Monday, July 25, 2011

The world's first "anti-Jihadist" mass-murderer isn't a suitable topic for my usual comedy bullshit, so I'll cut right to the chase here.

Melanie Phillips' site is down for now, and I sure as Hell don't link to Gates of Vienna et al, but you can take it from me that she and the gaggle of paranoids that make up the internet's nutty "Counter-Jihad" movement are loudly insisting that they don't advocate acts of violence or terrorism.  For now, let's assume that's true and move on from there.

What, exactly, do they imagine it is that they are advocating?

I ask because the message they've been sending out loud and clear is that Europe is under threat of imminent enslavement, and quite possibly genocide, at the hands of a sinister cabal of Marxist fifth-columnists in cahoots with one of our largest ethnic minority groups, the latter of which they portray as irrevocably violent and totalitarian.  Unsurprisingly, they're stridently in favour of "resisting" this theoretical dictatorship.

That being the case, what kind of "resistance" do they expect the urgent threat of Nazi-Commie-Jihadist European domination to inspire in their readership?  A sudden upsurge in the creation of idiot blogs?

It isn't good enough to pimp this fearmongering lunacy then disown the crazy actions of your ideological stablemates.  If your message amounts to this...

"I'm not saying that we need to take up arms in extreme violence against our compatriots or viciously repress our nations' ethnic minorities.  I'm just saying that inaction will inevitably lead to the total destruction of the western way of life and the enslavement of our loved ones at the hands of a foreign invader whose motivations are entirely alien and malign.  But I'm definitely not urging violence in the face of certain genocide".  

...What is it that you want your readers to take away from your work?

There are plenty of calls for calm around today, with reasonable people counselling against linking one man's horrific crimes to the deranged views he espouses, those being a half-baked political analysis that has been festering on the internet and even in the pages of the mainstream right wing press such as the Mail and the Spectator for years

 I disagree.  I think that now, more than ever, fingers need to be pointed squarely at those who have been disseminating this poisonous cack, and searching questions need to be asked.  First up - What the fuck did you think you were doing?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

That Stupid Club

It seems to have become accepted that the price of genius is a tortured mind, and more often than not an early death.
Thus scribbles Telegraph blogger James Rhodes, on the sad death of chanteuse Amy Winehouse.  The link between genius and self-destruction is always made when stupendously talented individuals die or otherwise annihilate their abilities, and often there's much truth in it.  Nonetheless, I think we too often imbue such senseless waste with romantic qualities that the brutal reality doesn't merit, as a way of rationalising loss.

Not always, of course - I thought Scorcese's Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator faithfully depicted the link between its subject's brilliance and his downfall, for example.  Hughes' achievements and his destruction both sprang from his obsessive personality, which could be channelled into impressively creative or wantonly self-destructive behaviour.  Man's quest to conquer the skies may be a romantic ideal, but here isn't much romance in a shut-in surrounded by bottles of his own urine.

There's always a temptation to portray junk habits and excess as the penalty for genius, but I suspect the truth is more prosaic.  Put simply, the music business is renowned for drug abuse because musicians have lots of money to spend and much time to fill, and live in a toxic environment for people with the kind of chronic self-esteem and self-control problems of Janises, Kurts and Amys.

If you showed up for work whacked out of your skull on horse tranquilisers, you'd be fired on the spot.  Rock stars who do that are plied with whatever substances are required to keep them upright and mobile, then pointed towards the stage and pushed.  They're enabled, rather than discouraged.

When you're famous and wealthy in a drug-rich environment, a serious addiction is as easily acquired as the circle of groupies, male and female, who always latch on to musicians.  Even well-adjusted people with real willpower struggle to overcome such addictions, and musicians seldom struggle to score if they're in the mood. Usually, it's no more glamorous or poetic than that.

Maybe in a parallel dimension, Jimi Hendrix just released his seventh Greatest Hits collection, and Amy cleared up her act enough to claim the decades of international superstardom that were rightfully hers.

In the one we're stuck with, unfortunately, that awesome virtuosity was snuffed out by years of serious substance abuse.  It's all terribly sad and wasteful, and not romantic in the slightest. 

