Sunday, 7 February 2016

Random rants from a busy Rant Mistress...

I've started a new job, I've been in and out of the country, I'll be out of the country and back again soon, I've been busy, I've neglected to rant. Here, in no particular order, are some random thoughts that I have not gotten around to committing to paper, or indeed the internet.

- Frankly, if the junior doctors' strike was only about pay, so fucking what? I want to live in a country that respects doctors enough to pay them properly. The race-to-the-bottom nonsense of wanting everyone to live in penury is pathetic.

- Richard Dawkins' absurd (and now deleted) tweet saying Queen Rania of Jordan is a good Muslim, showing off her lovely hair, is merely another tragic example of the fetishising of said queen. Sure, she is an attractive, articulate woman with good hair. But, thanks to her position of privilege, she has the luxury of being outspoken in a way that many in her country, particularly journalists do not.

- I don't think Jeremy Corbyn will ever win a general election.

- Trying to get people to understand that PFI and the cost of administering the marketised NHS are the two main cost pressures is bloody exhausting.

- The world will need fossil fuels for a while longer. If you own anything made of plastic or a T-shirt that is not 100% cotton, or you'd prefer to abseil using nylon ropes instead of hemp ropes, then you are using petrochemicals. Sorry.

- Stop asking stupid questions of women over 35 who do not have any children. If she wants to discuss the reasons behind her child-free life in detail, regardless of whether she is childless through choice or circumstance, she will volunteer the information. If not, butt out of her uterus.

- The Revenant is a completely overrated film.

- It is tiresome and ridiculous that the Zika virus outbreak is once again dragging non-scientific anti-vaxx arguments out of the woodwork yet again. Give it a rest. Learn some science. You are embarrassing yourselves.

- Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States of America.

- The UK will vote to stay in the EU - and I suspect the vote won't be as close as people think it will be.

- If you seriously think the homeopathy-mad, failed marmalade mogul, Jeremy Hunt, is a good Health Secretary, you are deluded and I am not sure I can help you.

- Does anyone find Keith Lemon funny?

- It was really moving to see the Stade de France full of spectators watching the France vs Italy Six Nations match yesterday.

- David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are all pathetic negotiators and I refuse to take any of them seriously.

- It is time for long-standing refugee camps in the Middle East to be turned into proper towns with proper schools, hospitals and economic activity, such as businesses and industry.

- Deutschland 83 is excellent television and should cure people of Ostalgie, even if it is a fictitious account. If not, read Stasiland by Anna Funder instead. Romanticising East Germany is ridiculous and makes elements of the left look completely stupid.

Photography by Kim Rempel

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Clean for the Queen: A load of rubbish

If anyone spots me putting rubbish in a bin, ensuring my rubbish and recycling are separated, and not throwing crisp packets or banana skins out of car windows, I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am not doing it for Queen Elizabeth II.

I do it because I really hate littering and I believe in taking responsibility for my small role in keeping Britain tidy. As far as I can remember, I've only littered twice in the almost-40 years I've been alive. A plastic wine glass blew out of my hand when I was on a boat off the coast of Cyprus in 2014. I still feel awful about that. And one night in 2006, I was walking home from a film screening in Dubai while eating Burger King. A man attacked me, tearing my tights and putting his hand down the neckline of my dress, leaving scratches on my decolletage. I got away by elbowing him in the chest, throwing my burger at him, ducking under his arm and running away, leaving a trail of meat, bun, lettuce, tomato, onion and sauce in my wake. I don't feel quite so bad about that one.

The reason why I am making this bizarre statement about not being motivated by the Queen in my quest for cleanliness is the pathetic, embarrassing, forelock-tugging load of toss that is Clean for the Queen.

According to the absurd Clean for the Queen website, the campaign aims to "clear up Britain" in time for June 2016, when apparently it is compulsory to celebrate Liz's 90th birthday or else risk being sent to the tower for high treason.

The website is urging schools, local councils, community groups, businesses and individuals to "do their bit" and clean up the country. Without a trace of irony, the website asks us: "What better way could we show our gratitude to Her Majesty than to clean up our country?".

