Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Hitchens Saved Aggressive American Wingnuttery From The Wrath Of A Lefty Film-Maker

Picture the scene:  It's early June 2004, and I'm on holiday in Massachusetts, the heartland of Democratic America.  The skies are blue and flags are flying.  Even in this bluest-of-blue states, you'd never know that the United States is currently embroiled in its largest, most violent war since Vietnam. 


The news channels are talking about Ronald Reagan 24/7, in preparation for the old fraud's funeral.  Over and over, It's morning in America, he made Americans feel good about America.  At a friend's house, a bunch of us watch the Patriots edge out the Panthers in a re-run of Super Bowl XXXVII over beer and barbecue chicken.  American football is incomprehensible - I have no idea what's happening on the screen or why.


In an internet cafe, the BBC News webpage describes car bombs and death in Iraq and how Attorney General John Ashcroft has denied government involvement in military torture programmes. The BBC correspondent Frank Gardner has just been shot and crippled in Saudi Arabia, and his cameraman Simon Cumber killed.


In the mornings, I watch a little TV and buy the Boston Globe or the New York Times.  Click, click, click - channel after channel, newspaper after newspaper, it's dead President, sports, lifestyle, sports.  What political news there is, is anodyne, he-said-she-said piffle.  When Iraq gets a mention, it's because the President has compared the invasion and occupation to World War II.  USA! USA! 


Then one morning, I find Fox News.  I'm vaguely aware of it and watch a few minutes - it's a repeat of the previous day's Bill O'Reilly Show, and big Bill is pissed off.  Michael Moore, who I know from The Awful Truth and Bowling For Columbine, has made a new film that claims George W. Bush bombed the Twin Towers, or something.  Michael Moore is a traitor, a communist and is also fat. 


I enjoy my holiday - visit New York, Cape Cod, Walden Pond and so on, and then head home with a suntan, some duty free and whacking great stars 'n' stripes I bought to use up the last of my dollars. 


Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 hits the news channels like a thunderbolt.  It's a one-eyed, entirely partisan demolition job on the Bush administration's response to the Al Qaeda attack on America and its subsequent invasion of Iraq.  It makes a series of specific and powerful claims... 


1)  That President Bush is a chump.  Most Americans have never seen the film footage of him sitting dumbly in that classroom listening to a reading from a children's book while the World Trade Centre burns.  Now, it's being shown on heavy rotation on cable news. 


2) That the Bush administration is so closely intertwined with the Saudi royal family that it spirited Bin Laden family members out of the country at its behest.  Moore asks, can these people be trusted to have Americans' best interests at heart?  


3)  That the US government intentionally exploited Americans' fear and alarm to stampede through regressive legislation and to launch a war on Iraq that was based almost entirely upon a series of astonishing lies and propaganda wheezes. 


4)  That the American media obediently reported everything that the government told it to, without seriously questioning any aspects major or minor, and that 


5)  US soldiers and Iraqi civilians are dying in large numbers thanks to that war, and that the administration that launched it are utterly clueless on what to do about it. 


America has no idea what to make of the film.  It contradicts everything that they've been told, everything they take for granted.


The news channels and print press, as is the way of things in the US, report the controversy.  The Democratic Party welcomes bad press for their political foes, but are as always too spineless to seize the opportunity, afraid to appear weak or unpatriotic. 


The Republicans and their media creatures flail desperately, hurling insults and denials this way and that, but the damage is done.  The frame has shifted - the discussion is no longer about Saddam Hussein's invented Al Qaeda links and fictional weapons, but is about whether the Bush administration is full of liars and the war on Iraq unjust and insane. 


For the first time, America is on the verge of seeing itself the way that the rest of the world has seen it, this past few years - as a dangerous, wounded animal lashing out at easy targets, led by mendacious propagandists and opportunists.  The US diplomatic service is so alarmed that it attempts to block screenings of the film.  


It's a precarious time.  The presidential election is coming up in November, and things have taken a disastrous turn for the Bush admin.  Somebody needs to do something to shore up their wounded, leaking public image, before the damage becomes serious. 


But what's that portly figure on the horizon?  He's striding towards us with determination and a glint in his eye, hiking up his trousers around his rotund waist and steeling his will.  Who is this man?  What could he possibly want? 


Why, it's Christopher Hitchens, and he's here to save the day for war, destruction and the Republican Party!   Hallelujah, brothers, for Hitchens has rescued the American People from reality! 


I exaggerate, of course.  Hitchens' piece was the first serious attempt to rebut Moore's movie, and he scores some good hits.  The Afghanistan section is, as Hitch says, pissweak stuff, a work of circumstantial innuendo worthy of Hitchens himself.  


Michael Moore has always been a kind of populist Hitchens, minus the overwrought prose and Oxbridge education, and without the mania for war, death, murder and destruction.  In another life, they should've been lovers.  They were perfect for each other, each as hackish as the other in pursuit of political goals. 