For info - The title refers to the words of Wendy Cobain, on her son's accession to the group of rock superstars who died needlessly at the age of 27.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdoch Scandal Gagdump

 So, there we are - I hope we all enjoyed our day out at the political theatre.  Everyone and his pet dog has had a go at this topic, but for what it's worth, some thoughts on the News International phone hacking shenanigans...

- Firstly, it amazes me how many times the consumer of politics, myself included, falls for the "Let's Sort All This Nastiness Out With a Nice Inquiry" model of public accountability.

How many times have we got all het up with bloodlust as some hideous, writhing gorgon is finally dragged kicking and screaming for public beheading before the Committee on Social Affairs or some such, only for him to be politely tickled with the feather duster of parliamentary disapproval?

Whether it's a former Prime Minister trailing a five-ton bag of skulls into the QEII Conference Centre or a sitting President who can't recall cutting an arms deal with the Ayatollah, the outcome is always the same: a long and windy exercise in heavily-generalised self-justification.  Sometimes, we might as well give them a two-hour advertising slot on primetime television with a bank-busting CGI budget to show off their own radiant awesomeness.

Today's session was better, with some definite blows landed - the admission that they were paying their hacker-in-chief after his guilt was public knowledge, for instance, and I doubt that a few hours' worth of the CEO of News Corp telling the world that he doesn't have a clue what his underlings are up to will help the share price.

Foolishly, even I expected a little squirming from the Murdochs, at least.  Instead, we got a volley of ham-fisted questions being casually dicked off for several hours via the ingenious rhetorical technique that is  "mumbling, I don't know".  I particularly enjoyed all those incisive follow-up questions along the lines of "Are you sure that you don't know?"

- That's probably got a lot to do with the MPs on the committee. I count two marketing types; one accountant; one former SpAd; a soldier; a novelist; an insurance salesman and a trade unionist.  In a parliament filled with lawyers, is it too much to ask to chuck someone who can cross-examine a witness in there?  Maybe, you know, someone capable of catching them out telling the odd porky?

Just maybe, what with this case concerning grave criminal behaviour, suborning of police officers and an assault on democracy itself, the justice committee might've been more appropriate.

- Ultimately, parliamentary committees aren't courts, nor should they be.  Clearly they put The Fear into public servants, but any half-skilled bullshitter is going to walk away with nothing worse than a few headlines pointing out what egregious bullshitters they are.

Well, who knows.  Maybe it'll all be sorted out by one of the complicit parties investigating its former co-conspirators in the highest echelons of the business and political establishment and the depths of the criminal underworld, thoroughly purging public life of lawbreakers, corrupt officials, thugs for hire and sycophants.

Some other thoughts on the general issue... 

- Jesus, Murdoch senior looks and sounds like a confused tortoise, pissed off at having been woken from hibernation while there's still snow on the ground and nary a lettuce leaf in sight.  Let's be honest - if the committee had gutted the old goat and a lot of half-digested celebrities and underlings had poured forth twitching onto the floor of Portcullis House, it'd still have felt a bit like the death of Stalin...  Painful and prolonged, certainly, but not quite painful or prolonged enough, and at least thirty years too late to do any good.

- A safe prediction - this phone-hacking thing is going to turn out to be worse than we imagine, even now.  Hands up anyone who would be surprised if it turned out that Rebekah Brooks had paid the Archbishop of Canterbury to rifle through Kate McCann's underwear drawer, three days before her daughter disappeared?

If it was revealed that James Murdoch routinely had lackeys who displeased him machine-gunned to strippy ribbons by ED-209 from Robocop, would you raise an eyebrow?  Frankly, if Junior was naked from the waist down during that committee session, I'd shrug and say Well, that fits.

- Hats off to the Guardian - they've really played a blinder here, Nick Davies in particular.  He kept on this like a terrier, and a flick through his book Flat Earth News shows how  much of this scandal has been in the public domain for years.

Even their only slip-up - wrongly claiming that the Sun had swiped Gordon Brown's child's medical records in order to use his son's illness to shift units - turned out to be a triumph, as the News International rag trumpeted its alternative source.

