.” I agreed.

My father and mother in Clacton, Essex. Ars long vita brevis.

My father and mother in Clacton, Essex. Ars longa vita brevis.

After my father’s death, I found my mother going through all their old photographs and tearing them up after looking at each of them. She thought it was better. She had her memories but felt she had to make a new start and that this was the best way of doing it.

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Revealed – gay sex scandals of the rich and famous – and the Royal Family?

Someone invited me to have tea with him the other week because he wanted to ask my advice. Yes, I am anybody’s for a cup of tea and some beans on toast.

What he wanted to ask me was: “How do I start a rumour?”

My answer was, “Obviously via the internet, but it is more difficult than it sounds because the internet is full of rumours so it is difficult to be noticed in the tsunami of twittering. Wikipedia probably says that Guy Fawkes was an actor in the Star Wars trilogy, but no-one will necessarily believe that.”

On the other hand, large numbers of people can apparently be convinced by the conspiracy theory that the Americans never landed on the Moon…. Despite the fact that, if so, the Soviets would have immediately revealed the flight and the landing as fake.

Many people believe that, despite the fact al-Queda did admittedly have people flying planes into the Twin Towers, the World Trade Center was actually also rigged with unimaginably large numbers of explosives to blow up when the planes full of fuel flew into them so the US government could blame the Islamic terrorists who were already doing what they were going to be blamed for doing.

Which brings me to sex and Hollywood stars.

A new book Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars is about to be published in which 88-year-old former US Marine and former gas station attendant Scotty Bowers claims that Spencer Tracey and Katharine Hepburn were both gay and their famed ‘secret’ romance was just smoke and mirrors to hide their gayness.

According to Bowers, Hepburn first approached him at a Hollywood party and said:

“I know your reputation, Scotty. When you get a chance, do you think you can find a nice, young dark-haired girl for me? Someone that’s not too heavily made-up.”

Over the next 50 years, he claims he fixed her up with more than 150 women.

One day he got a phone call:

“This is Errol Flynn. That gas station of yours has gained quite a reputation.”

Flynn wanted to be fixed up with women “who both behaved and looked as if they were underage”, but Bowers claims that Flynn would get so drunk that, after saying, “I’m going to make love to you like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” he would pass out and Bowers would have to “oblige the lady myself”.

Why Bowers would have been present at the time is not clear.

I can believe he “arranged voyeurism sessions for Somerset Maugham, found a string of young men for Noel Coward and had sex with Tennessee Williams”.

But I find it very difficult to believe that both the would-be Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson were actually gay and “the whole myth of the great royal romance was a fabrication, a giant cover-up”.

If they were both gay, why would Edward have abdicated over a perceived heterosexual love? He could have publicly dumped her, stayed platonic friends and retained the throne. The reason for pretending to be in love with her might have been to hide gayness… but not at the cost of losing the throne.

Spencer Tracey as bi-sexual and Katharine Hepburn gay, yes, that I can believe.

And Cary Grant, of whom it has often been said.

According to Hollywood Babylon, Cary Grant shacked-up with Randolph Scott for a time. I found that duo a bit difficult to believe but the Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger knew where the scandals were – and he was able to believably explain what the name “Rosebud” means in Citizen Kane – it was allegedly William Randolph Hearst’s pet name for his mistress Marion Davies’ clitoris, so the fact Kane dies with it on his lips has some meaning and would explain why Hearst tried to destroy director Orson Welles’ career.

But I find it difficult to believe the former Marine and gas station attendant turned sex fixer for Hollywood’s story about Edward and Mrs Simpson.

Gore Vidal says: “Scotty doesn’t lie – the stars sometimes do – and he knows everybody.”

But do I rate Gore Vidal’s opinion?

I have never really believed the story which suddenly appeared after J.Edgar Hoover’s death that he dressed up as a woman and attended gay parties. “J.Edgar Hoover in drag” sounded too much like something people who hated him thought-up to destroy his image.

It is a bit like spreading a rumour that Cilla Black is a man.

That was not just a nose job she had early in her career.

Very entertaining, but not necessarily true.

They’ll be saying Tom Cruise, George Clooney and SpongeBob SquarePants are gay next.

