Friday, 30 January 2009

Of course, discrimination is wrong, but...

It would be virtually impossible to write a blog about the lunatic fringe that occasionally inhabits mainstream media without at some point being curiously compelled to look at the increasingly bizarre mind of Melanie Phillips ('Mad Mel' to those of you less charitable than I). There's no hope of understanding it, of course, but there's a strange, almost uplifting appeal to reading her column's unique brand of doom-mongering, in the same way that staring into a gaping, fiery abyss from which can be heard nought but the anguished screams of souls in eternal torment might provide you with you some perspective when you return to, y'know, reality.

A quick overview of the story which has excited the right-wing press like no other this week; that of the adoption of two children by a gay couple. The story is complicated, by in short; kids' mum is a heroin addict, it's decided that their grandparents (one of whom has angina, the other diabetes) are not the best option and that an adoption by a family should be sought. Kids are fostered out first, adoption time comes round, the grandparents agree, but then social services choose a gay couple to be the adoptive parents. Grandparents, miffed, complain to papers, saying they're not homophobic but kids should have a mother and father figure, papers do the rest.

Now, that's a pretty glib assessment of the situation, but then it would be. Due to the sensitivity of these cases, we are privy to very little information about the kids, the adoptive parents, and the lengthy and complex process through which decisions are arrived at. These situations are always regrettable, always difficult, and as such aren't really suitable to kneejerk opinions about the rights and wrongs of the decision, which we are all grossly under-informed about. Perhaps restraint, tact and perhaps an admission that this was no doubt a complex decision are called for, troublesome as that might seem. Luckily, there are some maverick journalists out there who remain unscratched by the claws of nuance, and aren't afraid to stand up and tell it like it probably isn't: all rise for Melanie Phillips and her piece To place children with two gay men when an adoptive mother and father are available, just to uphold a brutal dogma, is a sickening assault on family life. Let's just take a moment to breathe in the sweet, fresh air of moral clarity.

When homosexuality was legalised back in 1967 did anyone dream that some four decades on a British grandmother and grandfather wanting to adopt their own grandchildren would be refused permission and the children adopted instead by two gay men?

Now, some of you might not see the two issues as connected. On the one hand you've got the adoption process, which is about trying to ensure that kids orphaned or harmed by unsuitable parents get rehomed in a new environment, and on the other you've got the right of of gay people to get a level of treatment roughly equivalent to their hetero counterparts. It takes a certain skill to be able to not only conflate these into a single issue, but to realise that, in fact, it's part of an even more massive meta-issue about shitting on all that's good and proper:

...what started out as a decent attempt to be tolerant towards a minority lifestyle has turned into a totalitarian assault upon family life and human rights.

Crikey, Mel! Is that perhaps a bit much? Back to the case, lest you ponder for too long over whether that actually makes any sense!

Reluctantly, therefore, they agreed to the children being adopted by another couple, on the basis they would be brought up by a loving mother and father figure. But although several heterosexual couples were available to adopt them, the children were handed over instead to two gay men.

Phillips, like me, knows nothing of either the gay couple or the heterosexual couples involved in this case, and yet she seems certain that she knows what would have been right. Slowly it becomes apparent that the confusing argument goes like this: tearing kids away from their grandparents to adopt them out to new parents is wrong and symbolic of an authoritarian dictatorship where the state's powers have run wild and unchecked, BUT if they get put with a nice straight couple it's probably basically fine and we'll let the whole freedom-crushing Stalinist shit slide. Indeed, the grandparents seemed to agree that adoption was alright until it turned out the new parents would be gay men.

The prevailing argument that all types of family are as good as each other as far as the children are concerned simply isn’t true. While some children emerge relatively unscathed from irregular households, children need to be brought up by the two people ‘who made me’ - or, in adoptive households, in a family which closely replicates that arrangement.

So, wait, some children from 'irregular households' turn out fine? And yet, they need to be brought up by their actual biological parents? But if not that, then their grandparents? Or if not that, then someone else? This is an incredibly long-winded way of saying 'look, kids are alright with anyone but the gays'. Now get ready for a staggeringly inappropriate use of the words 'Quite obviously':

But where an adoptive mother and father are available, to place children instead with two gay men is beyond perverse. Quite obviously, the interests of these children have been subordinated to politically correct considerations.

Is it? Is it that obvious? Is it not possible that they were the most suitable candidates?

The powers invested in social workers to interfere in family life are extensive and draconian, and are granted only because of the acknowledged need to safeguard the interests of children against abusive family situations.

But in this case, it is Edinburgh social services department that has grossly abused its position of trust by intentionally placing these most vulnerable children in a position of disadvantage and maybe even harm for nothing other than ideological reasons.

Now, that's quite an accusation. I would say that perhaps, in order to assert that, you would need to know a lot about all the prospective adoptive candidates. We know nothing of the gay couple. We know nothing of the heterosexual couples that applied to adopt the same child. We know a couple of things about the grandparents; they're in poor health and there's therefore a reasonable chance that one or both of them will die at a crucial stage in the kids' upbringing, and we also know that they already looked after at least one child who grew up to be a heroin addict who was unfit to look after her own kids. The unsuitability of their biological mother may, I would think, count against the grandparents. Not in a 'cuh, look how the last kid they looked after turned out!' way necessarily, but it could be a factor in that it would presumably increase the biological mother's chances of getting back into their lives when it's agreed that that is not desirable. I don't know, of course, I merely speculate. But Phillips is almost frighteningly sure about her conclusions. The climax of the column spirals upward into a frenzy of righteousness:

...where ‘gay rights’ are concerned the old joke that what was once forbidden becomes in due course mandatory has now come all too true in post-morality Britain.

