Saturday, 15 December 2012

Speaking the Same Language

One of the most depressing things I’ve read recently has to be a Guardian opinion poll reacting to Ed Miliband’s latest comments about assimilation. . Apparently themajority of Graun readers think that Ed Miliband is ‘wolf whistling’ i.e. panderingto racism for saying all immigrants should learn to speak fluent English.  

This response is stupid on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. Should we begin with our beautiful and elegant language itself? For those who actually have some knowledge of foreign languages, the thing that is most evident about English is how phonetically close it is to French despite being considered a Germanic language. Our very language is bicultural in nature.  

And speaking of French stuff, I find it quite funny that the British left seems to have this idea that 'the continent' (which is how they tend to think of it, even if they'd use less blimpish terms) is some kind of lab where their own ideas have been tested and proven. In fact France has a strong social democracy because it is a monocultural state. Its shortcomings in economic egalitarianism are due to the fact that it hasn't gone far enough. 

But anyway, maybe we should we ask what the alternatives are to immigrants speaking fluent English? Are they going to become high-flying executives with broken English? Or are they going to be crammed into unsanitary housing, forced to work for slaves’ wages and (in the case of many Asian women) kept in servitude and under threat of sexual violence?

OK, and having gone through some theoretical concepts and the utilitarian aspects, may we also look at this from a game-player perspective and ask just whose long-term interests it will be to have an unassimilated foreign population dependent on the state and unable to communicate with the majority who (rightly, whether Te Graun might think) expect people who come to our country to respect our culture and values?

Yep: racists and demagogues of different colours and races.

 Finally, what about those many immigrants who have contributed greatly to our society and assimilated to our values? Is it really waltzing with racism to suggest that they have done well and are an example to follow?

I don’t know whether to be more heartened by Miliband’s common sense or horrified by how infantile and out of ideas the mainstream liberal left seems to be.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Scorched Earth Policy

I never would have thought I'd ever link to a Nick Cohen article, but in this case he actually does say something interesting, though I suspect he is unaware of it:
The Independent, by contrast, still carries Hari's efforts on its site and refuses to publish Whittam Smith's findings.

'Hari' is our old friend Johann Hari: a bullshitter of international repute, a one time celeb whose combination of pub philosophy, pop psychology and self righteous sermons were showered with compliments and prizes from our intellectual elite. Until he got rumbled by a Marxist blog who twigged that there was something a bit too familiar with certain comments by an Italian prof he interviewed. After that it was all downhill. Ultimately Hari's career achieved only one worthwhile goal: he demonstrated just how unapologetically corrupt yet utter self-righteous our media establishment is. The Independent's response 'big deal' was beyond belief. But in a sense so was the Orwell Prize committee's; Oliver Hardy would be proud of their hypocrisy, to quote Cohen: 'Chris Blackhurst, the current editor, passed the organiser of the Orwell prize to his lawyers after she inquired why the Independent had allowed Hari to submit plagiarised work to her jury.'


Presumably because the Independent staff hadn't read the Marxist blog which told the Orwell Prize Committee that Hari was a plagiarist.

Anyway, with all this in mind, Cohen makes an interesting point about The Independent still retaining Hari's articles. Cohen evidently thinks that they should not only pull Hari's plagiarised work but everything he's ever written and that Hari should not have been allowed to work again.

In other words, Hari's blend of pub philosophy, pop psychology and self righteous sermons were showered with compliments and prizes from our intellectual elite could totally vanish from the face of the earth and no-one would be worse off?

I agree: but doesn't that say something about the state of the British media? I daresay the same would apply for a certain Observer op ed writer.*

*I wrote that before I noticed the note under the piece. 

Why you Should Never Donate to Amnesty International

There's the amount that they obviously feel fit to spend on 'chuggers', their dubious policy in Serbia, their dubious reportage from Syria, their siding with abortionists etc: now they are writing editorials dressed up as news. You may or may not agree with these opinions but to deny their total subjectivity, moral cowardice and intellectual dishonesty.

Incidentally, I am very curious about this statement:

'International human rights law absolutely outlaws restrictions on free speech when they are based purely on the notion that others may find the content offensive - regardless of the beat behind the message, or where it's played.'

Really? So international human rights law is cool with the KKK performing in black churches then? Or just when it suits the liberal agenda for people's private space to be disturbed.

And that's the central issue for me. I absolutely support their right to broadcast and publish whatever opinions they come out with. But invading other peoples' space is not a human right.

