Sunday, November 28, 2010

Aggravated Bitchery For The Hell Of It

Let me get this out of the way before I start - I'm not an activist or a campaigner.  For various reasons, I'm not a great joiner of campaigns or parties or a signer of petitions.  I'm more than happy to bump my gums about issue x, y or z online, but my net contribution to the UK's political scene is zero.  Thus, I try not to instruct people who actually get off their backsides and do things.

That said, I think we need to have a chat about strategy here.  It seems to me that a lot of time is being wasted complaining about things that simply can't be altered.  Take the recent student protests, for a start - I've now lost count of the number of people I've seen grousing that TV news broadcasters focus too heavily on a minority of troublemakers and ignore the issue that's so animated 50,000 peaceful protesters.

Every time I see this, I can't help but think of In The Loop...

Toby Wright: We called some builders. They didn't turn up when they said they would.

Jamie MacDonald: What did you expect? They're builders! Have you ever seen a film where the hero is a builder? No, no, because they never fuckin' turn up in the nick of time. Bat-builder? Spider-builder? Huh? That's why you never see a superhero with a hod!

Complaining that TV news is sensationalist and reductive is like bitching that the X Factor is rigged.  Is it really?  Get out of here!  It never is!
If it bleeds, it leads and there's nothing like a spot of amateur constabulary boxing to give an ITN producer a glorious woody.  Thus, 50,000 protesters get ten seconds, and the rest of the broadcast is devoted to slow-mo replays of airborne fire extinguishers and looted police vans.
Seriously, if Trevor MacDonald walks into his office tomorrow to be told to put together a ten minute panel discussion on the pros and cons of education cuts, he'd conclude that his bosses had been tearing shit up all night on an epic cocaine and methylated spirits bender.  Education policy is brutally tedious, he'd say.  Can't we just show more clips of twatty students breaking things?  And lo, they would!
Broadcasters may have a duty to present current affairs as faithfully as they can, but that's always superceded by their number one priority, which is ratings.  A five-minute grilling of Michael Gove is advertising death - the public would damn near break their wrists changing the channel.  Hell, I'm a well-informed observer of events, and even I would rather watch the International Wide-Eyed Seal Pup Clubbing Championships than Michael bloody Gove.
And while I'm at it, I think we could also do with a good bit less of this kind of thing - tiresome lectures on the acceptability of sick jokes.
I watched a recorded episode of ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ this week – I couldn’t even enjoy the funny bits. The show was fragmented by the host’s jokes about rape and paedophilia. I don’t find them funny. They make me feel sick. They give me nightmares.
I can see why this kind of thing upsets people and I sympathise, but really, this is tactically insane.  If you wanted to alienate the public, then what better way to do it than by continually finger-wagging them for their choices in light entertainment? 
Given that left wingers generally are so often portrayed as hair-shirted, mung bean chewing, po-faced language commissars, it never ceases to amaze me that so many are keen to play up to the stereotype.  Tut-tutting the electorate for their naughty programmes makes us look humourless and dictatorial; immediately annoys the tut-tuttees and hands opponents a great big stick to beat us with.
Can we give this stuff a rest, please?  It reminds me very much of that deranged US Tea Party politician and her Jihad on people jerking off, and may well be one of the least endearing and most counterproductive of all of the modern left's many bugbears.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stupid Songs Contest #3

The rules - the World's Stupidest Song isn't necessarily the world's worst song.  To qualify, the track needs to be a) irredeemably artless; b) thoroughly cretinous and the artist in question must be c) utterly oblivious.

Which brings us to What I Am by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, quite possibly the most vapid song ever to garner popular acclaim.

Stupid comes in many varieties.  Whereas previous candidates were openly moronic, What I Am attempts to slide its vacuity under a veil of fake profundity, hoping that by acting thick, the song's essential stupidity will take on some deeper meaning.  It doesn't work.

I'm not aware of too many things
I know what I know if you know what I mean
Do ya?

I'm guilty of pulling this gambit on occasion - Hey, I'm a mechanic's son, descended from a long line of working class heroes.  I can't be expected to understand all this complicated stuff!  It's bullshit when I do it, and it's bullshit in the Billboard Chart. 

Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box
Religion is the smile on a dog

I could critique this like an anal retentive, but really, why not just call the song Durrrr, what? 

That's before we get to the chorus with it's hugely annoying and glib lyric What I am is what I am/Are you what you are, or what?  Simple, yet deep and ties in so well to the circular guitar riff! 

Seriously, if you're one of those people who thought Nirvana were terrible because they were angsty and meaningless, I dare you to listen to this song three times.  If you're not punching yourself in the face three seconds into your third attempt, you have no soul.

And a word of advice - in the unlikely event that you ever have spoken-word suckmeister Henry Rollins round for tea, don't put this on.  It'll be like that bit in The Incredible Hulk with the violence.

Stupid Songs Contest #2

The rules - the World's Stupidest Song isn't necessarily the world's worst song.  To qualify, the track needs to be a) irredeemably artless; b) thoroughly cretinous and the artist in question must be c) utterly oblivious.  With that in mind, here's your next contender - Break Stuff, the fourth single from Limp Bizkit's breathtakingly brainless album Significant Other.

It's all about the he said/she said bullshit
I think you better quit
Talkin' that shit
Or you'll be leavin' with a fat lip

All of us have had one of those days.  You know, one of those days when you wake up and think to yourself, How hard could it be to take Rage Against The Machine's output, strip it of whatever limited political and musical merit it ever possessed and turn it into a license to print money?   

Well, when Fred Durst had one of those days, he produced possibly the most cack-handed, ham-fisted slabs of idiocy ever committed to vinyl.  Break Stuff is awe-inspiringly stupid, a Beavis and Butthead skit in musical form.

If the whole purpose of rock music is to depress and piss off teenagers - and it is, more or less - then this is really the zenith of the form.  Totally free of context, a hymn to the adolescent art of being a bit grumpy and being pissed off about nothing... I thank my lucky stars this didn't come out when I was fourteen.

I hope you know I pack a chainsaw
I'll skin your ass raw
And if my day keeps going this way I just might
Break your fuckin' face tonight!
Give me something to break!

Testify, brother!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yer War on Terror Round-Up - Slapstick Edition

Astonishing news from Afghanistan, where talks between the government and Taliban negotiator Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour have run into a small difficulty...

"it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all... United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little...

...“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

To reiterate: some geezer - God knows who - was allowed to repeatedly meet with senior officials including Hamid Karzai, was fed bagfuls of cash and then legged it, because almost ten years into a major war, we still clearly have no idea who we are fighting. 

You do have to wonder - see when the Taliban kept telling the press that they weren't negotiating with the government, did military intelligence just think they were playing an elaborate double bluff?

Elsewhere, a Times leader writer today* pens a column expressing astonishment that Iraq has refused to send a representative to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in honour of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  After wiping his laptop clean of his own exploded brains, the Times man declares his disappointment that, after thousands of coalition deaths in a trillion-dollar war for Iraqi freedom, the Iraqis have decided to side with the forces of authoritarianism. 

I paraphrase, but the author asks Who would've thought this would happen?   To which I can only respond, Anyone who has watched in alarm as the Iraqi government has more or less openly played up its authoritarian credentials and been denounced for arbitrary detention, torture and various other violations by those awful Commie human rights orgs.

The Times itself has reported on the Iraqi government's behaviour, IIRC, and I can't think of any reason why any clued-up observer would consider their self-interested decision to give the Nobel committee the bodyswerve surprising.  It's notable is that the journo in question isn't merely surprised - this really is a massive, earth-shaking WTF?!!?! moment for him. 

If I hadn't cracked open a newspaper in the last ten years, these stories might give me the impression that neither our military forces nor the national paper of record had a damn clue what was going on with our wars.  Having kept up with it day by day, I've no idea what to make of this.

Anyone know how much lead there is in British tapwater these days?

*(The leader article is behind the paywall and I don't have it to hand, but I'll chuck a couple of choice quotes into the comments section tomorrow, so you can see I'm not exaggerating at all).

