Saturday, February 25, 2006

Arrogance & Ignorance

No shortage of events, near & far, to take in. Let's take them chronologically.
I took a, perhaps, perverse pleasure in the three year prison sentence handed down to Nazi apologist David Irving by an Austrian court. There are those who say that this gives Irving the martyr status with the far Right which he craves. I don't buy that. Nor is it possible for the BNP to use this as some sort of recruiting agent. The disaffected white working class, if aware of Irving, certainly wouldn't respond to it as they would with tabloid scare stories about asylum seekers.
There's also a personal reason for my loathing of Irving's vile denials of the Holocaust. My late father was one of the first British troops to liberate the concentration camp at Belsen, an experience he related to me shortly before his death. He told me there was no way he could get those images out of his head.

As a republican I shouldn't really be surprised by the witless utterances of the Royals. Yet there was still something breath-taking about the, ahem, "thoughts" of Prince Charles in the writings presented for all to see in the Mail on Sunday case.
[BTW, hasn't someone told him that it would be so much easier for him if he joined the rest of us & kept a blog?]
Comments about the Chinese at the time of the hand-over of Hong Kong bordered on the racist; titling his missive, "The Great Chinese Takeaway" says all we need to know about his Blimpish mindset.

I've previously mentioned the problem I've had with anti-social behaviour in my neighbourhood. One of the youths responsible for the problem was jailed this week for being part of a gang of thieves. Jay Sands, 19, a youth whose greed is matched only by his stupidity, was apprehended by police after a botched robbery attempt in which he was covered with indelible red dye from a boobytrapped cash box. Sands & his five fellow defendants were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court, the sentence for Sands being six years. I wasn't aware of the news until Wednesday morning when telling a local police officer about shouts & screams emanating from the Sands' rented house in the early hours. The officer phoned back to impart the good news.

Tonight's news has featured the riots in Dublin. There is, of course, no excuse or justification for the attacks. However, the key question is what were the Irish authorities thinking in allowing the Orange Order, a rabble every bit as repellent as the Klu Klux Klan & the BNP, to march down O'Connell Street. It was also reported by RTE this evening that the bigots would have walked past the GPO building, a site of almost totemic significance in modern Irish history before the Gardai intervened ( ). The marchers were accompanied by a Loyalist pipe band, according to the estimable blog Slugger O'Toole ( ). This last piece of information is breath-taking.
STOP PRESS: In a staggering display of journalistic insularity, the BBC fails to mention the Dublin riots as one of its lead items.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

John Stuart Mill is back in fashion

If I had a fiver for every time something in the media has offended me, well, I would be what Dickens described as a man of considerable means. This is not to deny or ridicule the sense of insult & hurt felt by many Muslims over the Danish cartoons. [It seems that the original images appeared in what has been described as the Danish Daily Mail, so no wonder the paper's editor was eager to publish.]
However, it does seem perverse that such a furious response around the world on the issue is rarely, if ever, replicated when it comes to Abu Ghraib (more images of which have come to light in the last 24 hours) or the continued policy of military & economic isolation which Israel persues against the Palestinian population on the West Bank.
Andrew Anthony struck just the right note in last Sunday's Observer (,,1707716,00.html ). It simply isn't acceptable to expect a secular society to make special provision for religious communities at the expense of those of us who believe in a clear separation of religion & State.
Peter Tatchell, whose tactics I don't normally endorse, was spot on recently when exposing the hypocrisy of Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain. Sacranie had used the forum of a Today interview on BBC Radio 4 to express his condemnation of gay marriage, same-sex civil partnerships & homosexuality in general. Tatchell reasonably noted that if Sacranie felt he had the right to criticise others on the grounds of their sexuality, it was permissible for anyone to criticise Islam for its neanderthal views on social issues. To wheel out a well-worn cliche, you can't have it both ways.

I don't smoke. I 've never seen the point of it. Its supposed attractions have always left me cold. Even when the area behind the bike sheds at school was frequented by rookie smokers, convinced that the habit was the epitome of cool, I was aware of the health angle. My father was a heavy smoker, but managed to kick the habit in his mid 40s, cursing the damage that tobacco does to the body.
Yesterday's vote in the Commons on smoking in public places has been met with the expected squaks of dissent from those who believe it's the nanny state on the warpath again. Nor should those Labour MPs be taken seriously when they defend the "right" of working men's clubs in their constituencies to maintain smoking sections. [Some of these clubs used to be openly racist & sexist in their admission policy, so much for the vaunted egalitarian ethos.]
One of the most offensively patronising comments came from Health minister John Reid last year. Smoking, he opined, was one of the few pleasures --yes, he said pleasures-- open to those at the bottom of the heap; the single mother stuck in a high rise while the kids were playing up. Once upon a time Labour MPs would have railed against destructive vices brought on by poverty. The notion that such vices should be indulged & tolerated would have led to calls for deselection.
Another factor to consider is that most working men's clubs are used at least once a week by children. Citing a fictitious "right" to smoke in these circumstances is a breath-taking, pardon the pun, example of negligence & irresponsibility.
Such attitudes were unearthed by Today's Guardian (,,1709906,00.html ) in a rather sad & run-down Manchester social club. A depressing slice of inner-city defeatism was captured in the remark from one denizen, "You live, you die. You might as well have a ciggy while you're at it."
Hearing it as a snatch of dialogue from the execrable "Shameless" or reading it in an NME Mark E. Smith piece, it's easy, maybe too easy, to dismiss. When you realise that this is a comment from someone with chronic health problems & stunted horizons, it makes you loathe even further John Reid's throwaway defence of the indefensible.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Enlightenment values, secular and/or sacred?

A lengthy interval twixt posts is explained by work commitments, my mother's birthday (a surprisingly pleasant day out in Liverpool with mother, brother, sister, nephews & neice), an addiction to the BBC TV series "Life On Mars" (I hadn't realised how good an actor John Simm was) & sundry football matches involving my beloved Liverpool F.C.
Last week saw the latest media mauling of Sir Iain Blair, the Met commissioner after he spelt out the ugly reality of racism & how the usual suspects in the media (take an ignominious bow, Rebekah, Dacre et al) fan the flames on the burning corpus of crime (,,1695701,00.html ).
Blair, of course, has many a blemish. His handling of the Menezes case was contemptible. Yet he has surprised me with his willingness to go out on a limb over the "Institutional Racism" issue.
It's been a week when this secular atheist has found himself torn between the principle of tolerance & respect (specifically against the backdrop of the BNP trial & the Danish cartoons) & a Dawkinsesque urge to point out the inherent irrationality & anti-intellectual bias of all religious belief. What to do? Defend the right of a group of people to worship a dogma which condemns gays, women's rights, etc., or revive my somewhat dormant secular zeal, dismissing all theistic belief systems?

This blogging business, as anyone over 30 would say, grows in importance & influence. I've never subscribed to the view that blogging spells the end of journalism. Quite the opposite, in fact. It can & should be a useful supplement to what is, after all a skilled trade. Ruminating on this, I was pleased to see the issue fleshed out a little more (,,1697633,00.html ).

Desperate to stay in the spotlight after his mini-holiday in the Big Brother house, George Galloway was arrested in Cairo & thrown into a cell for the night. Then the Egyptian authorities realised that another stay in unusual accommodation was probably what Galloway craved. So they quickly evicted him from their rather less salubrious "house".