But never mind about that, good old amnesty will write an email for you saying:

 'I am writing to you to ask you to drop the charges of hooliganism against Maria Alekhina, Ekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and immediately and unconditionally release them.'

Yes, away with your stinking courts Johny foreigner. Don't you realise I speak English and care not a whit for whatever rule of law exists in your country.

'I believe that Maria, Ekaterina and Nadezhda have been detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and as such are prisoners of conscience.'

'I believe'? That's really a line in a letter from a supposedly unbiased human rights organisation?

Well, I'd never sign that because it would make me a liar. If there was a petition saying that a lengthy prison sentence was unmerited, sure I'd happily sign that (if they are given one), but this is just profound dishonesty.

Another gem:

'Their crime? Performing a gig in a church.'

I kind of suspect that Amnesty fans would be pretty p***ed off if someone performed 'a gig' without being invited in their homes. 

For a genuinely thoughtful and authoritative take on the Pussy Riot, read this excellent blog post by Alexander Mercouris.   My one quibble is the Polish comparison as I think that was MUCH WORSE in Poland because the woman was only expressing an opinion on the air. But it really does show how skewed and bigoted Western discourse on free speech is.

Update: Amnesty's intellectual dishonesty has been pouring cash into adverts:

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Don't Preach

Just reading an article about Pussy Riot wanting Madonna's support, which mentions (oblivious to any irony) an open letter in support of Pussy Riot signed by Pete Townshend. Presumably the same Pete Townshend that got into trouble for looking up kiddie porn websites. I'd say the whole thing is a farce and undoubtedly badly handled by the Russian state. But it does raise interesting questions about the values of the Western media. I hope that the Russian state will be lenient on the girls, but I don't think they need lectures on freedom of expression from Mr Towsnhend.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Abdominal Strain

I was wondering exactly if Te Gruan's headling 'Fab Olympian Abs' really meant what it implied, that it is a photo gallery about abdominal muscles? It did apparently, raising the fascinating question 'will they inspire couch potatoes to get off the sofa and do crunches'? Dunno. Will it? Will Te Gruan's talentless interns get off their seats and fly into space? Who knows. Is it politically correct ogling or something? Or just not much fun for straight guys so somehow 'good'? (Note: I'm definitely not calling for The Guardian to go The Sun root; just find it a very odd topic for a photo gallery in a 'quality' newspaper).

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Gore Vidal RIP

So, Deformable mirror posts maybe like buses. But I felt I had to write a short take on Gore Vidal who was one of the figures who got me interested in political ideas and writing. Unfortunately it is a good many years since I read any of his novels or essays, perhaps precisely because I tend not to reread figures I enjoyed in my youth at risk of disappointment. In fact that's partially why I didn't write a quick obit of Ray Bradbury, because the last of his books I read about a year or so ago left me cold. But maybe better late than never. And then, I'd have disagreements with Vidal both over abortion, some of his more naive comments on US imperialism and over his support for some of the more questionable views of the green lobby (which for me mars this otherwise excellent collection of quotes). But that shouldn't put me off more reading. The writer of The Guardian's obituary is pretty dismissive of his fiction writing, but I wonder if posterity will agree? Whilst I haven't read Vidal's novels for a long time, I suspect that' Lincoln' may have a longer lifespan than the more humanist social commentary of his contemporaries. Novels of ideas seem to have had their day as far as the Anglophone literary establishment is concerned. Maybe they are wrong.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The future's never looked so haggard

