Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Daily Mail writer branded 'mass murderer' by critics

One of my favourite newspaper tricks is what I like to think of as the 'critics say' gambit, wherein a writer of an ostensibly factual article uses references to unnamed 'critics' to tack on his opinions and turn it into an editorial piece. Although, in the case of DPP rejects Tory plans to give homeowners the right to kill burglars, the prejudices of the writer are so clear that it's more like the vaguely factual bits of the article have been tacked on to righteous sermonising.

The story itself is pretty straightforward. Recently, a man named Munir Hussain was sentenced to 30 months in jail for attacking a burglar who invaded his home and tied up and threatened his family. Hussain, unfortunately, went beyond the law's 'reasonable force' caveat when he and some of his friends chased the criminal down the street, pushed him to the ground and beat him with a cricket bat and other weapons in a sustained attack so violent that the cricket bat broke and the burglar was left with a fractured skull, so badly brain-damaged he couldn't stand trial for his own crimes.

Predictably, the same forces that supported Tony Martin in his infamous case came out in Hussain's support, and the Conservatives, ever keen to toss out populist soundbites that they know are unworkable so they won't have to deal with the consequences do the decent thing, are making noises about changing the law in some way that allows householders more leeway to knock seven shades of shit out of intruders (presumably unreasonable force?).

Anyway, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has come out and rather uncontroversially said he thinks the law is basically fine as it is; it allows for the use of 'reasonable' force, which by definition makes the law, well...quite reasonable. The Tories, the Daily Mail, and this DM writer (Tim Shipman), appear not to agree. See if you can spot any subtle hints as to the writer's opinion in this tentative opening paragraph;
Britain's top prosecutor faced charges he is a 'socialist' yesterday after he flatly rejected Tory plans to give homeowners the right to kill burglars.
In the next couple of paragraphs, Starmer is described as 'controversial' (to whom? Not stated), and 'a former left-wing human rights lawyer' (one rung above 'Islamic paedophile' on the Mail's morality ladder). The article drips with contempt for Starmer, going so far as tell him what he should have said;
But he then went on to dismiss Tory plans to help homeowners out of hand, when he could have stated simply that his job is to uphold whatever laws governments pass.
In reality, what Starmer actually said was;
'The current test works very well. I can't really see the case for a change in the law at this stage.

'I have faith in the current arrangement which is the use of reasonable force. There are many cases, some involving death, where no prosecutions are brought.

'We would only ever bring a prosecution where we thought that the degree of force was unreasonable in such a way that the jury would realistically convict.'
Now to me, that's so staggeringly uncontroversial that it verges on the bland. After a few paragraphs pointing out that Starmer was a bit left-wing as a youth, it tries to crank up the evil socialist-o-meter a bit more by including a bunch of paragraphs about Keir Starmer's namesake, Keir Hardie, the famous socialist from ye olden days. Hmmm. You might think that a writer with the surname SHIPMAN would steer clear of encouraging people to judge others by their given names, but apparently not. Now, please note, I'm not saying that Tim Shipman murders hundreds of old ladies in their sleep. There's absolutely no proof of that. But I'm not not saying it.

The last paragraph is probably my favourite, it's just so wonderfully 'Daily Mail' that it could have come out of a particularly clever Daily Mail outrage-generating machine;
His appointment as Director of Public Prosecutions in July 2008 was seen by critics as among the most blatant attempts by New Labour to pepper the establishment with those who share their ideological commitment to European human rights law, which is blamed for a host of politically-correct rulings.
What critics? They're never quoted. The closest we get to an actual attributable criticism is a BBC interviewer asking him a question about his youth editing left-wing journals. Oh wait, there's this anonymous criticism;
Privately, party officials were furious that Mr Starmer had again been drawn into a public denunciation of their policies. 'He is there to enforce the law,' one said. 'He is not there to make the law.'
...which Starmer would appear to be doing by saying that the current law is fine and just. But going back to that final paragraph, it's just so beautiful I almost want to frame it. Deftly it brings up political correctness, Europe, The Establishment (of left-wing ideologues), and of course that terrible human rights law. I wonder if Shipman spent a minute or so trying to figure out a way to get asylum seekers and Jonathan Ross in there somehow? Perhaps he didn't have time, there are a lot of sick old ladies that need 'help' at this time of year...

Monday, 14 December 2009

On Melanie Phillips and religion

Melanie Phillips normally considers Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams an obnoxious liberal moron, but happily she's found some common ground with him over his recent grumblings about politicians not giving suitable respect to Christianity, which she details in Just for once, the Archbishop is right ... treating Christians as cranks is an act of cultural suicide. As is her style, and as the hilarious 'cultural suicide' bit of the title suggests, Phillips takes his comments and appends to them some staggering hyperbole and myopia.

What Williams said was typically bland, of course:
...the trouble with a lot of government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it’s an eccentricity, it’s practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities.

The effect is to de-normalise faith, to intensify the perception that faith is not part of our bloodstream. And, you know, in great swathes of the country that’s how it is.
(As an aside, I quite like how in Phillips' piece the bit about oddballs is immediately followed by a photo of the Archbishop in mandatory ceremonial get-up of pointy hat, giant flapping robe with sleeves that look like wings, and massive ornamental gold staff...nothing odd or eccentric there, of course, it's what all the kids are wearing down the shopping mall these days).

Phillips immediately goes on the offensive, suggesting there's a "war of attrition being waged against Christian beliefs". She cites some recent cases like that of Duke Amachree, a council worker who was sacked for, as Phillips has it, "encourag[ing] a client with an incurable medical condition to believe in God". What happened is that a woman with bowel disease came to see him in his capacity as a housing officer to see if she could be relocated nearer hospital, whereupon he apparently started telling she'd be alright if she believed in god. The full facts of the case don't seem to be public domain, with mostly the conservative newspapers covering it, but ultimately it was a case of a man who had been warned about his conduct before, using his position to do something he wasn't supposed to. I doubt Phillips would be as happy if it were a dogmatic atheist using his council position to talk believers out of their faith.

It's here that Phillips and I really part ways:
Christians are being removed from adoption panels if they refuse to endorse placing children for adoption with samesex couples.

Similarly, a Christian counsellor was sacked by the national counselling service Relate because he refused to give sex therapy sessions to gays.
I read those things and I think 'Good!'. We should be taking action against people who discriminate on the grounds of sexuality in 2009. If the religious want to believe that homosexuality is a grave sin, they can do so, but when they're in public positions they should be treating everyone as equals. It doesn't just apply to Christians, of course, but anyone who discriminates against gays. But amazingly, Phillips turns this on its head; instead of it being a case of the religious denying access to services on the grounds of sexuality and thus infringing their rights, this is somehow an assault on religion:
What this amounts to is that for Christians, the freedom to live according to their religious beliefs - one of the most fundamental precepts of a liberal society - is fast becoming impossible. Indeed, merely professing traditional Christian beliefs can cause such offence that it is treated as a crime.
This would be funny if the equality legislation Labour had introduced didn't strongly protect religion. Phillips then goes way back to 2001 to cite the case of Harry Hammond. This is fun, because she started the piece defending Williams' view that religion wasn't just about eccentric oddballs, and is now throwing her backing behind a man who stood in the street with placards demanding an end to homosexuality. His placards bore the legends 'Stop Immorality', 'Stop Homosexuality' and 'Stop Lesbianism', which Phillips apparently considers 'traditional Christian beliefs'. Are they? If they are, this might explain why Christianity is fast becoming perceived as an 'eccentricity' practiced by 'oddities'. When it comes to parading with placards telling people who they shouldn't be having sex with, based on centuries-old teachings which we're told are the divine words of an invisible, unknowable being, then maybe shit has got a bit strange.

It's enjoyable to watch Phillips attempt to defend this stuff though. She talks endlessly of liberty and freedom, but in doing so is defending people who have actually been intolerant to the liberty and freedom of others. She goes on, first trying to reconcile her belief that Labour hates religion with her other belief that Labour is cosying up to the Muslims, a 'double standard' which she conspicuously provides dick-all evidence for. Hilariously, she goes on to accuse the Left of 'racism':
The root of this double standard is the unpleasant prejudice that minority faiths hail from cultures where people are less well-educated and so cannot be blamed for their beliefs. This, of course, is a deeply racist attitude, and is commonly found on the Left.
Again, she backs this up with nothing, and is surprisingly casual about tossing the racism accusation around, an accusation she finds abhorrent when it's directed at 'her side', as it were, (for example when she says that "those who shriek racism want to destroy British identity").

She's not finished though. She asserts that religion is suppressed in political discourse...

As his former spin doctor Alastair Campbell once famously observed: 'We don't do God.'

This is because among the intelligentsia, the animosity to religion runs even deeper than the upside-down value system of the multicultural agenda. It springs from the fixed view that reason and religion are in diametrically opposite camps.