Post-morality Britain. Did you read that? Social services have gone through a lengthy procedure of vetting and arrived at a conclusion based on piles of information we don't have. What conclusion are we to draw from this? That maybe we should consider there might be some serious mitigating circumstances? Or that morality in Britain is clearly dead? Pfft, only that? What are you, some kind of pussy? Fuck that, let's crank this shit up a notch!

The underlying agenda behind gay adoption, as it is behind the whole gay rights movement, is nothing to do with protecting the rights of gay people. Were it really so, there would be no objection. No-one should be discriminated against simply on the grounds of his or her sexuality.

That does not mean, however, that gay lifestyles must be regarded as of equal value to heterosexual households when it comes to the raising of children. To say that anyone who makes such a distinction is prejudiced is to turn reality on its head.

But that is indeed the whole point of the gay rights movement - to destroy the very notion of heterosexual norms of sexual behaviour and the definition of the family so that gay lifestyles can present themselves as ‘normal’.

That's right, you did just read that. Putting aside the staggering bombast of the statement that the gay rights 'agenda' is to destroy both heterosexuality and the family, you did indeed just witness Melanie Phillips twist gracefully in the air through the mental hoops that allowed her to have these pairs of thoughts in her head at the same time:

1) "No-one should be discriminated against simply on the grounds of his or her sexuality"
2) "That does not mean, however, that gay lifestyles must be regarded as of equal value to heterosexual households when it comes to the raising of children" [I particularly like the clever use of gay 'lifestyles' versus heterosexual 'households', it's a subtle bit of dog-whistling, but neat I think]

(As an aside, I know what she thinks she trying to say; she's not biased against them cos they're gay, but cos they're two men, and kids need a woman and a man to grow up right. I just doubt her commitment to this premise would extend to its logical conclusion of insisting that widows and widowers give up their kids and pass them to couples so they can get raised proper. Although if she did say that I would be impressed!)

1) opposing gay adoption is not an example of prejudice
2) it is possible to pre-judge that any gay couple is by default better than any straight couple at raising children.

Because, of course, how can it be prejudice when it's a fact that gay adoption is bad for kids, right? A fact, admittedly, that she doesn't go on to justify with any evidence, merely dismissing all the current studies into gay adoption (as mentioned here) are 'methodologically too unsound to be authoritative'. But a fact, probably, nonetheless.

Phillips always seems to have that same slightly psychotic urge to push her rhetoric over the edge that Pete 'Peter' Hitchens has. Instead of focusing on whether this case is justified, she tends to get bored. For her, the idea that this might be an informed decision that some trained individuals have made is perhaps too mundane, and she just can't resist the temptation to make her anger widescreen. I've never quite understood it. You start a column like this to despair at a decision you see as unjust, baffling to reasonable folk. You go to the trouble of painting yourself as a kind of moral arbiter, someone with common sense who knows ludicrous when she sees it. And yet at some point you take your nuance and your analysis, screw it up, throw it in a bin, burn it, set your phaser to 'HYPERBOLE', and by the end of the article you find yourself describing it as "a world turned on its head", "an onslaught upon human rights", and "a brutal totalitarian dogma, which anyone with an ounce of real liberal principle should denounce for the attack on justice, humanity and common-sense that it undoubtedly is".

The liberal principle, there, of telling gays that they can't adopt because, well, it just ain't right.

I'm left with the impression that, as her articles near completion, on Phillips' version of Word that little paperclip pops up and says "Oops! It looks like you've forgotten to tie your account of this seemingly isolated and unrepresentative incident into your much-loved paranoid meta-narrative about how stuff you don't agree with is almost certainly part of a plot to destroy everything you (and people exactly like you) hold dear. Would you like to add a few completely unsubstantiated and quite frankly preposterous assertions about how this is all evidence of the evil motives everyone else apparently has for inexplicably fucking up uncontroversial things like the traditional family?". And, with that, Phillips goes off to a special document full of stock "Oh no! Liberal tyranny!" quotes that her fellow columnists all have access to, ready to insert them randomly into her conclusion in order to cater to that part of her readership that's jaded enough to have become bored by any stories that fail to describe the almost total destruction of civilised society as we know it.

Friday, 23 January 2009

No Sleep 'Til Brooklands 'Sexiest Man Alive'

Just in time for Jonathan Ross' 'controversial' return to Friday night telly, the Mail are going after him with full force, tugging at our heartstrings with the devastating headline Andrew Sachs' family 'torn apart' by Jonathan Ross phone scandal. As an old-fashioned type of guy, I sometimes work on the outdated assumption that something that appears in quotes in a headline will be based on an actual quote from the article itself. Which I suppose it is in this case, except it's the Mail itself who says it:

Andrew Sachs has vowed never to watch Jonathan Ross again after tonight's comeback, as it emerged his family has been torn apart by the scandal.

The words 'torn' and 'apart' are never mentioned again, suggesting it might be an example of what Language Log terms mendacity quotes. So what's the nature of the devastation heaped on the Sachs family? Mr Sachs and his wife haven't spoken to their granddaughter since learning about her lifestyle:

'We haven't spoken since and I have no wish to speak to her,' she added.

