Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quote of the Day

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?


Friday, January 3, 2014

Double Plus Ungood

This isn't meant to be an academic rebuff of Michael Gove's Daily Mail article. I'm not an academic and I'm hoping Sir Richard Evans will write a response far more detailed and sharp than I could ever write. After all it's Evans that Gove criticises most. Him and Blackadder anyway. This is just a plea for the Centenary of World War One to be more than just an exercise in flag-waving and brass polishing. A opportunity for Clio to get a word in edgeways amongst John Bull & the Jingoists.

George Orwell once wrote, in 1984, something along the lines of 'he who controls the past controls the future.' Whilst Khrushchev once said 'Historians are dangerous. They ask questions." I bare both of those quotes in mind when looking at the initial skirmishes in the Battle of the World War One centenary.

The decision to put Kitchener on the £2 coin shows that certain people seem to know Kitchener only as a very good poster. As opposed to the man who rolled out concentration camps during the Boer War. The shallow dip into the past for an image to sum up World War One produces that. But let's put that down to a basic lack of thought & selection by committee.

Major Clement Attlee, WW1 - Michael Gove wouldn't like him.

Today though Michael Gove wrote an article in the Daily Mail - of course - basically saying that left-wingers had made the 'heroes' that fought World War One into villains. Apparently this is Blackadder's fault. Which shows that the Education Secretary seems to have missed the vast tranch of memoirs, poetry, art & film that has been saying - virtually since the First World War ended - that this wasn't a noble war.

However almost none of those sources question the 'heroism' of ordinary men in the front line who put up with the kind of hell that none of us can possibly imagined. They just questioned why these ordinary men were expected to put up with this. Why were we fighting this long dirty war? For what reason were we sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives?

Well, there's a lot of reasons. The causes of World War One are many. Lots of different threads, knotted together. There's Imperial rivalry, a Naval Arms race, Railway Timetables, Treaties and Counter-Treaties, Britain's traditional fear of letting one continental power gaining control of the European mainland, Germany's fear of being surrounded by hostile powers, the personalities of the relevant Presidents, Prime Ministers and Monarchs, a desire to settle old scores, Belgian neutrality and yes, there's the possibility that a Prussian Militaristic super-state might behave in some ungentlemanly manner.  And that's those I can think of off the top of my head.

None of these are necessarily heroic. Most of them are just politics. But our grandfather's & great-grandfathers died in their thousands for something and we'd prefer to think that - like the fight against the Nazi's in World War Two - we were on the side of the good guys & not just another superpower keen to protect what we've got from our enemies.

And perhaps there is an element of that. Certainly many of those young men who signed up in 1914 did so for patriotic reasons. The stories that came out of Belgium early in the war of |German atrocities - raped Nuns, shot children etc - seemed to confirm that we were on the right side in this conflict.

Maybe we were.

But what the Centenary of World War One gives us a chance to do is look at what happened without the jingoistic spectacles on. To ask why we went to war and look at all the reasons.

One of my great-granddads never recovered from being gassed in World War One. All of them fought. My granddads both fought in World War Two. A war we find it much easier to justify. A war of survival against a terrible foe.

Was World War One the same kind of war? Or just a clash of Empires and wannabee Empires. A shuffling of the Great Power pack? Whatever it was the centenary gives us a chance to looks at World War One and ask all the questions we might want to ask.

Michael Gove is entitled to put his view across but this political drawing of lines seems both childish and unnecessary. Perhaps the Education Secretary should read a few more history books, biographies and memoirs rather than choosing to blame Blackadder.  I'd start with Edmund Blunden's ' 'Undertones of War' and maybe to get a view from the other side Ernst Jünger's 'Storm of Steel'.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Free Speech aka The Right to Be a Dick

As usual someone put this better than me, in this case it was Edward R Murrow who said: "The right to dissent - or, if you prefer, the right to be wrong - is surely fundamental to the existence of a democratic society."