Oh, I dunno. How about we let her retire, declare a British republic, have an elected upper chamber instead of the bloated farce that is the House of Lords, and grow the hell up?

Or how about instead of just keeping Britain tidy for a few days in June, why don't we ensure that local councils are properly resourced and people are educated so that we can keep Britain tidy at all times?

And while we're on the subject of keeping the place spick and span, perhaps the Queen herself can show a bit of damn gratitude herself and pay her cleaning staff a living wage? The arse-kissing sycophants will say it's an honour to clean Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and it's great experience (always the excuse of apologists for poverty line wages or, worse, working for free). But if you clean places such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, not only are you expected to do more than a cursory turn with a feather duster, you will also need to live in commuting distance of your place of employment - and neither place is renowned for cheap rental properties.

Another look at the laughable website reveals the weird claim that when the Queen came to the throne in 1952, "litter was not the problem that it is today" and goes on to blame "food packaging, plastic bottles, takeaway meals and cigarette butts".

Did people really only start dropping fag ends after 1952? Before plastic bottles, did everyone in Britain really dispose of all their rubbish responsibly? And even if 1950s Britain was a litter-free utopia, it was also a time of no recycling, coal fires, and cars powered by leaded petrol. Fifty-five new coal-fired or oil-fired power stations were opened after Elizabeth II ascended to the throne.

But the mentality behind Clean for the Queen is about rose-tinted nostalgia, of harking back to the so-called good old days, even if there were plenty of things about the good old days that were actually pretty crap, and even if things that have improved since 1952, such as literacy levels, life expectancy and child mortality rates, have precisely nothing to do with the existence of the Queen.

Instead, we have a Clean for the Queen campaign that unsurprisingly robustly supported by the government. The Environment Minister, Rory Stewart, admittedly one of the more sensible people on the government's side of the House of Commons said, in support of Clean for the Queen: "Her Majesty The Queen is an inspiration to all of us. Her 90th birthday is a unique opportunity for people to come together in celebration of Her Majesty's long service and dedication to this country."

Yes! What an opportunity! To pick up litter that the litterers should have put in the bin in the first place! To do for free what people should be employed to do! It's scarily similar to businesses such as Tesco taking advantage of work-for-unemployment benefits as a source of free labour instead of being the job creators they profess to be! Well, fancy that!

As a bonus, Clean for the Queen is supported by the Countryside Alliance, those champions of hunting foxes in the most cruel way possible. Let's forget that these people think setting dogs onto foxes is an actual sport and instead congratulate them on picking up some litter.

No. Just no. Clean for the Queen? I'll settle for my local council collecting my rubbish, food waste and recycling every week regardless of who's on the throne.

Photo by Circe Denyer.

Time for Oliver Letwin to come out of the shadows

Two days ago, the Mirror newspaper "revealed" that Oliver Letwin wrote the blueprint for the privatisation of the NHS. Except this has been known by plenty of people for quite some time now. The Mirror made no mention of a book on privatising everything that he wrote back in 1988. It was called Privatising The World: A Study of International Privatisation in Theory and Practice and it has had enormous influence on Conservative party policy ever since.

But who the hell is Oliver Letwin and why should anyone care about him and his 28-year-old book?

Oliver Letwin usually only appears in the public eye when he fucks up. He, like many of his colleagues on both sides of the House of Commons, has been caught up like the vile hypocrites many of them are, in expenses scandals. And he is probably best remembered for being the colossal bellend who threw important papers in a London park bin. It turned out they were letters from his constituents. Apparently, in the minds of his apologists, this somehow made it OK, not quite as bad as tossing official business out with the rubbish.

And, pitifully, apart from a few dissenters, his constituents didn't seem to mind their views being treated with such utter contempt by the man they pay to represent them, because he is still, like a smug and brattish barnacle, their MP. He has been the MP for West Dorset for 19 years, a seat which has been held continuously by the Conservative Party since 1885.

Because he is such a gaffe-prone car crash of a man, he is not trotted out during election campaigns, he does not appear much on telly, and the fact he has written a book, even though it has been a blueprint for Tory policy for more than 20 years, is certainly kept quiet on purpose.