There's a kernel of truth here in that politicians in Britain don't talk loudly and strongly about their belief in god. This is not a conspiracy, it's just because we, the people, no longer react well to it. We don't really want our politicians to be acting on the word of god; they should be acting for those of us unfortunate enough to be constrained to the physical realm. By the same token though, there's very little outspoken atheism in politics either, to the point where Nick Clegg's declaration that he didn't believe in a god was actual news, despite being what I would consider the default position. Amusingly, his admission of atheism was seen as so politically dangerous he was moved to issue a statement that his wife was a Roman Catholic, that he raises his kids as Catholics and that he fully respected religion and so on and so forth. And that, my friends, is about the closest a mainstream party leader has come to being an outspoken atheist. This is not suggestive of a country where the political discourse is dominating by raving religion-bashers of the kind people imagine Richard Dawkins to be. Politicians are so desperate to be all things to all men that they don't want to 'do god' or do atheism.

Hold onto your seats though, because she's got more to say, and this one is fucking awesome:
Anyone who prays to God must therefore be anti-reason, anti- science and antifreedom - in other words, an objectionable, obscurantist nutcase.

But this is the very opposite of the truth. Rationality is actually underpinned by Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Without the Biblical narrative, which gave the world the revolutionary idea of an orderly universe that could therefore be investigated by the use of reason, science would never have developed in the first place.
Unfortunately all that investigatin' never found much evidence for many of the wilder things that happened in the Bible, but somehow for Phillips, science still legitimises Christianity because Christianity preceded it, and if we hadn't had Christianity, then of course we couldn't possibly have had science. She goes on to yearn for a Britian where politicians and the public were as religious as those in the US, but this is always a stance I've never quite understood from traditionalists. British history and culture has led us to the point where most of us aren't strongly religious; that's now, broadly speaking, the British way. Why try and reimpose something that is no longer natural to us? She ends with a warning to Williams:
But unless he starts promoting the Church as the transcendental custodian of a civilisation rather than the Guardian newspaper at prayer, the society to which it gave rise will continue to sleepwalk off the edge of a religious and cultural cliff.
This whole 'sleepwalking' thing is a recurring theme in Phillips' pieces; her Spectator blog in particular is littered with dire warnings that we're sleepwalking into something or other. It always seems like a strangely arrogant thing to say, in this case with its implication that the decline of religion is something we shouldn't want or should be protected from having, because only visionaries like Phillips are awake enough to see the dire consequences of a potentially godless UK. Imagine, a nation whose beliefs aren't derived from ancient scripture and as a consequence don't openly discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of public services. What a terrifying world!

Friday, 27 November 2009

The madness of teaching kids right from wrong, by Jan Moir

Having managed to offend an impressive number of people with her Stephen Gateley piece, Jan Moir turns to the much safer subject of domestic violence. In The madness of lessons in wife-beating, she proudly asserts that it's terribly silly for schools to be teaching our kids that it's wrong to beat women up. This is a fairly common position on the right, where lecturing people about drugs and banning computer games is somehow compatible with a libertarian position, but talk about something like actual genuine domestic violence and you're the nanny state, which is the worst thing to be. And, like all good conservative pieces, it begins by harking back to the old days with a wistful tear and a made-up story;
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin. Once upon a time, in a land that now seems far, far away, there lived a mummy and a daddy and their lovely little children.

Back then, the moral responsibility lay with the mother - and yes, even the father! - to bring up their children properly: to teach them right from wrong, to show them how to sit up straight, polish their shoes, say their prayers, be nice to everyone and eat pureed organic carrots without getting it all over their bibs. And so on and so forth.

Some parents did it better than others, of course. Yet in the scramble of life - taking in the cruelties of the playground, the learning curve of adolescence - we just about managed to get by.
If by 'get by' you mean 'survived', then yes, I agree with that, with the exception of the people who didn't and thus aren't around to write shit articles about it. But if by 'get by' you mean 'didn't have worrying levels of domestic violence', then you're on somewhat shakier ground. This is of course pretty standard for traditionalists; the mere fact that you and your parents lived beyond 50 is proof that literally everything was fine. Sure, a few wives got battered to death, but we did win two World Wars and one World Cup!
We did not rear a nation of monsters. We did not try to invade Poland or seize the silk routes. Did we get any thanks for this? No, we did not.
You want thanks for not invading Poland? Fucking hell, they set the bar for achievement pretty low in the Moir household. Still, I'm not sure what Moir thinks not invading Poland has to do with wife-beating. I'd wager that if you did a survey of people in British prisons who'd assaulted women, you'd find that relatively few of them had been directly responsible for Nazi Germany's annexing of Poland in 1939, although I'm willing to be proved wrong on that.
Surely if you insist on lessons to teach small children it is wrong for men to hit women, then you are implying that all men are a potential menace.
Speaking as a man, I'm fairly comfortable that teaching kids that it's wrong to hit women doesn't suggest to them that I personally am a violent psychopath with a pile of unconscious women lying bloodied on my carpet. You know, in the same way that when we teach kids it's wrong to, say, invade Poland, I don't worry that they think I might be Adolf Hitler disguised with a beard and hiding in plain sight. But hey, you're right Moir, let's not teach kids about right and wrong in case it offends men! I admire your hardcore political correctness!

While saying 'it should be left to parents to teach our kids, the majority of them are alright' sounds quite nice in principle, there are a few tiny flaws in it. The main one being that some of these parents are actual wife-beaters, and therefore expecting them to teach their kids that wife-beating is wrong may be a tad ambitious.

Anyway, it wouldn't be a Mail article without a bit of foreigner-baiting, and Moir obliges with some finesse;
One of the real problems to face women in this country is honour crime. Is the Government addressing this properly? No, of course not. They are far too terrified of upsetting any ethnic minority to tackle the issue.
Of course, what better way to deal with domestic violence among ethnic minority cultures than to, er, forbid schools to tell kids that such violence is wrong and leave it up to the parents, whose culture apparently teaches them it's okay? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?! While it's perfectly valid to argue that what we teach in schools is not going to end domestic violence on its own and that more things need to be done, writing off the plan entirely and then pointing the finger at The Ethnics isn't really helping either. Unless the lessons are going to include the phrase "Violence against women is wrong in all circumstances, except if you're Muslim, Hindu or Sikh in which case kill the sinful whores!"; then, you might have something resembling a point. The best part of this is, if the Government were to shelve this 'plan' (which sort of doesn't really exist in the way the Mail portrays it anyway), it wouldn't be long before someone started a rumour that they'd decided not to teach kids domestic violence was wrong in case it offended the Muslims.

Here endeth Jan Moir's lesson in morality for the week; let's leave it up to parents, including the wife-beating, honour-killing ones, to decide whether to teach their children that violence against women is wrong. Huzzah!

Ooh, comment of the day from Johnrs65 in Norfolk;
Why teach children about domestic violence? Those involved already know, those that aren ot involved don't need to be set a bad example.
Yes, those children who've witnessed domestic violence won't do it, and neither will those who didn't. That's why domestic violence has now reached zero! Johnrs65 for Prime Minister!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

BBCC: the extra 'C' is for 'CONSPIRACY!'

There's been much excitement about the release of a lot of hacked emails from the Hadley Climate Research Unit, and what, if anything, it means for science of global warming. I'm not going to get involved in that, because I'm not a climatologist and what I've read of the emails makes my head spin. What has been interesting to watch is the media reaction, and today's Mail (what else?), found a great new angle on the scandal. See, not only is there a big scientific conspiracy going on, but the evil BBC are in on it too!

In Climate change scandal deepens as BBC expert claims he was sent leaked emails six weeks ago, Carol Driver seems to think she's hit on a doozy of a story.
The controversy surrounding the global warming e-mail scandal has deepened after a BBC correspondent admitted he was sent the leaked messages more than a month before they were made public.

Paul Hudson, weather presenter and climate change expert, claims the documents allegedly sent between some of the world's leading scientists are of a direct result of an article he wrote.
Hudson wrote a blog a while back for the BBC which got some criticism from scientists because in trying to be even-handed about the idea of anthropogenic climate change, he'd written a piece which climate scientists felt gave too much room to the minority viewpoint that it's all bullshit. He got emails about it from scientists and everything. Driver continues;
In his BBC blog three days ago, Hudson said: 'I was forwarded the chain of emails on the 12th October, which are comments from some of the world's leading climate scientists written as a direct result of my article "Whatever Happened To Global Warming".'
Amazingly, no alarm bells rang for Driver when she read that no-one had picked up on this SHOCKING REVELATION that Hudson had been sitting on these illegally leaked emails, even though he'd written about it three days ago on the rather widely-read BBC site. Nevertheless, she ploughs on with the insinuation that someone had sent Hudson all the emails, and he'd kept it quiet, presumably kowtowing to the bullies of the global warming industry or something. There's a particularly telling sentence;
However, Hudson does not explain why he sat on the controversial information for so long...

...meaning "Hudson didn't write it on his blog which I've taken this story from, and I never bothered asking". I mean, heck, she's only a journalist!

Sadly for the Mail, the idea that Hudson (and by extension the BBC), deliberately sat on these scandalous emails, is swiftly debunked by Hudson himself;
As you may know, some of the e-mails that were released last week directly involved me and one of my previous blogs, 'Whatever happened to global warming ?'