This must've hit the public's ear like the fat end of a pool cue - We didn't screw the Brown family - we made love to them...  It was about as appropriate as apologising for maligning a rough school by sending primary seven a free fuckswing. 

And in short...

- I always find that mass resignations across multiple agencies and organisations are a sure sign that everybody acted in good faith and is innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever, don't you?

- It speaks volumes that the Tories' internet factotums are reduced to smearing the mud about a bit, hoping some of it will stick to Mirror Group, or to outraged, piggy squeals about lefty pile-ons.

Of course it's a fucking lefty pile-on, you dolts.  This scandal is the equivalent of the BBC Trust being caught conspiring with the Khmer Rouge to re-educate children in bloodcurdling revolution by impaling businessmen on sticks and throwing people who wear spectacles into pools full of ravenous mako sharks.

For anyone to the left of Ted Nugent it's a joy to behold and the best part is that, like Johann Hari, there's no way out because they're caught red-handed and guilty as sin.

- The most entertainingly hysterical denunciation of imminent Marxist takeover came from James Delingpole, who denounces the Hezbollah-worshipping of the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation and the "Kim-Jong Il-style brainwashing... of CBBC".

Children's BBC!  Truly, when you're reduced to arguing with Rastamouse, you've long since lost.

- Anyone else notice how it appears to be impossible for anyone to say the words Closure of The News Of The World without then appending the words After one hundred and sixty eight years?

Ah well, I could go on forever.  The whole scandal has been a knee-slapping, laugh-a-minute comedy show  from start to finish and it may get funnier yet.  I just have worrying flashbacks to '97, when all those hacks vowed that the death of Princess Diana had made them see the light, resulting in a round of pledges to act reasonably and responsibly from that day forth.

You all remember how that worked out, right?

Update!  Remiss of me not to mention the pie-flinging arse.  All I'll say is this - British manufacturing may be on its knees; our industries dying a death in an era of long decline and our exports reduced to a shadow of their former glory but damn it, we can still produce world-class knobheads to compete at the highest level against the most cretinous twunts that the planet can throw at us.

Let's hear a cheer for good old Britain - still producing twits and chumps like an industrial fuckwit factory, despite everything.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Punishment Beating

 "You wanna fuck with me?  Okay.  You wanna play rough?  Okay.  Say hello to my little friend!" - Tony Montana
Back in the hot summer of 2007, while dreams of liberal democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan were crashing down in blood and flames, there was a little-noted yet highly entertaining spat between Johann Hari and Nick Cohen, two of the pro-war left's leading lights.

The short version goes like this - Hari used his review of Nick Cohen's dreadful book What's Left? [1} to launch a mild and finger-waggy attack upon the totality of Cohen's writings on The War On Terror and the Awful, Terrorist Loving Libruls, and to point out the glaring contradictions in Cohen's post-2001 work. Hari plainly saw this as his opportunity to burn his boats with the Decent Left writ large, which had long since become a running journalistic joke, and he grasped the moment with vigour.

In response [2], Nick penned a lengthy, dummy-spitting declaration that Hari's points didn't relate to statements made in Nick's book, which was largely true.  Nick had, in fact, made most of his jaw-droppingly dense assertions on Neoconservatism, Kissinger etc. in his Observer columns or in pieces for print and online magazines.

As a spectacle, it was utterly hilarious - the most ridiculous pair of British journalism's preening fighting cocks frantically scratching each other to ribbons; strutting, crowing and pecking, with Hari incapable of admitting that he was reviewing Nick himself and Cohen furiously pretending that, because his wacky statements didn't appear in his book, Hari was somehow misrepresenting his proclamations.

Both of them came off like prize tits, in short, and more or less the entire Decent set piled in on Cohen's side, resulting in maximum comedy as Hari issued a libel threat [3] and Nick's pals herded nervously together around him, bleating and baahing with what they hoped would be sufficient volume to drown out Hari's mostly accurate criticisms.

And then, years of nothing - Hari became the Independent's pompous, right-on Boy Wonder and Nick continued to file his highly tendentious assaults on Liberaldom for, like, cheering on terrorists to mutilate women, man, and making TV shows that were insufficiently belligerent towards Jihadism.