But even now, you have to marvel at how Hitchens rallied the troops to the flag.  I don't exaggerate when I say that US wingnuts were flailing, howling incoherently over Fahrenheit 9/11.  For the first time in three years, they'd utterly lost control of The Message, and all manner of horrible leftist goblins were springing out of the ground to ask dangerous questions about President Bush's statements, actions and integrity.  


Enter Hitchens the Englishman of the left, to save the President from an American, socialist anti-war activist.


We can immediately dispense with every single one of Hitchens' complaints about Moore's honesty.  As we saw yesterday, Hitchens was an expert bullshitter who could and did effortlessly match Moore's most ludicrous elisions and misdirections. 


We can also dismiss his comparison of Moore to Leni Reifenstahl with a chuckle.  Say what you like about Michael Moore, but his angry-ordinary-Joe act never got anyone killed.  You can't say the same for Hitch's gleefully ridiculous poacher-turned-gamekeeper schtick. 


Marvel also that Hitchens, who propped up his later career with the comical pretense that his full-throated endorsement of official US government policy was an act of exemplary political courage, had the GIANT BRASS BALLS OF STEEL required to commit the following sentence to paper... 


(the film) ..."Is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery".


"Abject political cowardice", says the man who spent who knows how many hours defending such glorious paragons of virtue as Ahmad Chalabi and Paul Wolfowitz!  Well, we can at least have a laugh as he tries to de-schmuckify Bush's toe-curling encounter with The Pet Goat or his infamous "Now watch this drive!" scene, as he ran the War on Terror from the golf course.


Hitchens' complaint that Moore shows pre-war Iraq by depicting kite-flying children and happy families has now entered pro-war folklore.  The kite-flying kiddies, followed immediately by the shattering aerial assault on Baghdad, are all a sub-Hitchens goon like Nick Cohen need invoke any time he mentions Moore, confident that his point is made. And yet...


Let's be blunt.  As a depiction of the victims of the Iraq War, Moore's choice of clips are a million times more representative than Hitchens' unending war against Saddam and whoever he was calling Genocidal Fascists on any given day.  The lowest, definitely undercounting estimate for civilian deaths in Iraq is in the region of 100,000 and I'd happily place a bet that for every fanatical terrorist whose end Hitchens celebrated, a thousand happy families lost a parent, a sibling or a child, kite or no.


The point of lowest bathos comes when Hitchens tries to explain that, contra Moore's claim, Iraq did attack Americans.  Iraq started it!  Why, they sheltered Abu Nidal!  You remember Abu Nidal?  Most won't because nobody gave a fuck about one elderly terrorist, before or after the war, barring Hitchens.


They sheltered Abu Musab al Zarqawi!  If they did, of course - and I can't establish this one way or the other - it's in the sense that the US "sheltered" the 9/11 hijackers, since Zarqawi was as murderously disposed towards the various tyrannies of the Middle East as he was to the US.  Hitchens certainly knows this, yet says it anyway.  Honesty and truth, indeed. 


Iraqi ground units shot at American planes patrolling the No-Fly Zone over Iraq!  Well, on and on he goes.  You can imagine what type of film all of these caveats would feature in, what form of documentary Hitch might prefer to see. 


"At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective. At no moment does he pass up the chance of a cheap sneer or a jeer".


Says Hitchens, the famously objective, well-mannered gentleman*. 


Hitchens' gripes get more bizarre - about Moore's "affected and ostentatious concern for Black America", as if Hitch has never affected ostentatious concern for the people he actively advocates bombing.  He demands to know whether Moore would support a military draft, or the draft riots of 1863.  Thankfully, he doesn't ask whether Mike is still beating his wife. 


Hilariously, given his well-known habit of minimising and diverting from American crimes and fuck-ups, he also trots out this humdinger of a line... 


"In general, it's highly unwise to quote Orwell if you are already way out of your depth on the question of moral equivalence".


Yoy. 


Well anyway, you know the rest.  The wingnut literati all promiscuously linked to Hitchens' piece, expanded and wanked up the most egregious of his points and soon enough, they steadied the rocking Republican ship.  The monster Moore was repelled, sent wailing and thrashing back into the depths of the sea, and the world made safe for the US government's insane wars.  President Bush squeaked re-election.  Both his administration and its criminal ineptitude passed into history, leaving the rest of the planet with the Mother of All Economic And Military Fuck-Ups in our laps.


The big barbecue in Fallujah was only months away; coalition forces continued to bleed troops until the great slaughter of the Iraqi civil war ensued, murdering thousands upon thousands of civilians in an orgy of horrifying violence and blood-letting.  The coalition lost almost five thousand men and women killed and tens of thousands more injured.  Many thousands of veterans continue to struggle badly with adjustment to civilian life, with far higher rates of homelessness, unemployment and mental illness than the norm.  The bodycount for Iraqis is too large to accurately count.


The Iraq War has gone down in history as one of the most needless and wasteful military disasters of the modern era and the killing is a long way from finished yet. 


