Saturday, September 04, 2004

The Script Is Written

It was

a) the fault of the incomptetent and disorganised Russian security forces (cue SAS man in studio to say how much better we'd have done it)

b) anyway, such attacks are inevitable because of what the Russians are doing in Chechnya (© one Lord Judd, who seems to be all over Radios 4 and 5)

c) anyway, Putin, Bush and Sharon are the real terrorists. As Isabel Hilton so rightly points out in the Guardian "As the drama of Beslan was entering its final hours, George Bush was bidding for re-election on the promise of security to the American people, a security premised on the willingness to use overwhelming military force. It was the same promise that Putin gave to the Russians and Ariel Sharon to the people of Israel. All three have used violence freely in pursuit of electoral reward: Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple of the Mount that triggered the second intifada, Putin's reckless adventurism in re-launching the Chechen war in 1999, and the Bush invasion of Iraq."

I'm particularly impressed with her insight into the moral equivalence between a peaceful visit by a Jewish head of state to a Jewish religious site and the deliberate slaughter of hundreds of innocent children, teachers and parents.

UPDATE - Following Isabel Hilton's description of a visit to the Temple mount as 'using violence freely', Joan Smith in the Indie takes things one step beyond.

President Vladimir Putin's contribution to the war against terror, prosecuted with wanton violence in Chechnya, has created carnage: in less than two weeks, Chechen terrorists have blown two passenger planes from the sky, bombed a metro station in Moscow and murdered hundreds of men, women and children at a school in southern Russia.

Leaving aside the valid criticisms that can be made of Russian policy in Chechnya (after Friday's events it's obviously much too soft), such a sentence turns logic on it's head. All the acts of which Ms Smith writes were carried out by Putin's enemies. In Ms Smith's world the perpetrators aren't responsible - Putin made them do it. If only she'd been around in 1940.

Prime Minister Churchill's contribution to the war against Hitler, prosecuted with wanton violence in Norway, has created carnage: in less than six weeks, German forces have overrun France, burned thousands of soldiers at St Nazaire and forced Jewish men, women and children into the Lodz ghetto.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Mary Whitehouse Was Right II

Following in the footsteps of Yasmin Alibhai Brown, John Humphrys wonders where it's all gone wrong in his MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Festival.

Humprhys acknowledged that his comments could be characterised as "coming from the collected works of Mary Whitehouse", the veteran clean-up campaigner. "She said television was on a downward moral spiral. Foul language and fornication would become routine if nothing were done to stop it. They said she was wrong. Was she?"

Of course she was right, John. Let me tell you why. When you, and I, and lots of young people, and some not so young, cheered on the defendants in the Lady Chatterley and Oz trials, mocked Mrs Whitehouse and the Festival Of Light (I remember counter-demonstrating as the 'Festival Of Life'), we'd all been brought up in what was still a Judaeo-Christian culture. We were under the illusion that you could open the floodgates just as much as we wanted and no more. Mrs Whitehouse, with an explicit Christian analysis, correctly reasoned that without a Christian culture (or a strong culture replacing it) there were potentially no limits to what was permissible.

Christianity and the other major world religions have been around a long time. They understood, accepted and respected the power of sexuality, which was precisely why it was bound in with all manner of prescription, proscription, culture and custom. Procreation, the link between sexuality and the family, then and now still the chief transmitter of culture between the generations, was similarly attended.

Then two things happened - the decline in religious belief coincided with the invention of cheap and reliable contraception, an invention which appeared at the time to sever the link between sex and procreation. Sex could become, according to your nature, a means of deepening a fulfilling relationship, good fun, better than sleeping alone, or something different to all of these. The choice was yours.

If you have no religious perspective and sex is a pleasant leisure activity, why should you not explore its dimensions, watching, participating, selling, buying ? After all, these dimensions have been around for a very long time. Mrs Whitehouse would have been well aware of these issues. As time passes the Humphrys view (1960s version) looks more and more out of touch with reality, and the Whitehouse version more and more realistic and worldly.

What's happening now is different. This is a battle between people who are concerned about society and those whose interest is simply to make programmes that make money. Those who fought for the word f*** in Lady Chatterley didn't do it to make money. Now the cash registers go ker-ching every time there's a fumble beneath the bed sheets.

How naive can you get ?

There has always been a clash between freedom, especially freedom of expression, and the conservative wish to preserve values. In the 60s, Mary Whitehouse was taken apart by the liberal elite, who defended Lady Chatterley and the Oz publishers, arguing - in my view rightly - that it was not just censorious but stupid to pretend that sex happened only in the marital bed. This was a genuine debate between different views of what was good for society.