In Defence Of Snobbery

That stoopid music post attracted a Tweeted complaint of racism, which is entertaining but misguided.  My primary arsehole behaviour on pop-cultural matters is the much less sinister snobbery.

Mrs. R and various friends have objected continually over the years when I regularly turn my nose up at film (x), album (y) or book (z), but when it comes right down to it, you should have faith in your own gut instinct.  If someone asks you to go see Tomb Raider, it's sending you those Run for your life! signals for a reason.

Seriously, here's how it goes, nine times out of ten:  Hey, Mr. Rodent, fancy going to see 2012?  The special effects look magic.

No thanks, I'll say, that looks like a shite film.

Don't be such a bloody snob, they'll go.  It's just a night at the cinema, what else are you going to do?

The next day, after doing something enjoyable instead, I'll ask How was 2012, then?

Shite, comes the sullen response.  I try not to be rub it in, mind.

I'm the first to admit that this might make me a dickhead, but hey - I'm a dickhead who wasn't bounced into hours of reading The Da Vinci Code, or sitting through Godzilla, so there's an upside.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The World's Stupidest Song Contest

It takes a special talent to record a truly stupid song.  To qualify, a track needs to demonstrate an awesome level of stupidity on a number of levels.

1) Musically, the song must be the most artless, lumbering, chuntering pile of farting drivel imaginable.  The most cretinous song has to sound like it was slung together by a pissed orangutan disinterestedly smashing a synthesiser. 

Songs that make heavy use of samples are generally perfect for this, since an original work always requires a basic act of invention.  Hideous rock bollocks like, say, anything by fuck-awful, comedy-masked shite-merchants Mudvayne, may be astonishingly tone deaf, blundering arse, but they still had to think up some guitar riffs and so on.

2) It's imperative that the lyrics are the most offensively tossed-off ramble of random verbiage, conveying maximum contempt for the listener. Ideally, it should be impossible to divine any point or theme, although songs about liking sex, shooting coppers or just generally being big and tough often qualify. 

Thus, Human by the Killers would qualify for its meaningless, angst-ridden "Are we human/Or are we dancer" lyric, particularly because it led to much debate about its meaning.  Is there something profound we're all missing?  Well, let's end that debate right now - it goes like that because the singer shoved it in as a stopgap in rehearsal, and couldn't be arsed to change the stupid bits later.

3) Finally - and most importantly! - the artist must be completely oblivious to the stupidity of his or her track.  Given that musicians are seldom renowned for their intellectual prowess, this throws the competition wide open across almost all eras and genres, although obviously '80s hair-farming heavy metal has an advantage.

So, without further ado, let's introduce the first contender. 

Bound 4 Da Reload was released in 2000 by Oxide & Neutrino and immediately shot to the top of the UK singles chart.  As perhaps the most brainless and inane release to come out of the mainstreaming of UK garage - itself, one of the most cretinous music scenes ever to emerge in this country - it instantly and proudly announced itself as one of the stupidest songs of the decade, and is a strong contender for The World's Stupidest Song contest.

It's difficult to know where to start - insofar as there's actually something musical going on in there, it's just the theme tune from Casualty with a couple of ripped-off samples from well-known eighties hip hop sticking out of its anus, and some irrelevant dialogue from a Guy Ritchie film wedged in like a Wotsit up a toddler's nostril.  Lyrically...

Bound 4 the bound bound 4 the reload/Bound 4 the bound bound 4 the reload/Bound 4 the bound bound 4 the reload/Bound 4 the bound bound 4 the reload (repeat)

...It's an inspired tour de force of slack-jawed, meaningless gibberish, like your fourteen-year old nephew mumbling over BBC One on a wet Tuesday night.  It's particularly difficult to work out whether the artists created such a hilarious mish-mash of unrelated nonsense intentionally, or because they got bored halfway through recording it and just shoved in whatever was on telly that night. 

To misquote Patches O'Houlihan in Dodgeball, it sounds exactly like a pack of retards trying to fuck a doorknob. 

If I'd been asked to guess at the title, I'd have assumed it was called Like, Some Wicked Beats, And Shit.  If I'd been asked to film the video, I'd definitely have had the band standing in a shitty club, looking bad-ass into the middle distance, which is what they actually did.