Chris Hitchens continued to make highly tendentious, fork-tongued arguments for violence and mayhem, picking up fat paycheques for angrily denouncing those of his former colleagues on the left who had the temerity to complain about war.  He died in 2011, on the same day that the occupation of Iraq ended.  Tributes poured in from all quarters, although many of the wingnuts who once fed on the scraps from his table denounced him as an antisemite and a commie for insufficient pro-Israel belligerence. 


Michael Moore made successful films about American healthcare reform and the injustices of capitalism.  A few years later, a programme of subsidised healthcare was instituted and world capitalism burned its own house down in an orgy of greed and recrimination.  


History, I think, will be kinder to one than it will to the other, Literary Lion or not.


Anyway, let's leave the last word to Hitchens, since he isn't here to speak for himself.  


...If you leave out absolutely everything that might give your "narrative" a problem and throw in any old rubbish that might support it, and you don't even care that one bit of that rubbish flatly contradicts the next bit, and you give no chance to those who might differ, then you have betrayed your craft.


Oh, yes.  Those are words to live by alright, Chris.


*On the topic of sneering and jeering, see this passage, quoted from Lawyers, Guns & Money... 


“If you wanted more Iraqi support,” Atiyyah bellowed at Hitchens,” you should have given us more money and food once you got there!” 


“So you’re saying, sir, that you can be bought,” Hitchens shot back...


...If I didn’t deeply dislike Hitchens already, that would do it. He’s talking to one of the leaders of one of the liberal Iraqi institutions upon which the future of Iraq depends. There’s no way that the guy has the resources he needs. And Hitchens has the gall to talk about humanitarian aid and support for his projects as if it was some sort of bribe that Atiyyah should have the self-respect to refuse. You want more money for the military? Are you saying, sir, that the United States Armed Forces can be bought? I shall have to say good day to you, sir!


Pure class, our Chris.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not On Their Own Merits, But According To Who Does Them

As is the way when controversial figures die, the obituary season for Chris Hitchens has now firmly moved from  ludicrously overblown hagiography to withering disparagement of his supposedly immense intellect and allegedly high principles.  


He's been mourned by many of the great political and literary writers of the modern era, and also by Martin Amis*.  He's been equally damned by others. I've read enough of both to discern the traces of truth in both analyses.

As writer and debater, he was capable both of soaring, rousing rhetoric and of the most idiotic jiggery-pokery, sometimes simultaneously.  Hitchens contained multitudes, more so than most, for he was large in every sense of the word.

I'm one of those whom his eulogists regretfully refer to as "People who only read him in his later years".  I recall his extended TV smackdown of the Princess Diana debacle well and agreed with much of it.  I thoroughly enjoyed The Trial of Henry Kissinger, although I suspect much of that is due to Dr Hank's shared position with Nixon in my all-time list of Men I Would Dearly Love To Kick Up The Arse Very Hard Indeed.  I avoided his Orwell book, since excerpts made it sound much like Why Orwell Agreed With Me About Everything.  I read and remember nothing of his Tom Paine tribute.  Letters To a Young Contrarian was far too irritating to finish, thanks to its intense and florid focus upon Hitchens' favourite subject - himself.  

As someone who came late to his work, I'm in a good position to assess where Hitchens' many manias led him.  I can't comment much on his lit crit or his non-political writing - his pieces on why women aren't funny and the joy of blowjobs, respectively, quickly put me off following him into the darker recesses of his mind. 

If I can contribute one thing to the debate, I'd like to correct the major flaw in the reporting of his life and death - the idea that he was despised by many on the left because they felt "betrayed by his support for the invasion of Iraq".  

Well, yes and no, folks.  This is a bit like saying that lots of people dislike Alex Ferguson because he's been so successful - the basic point is true, but it omits certain very relevant details of Sir Alex's character and behaviour.  Hitchens, like Fergie in defeat, was constantly obstinate, mendacious and entirely ungracious when it came to his Great Personal Battle Against Fascism.  Like Ferguson, he attracted fierce criticism, much of it entirely justified.

Lots of people, many of them far smarter than me, supported the invasion of Iraq and yet didn't suffer the same vilification.  To pick just one example - Johann Hari was at least as vicious and one-eyed in his Iraq hawkery as Hitchens, and yet many who should have known better leaped to his defence when he was later caught telling porkies.  The same people would've damned Hitchens.

From the very start, Hitchens' writings on Iraq exceeded some of the wildest predictions of the second-rate history professors of the Bush administration.  His invasion would be a mighty demonstration of arms, followed by a rapturous welcome and a heavenly shower of laptops and consumer goods.  Would it increase the threat of terrorism?  Not likely.  

He had open contempt for those who warned that the invasion was a deadly disaster in waiting and worse for those who suspected the motives of the Bush administration.  He was quick to attribute pro-Hussein, terror-loving fascistical sympatheticalness to both and dished out such condemnations promiscuously, to those who deserved it and those who didn't. 

The most glaring example came in the immediate post-invasion period, when he offered us a stark, either-or choice between the now-legendary thieves and looters of mercenary services company Halliburton and Saddam Hussein himself.  