These took the form of complaints about its content, and I was copied in to them at the time. Complaints and criticisms of output are an every day part of life, and as such were nothing out of the ordinary. However I felt that seeing there was an ongoing debate as to the authenticity of the hacked e-mails, I was duty bound to point out that as I had read the original e-mails, then at least these were authentic, although of course I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the others.
Short version; Hudson was copied into some of the emails when they were sent, because they were about him, and rather than revealing that he'd been forwarded the zip file of stolen emails, he was merely vouching for the authenticity of the ones that he'd seen. When the story first broke, people weren't quite sure if they were genuine, so Hudson was merely saying "Well, these ones are".

As yet, the Mail haven't altered this story to include Hudson's response. Meanwhile, their readers get to run with their fantasy that the BBC and Hudson covered it up;
Why did this guy wait so long before cimning out with these facts, though? Could it be there is a complicity between the "leading scientists" and the BBC?
The BBC are certainly churning out a lot od GW propaganda these days!
- Kevin, Newtownabbey, UK, 26/11/2009 8:09

This is proof that the BBC is biased and is no longer an impartial news reporting broadcaster.

The BBC sat on this because it went against their "masters" and their "beliefs", namely the Labour party is good, the Tories bad, the EU is good, Islam is great and global warming is happening. Any evidence which proves these beliefs incorrect is supressed or covered up. Bias by ommision.

Time and time again good news stories for Labour are covered, stories that harm Labour are not shown or are distorted or given a fraction of the air time.
- L. G., Berkshire, 26/11/2009 8:00

The BBC is the public arm of the government, its propaganda department, what else do people expect?

Nothing to see here, move along please...
- Steve Walker, Luton, 26/11/2009 7:01
The irony being, of course, that Hudson is only involved in this because he'd written a piece for the BBC that cast doubt on global warming, rather than because he's some kind of Nu Liebore mouthpiece for the AGW conspiracy. D'oh!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Express tiptoes into the EU debate

The Express has spent the last two days carefully making its opinions about the EU presidency known in a series of thoughtful, balanced articles. You may have noticed this if you saw their front pages; yesterday's was headlined BRITAIN RULED BY A BELGIAN? YOU MUST BE JOKING, which was neat but missed the opportunity for the classic 'EU MUST BE JOKING' pun, for shame. Today's reads, with the Express' usual sense of calm and restraint, "UK'S NEW BELGIAN BOSS IS A CLOWN", although on the website they go with BELGIAN PM HERMAN VAN ROMPUY CALLED CLOWN BY SISTER CHRISTINE.

Both these stories refer to the position created by the Lisbon Treaty, for which Tony Blair was once a forerunner, but it now apparently looks like it's going to be the Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy. So, what do we know of van Rompuy? The Express helpfully details some of the things you need to know about him in order to make an informed judgement of his politics and character. Here are the key phrases to take away from the first article;
Euro fanatic Herman Van Rompuy...who wants to impose sweeping Europe-wide taxes, is expected to be picked for the plum new job at a cosy dinner of the Brussels elite...crazed plans for building a European superstate...banning national flags and anthems...massive new taxation offensive...

Don't you just wish sometimes they'd get off the fence? Anyway, that's just the 'news' part of the article, the editorialisin' part comes in a blizzard of quotes from assorted UKIP and Tory mouthpieces, who it seems aren't pleased;

Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP for London, said ­angrily: “What is the point of Belgium? The only reason it would get the presidency is because by giving it to such a non-entity it is not going to upset anyone.

“They are adding insult to injury. It’s bad enough having the Lisbon Treaty rammed down our throats but a president from a nothing country telling us we shouldn’t exist? They are jackals biting the lion’s tail.”
UKIP there, ladies and gentlemen, saying what they probably think we're all thinking. And, of course, up pops Philip "Rent-A-Quote" Davies with clockwork precision, to say "Do Gordon Brown and the Labour ­Government have such little regard for our great country that they think we are only worthy of being governed by a Belgian autocrat? Had anyone at the time of Churchill or Thatcher advanced that theory, people would have laughed in their faces". You can almost feel him itching to mention the war, can't you? Luckily the Express provides an avenue for that kind of thinking with a third article today, DAILY EXPRESS READERS VENT ANGER OVER BELGIAN PM VAN ROMPUY, in which its readers bang the "Did we win the war for THIS?" drum;
JOHN Mills, 73, from ­Cardiff said: “It comes as a betrayal of the men who died for this country and if they could come back they would call our leaders traitors.”

Mary Cock, 88, from Ripon, North Yorks, said: “The Belgians should remember who freed their country from the Germans. We, in this tiny island, we were the only ones who stood up to the force of the German airforce.”

Michael Goulding, 49, from Barnsley, West Yorks, said: “We fought two world wars. Was that in vain? Was that a waste of life?”
One reader worries that "Other countries are laughing at us, especially France and Germany", as if France and Germany aren't affected by this whole EU presidency thing somehow, while another tells us that "Britain should be British", a phrase that's as meaningless and paranoid as it is unnecessary.

So what of this clown story?
THE Belgian politician poised to become president of Europe was last night dismissed as a clown. [...] But the 62-year-old poetry-writing prime minister of Belgium suffered fresh embarrassment when it emerged that even his own sister had ridiculed him.
I've bolded some interesting phrases, all of which hint that this is new information, as opposed to something the Express just found out about. In reality, there's a party of which van Rompuy's sister is a member. For an election they ran a campaign to "stop the political circus", which according to the header on their website, depicted at least six mainstream politicians as clowns. Van Rompuy was sworn in as Belgian PM in December 2008, so presumably this campaign started before then (the website for the campaign dates back to May of 2008, and there's a reference to the poster itself dating back to this June). For some reason, papers find it hard to admit when they're not actually covering current news, so they use phrases like "it emerged" instead of "So we Googled this guy yesterday...".

The most interesting thing about him is that he appears to be a fucking ninja. Two quotes from the 'clown' article;
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: “The list of famous Belgians will not be extended by his appointment. This is the man who will have more power than David Cameron or Gordon Brown and we are not given a say.

Van Rompuy, a married father of three who was an economist and banker before starting a career in politics, is more famous in his own country for writing Japanese-style poems than any for political achievements.
Not only can he become EU President without becoming a famous Belgian, according to an ever-tactful UKIPper, but apparently he's not even famous in his own country, despite being its Prime Minister. How does he do it? Are the Belgians are a particularly inattentive people? Do they see this guy on the TV and think "Oh look, it's that funny poetry man, wonder what he's been up to lately?". Perhaps his whole career has been a study in Derren Brown-style misdirection and the Belgians haven't even noticed their Prime Minister changed 11 months ago. All we can discern from this is that he is truly a master of disguise, so his critics better damn well be careful who they're talking to at social functions, lest they suddenly feel a flash of cold steel in their gut, their assailant whipping off a latex mask to reveal himself as the Belgian PM as they tumble gasping to the floor.

So what have we learned about this guy, or the machinations of the EU? Well, not much. There's clearly a debate you can have about the EU and whether this position actually means anything significant at all, but you're probably not going to get a particularly balanced appreciation of the arguments if you're an Express reader, since all the articles about him are like wailing sirens. In yet another Macer Hall-penned article today, we're treated to some more shocking revelations about the man most of the other papers don't really care about, including that he's sort of like a passionate Islamist;
He has claimed Islam is the only force in the world standing up to the markets. “There is barely a stronger force in the world than the force of money. Today it mops up societies all over the world. Only Islam is resisting, although it is doing so often because of complete intolerance.”
I like quotes like that, because you could also preface it with "He has accused Islam of 'complete intolerance'", something the Express would agree with, and it would be just as accurate. Anyway, I for one welcome our new haiku-writin', flag-destroyin', stealth assassin overlords; it all sounds quite exciting. I hope he doesn't just turn out to be a largely ineffectual political figurehead who wants European nations to work closer together like what the whole point of the EU is.

Friday, 13 November 2009

It's not sexist to deploy the strawman argument

So after a week or two of being a bit sick and generally avoiding the Mail, I flick to the front page of the site this morning to see what edifying delights await. It's largely the usual; people are getting too much in benefits, the BBC have angered the Mail in some way, someone is a paedo, Littlejohn isn't happy about something, and lots of celebrities have got all kinds of lovely tits. And then something so depressingly familiar you wonder if you've somehow got into an old archive of the site by mistake; It's not racist to debate migration, says Gordon Brown as Tories brand him hypocrite.

Amusingly, this article was previously titled, and still appears in the title bar as, "Brown finally admits it's not racist to be worried about foreigners flooding into Britain", a headline presumably ditched on account of it, y'know, actually sounding a bit like it might be racist. That's always a good strategy; if you're ever a bit worried about how bad your views might sound, why not call for a 'debate' on them? It's a neat way of putting a little bit of distance between you and your possibly ill-conceived/insane/rambling/sometimes-even-racist views. Kind of like when 9/11 truthers who clearly believe the US did it just step back and go "whoa, I'm just asking questions!" whenever you put a point to them they don't have an answer for. "I'm not saying there are too many foreigners here, I'm just saying we should have debate about whether there are too many foreigners here! Even though coincidentally that's what I believe". For extra kudos, why not insert the words "open" and "honest" in front of "debate" as well? This has the effect of letting the people who agree with you know what you're saying, while pretending that you don't really have a strong opinion and are just kind of acting on behalf of some noble principle of democratic discourse if you get challenged on it.

