Sunday, August 26, 2007

Auntie Beeb misses the point, as ever

The award for the silliest media statement of the week has to go the BBC, which today reported on the new tests that the Australian government will be imposing upon prospective immigrants to that country. Naturally, the BBC is incapable of delivering anything like an objective report on the matter without sneaking in its own opinion: "critics believe the requirement of an English language exam discriminates against non-English speakers." That's the fucking point, you wankers. You don't test people's knowledge of English unless you intend to screen out those who don't know English! Presumably people emigrate for the purpose of making for themselves a better life than the one they left behind; how can they even begin to prosper in a new land without being able to communicate in the most basic way with their neighbours? (And will the BBC, in the interests of consistency, determine next that calculus examinations are biased against the innumerate?)

Also telling is the article's treatment of the concept of "mateship". I'm not Australian, so I can only guess at what the full cultural resonance of this word might be. According to the Beeb's report, Aussie PM John Howard says that "mateship" is about people helping each other out in times of adversity. Sounds like a blameless enough idea, you'd think, but the article goes on to say that a previous attempt to include it in the constitution was dismissed because it was "sexist" (even though "mateship" doesn't specify any sex) and because it was also deemed to be -- gasp! -- "inappropriate for a formal document."

Surely, if that "document" was intended to be one which reflected the way of life that a majority of people in Australia held dear, how or why on earth could it possibly have been made so "formal" as to have excluded a basic concept that ordinary Australians felt to be at the core of their national identity? I'm reminded of Bertolt Brecht's sarcastic remark that if the people proves itself to be unsatisfactory, the government should dissolve it and form another -- but since we don't live in a Marxist police state as Brecht did, perhaps the modern liberal democratic equivalent is that our betters should feel free to dismiss out of hand the people's opinions on the most important issues of the day.

We should never deceive ourselves into thinking that the BBC is merely reporting contrary opinions in a spirit of fairness. Whenever you see the words "critics say...", "it was criticized...", or variations thereof in one of their news items, you can be pretty sure that what is to follow is in accordance with the views of most of its journalists. The veteran BBC producer Antony Jay recently revealed the innermost workings of the corporation in an article in the Times of London, and his confirmation of the political bias warping even the most basic coverage of the world and its affairs should give the lie to the Beeb's pretence of journalistic objectivity once and for all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dispatches from the future caliphate

The ever- incisive Theodore Dalrymple brings us his analysis of recent capitulations to Islam in Italy and Scotland, of all places. The example of pro- Muslim sycophancy in Scotland is so jaw- droppingly craven that it reinforces my determination to walk up and down the street during Ramadan eating a foot- long submarine sandwich with all the trimmings -- after all, what's the point of a Muslim's having to fast if he isn't going to suffer a little for the sake of his faith? By stuffing my face in front of his, I will only increase his virtue in the eyes of Allah.

Update: In my round- up of European spinelessness towards the Religion of Peace, I forgot to mention the item about the Catholic Bishop of Breda in the Netherlands, the improbably- named Tiny Muskens, who has suggested that the faithful ought to pray to "Allah" rather than to "God" -- since it's really the same thing in the end and, you know, it would serve as a gesture of goodwill towards those notoriously touchy Mohammedans. Needless to say, these futile and extravagant "gestures" only ever go in one direction. In much of the Muslim world it isn't safe to worship as a Christian at all, whatever name you choose to call God; and yet it is always the Christian West that feels the need to make concessions in the name of religious tolerance. Our muskens are tiny indeed.

Bordering on insanity

The US Border Patrol announces that it can no longer be held responsible for... patrolling the border. Perhaps a name change is now in order? --Note the specious rationalization that the group's resources must be entirely devoted to fighting terrorism instead: if you can't prevent unwanted individuals from entering your country, you can't stop terrorism at all -- it's as simple as that.

In another interesting snippet of news from "El Norte", environmentalists are apparently concerned that a proposed border fence between the US and Mexico (which will likely never be built in any case) would have an adverse effect on "migrating species". I doubt Americans would very much mind if it deterred one migrating species in particular.

Their dark materials

A recent article by David Owen in The New Yorker about the dark- sky movement in the US got me to thinking about the kinds of impositions socio- economically elite people feel they should be free to impose upon everyone else. The International Dark- Sky Association lobbies for darker night skies in towns and cities, not only as an aid to astronomers but also for the gratification of those romantics who pine for the days when the Milky Way was not only visible, but cast its own shadow.

