Monday, August 24, 2015

An Embarrassment

ALEX Salmond has hit back at BBC broadcaster Nick Robinson’s “ludicrous” comparison between Vladimir’s Putin’s Russia and demonstrations staged by Nationalists during the referendum campaign. 

The former First Minister also branded the corporation’s outgoing political editor an “embarrassment” over his coverage of the referendum – and even compared the corporation with former Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda.  

- Scotsman, 24 August

So I imagine that Nick Robinson, tool that he is, now regrets his choice of words.  Still, let's note here that

- Spontaneous flag-waving nationalist mobs descending upon broadcasters, demanding that journalists alter their output so as not to pollute the fragile minds of honest patriots with depraved, auslander propaganda, is a very, very Putin's Russia-type thing;

- That senior political figures asserting that broadcasters should be brought under their control, to ensure that they better reflect the opinions and concerns of honest patriots, is also a very Putin's Russia-type thing; and that

- Broadcasters with even a fraction of the BBC's editorial independence are very much not a Putin's Russia-type thing.


- The former First Minister generally restricts his wails and screams about media bias to the BBC only, being unconcerned about the regular SNP-bashing opinions of e.g. the Sun, the Times or Sky, for some unfathomable reason; and that

- The former First Minister's focus on the BBC may or may not be related to the fact that the Beeb is prevented by its charter from launching months-long, poisonous vendettas against political figures in a way that, say, the Sun or the Times or Sky isn't, and that

- Since that's the case, his behaviour isn't exactly an act of outstanding political courage, and that

- Whatever the differences between Salmond and Cameron may be, the Tories and the SNP are at least agreed on the spectacular malignity of the national broadcaster.  

Mea Maxima Culpa

"I was right about the 2003 Iraq war.  I thought it was a bad idea, and it was a bad idea.  For a long time this fact was very important to me.  From late 2002 till the start of hostilities, the prospect of war, and whether it could be averted, was the guiding obsession of my life: I consumed all the news I could, hunting out signs and omens of what was coming".

I can certainly identify with these sentiments and, even if I have some fairly major reservations on much of what Sarah is saying here, there are a few well-aimed home truths that deserve acknowledgement.

Speaking as someone who was in my early twenties in 2003, who's subsequently spent almost ten years running not one but two blogs on the general topic of "Britain's yakking class of angry war-fluffers are dangerously thick and dishonest, and my own opinions are totally awesome and correct", I'm pretty much the person who should be answering the charge.

Let's start with the good points:

"The division between pro-war and anti-war cleaved a sharp line through the world between the lost and the saved.  For the remainder of the decade, I would judge an MP on their voting record on Iraq; a journalist on their coverage of Iraq; a publication on its editorial line on Iraq".

Well, fair enough - I did plenty of MP-and-journalist-judging on this criteria too, and it's probably telling that there are only a few cases I can recall where I now think that I made serious misjudgements.

"The moral certainty of that period was simply blissful. I do not believe I am alone in this: being right about Iraq gave a whole section of the British left a sense of burning, brilliant superiority".

It's absolutely true that I didn't lack for "moral certainty" also and, to take it further, I was a complete prick to lots of people who disagreed about the war.  I'm a complete prick on a lot of topics, including football and TV shows, but I certainly was one on this.

Again, it probably speaks volumes that I do feel bad for being all aggro and high-and-mighty with a few people, but only a few people, and I don't feel that bad, when it comes right down to it.

So it's Mea culpa, and Mea will probably continue to be culpa of this until the day Mea sarcasm glands run dry.

"It’s fortunate that losing felt like home, because losing over the Iraq war was otherwise desperately sad. I remember taking part in the Stop the War march in Sheffield, and I remember it being a drizzly and defeated sort of day as we shuffled around Barker’s Pool, me pushing a pram with one hand, holding my crying baby with the other. I remember thinking, we’re not stopping anything. This has already happened". 

This is pretty much my recollection of the Glasgow event too, minus the baby.  Suffice to say, the Iraq protests aren't events that I look back on with much nostalgic affection.

"I was right, and my being right helped no one, ameliorated no violence, saved no lives".

I think Sarah's actually more correct than she intended, here.  Being right about the war has had very little real-world effect, beyond filling the internet with angry blog posts and giving a lot of MPs sore heads.

Not only did our powerful correctness not stop the war, it also failed to so much as impede the catastrophic occupation, and didn't affect our wacky occupation of Afghanistan one jot.  It didn't keep the UK from bombing Libya into its current state, nor does it hinder the Americans' worldwide video game shoot 'em up, not least because it's that nice Mr Obama that's now in charge.

I could go on, but I'll stick with this: even after the Iraq debacle, a catastrophe with a respectable bodycount for a medium-sized 20th century war, do you know how many MPs voted against bombing Libya?

