Tuesday, February 28, 2006

People are stupid

'All in all, people are dubious about the arguments for ID cards, and broadly receptive about the arguments against them. Despite this they continue to support ID cards, implying that people give greater weight to the perceived benefits than the perceived drawbacks - yes, they think ID cards will be expensive, inconvenient and open to abuse, but they want them.'

So, people recognise they are a bad idea, but they still want them.

'Mnuuuhhh! ID caaards keep darky men out! Bleeeurgh! Me nothing to fear! Mnnnghnghghgh!'

Hat-tip to the Europhobe.

Monday, February 27, 2006

'We don't see the lesson of every society....'

'....that if you do not place constraints on official power, its instinct is to grow.'


On Viz

Very few other countries would ever publish something like it. Viz represents some of the best traits of the British character. Discuss.

A favourite Viz related story is when Trinny and Susannah threatened to sue them after the published a comic strip spoofing them. Viz told the press 'We are unable to comment on the legal moves as we have yet to stop laughing.'

Viz does represent a lot of great British characteristics. It is satirical, self effacing and is exceptionally good at deflating those with too high an opinion of themselves. It is also a good example of an organisation that built itself up from nowhere. I mean, it is now a national magazine who has created nationally recognised figures – Roger Mellie, the Fat Slags, Sid the Sexist. And it basically started from someone’s bedroom. There is quite a strong argument that only Britain could produce something like Viz, as we are an intensely culturally aware country but also not self obsessed enough to take offence when our culture is mocked. Viz operates very well by exaggerating life, rather than by making up things.

Drunken Bakers is fascinating as it is not actually funny, just deeply disturbed and probably quite an accurate (if slightly exaggerated) representation of alcoholism. I think it must be quite difficult to write something that bleak. You must sit down and think about the worst scenario possible. It must be a bit like writing The League of Gentleman.

Some of my favourite letters have been in Viz, including 'I note with interest that the Pope has announced that limbo is not longer part of Catholicism as it is a Christian hypothesis. What, like God you mean?' and the wonderful 'Having read the reproduction of your first issue given away free with your magazine, I wish to express my incredulity that there was ever an issue two'

There is some quite sophisticated critique in it too. A few issues ago Gilbert Ratchet was going to 'poke some light hearted fun at certain aspects of Islam.' In the next frame, he changed his mind: 'Oh no, readers! I think I'll go into this church instead!'.....

Note also Richard Little John, Major Misunderstanding and Baxter Basics.

You've got to love a magazine that bills itself as 'not as funny as it used to be.'

Ah yes, the wonderful Susannah & Trinny - Fatty & Thinny. Re; its legal history, they once received a cease-and-desist letter from Kappa re; Tasha The Kappa Slappa. They claimed Viz' portrayal of their product would damage sales.

Viz replied that the people who wear Kappa don't buy it, they steal it.

Also, the Special Brew 'central heating for tramps' incident. Carlsberg were unable to prove anyone other than tramps actually bought the stuff.

My current favourite Viz letter is: 'I would like to congratulate my wife on her successful breast reduction operation. It was only a bit of backache, you selfish b*tch.'

It’s odd, Viz are in that position where you have to laugh with them as they poke fun at you or you come across as utterly humourless. They do have that ability to cut people down to size quite effectively.

On Ken Livingstone

Ken - well, I'll say this, he delivered on manifesto promises. His personality cult worries me and he is obviously extraordinarily profligate (hordes of staff, free Pravda-like newsletters, new building etc.), but he has taken full advantage of his tenure to make changes to London that most people, by and large, like - the improvement to the buses, for example, has been great. And I hate pigeons too, and I think cars should be restricted in city centres. He has been lucky - London is right now in an economic purple patch, so people can afford council tax rises - but he's played the hand he's been given well. Your thoughts?

Ken – certainly London is doing well at the moment but I am not convinced about how much that it down to him. I think there is still far too much difference between the best areas of London and the worst. Also, he is someone who actively seeks controversy – be it entertaining Islamic Fundamentalists or insulting Jewish people. Now his job is to be Mayor of London but he tries to intervene on a national and international level – and has yet to do or say anything helpful. Also, he does bring his office into disrepute with his comments and, on occasion, brawling. I think of him as similar to Galloway – awkward for the sake of being awkward rather than because of any deep seated beliefs. If you take someone like Tony Benn or Enoch Powell – they are/were also awkward and controversial, but you get the impression it is because of their beliefs rather than an attempt to carve out an identity. I think you could easily replace Ken with someone else and the only tangible difference would be the lack of controversy.

