Somewhere between my greasy gang land garagiste era and before sliding into the ice age of the Lord Chancellor’s Office, I ran a small hotel in Suffolk on the outskirts of a vast American air base. I had a sign on the wall – ‘two peoples separated by a common language’ – to remind the staff that our guests might look vaguely like us, but were actually extras from the Invaders TV series, liable to evaporate at the slightest provocation.
I shan’t bore you with the details of exactly why the freezer exploded one lunchtime showering the entire restaurant in frozen peas, nor the three days we spent chasing an incontinent un-quarantined rabbit round the attic, suffice it to say that the problem always boiled down to one of language. Mostly we survived, although one day the after lunch poker school in the back kitchen was disturbed by a very large Montana lad leaning against the door post and drawling ‘You might want to call me a cab’ – I had impressed on the staff the need for a speedy response to any American request – and thus, ‘You’re a cab, Sir’ had escaped from the lips of our chef even before he laid down his Royal flush.
The ensuing row very nearly cost me my contract with the base; I was forced to grovel piteously in the Base Commanders office and agree that never ever, no, never, would any Montana mountain boy dressed up in the fatigues of a lowly grunt ever, ever, be treated so disrespectfully ever, ever, again.
The American sense of humour and proportionate response is a wondrous thing.
As the Chinese are finding out, mind you, they could have asked the Iraqis.
There is a truly incredible row brewing between China and America, which has already enveloped Google.
It seems that a humble Chinese blog, ‘Hot Girls’, hosted on Google’s own platform, Blogger, opted for Michelle Obama as their ‘hot girl’ of the week. They published a number of photographs of her looking – well, airbrushed, made up by the finest cosmeticians, dressed by America’s finest designers, and all was well. They also included, just the one, ‘Photoshopped’ version of her looking somewhat more closely related to our nearest African cousins [kindly note my emphasis on ‘our’] – top left in my image.
Yo! Brother, straight into the Creationism v Darwinism Mother of all rows.
One photograph, one obscure Chinese blog. Welcome to the murky world of free speech, politics and Google.
1700 anonymous commentators descended on the site, shrilly shrieking for the image to be taken down. An unknown army of Americans hit on the site to be duly offended. Lo! The image became No1 on Google’s search return for images of Michelle Obama.
Google responded by removing the image, apparently on the grounds that the site contained malware (?) although they continued to show the site and its other pages in their search results with no malware warning. Still not satisfied, Google bought up some of its own advertising to ensure that anyone Googling Michelle Obama images would be met by an advertisement detailing Google’s policy on offensive images.
Sometimes Google search results from the Internet can include disturbing content, even from innocuous queries. We assure you that the views expressed by such sites are not in any way endorsed by Google. […] We apologize if you’ve had an upsetting experience using Google. We hope you understand our position regarding offensive results.
The site itself has issued the following apology in an attempt to defuse the row.
I am very sorry for this article, and that this is the program automatically issued a document from the article. Do not the subject of race and politics make the discussion too radical and sincere hope that the world is very peaceful.
As a matter of dry academic theory, I don’t think that wives or families should be included in the general satire directed at politicians, but in the real world, some of them are only too keen to step into the arena. If they do so, then they need the same thick skins as their partners. It is a rough, tough life out there in the public eye.
Google Cherie Blair images and you will be presented with a series of letter boxes looking remarkably like her. I ran an image of Gordon Brown as a dead parrot some weeks ago, another of our creationist ancestors incidentally. I shan’t invite you to follow my journey across Google images as I tried to find an image to accompany a story about Liz ‘Truss’ the other morning, my innocent mind has been sullied for ever.
The image is being universally described by the American media as ‘racially offensive’, had it been described as ‘creationalistically’ offensive, I might have understood. If we are all to give up any notion of having been put on this earth by divine right, and I do have a hard job disillusioning myself of that particular notion, then we are all descended from monkeys, cats, dogs, and parrots, and no singular race, no matter how arriviste, has the right to secure offence all for itself.
That being said, Google’s censorship of material to be seen by the American people, when it can still be seen by the Chinese people, and those of us in Europe, needs some explaining.