Unbelievable.

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Filed under Gay, Hollywood, Movies, Royal Family, Sex

Despite the attacks on 9/11, the Yanks are still living on another planet

After yesterday, more diary extracts. Well, diary and e-mail. This time from 2001, just over a week after the Al-Qaeda 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Monday 17th September 2001

I got an e-mail from someone I know, a Londoner with American parents:

Thankfully all my friends and family are accounted for but it took until late on Friday/ early hours of Saturday morning to get the OK from everyone I know and care about in New York and Washington. 

My Aunt is a medic and has been working flat-out to cope with the casualties and fatalities that arrive at the medical centres/ hospitals around New York. She will need post traumatic stress counselling, as will all the rescue workers and medical staff. 

I did hope that the events of last week would prompt my sisters who haven’t been speaking to one another for the past 15 months to make their peace – they haven’t. 

I replied:

It’s difficult to comprehend what effect this must have on Americans. They have never had foreigners attack them on their own soil nor been in many wars whereas, in Britain, we have been at constant war somewhere since at least 1939 and any of us could have had our legs blown off in the last 30 years by an IRA wastebin bomb while doing our shopping.

I think they’re still a bit on another planet. When a few hundred US body bags have come back from Afghanistan, they’re liable to turn insular again. It’s a sad reflection on my superficiality but the thought did flit through my mind “Well, this may help the Irish problem in the medium term because the Americans may be less prone to see the IRA as jolly little green freedom fighters.”

Tuesday 18th September 2001

A British Moslem friend of mine, who has worked in the US, spoke to her former boss in Washington this afternoon. She said he sounded angry and told her there was real anger in the US following the attacks on New York and Washington last week. Another friend of hers – a Moslem Brit in the US – said it was dangerous for her to return to the US because Moslems were being attacked. Such is American ignorance that a Sikh was killed in a racial attack.

I watched the David Letterman TV show, transmitted from New York. He gave a ten-minute opening monologue about the World Trade Center bombing, then interviewed US TV newsman Dan Rather who was there as The Man Who Knows The Real Situation.

The perspective given was that the Baddies are mad, insane and neither cause-and-effect nor logic enter into it. There is no point trying to understand their motive because there is none. They are just Pure Evil with no cause except that the Baddies see the Americans have more money and a better life than they do, so the only trigger is Envy.

Letterman asked Rather – apparently seriously – why something could not have been done in retribution last Saturday (the New York attack was on Tuesday).

When the Independent newspaper wrote a column saying to the Americans “Welcome to the real world” they got it wrong.

The Yanks are still living on another planet.

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Lewis Schaffer and the unreported theft of all his Edinburgh Fringe jokes

“You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?” I asked Lewis Schaffer. “They call it the Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence, presumably so people don’t know it’s Scientology.”

“No,” he replied.

Well something strange has happened to him.

American stand-up comic Lewis Schaffer is a former Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner and no wonder – he just can’t stop attracting publicity.

This last week, he did a double whammy.

On Thursday, the genuinely very amiable and charming comedy agent Brett Vincent used Twitter to accuse Lewis Schaffer of stealing a joke.

Brett tweeted:

“Hey @LewisSchaffer – I have heard from 3 sources that the first joke in your show is 15 minutes in and its a Ben Hurley gag from 2006? True?”

New Zealand comedian Ben Hurley is one of Brett’s acts.

The gag was: ‘’I lost a good friend in the World Trade Center. I remember telling my friend: Mohammed, stay in flight school! Practice the landings!’

Lewis says he had actually come up with the gag himself straight after the 9/11 terror attacks:

“I have fond memories,” he said in a press release, “of telling the joke in early 2002. It’s the joke that got me banned from Jongleurs. I brought the joke back this year because of the ten year anniversary of 9/11 to remind me of all the good times… A comedian is judged by how soon he or she makes a joke about a tough subject. For instance, I made the very first joke about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance – the day before I kidnapped her. Maybe that was too soon.”

I had tea with Lewis Schaffer at Fringe Central in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon and it was not the spat with ever-affable Brett Vincent which was obsessing him. No, it was the fact that he was living in the Now.

“I am living in the Now,” he told me. “It’s all good.”