Thirteen.  Thirteen, against five hundred and fifty-seven in favour.

That doesn't speak of wild success for the anti-war movement, to me*.


Anyway, that's the bits I agree with.  There are numerous parts that I don't:

"The legacy of Blair’s tenure is not unmixed, but it is easier – much easier – to be right about everything when you don’t have to enact your policies". 

Call me spiteful and stubborn if you will, but it's also easier to be right about everything - and about one very specific thing in particular - if you don't basically wager your political career on a series of wild exaggerations and half-truths, in the hope that everything will turn out alright in the end. 

"I was right that the case for war was bad, and rushed. But there was a case for war – maybe a sufficient one, maybe not, but a better one than 45 minutes. Saddam Hussein was monstrous. He killed and killed and killed. The choice was never a simple one between the good of non-intervention and the ill of intervention: doing nothing and leaving a genocidal dictator in power was an ill too, and the fact that what was done was done badly does not change that".

Let's leave aside the fact that these are euphemisms for a war of aggression and an extremely violent military occupation of very dubious legal status - which they are - and note that one Vietnam War should surely be enough for anyone.

It's unfortunate that our political leaders wrecked at least one country while they were drunk out of their minds on their grand unipolar moment, but there's a cold, hard truth here: they don't get a rebate on their bodycount, just because they had good taste in enemies. 

I'm not generally receptive to this "these choices are equal, because you would've left Saddam in power" horseshit when it comes from the Rentouls of this world, and I'm no more welcoming now.  If I strongly advise you not to stick your dick in a blender, and you do it anyway, we are not equally culpable for the mess.  Nor will I be much interested in listening to any theories about how much worse it could've been, if you hadn't stuck your dick in a blender.

For the last ten years, pro-war types have always been far more enthusiastic about discussing the general principles of humanitarian intervention than they have been to focus upon the specific case of the Iraq War.  They do this for the same reasons that Jonathan King would greatly prefer to talk about, say, standards of evidence in criminal trials, than he would to address any specific allegations of noncing.

"It would have been better, in fact, to prove ourselves wrong – to divert political energies from stopping the war (or being right that the war should never have started) and into building a plan for Iraq after Saddam".

This is the full Euston Manifesto gambit, I'm afraid.  Okay, you might have thought the invasion was insanely dangerous and irresponsible, but the moral thing to do now that it's happened is to get right behind the occupation and help the Iraqis to pull for democracy.  The difficulty, of course, is that the occupation was even more violent and deranged than the invasion was in the first place. 

Somehow, I don't think that any amount of charity bingo nights or car washes would've made us any more palatable now, if we'd continued to demand that the coalition GTF out of Iraq pronto.

But I think the following is the crux of the matter: 

"It took until 2012 for rape apologist Assange supporters to kill that certainty off in me..." 

"The left is not even nearly done with the comforting confidence of an Iraq-based ethics system – for example, the organisation Media Lens..."

"An aside: over ten years later, I am very sure that if you "question" the existence of Israel, a state that has given refuge to a universally persecuted people, you are in fact an anti-Semite..."

In the UK at least, these are all examples of internet-based phenomena.  I've never met an actual declared Assange supporter; nor have I bumped into anyone from Media Lens, so far as I'm aware.

I've met a lot of crazies over the years.  I've met real people who told me that MI5 are hiding secret oil fields to thwart Scottish independence; I've met more than one who thinks that Labour imported lots of immigrants to dilute the votes of patriotic white people.  I once met a man who thought MI6 had planted a bug in his head to "control his opinions"... but I've never met anyone face-to-face who complained about "Zionists" or theorised about the many-tentacled Israel lobby.

And I live in Scotland, a place where - going by some of the press coverage I've seen over the years - we are infested with rabid anti-Jewish racists, mostly because of the activities of about fifty people that live in Glasgow.  While we can legitimately worry about those people, the total population of Scotland pushes six million.

So when I see stuff like this about, say, Who-The-Fuck-Are-They websites like Media Lens, it's hard for me to get past the idea that what I'm looking at, is basically somebody denouncing their Twitter feed.

And that's fine - I do it all the time myself, as it happens...  But didn't we all just agree that Twitter is a big bubble, an echo chamber, utterly unreflective of the world at large?


Anyway, I think Sarah makes some good points and some bad ones.  I think it's certainly true that large chunks of the left, myself included, are intolerable as a result of the Iraq War...  Assuming, that is, that we restrict "the left" here to mean "people on the internet, political columnists and campaigners who never shut up about the Iraq War".   As a nation, we'll never want for volunteers to call people "Neocon warmongers" and the like on the opinion pages of the Guardian.