And Letwin was back in the news the other week because he did something embarrassing and made a non-apology apology. He revealed his contempt for black people in a memo when he was a policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher in 1985, saying that assistance for black communities would help the "disco and drug trade" and Rastafarian crafts. Frankly, Oliver, you may as well legalise the drugs so people can make money there as well as encouraging disco and Rastafarian craft businesses, if you are truly the free market libertarian you claim to be.

Except that for Letwin and many of his colleagues in this current wretched government, they are only interested in money-making opportunities for themselves and Conservative Party donors. There is certainly an ideological drive towards this government's drive towards privatising everything but we are also being governed by a party whose MPs are up to their eyeballs in vested interests and serve the needs of their party donors rather than their constituents.

Letwin's 1988 book, Privatising The World: A Study of International Privatisation in Theory and Practice has an interesting title, to be sure. "Theory" rather than "practice" is the operative word for Letwin when it comes to his career. From childhood until he was 26, he was at Eton and then Cambridge University. Academically, he is clearly no fool. Morally, he is a vacuum.

After Cambridge, despite zero experience in the real world, he joined Margaret Thatcher's policy unit. He has also been a bank director, written a few other things, and from 1997 onwards, he has been a constantly promoted MP, albeit one who is not given much media prominence by the party. This is clearly deliberate.

In particular, Letwin has advocated for the privatisation of the NHS. But this is not happening in any blatantly obvious way. It's not even happening in a vaguely competent way. If that were the case, we'd be on a clear path towards the mixed public-private system of Australia - it's not a perfect system, it is currently being messed around with by the current Australian government, but it does not generally leave people in terrible debt, as happens in the US.

It is happening in a way that is far more insidious than that and the incompetence is deliberate. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 paved the way for Clinical Commissioning Groups across the country to make decisions for their local areas. Local people making local decisions sounds great in theory, but in practice, we have CCGs in many parts of the country stacked with members with vested interests in private healthcare and it is not uncommon for them to commission these companies.

Additionally, the administration of the private tenders for the NHS marketplace is one of the biggest cost pressures on the health system. It is difficult to get an exact figure on how much the added bureaucracy costs but estimates vary between £5 billion and £20 billion per year. The other big cost pressure is PFI debt which, unless all the contracts are renegotiated or declared null and void through some excellent lawyering, will probably never be paid off.  In short, PFI (private finance initiative) debts on construction work for hospitals mean British taxpayers are getting such crap deals as one hospital for the price of nine. The billions and billions of pounds that PFI and the marketised NHS cost the system means the "health tourists", women undergoing IVF, and New Year's Eve drunks, and anyone else that the Daily Mail, the Sun, and Daily Express uses as scapegoats, are drops in the financial ocean.

Even when incompetent (but Tory-donating) companies such as G4S get NHS contracts and do things such as kill patients in "never" events, they tend to keep the contracts, even though in the private sector, that kind of thing might well lead to a contract being torn up. Virgin has been running vast chunks of Croydon University Hospital very poorly too, but this has not been the front page news it should be either. A woman died in agony at Croydon after being triaged by a receptionist.

But it doesn't matter to Letwin et al because these fuck-ups, even when a private company is at fault, all serve to whet the public appetite for cuts, closures of essential services and entire hospitals, and selling stuff off, usually to private companies who make vast donations to the Conservative Party.

This government quite literally does not care if people live or die as long as they can continue with their agenda.

And other privatisations are completely cack-handed. Atos has done an abysmal and expensive job of fitness-for-work assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions, for example. All this should be a gift for Labour. But it seems "kinder politics" may be getting in the way. After Letwin's racist gaffe was revealed a few weeks ago, the only real resistance from Labour was to trot out Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, to make a few comments and that was it.

If Labour is at all serious about winning the middle ground back - and winning the middle ground means winning elections - an attack dog approach to Oliver Letwin is essential. Instead of embarrassing, backfiring stunts like throwing Mao's Little Red Book around the House of Commons, Privatising The World needs to be thrown at the government benches. The major news channels and newspapers should request interviews with Oliver Letwin and tell the readers and viewers if he refuses to be interviewed/is not given permission from Tory spin doctors to be interviewed.