Anyway, back to the story, and it begins;

Gordon Brown staged a major Labour U-turn over immigration yesterday by insisting it was 'not racist' to discuss the issue.
A U-turn is, of course, brilliant news for your opponents. Not only do you now agree with them, but you also look weak and indecisive, so your opponents can continue to berate you even though you now agree with them and are probably going to implement the kind of policies they've argued for. But, and call me Captain Pedantic here, but I would say a U-turn usually involves completely changing your opinion so it becomes the opposite way round. For this to happen, it would have to have been the case that Labour had, up until yesterday, believed that discussing immigration was racist. If they believed that, you'd think they might have fucking said it at some point in the last twelve years.

So, off the Mail trots through its extensive archive of British political history to find some killer quotes from Labour where they call the Tories big 'orrible racists. It comes up with a whopping two, neither of them from U-turner extraordinaire Gordon Brown, and they're...well, both a tad underwhelming:


So, that's Jack Straw accusing William Hague of 'exploiting' the asylum issue nine years ago, and Tony B.Liar countering the Conservatives' "It's not racist to talk about immigration" argument by simply pointing out that Labour never fucking said it was. So one of these apparently supporting quotes even contains a line refuting the very thing it was supposed to be saying.

(As an aside, I really like the 'William Hague 2000' bit in that graphic, makes him sound like a bumbling, ineffectual, right-wing robot all the kids want for Christmas. A robot that tells moist-eyed stories about the time they drunk 14 pints in a day).

It's descended into some weird kind of multi-level strawman. The main text says "At the last General Election, the then Conservative leader Michael Howard was criticised by Labour for claiming it was 'not racist to talk about immigration'", but the boxout quote makes it clear that that criticism took the form of essentially saying "We know, that's why we never said it was". So, whereas the Mail thinks it's proving that Labour told the Tories that it WAS in fact racist to talk about immigration, all they've actually done is create a strawman whereby saying that you never said it was racist to talk about immigration is 'criticising' the line that "it's not racist to talk about immigration", and therefore is somehow the same as saying it IS racist to talk about immigration. Now, that may well be the worst sentence anyone's ever written, but then welcome to the weird and confusing world of the strawman argument, where you misrepresent your opponent's argument and then argue against that instead, because it's easier, and because it helps turn the argument into one where you're being unfairly maligned.

I'm not going to wade into the immigration debate too much, except to say that I genuinely wish I had a pound for every time someone pretended they weren't allowed to talk about it, while talking about it, or claimed that politicians won't engage with it despite them constantly fucking engaging with it as far back as I can remember. Even 'soft on immigration' Labour have brought in a whole raft of immigration restrictions, particularly since 9/11. They employ as their immigration minister Phil Woolas, a man who has criticised lawyers for acting on behalf of asylum seekers, fought hard not to let the Gurkhas settle in Britain, took the decidedly un-PC step of highlighting the problem of Asian cousins marrying and blaming it for birth defects, introduced a points-based immigration system to restrict numbers of immigrants, promised he would never allow the population to reach 70m, criticised his own government for not deporting enough asylum seekers, and, indeed, has also played the "it's not racist to talk about immigration" card himself.

Yet, despite all proposing various crackdown measures on immigration, the parties are all aware that the electorate wants them to appear to be the toughest, so they harangue each other's proposals even though they broadly agree, and the press join in. It's an argument without a disagreement, and so you end up with the ludicrous spectacle of the papers accusing Gordon "British jobs for British workers" Brown of suddenly having a Damascene conversion on immigration, despite having produced literally no evidence that he ever thought anything else.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


No-one likes to work on a weekend, so for newspapers it's always a good time to just take loads of material from a book, reprint it verbatim and fuck off back to the Cotswolds to see your secret children. The Mail has done something similar with Fads of the chattering classes: Are you a walking, talking middle-class cliché?, which reprints chunks of an amusing book which will presumably be next to many a toilet this coming Boxing Day. Here's an example:
Plain and simple, middle- class people don't just like Apple, they love and need Apple.
On the surface, you might ask yourself how middle-class people could love a multi-billion-pound company with manufacturing plants in China which contribute to global pollution.

The simple answer: owning an Apple product tells the world you are creative and unique. Its exclusive product lines are used only by every single college student, designer, writer, English teacher and hipster on the planet.

Middle-class people need iPods, iPhones, Apple TV, AirPort Express stations and anything else that Apple produces, because they need to express their uniqueness by purchasing everything that a publicly traded company produces.
If that seems oddly familiar and yet somehow not quite right, congratulations! You've successfully recognised popular internet website Stuff White People Like! So it turns out that the guy from Stuff White People Like has written a book about stuff white people like called 'Stuff White People Like', and this article helpfully promotes that, as it explains at the bottom.

But wait! Is it me or has the Mail done a 'Find and Replace', changing all mentions of 'white people' to 'middle-class people'? You know, I think it appears it has! Apparently you're not even allowed to say 'white people' any more! It's political correctness gone mad!!! Except you're probably not allowed to say 'mad' any more!!!

It's really a strange decision though, I'm not quite sure I understand the rationale behind it. Why do an advertorial for a book if you have some kind of problem with the title? The site and book repeatedly mention white people (the Apple entry on the site, for example, contains ten instances of the word 'white'), whereas the Mail's ethnically-cleansed article mentions it zero times in the main body of text, with the exception of the footnote which grudgingly gives readers the correct title of the book in case they want to buy it. But why bother going to this trouble? Numerous commenters are already pointing out this absurdity and demanding to know why it was done. Let's assume Mail readers aren't going to like the phrase 'white people'; why, then, do an article aimed at selling them a book where it's almost certainly the most-repeated phrase? It's a bit like telling people to watch The Thick Of It by showing them a trailer where all the swear words are redubbed with 'flipping' and 'chuffing' and 'willy'.

Perhaps they got cold feet at the last minute, concerned that if they ran the excerpts with 'white people' intact there'd just be several hundred comments from along the lines of;
"If you wrote something like this about black people or the Muslims they'd put you in jail faster than you can say 'blackboard'!"
"I find this offensive! It seems that anti-white racism is the last acceptable prejudice in this politically-correct nanny state. At least soon we'll be in the minority and we can start claiming persecution and have everything our own way. You wouldn't print something like this about the Muslims!"
"I didn't find this offensive, I thought it was hilarious! That's because I can take a joke, not like the Asians! You wouldn't print something like this about black people!".

So at least they largely avoided that minefield. Unfortunately this just leaves them with a load of comments from people smugly pointing out how different they are from the 'middle-class' people in the article, in the most middle-class way possible. And slightly confused people like this;
What a load of old cobblers. I could just as easily pick 100 other cliches about the middle classes and make them real by writing amusingly about them.
You probably should have done, you might have got a book published.

Pre-publishing edit: I hadn't actually read all the comments before I started this entry, which is good because I just found a genuine comment under the article that backs up the 'you wouldn't say that about the ethnic minorities' stuff perfectly:
Can you imagine a similar article mocking the working classes, or an ethnic minority? There'd be outrage. The middle class is the last scapegoat, the only group that it's acceptable to bash without fear of reprimand.
- Susie, Shanghai, China, 31/10/2009 5:55
I'd like to think that says something about my piercing insight and razor-sharp satirical mind, but in reality it just demonstrates that Mail comments are nothing if not tediously predictable.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Mail now accusing others of racism? FIGHT!

I'm not a big fan of Nick Griffin, to be honest, but if there is one good thing to come out of his upcoming Question Time appearance, it's that there's a certain joy to be had in watching right-wing commentators squirm as they try to distance themselves from Griffin and his party, who they understand aren't very well-liked. This can be a little tricky when your own writing and that of your newspaper is to a large extent based on stoking up the kind of fears Griffin's BNP are feeding off, as Enemies Of Reason recently noted.

Last week, the Mail rain an article entitled Is political correctness to blame for lack of coverage over horrific black-on-white killings in America's Deep South?, which helpfully reproduced, in full, a white supremacist group's propaganda pamphlet. The police in the story suggest that there was no racial motive for the horrific crime in question, but the Mail doesn't really believe that cop-out, and attributes to 'campaigners' a flyer produced by 'govnn.com'. If you go there (and I'd advise you not to, especially at work), you'll get taken to the Vanguard News Network, an absolutely notorious white supremacist site, run by this charming fellow. The most recent stories on VNN concern 'Deciphering Jewish Intellectual Movements', revising the Auschwitz death totals, and celebrating the recent and shocking decision of a Lousiaina judge to refuse a marriage licence to an interracial couple. VNN helpfully divide their news articles with tags like 'nigger crime', 'nigger mentality', 'niggers', 'jewish lies', and, rather more simply, 'jews'. I'm not saying the Mail endorses these cunts, but it does get kind of troublesome for them when their areas of interest overlap with those of the more balls-out racists.

