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.