“You’re saying meaningless things again,” I told him. “You’re being very American.”

“No I’m not, John. I’m living in the Now.”

That’s when I asked him: “You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?”

“No,” he replied.

“So why,” I asked, “have you suddenly decided to live in the Now?

“Because I realised I’m 54 years old. I have too much shit going on in my life. I have more past than I have future. When you’re 20, you can live in the past because you don’t have much of a past. Now I’m gridlocked. My Now is that I have a show to do but I’m sitting here with you. I’m not even worried about my show in half an hour.

“It’s going good because I’m living in the Now. I’m not going to remember the bad things that have happened to me. I only know that right now is good.”

“And Now is good?” I asked.

“Yes. I got a review today which said my show was over in a flash. Well, it must have been good if it seemed to be over in a flash. Only good shit is over in a flash. Bad shit goes on and on and on. Name anything bad that’s over in a flash besides premature ejaculation.”

“So it’s all good now?” I asked again.

“I had my bag stolen yesterday.”

“Is that good?”

“That’s bad. It had all my jokes in it. I had all the jokes for my show stolen. I was flyering yesterday and I left my joke book in my bag outside and someone stole it. Well, it wasn’t a book, it was a sheet… sheets.. And it had the money from my show. It’s the second year in a row this has happened, though I don’t know how I remember that, because I am living in the Now.

“Every year I make a list. You remember my lists, John? In 2009 it was

“I am not shambolic.

“I don’t hate the audience.

“I don’t think this country is completely shit.

“Discussions confuse people.

“I know Madeleine McCann is not as important to others as she is to me.

“I lost all those lists, all of them; they were in my bag; four years worth of lists. I lost them. Maybe that’s good. They were in the past. Maybe I have to do a new list because now I’m living in the Now.”

“Have you reported it?” I asked.

‘You can’t report it.”

“Of course you can. Someone might find it. It’s the sort of crime where they steal the bag, take the cash and then they throw the bag aw…”

“But,” Lewis interrupted, “They would read the notes and the jokes inside the bag and say to themselves This is Lewis Schaffer’s bag – and they might have given all my jokes to Ben Hurley.”

But you don’t need a list of jokes,” I said, trying to be positive. “You don’t tell jokes; you tell stories with jokes in them.”

“I tell jokes!” Lewis complained.

“But if you can remember the stories,” I persisted, “you’ll remember the jokes. You have been doing your show twice weekly in London for the last year. You’ll remember the jokes because you know the stories.”

“I live in the Now,” Lewis told me. “Those stories were yesterday’s stories. How can I remember them in the Now? You know how critical the reviewers are: they only want to see new jokes. They don’t want to hear my Award-winning Holocaust joke again.”

“It’s the best Holocaust joke I’ve ever heard,” I told him.

“You said that already,” Lewis mumbled. “I have to do a show in half an hour and I have lost my book of jokes. Well, my sheets of jokes; and notes; and my lists.”

He became very serious. He looked me in the eyes:

“What would you – John Fleming – do if someone said to you You have to be on stage in half an hour and do an hour-long comedy show?… Would you think to yourself: I’m shit because I didn’t prepare?… No you wouldn’t, because you didn’t know you had to prepare.

“That’s what I feel about my life. I didn’t know I had to prepare.

“No-one told me. When I was crawling out of my mother’s vagina, no-one told me I had to prepare for an Edinburgh Fringe show. Did you know it was coming? I didn’t know. It’s not as if it’s an annual event. They just spring it on you!”

I looked at Lewis.

“I don’t remember the past,” Lewis said, looking me in the eye, very seriously. “I am living in the Now.”

I said at the beginning of this blog that something strange has happened to Lewis Schaffer.

I take it all back.

He is the same.

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology

Terrorists and psychopaths: standing on the shoulders of creative giants

I was watching Penn & Teller: Fool Us on ITV last night and they did a trick in which a long ribbon-like sheet was wrapped round and round a 9-year-old boy’s neck. Penn on one side and Teller on the other then stood apart and pulled the opposite ends of the sheet tightly and… of course, the sheet unravelled and came away from the boy’s neck.