At least one part of the IDA's agenda is quite reasonable: energy- efficient lighting should be installed by municipalities wherever possible, if only because of the savings to the taxpayer that are involved. But the writer, whose sympathies lie with the IDA, goes so far as to endorse government restrictions on certain kinds of lighting on private property as well. He even enthusiastically relates an anecdote about a town which "periodically" shuts off all its electricity -- not just its lighting -- for a few hours just so that the astronomers can have a fun night out. And in what progressive country does this happen, you ask? Why, in Iran. Living in a theocratic police state apparently has some advantages, one of which being that you can get everyone else's lives to grind to a screeching halt so that you can better indulge your favourite hobby. It's a geek's fantasy come to life.

Any kind of progress or technological development in our society involves the concomitant loss of something; this fact has been known and deplored ever since Socrates complained that the invention of writing was likely to dilute the use of memory and the dialectical method. Emerson (or possibly Thoreau, I forget) put it well enough when he said that progress was about taking two steps forward and one step backward; there is a net gain, but inevitably we have to sacrifice something. I live in a comparatively remote part of North America and am pleased to be able to see the Milky Way on a cloudless, moonless night, but if it were a choice between having that and having electricity, I'd opt for the latter anytime. Nighttime lighting is both a feature and a symbol of a civilized society, i.e. one which is not governed by the rhythms of nature... and if any more proof of that is needed, you can see it for yourself here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

RIP: William Deedes

The British journalist (and sometime MP and Cabinet member) Bill Deedes has died at the age of 94. He was the original for the character of William Boot in Evelyn Waugh's 1936 novel "Scoop"; Waugh had accompanied the young and apparently somewhat naive Deedes to Abyssinia to cover the Italian attack on that country the previous year. Deedes wrote for various newspapers throughout his life, beginning his career in 1932 and continuing it up until last week, when he wrote what proved to be his final weekly column for the Daily Telegraph.

For the past couple of years I'd enjoyed his work in the international version of the Telegraph, and was impressed both by his self- effacing good nature -- something that always struck me as being quintessentially English -- and by his old- fashioned civility: two qualities sadly lacking in so much political commentary nowadays.

Nothing to see here, folks

The always refreshingly forthright Chinese government is preventing media coverage of a bridge collapse in the southern city of Fenghuang, with some officials even attacking and chasing away reporters trying to cover the accident. --In other news from the Middle Kingdom, it has been reported that over one million people in Beijing have been evicted from their homes in the run-up to next year's Olympics.

Believe it not, I'm not one of those spoilsports who feels that China shouldn't be allowed to play host to the Olympics until it cleans up its human rights record. China is perfect for the Games, when you consider what the Olympics have come to symbolize over the past few decades: fake bonhomie towards other nations; empty political grandstanding and posturing; and internal corruption on a massive scale. Just like everyday life in the People's Republic, in other words.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Poles apart

Three Polish Members of the European Parliament have announced that they will not be taking part in an upcoming UN conference, to be held at EU facilities later this month, aimed exclusively at criticizing Israel and its policies. The name of the agency organizing the conference says it all: the "Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People." Needless to say, there is no parallel UN committee on the inalienable right of the Israeli people to defend their state from external aggression.

Here is the forthright and courageous assessment of MEP Bronislaw Geremek: "I will not take part in this conference. I saw the materials prepared by the organizers... although there is no official statement that Israel must be pushed down to the sea there, the choice of subjects and the attitude towards the problems shows that it will be a biased, conflict generating conference. Actually we can call it anti-Israeli."

Since Poland's accession to the EU in 2004, the Poles have proven very reluctant to go along with the mildly coercive attempts of that body to force a liberal consensus of opinion on its members -- hardly surprising when you consider that they live in what is still an overwhelmingly religious country, and one with many painful memories of ideological bullying by its neighbours. The stance of the Polish MEPs against the EU's uncritically worshipful attitude towards the Palestinians is especially gratifying when one remembers the dark history of anti- Semitic violence in Poland. Na zdrowie!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Vandals in high places

This week's hero in cyberspace is Virgil Griffith, an American academic who, using basic research tools, has put together a webpage to show which established institutions are modifying Wikipedia entries, and what changes those institutions are making. Mainstream media outlets such as the BBC which have picked up this story have highlighted the role of the CIA in making alterations to their own liking, but really: we expect the CIA to be evil; that's what they're there for, to act as the scapegoat for all of our fears about unchecked American power.

