Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Media Manipulation At Its Most Overt

Ed Miliband says he isn't anti-business, in an item that once more confirms the subtle yet inviolable boundaries that constrain modern political discourse.

I mean, nobody ever asks David Cameron whether he's a Spam-clad android created in focus-group Hell as a polyamorous sexbot for the sport of Croesus-rich public schoolboys, do they?  George Osborne isn't regularly forced to deny being a V-style reptile in a highly unconvincing "human being" disguise, who must retire from public view twice daily to feed upon rotting animal flesh.

Boris Johnson never faces allegations that he sends boxes full of his faeces to underlings who displease him, although I bet he bloody well does.  He looks the type.

Considered in these terms, you can see how the dreaded tag of being "anti-business" is merely a function of oligarchy; a reflexive mechanism of the overclass, used to corral public perception of political reality into tightly-enclosed ideological cages, for the benefit of a minority of plutocrats.

This is why the internet is so important.  Without it, nobody will ever hear about the hordes of Filipino maids and au pairs that Michael Gove whips around the miniature hippodrome at his country estate, driven in terror before his insatiable cruelty and his deranged, Caligulan laughter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Whatever

Nevermind was released four years before I was legally able to buy a pint, so I'm hardly the go-to guy for the twenty-year anniversary reminiscences.  Nonetheless, the few pieces that I've read have been heavy on the mythology, and have successfully obscured the reasons why that record had the impact that it did.

Most have acknowledged the obvious - that the late eighties and early nineties were an extravagantly dreadful period in rock music's annals, dominated by bouffant, Harley-riding, leather-trousered egomaniacs.  It was an era of epic dick-measuring contests to determine which star could shove the most drugs up his cretinous hooter or cram the most weedly-weedly-weedly noises into his infuriating guitar solos.  In 1990, the hottest property in Rawk was the Hey-We're-Sensitive-Us acoustic ballad, delivered with an ovine earnestness that would've earned their composers the hand-smashing treatment meted out to cheats in Casino, in a just and fair world.

It was, in short, a bloody horrible period in the largely shameful history of the genre*.

Nirvana didn't look like a biker gang.  If anything, they looked like they couldn't care less how they appeared at all, like they'd fallen onstage off their sofas.  To a teenager, there's nothing cooler than people who just don't give a damn what anyone thinks. 

Nevermind didn't feature any bongo-backed ballads.  It didn't want to tell you about all the models it had boned or all the drugs it had shoved up its bum. It was lean, mean and - critical for a form beloved of hormonal teenagers - it was really pissed off about nothing in particular, to the point where the lyrics could mean more or less whatever you wanted them to.

The songs have no fat on them at all, just short intros into headlong battering beats and ridiculously raucous noise with triumphant, shoutalong choruses, the whole rattling shebang still so melodic and catchy that my Mum owns a copy.  In genre terms, it has some genius, primal riffs.  Half the songs take off like vodka hitting your bloodstream.  Like most of the best books you'll ever read and the finest films you'll ever see, it gets in, says exactly what it wants to say as succinctly as possible, then smashes its amp and stomps off in the huff.

All the rest - the whole freakshow it all became - is just details, by comparison.  In the end, the record didn't change the world, but for a short while there, it sure looked a lot like a planet-smashing asteroid that was finally going to wipe out the dinosaurs once and for all.


*Doolittle didn't make the top ten over here.  Extreme did.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Salesmen For Bullshit, a Continuing Series

Back in 2001, Chris Hitchens penned The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which he declared Dr. Hank a war criminal for, amongst many other misdeeds, prolonging the Vietnam War and thus needlessly killing God knows how many people.

Readers should bear that fact in mind while reading his latest column, In Defence Of Endless War.

Sane human beings do not seek perpetual war and reasonable people don't relish unrelenting mayhem.  Thus, Hitchens' latest column is the work of a lunatic psychopath.  I don't mean that as a comical exaggeration or as a meaningless insult.  I mean that Christopher Hitchens is a psychopath and a lunatic. 

