Wednesday, 29 December 2010

It's probably an outrage!

At this festive time of year, you might be feeling a little more contented than usual. This, no doubt, worries the Daily Mail. Have you even rolled your eyes at anything and had cause to say "This bloody country...couldn't make it up!" today? Luckily, the Mail has staff working year-round to ensure you get your RDA of self-important tutting at the way society's gone both to the dogs and to hell in a handcart.

So, you like Top Gear, right? Of course you do! No political correctness on Top Gear! Just endless hours of Jeremy Clarkson saying everything with exactly the same mildly Partridge-esque intonation. On Boxing Day, Top Gear did a Christmas special. I didn't watch it, obviously, as I would genuinely rather spend the same amount of time repeatedly slamming a car bonnet on my balls than listen to Clarkson affect bafflement at a foreign car's dashboard layout yet again.

Anyway, apparently, during this episode of Top Gear, everyone's favourite trio of denim-clad raised-eyebrow-possessors went to Syria and dressed up in niqabs, to no doubt hilarious satirical effect. Take that, politicalcorrectnessgonemad! Everyone had brilliant fun and we all probably learned something profound.

Except, of course, they won't bloody let you do stuff like that now, will they? The Muslims, I mean. And the PC Brigade! They'd never let you broadcast something like that on the painfully liberal So anyway, predictably, poking gentle fun at the Muslims has stirred up an absolute hornet's nest of seething outrage from the miserable asylum-seeking foreign killjoys living here on benefits and telling us what to do. In Top Gear stars cause religious row after dressing up in burkas on Boxing Day special, we learn that this classic bit of harmless British dress-up japery "sparked religious outrage"! Our irreverent speed-camera-hatin' heroes were "slammed by Muslims for mocking their religion" after it "caused a storm online"!

Now, this was the first I'd heard about this storm, despite spending much of my Christmas cocooned in my little online bubble surrounded by like-minded woolly liberal types. None of my humourless Marxist PC friends had been spluttering their non-denominational Winterval egg nog on their screens after finding out about the show. What gives? It's almost as if no-one really gave that much of a toss!

But hey, maybe I just got lucky. I'll read on and find out the many examples of frothing outrage this stunt has generated.
Islamic extremist Anjem Choudary, said: 'The burka is a symbol of our religion and people should not make jokes about it in any way.

'It would have been equally bad even if they’d not been in a country mainly populated by Muslims.'

Ah, it's Anjem Choudary! Yeah, he'd be my go-to guy for a representative sample of Muslim opinion too!

Okay, okay, so Anjem Choudary was a bit outraged. But then he always is. He's the Islamic equivalent of Phillip Davies MP or that guy from Christian Voice in terms of playing the Indignant Self-Appointed Mouthpiece Who's Always A Phone Call Away When You Need An Angry Quote For Your Deadline. If Anjem Choudary getting pissed off constitutes a 'storm', we must be embroiled in one near-constantly. The only time Anjem Choudary isn't outraged is when he's asleep, and even then he's probably dreaming about it.

So what about people who aren't rent-a-quote Islamic extremist trolls?
On the Yahoo! forum, someone wrote, 'Death to America', which another, called Rebecca Liberty, said mocking burkas is 'ugly'.
Now, that sentence doesn't actually make any fucking sense, but picking out some of the important words, I can just about work out that someone on a Yahoo! board said it was 'ugly', and that someone else with an apparently tenuous grip on reality may have said 'Death to America'. Of course, the miserable killjoy OUTRAGE wasn't confined to that Yahoo! board which I'm startled to find out people still use, there was also something on Twitter too!
Some viewers also took to Twitter to blast the burka stunt with one saying: This is probably the worst top gear special. Y the f*** r they wearing burkas!!?
So, not so much outraged, as calling it shit. And...that's it. That's the sum total of the Mail's evidence that anyone anywhere got upset by this; one Islamic extremist and someone on a Yahoo! forum whose single-word quote isn't given any context at all! Maybe there were more examples but DAILY MAIL REPORTER didn't have time to do any more messageboard quote-mining because he or she was feeling bloated after eating too many pigs in blanket? THOUGH YOU PROBABLY CAN'T EVEN SAY 'PIGS IN BLANKETS' ANY MORE IN CASE IT OFFENDS THE ETHNICS, AMIRIGHT?

So what's the motive for this flimsy confection of "cuh, can't say anything any more" bollocks? Well, I can't say for sure. But it fits with the Mail's usual narrative about how we the good old white male British law-abiding are being persecuted in our own country by uppity minorities with a sense of grasping entitlement, who complain about everything and have the sympathy of the out-of-touch metropolitan homosexual elites that run everything from their ivory towers in Islington. A quick glance at the best-rated of the (360 and counting!) comments shows that it's working:
To all the foreigners complaining about this programme and 'Come Fly with Me'. There is something you need to do before complaining if you don't like BRITISH humour, remember, it's our country, and we will laugh at whatever we want to. If you don't like it, PACK YOUR BAGS!
- Had Enough, England, 28/12/2010 15:40

What doesn't offend them? There is no Top Gear in Saudi. Move there.
- CF Tab, Johannesburg, SA, 28/12/2010 15:39

They looked great, it was hilarious and just a bit of fun. This country has the best humor in the world, don't like it, don't live here, simples.
- In awe, Surrey, 28/12/2010 15:32

Get the hell out of our country and go back to your own if you don't like what we do nor like our sense of humor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- bels, norfolk, 28/12/2010 16:30

Regardless of what you thought of the TV programme, that was funny. On the BBC (the first B stands for British).

If you were offended, go to the airport and fly somewhere else never to return!
- P.C. Gonemad, Loughborough, 28/12/2010 18:16

Well done top gear, the best way is just to keep winding these inbred idiots up
- steff miller, edinburgh, 28/12/2010 16:51
...and many, many more along those lines. Do you get it now? We're British! We all love Top Gear here, and if you 'inbred' Muslims don't like it you can fuck off back to Saudi Arabia or wherever! The BBC may not have confirmed whether or not anyone actually got riled enough to officially complain about the show, but the message is clear; if you complain about a simple joke*, you should leave the country, you bloody miserable multiculti oppressing bastards.

*doesn't apply to poncey floppy-haired liberal 'comedians' making indiscreet jokes about granddaughter-shagging, obviously. That was an outrage!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

BREAKING: Melanie Phillips not impressed with the Left, feminism

The thing that always strikes me when I read the extended word-vomits that Melanie Phillips calls her newspaper columns, is that they do actually sort of make sense, as long as you buy into one or two comically absurd notions about her opponents.

First, a summary. Over the past couple of weeks, debate has raged on the left about Julian Assange and Wikileaks. It's been interesting to follow, and a lot of very sensible (and some stupid) things have been said. One major issue that has caused some arguing has been people's reactions to the rape charges levelled against Assange. The timing of the arrest so close to a major bout of embarrassment-causing by Wikileaks has caused some to be suspicious that the charges were not genuine, and this has not been helped by a torrent of misinformation about the nature of the charges, ranging from the bizarre "it was sex by surprise!" to the idea that a condom simply broke. As a result of this confusion, and in some cases no small element of political bias, some on the left were perhaps rather too quick to insist on Assange's innocence. In the worst cases, this has led to some tremendously ugly bashing of the women concerned, which has understandably caused some of us to feel rather uncomfortable. This Kate Harding post makes a pretty good fist of explaining why it's okay to support Wikileaks and still take the rape allegations seriously without resorting to slinging mud at the women making the claims. Above anything else, regardless of the facts of this case, it's important that women are not discouraged from reporting incidents of rape and sexual assault, and reactions like this (which have come from both the left and right - indeed the Mail itself was the source of much of the smearing of the women concerned), are not helpful in the bigger picture.

So, serious issues, big things at stake, topics worthy of grown-up debate and discussion, right? Enter Melanie Phillips [I apologise for any disturbing images that phrase may have given you]. Phillips is reacting to this with absolute glee. Arguments on the left of politics are not a sign of adult discourse, or a reflection of genuine disagreements about real issues. They're just funny. Funny, and a sign of wavering moral confusion. "...our most sanctimonious campaigners have managed to hoist themselves simultaneously on not just one, but multiple politically correct petards", she reports.

Phillips rampages through this tale with unconcealed joy. It involves Sweden! Liberals like Sweden! Isn't that terribly funny? What a hilarious mess! She gets to have a go at 'luvvies', and most joyously of all for her, the Guardian. At no stage in the piece does Phillips particularly concern herself with stating her own beliefs, either about Wikileaks, about Assange or the allegations. Pointing and mocking is fine enough.