Today, Richard Littlejohn explains why he didn't want to go on Question Time alongside Griffin...
Best case, you monster him and come across as a bully. Worst case, he challenges you to disagree with some of his views, perhaps on something as straightforward as demanding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and you're immediately tarred as guilty by association.

Once you've said he's a racist, where else is there to go?
And there you have it. A Mail writer simply accusing someone of racism instead of engaging them in the debate? Isn't that the sort of thing Mail writers constantly accuse everyone else of doing with them? Imagine if Griffin challenged you to disagree with his views! Here's Littlejohn from back in January praising Trevor Phillips;
Those of us who argued at the time that it was ludicrous to accuse the entire police force of racism [he's referring to the Macpherson report], over what was a bungled murder inquiry, were ourselves slandered as 'racists'.

The phrase was seized upon by those Trevor identifies as ' guilt-tripping white folks' as a potent stick to batter every public institution in the country.

They have used the catch-all cliche; of 'racism' to advance their own agenda, silence dissent and bully the paying public into submission.
The distinction, it soon becomes clear, is that Nick Griffin is an ACTUAL racist, even though, like Littlejohn, he constantly claims he's just sticking up for British identity, whereas Littlejohn is just someone who agrees with the BNP about a lot of things but wouldn't vote for them because they're racist thugs, unlike him.

Melanie Phillips wrote a similar 'Fuck the BNP!' piece this week:
But that is not the reason for [Griffin's] appeal. Those who support him do not in the main do so because they are racially prejudiced. It is because he also opposes mass immigration, Islamisation and the loss of sovereignty to the EU.
The message, then, is that if only the two main parties started opposing immigration and 'Islamisation' and started getting out of the EU, the BNP would go away. If we just adopt the BNP's policies, they won't be needed after all! Huzzah! Phillips continues;
The BNP really is racist.
Do you see?
But because legitimate feelings about national identity are also deemed to be racist, Griffin has been able to present the entire political mainstream as a conspiracy against the interests of ordinary people.

By cleverly sanitising the BNP message over recent years, he has thus been able to pose as a victim of political correctness.
I can't help feeling that I'm witnessing the truly absurd here. Mail commentators essentially saying 'Guys, come on, don't listen to him, he's racist!'. There's just something inherently amusing about Melanie freakin' Phillips decrying others for 'pos[ing] as a victim of political correctness'. It's the basis for your entire fucking career! You would have thought the Mail would take care not to toss around accusations of racism when their whole shtick is complaining that others are unfairly accusing them of it, but hey, here we are. The irony of Melanie Phillips talking about 'legitimate feelings' is brilliant. Could you imagine if a left-wing columnist had been chastising her by implying her feelings were illegitimate? She'd fly into a fury.

Let me make myself clear; the BNP are much worse than Phillips and Littlejohn, and I'm not trying to suggest their views are identical. But when Mail columnists like them constantly bang on about political correctness stifling debate, and depict accusations of racism as underhand tricks to create 'thought crimes', when you repeatedly say, as Phillips does, that "The hallmark of a liberal society is the toleration of offensive views", can they then realistically simply dismiss the BNP as racists? As Five Chinese Crackers wrote, these extremist groups seem to be at least partly fuelled by the relentlessly negative stories about Muslims and immigration and overbearing political correctness that the Mail churns out. I can't help but feel that when Mail writers lash out at the BNP, maybe somewhere in there should be a little twinge of guilt. There won't be, of course, they simply blame it on the left.

Friday, 16 October 2009

In which I join a mischievous and heavily orchestrated internet campaign

Yeah, so pretty much everyone has joined in giving Jan Moir's spectactularly offensive Mail column, "Why there was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death..." (now pathetically retitled "A strange, lonely and troubling death..." as if a more thoughtful headline somehow mitigates the swill within) a good kicking. Normally I try and avoid the subjects everyone else is doing, but in this case it's hard not to want to join the kickers.

It's hard to know where to start. Moir begins with a bit of pointless padding about other celebrity deaths (Heath Ledger and Jacko), and then starts talking about how the recently-deceased Gately couldn't really even sing. Now, I don't give a fuck about Boyzone; I've got a bunch of Six Organs Of Admittance and Chris Corsano records, and I listen to genres stoner doom metal entirely without irony (or drugs even). Heck, I've even got a surprising amount of Jandek albums which I had to grow a beard that I could stroke along to. I've made 26 records of my own which had a combined listenership that could safely fit on a single-decker bus, so to see these lucky chaps performing bland ballads and inexplicably getting showered with money and awards and the wet knickers of teenage girls has always been a bit depressing. All of that is irrelevant to Gately's death though, so to set the scene a supposedly serious column by joking that "he could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk", as Moir does, seems a bit crass somehow.

Still, that probably would have made for a better column than the one she launches into, which defiantly casts scorn on the coroner's verdict:

But, hang on a minute. Something is terribly wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun into nothing more than an unfortunate mishap on a holiday weekend, like a broken teacup in the rented cottage.
Actually, no-one called it a mishap. The official cause of death was pulmonary oedema, which is a dangerous accumulation of fluid in the lungs.
The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.
As many people have pointed out, 'healthy' and fit men DO die in their sleep, for a variety of reasons. Although in this case it's a disingenuous argument; if he had a fluid build-up in his lungs then he didn't just die for no reason, and having a serious medical condition requires a particularly loose definition of the word 'healthy'. What's troubling about this is that Moir is just nudging and winking at the readers; the coroner and the family may believe one thing, but WE all know different, right, folks? We know what people like Gately get up to! This would be staggeringly heartless so soon after his death even if there were solid grounds for casting aspersions, but with an official explanation in place and nothing but assumptions in the opposing corner it's just pure vindictiveness.
After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. It is not disrespectful to assume that a game of canasta with 25-year-old Georgi Dochev was not what was on the cards.
What was, Jan? And how did it relate to his death? Any evidence? Some kind of theory? ANYTHING?
Gately's family have always maintained that drugs were not involved in the singer's death, but it has just been revealed that he at least smoked cannabis on the night he died.

Nevertheless, his mother is still insisting that her son died from a previously undetected heart condition that has plagued the family.

Yes, because a hereditary heart condition known to be present in his family is absolutely ludicrous, whereas cannabis = death is just pure, solid science you can take the bank. Where the column gets most outrageous is towards the end, where this tragic death is somehow co-opted into a rant about civil partnerships:
Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened.
Kevin McGee hanged himself. He wasn't in a civil partnership at the time. He had been battling drug addiction. There's genuinely no similarity between the two deaths other than that they were both gay, and that they'd been in the papers. This kind of dog-whistling, "see what happens when the gays try to get married" garbage is just so utterly foul that it's hard to imagine a paid newspaper columnist actually going through with writing it. But here, sadly, we are.

The reaction has been strong enough that Moir has put out a damage-limitation press release to try and make herself look vaguely human. It's not an apology, which I suppose is fair enough since she doesn't feel sorry and clearly meant every word she said. "Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately", she points out. I'm not in the gay community, and I'm certainly not in the Boyzone fan community; I'm just one of those crazy human beings who thinks that viciously raking over the largely imagined details of a tragic death, in public, before a man's even been buried, insulting his family and casting doubts on the integrity of the coroner, is kind of not really cricket. You may not be sure about the wisdom of civil partnerships, Jan Moir, but this is really not the angle to be criticising them from if you want to get any sympathy, even from people who thinkthat equality is somehow a bad idea. The response goes on, hilariously suggesting that her critics probably haven't read the massively widely-available online piece that got Tweeted around the globe, before compounding it with another torrent of burning stupid:
However, it seems unlikely to me that what took place in the hours immediately preceding Gately’s death - out all evening at a nightclub, taking illegal substances, bringing a stranger back to the flat, getting intimate with that stranger - did not have a bearing on his death.
It doesn't matter what it seems like to you, Jan. The facts don't care what you think. That's why we have coroners and inquests and police. There's a reason we don't write on death certificates "Fucked if I know...looks a bit dodgy though, he was one of them weed-smoking gay fellas...just put that down". It seemed 'unlikely' to me that a professional writer would think this column was a good idea, but hey, I'm revising my opinions in the light of new evidence! So, what was that you were saying about civil partnerships?
"In writing that ‘it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships’ I was suggesting that civil partnerships - the introduction of which I am on the record in supporting - have proved just to be as problematic as marriages."
What happy-ever-after myth? Find me one person, one single living person in human history, who claimed, nay, even suggested, that civil partnerships would in all cases be a lifelong recipe for happiness. Just one. Were you asleep when we debated civil partnerships, Jan? Because I'd always assumed that the reason we did it was that homosexuals are just people, as complex and uncategorisable and multi-faceted as any others, imperfect just like you and me (well, perhapss not quite as imperfect as you). There was no expectation of a 100% success rate for gay marriages, just a simple recognition that some sort of basic fucking equality in the eyes of the law might be quite nice, an acknowledgement of the fact that gay people are not freaks to be marginalised and stereotyped and looked upon as a threat. Get with the fucking nineties, Jan!
"In what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones."
Yeah, you're right. All these people who read your article, they don't really think it was nasty. They're all quite right-wing and intolerant usually, but on a Friday they like to let their hair down and pretend to be politically correct liberals for the lulz. It's how the kids roll these days! We don't feel anything! It's definitely not that journalists have been cossetted for years by the cosy world of printed media, reaching a largely sympathetic audience who can't really reply. It's definitely not that journalists like you are only now suddenly coming face-to-face with what reactions their columns genuinely provoke in real people in an age of instant communication. Just keep believing the problem is everyone else's and nothing to do with the bilious drivel you wrote, it'll all be fine!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The art of headlines

