Here’s Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team being, on balance, pretty cool after having made a gay joke in a public forum:

Even if I don’t care about you, it doesn’t mean I’m OK with making you uncomfortable or upset with a comment that references anything  that is out of your control. That is not the person I want to be. I’m happy to pick on you if you root for the wrong team. I’m happy to pick on you if you like doing The Wave. I’m happy to pick on you for a lot of reasons. Your sexuality should never be one of those reasons.

OK, so Cuban wasn’t cool enough to avoid saying something a bit stupid and hurtful in the first place, but he’s at least sufficiently cool that he’s offered a fairly straight mea culpa. Usually, a celebrity who’s made a fool of themselves in public will respond via an infuriating non-apology apology like “I’m Sorry If You Were Offended”, or worse still “I’m Not Homophobic So Obviously I Didn’t Mean It That Way And Anyone Who’s Hurt Or Offended By What I Said Is Oversensitive Or Just Looking For Trouble. Anyway Some Of My Best Friends Are Gay”.

That second sentiment is a nasty little bear-trap I’m uncomfortably familiar with. As a relatively well-off straight white bloke I’ve gotten used to the world revolving around me. The fact that society is largely set up to help me get ahead and so much of our media is aimed straight at me has unfortunately but naturally led to a childish sense of entitlement. I’m so used to everything conforming itself to suit my perspective – films with white male leads and little or no female presence of any note, games that treat women and minorities as set-dressing – that on those occasions I’m called out on my boy-cow-leavings it’s a shock to the system and my natural reaction is to start spluttering like a bulldog chewing a nettle. It’s hard to hear that you’ve been thoughtless and the immediate knee-jerk response is denial and defensiveness. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. All we can do is try to guard against them, to listen when it’s pointed out how we’ve screwed up, to learn from that and to honestly try and make amends. When someone as prominent as Mark Cuban seemingly gets this, it genuinely brightens up my whole entire day.

But this is veering dangerously close to “Aren’t Affluent White Guys Who Are Aware Of Their Privilege The Real Heroes?”, and isn’t the real reason that Cuban’s post interested me. Here’s what I actually wanted to talk about:

I’m the last to be politically correct and the last thing I am trying to be here is politically correct. I honestly don’t give a [STUFF] what you think about me. But I think being the person I want to be includes not blurting out throw away jokes about sexuality, race, ethnicity, size,  disability or other things people  have no say in about themselves.

Now.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that anybody who uses “politically correct” as a pejorative is someone whose opinion I’m happy to ignore. The majority of people who declare their contempt for political correctness are actually saying that they like using the n-word (and the b-word, and the three-letter f-word) more than they care that they’re making life a little bit more unpleasant for people who already have a pretty bad time of it. Worse than that, actually – they’re taking the act of being a lazy, selfish boor and trying to present it as heroic defiance of censorship and orthodoxy. They’re cravenly recasting themselves as the oppressed rather than the oppressors, seemingly unaware that there’s nothing noble about being a bully.

To make it clear – being a blinkered feckless bottom-hole isn’t a crime. And despite some people’s deeply-cherished persecution complex, nobody’s trying to make it one. Nobody’s censoring anybody. Nobody’s saying that you can’t throw those ugly, hateful words around as much as you like. Some people are just saying that on balance most of the time you possibly shouldn’t. That you should be careful how you express yourself. That the casual use of gendered, homophobic or racist epithets contributes in at least some degree to a society that makes life unfairly difficult to anyone whose face doesn’t fit the straight white male “norm”.

(Here you go, try this (language really really NSFW). And yes, I know that’s probably not the actual origin of the f-word. Way to miss the point, Obtuse Rhetorical Device Reader!)

Wow. OK. Believe it or not, that isn’t really what I wanted to talk about either. So here’s the thing that struck me about that quote by Mark Cuban:  he tries not to “[blurt] out throw away jokes about sexuality, race, ethnicity, size,  disability or other things people  have no say in about themselves.” But he doesn’t regard himself as PC, and though he totally doesn’t care what you think of him he wants to you to be absolutely, completely clear  that you really, really shouldn’t think that he’s politically correct. The thing is, as I’ve now rattled on about at tedious length,  in as much as “political correctness” means anything it means knowing better than to blurt out jokes and jibes about things people have no say in about themselves. That’s more or less ALL it means.