What is of far more interest, at least to an evil right- winger like me, are the changes made to Wikipedia entries by respected media organizations such as -- to take one totally random example -- the BBC itself. The most egregious example of vandalism committed by the CIA that the BBC could come up with involved the baffling insertion of the exclamation "Wahhhhhh!" into an entry concerning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; but unnamed employees of the BBC changed the name of "George Walker Bush" to that of "George Wanker Bush" (hilarious that, and so sophisticated), and also substituted the words "freedom fighter" for that of "terrorist" in a context where only the latter designation could be justified.

Another heroic guardian of our liberty from the oppressive Bush- Cheney- Zionist axis which succumbed to the temptation to alter entries was the New York Times, whose minions apparently thought that any article on President Bush would be incomplete without the word "jerk" being added to it ten times in a row, and that Condoleezza Rice could more accurately be described as a "concert penis" rather than a "concert pianist". Pure comedy gold -- or is it meant to be trenchant political analysis? Who can decide?

Now, it's true that Virgil Griffith's page only logs the IP addresses originating within a given organization; no-one should assume that the viewpoint expressed through the changes is necessarily representative of that of the organization itself. But of course this is as much true for the CIA as it is for the BBC and the New York Times. Apparently the media only feels that this sort of petty chicanery is alarming enough to report upon when it is being undertaken (in even the most rudimentary fashion) by US government agencies. When they themselves do it, of course, it's a different story. They are always looking out for your interests, after all, and are thoughtful enough to perform extra services on your behalf that you don't even have to pay for along with your subscription or television licence fee... because that's just the kind of great guys that they are.

(Update: a comprehensive look at Wiki edits can be found here.)

Don't you just love the religion of peace...

Another day, another mass killing in Iraq courtesy of the ROP.

And in entertainment news, Hamas TV child actor is ready for martyrdom.

And finally in tech news, Texas based offers tips on kidnapping Americans.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Creative writing

One of the more interesting scandals being discussed in the blogging world these days concerns a certain Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a US soldier currently serving in Iraq. Until a few weeks ago, Beauchamp was known to the world by his first and middle names alone, which he somewhat unimaginatively employed as a pseudonym while writing first-hand accounts of the war for The New Republic, a centre-left political magazine based in Washington.

Beauchamp's accounts were both entertaining and shocking: they depicted American troops running over stray dogs in Baghdad in their Bradley fighting vehicles, donning the skulls of dead Iraqi children for humorous effect, and mocking the disfigurement of those wounded in insurgent explosions. The accounts were meant to suggest the dehumanizing effects that the war was having on otherwise decent and sensitive people -- bread and butter for the anti-war readership of TNR.

Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, little of Beauchamp's writings seem to have been based in reality. Beauchamp himself, after his true identity was exposed by persistent bloggers, turned out to be an aspiring author whose voluntary enlistment in Iraq was by his own admission aimed at accumulating personal experiences that he could use for a novel that would launch his career. His avowedly fictional writings about the horrors of war date back to a time when he hadn't yet been deployed in Iraq, but still use some of the same elements that he later transposed to Baghdad and presented as fact. What he really saw in Iraq during his tour of duty was apparently lacking enough in dramatic intensity that he felt entitled to embellish it: as the Italians say, si non é vero, é molto ben trovato -- even if it isn't true, it's very well invented.

The whole sorry episode tells us once again that the establishment media is instinctively agenda- seeking and not to be trusted automatically. (The New Republic, even though it has a low circulation nationally, is still influential enough with Washington insiders to be considered part of the "establishment", and it has a loyal following among American- politics junkies everywhere: I used to read it faithfully myself when I was in university and had access to free copies at the library.) --The rise of the bloggers has been necessary and beneficial if only because they have once and for all exposed the myth of media transparency. TNR, looking for an anti- war angle, saw one in the fictions of Beauchamp and eagerly embraced them without making even the slightest attempt to verify that they were true. Such oversights and overt fabrications happen almost every week at The New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, and other pillars of respectable public opinion, and probably they have been taking place for years, but only in the past few years has it become possible to disseminate knowledge of these errors to a wide audience via the Internet.

On a purely aesthetic level, it also saddens me to recognize in Beauchamp the spectre of the typical North American liberal- arts graduate: educated badly enough to have turned out to be a pretentious and sub- standard writer (you can check out specimens of his dismal output here); indoctrinated well enough to have actively pursued a political agenda even at the cost of his own personal integrity; and under- employed enough that he would have even considered enlisting as a soldier not out of a sense of duty or vocation, but merely for the experience -- and only then because he thought he'd become famous if he wrote about it.

The last word on this subject has to rest with the esteemed short story writer Flannery O'Connor: "Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."

Sorry for all that

My apologies for the long silence. Blogging will resume in 3... 2... 1...