So Mea maxima culpa.  There are a lot of us to this day, and we have many, many good excuses for being as much of a bunch of pricks as we are about this and many other matters, but that doesn't make us any more charming than we aren't.

As much of a prick as I am though, I like to think that I'm a prick with a sense of proportion.

*At this point, some joker usually pops up and tells us that anti-war sentiment at least kept us from bombing Syria.  Maybe this is even correct, but I prefer to think of it as an outbreak of sanity.   

Recall - what kept us from bombing Syria was the fact that the government's entire plan could fairly be summarised as: "Let's bung a load of missiles at Damascus and see what happens".  Sharp-eyed observers will note that this plan was not notably different from those used by such tactical geniuses as the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.   

Ed Miliband then offered conditional support, if David Cameron could answer a few difficult questions;  questions such as 

"What are you trying to achieve here";  
"Are you sure that this is legal", and 
"Are you dragging us all into another dipshit bloodbath".  

For some unfathomable reason, HM Government couldn't adequately respond to these questions.  Thus, there was no war.  

We might say that this was common sense, or that Ed had an eye on the polls, but you can be sure that if the government had produced a plan capable of standing up to a moment's scrutiny, it would've been Bombs away all over again.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Your Bed, Sir

Okay, I'll field this one, if nobody else fancies it.

The following doesn't all hold good for James himself but a lot of it really does, and it'll do fine to illustrate the broad range of Oh-No-Why-Does-The-Left-Say-(x) type pundits throughout the land.

So, why is nobody asking questions about Jeremy Corbyn's worrying connections?

1) Because you can only shout about large lupine predators so many times before people just automatically assume that there is no wolf. 

Many people, myself included, have spent years repeating variations on the following points:

If your reaction to every war or military occupation and so forth is to completely ignore the mounting bodycount and to instead focus on

- Poring over the internet in the hope of tracking down photos of anti-war protesters waving swastikas and the like, because you just know that they're all secret Nazis, and

- Snuffling out whatever seven-degrees-of-separation horseshit you can root out to denounce any and every medium-profile public figure who has the temerity to say that they don't much like wars or military occupations...

...then sooner or later, people are going to assume that you are a hack and that your opinion isn't worth listening to, even when you're right.

This is problematic, because there are occasions when people really should pay attention to you, if you're making an important point.  These occasions might include, say, if it turns out that a popular political figure has previously defended one of the country's more obvious wacky racists.

If you've previously expended most of your credibility by using really shitty and smeary arguments to e.g. defend or distract from a whole string of insanely violent and ridiculous wars however, lots of people are not going to be inclined to listen to you, no matter how important your objection is.

- Similarly, if you've spent many long years barracking respected NGOs for minor offences and non-crimes - especially if you restrict the barracking to organisations that tend to publicly disapprove of your pet causes - then lots of people are, once again, going to ignore you, even if you eventually hit a target or two.


2) If your mainstream, centrist politics include acceptance or endorsement of any of the following:

- Supporting far nastier policies on asylum and immigration, because it plays well with nastier sections of the electorate;
- Arming Middle Eastern human rights abusers to the damn teeth;
- Being photographed planting sloppy kisses on, say, Colonel Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak, or the King of Saudi Arabia's corpse;
- Talking out of both sides of your mouth when e.g. the Egyptian military starts shooting protestors and executing its political opponents; 
- Bombing, invading and occasionally occupying other countries for no sane reason, or
- Detaining people without trial in black jails and torturing the piss out of them...

...Amid a very wide variety of similar forms of bullshitty excuse-making for bad behaviour that you'd never let your opponents away with, lots of people are quite likely to dismiss any reasonable points that you make now.  Because you have beshitted your own reputation, see?

Now, saying all this, we should remember that it really is a problem in left wing politics, if something like Jeremy Corbyn's comments on nutty racist propagandists doesn't seem to ring any alarm bells.

That said, it's worth noting that part of the reason why nobody can hear alarm bells ringing now is that quite a lot of less-than-entirely-honest people have spent the last fifteen years or so ringing bells like a crowd of coked-up campanologists on a three-day blowout.

Why, it's almost like actions have consequences, or something.

And to repeat myself, repeating myself - none of what I'm saying here should be news.  Lots of us have spent quite a lot of time issuing long and boring warnings along these lines, to precisely no effect.

Well.  Your bed, sir - you have made it, and now all of us have to lie in it, for good or ill.  

Monday, July 27, 2015

Good Morning The People Of Scotland

Presenter:  ...Derek McSmug is the SNP spokesperson for Really Complaining About Things.  Derek, thanks for joining us on the show.

Derek McSmug:  Thank you, Gary.