I'm always intrigued by the way headlines juxtapose with their stories in the tabloid press. I understand that headlines are supposed to be attention-grabbing, but when they misrepresent the story it makes reading the comparatively lacklustre material within a bit of a let-down. For example, when you look at the sports pages and you see that someone has 'blasted' someone or is in a 'fury', and then when you read the story they're just making fairly mundane comments expressing minor amounts of disappointment, because they've all been media-trained within an inch of their lives to spout tedious platitudes. See today's Telegraph for Shay Given blasts Fifa over decision to seed World Cup play-offs, where the blast in question is less like a giant star exploding and more like someone trying to discreetly let out a fart in an overrunning meeting. Or the other day in the Mail when Frank Lampard blasted former chief Adam Crozier for 'golden generation' tag, wherein Lampard tapped into unexpected levels of molten rage to furiously spit that it was "quite frustrating". It's not known yet if Crozier needed to be taken to hospital after being caught in the epicentre of that terrifying blast.

That sort of thing is easy enough to let slide, I guess; the sports pages unfortunately don't go away when it's a barren international week, and it's hard enough to make footballers' comments sound interesting at the best of times. In the realm of Proper News though, those kind of exaggerated headlines feel a bit more dangerous. The Mail has a few examples today, the most irresponsible of which is Normal flu jabs 'double the risk of catching swine bug'. The worst thing about this is that you can tell that the writer is fully aware that it's a non-story; much of the actual piece is given over to sheepishly admitting that this is a single study which hasn't even been published in a medical journal, and as such hardly overturns the huge amounts of properly peer-reviewed research that backs the safety of the vaccine. Dutifully, the reporter gets appropriate quotes from the JCVI, the WHO, Sir Liam Donaldson, and the Department Of Health telling them not to be fucking idiots about the whole thing. My favourite bit of the article though is this line:
Health chiefs are concerned that conflicting evidence about protection offered by flu jabs could deter those at risk of serious illness or dying from getting vaccinated.
Which might as well have read "Health chiefs are concerned about tabloid reporters writing articles with scaremongering headlines like this one".

Over in the science section, we get Whatever happened to global warming? How freezing temperatures are starting to shatter climate change theory, its headline eerily similar to a recent BBC effort which made global warming 'sceptics' and their nutjob ringleaders shit their pants with glee last week. The headline suggests the article is about to finally explode the idea of climate change, but the article itself is a bit of a damp squib; some cherry-picked tales about how it's really quite nippy in the not-normally-tropical state of Montana, a repeat of the incredible stat that the earth isn't quite as warm now as it was in the hottest year in recorded history, and then a fair bit of backtracking in the middle where they say the evidence is 'inconclusive', before topping it off with some quotes from some scientists who tell them their headline is pretty much bollocks. Many of the commenters didn't seem to get that far, of course, with Vanessa in London dribbling:
At last an article with the truth. I am sick and tired of reading about this idiotic dream of 'global warming' or climate change...
...suggesting this is the first time she has seen the Mail. Pete in Essex knows where to go to dig for the REAL scientific evidence:
Read the book State of Fear by Michael Crichton. Blows the whole climate change scare stories out of the water.
Indeed. And why be worrying about climate change anyway, when we've got these fucking big-ass cloned dinosaurs on the rampage?

Moving on, we come to Boy, 6, faces 45 days in reform centre for bringing own cutlery to school, wherein 'cutlery' is apparently a quaint euphemism for a Swiss Army knife. This story is from the US and concerns a kid who took a camping knife to school, apparently to eat his lunch. The school had adopted one of those crazy 'don't bring knives to school' policies, and got suspended pending a decision. Thus we get to witness the slightly disorientating sight of seeing the Mail, once so outraged about knife crime, apparently demanding that a child not be punished for taking a knife to school. To be clear, it does sound like the school may have been a bit inflexible with their zero tolerance policy (although that is kind of the point of zero tolerance policies), but I'm kind of baffled that this became news over here, especially with a needlessly misleading headline.

Still, I suppose the alternative to misleading headlines for a paper like the Mail would be ridiculously straightforward headlines that lay bare the crashing tedium within. Headlines like Curvy Danielle Lloyd gets back into bikini for romantic Dubai holiday with Jamie O'Hara, in which curvy Danielle Lloyd gets back into a bikini for a romantic Dubai holiday with Jamie O'Hara. Or Rebecca Loos is back in a bikini eight weeks after giving birth having lost her baby weight AND an extra 5lb, in which, over several gripping paragraphs, we learn the incredible truth about how Rebecca Loos is back in a bikini eight weeks after giving birth, having lost her baby weight AND an extra 5lb. Or Naomi Campbell shows off her timeless figure in an orange bikini as she reunites with Russian lover in Miami, which takes the reader on an extraordinary roller-coaster ride of emotion as, through an intense mesh of florid prose and startling illustration, we gradually build up a picture of what it might be like to look at Naomi Campbell showing off her timeless figure in an orange bikini as she reunites with her Russian lover in Miami. Still, I guess these particular stories are aimed at people who don't necessarily have time to decode more nuanced headlines in the five minutes before their wife gets out of the shower.

Friday, 9 October 2009

James Delingpole is a twat

Probably not one of my cleverest blog titles, if I'm being honest, but he really is a massive twat. He's the sort of twat that would probably love finding out that people like me think he's a twat, as he sits there oozing twattery from his twatty face.

You can pretty much pick any entry from his Telegraph blog to back this up, but let's start with the most recent one. After the headline How pathetically useless of Cambridge Union to ban Michael Savage, Delingpole runs his mouth off about Cambridge Union apparently cancelling an invitation for Savage (an even bigger twat than Delingpole) to speak in one of their debates at the last minute. After a swift kick at Islam and a suggestion that the Union wimped out, Delingpole is forced to add a sheepish update at the end, after he gets an email from the Union explaining that they actually just couldn't afford to meet Savage's technical demands. While it's nice to see Delingpole admit he was wrong, the headline does still call them 'pathetically useless'.

Skipping past a few entries, including a nauseating one where he taunts his wife about how much he wants to fuck Carla Bruni, we come to the following bizarre entry from Sunday: A little light Islamist propaganda to liven up your Sunday. I'll quote it in its entirety:

I’ve just been supervising my nine-year old daughter’s home work for the week. She attends a Church of England Primary School. Here is the text she was set:

“Abdul left his friend’s house. He had had a fun afternoon. He took the route home. He was whistling softly. He scuffed his feet in the dry leaves. He pretended to dribble a football up the pitch. He passed a derelict church.”

Is it just me or is there something seriously wrong with the subliminal messages being sent out here?
Because, as we all know, C of E schools are the first place I go to for my Islamic propaganda. As far as I can make out, Delingpole makes the case that this is a sneaky leftist conspiracy to foist Allah on us all merely by noting that this fictional kid is named Abdul. That's basically it, plus the 'derelict church' bit, which inflamed a few of his commenters (although one could just as easily argue that the image of a Muslim walking past a derelict C of E church was subtly anti-Islamic, you could certainly imagine it as a shocking vignette in a BNP party political broadcast). So I Googled the first line and found this PDF link to what would appear to be that piece of homework. In that link, the text is exactly the same, but it says 'old church' instead of 'derelict'. It could be that this is a standard piece of homework that Delingpole's kid's school changed for some reason, or it could be that Delingpole got a bit creative there, I don't know. In any case, it goes on:

He heard a sound. He stopped. He listened. He heard someone crying. He pushed the gate open. He was scared. It creaked. He shivered. He looked around. He wondered whether there was anyone behind him. He went through the gate.
...so it's not really about Abdul or the church, it's a starting point for kids to write a story. Even if it were, is naming the character in your fictional story 'Abdul' likely to cause of wave of little Church Of England school kids to start strapping bombs to their chests and joining the jihad? Not least since the other questions on that page involve kids named Charlie and Gavin and fucking Joshua.

My recent personal favourite is where he claims, without irony, that liberals can't do comedy. No, really: 'Liberal satire' is an oxymoron. Adopting the moral high ground, as he often does, by calling liberals 'libtards', Delingpole takes aim at comedians like Al Franken and Jon Stewart (seemingly because Chris Hitchens already picked on them and he's merely cribbing off a Hitchens piece), asserting that they're not funny because they don't make jokes about Islam (except when, as some commenters point out, they do). Unable to think of any actual funny right-wingers (seriously, who is there? Fucking Clarkson?), Delingpole desperately tries to claim the Daily Mash as right-leaning satire (sample headline from this week; "TORIES TO RAISE MILDLY RACIST, CARAVAN-OWNING BASTARD AGE"), which will come as something of a surprise to many of us.