We need to see more of Oliver Letwin's Alfred E. Neumann-like face in the media, as a constant reminder of what this government is really up to.

Photography by Peter Griffin

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The war on Christmas: Largely a load of balls

Come on, people. Are we really still doing this? Despite Christmas being in everyone's faces everywhere from Detroit to Dubai*, from Canberra to Cape Town, from Toronto to Timbuktu, people still insist on whining about the alleged war on Christmas.

Stop it. Please. Give it a rest. You are being ridiculous and childish. You are embarrassing yourself. If someone wishes you "Happy holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!", you are not being oppressed. If any location that is not actually a church does not want to display a nativity scene or hold a carol-singing event, you are still not being oppressed. Christmas has not been cancelled.

Unhappy about the commercialisation of Christmas? Er, don't buy any presents then. It's not compulsory. Upset about the festival of gluttony that is Christmas dinner in your country? Go spend the day volunteering at a soup kitchen. Nobody is forcing you to spend piles of money on presents or food.

If you are a Christian living in Daesh-occupied territory, in Saudi Arabia or North Korea, then yes, you are being oppressed if you want to celebrate Christmas. But these aren't the people who generally whine about the war on Christmas, probably because they are busy trying to survive if they live under the rule of the Daesh losers, King Salman or Kim Jong-un. They are three regimes where being a Christian can cost you your life. I am yet to come across a "war on Christmas" whiner who is in genuine mortal danger for being a Christian or observing any of the traditions of the festive season.

If you can decorate your house in lights galore, put up a Christmas tree, display a nativity scene, nobody has attacked you for saying "Merry Christmas", and you can freely attend Christmas church services and sing carols, you are not a victim in a war on Christmas. You are not a victim at all. Why don't you speak up on behalf of the real victims - the Christians who are not safe in brutal regimes - instead of carrying on like a spoilt brat who didn't get the right bike from Santa?

On Christmas Day, someone will probably be killed by Daesh for being a Christian or for being the wrong type of Muslim. On Christmas Day, there will be no church services in Saudi Arabia. On Christmas Day, there will be Christians in North Korea languishing in prison for their beliefs. That is real oppression.

To compare a cheerful "Happy holidays!" greeting and to bang on about "political correctness gone mad!" is to be revoltingly insulting to those who are in real danger, who do not have freedom of religion, who have to hide their faith for fear of arrest or worse.

Enough of the hollow whining about a war on Christmas. It's as tinny as cheap tinsel.

* I know Dubai is in the UAE, which is a Muslim country. Christmas is indeed a big deal in Dubai. I used to live there, I have never seen so many big Christmas trees in my life and there are plenty of churches for those who choose to observe the season.

Photography by George Hodan

Sunday, 6 December 2015

London and San Bernadino: A tale of two medias

In San Bernadino this week, two shooters, a married couple with a six-month-old child, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, murdered 14 people at a party at an environmental health department building. Farook was an employee of department so the disgruntled employee motive was considered. But US officials told the media that Tashfeen Malik posted a pledge of allegiance to Daesh on her Facebook page so the terrorism motive took centre stage, in both the investigation and in the reporting of the awful story.

It has not been shown yet that Malik or Farook had any direct contact with the sad morons of Daesh, but it was inevitable that Daesh would take credit for the attack. Of course, the media does a lot of Daesh's recruiting work for them by constantly giving their mindless bullshit airplay. The wretched cretins didn't need to seek out a quiet couple in California to claim they were the puppet masters.

And then members of the US media in San Bernadino exhibited astounding behaviour after Farook and Malik had been shot dead by US authorities. Cable news journalists overran the couple's house, where they lived with their child and Farook's mother. MSNBC, BBC, CBS News and CNN all broadcast live scenes of this media feeding frenzy. MSNBC shamefully broadcast footage of items that could identify Farook's mother, who is not a suspect, as well as photographs of children. That is a monstrous breach of privacy as well as being completely unethical and irresponsible.