I'm beginnning to see a picture here - that it was alright when my mates were opening the gates, but now the peasants have all rushed in. Let's have a look at two parts of that argument.

" ... it was not just censorious but stupid to pretend that sex happened only in the marital bed." I don't think anyone, even Judge Griffith-Jones, ever pretended that sex only happened in the marital bed. The point of the Chatterley trial was more the (for the time) graphic descriptions of the sex than the fact that it was adulterous. And hang on a mo. What did you write a paragraph earlier ?

"You can't use people with real lives and real problems and real children as "just entertainment". Well, you can, but it's corrupting. The first time I watched Big Brother live there were two men lying on beds and talking about women. Or rather "f*****g women". And talking about their responses to them. Or, rather, "my f*****g stiffy". My, how we've pushed back the boundaries of television. How proud we should be."

I hate to say it John, but it is not just censorious, but stupid to pretend that some men don't talk like that. Why is that speech, apart from a certain inarticulacy, so much worse than Lawrence's description of a tumescent Mellors ?

"This was a genuine debate between different views of what was good for society."

Your point being ? In a post-Christian culture, it seems generally agreed that giving people what they want is good, and there can be no doubt that people like watching sex and fighting (not usually simultaneously).

The old culture was quite comfortable with the idea that what people wanted wasn't necessarily what was good for them - or as Humphrys puts it "in the bad old days we had paternalists trying to capture the masses for what they believed in their patrician way to be good". Wrong again, John. By the 1960s the ruling elite didn't give a toss, and it was the despised lower-middle and respectable working class who provided the bulk of Mrs Whitehouse's support.

But without a Christian or other religious culture I really can't see how you can object to Stu and Shell on grounds of anything but taste. This is probably only a beginning. Humphrys has called for assisted suicide to be made legal. I'm sure there are people who'd pay good money to watch the death in real time - with perhaps a lottery involved, the lucky winner to remotely operate the barbiturate driver from their PC or mobile. Poor countries which still retain the death penalty have a sure-fire media earner. And how long before sex is classified as a sport ?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Taking Children Hostage

The house we rented for the last week had a book collection frozen in time somewhere about 1970. There was a shelf of World Books from the early 60s, some of which I remembered from my mother's collection but had never read. So forty years on I read Adrian Hayter's story of navigating single-handed to New Zealand, Eric Ambler's gun-smuggling tale Passage Of Arms, and CE Lucas Phillips' The Spanish Pimpernel. This turned out to be a true (though I thought I detected a hint of embroidery) tale of a Brit banker in Madrid during the Civil War who devoted his energies to helping people escape from Republican Spain.

For those of us brought up on Orwell and Hemingway the book's something of a rude awakening. Democracy under the Republic was decaying to the point at which political assassination was a commonplace. Lucas Phillips describes the protests in Parliament of the Conservative Senor Sotelo, and the bitter response from lefty icon La Pasionara.

"You have just made your last speech" she spat at him. He was assassinated a few days later. At which point Franco raised the standard of revolt, and Republican Madrid started arresting and shooting without trial anyone suspected of right-wing views, sympathies or family connections. Tens of thousands were killed in Madrid alone. As Churchill put it, Franco's forces then repaid the Republicans 'with interest'.

But the story which stuck in my mind was the siege of the Alcazar, the Military College, at Toledo, fiercely defended by the young cadets until Franco's troops relieved them.

The Republicans had arrested the teenage son of the Alcazar's commander, General Moscardo, and put him on the phone to his father to tell him that unless the fortress surrendered his son would be shot.

They bred them hard in those days, though I wonder what Senora Moscardo thought - for according to Phillips, Moscardo replied as follows:

"My beloved son, I order you to die like a hero. May your last words be 'Long live Spain and Christ the King !'"

I Forgot To Mention ...

That along with the new records for abortion, HIV and injecting drugs, we've got record immigration. It also appears that the 'independent' government Office Of National Statistics has been timing its releases of information to minimise the political fallout - and that the Home Office has set up a rebuttal unit, paid for by the taxpayer, to combat the independent immigration monitoring organisation Migrationwatch. Apparently the BBC, Immigration Advisory Service and the other 20-odd publicly-funded immigration lobby groups just aren't doing a good enough job.

In Migrationwatch chairman Sir Andrew Green's Times piece he makes a telling point.

"The Government’s policy has been described as “talk tough and let them all in”. They will deny it of course but, as politicians, they cannot be oblivious of the fact that immigrants vote overwhelmingly Labour. They will deny this, of course, but they must know that, in 1997, 83 per cent of black and Asian votes went to Labour."