What confuses Phillips the most though, and its a theme that courses through her writing, is nuance. Melanie Phillips isn't really about nuance. It's not something she does, or feels she needs to do. Like her fellow columnist Peter Hitchens, everything is simple. Things A and B are right and moral. Things X and Y are wrong and disgusting. Person 1 is dead wrong. Person 2 is dead right. Phillips never seems to be able to understand why other people cannot instantly uncover the rights and wrongs of a situation in the way she can. There are a couple of examples of the binary way she views the world in this piece, and she asserts the same central canard twice. The first is here:
For the whole world-view of the Left rests upon its iron-clad conviction that America is a global conspiracy of evil from which all bad things ultimately emanate.
...and repeated in more depth further on:
To understand why there is such an ear-splitting screeching of brakes from The Guardian, it is necessary to consider the mind-bending contradictions of what passes for thinking on the Left.

For it believes certain things as articles of faith which cannot be denied. One is that America is a force for bad in the world and so can never be anything other than guilty. Another is that all men are potential rapists, and so can never be anything other than guilty.
Now, that's an absurd caricature of liberal thinking. It's a fairly common view on the right that the left HATES America, but it's a bafflingly simplistic depiction of it. A lot of time is spent criticising the US, but that's a reflection of two things; 1) the power which the US has, and 2) its democratic nature. We spend a lot time shouting about the US because in many ways it's the biggest hope for worldwide positive change. The direction of US politics can be changed by political action, if we can demonstrate the will. We criticise the US harshly at times because we recognise that if we want any kind of global political change, the US is always going to be a key player, and can be influenced in a way that other nations can't. It's kind of the friend we like to criticise constructively because we know what its capable of achieving.

The other 'article of faith', that the left believes that all men can never not be guilty of rape, is a cartoonish simplification of a viewpoint which isn't held by a majority of feminists, let alone leftist liberals. But you get the feeling Melanie Phillips actually unwaveringly believes that this is the stark, Manichean way liberals think. She's projecting her own binary way of thinking onto her opponents, seeing them as a mere mirror image of herself and unable to ever accept that maybe things are just a little less neat than they appear.

Of course, what Phillips is utterly unable to provide are any quotes to support her assertions that we all passionately hate the US and all assume men are guilty. I've read a lot of blogs and articles from various sides of this debate, and I've yet to come across a single feminist who has stated that they assume Assange's guilt; the vast majority have been at pains to point out that, at this stage, we simply cannot know. It's simply about taking serious allegations seriously, and affording the alleged victims the chance to put their case before the courts without simply dismissing the charges out of hand because the timing looks dodgy or because Wikileaks is something we may support. For all the fighting and debate that's gone on, ultimately there's no contradiction to be found when it comes to reconciling the two issues; Wikileaks can be a good thing whether or not Assange personally is a good man. We can defend Wikileaks' right to disclose documents that can inform debate without needing to assume anything about the truth of the personal allegations made against him.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The NHS is sending dirty texts to your child!

It's often said that there are few certainties in life; death, taxes, George Lucas pissing everybody off, Jamie Redknapp misusing the word 'literally'. You can add to that 'the Daily Mail getting outraged at any attempt by authorities to provide any kind of sexual advice to anyone under the age of 18'.

Today's 'controversy' is outlined in the ridiculously titled Sex texts for teens: Controversy as NHS promotes mobile advice line for children as young as 13. Or, as it was previously titled, "Sexting for teens: NHS promotes mobile advice line for children as young as 13". You can still see the previous title in the title bar at the top. The Mail likes to rethink its headlines, but this is a slightly strange one as it drops the more lurid 'sexting' but at the same time adds 'controversy' into the mix. Perhaps the original didn't have a rent-a-quote to back up the controvery claim.

Anyway, it's clear from the off that author Sophie Borland and whoever wrote the title want you to think this is all rather seedy. First of all, as you've probably worked out, this is sex advice via text, rather than 'sex texts' or 'sexting'. The NHS is not sending your teenager texts asking them what they're wearing right now and luring them into describing their sex fantasies in great detail, cock in hand. That is the job of dirty liberals like me! It begins;
Children as young as 13 are being sent sex advice by text message under a controversial NHS scheme.
There's nothing particularly untrue about that sentence, but it does make it sound rather like this is unsolicited advice. It isn't. It is an advice service for young people who have questions about sex, pregnancy and sexual health which they feel uncomfortable talking to their peers or parents about. You send a text, you get advice back from an anonymous but trained professional who won't judge you or tell you you're going to burn in hell.

The article goes on to outline the basic, fairly sensible sounding principles behind it. But, as predictably as night follows day with sex education stories, it's not long before the poorly evidenced claims that sex education encourages our kids to fuck rear their head:
But campaigners warn that the text service – funded by taxpayers – is simply encouraging promiscuity among underage youngsters.
Funded by taxpayers, no less! Who would have thought! Still, who are these 'campaigners'? The Mail cites one:
Norman Wells, director of Family and Youth Concern, said: ‘Not only does it undermine parents by presenting itself as an authoritative source of advice on sex, relationships and sexual health, but it also fails to respect the age of consent by offering a service to children under 16.

‘The information provided is not even accurate. The website fails to tell visitors that condoms provide much less protection against sexually transmitted infections than they do against pregnancy, and says nothing about the health benefits of keeping sex within a lifelong, mutually faithful relationship with an uninfected partner.’
You know the drill by now. An unelected, unaccountable, campaigner gets space to mouth off because his opinions chime with the editorial stance of the Mail. Family And Youth Concern are not sexual and reproductive health experts. They are a bunch of concerned conservatives with traditional values. Of course the advice does not tell young people to wait til they're married. This is advice to people who will in many cases already be having sex. They are looking for advice, not a moral lecture. If you want advice about sexual health, you go to a health professional. That is what they are qualified to do. If you want traditional moral guidance, text your local preacher. I'm not sure what Wells wants here. Does he want there to be no sex advice line at all? Or does he simply want every response to say "Are you 16 yet? If not, don't do it. Ever"?

In the spirit of swashbuckling investigative journalism for which it is renowned, the Mail poses as an anonymous young person to ask for advice. What they discovered was shocking boring.


There you have it then. Crushingly boring, sensible sex advice to concerned young people seeking it. It's a bloody outrage!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Britain sucks and everyone is laughing at us!

If there's one thing guaranteed to be more boring than people complaining about the weather, it's people complaining about people complaining about the weather, and bemoaning our collective reaction to it. Every time Britain gets some bad weather, you know you'll see the following things:
- headlines screaming about CHAOS
- front pages consisting entirely of the predicted temperature in the coldest part of Scotland done in a MASSIVE font (in Celsius, even if the paper is bafflingly committed to Fahrenheit for the most part, because Celsius gives lower and hence more dramatic numbers)
- business leaders and the CBI on the radio complaining endlessly about how people getting stuck in the snow is affecting their profits
- tedious hack pieces about how Britain can't handle a bit of extreme weather because we've lost our Blitz spirit, and how embarrassing it is that foreigners can handle everything and we can't.

The latter rears its head in David Jones' Why we're a laughing stock with the rest of the world in the Daily Mail, which has moaning in spades.
Whiling away the long hours in my steamed-up Toyota on Tuesday night, I thought of the many countries I have visited on foreign reporting assignments with far harsher climates than ours, and wondered why they never have these problems.
Well, the reason is that countries with "far harsher climates" are forced to spend the money on solutions, otherwise the disruption would simply be too much. Britain has a mild climate for the vast majority of the time, and so unless we want to spent a whole metric shitload of money on vast stockpiles of rock salt and fleets of snowploughs on the off chance that we'll get a day or two's snow disruption. In January, up in Manchester, I missed one whole day of work due to the disruption which prevented me from completing a 40-mile journey to work. The problem in that case was that we'd already had ice and frost for several weeks before Christmas which had depleted the grit supplies, and so once we had several days of the heaviest snowfall I'd seen in many years, it became harder to get about.

It's not a particularly exciting topic; councils have limited funds, they have to make decisions about how to allocate those funds in the face of many competing demands, and so many of them won't put massive excesses of it aside for snow which may or may not come.

What's slightly more interesting, though, is the weird, insular assumption that we must be the only country shit enough to be facing any disruption. Did you know Germany has had no problems? You would if you'd taken David Jones' deeply scientific approach to the topic and canvassed the opinion of one friend:
According to a friend in Berlin, the trains are running, the schools are open and – in contrast with the horrendous scenes on the M25, where hundreds of lorry drivers slept in their cabs on Tuesday night – the autobahns are clear.
Well, that's that then, isn't it? The Bloody Germans, ruthlessly efficient as always, chuckling at our bumbling Hugh Grant ineptitude! Of course, if you have any Google chops at all, you'd be able to find evidence that Germany isn't made of magic and can't make everything work:
Wintry weather caused on Wednesday the cancellation of around 60 flights at Frankfurt airport, Europe's third busiest, a spokesman said.