When it later became clear that Halliburton and other such contractors had ripped off bajillions of dollars in Iraqi and American cash in exchange for goods and services that were faulty or non-existent, Hitchens neither apologised nor justified.  Rather than re-examine a critical failure of the war, one that he had defended aggressively, he demanded to know which corporation a President (John) Kerry "should after all have got the contract to reconstruct Iraq's oil industry". 


"Not invading Iraq in the first place", of course, was always off the table. 


And this was the Hitchens method of political writing in the 2000s all over.  He'd make a series of highly risky claims; inflate a tendentious reading of the situation into an issue of world-historical significance; declare that precise agreement with him was a black-or-white test of character and then, when events proved him wrong, move the goalposts as far as it took to reach a position of being sort of half-right.  Maybe.  


If you looked at it with your eyes screwed up a bit.


His writings throughout the decade were chock-full of such banalities.  How important were Hussein's supposed weapons of genocide as a war aim?  It depended on how Hitchens was feeling on any given day.  "Just you wait", he famously told doubters.  When no weapons were found, he announced that this proved the righteousness of the operation.  Later, the sound of scurrying would announce that Hitch had moved the goalposts again - now, the invasion and quest for mythical WMDs was Hussein's fault, since he pretended to have weapons. 


When a US patrol responded to an insurgent attack by going berserk in Haditha, Iraq, killing a large number of civilians, the pro-war case for the defence should've been obvious - simply, say that war exerts terrible pressures on soldiers, some of whom may be bad apples themselves, but that one incident didn't invalidate the entire war. 


Hitchens' response was an exercise in jaw-dropping hackery.  Rather than confront the issue head on, he rooted out some joker comparing Haditha to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam; pronounced the comparison an intolerable slur on the nobility of the Viet Cong (!), and proceeded to lecture us all for the millionth time upon the awfulness of the Iraqi insurgents.  In the same column, he assigned blame to those who called for less violence by the US armed forces for the disasters of our wars. 


When US soldiers slaughtered innocents in hot blood, Hitchens' responded by booming in high dudgeon that the Iraqi insurgency were more evil than the lovely VC.  Well, no shit, Chris, you told us that a thousand times and we said we agreed.  And?  Are there perhaps some issues going unadressed in your critique here? 


Evasion, retrenchment, misdirection, ad hominem assaults.  These were his weapons in his Great Intellectual Struggle, a cause in which he clearly regarded himself as an intellectual Field Marshall, sending his fellow word-warriors into combat.  


Pick your Iraq-related controversy, and Hitchens had a highly-conditional, deeply duplicitous argument ready for deployment.  When a survey revealed a massive death toll resulting from the war, Hitchens invoked a nebulous "some percentage" of the bodycount who were maybe, probably murderous baddies.  


What percentage?  Hitchens neither knew nor cared.  All that mattered was reducing the damage to the war effort, to allow it to continue unimpeded in all it's righteous violence.


On the torture, rape and murder of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: Bad, but not Guernica and anyway, not as bad as Saddam.  


Cindy Sheehan, a woman with some wacky opinions who also happened to be the mother of a dead US soldier?  Not so much an exploited, grieving woman as a moral blackmailer, said his angry hatchet job.  


When he was embarrassingly suckered by the obvious fraudster Ahmad Chalabi - Other candidates would be worse.  


On Iraq's horrifying civil war, a situation resulting entirely from the decision to invade in the first place - your problem, you fucking deal with it if you want to end the war so much...  Or, in one of his favourite gambits - Al Qaeda ate my homework


He was a shameless propagandist for the US government's most crass lies.  On the fraudulent connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, he shoehorned the most credulous horseshit into print:  "It was, I was told... '70 percent likely' that Atta came to Prague to meet [the Iraqi secret policeman Ahmed] Al-Ani."  That lie about the 9/11 attacker Mohammed Atta stayed in play for years afterwards. 


Long after the neo-conservatives themselves fell silent on Hussein's supposed weapons programmes, Hitch was still flogging the corpse of the Niger uranium claim.  When the Bush administration fell prey to its own idiocy in the Plamegate affair, Hitchens was there to defend its honour once more.  


Quibbles, distractions, irrelevant diversions.  When the President of the United States recently claimed for himself the right to murder any person that he may regard as a threat, including US citizens, Hitchens was on hand to pimp the most idiotic argument of all...


"Those who share my alarm at the prospect of (state-sanctioned murder beyond judicial oversight) and of the ways in which it could be abused, are under a heavy obligation to say what they would do instead".


That's Christopher Hitchens, the courageous opponent of tyranny, demanding that you provide an alternative to state murder.  Whatever, Hitch - I thought you said pathos, not bathos.


Policemen would recognise all of these tactics from interrogations.  Caught out in a lie, criminals don't confess - they back up and tell half the truth.  They admit to minor wrongdoing here and to errors of judgement there, then retreat to a fresh, fortified position of essential innocence. 