Presenter:  Derek, you said yesterday that a second Scottish independence referendum is "terrifyingly inevitable".  Does your party intend to bring forward plans for another referendum in the near future?

Derek McSmug:  Well Gary, I think it's no secret that we're in favour of Scottish independence!  (Laughs)  But no, we have no plans to hold a second referendum in the foreseeable future.  We're focusing on standing up for the people of Scotland against the Tories' swingeing cuts to public services, which the Labour Party is fully -

Presenter:  Well, if you're focusing on standing up to the Tories, why do you keep talking about a second referendum?  Why not move past that and focus on your work at Westminster, or on governing here in Scotland?

Derek McSmug:  Frankly Gary, I'm shocked and disappointed that you've said that.  You know that it's for the people of Scotland to decide whether there should be a second referendum and I don't think it's for the media to tell the people of Scotland that they mustn't discuss their constitutional future.

Presenter:  With respect Derek, it's you that keeps talking up a referendum, not the people of Scotland.

Derek McSmug:  Yes, and I think we had a General Election only a few months ago, in which - as you'll recall! - my party did rather well with the people of Scotland!  (Laughs)  But really, we're focusing on resisisting the Tories' swingeing cuts to public services, cuts which the Labour Party -

Presenter:  Okay, can you tell us exactly what it is that you're doing to protect Scotland from Tory cuts?  Because you seem to spend quite a lot of time appearing in the papers and talking about referendums, and monkeying about sitting in the other parties' seats, but not a lot else.

Derek McSmug:  Gary, we represent the interests of the people of Scotland at Westminster and I can assure you that the people of Scotland absolutely do not think that resisting the Tories' swingeing cuts to public services is worthless.  We just had a General Election that proved that, as you'll recall, in which my party did very well.

Presenter:  Yes, but -

Derek McSmug:  ...But on the subject of a second referendum, I do think that a second referendum is inevitable, but we're focusing on fighting the Tory - 

Presenter:  Well, if you're so focused on fighting the Tory cuts, why do you keep talking about a second referendum?  Why not just keep quiet about a referendum?

Derek McSmug:  Gary, I'm really saddened by your tone and so too, I'm sure, are the people of Scotland.  They don't want to be told to shut up about their constitutional future by the media and frankly, this is just the kind of distraction and smear tactics that we're so keen to get away from, so that we can focus on fighting the Tories' swingeing cuts.

Presenter:  But you don't seem to be doing anything to fight the Tory cuts.  You just keep appearing on TV shows talking about referendums and complaining all the time, without - if you'll forgive me - appearing to do anything useful.  Can you tell us about anything that you're actually doing?

Derek McSmug:  Well, I think that's typical of this broadcaster's condescending attitude towards the democratic will of the Scottish people, frankly.  The people of Scotland made their opinions clear on the matter at the General Election which, as you'll recall, my party did rather well in.  They want us to fight the Tories' swingeing cuts -

Presenter:  But you're not fighting anything, are you?  You're all just standing around making grand speeches, blethering about referendums and ensuring that you get your faces in the paper as often as possible! 

Derek McSmug:  Gary, I have explained this to you again and again, and it's just not sinking in.  We represent the interests of the people of Scotland.  They elected us - and my party did very well, as you'll recall - to resist the swingeing Tory cuts and, as for the prospect of a second referendum, that is up to the people of Scotland to decide.

Presenter:  But -

Derek McSmug:  And it's terrifyingly inevitable.

Presenter(Sighs)  Derek McSmug, that's all we have time for.  Thank you for joining us this morning...

Derek McSmug:  Thank you, Gary.


(For anyone who's mystified: this is a fictionalised and satirical version of interviews that play out on Scottish politics shows on radio and TV most days of the week.  It doesn't matter whether the topic is another referendum or the NHS or agriculture and, if anything, I'm being considerably harsher on the interviewer than on the interviewees).   

Thursday, July 23, 2015


...Seems to be the word upon the Sensible pundits' lips this week.

Why would Labour Party members want to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, the least electable candidate on their list of prospective leaders?

The question is apparently baffling to Westminster and to the nation's media powerhouses, with  current theories running from "The party is indulging in a hard-left purity uprising" to "It's gone mental"

Looking at the situation from the outside however, both of these responses look to be wildly off the mark.  I find it hard to believe that a party membership that sat on its hands through two decades of Third Way horseshit and war would suddenly launch a Trotskyite assault on central office, and if rejection of the Labour leadership is insanity, then it's a form of madness that's broken out all over Scotland, northern England and within Labour itself.

Me, I think it's unlikely that a party that barely raised a single objection of consequence during the Blair/Brown years is about to appoint a beardy old socialist Geography teacher with little chance of electoral success as leader.  I think they'll tease themselves a little, and then elect another Party HQ replicant, so I'll wait until I see the red flag flying over Brewer's Green before I freak out.