Ladies and gents, your first contender for the title of World's Stupidest Song.  If you can find a band taking a song this stupid as seriously as they do, you'll be doing well.

Further nominations to follow between now and Christmas; particularly good suggestions may be considered for entry.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Concern Trolling - A Bluffer's Guide

An entertaining row is blowing up around the al-Awlaki case in the US, one that I think serves as a brilliant introduction to the arcane art of concern trolling.  Examples follow...

A bit of history here: al-Awlaki is a fugitive Al-Qaeda propagandist, cited by numerous fucking idiots as an inspiration towards their own deranged worldviews and for various extremely violent crimes.  The Obama administration has declared that it intends to assassinate him at the first available opportunity.

So what, you might say?  After all, it's not like the US hasn't spent the last decade rubbing out thousands of people across a variety of countries, and if there's a more deserving recipient of a hellfire missile up the jacksie than al-Awlaki, I certainly can't think of one at the moment.

The problem arises because al-Awlaki is a US citizen.  Even though he's declared war on his homeland, his assassination would set a legal precedent that the President can order the extrajudicial murder of American citizens, an idea that would've caused exploding foreheads in Washington from 1774 on, right through the Civil and Cold Wars and right up until the dawn of the deranged era in which we now live. 

Unsurprisingly, this has caused various constitutional law groups to sit up and take notice, particularly the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights.  These have organised a defence of citizens' right not to be exploded... And as if by magic, numerous groups have sprung forth to declare that, while they - of course! - disagree with extrajudicial state murder, they have concerns about the manner of the defence.

Readers will be blown away by shocking news that primary concerns include alleged terrorist-snuggling and accusations of spitting on the struggles of the suffering peoples of the globe. 

First up was ever-reliable bullshit-vacuum Andrew Sulllivan...

"The decision of the ACLU and CCR to represent Anwar al-Awlaki, even as he continues to emit clear death threats to writers and cartoonists, seems to me to cross a line..."

This, friends, is a clear example of how failing to prepare is preparing to fail.  By merely stating that al-Awlaki is an awful human being, Sullivan left himself wide open to the response that it doesn't matter whether the bloke is Satan himself - Americans are legally protected from assassination by their own government by laws that were established for damn good reasons. 

No, painting the rights groups as terrorist sympathisers was going to take more than a bald assertion that terrorists are evil, dude.  Step forward, ex-Amnesty martyr Gita Saghal, to accuse the CCR of sexual relations with Al Qaeda. 

The problem wasn't that the CCR was defending citizens' protections from their own government - oh no, not at all.  The problem was that CCR had consorted with a whiffy Islamic human rights group, thus rendering their behaviour suspect enough to merit a long chin-stroke on the arse-extracted topic of "anti-imperialism".  One opinion from an American law professor later, CCR were suddenly al-Awlaki's "criminal defence lawyers", "representing his interests", committed to "sanitising" his reputation.  Perhaps we'll soon hear that he loves his mum, or something.

Evidence for CCR's fellatial embrace of terror is thin on the ground, but evidence isn't necessary with the power of concernMeredith Tax was on hand to berate the CCR for endangering human rights themselves...

"Is there some reason not to pursue a legal or political strategy explicitly calling for him to be captured and brought to the US to stand trial... rather than just not killed?" she asked, articulating a question that was no doubt uppermost in many US citizens' minds when their government announced that they were rewriting the law to allow the President to kill Americans. 

"By what means will the CCR distance itself from al-Awlaki's opinions while defending his right not to be assassinated?" she continued, raising the prospect that trial lawyers are often suspected of just adoring rape, child abuse and murder.  "Most importantly, if the CCR becomes identified as defenders of al-Awlaki, will women who are victims of salafi-jihadists feel they can trust you with their own cases?" 

Unsurprisingly, these questions went unanswered by CCR, presumably because an eighteen-year-old law student could answer them after five minutes of their compulsory legal ethics course, or even after five minutes in front of an episode of Law & Order. 