A court psychologist would recognise a criminal's refusal to face the human toll of his misdeeds, and would diagnose denial.  If the subject declared his intent to continue in the same behaviour - in Hitchens' case, by demanding the invasion of Iran - the shrink would most certainly diagnose psychopathy.  "A lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentrity and deceptiveness".  


That was Hitchens in the last decade; a man who bayed for the blood of jihadists yet shrank from reality when his favoured policy inflicted a far higher toll on the innocent.   A man who spent countless hours attempting to turn advocacy for official US government policy into an act of astounding courage; a man who regarded denouncing former friends in his purplest prose as an enterprise of awesome significance and consequence. 


He travelled to the far-flung places of the Earth, only to discover upon arrival that he was even more right about everything than even he had previously suspected.  He spent the decade building himself a platform with rebellious, outsider indignation, from which to better side with the most powerful people on the planet.  The type of man who non-ironically denounces "Iranian interference in our affairs" when he means American-occupied Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.  


There are many words that would describe this type of behaviour, and none of "courageous", "principled" or "humanitarian" fit the bill.  Courageous people don't invent ridiculous schemas to make their minor controversial acts seem more brave, nor do men of high principles revise and retrench their positions in adversity.  Humanitarians do not make war gladly and recklessly, with a song of joy in their hearts. 


No, the appropriate words are "Hack", "Bullshitter" and "Fraudster". I don't use these richly-deserved insults to imply that he wasn't talented.  He was a highly-gifted hack, an awe-inspiring bullshitter and a first-rate fraudster.  These are disciplines which require inventiveness, initiative and application, and Hitchens had them in spades. 


Still.  His much-vaunted principles were so crooked that they wound up resembling corkscrews.  If he'd been Russian, he'd have spent his declining years denouncing Putin's foes as traitors and demanding ever-heavier firepower be brought to bear on Grozny.  


"Georgia On My Mind - Putin Rescues Russian Civilians From Genocidal Terrorist Aggression".  You know it and I know it. 


Hitchens loved him some Orwell and quoted him as extensively as possible.  Appropriately, Saint George once had relevant words to say about the Chris Hitchenses of this world...

“Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

You can be sure that Hitch was aware of those words, as are all of his current boosters and sycophants.  It's to his friends' and supporters' great discredit that his most ludicrous contortions were most directly insulting to them.  We just read this stuff and laughed, but they were expected to defend it.

And yet I recall few, if any, ever saying Yo Hitch, I think you might be gilding the lily a little there.

Anyway.  When Hitchens famously debated George Galloway in New York, I can remember firing up the Youtube video in great anticipation, to see which of these two hulking beasts of the bullshit business would emerge triumphant.

What I saw was two overweight, middle-aged men trying to outdo the other's outrage over some violent acts of some violent men against certain innocent people.  Both used every rhetorical weapon in their armoury to crush the other; both made liberal use of insult and hyperbole and as far as I could see, neither one gave a flying fuck whether their words were truth or bluster.  They barked and snapped at each other like angry terriers for what seemed like hours, imparting not a sentence worth of reliable information between them.

I looked from Chris to George and from George to Chris, and from Chris to George again.  What a pair of puffed-up, lying cockweasels, I thought.

And then, I closed the browser and read something else, written by somebody who would do me the basic favour of not cheerfully lying to my face.

I can't speak for Chris Hitchens in his youth or early middle age, so I can't evaluate his work in that era.  What I will say is this - the older Hitchens was so full of shit that you could use him to fertilise all of Texas for decades.

I'm sorry that he died and I'm horrified that he went in such a godawful manner.  His friends describe him as warm-hearted and charitable, even if many acquaintances don't, and even I struggle to think of him as actively bad - more clownish, buffoonish, ridiculous.

Nonetheless, if truth means anything at all, let's drag it all into the memorial and let history be the judge. 

*This joke copyright Splintered Sunrise, 2011

Monday, December 05, 2011

Concern Trolling - How To...

(Apologies - with the exception of the first part, this is going to be a salad of hyperlinks.  You don't have to read 'em all, but they're there if you want to know what evidence I'm using).  


The Times have been running long reports and opinion pieces on exploitation of teenage girls by gangs of Asian men for the last couple of weeks.  The bare facts are horrifying - men of all ages scheming and plotting together to entice and abuse wee girls with the most cynical and nasty of manipulations and inducements. To prison with the lot of them, say I, and don't spare the public disgrace or the Draconian sentences.

Another aspect of their coverage struck me as altogether weirder, though - an insistence on addressing the issue as specifically Asian/Muslim criminal behaviour.  Well, it struck me as a bit odd.  After all, sexual abuse and organised sexual abuse between co-conspirators is hardly restricted to Asian or Muslim men... But the figures do appear to back up the contention that this type of crime is committed by those overlapping ethnic/religious groups, disproportionately to their percentage of the populace.

Well, okay I figure.  The same goes for forced marriages, and we're fine with discussing that in ethnoreligious terms, so let's give it a go.