Weapons and components which could be used to make explosives had already been removed from the house by the authorities, and reporters were not allowed into the garage where these items were found, so the footage that was broadcast was simply that of a mundane house with some religious paraphernalia. But even this was presented in a prism of breathless sensationalism, with reporters even checking the calendar to see if anything had been noted down for 2 December. The couple who committed this vile crime were clearly disturbed and their combined worldview hideously warped, but they were not stupid enough to write "Massacre a bunch of people!" as if it was an errand on par with "Pay the electricity bill."

While it did seem like a quick process between the massacre taking place on 2 December and the media being allowed in once the house had been returned to the landlord on 4 December, the FBI confirmed that the property had indeed been released.

But that doesn't make the behaviour of reporters, or indeed the landlord who let them in with their cameras, any less appalling.

Why weren't the producers pausing even for a moment to ask what such footage adds to the story instead of letting it go to air live? This is the question that needs to be asked regardless of whether a journalist is reporting on mass murder, Motocross or a mouse plague.

We are living in a culture where the priority of news outlets is to be first, even if being first is at the expense of accuracy, relevance or privacy concerns.

Compare this to the more restrained reporting by the British media on the Leytonstone tube station stabbing, which happened last night. Again, those dickheads representing Daesh will rush to take credit for the acts of a dismal would-be murderer because the attacker reportedly shouted "This is for Syria" as he stabbed his victim, a 56-year-old man. The victim survived, albeit with serious knife wounds, and another two people received minor injuries.

The suspect was Tasered and is in police custody. Personally, I think this is the best possible outcome of such an attack because it means the suspect can be properly questioned and more intelligence may be gleaned. That said, it is easier to subdue a knife-wielding suspect than one firing a gun at people.

It is heartening to see the British media reporting on the story responsibly, especially when compared to the mania that overtook reporters in San Bernadino this week. Even the Daily Mail, an outlet that has sensationalised similar stories in the past, is focused on the facts and on the stories of the ordinary people who behaved in an extraordinary manner in helping prevent more people from being injured.

It has been reported that police have been to the suspect's home as part of the ongoing investigation but we are not likely to witness a media scrum camped outside this residence. Sky News has even stopped short of sending Kay Burley, their resident ghoul, to stake it out.

Terrible floods in the north-west of England have, quite rightly, shunted the Leytonstone attack from the top of today's news agenda in Britain. Good. This event represents a greater threat to more people than the deluded rantings of an attention-seeking twat at a tube station.

We cannot deny that we are living in challenging times. And it is because of this that we need even-handed, responsible, accurate reporting more than ever. The 24-hour news cycle is a hungry beast that will always be fed - but even-handed, responsible and accurate reporting will always make for a better information meal than junk reporting.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Learning from history? It'll never catch on...

Imagine this scenario if you will: People in England, including the leaders, consider the country to be under threat by the "other religion". The fear of the "other religion" may not be entirely unreasonable when one considers that countries where this particular faith is the state religion have already been involved in wars with England, and these countries represent an ongoing threat of future wars against this green and pleasant land.

England, with the able assistance of government propaganda, is gripped by a fear of an invasion by the "other religion". People are genuinely fearful that the "other religion" will become the state religion and the principles of this religion will form the basis of English law.

The leaders deal with this perceived threat by throwing vast sums of money at the military in case there is an attack on English soil. They also go apeshit with surveillance and censorship. Spies are operating in England as well as in the countries that support the "other religion". Texts and other paraphernalia from the "other religion" are forbidden. Adherents of the "other religion" are forced to worship in secret and can even be arrested under the guise of national security laws.

Ironically, most adherents of the "other religion" in England go about their business peacefully, practicing their faith privately. They are ordinary people doing ordinary jobs or running businesses. For the most part, they are not remotely interested in proselytising, even though such evangelism is part and parcel of the "other religion".

This is what happened in England in the 16th century. The leader of the country was Elizabeth I. The countries that threatened England included France and Spain and the threats were real and did indeed result in war. The spies of Elizabeth I infiltrated people's private lives. The punishment for practicing the "other religion" included execution for treason by some of the most hideous means imaginable. The "other religion" was Catholicism.