The number of takeoffs on one of the western German airport's runways had to be reduced because of high winds, a spokesman for airport operator Fraport told AFP. On Tuesday almost 300 flights were scratched.
360 flights cancelled in two days in Frankfurt? But...Teutonic efficiency...? 250 were cancelled in Munich. But what of the roads? Let's go to a German news site:
Ongoing snowfall in the southern state of Bavaria caused major traffic snarls, with police reporting problems near Regensburg for several hours in the early morning. Many abandoned transport trucks blocked lanes near on-ramps, they said. And while winter road cleanup crews were out in full force, they were unable to keep up with the heavy snowfall in the region.

Deaths from traffic accidents were reported in Nuremberg and Aschaffenburg.

Meanwhile trains in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and northern Bavaria were also impeded by the snow storm. National rail provider Deutsche Bahn reported that drifting snow and felled trees caused numerous delays. Travel between Leipzig and Nuremberg, as well as between Gerstungen and Leipzig had to be cut off entirely during parts of the night, they said.
Oh. Still, I assume the "Hundreds of train passengers" who were "forced to spend the night at the Frankfurt train station" kept themselves warm with a good old chuckle at the Brits, eh? And we can just ignore the fact that schools were in fact closed in parts of Northern Germany.

It's not just Germany; stories like this reveal that Geneva airport had to close, as did Lyon in France. 8 people died of exposure in Poland.
In France, 12 regions in the frozen east and centre banned the use of lorries, forcing more than 7,000 of them to park overnight, while the weather has caused hundreds of accidents on German roads.
But...I think you'll find that a Mail reporter spoke to a friend in Berlin and they said it was fine? What more evidence do you need?

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Olivers/Mohammeds are coming!

Is it that time of year again already? Every year, a list of the most popular names given to newborn babies in England and Wales is published by the ONS. And, every year, certain people get upset about how many of them are called Mohammed. Let's compare and contrast some coverage of the latest report:

The Guardian: Oliver and Olivia top list of most popular babies' names
The BBC: Which baby names are the most popular?
The Press Association: Oliver 'most popular name for boy'
The Daily Mail: Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack and Harry

So it's really up to your personal preferences which way you want to look at it. So why the different opinions? Why are some saying 'Oliver' and some 'Mohammed'? Well, 'Mohammed' is spelled in various different ways, with 14 recognised variations. The Mail likes to add all these together, and conclude that;
The name, when 12 different spellings were included, was given to 7,549 youngsters in 2009, official statistics revealed.

Oliver was the second most popular and it was given to 7,364 boys in England and Wales in 12 months.
The Mail is very insistent that this must be done. Last year, when Mohammed was third by their reckoning, the never knowingly understated Max Hastings railed against what he called a "shabby effort to conceal" the fact;
The ONS's hit parade of children's names, as released for publication, seemed designed to mask a simple truth which dismays millions of people, and which politicians and bureaucracies go to great lengths to bury: the Muslim population of Britain is growing extraordinarily fast.
He was so angry that the ONS felt moved to respond, saying they simply count by exact spellings.

As someone who occasionally gets a mild semi-on over statistics, this isn't actually totally unreasonable, allowing for variations like that. However, if you're going to apply statistical massaging like this, you have to be, y'know, fair about it. By 'fair', I mean simply applying the same rules to everyone. So, if you're going to add up all the various spellings of 'Mohammed', then you should do the same for other names in the list.

So, I went to the source at the ONS There I found the full list: 2009 Baby Names Statistics Boys (.xls file - 535kb). Here, we discover that there are 127 Oliviers, 104 Oliwiers, 9 Olis, 9 Oliwers, 4 Olivers' (plural!), 4 Ollivers, and most significantly, 511 Ollies (with an additional 16 Ollis). Even just adding Oliver and Ollie together, we get to 7,875, putting it back above Mohammed into first place again (and it becomes 8,148 if you add all the above variants). And that's before we get onto the more controversial stuff about how 'Jack' is historically a diminutive of the name 'John' (although of course many would argue that the former has now become a name in its own right).

Regardless, though, of whether the Mail's headline claim actually stands up (and for me it doesn't), it remains a somewhat deceptive statistic. The Mail wants you to infer that there's a scary amount of Muslims beings born, and Max Hastings' column from last year laboured this point quite a bit. Mohammed is simply, for cultural reasons, a very popular first name for Muslim boys, whereas 'British' names are a lot more varied (as, thankfully, are Polish ones, or else we'd probably be having an article about the explosion of Polish names in Britain). It has been that way for a long time, while British names have fluctuated far more with changing times and trends, and we don't tend to call our kids 'Jesus', though I am tempted to now. It's why there's no fuss made about the girls' names list; Muslim girls are not named in honour of the Prophet, therefore they're not dominated by a single name and derivations thereof. Thus the girls' list is full of good old British-sounding names like Emily and Sophie, instead of scary-sounding foreign ones.

It's just a meaningless excuse for more scaremongering. If you want to moan about the Islamification of Britain (and Christ knows the Mail wants to do that), then at least use accurate statistics about ethnicity and religious background, instead of using a cultural quirk in naming traditions as another excuse to get your Union Jack boxers in a twist.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Peter Hitchens: Not A Feminist

It's probably fair to say that Peter Hitchens and I don't see eye to eye on everything. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if my life would have been noticeably different if I'd made every decision based on a "what wouldn't Peter Hitchens do?" credo. I know what Peter Hitchens' worldview is, and it leaves me a bit cold. Well, a lot cold. Still, every now and then he expresses it in such a brutal, fundamentalist way that it catches me off guard.

In Hitchens' most recent piece, One benefit reform that would make us happier... and richer, he makes his position clear in the first paragraph.
There's only one lasting, simple welfare reform package this country needs. It goes like this. First, an announcement that nine months from today, all benefits of any kind for new unmarried mothers should cease.
It's so simple, so straightforward! Simply by making unmarried mothers poorer and increasing the hardship in their lives, we could change everything in Broken Britain! The conclusion of the next paragraph is where my jaw first collided with my knees:
Note the word 'new'. Existing victims of one of the stupidest policies in human history should continue to get their handouts and subsidised homes until their children are grown. It is not their fault, or their children's, that they were misled by weak and wicked politicians into this way of life.
Because, of course, it's always a choice, right? And what's more, these feckless, stupid single mums creaming state benefits are not just irresponsible, but so incredibly weak-minded that they were manipulated into choosing this way of life by...politicians. Presumably in these families (if indeed you can call them "families", these abnormal living arrangements), the mothers kneel before a framed picture of Jack Straw or Charles Clarke or Tony Blair and thank them for their blessing, their inspiration, their encouragement to choose a life raising a child on meagre state benefits.

He's not all bad, though, Hitchens, he's got a heart! I mean, look...
They should not be condemned or harassed. But this state-sponsored assault on marriage should stop.
Yeah, don't harass them, these silly women! After all they're too stupid to think for themselves, being victims of the Sixties liberals who have caused all these problems. No, the real problem, if you're Peter Hitchens, is that providing state support to lone parent families is nothing short of a "state-sponsored assault on marriage". Hitchens then goes on to generously throw these women another bone; if your husband got exploded in a war, or utterly abandoned you, you might still get benefits under a Hitchensian system! Hooray!

I've argued with Hitchens before on his blog. His view is very stark and simple, black and white. Briefly, he believes that all moves to make divorce easier (and also all moves to make gay marriage a possibility) are purely ideologically driven; not by the ideology of trying to be fair to people whose relationships fail, or to give people choice, but by a straightforward liberal Marxist hatred of the "traditional" family unit. The norm for Hitchens is, and should always be, husband and wife, married, living together with children. The Left, however, because they believe in state control, supposedly see the family as a threat, a unit that needs to be broken up if the state is to have the pliant subjects that socialism, he believes, requires. Hitchens is married, and his marriage is still intact. He seems to be unable to understand why it might be different for anyone else, and not that interested in finding out. And what's more, he's so convinced about the unquestionable correctness of his view, he believes that his norms should be enforced or at least encouraged financially by the state.

You can make your own judgements about his position. I look at things a little differently to him. I think marriage is a fine thing, it's not something I believe should be abolished or banned, despite being a card-carrying member of the PC Brigade. However, it's not the only way to exist. There are a huge range of reasons why a woman with a child might be single. Hitchens views any state benefit given to such a woman as a political endorsement of her foolish choice, and believes that we should reward marriage and penalise lone parenthood. I, on the other hand, view the benefits system as a safety net for those who need it. Lone parents are already at a disadvantage on a purely economic level. To punish them in order to make an ideological statement condemning their lifestyle seems irresponsible and judgemental to me, patronising even. Even if I accepted that all single mothers were foolish, feckless idiots, which I don't, I could never endorse a benefit-slashing policy that would see their blameless children suffer as a result.

