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?