And then I notice the single common factor to each piece (I'll paraphrase, since the Times is paywalled) in that almost every one - report, leader, opinion piece - starts with the premise that the topic is taboo; that discussing it in racial/religious terms opens the speaker up to malicious attacks from the Politically Correct mob; that, in short, the Times isn't allowed to discuss this stuff in these terms.

Wait a minute, I think.  You're the nation's paper of record, and you're telling your readership that you're not allowed to report on the things which you are in fact reporting on, in the specific terms in which you're reporting upon them?

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

I think to myself, they must be worried about a terrible overreaction from the PC Brigade, however they're defining that much-maligned group.  So I go looking for these awful liberals who are out to destroy the country's most well-known broadsheet for its brave truth-telling, and...

Well, no doubt there are plenty out there.   I imagine that a Bob Lambert or a Mehdi Hassan would take issue, but I'm not finding lots of evidence.

What I am finding is lots of articles along these lines, in which the Minister for Children Tim Loughton places  grooming of teenagers and kids in an explicitly ethnoreligious context.  I find that back in July, the same minister has previously assailed Asian communities for ignoring such crimes or actively hampering inquiries.  I find that the previous Home Secretary was criticised for generalising on the subject in the same terms, and extensive coverage of the police child protection agency laying that shit out in the starkest possible terms.

This isn't only being reported in the Mail, either.  It's all the major UK news agencies, including the Guardian and the BBC, reporting this issue in exactly the frame the Times are demanding.  It's not taboo at all - it's everywhere.

I also find many, many more articles like this than I care to link to, making the exact same argument - that the authors aren't allowed to say what they are in fact saying, in the terms in which they are explicitly saying them, from the pages of the nation's bestselling news publications.

Naturally, I also find a bajillion race-war loonies promiscuously linking and commenting between them, each stridently convinced that they are not allowed to discuss it because of the tyrannical PC multicultural liberals, or whatever demons haunt their dreams.

Then I think back to the original Times articles, which carried lengthy comments from government ministers, police, child protection agencies and so on.  Despite enthusiastic endorsement by some of the most powerful political, civil and media figures in the country, most of the pieces loudly trumpeted their scarily taboo and unmentionable content.  Almost all bewail the tyranny of Political Correctness Gone Mad.

I broaden the parameters to similarly combustible topics - genital mutilation is treated identically, with howls of persecution and vicious assaults on western libruls and feminists for God knows what.  Forced marriage is such an unmentionable issue that the Scottish Government have just handed the courts sweeping powers to tackle it, with a guns-blazing ministerial fanfare.  Similar powers were put in place in England and Wales years ago.  Honour killings are all over the papers, from the multicultural evangelists of the Guardian to the diddiest local paper.

Hell, think of the coverage of the recent riots, in which a good number of fannies pinned the blame for white kids' violence on black people, with the same wailing terror of retribution.  Did David Starkey or Toby Young miss a paycheque because of their dumbass comments?  Did they Falkirk, my friend. 

In each case, you don't struggle to find great legions of table-thumping hacks loudly demanding to be allowed to speak about these issues without being crushed by the mighty machine of modern liberalism.  They're all over the broadcast and print media, bleating about their fictional victimisation.

Let's be blunt here.  If the PC Brigade are strangling discussion of these controversial issues, they're not very good at it, are they?  I mean, at present, they can't even get a light entertainer sacked for saying he wants to see innocent citizens shot dead in front of their families.  A terrifying New-Age Gestapo, this is not.

All of this prompts the question - if these issues are being publicly attacked by the British Government and are heavily covered in the press, why do so many hacks feel the need to invent these great phantom PC monsters, determined to destroy Our Precious Free Speech?

A couple of thoughts spring to mind.  Firstly, maybe British journalists are almost all utter cretins.  It's a tempting possibility, but not a realistic one.

Second, these hundreds of politicians, hacks and coppers actually do fear harmful attacks by the PC Brigade for truth-telling.  I have no problem dismissing this out of hand.  If I can find a bajillion articles disproving the supposed might of some speech-eating Liberal chimera, you'd better believe journalists will stumble across them in the course of their research.

To my mind, this leaves option three - the whole thing, the entire "PC Leftisses will destroy us if we dare open our mouths" act, is a ludicrous pantomime.  It's all a charade aimed at inculcating a sense of offended victimhood in the minds of everybody who objects to sexual abuse and domestic tyranny... Which just happens to be more or less the entire population of the United Kingdom.

Surely it's obvious that anyone who tells you he or she isn't allowed to say the things they are saying, when they're saying them with total impunity and the full backing of the nation's political and media empires, is talking the worst, most offensive kind of bullshit?  Is this in doubt?

Performances this hysterical and overblown must be aimed at some logical goal. So, I ask myself, why bother with these great, idiotic displays of pre-emptive outrage?  The answer to that, I think, lies in the recent government assault on disability benefit, amongst a raft of other regressive policies.

Recall the great avalanche of ginned-up stories about moochers living large off the state that accompanied the government's vicious crackdown on disability benefit.  A few papers did manage to squeeze in a few stories about people with horrific diseases being forced back into the workplace, but by and large it was open season on a class of people we were told it was okay to hate.