A variation on the cutting-the-knot-out-of-a-rope trick.

I was amazed this had been screened – presumably the defence is that it was after the nine o’clock watershed.

The possibility of children doing this to each other – wrapping a sheet or length of material or rope around another child’s neck and pulling it, killing the child, seems quite high to me.

I once interviewed the British Film Censor John Trevelyan. He was highly important in Britain, because he was in charge of British film censorship 1958-1971 when everything changed.

He told me that, as Secretary of the British Board of Film Classification, he had had a panel of psychologists advising him and, as a result, he had made slight cuts to the 1968 movie The Boston Stranger. He had cut the sound of ripping fabric which was heard as the leering strangler’s face was seen while attacking a victim. He had been told the sound of ripping fabric was a ‘trigger’ and a stimulant to would-be rapists.

He also cut scenes where sex acts were immediately followed – or were interrupted – by murder, especially involving knives or sharp instruments. Again, this was because he was told it was a turn-on for psychos. These scenes are now almost de rigueur in slasher movies… A teenage couple are having sex in a bunk in an isolated cabin; one or both of them are then immediately skewered by a deadly sharp implement.

Generally, though, I don’t believe that violence on the movie or TV screen really affects ordinary, non-psychopathic adults. And you can’t fully run your culture by making concessions in case a psycho gets an idea from a movie or TV show.

It is the Nature v Nurture debate.

Or, more correctly, Nutter v Nurture.

If 50 million people see a movie and one person copies it, the cause lies within the person not the movie

When news of the bomb explosion and island massacre in Norway started coming through yesterday – particularly the island massacre – a friend said to me: “It’s like some movie” and, increasingly, over the last 50 years, psycho and terrorist attacks have been getting like what you see in the movies.

When the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11 everyone was saying, “Ooh – It’s just like a disaster movie.”

Maybe psychos and terrorists are being made more creative by access to other, more creative minds.

Novels, movies and sometimes even episodic TV series are written by more-than-averagely-creative minds. To get a movie script, a novel or a TV series made and out there and available to a mass market, you often – well, sometimes – have to have a spark, perhaps even a giant flame, of originality.

Rod Serling, who created The Twilight Zone, reportedly died still blaming himself for writing a 1966 TV movie called The Doomsday Flight which was a then-highly-original story about a bomb on board an airliner which has an altitude-sensitive trigger device. Unless a ransom is paid, the bomb will explode when the plane descends to land.

Apparently Serling blamed himself because, after this TV movie was screened, the PLO and others started a spate of airliner hijackings and bombings. He blamed himself because he thought they might have seen or heard of the plot and decided to target planes.

To me, this does not sound likely – the plot is too far removed from what became an ordinary terrorist attack – though it does make me wonder where the idea for the 1994 movie Speed may have come from.

But creative thinkers have always driven reality. The skylines of modern cities were clearly inspired by decades of science fiction films dating back to Metropolis and beyond. We are now building what we were once told would be our future. The fictional thought of flat screen TVs has been around for maybe 50 years. The concept of the hovercraft was surely partly inspired by endless hovercraft in sci-fi comics and novels. And famously, of course, sci-fi novelist Arthur C Clarke wrote an article in Wireless World in 1945 proposing the concept of communication satellites.

Martin Cooper, who developed the first hand-held mobile phone, said that he had been inspired to do it by seeing the hand-held communicators on Star Trek.

Irish novelist Robert Cromie’s 1895 book The Crack of Doom described a bomb which used the energy from an atom. I do not know if anyone on the Manhattan Project had ever read it – perhaps the idea would have come about anyway – but the idea of an atomic bomb was around for 50 years before it became a reality.

Of course, conspiracy theory thinking and making links where none exist is always a dangerous temptation.

Iconic international terrorist Carlos The Jackal was given that nickname by the press after a copy of Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was found in a London flat he had rented. It was said he had copied details from the book. In fact, it later turned out it was not his book and he had never read it.

But the cliché nutter is a loner with a grudge against something or someone. By definition, a loner – “Ooh, he was a quiet one,” neighbours traditionally tell newspaper reporters – has access only to his own deluded psychopathic ideas. Over the course of the 20th century, though, nutters had increasing access through books, TV, movies, DVDs etc to the more creative ideas of other, better minds. Now, in the 21st century, almost all human knowledge and the creativity of the best of human brains past and present is a mere click away on the internet.