We can argue all day and night over the winnability of the war in Afghanistan; we can debate means and methods until the cows come home.  On the other hand, I imagine all perceptive observers will agree that no matter how hard it tries, the United States of America cannot possibly kill enough human beings to satisfy Chris Hitchens' raging hardon for violence.

Salesmen For Bullshit

I've said this before, but I don't regard the death penalty as some inherently horrifying and barbaric sanction.  The Japanese use it and whatever the flaws of their society may be, they don't strike me as a bunch of horn-helmeted pillagers and destroyers.

Even if we all accept this contention, the arguments against capital punishment remain far stronger than those in favour.  It doesn't work as a deterrent and the chances of irrevocable injustice, while fairly low, are still far too high.  I'd also add that many societies that embrace extreme punishments are also likely to embrace extremity in other areas of public policy, to the disadvantage of all.

The only arguments for capital punishment that ring true for me are the ones that Mencken cited back in the twenties - namely, that the death penalty satisfies the entirely natural desire of victims and their relatives for vengeance, and that the public's justified outrage is sated.

Even if this is the case - and it is, for many - these rationales are entirely undercut if victims have to wait more than twenty years for the deed to be done.  Far from providing desperately-needed comfort, this merely drags out the agony for relatives who have to endure decades of legal debate. 

It's a policy which manifestly achieves few of its alleged aims, so obviously that those who go out of their way to make claims to the contrary can be safely regarded as yahoos and conmen.  See also, bloggers who make regular media appearances to act as slick salesmen for bullshit.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Which The Author Considers The Many Tactical Problems Afflicting Celtic FC in High-Pressure Games & Recommends Positive Action

In light of Celtic's recent run of poor form, characterised by an inability to compete effectively in important games, I thought I'd offer an in-depth analysis of the areas in which I feel they are struggling and offer some solutions.

Problem - Our central defenders can't head a football, deal with a cross or stop passing to opposition strikers in their own penalty area.  This means that we're conceding an astonishing number of needless goals.

Solution - Buy two defenders who don't soil themselves in terror whenever a football comes near them, or even just a couple of big lads who are at least aware that the guys in the shirts that don't have stripes on them are trying to kick the ball into our big net thing.

Say What You See

"What we will be looking for... is a way of putting together something that allows (Palestinian) claims and legitimate aspirations for statehood to be recognized while actually renewing the only thing that's going to produce a state, which is a negotiation directly between the two sides".
Sayeth Tony Blair, in his capacity as prime fig-leaf inadequately draped across the end of America's throbbing boner for "peace in the Middle East", by which the United States means "Realisation of its ally's maximal goals with minimal concessions".

Tony's reputation for scrupulous impartiality has been rather compromised after he presented Palestinian leaders with his most generous proposal - namely that, in exchange for dropping their bid for statehood and recognising Israel's right to do whatever the fuck it likes, they would earn the right to re-enter the same negotiations that have been so very productive these last few years.  After all, Benny Netanyahu may have built his career upon the solid bedrock of opposition to a Palestinian state, but who's to say he won't change his mind tomorrow?

Unsurprisingly, the Palestinians remained unmoved by Tony's proposal, failing as they do to share his confidence in the internationally sponsored peace process. 

Perhaps their faith in Tony's neutrality has been shaken somewhat by his unfortunate habit of touring the Holy Land telling the Israeli political class how bloody awesome they are, while their faith in the peace process is quelled by a quick glance at the evolving map of the region, which shows up its aims rather starkly in steel girders, stone and tarmac.  Perhaps Palestinian indifference to Tony's proposals is related to his habit of asking them whether they believe him, or their lyin' eyes.

The Times today advised our current Prime Minister to join with the Americans in vetoing the Palestinians' bid for statehood, on the grounds that this would "evoke the 'special relationship'" in some vague way that would confer squarely no benefits upon us, but would shower fortune and plenty upon the Obama administration.

As best I can tell, their hacks believe that the United States' lonely veto will undercut American claims to independent arbitration, leaving the casual observer with the impression that they have some kind of ulterior motive or something.  Combine that with the fact that the Israelis are threatening dire consequences, should the Palestinians ask the United Nations for the same rights that each of its member states take for granted, and you can see how this might start to look a bit suspect, from a justice angle.

