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.