Finding her pisspoor ethical gambits falling on stony ground, there was only one thing for it - to join with Gita Saghal in accusing CCR of joyously pissing into the pleading, upturned faces of the victims of terror.  Prominent among the betrayed and outraged were a group of Algerian NGOs, no strangers to the horrors of Islamist terror themselves, who repeated the "Why don't you spend half your defence of your case pointing out what a violent psycho al-Awlaki is" line before adding...

"At no time did CCR indicate its intention to support the innumerable victims of al-Awlaki, with at least as much publicity as the Center now gives to his case.  The double standards you employ in these circumstances are unacceptable to us".

Emotive stuff, but you'll notice that nobody watching the Scopes monkey case accused Clarence Darrow of hypocrisy because he didn't give equal amounts of publicity to the possibility that Adam once wrestled a dinosaur.  Plus, you do have to wonder why, exactly, it's outrageous that a group of Americans might bring a case against the United States Government in an American court to defend the rights of Americans under the laws of the United States of America, without simultaneously issuing a number of press releases reassuring the world that they aren't in favour of blowing up women and kids with nail bombs.

(Tax then goes off on a mad tangent about some lefty who met Ahmadinejad and, like Saghal, starts waffling some bafflingly irrelevant bollocks about anti-Imperialism, but it's such an entirely childish attempt at guilt by non-association that we'll let it lie there).

These arguments are so transparently poor, so clearly mendacious, that I can't avoid accusing the people making them of being bullshitters.  I don't think it's possible to make this many bad faith arguments accidentally.  Nonetheless, they are an excellent lesson in the basics of the art of concern trolling, namely...

1) If you can't disagree with your opponents' position overtly because they're basically correct, cast about for reasons to object to their conduct

2) Express concerns about various unrelated aspects; for instance, Why do lawyers defend murderers?  Is it because they think murderers are cool? Why haven't they issued a series of statements denouncing murder? and so on and so forth.

3) Pretend not to understand key points of the argument; for instance, in a discussion on the rights of Americans, be sure to discuss absolutely any topic except the Constitution and the Bill of Rights;

4) Issue variations on Won't somebody think of the children? and Vote for us, or the kitten gets it! in the form of angry victims and finally, the coup de grace...

5) Diagnose some wide-ranging sociopathy on the part of the political tendency you are pretending to represent, no matter how tenuous your evidence.

Take these simple rules into rhetorical combat and you won't land any punches, but you'll certainly make such an impressive display of flailing ineffectively at your opponent's defence that unwary observers might think you've scored a lot of points.

Update!  Further larks with CCR trustee Karima Bennoune here

Noticeable in her piece - Link to Who the fuck are they, then? mentalist website presented as some kind of evidence for something or other; 

Lots and lots of talk about what CCR don't say;  " “the organisation has been quiet about..."  "CCR risks seeming to side with the extreme right..."  "this is tantamount to representing..."  In short, plenty of We should be very suspicious of the things people do not say. 

Thick implication that taking on this case is identical to giving victims of terrorism the finger and laughing.

Notably not present in her piece - Any fair consideration of why a group called the Center for Constitutional Rights might consider a test case on the Rights of all Americans - not just Islamist psychopaths - to be within their remit; 

Any quotes or links to the supposedly intolerable things that the CCR are supposed to have said;

The words "Constitution"; "Bill of Rights"; "Habeus corpus" and so on;

Unasked: How the United States has managed to survive for centuries, from George Washington to Bush the Second, without the President claiming the right to assassinate citizens; why the Obama admin considers it essential to claim that right now, all of a sudden; why constitutional law groups might consider this a worrying development…

To be fair, this article asks some fairly urgent questions about human rights activists, questions such as – when, exactly, did human rights activists decide it was fine to start pretending that they don’t understand the difference between “human rights” and “the law of the United States”? When did they decide to start pretending that “taking on cases” is identical to “cheerleading for criminals”?

It also makes me wonder how much charity we should grant to people who make terrible arguments, arguments so ridiculously bad that it seems impossible that their uselessness could be accidental.  I'm going for "None at all", and I don't regard the self-applied titles of "feminist" and "human rights defender" as being a viable defence for bullshit.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How The Peasantry Took Up Torches And Burned Their Own Houses Down

Good fun as usual with MattTaibbi, documenting the atrocities as the major US banks' intergalactic rip-off moves into the mopping-up phase by crushing homeowners with the club of the state.