Dame Shirley Porter was fined squillions of pounds and fled the country after it was disclosed that she tried to get a few dozen more Tory voters into council houses in some Westminster wards. Naughty girl. Yet it's apparently OK to import a few million extra Labour voters, find them housing, then ask why the Tories can't win in the cities any more.

There are a couple of worrying codas to the record abortion and HIV statistics as well. The first is that, following Joanna Jepson's success in gaining a review of the decision not to prosecute doctors who killed a baby because it had a cleft palate, the Government abortion statistics have dropped the breakdown of late-term abortions by type of foetal disability. This seems to be a purely political move designed to suppress the information which enabled Ms Jepson to take legal action. The second is that HIV figures are rising in the regions as a direct result of the government's dispersal of asylum seekers.

If the Tories, with their manipulation of unemployment statistics in the 1980s, can be said to have started the corruption and politicisation of independent civil servants, Labour have taken the policy to new depths. As whistleblower Steve Moxon said of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate "we were an extension of the government’s efforts to supply spurious information to the Office for National Statistics (to downplay the immigration problem)."

Crime, asylum, immigration, available beds, waiting lists - you name it, they'll fiddle it. The Soviet Union may be dead, but its statistical techniques live on. And at least the Soviets did actually make a few tractors.

A Sensitive Tribute

To Paula Radcliffe - by Barry Beelzebub.

"Suddenly it all goes wrong. Ms Radcliffe, far from steaming home a league ahead, jacks it in just three miles from home after being dropped down to fourth place. Then the Beeb's commentators lose all sense of perspective.

"Poor Paula", they wail. "Fancy having to run over that hilly track in such terrible heat."

Well excuse me. I didn't notice it bothering the Japanese woman who won the race in style. Even worse, while the worthy winner is entering the stadium the Beeb, instead of honouring her triumph, are conducting a hasty post mortem into the Golden Girl's demise, who at this point is sitting in the gutter with snot and vomit running down her chin.

It's very shabby. Even my Grandad, who had little time for the Japs unless they were on the end of his bayonet, would have shown more grace. "

Hat-tip to Barry's discoverer - Mr Free Market.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

And Another One

Readers will be aware that one of my hobby-horses is the phenomenon of right-on rebels or PC exemplars who, when the kids come along, up sticks from the vibrant multicultural melting pot of the city to a leafy, conservative area. May I present the latest recruit, one Jah Wobble, late of Public Image and full many another alternative musical project.

Five years ago, they moved with their two young sons from the East End to leafy suburban Cheshire. “I know the inner city, I know those estates, and it ain’t got no better,” Wobble says. “I wouldn’t like to be an old person living in Bethnal Green.”

Thank heavens he can afford to get out of the paradise he's helped, in his own small way, to create. Pity about the people who can't.

Well that was nice ....

a fortnight with no newspapers or TV, and only occasional radio. Instead - biking, walking, climbing, fishing, sleeping. I did find an internet connection in Brodick Co-Op (only 50p/hr with your dividend card) but didn't get the time to blog. House prices are at silly levels, but Arran is still beautiful, the sea still clear and you can see seals on the rocks as you drive into town.

Jellyfish in Corrie Harbour, Arran
Jellyfish in the clear water of Corrie Harbour.

So what did I miss ? The announcement of record levels of abortion, HIV infection and drug abuse - nothing new there. Still trundling down the broad and pleasant road.

The greatest excitement seems to have been the Mark Thatcher brouhaha, where papers like the Guardian, Indie and Mirror have been able to vent their hatred - a hatred based purely on who Mark Thatcher's mother was.

Isn't that a kind of racism ? As Churchill said to Hitler's aide "Putzi" Hanfstaengle in 1931, "what is the good of being against anyone because of their birth ? How can anyone help how he is born ?"

Mark Thatcher may not (or may, for all I know) be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but remarks like George Monbiot's 'too thick for anywhere else' are in Scott Burgess' phrase 'breathtakingly elitist'.

The Monbiot article tells us that "Africa, to the British upper classes, remains an adventure playground", and quotes the school and university of various upper-class individuals.

I guess Monbiot knows of what he speaks, and he certainly has the genuine upper-class hatred of the respectable working and lower-middle class, though his website is surprisingly reticent about his own school and university.

Doubtless mater and pater sent this horny-handed son of toil to the local comp followed by the polytechnic. I think we should be told.

The Indie's editorial on mercenaries is white liberal racism at its best.

"Black Africa is no longer willing to accept the use of white mercenaries to upset governments, however repellent some of them may be"

Just switch that around, say with reference to the Gurkhas and the French Foreign Legion.

"White Europe is no longer willing to accept the use of black mercenaries to upset governments, however repellent some of them may be".

Imagine that in the Indie ? I can't either.