'We didn't know any of this about the drugs, sex with Russell Brand and we had never heard the name Satanic Sluts before. She used to be a lovely girl and we spent a lot of money on her, educating her.'

Saddening stuff for sure, but you have to wonder first of all, how often did they speak to her? People's relationships with their grandparents are massively varied; some people live with them, whereas I see my grandparents roughly once a year, and as far as I know they're not deeply ashamed of me. There's little to suggest that they were particularly close, and indeed the fact her grandparents claim not to have known what she did for a job suggests that this may not have been a tight-knit bond which has been destroyed by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's inane chatter about how Brand once had sex with her. Is Ross really to blame for all this? Even if he were the reason they found out (and that's up for debate; much of the revelations about her drug use and status as a Satanic Slut came from the Mail itself), it does seem a touch hard to have sympathy if they're genuinely refusing to speak to their granddaughter now because of her lifestyle.

There's something incredibly nauseating about the Mail's conduct in this whole 'scandal'. Lest we forget, it was the Mail On Sunday that first made Sachs aware of the then entirely unremarked-upon comments on his answerphone, playing him a recording of it down the phone to his agent a full four days after it happened. Had the MoS not done that, Sachs might well have never known about it. Now the Mail is using the fact that Sachs and his wife found out and subsequently disowned their granddaughter as a stick to keep beating Ross and the BBC with, apparently oblivious to their pivotal role in 'tearing apart' this family. Despite the BBC sackings, suspensions, resignations and repeated grovelling apologies that have come from this media-driven scandal, the Mail still feels like it hasn't got enough, and continues to hassle the Sachs family for quotes every time Ross does anything. It started the scandal, it fuelled the complaints, it kept it burning way past the point most people stopped caring, and its clearly trying to ignite it again.

Meanwhile, the Mail has been busy carelessly flinging a massive pneumatic drill around the precarious patch of moral high ground it had been standing on when it derided Ross for being a 'bully', by repeatedly running headlines mocking his speech impediment and criticising his appearance. These include such sterling examples of tact and respect as Utterly unwepentant: Jonathan Ross blames others for his downfall and is plotting how to land a new big money BBC deal, Where's your pwide gone Wossy...? Chat show host goes out and about in a drab tracksuit (successfully taking the piss out the way he talks, the clothes he wears AND employing the type of pointless paparazzi-led non-news shite the Mail once promised to stop doing), and my personal favourite Jonathan Ross prepares for return to work... but BBC make-up are in for a shock when they see that double chin, which reveals that Jonathan Ross, never to my knowledge previously renowned for having a perfect jawline or the body of a Greek God, has a bit of a double chin from some angles, as if he's some kind of normal-looking 48-year-old man, the grotesque freak.

The Mail also tries to reignite the scandal today with the revelation that Ross made some oblique jokey references to the scandal while recording his show. The article is too tedious to go through (suffice it to say they spit outrage at him making a fart joke, and a joke where he self-deprecatingly implies he was an idiot), although it does have the decency to point out he did make an apology;

Recording his first chat show since his three-month suspension for his part in the obscene phone calls scandal, the 48-year-old began by issuing a formal apology.

That may have come as a surprise to anyone who read Monday's Ross will return 'without an apology' as £6milion-a-year host counts down to comeback show. Although perhaps they'd be too busy being surprised at the appearance of one-time 'Sexiest Man Alive'* Tom Cruise after the Mail's The Ross refuseniks: A-list stars 'snub' disgraced chat show host as he prepares for comeback, which quoted a 'source close to' Cruise as saying he didn't want to be involved in any controversy and may well not appear.

(*blog title thoroughly justified, I think you'll find; the quote is right fucking there in my main article now.)

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Pretending to say the 'unsayable'

If there's one thing that amuses me more than anything about right-wing political commentators, it's their ability to make themselves sound persecuted and oppressed in their widely-read columns in multi-million-selling national newspapers. Few people, of course, are as good at playing the 'I'm not allowed to say that' card as Richard Littlejohn, a man whose life in a Florida mansion and subsequent disconnect from British society has apparently led him to the entirely wrong conclusion that he's being somehow shocking by saying things I hear at work, on the bus and from my family on a regular basis.

Today's is a particularly great whinge. Entitled Getting up the noses of the 'guilt-tripping white folks', its tediously familiar theme is that he, Richard Littlejohn, is being shouted down by some kind of politically correct elite and prevented from saying the things he's been saying for decades. That's Richard Littlejohn, the national newspaper columnist paid a reported £800,000 a year for columns that receive glowing comments from his devoted readers; author of six published books, regular guest on Question Time and erstwhile presenter of numerous TV and radio shows. You'd think it would be difficult to claim persecution as a right-wing columnist in an overwhelmingly right-wing media, but of course, for people to keep reading his column he has to give the impression of being some kind of brave, lone voice staring into the abyss; only he and his readers can see where Britain is going wrong and the liberal elite are too concerned with racism and global warming to do anything about it.

Littlejohn's current piece centres around Trevor Phillips, a long-standing friend of his and the man who gave Littlejohn his own LWT talk show in the mid-90s. Trevor Phillips is both the head of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, and outspoken critic of multiculturalism. As such, he's recently become a goldmine to the Daily Mail, because he's a black man who thinks like them on some issues. This enables them to win the argument about multiculturalism, immigration and political correctness by saying 'Look! Even this top black man agrees with us!' in the time-honoured 'some of my best friends are black' way.