Perhaps it’s ironic my starting blogging again over the Pussy Riot issue, because the actual case itself is one I’m very ambivalent about. I support freedom of expression and I am skeptical about prisons in general, I'd like the girls to apologise and be released. But I also think a lot of my fellow civil libertarians are showing abject moral cowardice in implying that this is a freedom of speech issue. It isn’t. It isn’t about the freedom to express opinions in the print or broadcast media. One can only support pussy riot because one supports the ‘right’ to harass and offend people in their own space. Or, as The Guardian’s Masha Gessen put it: ‘it is Russia choosing what path it should take. Is it going to be a country where every citizen crosses herself precisely as directed? Or will it be a country where people can speak – and sing – their minds, even when and where others may find it offensive? Ms Gessen is a truly abysmal writer as shown in a paragraph highlighted by Anatoly Karlin from same article: ‘But the three women do personify the essence of the protests: they have no articulated political agenda, they offer no detailed critique of the regime; they are just very loud and very expressive about wanting an end to the stifling rule of Putin and his cronies. They have been in jail for five months and face years more for this: being loud, irreverent, and very, very clear about what they want.’ She also has likes to speak well of convicted criminals as long as they're richer than the riff-raff. However, even bearing this in mind, it’s pretty interesting to see that she thinks being able to be insulting ‘even when and where others may find it offensive’ will make Russia more civilised. This is something that requires a bit of lateral thought that most CiFers are evidently unable to even attempt. Just some questions: -Should people be able to go into burns units and make fun of the victims? -Should stand up comedians be able to make paedophilia jokes in front of child sex abuse victims? -Should Hearts fans be able to go into Catholic Cathedrals and belt out ‘the famine song’? -Should Holocaust deniers be allowed to go into synagogues and hand out leaflets? If you answered no to these (and I hope you did) then maybe you don’t really think that freedom of speech should be unlimited by space and time. And this is coming from someone (i.e. me) who opposed the religious hatred bill, who thinks any act of simulated violence or sexual activity between consenting adults should be permitted in (age-rated) films and that political correctness is real and is used to curtail liberty of expression. However, this does not really figure much in Te Graun’s abysmal coverage of Pussy Riot. For them, this does not seem to be about protecting a principle but about backwards dark-age Russia against the yoof. The ironic thing about this is that it seems to me that the anti-Christian liberals are the ones acting as fundamentalists: -They confuse what they want to be true with what is and don’t think that statistics are needed to support their statements Look at this Independent article: ‘while many Russians found their stunt distasteful, the harsh response has brought public opinion round to their side.’ Not a single poll or figure. Incidentally, nice reply to my comment where Lucas Sutton describes Russians as ‘simian’ and which gets five recommends and no thumbs down from Indy readers. Nice how tolerant western liberals are these days. They also seem pretty certain of what the outcome will be, regardless of any indications. And, in their own cosmology, the Russians will face condemnation if they don’t travel the one and only right path to the future. Which brings me back to Gessen's original quote. Only through shocking behavior in Russia's most cherished buildings aimed at one of Russia's most cherished institutions can the Russian people gain any kind of freedom. This is an utterly false dichotomy. The only problem is that the future Russia seems more like the 1990s Russia. And by that, I don’t just mean selfishness and anarchy, but even the sheer cheesiness. Just check these quotes and see if the liberals don’t sound like especially naff characters from a novel written by a talentless imitator of Victor Pelevin: He'd also told me that Verzilov "will blow your head off. It's phenomenal that he's only 25. It's just the most incredible story. It's just so rock'n'roll. It really is punk. What they did was as shocking as what the Sex Pistols did. Maybe more so. Because it was against this dictator. It's punks against Putin." Incidentally, this is one of numerous positive Sex-Pistols comparisons The Guardian makes. This is the band whose member probably murdered a woman and whose second most famous member allegedly assaulted two women and a black man. Nice ideals of progress Graun feminists have. Incidentally, what kind of person says 'It's just so rock and role. It really is punk'? The salt of the earth or a public schoolboy? Anyway: ‘Everybody is talking about it. Andrei Yerofeyev, one of the most respected curators of modern art in Russia, who in 2010 was himself tried (and found guilty) on charges of inciting religious and ethnic hatred by staging a show called Forbidden Art, compares it to Iran. To Saudi Arabia.’ Hahahaha. Really? Russia is like Saudi Arabia where women can be whipped for driving cars? Could he sound more arrogant, pompous and self-aggrandising whilst also wallowing in hatred of his country and being full of pop existentialism. It gets naffer: "but Nadia, she looks like she's in a perfume ad or something. They're all so cool, but you should see Nadia walk into court in her handcuffs. It's an incredible sight. She's like Simone de Beauvoir. I'm romanticising a bit, but she's Simone de Beauvoir. And Peter is Russia's Sartre." ‘She's probably Russia's most influential art critic. "She said what you were doing was incredible. That it's going to change Russian history. That there is no question that what you are doing is art and that no Russian artist has brought about this much change, ever," I say.’ I agree. No question that what you are doing is art. ‘And Artemy Troitsky, Russia's foremost rock critic? "That three girls might be the ones to break the spine of a tyrant." He looks pleased. But then, Pussy Riot are musicians and artists, and some are members of a group called Voina, Russia's most outrageous performance artists, whose work included painting a massive penis on a bridge opposite the FSB headquarters in St Petersburg ("Dick Captured by FSB"), and staging an orgy in a museum on the eve of Medvedev's election in 2008 ("Fuck for the Heir Puppy Bear") They drew a giant penis? Whoa, the mad thing is these artistic geniuses left a similar masterpiece on a concrete underpass I saw the other day near Kirkaldy. I bet their satirical gifts were totally missed on the commuters. I find it rather depressing that so many in the Western media think (and hope) that Pussy Riot and this ‘underground’ network of cultural figures is not just the future of Russia but its only possible future. That rude, puerile and self-aggrandising people (who sum up everything that neo-liberalism stands for) are going to reshape Russia to be a ‘western’ culture in the worst sense of the word (and when our own culture and civil liberties recede and decay. I do personally wish that Russia did have some values that Western Europe has (though these are waning in Britain) such as freedom of censorship, open elections and a transparent legal system. However, I am more concerned with these decaying in Britain than in their faults in Russia. I'm also worried about the growing racism and xenophobia of the British left towards Russia and other countries such as Serbia and China. However, I do also think Russia has an invaluable and beautiful cultural heritage: of Dostoyevsky and Belii, of Chekhov and Gogol. I would much rather that Russian culture was reinvigorated by returning to these figures than to puerile 'modern' rubbish by Pussy Riot and the like. It seems to me this is a path most Russians want to go down. But one that a vocal minority hate. But believing in a future is not the same as creating it. Maybe those who despise Russians for appreciating their unique and beautiful heritage will be the ones ultimately left on the pavement of history.