But then, Johann Hari was caught out [4]  splicing old quotes into his interviews and passing them off on his own, and was engulfed in a Twitter-wave of richly-deserved mockery.  Exposed as a fraudster, Hari issued some half-hearted mea culpas and kept his head down, hoping it would all blow over.

A vain hope, for in some darkened corner of his own Oval Office, Nick had long been poring over his Enemies List with Nixonian determination, waiting patiently for his moment of glorious retribution against the elitist bums and hippies...

...And siezing his chance once his old foe Hari lay injured and prostrate upon the field of battle, Nick grabbed his trusty shootin' iron and charged in to bravely finish off the wounded [5].  Johann Hari, he declared - or at least someone who appears to know him personally - has been making malicious, defamatory and self-serving edits to Wikipedia! 

What in tarnation...!?! Circle the wagons, boys! cried Nick's buddies [6] - We got us a hard fight on our hands!  Everybody, to Google for an intensive internet search! 

I see no need to investigate these allegations in any depth at all - let's just assume that they're true, and go on from there.  Others may disagree but to me, malicious Wikipedia edits are right up there with "mild cursing" or "running with scissors" on my list of "Behaviours That I Could Not Give a Fuck About".

Let me give you an explanatory example.  Back in 2006, Yankee blogger Glenn Greenwald was repeatedly accused of this kind of internet "sock-puppetry" - making self-aggrandising comments using a pseudonym  - in an epic, three-week orgy of wingnut outrage, prompting one of the most deranged of wingnut blogs to ask whether it was "The Worst Blog Scandal Ever?" [7]

You remember The Worst Blog Scandal Ever, right?  Oh, you don't?  I wonder why that could be.  Perhaps it's because it was really one of the lamest, most inconsequential scandals ever.  Malicious editing and sock-puppetry are dishonest and weasling; they're nasty and defamatory.  What they're not is very interesting, or scandalous enough to be worth much in the way of time or effort.

Let me put it this way.  During the week when the Guardian - a paper that Nick and his pals have spent years dumping oceans of shit over - rocked the foundations of the world's most powerful media empire, shut down a criminal enterprise and brought a genuine scandal of public interest to the front doors of Number 10 and the Metropolitan Police...

...A small but determined bunch of angry berks were engaged in the honourable task of helping one of the nation's most ridiculous hacks wreak his pissy vengeance upon a nationally-discredited twerp for the crime of penning a mildly critical and dishonest book review, years ago.

Let's be clear, here - Hari's career is toast.  Sure, he'll keep picking up a paycheque from the Indy and he'll still be Mr. Liberal Enlightenment Values In Annoyingly Strident Tones on op-ed pages for years, but his integrity is fatally punctured.  All of his enemies are remorseless quote-miners and grudge-bearers, which means Hari will never be able to open his yap again without having great fistfuls of his own ridiculousness shoved down his neck, and quite frankly - good!  Fuck him - As ye sow, so shalt ye reap and etc. and so on.

But let's not kid ourselves that these accusations of crimes against Wikipedia are a principled defence, or a holding to account, or a cleaning of the stables of the Fourth Estate.  It's an act of public vengeance on an uppity ingenue who had the impudence to get above his status and dared to fuck with people he shouldn't; a punishment beating; a Casino-style baseball-batting, long planned and executed with maximum injury in mind.

Well.  I say that Nick and Johann should drop the internet squabbling and settle this the old-fashioned, honourable way - Thunderdome.  They could put it on pay-per-view and make a tasty profit.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Glorious People's Supermarket Increases Efficiency, Comrades!

Middle class lefties should pipe down when it comes to supermarkets.  Decent, affordable food is an old socialist goal to be applauded, not opposed. 
Thus starts this article on the joys of Tesco, and it continues in the same Guardian-baiting vein... Tiffany Rose designer wear... Sabatier carving knives... vegetarian restaurants... Hampstead liberals... chi-chi delicatessens... organic butchers...  And so on and so forth, reminding us all that only the Hoorayest of Henries would harbour suspicions of Tesco's benevolent schemes for the enrichment of humanity.  As I've noted before, arguments that come this heavily-larded with pre-emptive insults are usually attempting to smuggle some form of horseshit or other past the reader.