Or if as I have already said, "the right to be a dick"

I'm writing this blog in the cloud of fallout on Twitter from Old Holborn's spiteful, unpleasant tweets about various aspects of Liverpool and touching upon seriously sensitive subjects such as the Bulger case and Hillsborough. In doing so he's just showing the world what a twat he is. It's offensive, it's unnecessary and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't say any of it if any of the people involved were standing in front of him.

Indeed mocking Liverpudlians seems to be something of a thing amongst certain tweeters and now is not the time or the place to ask precisely how they would have felt if 96 of their friends, family or fellow fans had set off for a football match, died & then been traduced by the media and police and their concerns swept under a carpet of cover up. Me, I'd be raging until I got justice. And I wouldn't let anyone forget, however much they would like too.

That's not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is about free speech.

Unless he's actively threatening someone Old Holborn has the perfect right to be an offensive twat. That's what free speech is for. It's not for the people whose views we are comfortable with or who we share a sense of humour with. It's for those people whose views we disagree with. who would hate us and everything we stand for or are just offensive.

There's no right not to be offended.

If someone is being a dick on Twitter you can ignore them or block them. RT their post & point out their utter twatworthiness or take them on in an argument. You shouldn't try to silence them because what's to stop someone doing that to you the next time their offended.

I can't pretend to understand the anger - though I can make a wild stab at it  - that some people currently feel towards Old Holborn but I believe free speech has to be more than just 'free speech for the people we agree with'.

I blocked Old Holborn ages ago because I found his shtick all a bit tiresome. The radical libertarian (right-winger) with his fearless desire to pursue left-wingers. I'd recommend everyone do the same if that's how they feel.

We've had a battle over the last few days over respect for the dead & freedom of speech. I think it is OK to make jokes about & burn Thatcher in effigy, even if it isn't very nice. I think Old Holborn's entitled to be offensive about whatever he wants to wank on about. I just don't need to see it.

Freedom of speech means nothing if it isn't the freedom to be a dick.

The Rise of Trollnalism

I have decided that there's a type of 'journalist' who writes more for the reaction they get than any genuine beliefs they may have on a topic. These people I am going to call Trollnalists and they include Richard Littlejohn, Toby Young, Melanie Phillips, Samantha Brick and others.

They're job is to write something so ridiculous that the main purpose is to drive traffic to their websites. Whether they believe the nonsense they write is irrelevant. Perhaps they do. In a way I hope they do because to write this stuff purely for mercenary purposes would be truly soul destroying.

What trollnalists do succeed in doing though is annoying their opponents into publicising their work and driving traffic to their various sites (although as you can imagine the Daily Mail is the real fountainhead of Trollnalism.)

In fact the Daily Mail is a fine example of a newspaper that has become a black hole for actual news or facts but almost purely filled with opinion and trollnalism. That's partly because its very sweary editor - if Private Eye is anything to go by - is clearly on a mission to drag Britain back to the 1930s and he'll do that in whatever manner he feels is appropriate. The fact that he's wouldn't recognise his own hypocrisy if it was dancing around in front of him wearing a black shirt is not unexpected. Trollnalism is by its very nature without memory.

So when Mrs Thatcher dies they call for respect for her memory, whilst forgetting what they wrote about Michael Foot. Or they belittle the state for preventing them from having free speech in a fog of post-Leveson hysteria but demand the banning of a song on BBC Radio because it is insufficiently respectful. Freedom of speech is only something for the Trollnalist, not for us.

I'd argue that Trollnalism is becoming the key driver of a lot of what passes for journalism in the British press these days. Facts are no longer sacred, or even relevant. Opinion, especially strong opinions, are it. Of course Trollnalism saves a lot of hassle and hard work with fact checking, research or thought. Angry about something or someone: write a column. Found a stick with which to beat someone who can't possible argue back: write a column.