On Friday night, as first reports of events in Norway were still coming in, one commentator on the BBC News channel said that, if the Oslo bombing and the island shootings turned out to be linked, that would point to al-Queda because they had a track record of linked attacks. As it turned out, he was wrong. But presumably the Norwegian killer was ‘inspired’ by al-Queda’s publicity-seeking methodology.

When I first heard details of the 9/11 terrorist attacks back in 2001, I thought to myself, “I’ve heard this before. I read about this maybe a year ago in the Sunday Times.”

I can’t find the relevant article now but it turned out I had read about it before. Because the 9/11 attacks were based on someone else’s much better idea – the Bojinka plot which was conceived in Indonesia and suggested to al-Queda, who adapted and downgraded it.

The Indonesian-originated plan was a three-tiered concept.

1) assassinate the Pope

2) blow up at least 11 passenger jets simultaneously over the Pacific

3) fly a single light aircraft laden with explosives into the CIA headquarters or several aircraft into buildings across the US, including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon

The 9/11 attacks were not an original idea. They were inspired by someone else’s idea.

I imagine the lone Norwegian nutter was inspired by the methods of al-Queda.

I suspect we will get increasingly creative and increasingly paranoia-inducing terrorist attacks.

The internet allows even nutters to stand on the shoulders of giants.

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Filed under Crime, Internet, Movies, Politics, Psychology

Let me tell you a joke about Jade Goody, the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuke and the 9/11 attacks…

British so-called ‘reality star’ Jade Goody died two years ago on Tuesday. She’s gone and largely forgotten.

Can I tell you a joke about her being a racist? People reviled her before her death and said she was racist. And they made jokes about it.

She’s been dead for two years now, so I can certainly make jokes about her, can’t I? No-one can possibly say it’s ‘too soon’, can they?

This is about a blog I wrote a couple of days ago in which I mentioned a friend’s criticisms of Japan but, first, let me repeat an arguably sexist and allegedly true story about the playwright George Bernard Shaw. As is the way with such stories, it is not necessarily true; it has also been attributed to Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, W.C.Fields and even the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Anyway…

The great man was at a dinner party with some very lah-di-dah people. Somehow, the conversation turned to slack sexual morals (in the George Bernard Shaw version, this was in the 1930s). He asked one of the ladies present:

“Madam, would you sleep with me for one million pounds?”

“Well, for a million pounds, Mr Shaw,” the lady replied, “perhaps I would.”

She and the other guests laughed.

The conversation turned to other topics and, later, George Bernard Shaw whispered to the lady: “Madam, would you sleep with me tonight if I gave you £10?”

“Mr Shaw!” replied the woman, deeply offended: “What sort of woman do you think I am?”

“Madam,” Shaw said, “we have established what sort of woman you are. We are merely haggling over the price.”

Which brings us back to the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

I wrote a blog in which I quoted the opinions of a friend of mine who had been to Japan last October. She was not impressed. Her image of an efficient, futuristic country were confounded.

In light of the still ongoing disasters and 10,000+ deaths in Japan, several people – mostly stand-up comics – found my initial blog and a follow-up blog in bad taste, although they were non-comedic blogs.

I know that one of the comics who found my non-comedic blog to be ‘too soon’ had, in fact, made jokes about the death of Jade Goody just a few days after her death from cancer.

I have no problem with that, but it does beg the question When is ‘too soon’ too soon? and why.

American comic Gilbert Gottfried was dropped last week as the voice of a giant US insurance company because he made jokes about the Japanese earthquake.

I don’t think him being dropped was unreasonable, as insurance companies should perhaps not be seen to make light of disasters. But the criticism was not that he made the jokes but that he had made the jokes ‘too soon’. He had similar problems when he made jokes ‘too soon’ about the 9/11 terrorist attacks (as seen in Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette’s comedy documentary The Aristocrats).

Why would a joke made a few days after the 9/11 attacks be any less in bad taste than exactly the same joke made ten years after the 9/11 attacks? Why – and when – would it become acceptable?