All of which brings joy to the heart of John Rentoul, who complains that "It's like Margaret Thatcher never existed"; decries the "Anti-capitalist madness of today's Labour Party" and advises that the company should help out with schools, hospitals and criminal justice.

Me, I've never seen the point in getting annoyed over Tesco.  Despite Rentoul's hilarious claim of Labour anti-capitalism, the welfare of Britain's major supermarkets is so vital to all three major parties that their dominance will be a fact of British life for decades, like horizontal rain and complaining. 

And yet, let's note the case for Tesco that has so impressed JR...

Surely few Labour members really want a return to the dominance of the independent retailer on the high street, with supercilious staff, overpriced goods and stores closing at lunchtime, Sundays and a half-day on Tuesdays.  Tesco and competitors create jobs in depressed areas. Usdaw, the Labour-affiliated shopworkers' union, has the biggest private sector union agreement in place with Tesco. Usdaw states that Tesco ‘offers some of the best terms and conditions (including pay) for its staff...  Through rigorous competition, the supermarkets are constantly keeping their prices low and offering cheap deals to their customers...
Which may well all be true, and sounds superficially wonderful.  Having spent much time skint myself, I can confirm that cheap food and clothes are a godsend.  I've always thought that cursing out Tesco or TK Maxx is usually a political error myself - continual, day-in-day-out poverty is the most demoralising, grinding, bloody awful experience, and the ability to buy fairly nutritious food and half-decent clothing is great for your physical and mental well-being.

And yet, you do have to wonder how the areas Tesco are supposedly rescuing came to be so depressed in the first place.  After all, most of the towns around where I grew up once had thriving high streets - Jim the butcher* might have charged a little more for his goods, but that reflected the fact that more people were involved in producing them - making, delivering, retailing and so on, people who got paid at every step.  He didn't make the kind of astronomical profits Tesco does, but he somehow managed to get by.

Then, the eighties, deindustrialisation and large-scale unemployment, and high streets nationwide start to die on their arses until the big supermarkets steam in and began hoovering up custom.  Jim the butcher watches his profits crater and has to take a job working for Tesco in the next town, serving his old customers.  It's a nine-to-five job, so it's less hassle, but he doesn't own a share of the business and makes far less money than he used to; his suppliers now have a choice between supplying Tesco at lower prices or going out of business; and, rather than learning the trade and eventually taking over the family business, Jim's sons have a choice between taking lower-paying jobs at Tesco or moving out of the area.

You get the idea.  Perhaps Tesco delivers greater efficiency, but now the town is dependent on them and their competitors, on one-sided terms that the supermarkets dictate.  In effect, the town is a cash-cow for the supermarkets' shareholders.  Unless I'm much mistaken, the rise and rise of the big-name supermarket coincides with rocketing inequality under the last government, which I'll put down to coincidence if a convincing case is made.

To the Rentouls of the world, this is a triumph of social-whatever-he's-calling-it-today capitalism but to me, a nation that's so thoroughly dependent on the performance of a few galacti-businesses is taking a giant step away from democracy.  For such supposedly glorious free market successes, towns that are so dependent on a few huge businesses for sustenance and employment both - wage to employer back to wage - have a bizarrely... Soviet feel to them, no?  Like, The Glorious People's Supermarket thrives for the greater good of all!  Onward towards a ten percent increase in productivity, comrades!

Well.  This is the point where commenter Luis Enrique usually turns up to tell me with infinite patience that I've got it all wrong, and that actually, workers are infinitely better off now than ever before, and everyone's a winner thanks to pension investment and so on.

I just find it odd that an idea as plain as Tesco's interests are not necessarily our interests is now some lunatic, unacceptable wackery on a level with previous ones about the importance of local industry and small businesses, and that the schemes to which There Is No Alternative always seem to involve people who are usually already wealthy getting much, much wealthier.

*Jim the butcher is a real person I know, and I call him that because his name is Jim and he used to be a butcher.