Interestingly, Mayor of London is one of the few elected jobs I would actually want to have.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Car maintenance and rugby news

Fix your old Renault with Frederick the Frog.

In other news, Casteignede returns, the Jocks think they can beat England, O'Driscoll and Henson are likely to smack each other on Sunday, and apparently the Ayatollah - blessings of Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, and JPR be upon him - lost it in spectacular fashion on BBC Wales the other night.

That's your Friday morning rugby update, and I'm The Moai. Now here's Rachel, with the weather.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fat chance

Good to hear: Oxford students (and others) protest against violent ignorant Luddites.

Apparently, the ALF say '"This is just the beginning of our campaign of devastation against anyone linked in any way to Oxford University. Every individual and business that works for the university as a whole is now a major target of the ALF. The University have made a crass decision to take us on and we will never let them win."'

Look here, sunshine, Oxford has outlasted two world wars, numerous parliaments, a civil war (where we were on the wrong side), a restoration, several riots, at least 43 monarchs, a reformation and the Black Death. We've produced 47 Nobel laureates, seven saints and a pope. Do you really think you're going to win?

Friday, February 17, 2006

How times change

It's true that you get more right wing as you get older; as ChickYog points out here, with his trademark economy and bile, Peter Hain has gone from placard-waving anti-apartheid campaigner to hardline NuLabourite in only thirty years.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The smoking ban and personal freedom

This week's debate between myself and the Nameless Tory.

I would suggest debating ID cards but we are agreed on that one so it would be more you and me ranting at the incompetence of the Labour government and the fact that it is a staggeringly poor piece of legislation than a debate.

So instead – the total ban on smoking – your thoughts.

To get the ball rolling I think the first government to impose a total ban on smoking on a section of its population was the Nazi regime.

The government of Bhutan has a complete smoking ban in place. I suppose you could call them a benign dictatorship. Very few people there are smokers anyway, so I think they are trying to nip a potential public health problem in the bud before it occurs.

It is undeniable that a total ban on smoking in public places WILL improve health. It will cut consumption for most smokers, help others give up, and stop the effects of passive smokers on you and me. As an asthmatic, surely that can olnly be a good thing. I have just got back from Rome, where a similar ban is in place, and we all noticed that we felt better in the morning and our clothes did not stink, as a result of smoke-free bars. Same in Dublin.

Now, let us consider the issue of personal freedom. A lot of people say this is an infringement of liberties. BUT, one can still smoke at home, and unlike alcohol (to which tobacco is often compared), beer cannot be passively consumed and thereby damage the health of those nearby*. As an ex-barman I can tell you that staff will appreciate this. Remarkably few people, compared the rest of Europe, smoke in this country anyway.

On a personal note, my mate Nick (who you must meet some time, top chap, and a very incisive thinker) has been trying to give up for years. He is very annoyed that they have banned fags but he does think it may help him give up as he only smokes a) when he's in the pub or b) when he's doing exams. SO, if he passes all his patent exams this year, he can knock his rolly habit on the head.

Hang on, where the bloody hell am I supposed to smoke all my cigars now? Oh a*se.

* - discounting behavioural issues!

I agree - it will increase the health of the general population. Passive smoking is a serious health issue (as the death of Roy Castle proved) and some mornings after a heavy session in the pub I find myself craving a cigarette. Also, if smokers are forced not to smoke when they are in public places then it cannot help but cut down on their intake and therefore the damage they are doing to their bodies. I tend to ignore cosmetic issues though, so the smell of clothing in the morning is irrelevant to me as an argument for the ban just as the supposed “atmosphere in pubs being partly down to cigarette smoke” argument against the ban is also irrelevant.

The issue of freedom is the key for me here. Do we have the right to harm our own bodies, be it through smoking, through alcohol etc? I would argue yes. But we don’t have the right to inflict damage on others, which smoking undeniably does. But then again, we know that pubs are smoky environments, so if we go into them, we accept the risk of passive smoking, surely? One compromise might have been to have, for each licensed pub that allows smoking, a requirement for councils to license a pub that does not. But the wider question of freedom is interesting and concerning when you look at the government legislation over the past two weeks – religious hatred bill, ID cards, smoking ban and the return of the terrorism bill – they are cutting back on what we can do, think and say. They are also trying to register us by the back door with ID cards. Now I am not claiming that there is any particularly nefarious reason for Blair doing all this – I think he is just doing it to claim he has done something even though he is ducking key issues like the failure of the NHS and the education system. But he is also being hopelessly naïve – just because his reasons for restricting freedom seem right to him does not mean that the next guy will have similar views. Again, Lenin and Stalin. The road to hell…

I was thinking of changing the fledgling UK Democratic Party into the UK Democratic Forum – where intelligent people from very different backgrounds can debate key issues and hopefully come up with well thought through suggestions for potential policy.