There was even a massacre in Paris at the time - it is estimated that 3,000 French Protestants were killed in Paris on St Bartholomew's Day in 1572 and an estimated 70,000 more were killed across the whole of France. A grim religious civil war gripped France and Huguenot refugees fled the country in fear for their lives, with many finding a safe have in England.

It all sounds a bit familiar.

Despite the horrendous bloodshed - or possibly because of it and the growing popular discontent with a bloated and distant monarchy - the French Revolution ultimately came about in the 18th century and plenty of its seeds were sown with the events of 1572 onwards. From this, a secular France was achieved and freedom of speech was one of the principles of the revolution.

Except now we have a fearful French leadership, a France that, for now, is banning public demonstrations in the wake of the terrible events on November 13. It was heartening to see people in Paris defying this stupid ban this weekend, refusing to be as scared as Francois Hollande appears to be. Excellently, 10,000 people who planned to be part of the global climate marches placed their shoes at the Place de la Republique instead. Regardless of your views on climate change, if you love freedom of speech, this is something to be applauded.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, some people are calling for banning the burqa and increased surveillance even though neither of these things stopped the latest Paris attacks. Over in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders is moronically calling for the Quran to be banned even though banning books is not just profoundly anti-freedom and propagates ignorance, but is as useful as a fishnet condom now we have the newfangled internet. Then again, Wilders is also calling for Jordan, a country that has done some heroic things in terms of coping with Syrian refugees, to be renamed Palestine, so he is not to be taken seriously.

And it's not as if the world is even capable of learning from very recent history. Raqqa, the current target du jour for the west, was bombed by Syria last year. I don't know whether you've noticed but it achieved sod-all.

If I genuinely thought airstrikes would be an effective way to stop those pathetic Daesh losers, and if airstrikes didn't keep killing innocent civilians just as Daesh does, I wouldn't have a huge issue with it. But I am not convinced they will do anything more than create more radicalisation and add to the refugee crisis. And there are reports that Daesh is now encouraging their pitiful fans to travel to Sirte in Libya instead of Syria, where they are also entrenching themselves. It is a grotesque game of whack-a-mole and not one that we can simply bomb our way out of and expect peace at the end.

Airstrikes are generally popular with people who are highly unlikely to be standing underneath one. Attacking from on high comes across as a sanitised form of warfare, like a big video game, one where you don't have to look the people you are killing in the eye. It could well be that boots-on-the-ground warfare, the kind of warfare that has a more targeted approach, will prove more effective in breaking up oil supply lines, in stopping weapons getting into the hands of Daesh, in retaking the Syrian oil installations than flattening Syria - and no doubt Libya next - from on high.

And then then there is the paucity of discussion about an endgame. What should Syria look like if Daesh is ever neutralised? What sort of government should be in place? Are there any plans for job creation and rebuilding the shattered economy?

After Turkey shot a Russian plane down, people seemed to divide into Team Turkey and Team Russia, as if either country has covered themselves in glory of late, and as if the issue is so simplistically binary.

We have Turkey, a nation unfit to be in NATO and certainly unfit to attain EU membership any time soon, complicit in the sale of Daesh oil while continuing their campaign against the Kurds.

And we have Russia, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, is more interested in keeping Assad in power, particularly as he will uphold the 2013 oil and gas deal which is great for Russia but would deny Syria the opportunity to achieve greater energy self-sufficiency.

Energy self-sufficiency would be a tremendous thing for Syria if it ever attains its dream of democracy that started out in 1945 and has been comprehensively shat on ever since. Energy self-sufficiency would also mean Syria is not dependant on Saudi oil - and it is dependence on Saudi oil and revenue from weapons sales that keeps the world passive when it comes to dealing with that absurd kingdom's violent, conservative, oppressive Wahhabism, the very ideology that Daesh spreads in its bid to recruit people.