And who's to blame for all this foolishness? Well, the BBC of course!
[The Tory party] has sold its soul – and the conservative people in this country – in return for the approval of the BBC and for the empty, pompous joys of office without power
Anyway, you might be thinking, "oh, leave old Hitch alone! He's just an old romantic who believes in the sanctity and purity of marriage and its high-minded ideals!". But, further down the column, he presents a view of marriage, and men in particular, that ranks among one of the darkest assessments of anything I've ever seen in a mainstream newspaper. Criticising the film "Made In Dagenham" for telling the story of a woman who let her husband look after their child for a bit while she fought for equal pay, Hitchens writes;
As she hurries off to yet another meeting, he points out to her that he's been a good spouse – not drinking or gambling away his wages, not raising his hand to her or the children.

She turns to him, rather snottily, and makes a Germaine Greer-type speech saying that she expects all these things by right, not as a privilege.
Feminists, eh? Where do they get off, treating the right not to be battered by their husbands as anything other than a privilege we men bestow upon them! He continues;
Men don't naturally behave in the responsible, considerate way that most working-class husbands still did in 1968. There was a deal, called marriage, which persuaded them do so.

But when that deal collapsed, not least when sex outside marriage became freely available, men began behaving like cavemen again, and women suffered from their own 'liberation'.
Did you get the message? Women have themselves to blame for this! By seeking, with the help of the Sixties liberals, rights like the ability to divorce, they have screwed men over in the deal we had. The deal was this; marry us, and we promise we probably won't beat the shit out of you after a night spending all the money on booze and greyhound racing. But hey, if women as a whole do anything to undermine the sanctity of marriage in the eyes of right-wing newspaper hacks, then indiviual women can't realistically expect us men not to revert to our woman-thumpin' caveman instincts, right?

It's an astonishing bit of woman-blaming, and a depressing conclusion to reach about marriage. I like marriage, or at least I did before I read this article. I thought it was a romantic statement; not one for everyone perhaps, but something people should be free to choose, a declaration of love and commitment. If Hitchens is right, and marriage is little more than a brief declaration of ceasefire, where men agree to temporarily stop behaving like animals in exchange for compliance from their woman, then maybe I'm not so hot on the idea after all.

I'll leave you with Hitchens' baffling conclusion;
The normal household needs two pay packets to survive, instead of one.
...and yet lone parents on benefits, Hitchens believes, should be forced to live on LESS than one pay packet, and penalised financially until they effectively have no choice to hook up with a man and depend on him. Cheerful fellow, Peter Hitchens.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


In a way, I find the Express quite endearing. It's kind of like a children's version of the Daily Mail. I like to imagine that its writers sit on the floor in front of little fun plastic desks, copying Press Association articles out using massive crayons, tongues sticking out of the side of their mouths as they concentrate really hard on every letter.


Today's front page seems to bear this out. It comes across like an angry, stamping toddler, complaining loudly that he doesn't get enough pocket money to buy sweets. It's not fair, Kevin's parents give him twice as much and he's got a Wii!

It's really quite a staggering front page, isn't it? Even after you get over the initial confusion of thinking that Michael Douglas has been appointed The Taxman and isn't too happy about it, you're confronted with something quite bizarre. The taxman wants ALL our wages? This 100% income tax idea seems a bold step, particularly from a Conservative government. Labour, yeah, that's the sort of mad communist thing they'd do, but Cameron's Tories? Has Comrade Vince Cable warped them with his Marxist hectoring?

Of course, the story, as it turns out, is almost breathtakingly mundane. The coalition Government made a lot of noise about how overcomplicated the tax system was, so it's outlining a bunch of proposals to make it simpler. One of them is the possibility that maybe, at some time in the future, if the idea gets through Parliment, they might change the system so that HMRC makes its deductions itself, rather than having employers make the deductions on its behalf and then sending the money to the Government.

The Express is furious about this though. The idea that the money would technically go to the Government first seems to anger them to a frankly baffling degree. The article begins:
THE taxman could soon be getting his hands on all our hard-earned gross pay before we see it, it was revealed yesterday.
BEFORE WE EVEN SEE IT! Even though we don't get to see the money anyway because it's all deducted by our employers first! OUR HARD-EARNED GROSS PAY!
The taxman could then deduct income tax, national insurance and any student loan payments – before money is paid into our bank accounts like a parent doling out pocket money.
The thing about this, though, is that this already happens, but it's employers who do it instead of The Taxman. Does this mean our employers are effectively our parents? Is the head of monthly payroll my mum? I haven't been getting her anything for Christmas. And hey, look who it is:
Emma Boon, Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “After recently telling six million people they’ve been paying the wrong income tax for the past two years, there’s no way we should reward HMRC for failure by giving them more power and responsibility.
Aside from a fact this is only a proposal and will most likely never come anywhere near being implemented, that argument doesn't even make sense, given that one of the reasons people paid the wrong tax was because it was left to employers to determine what tax people should be paying. But then I suppose it's the TaxPayers' Alliance's job to be angry about everything involving tax, all the time.

Now, I'm sure there are loads of potential issues with this proposal. It may be unworkable or unwise. Lord knows I don't particularly want to defend this Government. But if you're going to make a big deal about creating an Office of Tax Simplification, as they did, then it kind of behooves you to at least consider all the possible ways of reforming the system. Yes, even if one method makes you feel like you're being given "pocket money"! It wouldn't be so grating if the Express had come up with some reasonable, adult reasons for complaining, but this? This is just throwing toys out of the pram.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Another day, another angry Express headline about how we've got too many foreigners. In BRITAIN NOW HOME TO 4 MILLION IMMIGRANTS, the Express tells us:
MORE than four million foreign nationals now live in Britain – nearly seven per cent of the population, according to the latest official statistics.
Four million? That's, like, millions! These figures do at least appear to be accurate for once, as they're taken from this official Eurostat PDF. However, when I look at it with my non-Express hat on, I'm struck by how tediously average our number of foreign nationals is.

First, though, a neat little bit of that customary disingenuity we've come to expect;
The UK is one of the most sought after destinations in Europe for immigrants. Only Germany and Spain have a larger number of foreign citizens.
That implies that we're third on the list, but as anyone who's ever gently brushed past a bit of statistical analysis on a crowded train will tell you, absolute figures like that don't mean shit. The UK has a relatively large population compared to a lot of other European countries, so the only really relevant statistic is one which expresses this as a percentage of total population.

Of course, looking at the Eurostat figures, you soon realise why the Express hasn't made much of a big song and dance about the percentage of people in the UK who are foreign nationals; the average across the 27 EU member states is 6.4%. The UK figure is 6.6%. A shocking difference, I'm sure you'll agree. Germany and Spain, it transpires, not only have more foreign nationals in terms of absolute numbers, but a significantly higher percentage than us (8.8% for Germany, 12.3% for Spain).

Here, for perspective, is a list of all the countries in the EU that have more foreign nationals per capita than we do: Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg and Austria. Italy has 6.5%, so is only very slightly behind. The figures show that the UK has a very slightly above average number of foreign nationals. Given the UK's relative prosperity and how widely spoken our language is, you may actually be surprised by how close to that EU average we are.

The Express though, would rather draw our attention to the fact that poorer countries in the far-flung reaches of Eastern Europe have unsurprisingly low figures;
In contrast, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia have less than one per cent of their populations made up of foreign nationals.
So, those are the facts. But what does the Express want us to think?
Yesterday Labour’s shambolic immigration policy was blamed for opening the floodgates.

And critics said the official figures for UK immigrants had been “wildly underestimated”.
Hmm, who blamed Labour? Who called it "shambolic" (a strangely emotive choice of word for a supposedly factual piece, as is "floodgates")? You're probably thinking "Well, either Sir Andrew Green, the entirely unbiased Migrationwatch guy, or unstoppable quote machine Philip Davies MP!". But on this occasion, you'd be strangely wrong! I can only assume that those two are on holiday, or that they've run their phone batteries into oblivion, because they are conspicuous by their absence.

Instead, the Express turns to another non-partisan, fully-qualified, expert voice of reason to speculate on mysterious Immigrants We Know Nothing About:
Last night UKIP party chairman Paul Nuttall said: “Of course Britain is a place where people want to come and live and I would say this is a massive underestimate. The figures are questionable because we do not control our borders.”