The Times' editorial line on this is that, since Israel and the US have already fucked this situation beyond repair in plain view, the UK is now duty-bound to publicly fuck itself in identical fashion, thus somehow magically unfucking everything to the benefit of all.  This sounds a little like wishful thinking, to me.


Nonetheless, you do have enjoy the thought processes on display - the emphasis on appearances rather than reality, for instance.  It's as if the planet's population were contestants on 80s idiot-fodder quiz show Catchphrase, squinting at an unintelligible and partially obscured image on a giant screen.

"Just say what you see", Roy al-Walker gently encourages us, as another square disappears, revealing what appears to be a cartoon Barack Obama holding an animated Bibi Netanyahu's coat, while the latter pours concrete over half of the West Bank.

"Is it... Is it 'Another One Bites The Dust', Roy?" we ask, mystified.

"It's good", Roy says, sucking on his teeth and shaking his head, "But it's not right..." 

Well.  While it's fun watching all these statesmen proclaim that nobody could deny that the Palestinians deserve statehood from one side of their mouths while muttering that they can't have it from the other, I suggest that it would probably be better if the UK kept its own counsel.

If the Americans are intent on nailing their balls to the Wailing Wall and then trying to sprint towards a better tomorrow - and they are - I doubt whether the sight of Britain straining alongside them is going to make the spectacle any more convincing, effective or edifying.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Manna

Oh, praise the Lord - this Johann Hari thing is the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it?

I'll assume you know the background and just observe that sentencing the little arse to a year's hard journalism studies is Just. The. Perfect. Outcome for this whole hilarious escapade - it ends nothing and ensures an ongoing mutual fragfest between some of the nation's most tiresome hacks.  I can almost hear that little vein on Toby Young's temple throbbing, no doubt lending him the dignified air of an oversized, live-action bollock-torture sculpture.

I mean, where to start?  The precious spectacle of British journalism up in arms over some grievous affront to its much-vaunted integrity, perhaps, a proposition akin to a career poledancer launching a crusade for public modesty?  Oh, please, continue!

I think we can all agree that some purloined quotes will fatally undermine an industry that's in large part devoted to flogging a volcanic miasma of celebrity titty, rage-inducing lies and net meme ripoffs.  What woe hath Hari wrought upon the noble writer's art?  Who now shall place their faith in our exclusive exposes of climate hoaxing immigrant sluts who go like the jackhammers of fuck five times a night with well-known Premiership footballers?

And what of the grotesque insult to the dignity of Hari's Wikipedia victims, after his pseudonymous accusations were seen by none?  Admittedly, most of them deserve to be forcefully strapped down so that a pissed-up tattoo artist can scrawl even worse allegations on their foreheads left-handed, but surely nobody deserves to have nasty things written about them on a web page.  I mean, not only is such a thing unheard of, but that's not what the internet is for, is it?

There was some Twittertalk last night encouraging the injured parties to seek restitution through the courts, a fresh hilarity that I hope and pray comes to pass.  My ideal scenario would be a series of ruinously expensive and acrimonious trials, in which both parties somehow contrive to lose, incurring smashing great legal fees in the process.

Whatever.  The Hari affair has been a knee-slapping, rib-cracking laugh-a-minute riot - a richly comedic display of hubris and nemesis in which all of the participants have wound up whacking themselves in the face with the rubber fish of bathos, and there's no prospect of a let-up in the near future.

I say, bring it on. I heartily encourage the participants to tie razorblades to their heels and physically attack each other, squawking and slashing like fighting cocks, but I'll settle for a grinding war of attrition fought across the opinion pages in increasingly bitter and desperate tones, with all the friendly fire and collateral damage that implies.

My advice for this era of financial strife?  Invest heavily in beer and pretzels, because this comedy bandwagon is going to run and run.  Magic.