Nonetheless, let's assume for the sake of argument that Corbyn will win.  Why would anyone vote for such a result?

Well, imagine that you're a long-term Labour Party member.  Over the last twenty years, you've watched the leadership tear chunks out of the party's constitution; cuddle up to the fantastically rich;  literally sleep with the enemy; enthusiastically join in the national pee-pee dance about immigrants and benefit claimants; pimp for ruinously destructive wars, and then serially shit all over any of their supporters who had the temerity to object.   

This is the kind of behaviour that politicians can get away with only as long as they're winning.  For a while, Tony and Gordon could do whatever they liked but politics shares certain characteristics with football...  As soon the championship medals dry up and the club is facing relegation, that's when fights break out on the terraces and there's ruckus in the dressing room.  And make no mistake - this is a relegation battle, alright. 

So, the party's beshitted reputation and woeful performances have now resulted in two lost elections.  Their brazen misbehaviour has cost the party Scotland, its most reliable power base, with northern England slipping away day by day.

Every statement and signal makes it painfully clear that they're absolutely terrified of being perceived as less vindictive and cruel than their foes, and they're also contemptuously dismissive of any helpful suggestions that don't involve more pandering.

Up against this woeful record, they offer the fact that they once created a lot of good and worthy legislation - they did it about fifteen years ago, but still - and then deploy the heaviest emotional blackmail they can muster about all the evils that the Tories will inflict upon the nation.

And so they offer you a choice of three sexless Political Product androids, with the promise of one more big hit of power if only you're willing to help them to triangulate the Tories' plan to deliberately immiserate the working poor for maximal political benefit.

To use the domestic finances/politics analogy that's so popular these days - they've sold the ideological TV and pawned granny's rings; they've maxed out the credit cards of your indulgence and now, their big idea for getting back on an even keel is to put the kids on the game.

All this, and some folk are seriously claiming to be surprised that so much of the membership is unmoved by a Burnham or a Kendall?

This is the astonishment of ITV Champions League commentators who can't quite believe that any Englishman would root for e.g. Barcelona against Chelsea.  What, don't you want the country to bask in Chelsea's reflected success?  What's wrong with you?

All this is why so many members are voting for somebody else, I'd say.  Anyone else, in fact - a balloon with a face drawn on it will do, for Christ's sake.

And I suppose that you could accept everything I'm saying here, and still consider Corbyn's popularity to be insane and destructive behaviour, and you might even be right.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that even after the wipe-out in Scotland, even as their own party rejects them, the royal Labourites remain serenely confident that whatever the problem is, it certainly isn't anything to do with them.

I can think of nothing that's more likely to bring a pitchfork-wielding mob to their door than that.


(Many, many footnotes follow - this is basically about eight posts rolled into one, so feel free not to read if I'm trying your patience).

- On the supposed insanity of Corbyn supporters - let's observe that similar forms of mass insanity have broken out across large tracts of the country and remind ourselves that, if you're reduced to complaining that everyone has gone mental except for you, it may not be them that has actually gone mental.

- And on the SNP sweeping Labour out of Scotland, it's worth remembering that the Nats aren't dangerous socialist ideologues - everything left wing in their manifesto was shamelessly stolen from the Miliband policy drawer.  At the last election, Labour somehow managed to be outflanked to their left and crushed utterly by a party that is in fact well to its right.

- This "We must obey the will of the electorate" stuff is the party obeying the instructions of the right wing press without a moment's thought, by the way.  When e.g. the Times refers to the electorate's "will", it's talking about its own clammily sexual enthusiasms.  

If the electorate were so shit hot for a government that would fuck the poor unopposed, the people should've given it a larger majority than twelve votes.  In reality, the electorate plumped for a government with a tiny majority that could be defeated on any particularly wacky legislation, with enough effort.  That speaks for itself, I'd say.   

There's also the small issue of the millions of people who voted for Labour precisely to not e.g.  intentionally fuck the poor, but since when did Labour care about what those people think?

- And note here, it doesn't really matter whether Labour's Welfare Bill strategy is actually an unrecognised and brilliant piece of political chess-wizardry.  Perhaps they are thinking seven moves ahead here, but it's now irrelevant because nobody understands what they're trying to achieve by their abstention.

Labour are not blushing political ingenues, nervous and tipsy around that dashing-but-dastardly Mr Osborne.   They are professional communicators, and well-rewarded ones at that.  If they can't get their message across - assuming that they had one - then that's nobody's fault but their own. 

If Labour had some kind of grand strategy for resisting the most foul parts of the Welfare Bill, they've utterly fucked the execution so badly that really, they might as well have voted in favour of it. 