So there you have it; Britain has FOUR MILLION foreigners here! But it's almost definitely probably A LOT HIGHER AND MORE SHOCKING than that. In fact, it could be as high as INFINITY because under this Labour SHAMBLES there's a distinct lack of surface-to-immigrant missile silos defending our borders. Literally ANYONE could be here! There could be HUNDREDS of immigrants IN YOUR LOFT or something. Have you checked? One of them might be BIN LADEN! While you're at it, check your passport/speak to your mum. It could be that YOU are a foreigner! It wouldn't surprise me, bloody Labour.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Reading comprehension

Here is a headline from the Daily Mail: "Romanian president praises countrymen for claiming British benefits in attack on 'lazy Westerners'".

Here is the opening line of the article to which that headline is attached, with an important bit emphasised in italics by me:
The president of Romania has publicly thanked the tens of thousands of his countrymen who claim benefits in Britain instead of their own country.
And here are the quotes from the president of Romania on which the headline and opening paragraph are based:
'Imagine if the two million Romanians working in Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, came to ask for unemployment benefits in Romania,' he said. 'So to these people we have to thank them for what they are doing for Romania.'


'In those countries, the social protection is at a level that makes it more comfortable to be unemployed. Romanians do that hard labour for them and to earn better and make more money than they could at home,' claimed President Basescu.
Today's homework assignment is this: find a quote from the Romanian president in that article which support's the headline's assertion that he is praising Romanians for claiming benefits in the UK. I ask because I, a lay person with only A-level English to my name, read those quotes and saw him praising Romanian emigrants for being hard-working and going abroad to earn money through work rather than claiming benefits in Romania, something the article itself later admits.

So, the story is a straight-up misrepresentation of what the man is saying. But wait! I think DAILY MAIL REPORTER done found a loophole!
Romanians workers have flooded into Britain with other eastern European citizens after joining the EU following the collapse of Communism.

When they they arrive the immigrants are immediately entitled to child benefit, Tax Credits and housing support.

After 12 months in Britain they can receive generous income-related benefits like unemployment benefit.
Do you see? The headline wants you to assume that by 'benefits' it means unemployment benefit. DAILY MAIL REPORTER or their sub-editor will know that the word 'benefits' is synonymous with feckless scroungers stuffing their face with chips on the dole. It has a far less powerful association with those benefits which are paid to people who work legally and pay their taxes, such as tax credits. Moreover, DAILY MAIL REPORTER knows that the Romanian president was not praising his fellow Romanians for coming over here and taking all our lovely benefits, but for performing real work. But hey, why let that get in the way of an inflammatory, baiting headline?

UPDATE 10:41 - the Mail has now amended the headline from "claiming British benefits" to the more accurate and fair "doing British jobs" (thanks to the excellent Tabloid Watch for pointing this out). You can still tell what it used to say though, as the URL still reads:

By the time the amendment was made, many people will have read the original story. Among the comments left before the edit were Sue in Sussex observing "what he really means is thank you all for having our degenerates", and one "Hamster" who cries "Dear God, this just gets more ridiculous by the minute. Stop ALL benefits to foreigners - simple". I do hope those two come back to read the new headline...

Word games with Littlejohn

Sometimes I almost admire Richard Littlejohn. Not for his principled opinions, his witty prose, or his charm, none of which exist, but for his ability to move almost seamlessly from any given starting point into one of the subjects he has a stock rant prepared for. You can imagine this as a round on a mediocre Radio 4 quiz game, where contestants are challenged to get from topic A to topic Z in as few words as possible. I think Littlejohn would be good at this. Ask him who he thinks should be in the Ashes squad and he could be bending your ear about New Labour's nightmarish refuse collection system in no time. Ask him where he's going on his holidays this summer and before you know it you'll be slowly losing track of time as he makes what he imagines to be hilarious remarks about gyspies tarmacing driveways and how crazy it is that you can't call a spade a spade any more.

In today's Who wants to be a billionaire? Brits sadly lacking in the 40 super-rich giving away fortunes, Littlejohn manages to deftly turn the feelgood story about some of the world's richest billionaires pledging huge sums to charity into a launching pad for rants about socialism, the BBC and something about sex-change operations.

Littlejohn claims that "Both the BBC and the NHS have brought tremendous benefits", yet he doesn't seem to grasp the point of the BBC and why we have state-funded broadcasting. In his next paragraph he says:
Take the recent squabble over the future of BBC Radio 6, an obscure music channel beloved of a vociferous minority and financed from the licence fee.

Why should the common people be forced to pay for affluent pop stars like Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker to sit in a studio playing their favourite records on the wireless?
The whole point of tax and non-commercial broadcasting is that it doesn't just fund the things you as an individual want. Sometimes your tax money goes to fund hospitals treating sick children, even though they're not your kids! Imagine! The BBC is put in between a rock and a hard place; broadcast things with low ratings and it's all "no-one watches that shit, what a waste of money!". Broadcast populist ratings-chasing nonsense and they're criticising for copying ITV and Channel 4. You can't say you think the BBC does good things one minute and then criticise something like 6 Music, which is exactly the sort of thing the BBC is for. It provides something lots people want, but that would struggle to exist in the same form on a commercial station.

Littlejohn then goes on a rant about US satellite radio and how diverse it is, but the US is a wildly different beast to the UK. 6 Music existed because commercial radio wasn't providing it, as anyone with the misfortune to sit through more than an hour of Xfm's All Kasabian, All The Time playlist will be able to tell you.

Similarly, why should taxpayers also have to fork out for tattoo removal, breast enlargement, fertility treatment and sex-change operations on the National Health Service?
Yes, Richard, because those things are all the same, right? The attitude of some people towards sex-change operations in particular baffles me. It's treated like it's some kind of whimsical choice, like there are hundreds of people waking up thinking "Yeah, I fancy switching gender today!", getting their NHS doctor on the speed dial and wasting a few grand of taxpayer's money for shits and giggles. Does Littlejohn really think it's not a serious medical condition? Does he think that people are making the choice to put themselves through the incredible social stigma attached to a sex change operation in the same way they decide what toppings to get on their pizza? Sadly, I suspect he does, because if you accept that there are serious health issues involved then I don't see how you can treat it in the same way as someone getting rid of an embarrassingly misspelled tattoo they got when they were pissed.
The philanthropists who founded hospitals before the advent of the NHS would never have donated their hard-earned if they thought it was going to be frittered away on such fripperies.
Would they? How can you possibly say that? And how can you not understand that, even if that were true, society's attitudes change over time as our understanding grows?

Littlejohn goes on to complain about taxes on high earners. Might anyone care to speculate as to why? Not that I'm suggesting for a moment that Littlejohn's dazzling columns don't earn every last penny of his upper-six-figure salary! He argues that if we just let the hard-working rich keep more of their money instead of bloody taxing them, they might probably give all their money to us! Even though much of the US philanthrophy he's talking about is going to developing countries rather than getting his bins emptied. I suspect that if British billionaires were beaming on the front of the papers about all the money they've given to AIDS orphans in Africa, he'd be moaning that they weren't doing enough here.

Anyway, I hereby offer this advice to Littlejohn; it's okay if you just want to go on a rant about the BBC, or lefty Islington liberals, or immigration, or how PC has gone mad except you can't say 'mad' any more because of PC gone mad. No-one is coming to you as a serious news source, you're a polemicist. So spare us the sight of you trying gamely to tie your stock rants half-arsedly to a prominent current news story. No-one really cares, and you could use the paragraphs you've saved to squeeze in another mention of what the gays are up to these days.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Daily Mail round-up

Well, it's Friday, so I'm in a glorious mood. Of course, when I'm in a good mood something inside me starts worrying that I'm getting all out of equilibrium, and so I found myself drifting towards the Daily Mail website to put a little sprinkle of misery back in my day.

It's a pretty typical day for the Mail. The first thing that strikes you is the "So what?" box, where hard-hitting picture journalism finds its online home. Today's big three "so what?" stories include Cameron Diaz's upcoming bit on Top Gear, Danielle Lineker getting what appears to be a fairly minor haircut, and Shakira doing a sexy photoshoot. It occurs to me that pictures of Shakira dancing and stretching are spectactularly unlikely to give me the hit of depression I'm chasing, so it's time to scroll down. Although I may be back later.

Ah, this is more like it: Magistrate is forced to apologise for saying migrant 'abused our hospitality'. See, it turns out that the Office for Judicial Complaints has just released a 56-page report detailing various complaints made about the conduct of judges over the previous year. Buried deep in the middle of this report are a number of case studies with examples of things judges have had a ticking-off about. One of them relates to a judge who "had used words in open court with regard to a non-British defendant, that could have been construed as displaying prejudice against them for not being British, including saying, “We take exception to people coming to our shores and abusing our hospitality”". He wasn't sacked, or tarred and feathered for this, and it's not clear what the full comments were (the word "including" suggests there were more). However, the Mail is predictably angry, because, well, you can't even say anything about the foreigners anymore, just because you're in a highly sensitive job where the consistent appearance of impartiality is paramount!