He does little to explain why right-wing comedy is funny and left-wing stuff isn't, but that's not really Delingpole's style; merely asserting that something is true is usually enough for him. He contrasts the Daily Mash with another, supposedly shit, liberal satire site which I haven't read. Strangely though, he neglects to contrast Stewart's wildy successful Daily Show, or the similarly popular Colbert Report, with the unbelievable failure of its conservative equivalent, Fox's quickly-aborted 1/2 Hour News Hour, which was thoroughly derided during its brief 17-episode lifespan and featured the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter struggling to make joking about the poor and minorities into something funny. (The show was swiftly cancelled and had a rating of 12 out of 100 on MetaCritic).

I could go on, but some of his other entries are making me lose the will to live. You've got Isn't Black History Month a bit racist?, which fails to add any particular insight beyond its depressingly familiar title, and things like How the global warming industry is based on one MASSIVE lie, one of his many pieces where he takes the word of a 'global warming sceptic' at face value and runs around smugly touting his triumph over the libtards. In this particular one he can be found repeating criticisms that have spread like wildfire throughout the right-wing blogosphere, in an article so shit it got a special mention in RealClimate's weary rebuttal.

Delingpole loves to pour scorn on the idea of anthropogenic climate change; most weeks you can find him hiding behind Ian Plimer, tossing insults at George Monbiot for following the scientific orthodoxy on climate change, because Delingpole read Plimer's largely discredited book and found it well impressive. His understanding of science is pretty laughable; in one hilariously bad piece of playground name-calling, he responds to Monbiot's perfectly reasonable suggestion that a debate between himself and Plimer take place in written form to allow readers to check out the sources rather than in a live public slanging match, by calling him a 'chicken' and characterising his response as
...the squirmy, weaselly get-out of a no-good, snivelling, yellow-bellied, milquetoast loser quite terrified of having the massive holes in his puny argument mercilessly exposed in public by a proper scientist who actually knows his subject inside out?
And that, my friends, is the sort of thing that justifies my admittedly childish title. I thought about taking the high road, but he's really just a big silly fartypants.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Quite possibly the laziest Richard Littlejohn column ever

I've been a bit quiet recently, since I haven't really been in the mood to depress myself with a trawl through the papers, and the stories I have followed, like the abortive attempt by several papers to whip up an HPV vaccine scare only to be cruelly thwarted by the actual evidence, (although many of them did gamely try to cling on to the 'well, we should still be concerned' angle even after their initial reactions proved unfounded), have been pretty well covered elsewhere.

So I figured I'd ease myself back in with another lazy run through Dicky Littlejohn's latest knockabout romp. Today's, though, is quite bizarre. In it, Littlejohn complains that his council are too damn reasonable about recycling and helpful with the bins. He ponders aloud how he's supposed to run off one of his ironically recycled rants about the Bin Nazis, displayed a hitherto undiscovered sense of self-awareness. You can see that he's suddenly struggling with his conscience; there's just a glimmer of a hint of a thought there that maybe, just maybe, the world isn't entirely run by morons without a shred of 'common sense', that maybe all these little pathetic one-off anecdotes he repeats about some unreasonable council official aren't actually a fair representation of the world. That in some cases these stories aren't even true, or that they're exaggerated, or that even when they're true they're only newsworthy because they're isolated incidents which you can't extrapolate from. As I read it, I almost started rooting for him. "He's about to get it! He's finally fucking getting it! Go on Richard my son!".

Of course, he hasn't learned a fucking thing, or if he has, he's clearly about to repress it, as the final piece of his column today demonstrates. Still, before that, he has time for a couple of other segments, like a whole section which is designed to justify yet another pointless, smirking reference to Peter Mandelson's (gay!!!!) partner. It's actually quite a neat little bit of baiting; the section is headed "Thank God it was Sarah and not Reinaldo", and after a perfunctory complaint about Sarah Brown introducing Gordon Brown at the Labour conference (© all newspapers this week), he drifts into one of his merry little daydreams:
Still, at least we were spared Reinaldo's version of how Mandy makes a mess in the bathroom when he's dyeing his hair. Or Jack Dromey on how Harriet went mental when she discovered he had a Page 3 calendar up in his office.
The Dromey/Harman bit has the feel of something tacked on just in case someone makes a joke about his continuing obsession with Mandelson's gay relationship, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him making that defence of himself next week.

The next two sections aren't really worth talking about, just a strained dig at Gordon Brown and then a bit of fluff about how we're being turned into a federal superstate. Yawn.

Still, you know it wouldn't be a proper Littlejohn column without one of his trademark misleading anecdotes about politcal correctness gone mad, and today's comes in the form of this closing belch:
When the North Wales Traffic Taliban decided to muzzle all their police dogs and train them how to headbutt suspects instead of biting them, I thought I'd heard it all.

As usual, I should have known better. The increasingly absurd Devon and Cornwall force has started replacing their German shepherds with springer spaniels, which are said to be 'less frightening'.

Isn't frightening the whole point of police dogs?

Perhaps they should go still further and start recruiting labradors. Our old lab, Ossie, would have enjoyed being a police dog.

Trouble is, he wouldn't have been able to decide between licking suspects into submission or humping them to the ground.
Hmm, that seems odd. Attack dogs reduced in size to avoid hurting the nasty rapists and armed robbers? Must be human rights gone mad! So, donning my Sherlock Holmes hat, off I bravely go to Google to put in "springer spaniels" along with "Devon" and "Cornwall" to see if I can't get my massive detective brain around it and try to get to the bottom of it. It's amazing I go to this level of trouble unpaid, but what can I say, when duty calls I guess you gotta pick up that phone. And so, after upwards of 26 seconds of reading the BBC's less rabid account, I finally get a glimpse of the truth...

They're rescue dogs. No, genuinely, it's literally as straightforward and almost insultingly simple as that. They've trained them to be rescue dogs, for rescuing people. People who probably haven't done anything wrong and need rescuing. Devon and Cornwall police force have trained three (3!) springer spaniels and a Brittany to rescue people. So when Littlejohn asks "Isn't frightening the whole point of police dogs?", he means "Isn't frightening the whole point of police rescue dogs?". To which the answer, I would think most reasonable people would agree, is "no".
The force dog inspector said: "Our existing general purpose dogs are fantastic at what they do but vulnerable people are often scared when confronted by a German shepherd dog.

"These lost person search dogs have no other skills and are pure specialists in finding people who are lost."
So, these dogs will literally only be used to rescue people and find people who have gone missing, like for example lost children, with the old big dogs used for everything else. Meaning that they're not being 'replaced' either. This BBC story, which completely renders Littlejohn's argument massively wrong IN THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE, has been up since Tuesday. If you Google News search for "springer spaniels", you get it as the second result, with the Telegraph's Springer spaniels recruited as rescue dogs by police the main result. Indeed, do any kind of search for any news story about this, and it becomes painfully clearly that Richard Littlejohn is possibly the only person in the world who thinks these dogs are supposed to be hunting down criminals and giving them a playful lick on the face because political correctness gone mad says we can't frighten the bastards. I don't want to accuse him of being deliberately misleading, but I genuinely cannot conceive of a way he could have found out about this story without being told that these dogs are purely for rescuing people, unless he just half-heard it on the telly while he was doing something else and didn't bother his arse to do even the most basic Google-powered research of the kind a tiny child would be able to do.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Can I write this blog entry without touching the keyboard?

There's a well-known rule that when a tabloid headline poses a question, the answer is almost always 'no'. I don't think I'm going out on a particularly dangerous limb when I propose that this rule holds for the Mail's Can this man cure cancer with his bare hands?

This one's a really classic example of journalists reporting credulously on pseudoscience, complete with the time-honoured opening which presents our hack as a skeptic who's seen it all and definitely don't believe none o' this garbage, not no way.
The BBC's Watchdog says he's a menace. But when one of our most cynical writers met Britain's most controversial healer, her scepticism began to waver.
The writer, Rebecca Hardy, may well be one of Britain's most hard-nosed, scientifically literate skeptics for all I know, but it seems she's had precious little time to rigorously test paranormal phenomena before at the Mail, where she's been mostly employed to bring us the stories that really matter; stories like how Anne Robinson is looking for a man, how Jerry Hall would like to have sex with a man, how Cherie Lunghi can't find a man, how Mariella Frostrup didn't have sex with one particular man, how Andy Murray found a woman, how people have reacted to Paul Beshinivsky finding a woman, and how some old rich guy would like to impregnate a woman.