- On the John-Rentoulish idea that Ed Miliband is to blame for Labour's woes, let me just say this - Ed may have been a funny-looking twerp with his heart in the right place and his head partially up his arse, but by comparison with Kendall, Cooper and Burnham, he now looks like a political genius and a goddamned sexual tyrannosaurus.

- And I love how, after an election campaign full of painful whining about the right wing press depicting them as unsmiling Marxist revolutionaries with red-under-the-bed parentage...  

....Labour hacks actually have the titanium testicles required to denounce Corbyn's supporters as if they were all deranged communist insurgents, just gasping to root wailing families out of their Hobbit-holes in the dead of night and ransack bedrooms for hidden silver!

Great stuff.

- But really, the Iraq War should've prompted this kind of rejection of New Labour many, many years ago.

One of the most distasteful sights this week has been people bemoaning the fact that the Iraq catastrophe has besmirched Tony Blair's otherwise glorious legislative and electoral record.  Iraq was one huge can of red spray-paint, wiping out every other credit and merit to Tony's name, shameful and irredeemable.

Lots of people disagree with me on this, but for real - any attempt to redeem Tony's sodden reputation amounts to an elaborate barter of human lives against incremental gains.  Try to balance it out, if you can - how many thousand dead people are equal to a rise in the UK minimum wage?  How many power-drilled Iraqis are equivalent to one Human Rights Act?

- And finally - it's telling, just how little work the Tories had to put into their supposed detoxification as the Nasty Party, isn't it.

As far as I can tell, the long years of alleged Tory soul-searching and modernisation consisted of a) deciding that homosexuals are actually people, and worthy of basic respect; b) coming up with new codewords as pisspoor camouflage for attacks on single mothers and the unemployed and c) waiting for the worst of their evil-minded, wrinkly old scrotum contingent to die off.

Yet even I'm taken aback by the gusto with which the Tories immediately attacked human rights, the working poor, the unemployed, trades unions and the BBC.  The really notable thing about most of their cretinous schemes is that few of them will achieve anything more useful than simply being cunts for the sake of it.  I suspect that in the end, "being cunts for the sake of it" is the whole point.

I suppose we could just see it as one of those constants of life: A dog in a car will stick its head out of the window; if you hand an eight-year-old a dictionary, he'll immediately look up the word "fuck".  If you give the Tories a solid power base, they'll immediately use it to attack our worst-off citizens, organised labour and the state broadcaster.

Plus ca change, and all that. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

This Week In Political Bullshit, Part Bajillion-And-One

An instructive lesson in the art of political bullshit this week, as the SNP manage to parlay the sight of half the nation dropping to its knees to blow their latest star performer, into yet another tedious assault upon BBC Scotland.

The short version:

Mhairi Black is the Nationalists' rising star, a 20-year-old Paisley politics graduate already famed for booting Douglas Alexander's pudgy arse out of the constituency.  She gave a cracking first speech to Parliament this week, assailing the government with wit and vigour, digging in her heels on social justice.

Our press and parliament, being what they are, immediately launched a spectacular round of hosannas and swoons, lauding her oratical genius to the rafters in tones that frequently shaded into outright patronisation. 

Now, most political types would just bank this type of fawning praise.  While Black's speech was all good, barnstorming stuff, it wasn't quite the Gettysburg Address.  Expressions of intent are grand but ultimately, this was just another example of an SNP politician making a tremendous song and dance about how left wing and populist she is, without actually doing anything more left wing and populist than just bumping her gums, or in fact achieving anything at all beyond gathering some positive headlines*.

And that's fine, as far as it goes - it's what politicians all over the world do.  You'd think that, with all that lovely publicity, all those Youtube hits and smooches for doing nothing more than repeating the same things you've said in your stump speech a thousand times, most politics fans would see this as a great success.

Not this lot however - you can never fault the Nationalists for taking their eyes off the prize.  Within hours, mobs of their supporters were yet again battering BBC Scotland with a gusto that would shame the fiercest Tory partisan...

This outcome tells us some useful things, I'd say.

1)  You'll notice that the angry Nationalists have somehow failed to spot that the story that they're talking about - "Politician repeats stump speech that she has given repeatedly, but in Parliament this time" - is not news.

There's nothing new or even all that interesting about this story, beyond human interest.  The only reason that it's of vague relevance is that there was a huge social media response but - ironically - that fact alone places it squarely in the "And finally..." section of any news broadcast, along with the hamster that was given a bus pass and the crisp-eating seagull.

2) And you'd think that if there was any offence to be taken here, it'd be at the patronising tone that much of Black's adulation took.