Further down, I'm struck by two stories which appear to be news stories largely because of the sex of the people involved, a fact the Mail helpfully highlights with BLOCK CAPITALS in its headlines. So we get Dead at 28, the youngest MAN in Britain to get breast cancer (a MAN, no less!), and the more light-hearted Moment a TV host got the hots for Mad Men's Christina Hendricks (but this time, it was a WOMAN presenter), which brings us the not-at-all startling revelation that even some women (sorry, WOMEN) would quite like to have sex with Christina Hendricks. MAIL ONLINE REPORTER paints quite a picture here, one-handedly typing phrases like "curvaceous beauty" and "she placed her hand seductively on Christina's leg", as the anticipation builds. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of papers like the Mail, news reporting remains tenuously chained to events that happen in reality, and so the story ends with nothing much of note happening, instead of escalating into the frenzied lesbian romp you might have just unzipped for. "CURSE YOU, REALITY!", we hear MAIL ONLINE REPORTER yell, before taking a cold shower and going off to write about an unusually big-toothed rabbit.

Back to the misery then, and we're treated to a classic "Now" headline in the glittering form of Now you pay for prison parties: Tory minister says taxpayer must fund balls and comedy workshops for criminals, which reports a Tory minister very obviously not saying that. Still, the headline is a beauty; "Now" at the beginning to build up our sense of panic about where our runaway handcart is headed today, unnecessarily invoking the TAXPAYER to remind you that YOU, yes YOU actually have to pay taxes which sometimes FUND things that don't even get your bloody bins emptied.

The story is quite interesting really. A while ago, a ban on certain types of prisoner taking part in certain types of activity was knocked into place by the wildly jerking knee of Jack Straw, after some bad publicity about an imprisoned terrorist who apparently enrolled in a stand-up comedy class or something. One of the great ironies of the last few years in politics is that the right-wing press consistently portrayed New Labour as an arrogant, out-of-touch, PC institution a million miles removed from the concerns of the middle classes and the self-professed silent majority (who ironically never seem to shut the fuck up). In fact, towards the end of their reign, Labour became insanely keen to appear tough on crime and immigration, and ended up tossing out all kinds of illiberal legislation in a pointless attempt to placate Mail-readers and their ilk, a ploy which didn't even fucking work. So, Tory prisons minister Crispin Blunt has called into question a couple of these policies, saying, quite rightly;
"As a measure it was typical of the last administration's flakiness under pressure," he said.

"At the slightest whiff of criticism from the popular press, policy tended to get changed and the consequence of an absurd over-reaction to offenders being exposed to comedy in prison was this deleterious, damaging and daft instruction."

This has clearly vexed the Mail, who like their Tories to talk tough on crime. Indeed, it's angered them to the extent that a second article is attached to the bottom of this one, entitled "Tory who talks like a Left-winger". Here, we discover that Blunt has...well, he's actually never really said anything that left-wing or liberal before, leaving Rachel Quigley to wonder aloud if Blunt (a former Army man!) might have been "polluted by the presence of so many Liberal Democrats in the Coalition". Maybe one of them bit him and infected him with Not Being A Massive Cartoonishly Tory Prat disease? We may never know.

Lastly, we have another pleasingly ludicrous headline the Mail wants you to swallow at face value: EU spends £12m employing 200 researchers to conclude fruit is good for you (.... didn't we all know that?). If you're thinking "Hmm, I bet it turns out there was a little bit more to it than that", then you're right! Pat yourself on the back, Mr or Mrs Smart Guy or Girl!

So, the EU has spent some of its money on something. Before we find out what, the Mail wheels out someone from a "Eurosceptic think-tank" to give us his unbiased opinion, which he does in the form of the rhetorical question "In these tough economic times, do we really need an EU-funded superhero to tell us that fruit is healthy?". Well, no, I'd wager we don't. I'd also wager that the project started before the "tough economic times" (it's four years old), and that it did more than just tell is fruit is good. It seems the Mail is talking about the IsaFruit project, a major research project which published papers with pant-tighteningly exciting titles like these:
Variations in the orchard environmental conditions affect vascular and transpiration flows to/from peach fruit

Identification of a tri-iron(III), tri-citrate complex in the xylem sap of iron-deficient tomato resupplied with iron: new insights into plant iron long-distance transport.

Electrospray-Collision-Induced Dissociation Mass Spectrometry: a Tool to Characterize Synthetic Polyaminocarboxilate Ferric Chelates used as Fertilizers

Changes in organic acid and iron concentrations in xylem sap and apoplastic fluid of Beta vulgaris in response to iron deficiency and resupply

Fruit: turns out it's well good

(Note: one of the above is not a genuine paper emanating from the IsaFruit project; I made it up for satires! See if you can guess which).

All in all, a bit of a bollocks non-story then, patronisingly assuming that any study about fruit must obviously be frivolous, when it's clear that we should be putting all our money into EMPTYING OUR FUCKING BINS, OH GOD THE BINS, THEY HAVEN'T EMPTIED MY BIN SINCE TUESDAY, I THOUGHT WE WON THE FUCKING WAR?

Anyway, I'm sure, like me, you hate serious organisations such as the EU wasting their time and effort on tiresomely inconsequential fluff, so head over to the Mail's site and read some proper news, like how Angelina Jolie looks alright in leather, Cheryl Cole socialises with a penis-carrying male man, a Russian FEMALE golfer is quite attractive, which reminds me of various other sexy FEMALE sportsWOMEN whom you might like to see pictures of, and, most shockingly of all, Amy Winehouse has gone out drinking.

I feel a bit depressed now, where's those Shakira pictures again?

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Ethnics are coming!

This is the actual front page of the real Daily Express today:


No, really. The Express have actually gone with ONE IN 5 BRITONS WILL BE ETHNICS as their headline. On a day when most papers are reporting pointless fluff like the unprecedented NHS cuts, the Express has gone for the real big story, the one about how there's gonna be loads of blacks and Asians living here one day.

First of all, the word "ethnics". It's my genuine belief/hope that in 10 or 15 years this will become a taboo racial slur. "Ethnic" simply means of or pertaining to a race. It doesn't really make sense on its own; you can be "ethnic Chinese" or you can be an "ethnic minority", but this reference to races other than your own as "ethnics" is a troubling usage of the word that has crept into the language recently and still, incredibly, remains used frequently by the mainstream media (or at least it does in the Express). It's a shortening of "ethnic minority" that takes all the meaning away and instead creates this divisive term; there's us, the white British on the one hand, and then there's those ethnics. It's a brutal-sounding word, there's something nasty about the way it sounds and I've heard it used by people who would probably have once said "darkies" in its place when looking for a catch-all description for non-whites.

It's a very clear message from the Express here; the rise in the number of "ethnics" is something that should worry us. Last night, when I first saw this story, the online version used a fairly mundane picture of a British passport. At some point between last night and this morning, this was switched for a more incendiary picture of two veiled Muslim women, as if 1 in 5 Brits will be niqab-wearing Muslims by the date not mentioned in the headline.

The story itself is just some figures projecting that people from an ethnicity other than "white British" on the Census will form 20% of the population in 40 years' time. I don't know if these stats are accurate, but to be honest it's not that important. Let's assume that's true. What's important is the tone and the placement of this story, and that shocking, pisspoor headline. This is a dry population prediction spun into something more damaging, the sort of story people will be using to demand we close our borders and keep the "ethnics" out, lest we lose our nebulous sense of identity. An identity which, one can assume, is wholly derived from our skin colour.

So, is it really a problem? What does it matter that in 40 years, British people won't just be white? It's not as if they are now, unless you subscribe to the BNP's "just because a dog is born in a stable doesn't make it a horse" maxim. Britain has a long and proud tradition of making people of other races who settle here feel British. You can't expect everything to remain the same, but by and large immigrants that settle here speak English and immerse themselves in the British culture. They help shape it, but that's natural; all cultures evolve.