Always the anger. Always weeping for a better past that never really existed. Never seeing anything positive. Name calling and spite aimed at people who disagree with you and always they disagree with you for the wrong reasons. And, of course, it is always them that has standards.

Trollnalism: the present and future of newspapers desperate for readers. Why bother with facts when an angry opinion will do.

And I should know.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks (Or Not)

Once, when I was young and beautiful, I was on the cutting edge of left-wing student politics. I marched, I waved banners and I even got myself elected as 'Campaigns Officer'. For one short & glorious year I was as annoyingly left-wing and politically correct as it was possible for a middle class, white, straight, able-bodied man to be.

If things had gone terribly wrong I might have ended up getting involved in politics properly. By now I might even have made a career out of it. Fortunately my lack of financial common sense put an end to all those hopes (although it doesn't seem to have stopped George Osborne).

I suppose the point was I was playing at politics. I'm pretty privileged all things considered. I've never had to struggle for anything. I have a loving family who have cushioned me from the worst that fate has - so far - been able to through at me. I've never had to worry about a place to live. I got through school (boys only grammar school) with the minimum of scars. I have wonderful friends. My life has never been impinged upon by religious bigotry, sexism, homophobia or anything else (excluding the occasional unoriginal joke about my weight, which I am perfectly capable of batting away these days with the use of a cricket sledge I picked up). My life has been pretty privileged.

Privilege is a mysterious thing. A lot of the time those of us that have it, don't see it. It's like a perception filter. So I've always been careful when getting involved in conversations about political issues to avoid stomping all over people's experiences because they aren't mine.

If you want to see what women have to put up with on a day-to-day basis: look at #everydaysexism on Twitter. Some of it might make you feel guilty. Sometimes I get confused about whether my behaviour is right or not. I see myself as acting from the best of motives but what if that is still wrong. In my view you have to listen carefully to what other people tell you. My experience is limited to my experience. Yours to yours.

We don't experience the world in the same way. We can't possibly. How different would my life have been if I'd been Toni, for example. It might have been exactly the same. Might. I suspect it wouldn't. The key thing for me is empathy and if your first reaction to someone is to say, 'no that's not how it is because I say so' then something is wrong.

You can't use language that is designed to hurt or belittle people because their viewpoint is different to yours or because they've pulled you up on something that you've said or done. There are many degrees of privilege in society, many different ways to experience it but telling someone that their experience isn't valid or is less valid than others is surely oppression of some kind.

So if you believe in a cause, the success of which will benefit a huge group of people. That's great. But if you believe that only your experience is valid & you use the platform you have to express that belief at the expense of others then something is wrong. Talking down to people, excluding their experiences because they don't fit an arbitrary set of categories or just trying to make them invisible by omission is wrong. The rightness of your cause makes no difference to this.

It is possible to be on the right side of history & still be a bully.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

George Carey: Silly Silly Man

Oh George Carey, you silly man.

Once the Archbishop of Canterbury, representative of a religion that claims to be about love, compassion and forgiveness but increasingly seems to be one of bitterness, hatred and desperation, George Carey addressed a rally at the Conservative Party Conference on 'gay marriage'.

George is against gay marriage. He's a religious man. He reckons his God wouldn't approve.

So bad is this situation according to George that being a Christian against gay marriage is like being a Jew in Nazi Germany.

Like being a Jew in Nazi Germany.

Look at that sentence again. Read it slowly. Run it through your mind a few times. Think about what being a Jew in Nazi Germany actually meant.

Yes, it truly is a statement of epic idiocy. Not to mention offensive as hell.

Being a Christian against gay marriage is NOTHING like being a Jew in Nazi Germany. No one has you walking the streets with yellow stars on your clothes, no one is stripping you of your humanity and fundamentally - and perhaps most important George - NO ONE IS ROUNDING YOU UP AND SENDING YOU OFF TO CAMPS TO BE MURDERED IN HUGE NUMBERS!

You small-minded Clerical nincompoop.