Now, you might think that, if anything, surely having a significant black figure who publicly and frequently supports their anti-multiculturalist agenda might be an indicator that the public climate broadly supports or is receptive toward their opinions and, and that perhaps they should stop pretending they're not allowed to say what they're saying, but it seems to make no difference; the key to be a successful 'non-PC' columnist is to continue insisting that, for example, you can't say 'there's too much immigration', despite the fact that people can and repeatedly do say that in literally every national newspaper (but most frequently in the Mail, the Express, the Telegraph, the Times, the Sun and the Star) and that immigration has been an issue for every political party and in every election campaign for as long as I can remember. Here's an example of how Littlejohn works:

They have used the catch-all cliche of 'racism' to advance their own agenda, silence dissent and bully the paying public into submission.

Until recently, anyone who questioned whether mass immigration was either desirable or sustainable was vilified. The blameless, courteous chairman of Migrationwatch - who exposed the reality behind the Government's fiction over immigration - was subjected to a vicious campaign of character assassination.

Note the complete lack of any evidence that anyone has assassinated Migrationwatch chariman Sir Andrew Green's character, but let's assume that they have. Has Andrew Green's dissent been silenced? The metropolitan, sandal-wearing, touchy-feely, multi-culti liberal elite's stranglehold on the press and public discourse is such that in the past few weeks Sir Green has only been given a platform to speak out against immigration in The Star's OUTRAGE AS JOBS ARE OFFERED TO FOREIGNERS, BUM MAPS FREE ARMY OF ILLEGALS (sic), MIGRANTS FEAR NEW JOBS BACKLASH (wherein Green essentially tells us that racially abusing Poles is wrong but if the Government didn't let them in they wouldn't get abused), and POLES GO BUT FAMILIES STAY FOR BENEFITS, the Telegraph's Immigration officers 'face perverse incentives to grant visas', the Mail's Jobs dry up but Poles stay to reap the benefits, the Express' MIGRANT SCANDAL - BRITONS FEEL NEGLECTED AND BETRAYED and POPULATION CURBS A 'BLUFF', ITV's Foreign prisoners 'released early' and the BBC's Criminal deportations target met. Apart from that, he's been completely silenced since Christmas (before which he was quoted for three separate articles in December in the Mail alone), except for all those instances, and the time three weeks ago when he got given a full platform in The Guardian to reply to someone who had criticised his figures.

I was just looking at the Star articles and there's a sidebar headline MUSLIM NUTTERS: WE'LL KILL MADGE, displaying all the cuddly politically-correct sensitivity the Star is noted for, while today's Express front page calls the EU 'Euro idiots', as the website prominently displays the story ANGER AS FOREIGNERS WIN POWER STATION JOBS, which is exactly the sort of thing you're probably not allowed to say. But apart from all those papers where you can say the sort of things Littlejohn isn't allowed to say but repeatedly does anyway, it's wall-to-wall political correctness gone mad! I mean, let's say for example you oppose immigration and want to vote for a party who can say there should be limits on immigration...who can you even vote for? Apart from the Conservatives, obviously. Or UKIP. Or the BNP. Can you even say anything about immigration or multiculturalism without being called racist? I mean, apart from if you're in any of the parties I just mentioned, obviously. The Labour Party, of course, DOES probably think talking about immigration is racist, even though none of their MPs say it out loud, and even though many of them have explicitly said it's not, like Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, and, er, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas. But apart from them...

Friday, 16 January 2009

It's a flipping disgrace!

If the old 'no news is good news' maxim is true, then yesterday must have been an utterly glorious day; today's Express apparently found so little of interest to report that it resorted to moaning about swearing like a 1950s housewife:


This story was brought to you by the self-proclaimed 'World's Greatest Newspaper', whose proprietor (noted pornographer Richard 'Dirty' Desmond), is renowned on Fleet Street for his delicate way with words and touchy-feely respect for people's boundaries, as evidenced in quotes like these:

"Mr Desmond said: 'Don't you tell me to sit down, you fucking miserable piece of shit'. At one point, he asked if I wanted to go outside to sort it out. I regard it as extreme behaviour in front of adults. Eventually, it was clear there was no way of conducting a meaningful meeting."

"He [Desmond] was holding two fingers up as a Hitler moustache and making Nazi salutes," the Telegraph chief added.

Mr Desmond also called the Telegraph executives "fucking cunts" and "fucking wankers".

The current issue of Private Eye carries a story about Desmond entering the office one morning and summarily dismissing an employee for being a "fat cunt". Still, let's not focus on one man when, as the Express story suggests, society is on the brink of collapse:

Perhaps most shockingly, some 78 per cent of people admitted to swearing regularly for no reason whatsoever, while the overwhelming majority – 98 per cent – admitted they swore when they lost their temper.

Oh no! As we all know, everyone hates swearing and will be massively upset by this.

Britain is generally seen as a conservative nation but a survey of more 2,000 people found that just eight per cent are now offended by swearing, as long as it is in an adult context.

That sentence is constructed so badly I can't make out whether it's saying that 8% are offended by swearing even if it's in an adult context, or if it means the other 92% are cool with swearing as long as it's in an adult context, which along with the figure that 98% of people swear, conjures up an image of an awkward 6% of people offending themselves with their own potty mouths.

Anyway, the important thing to take from this is the big swearing threat to Britain, which has ruined our once-proud country, even though the story reveals that virtually no-one gives a shit. I blame Tony fucking Blairs.