Friday, September 09, 2011

God Help Us If He Ever Becomes Self-Aware

Tony Blair has blamed Iranian intervention for prolonging conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Regime change in Tehran would make him "significantly more optimistic" about the region's prospects, the former prime minister told The Times.  BBC News, 9th September

Ah, Tony Blair.  God help us if he ever becomes self-aware, like SkyNet in the Terminator movies - it could be a catastrophe on the species level, like nuclear war or the Black Death.

So.  Here we have a leading light of an aggressive, expansionist political system that regularly employs extreme violence and coersion to replicate itself across the planet, warning a medieval theocracy to desist interfering in the affairs of its neighbours, on the grounds that those neighbours have been made protectorates of said expansionist system by force.  It's a bold gambit, I have to say, and one that a sane nation might find a little peculiar.

As it happens, I do agree with Tony - I too would be more optimistic about the region's prospects, were the Iranians to ditch the glowering caste of priests that have blighted the development of their country and brutally repressed the population.  God knows, we have enough historical experience of what it's like to be at the mercy of the clergy ourselves.

Let's note another irony here, though.  No doubt the Mullahs would be overjoyed to impose their wacky Koranic idiocies on Edinburgh or London; if they could push a button and overthrow the American state, they'd do it in a heartbeat.  On the other hand, in the absence of the ability to do so, I imagine that they have no concrete plans for how the United Kingdom should be governed...

Well, you can't say that Tony Blair has no designs on the governance of Tehran.

Update!:  It's actually worth shelling out a quid for the Times today, just to catch the barking yet entirely earnest lunacy of the Tony Blair interview.  Here he is, explaining why Afghanistan and Iraq went so badly wrong, against all of his expectations...

"The real reason why it was difficult in Afghanistan and then in Iraq - and is difficult, actually, all over the region of the Middle East at the moment - is that the narrative in which religion is mixed up with politics and in which the idea that 'the West is inherently in conflict with us', that ideology, that has those ideas in it, in a very toxic way, is far more widespread than we understood at the time".  

Now, I'm aware that Tony is referring to religious and political extremism here but equally, I can't help but point out that the former Prime Minister is complaining that some irrational, crazy people believe that the UK is "inherently in conflict" with them at a time when the UK is bombing, invading and occupying their countries.

He also unironically blames much of the carnage on "external factors" and says that there will be no "external players trying to cause difficulty" in Libya;  Insists that the War on Whatever must continue because the people of these countries "want democracy", while failing to note that substantial minorities amongst them have in fact sacrificed tens of thousands of their own lives explicitly in order to prevent such an outcome, and proclaims that all of this bloodcurdling mayhem has made him realise one thing - that the "scale of the problem" was far greater than he'd imagined. 

Also, this little peach of a quote is nestled near the end...

"I was saying even two or three months ago, if he (Bashar al-Assad, Syrian dictator) was prepared to lead a process of reform, then I would give him the chance to make the evolution work".

You really have to hand it to Tony - a man who believes a sincere apology should always include a restatement of how very fucking right he was all along; whose idea of questing for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is to deliver sucky speeches telling one of the warring factions how very fucking right they are about everything; who seems to think that the only problem with bombarding cities is that the public sometimes see too many bloody corpses, and who appears to believe that he has right of veto over the leadership of Ba'athist dictatorships.

As I've said before, the problem with Tony wasn't that he was a liar - he wasn't any worse than his predecessors or successors in that regard, I think.  No, the real problem with Tony was and is that he is an actual, for real lunatic who sees validation in every error and the Promised Land in every bombed out cityscape.  The man is a maniac of the most dangerous type - a politician who actually believes his own propaganda... And,  let me remind you, this guy is the Peace Envoy to the Middle East.

Ouch.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Interim Review - Doctor Who Series 6

If old Doctor Who was a bit like The Littlest Hobo - mysterious traveller has adventures, saves people from danger in their hour of need and then disappears again...

...New Doctor Who is more like The Littlest Hobo is a DemiGod who shows up at the height of the seige of Stalingrad, has rampant seventeen-dimensional sex with a Valkyrie, endures a thousand Christlike deaths for no apparent reason and then saves the day from an intergalactic evil that may or may not be himself through the power of his own sheer awesomeness. Woof!