When I read this story, I was reminded of a quote that stuck with me from a couple of months ago. Spurs defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto gave an interview to the Guardian about how he feels about football, which was most notable for the fact that he considers it a job above anything, rather than a passion. But also interesting was his perspective on racial integration; as a French-born player with a French mother who chose to play for his father's native Cameroon, he claims to feel no real affinity for France:
"...the country does not want us to be part of this new France. So we identify ourselves more with our roots. Me playing for Cameroon was a natural and normal thing. I have no feeling for the France national team; it just doesn't exist. When people ask of my generation in France, 'Where are you from?', they will reply Morocco, Algeria, Cameroon or wherever. But what has amazed me in England is that when I ask the same question of people like Lennon and Defoe, they'll say: 'I'm English.' That's one of the things that I love about life here."
And that, for the most part, is how it is. Personally, I think that's something we can be proud of. We have ethnic minorities who were born here and raised in this culture. Mostly, they identify as British or English, because that's what they are. Why should they be treated as if they're simply "ethnics"? Well, because the Express, frankly, is either suspicious and fearful of people who aren't white British, or thinks its readers are and panders to them. Remember, this isn't about immigration, it's not about illegal immigrants or "bogus" asylum seekers or alien cultures; this is a straightforward division the Express is highlighting between whites on the one hand and everyone else on the other. The "ethnics" include second and third-generation "immigrants", people who were not only born here but whose parents were born here, and who are British in every meaningful sense. Oh, but they're not white. Now, I don't want to cry racism at this, but bloody hell folks, you're making it fucking difficult.

It's just so depressingly familiar; mundane predictions rendered in apocalyptic tones, quote from Sir Andrew Green, ramblings about Poles, picture of scary Muslims, we've seen the story a million times before in the Express and the Mail, either by Macer Hall or James Slack. But today, with that headline, the Express may just have surpassed itself for spite and nastiness.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

They're letting gays in now, you know! Whatever next?

I suppose it was to be expected really. The right-wing press was never gonna be able to ignore the chance to make headlines about gay asylum seekers. Still, I was a bit taken aback to see the Express going with the monumentally crass headline of NOW ASYLUM IF YOU'RE GAY. As the front-page lead. I don't know why I occasionally let these things surprise me, I mean, yesterday's front page was about how the Muslims are forcing everyone to swim in the dark due to, like, PC gone mad.

Anyway, the real story goes like this; two homosexual men (from Cameroon and Iran) who were claiming asylum here have been allowed to stay, at least for now. There's a rather sensible rule that says that, due to our tree-hugging, sandal-wearing "not really wanting people to die" policy, we don't send potential asylum claimants back to countries where they are genuinely fleeing real persecution. In this case, the two men have successfully argued that they would suffer persecution in the not particularly gay-friendly countries they came from. The applicant from Cameroon, for example, had been physically attacked for being gay in his own country, so this seems to be a reasonable claim.

The Court of Appeal, however, initially rejected this argument on the grounds that they could go back and just, y'know, pretend not to be gay. Or least not be so bloody gay about it. This suggestion has now been overturned by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was, and I'm paraphrasing a touch here, fucking stupid. So now the two men will be allowed to live here instead of being forced to return to countries that don't want them.

As you'd expect, the Express reacts to this decision with the heart-warming humanitarian glow they're renowned for. By which I mean, whining that "ASYLUM claims could soar after judges upheld appeals by two gay men who were to be deported" and "Campaigners last night warned it could mean millions might try to claim they are gay to qualify for asylum in Britain".

And who might these campaigners be? Take a minute to guess. Go on. I'll give you a clue; it's not really a public finance issue so the Taxpayers' Alliance aren't really appropriate for once, so just consider who else is on the Express' speed-dial. You there yet? If you said "Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch" and "Tory MP and perennial rent-a-quote gobshite Philip Davies", then take a swift drink because you're depressingly, soul-crushingly right!

This is how the Express and others are choosing to deal with the story. It's a thorny issue, so instead of arguing with the decision on moral or ethical grounds, which they can't really do without looking like they might have some kind of problem with gays and foreigners, just moan about how it obviously means that by 2015 the country will be sinking into the sea under the sheer weight of Iranians ostentatiously brandishing Scissor Sisters albums to try and pass as gay. So, Green takes the "obviously we don't want people getting beaten to death for being gay, but maybe we should pull out of international conventions on asylum" line, while Davies can be relied on for a bit of largely baseless scaremongering;
Conservative MP Philip Davies said: “It’s a dangerous game to play to go down this line because it’s quite feasible that this could offer an ideal line of defence for someone who wants to try to avoid being kicked out of the country, whether it is true or not that they are gay.

“By its very nature, it’s very difficult to prove one way or another. My concern would be that this may well be exploited by some people as a way of avoiding deportation.”
I mean, never mind that these cases will come to an actual court, which will weigh up the evidence and have to decide not only whether or not the person concerned is actually gay, but also how well-founded their fear of persecution is. Let's just pretend that this is going to lead to any failed asylum seeker suddenly saying "oh yeah, did I mention I'm gay?" and being carried out of court under a hail of ticker tape with a sincere apology and a fistful of benefit money.

The whole tone of the article is just profoundly dispiriting, concerned not with the plight of two real human beings (which is what the story should really be about), but with what it may mean for the number of foreign-looking dudes we have invading our green and pleasant land. Still, at times like this we have to be thankful for small mercies such as this;
"Have Your Say" is unavailable for this story.

Monday, 26 April 2010

A spooky internet pest writes...

Generally speaking, I'm not one of those people who gets a throbbing great hard-on talking about the effect of the internet and blogging on political discourse; if I have to read another meandering blog post about how Web 2.0 has sparked a paradigm shift or something I might well have to take a lighter to my eyeballs. However, as a massive fan of laughing at people, I will make occasional exceptions in cases where it's a bit funny, and so it's proved to be with Proper Telegraph Journalist Cristina Odone and her complete bewilderment at the perils of this new-fangled internet thing.

A week ago, Odone penned a sloppy attack piece on the Lib Dems and Dr Evan Harris MP in particular. In the aftermath of the first televised debate between the leaders of the three main parties, in which Nick Clegg surprised everyone by appearing to be marginally less shit than a beleagured PM widely held responsible for our fucked economy and wax-faced Tony Blair impersonator David Cameron, papers started falling over themselves to a) remember who the fuck these 'Liberal Democrat' dudes were and b) attack them. Odone's piece was titled "The Lib Dems are a Jekyll and Hyde party. Forget nice Mr Clegg. What about 'Dr Death'?", although it may as well have been titled "I've got to slag off the Lib Dems and have just realised I know dick-all about Clegg, but have remembered that I don't like that Evan Harris".

The nature of the criticism was pretty poor. It had the feeling of a blog cobbled together at the last minute, with lazy references to how Harris is referred to by opponents as "Dr Death" because of his not-that-controversial views on abortion and assisted dying. It called Harris "pop-eyed" regarding matters of religion, accused him of believing that "God is bad, his followers mad", and called the Lib Dems' apparent secularism "sinister" and "creepy". The whole thing was garbage; lazy, unsupported attacks on Harris which distorted his views. (Disclaimer: I'm not really a Lib Dem voter myself, but in keeping with a lot of people who value the evidence-based approach I have a lot of time for Harris as an individual, who's always seemed like one of the good guys). This being the internet, the link gets shared, and the comments section under Odone's piece was quickly filled with rebuttals, including a good one from Harris himself responding to the various accusations and clarifying his position on abortion and euthanasia.

Now, at this point, a good journalist would have either admitted she was wrong, or posted a follow-up piece justifying her depiction of Harris and the Lib Dems, using old-fashioned stuff like quotes and facts. An average journalist would have ignored the comments, which are never as widely read as the piece above the line, and gone on as if nothing had happened. Then there's always the third option; whine petulantly at your critics, accuse them of being some kind of mindless mob, and conspicuously fail to deal with any of their criticisms in terms of their substance or otherwise.

You may well have guess from that laboured set-up that Odone chose the third option, in her already infamously-titled effort The Lib Dems' spooky posse of internet pests. Odone bleats:
I’m spooked. Although I’ve been a commentator for years, I’m new to blogging. So it’s come as a bit of a shock to discover that everything I write that is even mildly critical of the Lib Dem sacred cows, Nick Clegg and Dr Evan Harris, provokes instant, ferocious and unchecked response
"Mildy critical" is a bit rich for an article which describes the person being criticised as "Dr Death", as though Harris were a cartoonish supervillian smashing babies in his lab with a hammer and becoming visibly sexually aroused as he does so. Instead of backing up her attack on Harris, she simply complains about those who called her on her bullshit for doing so. She suggests that the people criticising her are trying to shut down the discussion, apparently oblivious to the irony of saying that in a piece which is smacking them down for responding at all. Her response drips with theatrical over-reaction; her critics unleashed "the forces of hell" on her, she implies that Lib Dem supporters who responded are "thugs" who don't use the tactics of a democracy, asserting that there is "no room in the Lib-Labs’ intolerant culture for discussion", that they are "demagogues" displaying "knee-jerk hostility".