Is it not a general feature of government that as laws creep on, freedom is generally eroded? Did the last Conservative administration cut away swathes of old legislation? Has any government ever actively attempted to curtail its own control? This is a genuine question, you know more about politics than me!

Imagine that as a manifesto. 'We won't make new laws - we'll hack away old ones.' Four years of nothing but chopping through swathes of red tape. I like that idea.

Back in the days when I was naïve enough to want to be an elected politician I always thought that would be part of my manifesto. Going into power and looking at every department, every civil servant, and saying – “Justify yourself if you want to exist. If you can’t, you will cease to be government funded.”

The question of governments relinquishing control is an interesting one. In general the trend is towards more centralisation and more control. Although it can be swings and roundabouts. The Thatcher government cut back on legislation from the Wilson/Callaghan years that controlled unions by increasing legislation that suppressed them. But generally there is a groundswell of approval in the US for administrations that cut back on government control. Take Nixon’s policy of block grants for example. Instead of giving states money and telling them how to spend it, he gave them blocks of money and let them spend it in whatever way they saw fit. And Reagan, G H W Bush and G W Bush were all elected on platforms that promised a reduction in government control. Quite how that fits in with Bush Jnr’s policies like the Patriot Act and the ever increasing restrictions on abortion and stem cell research I don’t know. And G H W Bush backed a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.

It tends to work out that as one freedom is lost another is gained, and there is a lot of truth in the old adage that the price of liberty is constant vigilance. The ID card bill got through, but it was a drastically watered down piece of legislation – partly owing to the opposition in both houses of parliament and also owing to the work of the likes of No2ID.

Mmmm, pie

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

'....That world-wide bib for academic dribble...'

Talk amongst yourselves. No wait, go read this.

Monday, February 06, 2006


A lot of people are shouting and screaming outside embassies around the world right now, and I imagine not too many of them know why. Some of them are carrying very worrying placards and advocating terrible acts. There have been deaths. As ever, I struggle to find an appropriate response.

In 1963 a Vietnamese monk called Thich Quang Duc decided to voice his frustration at the oppression of his religion by the incumbent president. He did not kill anyone. He did not threaten anyone. He settled himself calmly at an intersection in Saigon, had his robes doused in petrol, and burned himself alive.

Could there be a stronger, more profound, more unselfish, more inspiring protest? Do any of those now threatening whole nations with murder have the selfless, titanic piety to do this? Well?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Prescott backs the Education Reform Bill


'Now look here you fat c*nt, you'll back this or the press will be finding out about a lot f*cking more than council tax bills, crystal? Now f*ck off outside and make this statement. It's all in words of one syllable so you should be able to stumble through it.' - A Campbell, 2006

Danish cartoons and the BNP

As per usual, the Nameless Tory and I debate the above issues; namely, the acquittal of Nick Griffin, and the furore over the Mohammed cartoons. His comments italicised.

I think Nick Griffin and his bunch of pig ignorant no-hopers probably were guilty of attempting to inspire racial hatred. Everything they said was based on fact, but a very selective interpretation of the facts to inspire hatred against Muslims. One example is the use of the phrase Muslim rather than Islamic fundamentalist. Everyone with half a brain cell (and Griffin is not stupid, just ignorant) knows that there is a massive difference between a normal Muslim and someone who straps a bomb to their back. He called Islam a 'vicious religion', when the truth is vicious people hide behind the religion. And the suicide bombers/rapists are as close to the normal Muslim as a pro-life extremist who blows up an abortion clinic is to a standard Christian.

I also think that the Muslim world have done themselves no favours with the hysterical reaction to the cartoon of Mohammad. Yes, it is probably offensive, and I do not know how I would react to it if I was Muslim. But it is satire and everyone and everything is open to criticism. The fact that the extremists in the Muslim world are taking to the streets, burning flags and brandishing weapons, is not good. At best it looks like they can’t take a joke. At worst, they are proving the odious Nick Griffin right.