I don't claim to have the answers to this unholy mess but I am sure that failing to learn from centuries of human history and pushing for simplistic solutions are not going to make the problems go away any time soon.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Thoughts on Paris after the inevitable atrocity

Here, in no particular order and with absolutely no sense of optimism about anything I say having any kind of influence, are some musings on the aftermath of the horrific events that took place in Paris on Friday.

1. Firstly, let us refer to Islamic State as Daesh for they really hate it. This is something people from across the political spectrum agree upon. Hell, I even agree with Tony Abbott on this one. That said, it is important to recognise that they are indeed attempting to create a state, they have had some success in doing so over relatively large areas, and, therefore, it is important to treat them like any other vile, repressive state. We should not recognise their sovereignty over the land they have stolen. We should not trade with them. We should join with the people who have lost everything in doing all we can to help them return home and for prosperity and peace to prevail.

2. We need to call on the countries that surround Daesh's territory to come together as one on this issue, even if they disagree on many other issues. Saudi Arabia, in particular, cannot continue enabling Daesh's ongoing existence - they have played a major role in creating what is essentially a more violent version of the absurd Wahhabism that has turned Saudi into a gruesome laughing stock, even among its Arabian Gulf neighbours. And Saudi's neighbours have played their role in enabling poisonous ideology to spread, even if this has sometimes occurred by complacency rather than design. In any case, no one country or small group of countries should ever play the role of the global policeman.

3. And just as we need to acknowledge that Daesh's ideology is a particularly vile theocracy that is just as political as it is religious (if not more political than conveniently religious...), the West needs to acknowledge its role in destabilising the Middle East. This has been going on for a while now. And all we are left with are crude hypotheticals to which we will never know the answers. These include: Would 9/11 have happened if Gore than Bush was president? Regardless of who was president and 9/11 still happened, what would have happened if America took a truly Biblical turn-the-other-cheek approach and didn't plough into a misguided war with Iraq? What the hell has killing Osama bin Laden achieved apart from a mic-drop moment for Barack Obama? What intelligence has died with bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and even the relative minnows, such as Mohammed Emwazi?

4. Merely attempting to bomb our way out of the current state of affairs is probably not going to be particularly effective. Daesh should have its lines of communication cut off too. In the aftermath of this weekend's events in Paris, some idiots seemed amazed that murderous thugs in the Middle East could communicate with murderous thugs in France. It is the same mentality that leads to people saying moronic things such as: "Those people cannot be refugees if they have mobile phones!" as if modern telecommunication only happens in the West. Bombs are raining down on Daesh targets in Raqqa as I write this post but it will not be enough. The city was already bombed last November and the main casualties were civilians.

5. Likewise, Daesh should have its weapons supply lines cut off. This will be quite the task but it is essential. Daesh's arsenals are made possible because of modern transportation as well as weapons from eastern European arms manufacturers getting safe passage into Syria through Turkey, Libyan armouries ending up in Syria, captured arms from the US and Saudi ending up in extremists' hands, arms supplied by funding from Saudi extremists with Saudi laws against such funding not really being enforced at all, Daesh sympathisers in Pakistan and Afghanistan obtaining US surplus from the black market in Quetta and Peshawar...

And then there is the money to be made from the global arms marketplace that supplies the "good guys", but war has always been great for business.

6. There has been some good and responsible reporting on the events in Paris amid the bloody awful reporting. Tragically, Sky News word-puker Kay Burley tweeting a picture of a dog with the words "sadness in his eyes" was not even the daftest thing she did this weekend. She also asked someone lining up to give blood why they were giving blood. Merde, I dunno, Kay. Because they were really looking forward to the banana afterwards?

7. The relentlessly hungry beast that is 24/7 news coverage has given rise to some awful journalism, in particular on the issue of passports found at the scene. Most distressing was an Egyptian passport found at the Stade de France that some reporters were quick to link to the terrorists, except it turned out to belong to a spectator who is currently critically injured. Unfortunately, the nonstop model of news means that being first tends to take precedence over being accurate.