Certainly, the astonishment many displayed that a working class Scottish woman could be politically savvy and articulate is considerably more offensive than anything the Beeb could say.  Beneath much of the back-slapping lay some seriously whiffy assumptions, and there were more than a few reactions that sounded much like a gorilla had come charging out of the undergrowth and presented parliament with a finger-painted rendering of the Mona Lisa.  I've encountered this type of attitude myself on numerous occasions, and it's never welcome.

Let's be clear about the motives here, though - there's no political gain to be made by complaining about any of that, but there's plenty of mileage in harrassing the BBC**.

3)  But let's not beat about the bush.  Scotland is now the type of country where thousands of people collapse in hysterics and outrage if the press fails to applaud the ruling political party with sufficient enthusiasm.  I imagine that other media outlets won't miss the stark lesson here, or in any of the other bullshit outrages that have sent mobs of flag-waving twats to the BBC's front door - salute, or else.

This is just who we are now, so I think it's about time we started to reassess our chummy national story about how friendly, laidback and lovely we all are.

In the end though, this entire rammy is just the state of modern Scottish politics in microcosm - a politician throws a few vaguely left wing poses at no personal expense; her supporters use it as an excuse to attack their media enemies for failing to applaud convincingly enough; the party emerges with more credit, rather than less, and absolutely nothing of substance changes.

As the old saying goes, democracy hands the public the ruling class that they deserve, and we're proving that we're no exception week in, week out.

*An important point that's often missed by locals and outsiders - the SNP never, ever have to actually do anything left wing to convince their fans.  The act of just saying that they are is more than enough for half the country to believe that they are, and any attempt to point out their lack of enthusiasm for e.g. basic redistribution is doomed to indifference at best and outright hostility at worst.  

This is what the other political parties are up against in Scotland, and I can't say that I envy the job they have on their hands trying to tackle it.

**The BBC is a particular bugbear for two reasons - the sticking points are 1) the word "British", rather than "Broadcasting Corporation" and 2) Unlike the Murdoch empire, an institution that the SNP generally dons kneepads to address, the BBC can't be bought.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Us vs Them, And Them As Well

I wasn't sure whether the ten-year anniversary of the 7th July London bombings is the appropriate time to be posting this kind of thing but, since it was apparently a good enough excuse for Tony Blair to once more ride his personal hobby-horses back into battle, I think it's probably enough for me.

Back then, I remember there being a lot of chat about the bravery of ordinary Londoners in just going about their business under the threat of attack, and it's certainly true that horrific bomb blasts targeting commuters is extremely intimidating stuff. 

There were a lot of loud declarations of collective courage on social media yesterday and if that's really how people feel, it's pretty admirable.  I don't even live in London and yet, idiots blowing up buses and trains is certainly the kind of thing that frightens me.  I don't mind admitting it, even though I'm aware that I'm highly unlikely to be blown up myself.

Nonetheless, I'm reminded that the decision to just get on with it in the face of threats isn't exactly an agonising personal choice.  Your boss isn't going to pay you to take a month off to get over your understandable anxiety, because the only two available options are - work, or starve.

I don't recall hearing that point made once at the time, although it could be that I've just forgotten.

Who knows, maybe the sight of officials proclaiming variations upon "we all stand together" following these types of terrorist outrages gladdens the hearts of the public.  Perhaps it fosters unity and steels people's resolve that We will not be defeated by Them.

For me though, watching Tony yet again declaring that he knows better than the bombers why they did the terrible things that they did, and calling for us to gird our loins and blow more shit up, reminds me now of what I thought then - that none of us had any choice other than to get on with it in the face of the bombers' murderous cruelty, and the then-Prime Minister's worrying lunacy. 

Assuming that I'm right about that, then it didn't feel much like Us vs Them, so much as it was Us vs Them, And Them As Well.  Certainly, you get the feeling that both believed in their own crazy way that they were doing God's work, and both seem to have been entirely impervious to reason or humility*.

*Addendum - In writing this, I went back to the Quail-In-Terror-Mortals video made by one of the bombers, in which he announces that the attacks were some kind of dip-shitted revenge for the occupation of Iraq.  Ignoring for now the utter idiocy of this idea - murdering these innocent civilians, to make up for the killing of those = profit - what strikes me now is how utterly childish the standard Jihadi clamour for public notoriety is.  

Khan's finger-waggy lecture was meant to intimidate, and no doubt succeeded to a certain extent, but it's notable that it resembles nothing more than it does an audition video for Britain's Got Talent - like a teenager singing a Katy Perry song into a hairbrush, or something.  

Here, we have a man yapping into a camera in the firm belief that he is striking a blow against the enemies of God, entirely oblivious to his own chihuahuan ridiculousness.  He says he wants justice, when it looks to me like what he wants is to get his stupid face on the front page of the Sun.  And he certainly got that.