The democracy accusation is the most enjoyable one for me; there's something about its complete lack of self-awareness that would almost be endearing if it wasn't so brain-poppingly stupid. Being criticised for what you say is part of the essence of democracy; in the old days journalists would write whatever nonsense they liked and not know what the reaction was, but now they get an instant, sometimes deservingly brutal, judgement. Free speech, innit? But no, Odone stamps her feet at the criticism instead of dealing with any of it on its merits, and for people like me it's hard not break into a bit of a smile watching her flail about having been caught out running her mouth without thinking. And let's be clear here; no-one is trying to get Odone locked up or silenced, we just reserve the right to use the internet's interactive nature to tell you when you're being a bit of a prat. Feel free to hurl abuse at me below!

P.S. why not join our evil debate-silencing gang of web creeps at the sinister Facebook group, or flex your Lib-Dem-Thug-4-Life muscles on Twitter using the #spookyposse hashtag?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

FaceBONK, more like!

You'd think they might learn something, wouldn't you? A couple of weeks ago the Mail singled out and named Facebook in an article about the dangers of evil paedos trawling the internet, in a story which completely misrepresented its source, as covered nicely here at Enemies Of Reason. The Mail was forced into a pretty humbling apology in that instance when it turned out that the report the story was based on was explicitly about a site that wasn't Facebook.

So I was surprised (wait, surprised is the wrong word...depressed?) to see the Mail again picking out Facebook for special scorn in today's marvellously-titled Facebook 'sex encounters' linked to rise in syphilis, which, as the title suggests, attributes the rise in syphilis in parts of the North East to the fact that Facebook is popular there. The first three paragraphs really hammer this point home:
Facebook has been linked to a resurgence of the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis.

The virus has increased fourfold in Sunderland, Durham and Teesside, the areas of Britain where the website is most popular.

Medics believe Facebook and other social networking sites make it easier for strangers to meet multiple partners for casual sexual encounters.
Got it? FACEBOOK! The Telegraph have taken a similar tack as well. However, go to a less scaremongering source, such as the Press Association and you won't find a mention of Facebook at all.

While it's fair to say that 'medics' (well, one at least), seem to have given some quotes connecting the two rises, the guy who gives the quote never mentions Facebook by name. And probably for good reason; Facebook isn't really a casual dating site, profiles are mostly protected and for the most part I've never really got the vibe there that I'm one click away from finding someone I can disappoint up against a bin later that evening. Isn't that what Gumtree and Plenty Of Fish are for?

Regardless, there's precious little evidence here that it's Facebook in particular that's responsible for syphilis. So why do the Mail insist on mentioning Facebook in all these non-specific stories (see also Burglars will burgle the fuck out of you if you're not careful on Facebook!), to the extent that it made my Mail-reading mum the other day idly call for Facebook to be banned at the dinner table? (Little insight into to the inspiration for this blog, there...)

I guess partly it's because it's the one everyone's heard of, and it makes everyone who reads it able to relate a little more to the story, and partly because OH MY FUCKING GOD I SAW MY DAUGHTER ON FACEBOOK THE OTHER DAY WHAT IF SHE HAS THAT AIDS NOW?! However, a cynic might also suggest that putting the word 'Facebook' in your article is a good way to get more precious Google hits, and that's why Girls Aloud upskirt Messi hat-trick Lady Gaga video Twitter sex Olympics tickets Tiger Woods.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The more things change...

Having taken a fairly lengthy sabbatical from writing this blog, and indeed reading the papers, for a while, I thought I'd dive back in this week and have a look at what progress has been made in the world of journalism since the beginning of the year, while I've been sleeping and playing video games and trying not to read things that make me want to cave my own head in with a desk drawer. What I read all seems disturbingly, or maybe comfortingly, familiar.

Of course, it should be no surprise that Richard Littlejohn is still, for want of a better word, an arse. Today's column finds him predictably dancing a wee jig on Michael Foot's grave, calling him a coward and sneeringly referring to Foot's asthma as 'alleged asthma'. He follows this with a 'hilarious' imaginary conversation between two people from 'the real world', which concludes that real people in the real world don't give a toss about Lord Ashcroft's apparent £127m of avoided tax, and are instead more concerned about MANDELSON, BIG GAY PETER MANDELSON, LOOK OVER THERE AT WHAT LABOUR ARE DOING. Never being one to shy away from the important issues, Littlejohn then moves on to talking about how Ashley Cole's beard makes him look like a terrorist. No, really.

Elsewhere in the Mail we get reminded about the terrifying nature of our willies and front bottoms in yet another outraged article about the communist plot to ruden up our kids' fragile minds with dastardly sex education. The headline of this one describes the "Parents' anger" (plural), but it soon becomes apparent that the article hinges on literally one complaint by one mother about a sexy cartoon sex video the authorities sexily tried to sexify her 7-year-old daughter with. The parent, one Mrs Bullivant, sets herself up as an expert in psychology:
There is no educational or psychological benefit or need for children of this age to have full knowledge of what sexual intercourse actually entails
...which she may well be, for all I know. Still, the complaints of a single parent about a video which, according to the obligatory stapled-on official response at the end of the article, has been around for ten years, seem a somewhat flimsy basis for an entire story. Anyone would think the Mail was full of nannying conservative busybodies desperate to shield their kids from being educated about anything that might seem rude!

Still, at least the writer did attempt to disguise their agenda by tying it to a bit of factual information that, if you squint a bit, could almost be considered newsworthy. Not something that troubles writers at the somewhat lower-rent Daily Express, where I stumbled upon this curious piece about Anthea Turner by a writer named Elisa Roche. This piece is currently the fourth most important story on the Express' website, above the interest rate freeze, the Lord Ashcroft thing, and that boring story about the British child kidnapped in Pakistan. Anyway, this piece is one of the most bizarre I can remember reading. I urge you to read it in full (it's not very long), and when you've finished, tell me where the a) news, or b) comment is. It's essentially a potted biography of Anthea Turner's career which gives you the impression that she's no longer making as much money as she used to. This may not come as a surprise to you; it didn't to me, because I used to see her on the telly a lot, and now...not so much. It reads like a section from an Anthea Turner Wikipedia entry, written by someone with too much time on their hands and not deleted or tidied up yet because no-one bothered to read all the way through it.

What confuses me about this article isn't so much its absolutely staggering pointlessness (finding superfluous Daily Express articles is not a task that requires training and dedication, given that the paper loves to plug Desmond's OK! magazine by giving news space to fellating vapid celebrities), but the fact that it doesn't attempt to disguise its absolute absence of worth by orbiting loosely around a recent Turner-related news story. "But there are none!" I pretend to hear you cry! Well, quite. So why this? Did Roche wake up late, realise she had barely any time to file any copy, and then spin some kind of big celebrity wheel which told her to write some witless nonsense about Anthea fucking Turner? I mean, I know it's Friday (which is why I'm writing this rather than doing the work I get paid for), but seriously, have some standards! It's an unwritten law of journalism that you bloody well tack your hollow celebrity witterings onto some kind of nominally newsworthy happening that involves them, even if it's just a new picture of them on a red carpet or looking a bit fat. Elisa Roche, you have flouted these rules and left me dazed and confused. I don't know what to believe in any more.

Nor of course, does my old favourite Andrew Brown over in The Guardian, who in his guise as Chief Wet Blanket Of Spirituality has penned another inconclusive article about religion which is sort of sceptical but also sort of credulous. Brown's articles seem forever pitched at the sort of people that consider themselves agnostics or nice atheists, but who would really like some kind of interesting proof of god's existence to come out, if only so they could slightly impress their friends at a dinner party with a quasi-spiritual tale that begins "Well, actually, I'm an agnostic atheist but I did read an interesting piece in The Guardian the other day...". In this piece, Brown tells the tale of some religious folks who like to make cups of tea for god, only for him to mysteriously not drink it. The ever-sensitive Brown resists the urge to be mean about them, and instead concludes his piece by quoting someone quite mealy-mouthed saying something a bit enigmatic, from atop a particularly broad fence.

So, yeah, I'm back, and fuck-all has changed. The Daily Star, lost for headlines without a current reality TV series to run angry "It's a fix!" front pages about, settles for some bollocks about Madeleine McCann. The Sun, meanwhile, is a sucker for stories about how prisons are basically holiday camps, and therefore is particularly incensed that Jon Venables ate a burger (with chips, mind you) when he should be eating humble pie on a bed of soil.
Fearful Venables is being given 24-hour protection inside jail as he gorges on burgers and chips in his cell.
We can only hope and pray that it was a Tesco Value burger and not one of those more expensive lamb and mint burgers. A source with no apparent sense of self-awareness said;
"The level of protection he has is incredible. It's like he is some kind of celebrity."
Ah, sometimes the satire just writes itself.