If the majority of people who denigrate political correctness do so to make themselves feel better about callous disregard for their fellow human beings, the minority denigrate the term so that it won’t be applied to them. Which is understandable, but still somewhat sad. For decades now a certain section of the media has been on a weird crusade to paint political correctness (and, not coincidentally, feminism) as sinister leftie killjoy groupthink. There have been dark hints about an armies of faceless bureaucrats making rules about what people can and can’t say, do-gooding Men In Grey who have banned Christmas and stopped children singing Baa Baa Black Sheep and stopped the BBC using the BC/AD suffixes when they talk about dates. The fact that all these stories range somewhere between gross distortion of the truth and bare-faced lies matters not even slightly – no smoke without fire, am I right? People who find the idea of moderating one’s language to prevent offence unacceptable are quick to throw out the idea of PC being an Orwellian conspiracy to control thought through controlling language. Somehow they manage to hold this opinion while simultaneously giving no credence to the idea that their choice to use inflammatory and denigrating words might be helping to shape attitudes and perpetuate inequality and prejudice.

“Political correctness” is to be honest a pretty terrible name, imprecise and vaguely sinister-sounding even before the Daily Mail and its ilk made the term so loaded and toxic that even people who practice it are desperate not to be labelled as such. The thing is, being aware of your privilege and not using it to pile on to the less well-off isn’t and shouldn’t be a left verses right thing. It’s a consideration verses cruelty thing. It’s a respect verses contempt thing. It’s a part of the solution rather than part of the problem thing.

So if “political correctness” is irredeemable let’s find a new, more descriptive, more inclusive label that everyone can get behind without recourse to equivocation and self-flagellation. My suggestion? “Basic human decency”. Who’s with me? If nothing else, it would at least bring the subtext to the surface:

“He’s lewd, rude, and definitely lacking basic human decency!”

“Basic human decency is killing free speech!”

“It’s basic human decency gone mad!”

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You know the best thing about being English? It’s that our patron saint is a bloke who was canonised for fighting a flipping DRAGON. It’s a rare and beautiful thing for a country’s saint to so perfectly capture the national character.

Specifically, the character of a self-aggrandising, hopelessly transparant bulldunger.

Because that’s England’s role in the twenty-first century. If the global community were a bar, England would be the beery loudmouth sat in a corner pummelling anyone unfortunate enough to wander into range with shaggy-dog stories of the outrageous and fantastic things he did when he was younger, painfully unaware of how needy and pathetic he sounds. We’re the fatuous git with the bloodshot eyes and gin blossom who so routinely inflates the tales of his past glories that he’s come to believe them himself. We’re the sort of person who pines openly and obnoxiously for The Good Old Days when he was Somebody and young people had respect and you could say what you liked about the birds and the darkies and the fairies without the PC Brigade turning up to cart you away.

England is the Pub Bore Of The World.

This is part of what makes the World Cup so special. Seeing every third house and car decked out with the flag of St. George, to see the country so fervently celebrating the non-existant acheivements of a lying git is a sweet, sweet thing. It’s a nice little reminder that even while the American fundamentalist right wing continues to preach hate in the name of the Prince of Peace, England’s still got a thing or two to teach the world about doltish, unthinking irony. And if that truth’s not worth a bit of chest-thumping tribalism I don’t know what is.

So, you know. If the England football team could see their way clear to extending my state of weary ambivalence by squeaking past Slovenia tomorrow, I wouldn’t object overmuch.

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Sorry so long without a post but hey, it’s not like you’re not used to frequent inexplicable losses of signal from this direction, is it?

Here’s a measure of how eventful and thrilling my life’s been in the time I’ve been away: I’m seriously considering trying to re-watch my entire DVD collection. In alphabetical order. The drawbacks I can see to this plan are a) it would would mean watching Alien, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection then Aliens, and b) it would mean watching Batman & Robin.

Anyway, some stuff that’s been great that I’ve discovered in the last three months:

The latest Metric album (especially Gold Guns Girls). The latest Raveonettes album (especially Heart Of Stone). Moon. Mount & Blade. The latest Yeah Yeah Yeahs album (especially Dragon Queen). The Incredible Hercules. Drag Me To Hell. The Sounds (especially No-One Sleeps When I’m Awake). Castle. Lloyd Doyley’s first ever senior goal. Forza Motorsport 3 (especially after finally working out how to use the XBox steering wheel I got for Christmas last year and has been lying shamefully unused since because of my general hamfistedness. Turns out I just needed some patient tutoring. Actually, one sentence of impatient tutoring. Actually, just my wife saying “You’re turning that wheel like you’re driving a hugging clown car”). The second series of Being Human. The second series of Newswipe. Pretty much everything Gail Simone’s written for DC Comics, especially her brilliant brilliant work on Birds Of Prey, Wonder Woman and Secret Six. The Answer Me This podcast. Lego Rock Band. Snow. Oh, and the iPhone.