Monday, 30 January 2012

There's good news and bad news for those of us who live in the West. The good news is that skin aging is a thing of the past. A 'mum of 57' can now 'look 27'. Such are the wonders of our civilisation.

The bad news is that foreigners (who naturally don't share our capacity for critical thought) are being encouraged to read books. Lots of them. By Vladimir Putin.

What sort of books, you might ask? Well, I dunno, Putin hasn't said. But this guy has a pretty good idea. It will almost certainly be full of the kind of thing Stalin would approve of. The bright spark also ominously notes that George Orwell will not appear in Vladmir Putin's canon of greatest Russian novels.

In fact so sagacious are his words, Te Graun links to his article and quotes:
"Social engineering through state mandated literature: Nothing else that Putin has done has been quite so nakedly Soviet in its desire to manipulate the human intellect into docility," writes Nazaryan, predicting that "the books that will benefit from Putin's new cultural policy will almost certainly be Soviet-era schlock churned out by Writers' Union foot soldiers who glorified their compatriots' miserable existence".

Somehow Te Graun's quoting the bloke's comments about Putin's 'desire to manipulate the human intellect into docility' by getting them to read (I'd guess) War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov actually works a lot better than the original. Probably something to do with it not appearing alongside an ad on reversing skin aging. And getting thin from a 'weird diet' (vegetables?).

Similarly, his comments about Putin's naked Sovietism are also a bit more convincing for not showing an anti-Putin protest with red flags everywhere. And for omitting to mention that Putin 'has already maligned writers like Boris Akunin and Edvard Limonov for their anti-authoritarian political leanings'. Yes, but in Putin's defence maybe he mistook the 'anti-authoritarian' Eduard Limonov for the nazi bolshevik Eduard Limonov. It's an easy mistake to make.

Still, he makes an excellent comment about how scary Putin's speech is if you substitute Russki Narod for Volksdeutsche. Actually, wouldn't it just be simpler to say 'it's a lot scarier if you imagine it was written by Adolf Hitler'? Or would that just sound a bit daft? A flip it, we'll do it live:
'If you’re not frightened by this, I suggest you listen to one of Hitler’s speeches. Substitute “Russki narod” for “Volksdeutsche” and you pretty much have the same idea. What makes us unique is not any civic institution, or any body of laws, but our ineradicable identity.'

That really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Any sane person knows that its a country's 'body of laws' that give it character. Only a Nazi thinks anything else. Anyway, Hitler not enough? How about the Tsar and Stalin:
'The obverse to writers’ importance in Russian society is the importance of silencing them, whether it’s Dostoyevsky on the gallows or Solzhenytsin in the Gulag'
Except neither of them were punished for being writers. Whilst there's a lot I dislike about Putin's regime, I find it sad how in the west it is hated for its patriotism and pride in its culture far more than for its authoritarianism. The western efforts to suggest moral equivalence with Nazism are ironically strangely Soviet.