Thursday, 15 January 2009


Late last night, while browsing a popular (and hence massively concerned about potential libel) football forum, I came across one of their regular stickied 'Please don't talk about this!' threads referring to today's Daily Star front page. Needless to say, seconds later I was on the Daily Star's website checking out the latest scurrilous gossip. It was indeed a particularly gobsmacking scene that greeted me (the words, I mean):


Amazed by the front page's pretty clear indication that someone in Big Brother had been raped, apparently by Coolio, and that it had been kept secret, I clicked onto the article to read more about the charmingly-termed CBB RAPE SHOCK, whereupon the rapid two-stage withdrawal of the shocking headline began:

The American gangsta rapper has stunned other contestants with his racist language and sick comments about rape.

Oh, so it was rape comments, then? Well I suppose that's kinda shocking. Did Coolio claim to have raped someone? Did he threaten to? Did he joke about doing so? Did he make a sick joke at the expense of a rape victim? Well, it turns out that Coolio;

...[b]ragged that he has never raped a girl – “Because I never had to”

Right. Now, to me, that's a somewhat grubby boast, but is it really front page news? Is it really fair to refer to it with a picture of Coolio's face (albeit that you'd struggle to notice it next to the giant airbrushed tits'n'ass alongside) and the eye-opening, if semi-literate, headline 'CELEB B BRO RAPE SHOCK'? The joke, such as it was, was specifically that he HASN'T raped anyone, and even then we're not told the context of the conversation in which he said it. Perhaps I was to blame for initially assuming they were calling Coolio a rapist and accusing Big Brother of organising a cover-up, but then again, perhaps I was given a negative impression of Coolio due to their headline from two days previous, which established him as a 'SEX BULLY':


Or perhaps my view had been jaundiced by the front page revelation from yesterday that Coolio had FIXED THE SHOW:


As tactics to get people to buy your paper when they see it on the newsstand go, implying (with just enough plausible deniability to ensure that you could avoid legal action) that a celebrity is a rapist seems to be particularly offensive. Since I have a PS3 and no desire to spend my evenings watching Terry Christian get into tedious arguments, I haven't watched the show, and if Coolio's quotes across the various Star stories are genuine then he seems a bit obnoxious, but no more than that. That he boasted he didn't need to rape anyone because as a rich rapper he gets his fair share of pussy is certainly a little tasteless, but I suspect the Star knew that 'RAPPER INDULGES IN BRAGGADOCIO' would have been barely worth a two-line box-out in the celebrity gossip column, let alone a frenzied front page. The rap sheet (teehee) they've come up with against Coolio also alleges that he, a black American rapper, occasionally uses the world 'nigger', which is another claim that seems unlikely to cause the world to spin off its axis for any appreciable length of time.

Perhaps it would be easier to take the Daily Star's outrage at Coolio's apparent bawdy sexism more seriously if they didn't stick a massive picture of a woman in her bra and pants on seemingly every front page they've ever made, making boobs and bums as regular an appearance on there as the massive '20P'. Can you really object to Coolio's perhaps outdated remarks about women on the one hand, while running front pages like the third one above, which promises that Kelly Brook's 'talents' (THEY MEAN HER TITS!!!) can be seen on page 3? Can you run a serious story about this outrage, as the link at the top of the page pretends to do, and adorn it with a huge picture of Lucy Pinder in her knickers and a big red mid-article link inviting you to 'SEE MORE SEXY LUCY PINDER PICS HERE'? Apparently you can!

The Star is a particularly idiosyncratic rag which churns out these front pages to a formula; go through the front pages of the past few weeks and they all follow the same pattern; 'outrageous' reality show nonsense as the main headline, huge picture of curvy babe to the left. It brags that it's the reality TV paper, and as such runs front page headlines on the latest tittle-tattle throughout the entire runs of the shows, with all kinds of enormous, earth-shaking stories relegated to sidebars or page 5 to make way for the TV and girls formula that must serve it so well.

Still, maybe it's best if we try and remain thankful for small mercies; while Big Brother is on they don't need to try and dabble artlessly in politics as they did with the recent front-page zinger THEY'VE STOLEN ALL OUR JOBS...

Monday, 12 January 2009

I got those 'trying to parody an Express headline' blues

I've seen you, you know. I've seen you sitting there watching your big telly, thinking that the Nazis didn't win and you live in some kind of free society where you can watch Hollyoaks on it without jackbooted stormtroopers kicking down your door to confiscate it, and let me tell you that your naivety disgusts me. Have you not been paying attention to the slow, creeping power grab by the EU-SSR? Idiot! The papers have been telling you for ages. You didn't stand up when they came for your baffling imperial measurements, you didn't stand up when they came for your grossly inefficient lightbulbs, and now they're coming for your massive home theatre system, there's no-one left to speak up for you. Allow the Daily Express to drop a TRUTH BOMB on your house of ignorance: NOW THE EU WANTS TO BAN YOUR PLASMA TELEVISION.

It's tempting to try and seriously go through this story and try and find out the real truth, but the Mail's marginally less rabid Energy-guzzling plasma TVs will be banned in Brussels eco blitz gives the 'well...not quite' game away with this eighth-paragraph admission:

A spokesman for the Department-for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the plasma TV would not be banned completely, with eco-friendly sets remaining on the market.