And that's what this is - open season, not just on Asian sex offenders or genital mutilating men who murder their daughters over forced marriage, but merely one front in a general crackdown on everyone and everything despised by the political right.  Rioters, feral youth, benefit fraudsters - everyone is getting it in the neck and if there are a few innocent casualties along the way, well, you can't make an omelette without openly lying to the populace, or something.

If you object to that well, fuck you, Mr. Do-Gooder!  They're as mad as Hell and they're not going to take it any more, even if they haven't been taking anything and there's nobody to give it to them!

I can't be the only one who's found the tone of what I'll laughingly call our National Discourse increasingly nasty since the economic crisis and the Coalition Government's ascension.  It's like all of the dark undercurrents of the last thirty years - the pandering to the electorate's most base prejudices, the scapegoating of the poorest and the rampant fearmongering on crime - have been thrust into the foreground.

As a nation, we're going through one of the worst depressions of the modern era and our entertainments and news outlets are full of angry gypsies, predatory ethnics, violent urban vermin and grasping cripples.

Well, fuck it.  If this represents some kind of fight back against an all-conquering, tyrannical PC behemoth, as my wingnut readers will claim, you do have to ask how come it's proceeding virtually unopposed.  You'd think that an unstoppable empire of wheelchair-bound Somalian lesbionics students would be able to muster at least a perfunctory pushback.

Where is it?

The logical answer, of course, is that the PC Brigade is a behemoth of bullshit, intended to smuggle all kinds of viciousness past the public undetected.  The answer is that we're ruled and catered to by some very unpleasant people indeed, people who are just mad keen to keep us terrified of each other, for their own foul reasons.

Hey, I can see why a lot of folk would prefer the former explanation.  After all, it said so in the paper.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Most Horrifying Thing a Blogger Can Say...

...Is, "I'm writing some fiction as an experiment, and here is an example of it".  I know this, I dread it.

And yet, here we are.  

The second-most horrifying - the explanation for the self-indulgence.  If I reached pensionable age without ever giving fiction a serious crack, I'd feel like I'd failed my teenage self.

I'll be back with some politics chat sometime, maybe tomorrow, maybe next month.  In the meantime, here's a section from my never-to-be-published first novel.  It's some background on a secondary character Who Will Later Prove To Be Important. 

And by the way - when other bloggers do this, I always ignore it, so don't feel guilty for doing the same. 


How Mr Inglis Fell Out With His Brother

It wasn't over a woman. Mr Inglis told Helena that was the reason, but then Mr Inglis also told Helena that he'd “hurt his brother quite badly”. That's certainly one way of describing what happened.

Mr Inglis had given the Department the crack that they were looking for, and nobody had thought to ask whether Mr Inglis might still have been gilding the lily.

Four years and two months previously, it's half-past ten in the morning. Mr Inglis is lying on the floor of his living room with a broken wrist, covered in lukewarm vodka, while Police Constables Boatswain and Dalziel kneel on his bucking back. PC Boatswain is fighting desperately to handcuff him. Mr Inglis is not cooperating with police instructions.

Sit still!” Boatswain shouts at the back of his head. “Calm down!”

My fuckin' arm!” roars Mr Inglis, spitting into the carpet. “My fuckin' arm, ya black bastards! Ya fuckin' black bastards!”

PC Boatswain, who is white, has heard all of these mantras of arrest before, despite his relatively tender years.

In the corner, an emaciated young woman in a sleeveless T-shirt is trying without success to climb up the wall. “Ya hairy bastard!” she shouts at Boatswain, scrabbling frantically. “Leave him alone, ya hairy black bastard!”

PC Dalziel, a female police officer, kneels on Mr Inglis' legs and shouts at the woman. “Calm down! Just calm down, we're not going to hurt you, we're here to help...”

PC Boatswain manages to cuff one wrist. As he grabs the other, Mr Inglis lets out a piercing howl that causes everyone in the room to jump, except maybe Mr Inglis' brother Billy, who is writhing, pounding on the floor close by. Billy is screeching, trying to reach a deep, ugly gash in the right-hand side of his back.

Blood pumps thick and fast from Billy's wound and seeps into the crusty carpet. PC Boatswain tries to manhandle Mr Inglis across the floor, away from the spreading stain.

Are the paramedics coming?” PC Boatswain shouts to Dalziel.

Two minutes”, Dalziel tells him. In the corner, the young woman is screaming now, incoherent, hysterical.

Mr Inglis kicks his legs and shoves hard against the floor with his good arm. They have to lean on him with their full weight to keep him pinned down. As Mr Inglis thunders fresh threats, PC Boatswain notices that Mr Inglis's right wrist really is broken. That's bad news for PC Boatswain.

From the street, PC Boatswain hears the sound of sirens. He looks around Mr Inglis's front room, absorbing the full scene for the first time – the screaming, stabbed man on the floor, the panicking woman, the mound of detritus from numerous meals swept onto the floor, the discarded clothes, the ripped furniture, the stained carpet.