In the article, Hardy meets Adrian Pengelly, the "world renowned Visionary Healer, Energy Worker, Teacher and Psychic" (according to his own website), who works with both people and animals, both with his magic hands and also apparently at a distance anywhere in the world. It seems Pengelly recently got criticised by the BBC's consumer affairs show Watchdog for doing things like, y'know, claiming he can cure cancer with his fucking 'energy'. Like all good cranks, Pengelly has a finely-tuned sense of which people are stupid enough to believe him naturally in tune with his energy.
'Your energy's moving OK,' he says, which is, I guess, a good thing. Not like poor Matt Allwright from BBC1's Watchdog. 'When he came in his energy was so unpleasant - aggressive,' says Adrian.
Having not seen the episode of Watchdog in question, I won't address Hardy's characterisation of what the show claimed and how unfair it was on Pengelly, who is, we're told "a rather gentle man", with a list of anecdotes to support his claims and who says "I don't care about scientific evidence". Pengelly later seemingly contradicts this claim by talking about the incredible science behind his skills:
'I was just happy to help people. Some said I had a gift from God. But I just wanted to understand the science.

'I thought: "What is there? There's only energy - electricity in different forms - and it floats." I can feel energy come with one hand and draw it with another.

'Somehow the energy I was generating was stimulating the body's immune system.
I dunno about you guys, but that's got me in the mood for some hard-ass science, so let's move on to the test and watch how ruthlessly Hardy analyses Pengelly's abilities as he gets his hands on her and starts feeling her energy...
I've left my bag on the floor with a packet of cigarettes sticking out. Surely, if this man is a fraud, he's going to hone in on my lungs.

'There's no sign in your energy system of you smoking,' he says. 'If you were a heavy smoker, I'd be able to feel that. How many do you smoke a day?' A packet.
This is a strange one, because I would class a pack a day as a heavy smoker. Apparently she doesn't consider herself one though, and credits Pengelly for a hit here. Perhaps he tuned into her psychic energy, perhaps he just noticed that she wasn't constantly coughing up phlegm, who can say?
Now he's feeling my liver. 'People often accumulate emotional and psychological stress here,' he says. 'I can feel lumps of stress.'

Quelle surprise - I have a deadline to meet.
I'm not sure there's anyone anywhere who doesn't think they have some stress in their lives, a fact that Pengelly does at least acknowledge before honing in his diagnosis to something that's still massively vague but allows Hardy to provide all the information for him;
'One lump is now becoming bigger than the others. It's either a partner or a child it's related to. Is it related to a child and a partner at the same time? Does that make sense?

'The energy is twisted together. It's an emotional trauma, a shock, an energy you've held on to.'

Now I'm slightly freaked out. Almost two years ago my son's father died'
Of course, anyone who knows anything about cold reading can see what's going on here. Pengelly dangles a suggestion out there which his subject then stretches to fit her life. In this case it's her son's father dying, but Pengelly left his suggestion open enough to cover miscarriages, illnesses in both children and partners, relationship break-ups, custody battles and all manner of other potential traumas. The good thing about feeling energies through your hands rather than, for example, claiming to talk to the dead, is that it sort of makes sense that you would get vague signals back which your subject has to interpret themselves. With seances you always wonder if these spirits are mumbling and why they appear to only know the first letter of a dead relative's name, but the nebulous psychic energy racket has got a bit more leeway.

But just in case you think Pengelly is a crank, Hardy reassures us that he was once, like her, skeptical. I mean, he was "a policeman's son", for fuck's sake, and we all know about the well-documented link between having a copper for a dad and not believing in psychic healing. Pengelly became convinced when he went to a psychic fair and a man told him "where the scars were on [his] body from cycle racing", which I'm sure we can all agree would be almost impossible to guess. He tried out his own psychic ability by putting his hands on a friend's head and watching in astonishment as her migraine vanished. A scientist or doctor might suggest that headaches are self-limiting and subjective conditions which go away by themselves over time and are thus ripe for the old correlation/causation fallacy, but in this case our scientifically-minded journalist is just so darn impressed that she probably forgot.

The article finishes with Hardy talking about how she feels sort of better since Pengelly touched her up, saying "Meanwhile, I, as a professional cynic, am far less sceptical about Adrian than I expected". Maybe her stress disappeared, as she acknowledges, because she'd met her deadline. Perhaps it disappeared because instead of doing a real job she sat on a chair in a field getting gently massaged by a nice man. I certainly couldn't say. But isn't it so refreshing to see a serious journalist like Hardy really applying her critical thinking to a topic? So let's all petition the Mail to move Rebecca Hardy to a new position dealing with science and health claims, because truly her analytical talents are wasted on stories like Sinitta's continuing love for Simon Cowell, Dermot O'Leary's family plans and the trials and tribulations of someone who was engaged to someone who danced with a newsreader on a TV show about dancing.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Now PC prude bans phrase 'political correctness'

If ever you needed proof that 'political correctness' long ago ceased to be an actual code of language, if it ever was, today's papers are jizzing themselves silly about how you can't even say 'spotted dick' any more in case you offend dicks, or people with dicks, or people with no dicks, or people who once saw a dick but wish they hadn't. The Daily Express have gone with the rather straightforward NOW PC PRUDEES [sic] BAN SPOTTED DICK, presumably because you can't even say 'prudes' any more without offending the prudes.

The story runs like this; some people think that the name of the pudding 'spotted dick' is inherently hilarious, presumably the kind of people that really relish ordering cocktails called things like 'Sex On The Beach' or 'Interracial Anal Fisting' (not sure if the second one is a real cocktail). Canteen staff in one particular canteen have got bored of sniggering comments about spotted dick, and decided to rename it 'spotted Richard' on the menu (perhaps in homage to pudding-esque Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn, who knows?). This isn't really news in the sense that most of us would understand the term, but nevertheless the story made the Express, The Mail, The Telegraph, The Sun, The Star, the BBC, Sky News, and quite possibly a number of distant solar systems with no discernable traces of life. (If you're feeling a sense of deja vu, it could be because this sort of thing has happened before).

The Express, quick as a flash, sends a man racing up to the top of Express Towers to project the emergency PC Gone Mad symbol into the sky (I believe it's in the shape of a rainbow sheep), and, sure enough, their call for a hero is answered in the form of the tireless Philip Davies MP, a man who may very well actually shit reactionary quotes when he goes to the toilet:

Tory MP Philip Davies, Parliamentary spokesman for the Campaign Against ­Political Correctness said: “They are likely to get more people sniggering ­because they are calling it spotted Richard rather than spotted dick. It also speaks ­volumes that one group can be so childish and the other so sensitive.”
It seems they didn't need Davies to actually say 'political correctness gone mad', because he was beaten to it by someone who heard something about it from someone which he reckons is probably what happened:

Last night council member Klaus Armstrong-Braun said: “I find this unbelievable. I have been told it happened because it was felt the name was offensive. That is ludicrous. This dish has been around for 150 years and its name has never been a problem.

“It is part of British culture and heritage and to change it because of the childish ­behaviour of a few is absolutely ridiculous.

“It will even cost money because the name labels have to be changed. It is political ­correctness gone mad.”
That creaking sound you can hear is the national economy straining on the edge of total collapse with the news that Flintshire County Council's canteen is about to waste funds running into perhaps tens of pennies on their menus which almost certainly get reprinted on a regular basis anyway.

So what is political correctness these days? I'm a liberal person who tries to be careful with my choice of words because I understand that words are extremely powerful tools, weighted and shaped by decades of changing meaning and history such that they carry with them connotations which I think it behooves us all to acknowledge, out of a mixture of basic respect to people and the need to be understood. What I'm not is someone who thinks the name 'spotted dick' should be banned. The word 'dick' is not really a PC concern, is it? Political correctness isn't about banning swear words, that's just censorship at most.

It seems that 'political correctness' has now come to mean 'any type of censorship, change or compromise made which we in the press don't agree with'. Therefore, I propose that people just stop saying it. Just stop. You've ruined it now. It once sort-of meant something, but you messed around with it like excited children, tried to use it for something other than its intended purpose, and now it's broken. Maybe you can come up with another term which more accurately represents the weirdly simplistic narrative you're trying to spin, or, and here's a wild idea, maybe you can just try and criticise things on their own relative merits instead of screaming 'PC! PC GONE MAD!' like some kind of yelping chorus of gits. Does it make you feel good to constantly rail against a poorly-constructed left-liberal strawman using quirky, isolated examples which you know full well have nothing to do with any kind of political movement? Why the obsession with concocting a strange fantasy world wherein a dark cabal of socialist oppressors are stealing all your good old British words? It's so bollock-achingly fucking boring now that I'm actually tempted to start a campaign to genuinely get spotted dick banned (not even renamed, the actual pudding banned from shops, forever) just to piss you morons off.

So yeah, you can quote me on the 'let's stop saying the phrase "political correctness"' stuff and pretend I've banned it, if it helps give your world that frisson of excitement. Next time you're at a social gathering, why not end one of your spluttering right-wing rants with the phrase "...but of course, you can't say 'political correctness' any more, apparently the politically correct get offended by it!". Perhaps I'll be there when you say it, at which point I'll drag you off into a darkened room and violently stuff your every orifice with a popular currant-filled suet pudding while screaming "YEAAAAAAAH HOW YOU LIKE MY SPOTTED RICHARD NOW, BITCH?! TASTE MY RICHARD!", until your body explodes and your wretched existence finally draws to an undeservedly spectacular end.