So, obviously they're not going to banned, they're just possibly going to gradually be phased out in favour of less ridiculous models that don't consume more than double the energy of an equivalent LCD, if the EU can agree on its energy ratings system. In keeping with its longstanding image as the breathless, outlandish, idiotic Scrappy Doo to the Mail's Scooby, the Express' coverage goes with that preposterous headline, and doesn't have time for tedious, tokenistic attempts at 'balance' like the Mail. The Mail's approach to balancing out their stories with the obligatory single quote from the other viewpoint is in a way even more inexcusable, since it proves that they've done enough research to know they're talking shit, whereas the Express just give the impression they don't give a fuck.

Perhaps the Express lost their Blackberry with all their contact details in it or something. I mean, who would you ring to get an informed, relevant quote on a potential issue like this? A scientist? Someone with some kind of electronics background? Someone from the EU? Defra? A climate change expert, if that's the contention you're making? Ha! The Express decide to call one of their own columnists, the inimitable right-wing word-generator Ann Widdecombe, who's one of that happy breed of political geniuses whose primary skill, such as it is, lies in being able to have an opinion about anything without having to cheat by doing wimpy, cop-out things like 'research'. It can't be easy to be a rent-a-gob on every topic, so Widdecombe deserves praise for managing to ramble on at a tangent, 'Just A Minute' style, with this kind of finesse:

The move has been blasted by civil rights campaigner and Daily Express columnist Ann Widdecombe. The Tory MP condemned the plans as “outrageous interference” in people’s personal lives.

She said: “We have already got the situation of being compelled to have ‘green’ light bulbs with poisonous mercury in them. First it was the light bulbs and now they are after plasma screen TVs.

“There is no climate change, hasn’t anybody looked out of their window recently?

“Our Government intervenes too much in people’s personal lives. When you can’t decide what you plug in at home it has really come to something.”

I must admit, first of all, to my surprise at seeing Ann Widdecombe described as a 'civil rights campaigner'. Perhaps that's because I think of her as the woman who had an ITV1 series which involved literally yelling at prostitutes and the unemployed as part of a weird 'Did I really see that?' telly freakshow. Or perhaps it's the phrase's association with the likes of Martin Luther King, who probably wouldn't have become so fondly remembered if he'd merely had a dream that one day the European Union wouldn't be allowed to allegedly propose gradually phasing out/putting energy ratings on unnecessarily power-sapping TVs so he could watch Holly Willoughby's tits in massive hi-def 56" plasma-vision instead of on a similarly-sized LCD screen.

Perhaps I'm troubled by the idea of Widdecombe as some kind of crusader for ultimate freedom because the last time I saw her name, she was busy telling the BBC who they should or shouldn't be interviewing for a lightweight end-of-year list show about celebrities. But that would be churlish of me, I'm sure. I mean, the right to be able to buy one particular kind of telly in a few years probably is more important than the right to be able to watch it without over-exposed Tory firebrands yelping self-righteously about whether or not we should be allowed to see Ron Jeremy say something a bit rude about Lindsay Lohan on it. At least under a Widdecombe-led utopia we'd be able to watch programming that stays strictly "within the limits of decency" on an enormous plasma.

But you know, okay, I've had some time to think about it and I take some of that back about her. Earlier I may have suggested that Widdecombe is something of a gobshite who wouldn't know or read research if she wallpapered her toilet with it, but reading that quote again I realise I was deeply unfair. It's just that there are different types of research. There's the meticulous, measurement-taking, number-crunching, data-analysing, peer-reviewed research that, say, the IPCC do on climate change, and then there's looking out of a fucking window, which pretty much anyone who's not blind or in solitary confinement can do. I think you'll agree with Ann, looking out of the window and seeing it a bit cold and wet in England in mid-January, that the 'climate change' hypothesis which all these girlfriendless science boffins have been researching for several decades is clearly dead. It's this kind of clear, uncluttered-by-evidence kind of thinking that makes the Tories so delightfully electable, don't you think?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Skip to the end...

Traditionally, the correct way to read a newspaper article written in English is from left to right, and then top to bottom. This ensures that the narrative sequence remains intact and that ideas and information are presented in a logical order. Hopefully you'll already know this, or else I fear the rest of this post might become awfully confusing to you as you flit randomly between words and paragraphs, reading some of them backwards or upside-down or filtering them through a bizarre internal code system which replaces all the nouns with a mental image of a butterfly struggling to extract itself from a spider's web. However, this time-honoured reading order is not always necessary when reading the Daily Mail, and in fact reading their articles from beginning to end is often an effective way of getting entirely the wrong idea about a situation.

If you're interested in attempting to get a balanced, fair view of a story that's being reported in the Daily Mail, I would first of all like to snort derisively at you and say 'Yeah, good luck with that!' in the most sarcastic way possible. But, cursed as I am with the spirit of helpfulness, it behooves me to give you a pointer or two about how to most usefully approach the Mail's intriguing style of prose.

You may as well start at the beginning, with the headline. For this example, we will choose the story Now even police can't object to gipsy camp in picturesque village...because it's racist. Don't concern yourself with what's actually being called 'racist' in the title (objecting, the gipsy camp, the village?), because it really doesn't matter; in Mailworld all of us are being called racist all the time by Gordon Brown's thought police, so the distinction in this case is barely relevant. Next, get a quick overview of the Mail's idea of what is going on by reading the opening two or three paragraphs:

Police have been told they cannot object to a planned gipsy camp in a picturesque village - because to do so would be 'racist'.

Council chiefs have ruled that the local force's professional opinion 'breaches the Race Relations Act'.