Truly, a viciously stupid, boring little twat of the first water.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

On Delisting

So the BBC has published a list of all its articles that have been delisted by Google - meaning, articles that people have paid* Google to keep out of web searches.

Publishing these links is an excellent thing to do, as it allows us to take a punt at guessing who requests delisting and why.  As you might expect, most of the delistings relate to court proceedings and criminal offences.

Whenever this topic arises, it's the subject of loud and long lamentation, and for good reason in many cases.  That's quite justified in instances where articles are delisted because they reference

1) People who have committed serious crimes 

Quite a few of these articles relate to terrible crimes, and I think it's fair for people to be concerned about this.  I'm not particularly pleased to see that e.g. rapists could have all mention of their crimes effectively expunged from the record by simply forking over a bit of cash to Google, and you can probably imagine how that ability is very useful for various bad people and organisations.

Note here that I'm assuming that it's the perpetrator or one of his/her relations that has asked for the article to be delisted, rather than the victim.  The latter seems less likely, but it's hardly impossible.

There are far more examples of delisted articles involving  

2) People who have committed minor crimes 

I'm a lot less worried about this.  I have no problem with the idea of people who e.g. get drunk and get into a fight being able to sweep the matter under the carpet.  All of us are human and we can all be terrible shits to each other and make awful errors, and I don't think it's wise or just to keep people on the hook for this in perpetuity.

By "on the hook", I mean the likelihood that any Google search for your name is likely to return an article about you e.g. shoplifting or getting busted for minor drug possession when you were a teenager.  If you've been tried, sentenced and have paid for a minor offence, it seems a bit harsh to me that any future employer, partner or aquaintance is only a web search away from hearing all about it.**

And it's worth noting here the unequal nature of Google searches for individuals, too.  If your name is e.g. "John Smith", "Ann Brown" or "Muhammad Ali", people will most likely have to upend the entire internet to find any online material that references you, rather than the million other "John Smiths" in the UK.   If you're called Trevor Jigglytits De Souza, then a lot of the daft/unpleasant things that you've unwisely said or done will be instantly available.  

Obviously, this level of forgiveness doesn't apply to all crimes and indiscretions, in all situations - I can imagine why a company might want to know if a potential employee isn't mentioning his previous embezzlement convictions, to pick a random example - but it remains a less concerning issue than serious offenders expunging their records.

Another category of delisting relates to

3) People who have said or done embarrassing things 

Quite a few of the delisted articles are about people who have gone missing, for whatever reason.  I can imagine why people might not want the first thing that people can learn about them to be that they did a sudden Stephen Fry act and buggered off to Belgium in the huff for a fortnight in 2004.

There's also a lot of seemingly innocuous articles about TV shows and the like, and I'd suggest that it's not the article itself that somebody wants rid of, but one of the comments underneath it.  Again, if your name is Fuckface McGhee the Third and you once spent a drunken evening typing overwrought comments about e.g. Him Off Big Brother, then your boozy ramblings are likely to be the first thing that people will find on the internet relating to you.

Once more, my sympathy doesn't apply in all cases.  If you're running as an MP and have previously announced that you think Hitler had a point, it's probably in the public interest for that fact to remain on your record.

Nonetheless, I think it's important that we draw a distinction between people who have, on the one hand, made tits of themselves in public, and certain multinational corporations who have accidentally poisoned several thousand Indians to death.  One of these issues is a bit more serious than the other, and it's wrong-headed to treat them both as if they were the same thing.

My generation is lucky in that we're the last that grew up in relative obscurity.  There are, thankfully, no photos of me with that horrible haircut in 1996 floating around the internet, nor are there any snaps of me passed out pissed around a toilet bowl, and there's no public record of that night that I went off on one and made an utter exhibition of myself in that pub in Dundee.  This is a bit of a blessing, and it's not one that people who go out and make arses of themselves this evening will be able to count upon.

It's also fortunate for me that the internet really went big when I was in my early twenties, as anyone who has ever found an example of their angst-ridden teenage poetry at the back of a drawer will attest.  It's a lot easier to put an old bit of paper in the bin than it is to delete it from somebody else's Facebook account, isn't it?

Anyway, none of this should be read as saying that there's no problem with Google offering a delisting service.  There are many reasons why this should be seen as A Bad Thing, helping nasty people and organisations to shuck off the consequences of their own nastiness.

Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to look at the issue with just a little bit of compassion and human empathy, I think.

*I'm just assuming that you have to pay for a delisting here, but I may be wrong.

**Enthusiastic law 'n' order types tend to disagree on this point but in my experience, even the most unforgiving of hardline justice types suddenly changes their tune on the matter when it's them or their family member that's been arrested for shoving a traffic warden or some such.