Some stuff that’s not been great in the last three months:

Champions Online. Work. The Doctor Who Christmas special. The end of the best coverage of any sport on UK telly as Channel Five show (probably) their last Yankee Helmetball game. The Digital Economy bill. All car insurance ads in the history of all things, ever. Flash Forward. The iPhone’s battery life when you’re playing games on it.

So yeah. Alive and reasonably well. Further updates to follow. Eventually.

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Am I the only person on Earth who hates the Brazilian national football team, then? Am I the only person who finds their sublime skill and carefree attitude unbearably irritating? Am I the only person who sees something like this:

…and aches to see a Fearless Booterer type like Neil Cox or Paul Robinson (not that one) come skidding in two-footed and launch the show-offy little twerp into the third row of the stands?

I mean, look at it. That’s not football. Football’s mud and blood and commitment and effort and big burly ugly men kicking a scuffed white sphere as far as they possibly can. It’s got beauty, but it’s in small, sweet moments among masses of drudgery, like an unexpected doughnut on a Wednesday morning. It’s the beauty of a whipped cross or a forward laying out to connect with a thumping diving header. It’s the beauty of a perfectly-timed sliding tackle or a full-stretch reaction save.

Look at that clip. That’s not football. That’s a theme-park ride.

It’s possible that my formative years watching lower-division football in general and Watford in particular mean that exposure to genuine skill leaves me fearful and suspicious.

It’s equally possible is that I’ve no joy in my soul.

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For your subscription fee this weekend, at halftime during the impossibly dreary Manchester City-Middlesborough game, deadlocked at that point at 0-0:

Richard Keys: “What do City need to do to come away from this game with a win?”
David Platt: “Score.”

Top, top work. Almost Billy-The-Fishian (“At the end of the day, it’s the team with most goals that’ll win the match”) in its jaw-dropping blandness. Even at a time when the BBC are giving Alan Shearer regular work and Andy Townsend is still inexplicably cashing ITV’s paycheques, Sky really are pushing the envelope in terms of “experts” who refuse to say anything about anything. Even taking Platt aside, there’s Jamie “Literally” Redknapp, Ray “Shouldn’t You Be Paying More Attention To Your Day Job?” Wilkins, Glenn “Triffic” Hoddle, Graham Souness, Peter Reid, George Graham, Alan Smith – crikey, that’s just a murderer’s row. Or it would be if boredom could kill.

In some cases, the lack of anything meaningful to say seems to be a matter of simple incompetence (Mark Lawrenson, David Pleat take a bow). However, more often and more insidiously there seems to be a reluctance to criticise either the expert’s mates in the game (Jamie Redknapp’s the best choice to commentate on a game featuring a team he used to play for that his dad manages? Really?) or anyone who might conceivably offer them a job in the future (hello, Sam Allardyce!). It’s only when you’re listening to someone who seems to view offering genuine insight and honest criticism as his responsibility that it’s possible to fully appreciate the sorry state of football punditry. It’s difficult to imagine any Sky mouthpiece emphatically declaring that anyone who paid to see the game they’re watching deserves a refund, as the ever-excellent Brian Moore did during the England rugby team’s turgid win over Italy.

That City-Boro game also contained several examples of the two most irritating verbal tics indulged in by football commentators. Question – what happens more often, someone scoring a goal or a talking-head squealing “He should have scored!” It’s the latter and it’s not even close, right? Similarly, compare the number of goals to the number of “Great save!” exclamations. Again, there are apparently more fantastic saves than converted chances.

Here’s the point: if a player “should” score a chance, doesn’t that heavily imply that he should be converting more of those opportunities than he misses? If a save is “great” or similar, doesn’t that imply that it’s not one you’d expect the keeper to make, and so you’d expect to have more goals than terrific saves? But we don’t, in either case because the “fantastic chance!” and “wonderful save!” descriptions are thrown about like handfuls of confetti and are now completely devalued. The former gets attached to any relatively free header in the box or any reasonably clean strike of the ball in the penalty area. The latter is used to greet any save where the goalie has to leave his feet, or any stop of a shot inside the six-yard box even if the ball’s blasted straight at the keeper and he’d have to actively jump out of the way to avoid it (come to think of it, Paul Robinson’s given that technique a go during recent England games). It’s mindless, thoughtless hype and in any sensible world there’d currently be a course of aversion therapy going on featuring every commentator ever, replays of Liverpool’s European campaigns of a few years ago and a car battery attached to assorted dangly bits.

Actually, listening to Jonathan Pearce’s demented squealing any time the ball goes anywhere near either penalty area, it’s possible that course has already started.

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