The decision meant that councillors considering the planning application were not told how officers had been called to another local camp 109 times in just two years.

The first thing to note is that you've got a claim about an authority there, which ought to be sustantiated by a direct quote later in the article from the council concerned. Now is a good time to look at the things in inverted commas, and then search for them in the rest of the article to find quotes from people who were actually involved with the decision in some way. If, like me, you lead a thrill-packed rollercoaster of a life, and reading the entire article would waste precious seconds/minutes that you could be using to coax frightened cats down from trees by performing awe-inspiring guitar solos on a flaming axe while sexy ladies in the immediate quarter-mile radius of your position begin stripping down to their knickers like you're some kind of buff and sexy Pied Piper of RAWK, a quick way to do this is with a Ctrl + F page search for relevant terms.

Note that both unattributed quasi-quotes here revolve around racism and the Race Relations Act, and then begin your search for words beginning with the root 'rac', and scan anything that comes up for evidence of some jumped-up little Hitler of a council official calling everyone who doesn't immediately want to suck off an ethnic minority or give them flowers a 'racist'. At this point you may notice that there are in fact no quotes from official spokespersons mentioning race, or racism, or the Race Relations Act, or racing, or idiosyncratic Polish-Canadian 'braindance' artist Bogdan Raczynski. Now you're ready to employ the 'skip to the end' technique, which as the name implies, involves merely skipping to the last couple of paragraphs to read the grudgingly-included mandatory quote from someone who actually had some level of fucking involvement with the thing everyone's screaming about. Sure enough, the token official quote at the end reads:

A spokesman for Bedford council said: 'The police objection was treated very seriously.

'Legal advice indicated that the objection was not a material planning consideration and should not be reported to committee. In the light of such clear advice it was considered appropriate to return the correspondence to the police.'

Keen-minded readers who've had their 5-a-day may note that this quote doesn't call the police racist, or any one else for that matter, and makes no mention of the Race Relations Act. It's almost as if the Mail doesn't even have any hard evidence for the claim that the council has deemed the police's apparent objection to be racist! Now, I don't want to suggest that the Daily Mail might be distorting the facts in some way to pander to the long-running narrative it's been feeding its readers about how they're being constantly oppressed by 'political correctness', BUT...actually I just realised I have no way of finishing that sentence.

True to form, a second glance at the article hints at another trusted weapon in the Mail's arsenal; that of conflating two completely different stories in order to beef up that sense of persecution by proving that the same thing is happening over and over again, all the time. It makes reference to an earlier story wherein "nearby Mid-Bedfordshire council labelled more than 3,000 local residents of the village of Stotfold as racists when they objected to a gipsy site", which it reported on using the not remotely inflammatory headline Council disregard objections of 3,000 residents to traveller site as 'they are racist'. The theme is pretty clear; the tyrannical Befordian government thinks pretty much all its residents are bile-dripping racist knuckle-draggers, when they're no doubt largely decent law-abiding citizens doing what's best for their community. Actually, in that story, the council DID use the word 'racist', in a statement which suggested that some of the 3,000 responses it received could not be published in the report because "[t]he Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985 requires any material which is defamatory or likely to incite racial hatred or contempt, and information the disclosure of which is prohibited by law, to be marked 'confidential' and not disclosed to the public". Of course, it again doesn't cite the Race Relations Act but another bit of wishy-washy, hand-wringing, liberal legislation which was created in 1985 under the famously politically-correct government of Margaret Thatcher.

Again, employing the 'skip to the end' technique on the Mail's second article reveals a curious discrepancy between the Mail's figures and that of the council. The Mail's version:

Council disregard objections of 3,000 residents to traveller site as 'they are racist' [...] while 400 responses would be considered, 3,100 were in some way racist and would be rejected.

And the council's version:

'Only a small proportion (around 5 per cent) of the comments were actually discounted in their entirety. The remainder were taken into consideration, either in whole or in part.'

Let's use the council's figure that 3,500 comments were received, and work out how many 5% of that is, as that's how many were disregarded according to the council itself. My trusty Windows calculator makes it 175. So, was it 175 or 3,000 (or indeed, 3,100) people which Mid-Bedfordshire District Council have tarred with the big 'racist' brush? I'll leave it up to you who to trust. I will say that the Mail's figure is only a mere sixteen times higher than the council's, which by Mail standards actually represents a surprising level of truthfulness (as figures I can't possibly reveal to you but which back up my argument impeccably show).

(By way of a post-script, the proposed camp from the first story was rejected anyway, according to the Bletsoe Residents' Association's amusingly-named website, Support BRA)

Friday, 9 January 2009

The 'polite letters' OF TERROR

It's often suggested that the kind of 'low-end', apparently badly-written, tabloid journalism you get in papers like The Sun or the Daily Star is actually the hardest kind to write. Even my English teacher once told me that. The thinking seems to go something like this; since almost no-one with the ability to type a few hundred words intelligibly enough to get hired as a journalist would actually write that kind of nonsense with a straight face, tabloid journalists are actually well-drilled geniuses of a sort, able to control their natural urge to write things like 'facts' or their actual opinion in favour of a mendacious, crowd-pleasing tissue of half-truths, quarter-truths, deliberate misrepresentations, and outright lies couched in the kind awkward phrasing and bizarre word selections you simply don't get taught at school. To be a tabloid journalist, it seems, you have to be able to slay the terrifying demons that are your conscience and/or tendency to write like a human being, in order to tell the kind of story that your proprietor requires of you. Worse, there's just so much more ball-breaking work involved in having to make up the story first and then write it, as opposed to dryly reporting existing news.