He'd chosen policing as a career, ahead of teaching. His careers advisor, a few years back, thought he'd make a good teacher. You've got a gentle manner, the advisor had said, and they're always crying out for male teachers.

Teachers don't have to deal with this kind of thing at work, Boatswain decides.

***

Start again”, Sergeant Melrose says, “And leave out the bit where you break the arsehole's arm with your baton this time”.

PC Boatswain leans against the side of his car and takes off his cap. He scratches his upper lip, which is covered in short brown hairs – he's been growing a moustache for charity, for sponsorship. They're in the police station's car park and the midday sun is making his forehead sweat a little.

At approximately ten-twenty-two hours, PC Dalziel and I were on patrol in Muirhouse when we were instructed to attend at 17 Park Street in relation to a domestic disturbance. We proceeded to the scene -”

You're not writing your fuckin' SPR son”, Melrose tells him. “Just tell me what happened”.

Boatswain sighs. “We got to the door and we could hear the guy screaming inside, screaming like he was dying. It was open, so we went in, me first. In the living room, I saw Alec Inglis waving a knife at her, Justine, the girl. I could hear Billy Inglis howling but I couldn't see him at that point”.

Alright. And then, what did you do?” Melrose is taking notes, scratching rapidly.

I told him, Alec, to drop the knife and he started shouting, telling me to get out of his house. I drew my baton and he just came right at me. He meant it too, he was going to do me, right there”.

And then?”

I struck Alec Inglis to the right thigh with my baton and grabbed his wrist, the knife-hand. We both fell onto a table and Alec Inglis was injured in the process. I restrained him until the paramedics arrived”.

Sergeant Melrose nods and tucks his notepad away. “Right, that's what goes in your report. The FMEs are in with Inglis just now. A couple of Fife police will be here in a wee while to take a statement from you, so take a minute to get it straight in your head”.

He looks at Boatswain for a moment, then claps him on the shoulder. “Are you alright son? That's a nasty situation and you did the right thing there. If it's him or you, smash the fucker, put him down. I don't ever want to have to tell your poor mother why her dippit son's been chibbed by some wee ned”.

Aye, I'm alright, it was just...” Boatswain struggles for words. “I didn't even think. I wasn't scared until after, until I realised what had happened. I just wasn't expecting it”.

Melrose takes a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and lights one. “You don't, do you?” Blowing out smoke. “Any idea what it was all about, then?”

We got most of the story out of the girl. You're not going to believe this... So, they're sitting watching the telly, drinking a bottle of vodka that Billy's brought round. Ten in the morning, steaming on vodka. She says they were getting on fine, then the next thing she knows, Alec's gone for a piss and come back waving a baseball bat around. He's going daft, shouting 'Where's my money, I had twenty quid, one of you's nicked it, I'll kill the pair of you', that kind of thing”.

And that's when he stabbed Billy?”

Boatswain shakes his head. “No, they managed to calm him down. The girl, she says Alec takes these radges all the time, over nothing”.

Aye, his old man's the same”, Melrose says, taking another puff. “Always was. The whole family's mental. Alec's big brother's been in Saughton for six years for killing some innocent punter, over nothing. Anyway, sorry, go on”.

So, Billy calms him down. He says, Come on Alec, it'll be here somewhere, we'll look for it, and they do. They can't find it, but Alec seems to have chilled out a bit, so they think he's fine. The girl says he looks kind of weird, but calm”.

And who's the girl?” the sergeant asks, dropping his cigarette butt and grinding it. “Is she Alec's bird?”

Can't say”, Boatswain says. “Could be either's, could be both, she didn't tell us... Anyway, so now they're getting on happy as Larry again, watching telly. Billy says he's going to make a joint and he bends over the table in front of Alec. Suddenly Alec's up, he's got a knife from somewhere and he's stabbed Billy through the kidney, and he's standing over him shouting 'Where's my twenty quid you robbing bastard, where's my fuckin' money', all the same stuff. That's where we came in”.

Sergeant Melrose gives Boatswain a disbelieving look. “I know Alec's a nutter, a right nutter, but are you seriously telling me that he stabbed his brother in the back... because he stole twenty quid off him?”

Oh wait”, says Boatswain, holding up a hand. “It's better than that. So, we get Alec in the back of the car and he's still going mental, greetin' about his arm now. He's shouting about how it's sore and he never done anything. What are we taking him in for? We get him back to the station and the custody sarge searches Alec, goes into his shirt pocket... And pulls a twenty pound note out of it. The dozy prick's had the money in his pocket the whole time and didn't realise it”.

Melrose stares at him, starts to speak and then stops. “Jesus”, he says eventually.

I know, Sarge”, Boatswain says. “It's the stupidest fuckin' thing I've ever seen”.

They stand there in silence for a while, watching cars come and go.

The hospital reckon Billy's touch and go”, Melrose says. “They say even if they can save him, he'll be on dialysis for the rest of his life”.

Boatswain puts his hat back on and stands up straight.

Stupidest thing I've ever seen,” he says again.