And this leads me to my main point. I believe that Griffin should be able to think freely about his beliefs. And I think those involved in the anti-cartoon protests should seriously think about their actions. Because I do believe in free speech, but also acknowledge that free speech can be very challenging. I don’t think we should suppress satire, and I don’t think we should silence those with extreme beliefs. The way Griffin and his ilk can be stopped is not through putting them in prison and by making them martyrs for their cause, but rather by hearing their case and arguing against it. Because if you dig beneath the surface of the BNP, it’s not about offering people the chance to return home. Scratch the *moderate* surface that Griffin tries to exude and you have a very nasty core to that party. Because they believe we fought on the wrong side in World War Two, and there is an extremely concerning believe on what should ultimately happen to those with different coloured skin and different faiths. The death camps would be re-opened, in a nutshell. So let’s deconstruct his arguments, and throw the extreme part of his party and his belief system back in his face. Suppress him, he becomes a martyr. Deconstruct him he becomes what he is – an ignorant joke. Let him talk freely. Give him enough rope to hang himself. And if the Islamic world finds the cartoon offensive, acknowledge the right of the cartoonist to draw what he thinks, and then offer a calm, rational argument as to why it if offensive. Make the cartoonist appear insensitive and ignorant, rather than yourselves as hypersensitive militants.

So much of this comes down to the old liberal maxim (misquoted here): 'I hate what you have to say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it.'

What are you thoughts?

I think it is very important to turn the full glare of publicity on idiots. It facilitates deconstruction of their ideas. Banning the airing of controversial views, and parties that espouse them, dignifies them. (Have I ever told you about the doorstep debate I had with a BNP member?) You are right, they are vile people, and their rhetoric is a veil for far darker ambitions. The problem is the chasm in modern political debate; the mainstream parties cannot and will not address certain issues for fear of causing offence, the BNP goes straight for the jugular and appeals to people's most base and xenophobic instincts, and in the middle, the Sun-reading white van-driving, man on the street thinks, how many more bombs on the tube will there be? If mainstream parties fail to address people's basest fears, extremists will. BNP electoral successes have all been in areas of high unemployment and mass ghettoised immigration. While the middle classes chatter about the positive effects of mass immigration (cheaper au pairs, more restaurants), it is the people in housing estates who actually live with its effects and if their issues are NOT addressed, the BNP will gain more and more support. Addressing the issues = open debate.

Re; the cartoon, people have come to expect lunatic over-reaction from the Muslim world. It is generally most hysterical in countries which have the most autocratic and corrupt governments. It is worth noting that many people have no concept of freedom of speech of satire because those concepts do not exist in their countries. It is notable that here in the UK the papers and the Beeb have exercised self-censorship. It is also notable that Danish imams demanded, in the first instance, that the Prime Minister stop Jyllands Posten publishing the pictures, which implies they do not fully grasp the concept of an independent media. Kudos to Rasmussen for refusing to do anything about it, at least in the first instance; Blair would have capitulated as fast as you can say 'marginal Muslim constituency.'

Does the right to free speech include the right to insult?

Every time something like this happens there is flag burning and gunfire in places like Tehran and Gaza. I think I shall set up a flags and ammunition chain in the Middle East. I'll make a fortune. 'Buy three boxes of ammo and get a FREE Danish flag! Two for one on all flammable Bush 'n' Blair effigies!'

Yes, the right to free speech includes the right to insult. But in a properly open climate where debate is welcomed rather than feared as something new and odd that might aid terrorists, if you insult, be ready to justify. Because in general if you are insulting, you have already lost the argument.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The dead trees finally catch up

My, I have been quiet of late.

The Danish Mohammed cartoon furore hits the dead trees, a very very long time after the blogosphere had extensively dealt with it. The now sadly defunct Fjordman blog in particular led the charge. More and more I see this; a fascinating story, very often from countries outside the UK. The web, and blog readers, do not recognise borders, so we get to see these things first. I wonder what we'll see next! More at Harry's Place.

The MSM doesn't even seem to be handling it very well.

I am unsure of my own view of this. I am fairly sure that:
- one should have some respect for the taboos of another's religion, to the extent compatible with morality and law, if only out of sheer politeness
- religions should NOT be above criticism - I came to my own faith through active criticism and consideration of monotheism, and if certain books and websites critical of monotheism had not been available to me I might not have taken the happy path I have
- many people do self-censor in the the face of opposition from *certain* faith groups

How would I feel if the Buddha was portrayed in an unflattering light? I wouldn't like it, but it wouldn't dent my faith, and I would certainly not be threatening violence over it.

As Laban points out, there are interesting parallels between the Danish cartoon furore and the debate over the religious hatred bill.