There's at least some truth in that, but that only makes it all the more dispiriting as you wonder if the person who wrote, for example, IMMIGRANTS HAVE STOLEN ALL OUR JOBS was once a bright-eyed young chap with a dream that he'd change the world with his crusading brand of truthful investigative journalism, only to end up getting paid to lie about some of the poorest members of society.

I mention this because sometimes a story comes up where the insane lying involved has clearly taken so much more effort than, say, writing something true, that you almost (almost) want to applaud it. Step forward, then, everyone involved with Hate Hit List, which was the source of The Sun's eye-popping Wednesday front page 'TERROR TARGET SUGAR', which lifted the lid on a mysterious cabal of "hate-filled Islamic extremists" who were "drawing up a “hit list” of Britain’s leading Jews", a list apparently including Sir Alan Sugar, Mark Ronson, and Amy Winehouse.

The story was entirely based on the claims of an 'anti-terror expert' by the name of Glen Jenvey, who had uncovered an Islamic internet forum (, where this list was being compiled by Muslims planning a "deadly backlash against UK Jews". Reprehensible stuff indeed, but alarm bells may already have started ringing for those cynics among you who might consider some posts on an internet forum a somewhat flimsy basis for a screaming front-page story. True to form, bits of this story began to unravel at the merest examination. The thread in question completely fails to mention the likes of Ronson or Winehouse, for a start.

Oh yeah, one thing the terribly busy Sun hacks involved apparently neglected to get around to reading, despite taking a big quote out of it, was the opening post, in which 'saladin1970', as the Sun correctly has it, asks for a "list of british people who support Israel". In their understandable haste to alert a docile populace to this deadly threat to Britain's Jews, they must have missed the second part of the post, which makes it clear that the list is needed "so that we can write polite letters reminding them of the injustices of israel and to stop supporting israel". I've not spent enough time on to know if "writing polite letters" is code for "suicide bombings", but it does seem perhaps a tad unfortunate that neither of the two writers thought the stated purpose of the list deserved a mention. Perhaps they were just trying to save ink in these economically-troubled times.

Okay, so the thread does later go further than that. As the Sun is keen to tell us, a poster named 'abuislam' arrived to bump the thread, asking "Have we got list of top jews and supporters yet we can target? can someone start posting names and addresses". He then goes on to decry the 'polite letters' idea as so much wishy-washy hand-wringing crap: "polite will not work. Target them with Demo's out-side their Home's and Business hit and run demo's showing and exposing their war crimes in their support", something of an escalation of the campaign. Still, he fails to rouse much support.

So The Sun misrepresented a twatty (it's a technical term), arguably racist but nevertheless not particularly violent thread for a front page news story. So far, so mundane. But then a curious thing happened. The forum issued a
press release, and a subsequent quote which started, "I can confirm that the User "AbuIslam" who was posing as a Muslim on this forum is infact a freelance Journalist by the name of "Richard Tims" who registered on this forum to twist what the original Intent of this thread was for and to make Muslims look bad. Whether he works for the sun or not i dont know".

(Those of you who can see where this is going are requested to keep quiet at the back so as not ruin this movie for everyone else.)

Armed with this information, do-gooding bloggers such as Bloggerheads started digging around, and found that the Richard Tims' 'r.tims' account (which was used by someone with the same IP and email addresses as 'abuislam') was responsible for just one post, this one, plugging a website called With this in mind, another post promoting on a different site becomes that bit more intriguing, given that it cites the owner of that link as one 'Glen Jenvey'.

Conspiracy theorists among you are invited to speculate on whether this Glen Jenvey, the Glen Jenvey that apparently created the 'abuislam' profile and used it to try and whip up 'Islamic fanatics' on to threaten violence against famous British Jews, might in some way be related to terror expert Glen Jenvey (the Glen Jenvey who was cited in the Sun's article as saying that those listed ought to "treat it very seriously" and "Expect a hate campaign and intimidation by 20 or 30 thugs". That Glen Jenvey, Wikipedia tells us, uses "the internet to infiltrate terrorist organizations". But surely these would be two different Glen Jenveys? After all, the terrorism expert Glen Jenvey is a former spy, and thus almost certainly wouldn't be stupid enough to register two pseudonyms with the same email and IP address, make 'hate-filled' posts on an Islamic forum, and allow one of those pseudonyms to be traced back to the real name he uses to express outrage at the terror plot in The Sun. Right? And even if he did, surely The Sun wouldn't be conniving or foolish enough to actually quote one of his pseudonyms' posts as evidence of the terror plot which he uncovered? Why, it would almost be unethical...

(Thanks to Bloggerheads, Enemies Of Reason, and Obsolete among others for some of the info and links here, and who uncovered all manner of extra bits of hilarious/incriminating information I neglected to include. And special thanks to my sense of self-restraint, for just about resisting the temptation to title this first blog post 'Penis Jenvey'.)

UPDATE 16/01/09: as Tim Ireland and The Sun - Tabloid Lies have noted, The Sun took down the article linked to in this post on Monday, and have yet to comment or issue any kind of retraction. Perhaps this is because of some impending legal action, or perhaps The Sun is carrying out its own investigation, the details are currently too sketchy to say. I'm not holding my breath for any kind of high-profile apology or retraction, but let's hope they do the right thing, eh?