Being a Christian against gay marriage is probably a bit annoying. People think you're a bit odd perhaps. A bit old fashioned. We might think this posturing about marriage is a little funny coming from a religion whose sacred text appears to accept polygamy. But you are not Jews in Nazi Germany.

It says something about how ridiculously highly you see yourselves that you'd even dare to make the comparison. Christians against gay marriage are not being persecuted. They might be some mockery involved but that's nothing compared to what gay people have to put up with - still - as a result of Christian's and their anti-gay crusade. Gay people died in concentration camps (as did many good religious people) but gay people are still attacked, murdered, broken and beaten for being gay and Christians of a certain type: the ones who are comfortable with the Old Testament but find actually listening to Jesus and doing what he asks a bit of a struggle. Jesus asks a lot of people and it is easier to ignore him and get on with persecuting people who don't fit in that even try.

To steal Gandhi's quote: "I like your Christ but not so much your Christians."

So George. Please think just a little bit before you pontificate on this subject again. By all means carry on being a small-minded pick bits of the Bible I agree with, ignore the other bits, historically ignorant bigot but don't ever compare yourself to Jews in Nazi Germany.

It's a pathetic, offensive and just plain wrong comparison and I suspect you know it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Louise Mensch & Thatcher's Death

Ah Louise Mensch, the media friendly Tory MP for Corby (Majority, 1,950) has got a bee in her bonnet about members of the Labour Party who are wishing Lady Thatcher dead & intending to celebrate her passing. She thinks this is something the Labour Party should act upon.

I think she's wrong.

I think it is an issue of free speech and free thought. No one she's RT'd is threatening to kill Lady Thatcher. They're just waiting for the moment it happens naturally. They maybe wrong-headed about this but they're perfectly entitled to an opinion. Even if the Labour Party were to issue a statement saying they deplore such thoughts it isn't a reason to kick someone out of the Labour Party, just as rampant homophobia seems OK in the Tory Party.

Pretending that Lady Thatcher isn't a hugely hated figure, especially in the North of England, Scotland and Wales is to be a fool. Just those people who lived and worked in the mining towns of Britain which were destroyed in the wake of the Miner's strike purely for ideological revenge would be enough. Perhaps Louise should read some modern history books.

Personally I don't wish her dead. I won't celebrate afterwards either. I think both of those things are signs of weakness, not strength. We should seek to get one over on Lady Thatcher by undoing her legacy, not standing at her graveside waving bottle of beer singing 'ding dong the witch is dead'. Victory over her ideas is the only victory worth a damn. Anything else is petty childishness.

That's not because I like her but because Lady Thatcher is the reason I'm on the left. I was only 8 when she was elected Prime Minister but there was something about her I didn't like. It wasn't because she snatched my milk. I hated the milk. It was always warm & full fat. But it was after the Miner's strike that I decided that whatever Lady Thatcher stood for, it wasn't something I wanted to be part of.

Yes, I was only 12 but I was an annoyingly precocious little brat and it seemed to me that there was something wrong with Lady Thatcher's support for Solidarity in Poland, which was led by a Trade Unionist and her utter contempt and hatred for Trade Unionists in the UK attempting to exercise the sames rights as Lech Wałęsa. It seemed hypocritical to allow British policemen to batter Miner's (or Print Workers etc) whilst preaching at the Polish government. You either believe that workers have the right to strike, even for purely political reasons. Or you don't. You either believe in free speech for everyone, including the mad and bad, or you don't believe in free speech.

It was that which turned me into a leftie for which I will always be grateful to Lady Thatcher. I might have become a tilting at windmills romantic lefties since then rather than a practical 'let's win elections' New Labourite one but I can live with that. To mangle a quote from Edward R Murrow: If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox... then what kind of freedom do we have.

So Louise Mensch in my view the right to be wrong is fundamental to everything that a true democracy should stand for. You have a perfect right to challenge it, to dislike it and to rant about it but you have no right to censor it or demand other people censor it.