It'd be difficult to find a finer example of modern democracy's total inability to control the monster it's created.  On the micro level, here's how the scam worked -

- The major US banks buy politicians with campaign contributions, in exchange for rights to expand into more markets and a reduction in regulations;

- Freed from effective oversight, the banks proceeded to aggressively lend to hundreds of thousands of home-buyers, entirely aware that they were lending to people who couldn't afford repayments;

- The banks then took all those shit mortgages, bundled them up into impenetrable finance packages, and sold them off to pension funds, trade unions etc. as top-notch, ultra-secure investments rather than the near-worthless bags of cowshite they actually were;

- After a few years of making out like bandits, their pockets stuffed with fraudulently-earned cash, the financial crisis finally exposed the scam, causing major financial institutions around the world to explode like staked vampires.  Those that survived did so by robbing taxpayers at gunpoint - give us fifteen bajillion dollars, or we take the entire planet down with us. 

- Engorged with taxpayers' cash, they then refused to lend it back to citizens - theoretically the reason they were given it in the first place - and awarded themselves another round of massive bonuses instead, before enlisting the aid of the state to repossess the very homes they'd used to cause the disaster in the first place.

Result - giganti-bonuses all round at Goldman Sachs; a lifetime of crushing debt and exploding government programmes for you and your offspring.

It'd be funny, if a peasant uprising in the US hadn't just sent a flock of angry retards barking and snarling into Congress and the House to protect the banking aristocracy under the hilarious euphemisms of "smaller government" and "resisting socialism".  It'd be hilarious, if the British government's response to private sector malfeasance wasn't an entirely ideological assault on government spending. 

It's a real laugh riot, in short, that the near-destruction of the western world's economy by Croesus-rich corporate thieves has been deliberately propagandised as an overabundance of social outreach officers - that the total discrediting of modern capitalism is somehow the fault of a non-existent socialism, an ideology that hasn't been a force in world politics for more than twenty years.

That's the micro explanation - on the macro scale, the problem begins in 1979, when a beige cadre of unsmiling Randroid lunatics decided to totally restructure the American and British economies by slicing and dicing the power of labour.

Long story short - the public were sold an appealing picture of personal responsibility and individual freedom.  What they got was an all-out, militarised assault on the working class, on the promise of call centre jobs, wide-screen TVs and a fortnight a year in Greece...  And then the call centre jobs were outsourced to India, and the bailliffs showed up at the door. 

Thus it was that governments that regarded the words "wealth redistribution" as Stalinist oppression proceeded to redistribute wealth to themselves and the class that spawned and sustained them - royalty.  For the great mass of the people, the new restructured economy meant one thing - debt.  Lots of debt.

And here we are in 2010, with a new breed of hairy-palmed Conservative revolutionaries making the world safe for royalty with an entirely ideological crackdown on public spending, pledging to create a bajillion jobs by hurling half a million onto the dole and forcing the unemployed to work for a bowl of rice a day.  Out of the self same wizardry that just hurled all of us into the shitter will be fashioned a brave new world of magical ponies.

Well, I don't think you have to think be Sherlock Holmes to work out why this story hasn't been broadcast from the rooftops, and exactly cui is bonofitting from it.  The British public didn't suddenly decide on its own that the financial crisis was caused by tossing too much government cheese into tower blocks;  the electorate of the United States didn't suddenly come to the conclusion unassisted that this disaster was caused by their dark-skinned neighbours borrowing too much money.

As Keyzer Soze says in The Usual Suspects, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.  Our present situation strains satire, and represents the absolute failure of our democracy to analyse and tackle its most life-threatening problems.  It shows that collectively, we'll swallow anything so long as there's a lazy civil servant or a black homeowner to pay for our sins; that we're delighted to have the privilege of selling our birthright for a car boot full of snazzy electronics bought on the never-never

BERNARD MATTHEWS: Anyone for more Christmas?

TURKEYS:  Yes please!