Why would a joke about Jade Goody be funny only two years after her death but be in bad taste two days or two weeks after her death? What could have changed to make the joke become acceptable?

If the argument is that someone who personally know Jade Goody or personally knew a victim of the 9/11 attacks could hear the joke and be hurt… then that argument holds just as strongly 2 days or 2 weeks or 20 years after the event. The emotional pain caused would, in all honesty, be much the same.

Surely if a joke is in unacceptably bad taste, then it is unacceptable, full stop.

So why would someone’s non-funny criticisms of Japan (correct or incorrect) be in bad taste – specifically because they are ‘too soon’ – a few days after an appalling triple disaster – earthquake/tsunami/nuclear problem? At what point would those same comments (correct or incorrect) become more acceptable?

I have genuinely never understood the concept of ‘too soon’.

If  joke is in bad taste, it is in bad taste. If an observation is unacceptable, it is unacceptable.

To return to George Bernard Shaw:

We have established what sort of observation we have here. We are merely haggling over the timing.

Why?

What’s all this ‘too soon’ shit about 9/11, about Jade Goody – or about Japan?

If it’s bad taste, it’s bad taste. But at some point, bad taste apparently becomes acceptable.

When?

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World War 3, dead Australians, America’s wars, Randy Newman and God’s plan

Because the world, like the cafe in the famous Monty Python sketch, is full of spam, my preferences on this blog are set up so that I have to approve all comments before they appear.

When I woke up this morning, I was notified of a new comment on my blog of yesterday about Painting a New York fart, Tony Blair and Jo Brand. I would have approved the new comment this morning, but it seems to have been un-submitted. This is very sad. It told me:

“The crazy part is, World War 3 is not the most Earth shaking event to come within the next 4 years, The Pole Shift will cause even more damage and destruction, but in the case of the Pole Shift it will be for a Good cause with Divine purpose and for humankind to experience the 1,000 years of peace it has been promised for decades.”

Now, I watch the BBC News channel, Sky News and Al Jazeera regularly, some might say addictively, but this particular news had passed me by and I’m all for learning about new things and hearing original thought.

The comment came with a link to a webpage and perhaps may not be unconnected to the fact my Twitter account is now being followed by @ProjectJesus, the “Global Christian Community Appeal” which is “seeking one million fellow Christians to join (them) in a 21st century pilgrimage for Jesus.”

I presume @ProjectJesus is the same as www.projectjesus.com unless there are two competing projects – always a possibility as divine multi-tasking is not unknown.

I’m saddened this morning’s new comment was un-submitted not just because I enjoy original thinking, but because the concept of World War 3 is quite interesting. I think we may not know it has started until after it has finished.

The 1914-1918 war was originally called The Great War. (Note to Americans: that’s the 1917-1918 War, as far as you are concerned.)

So at what point did The Great War start being called World War 1?

Was it before or after the 1939-1945 war started? (Note to Americans: that’s the 1941-1945 War, as far as you are concerned.)

Surely you could not have had a so-called World War 1 until you had a World War 2… and it is only journalists, historians or political speechwriters who can declare World War 3 has started or happened.

Perhaps World War 3 started on 11th September 2001 when the World Trade Center was attacked. Good ol’ George W Bush (never primarily known as a great linguist) decided that this had precipitated what he called The War on Terror. He could just as easily have said it had started World War 3, though the economic effect of that name on stock markets around the world might not have been too good.

The so-called War on Terror and its ramifications and outbursts over the last ten years have definitely been worldwide. We may already be living through the mid-point of World War 3. Perhaps we won’t know until some clever historian or influential TV pundit  decides to re-name The War on Terror as World War 3, just as The Great War was re-named World War 1.

But, getting back to World War 3 Predictions, the web page says – without explanation – that World War 3 “would result in countries like Australia almost getting wiped out from the face of the Earth”.

This seems a little harsh. Even Randy Newman in his wonderful song Political Science in which he wants to nuke all countries which hate America, writes:

We’ll save Australia
Don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an All American amusement park there
They got surfin’ too

What has poor Australia done to get wiped off the map in World War 3?

I think we should be told.

I want to hear more.

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