8. Andrew Marr got it so wrong this morning on BBC when he said that Paris is the only story today. No. It is not. There are other ongoing stories that have a Paris terror angle, such as the government's rush to pass the snoopers' charter even though such powers proved ineffective in France this weekend, what impact cuts to police, the military, and the NHS will have if a similar attack happens in the UK, and the refugee crisis. But even so, there are still other stories both in the UK and abroad that still need to be reported and it would have been good to see coverage of other news especially when the news channels inevitably started repeating themselves and news tickers remained unchanged for hours.

Amol Rajan, who often makes sense, described 9/11 on Marr's programme as an attack on capitalism. No. It was not. The twin towers were an easy target for amateur pilots. It was an attack on so much more than that. Equally, Bono describing the attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris as an attack of music was head-up-the-arse nonsense of the highest order.

9. Despite what you may be seeing, hearing and reading in mainstream media sources, there are plenty of brilliant journalists out there who are working tirelessly to cover stories other than Paris. Lebanon, Yemen, Burma, Iraq, South Sudan, Kenya, the list goes on of places where newsworthy events are taking place. Despite what many a moaner says, other stories are being reported - but you might have to actually do some damn research and find some alternative news sources or recognise that it was covered in mainstream news outlets but you might not have bothered to pay attention. Additionally, local and regional news sources are often easily found online - and when you do find these stories, share the hell out of them. In this free market world of news, consumers have the power to give all manner of news the airplay it deserves.

10. An interesting quote from Richard Dawkins that sprung up this weekend deserves more analysis: "They're the ones who don't take their religion seriously." He was referring to the religious people, in particular Catholics and Muslims, who he deems to be "good". My instinctive interpretation of "not taking religion seriously" is to refer to the people who happily identify with a particular religion but don't follow every single example of their faith's book to the letter.

They are, for example, the Muslims who drink alcohol, the Muslims and Christians who have sex outside of marriage or blaspheme when they're angry or surprised, the people who may indeed have conservative attitudes to issues such as homosexuality but do not believe that execution is an appropriate punishment despite some of the more startling passages from their holy books, the people who may indeed be offended at jokes at the expense of their faith but do not seek to kill or even arrest anyone over such humour.

The phrase "don't take their religion seriously" is a glib soundbite but my broader interpretation probably encompasses more religious people than we realise, even those who may bristle at being described in that manner. It strikes me as a lazy shorthand term for moderate religious people but, in my experience, moderates are actually the majority. It's just that moderate voices, especially in the wake of terror attacks, are seldom heard. Noisy idiots, such as Anjem Choudry, end up getting airplay as representing entire faiths and all this achieves is a recruitment drive for Daesh.

11. It's OK if you don't put a French flag filter on your Facebook profile photo. It's OK if you do. Whatever you do, don't be dick about it. There are enough of those in the world already. See Bono etc.

Photo by Lode Van de Velde

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Airport whining and perspective failures

How do you know when a load of Australians has landed at Heathrow? You can still hear the whining long after the plane has landed. Yes, very droll. But airport whining is not restricted to people from the country where I was born.

On November 2, I returned to London after a weekend in Newcastle and picked up a copy of the Evening Standard at Kings Cross station for the tube ride home. The front page and a spread inside were dedicated to the "chaos" caused by thick fog at Heathrow airport. While the story was a change from their usual worship of Boris Johnson, it was just a compendium of first world whiners. Even Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy joined in the moaning.

Apparently, the airlines and the airport could have done more. Nobody seemed to have any concrete suggestions about what could be done to fix a weather event beyond human control, but "more" of something was apparently required. The gripes centred on not receiving texts or emails from airlines in a timely enough manner. People were furious about turning up at the airport - presumably they travelled to the airport with their eyes closed, oblivious to the pea souper that shrouded the nation - only to be stunned that fog delayed their flights. Aside from the texts and emails warning passengers of likely delays and cancellations owing to fog, I'm not sure what else the airlines could have done. Tried to blow away the fog with giant hairdryers? How the hell did these overgrown babies cope with air travel before the advent of texts and emails?

Cancelled flights suck but flying in a plane where the pilot cannot see beyond the nose cone is hardly a reasonable alternative.

And this week, we've witnessed endless news time gobbled up by footage of British tourists stranded at Sharm el-Sheikh after the Russian plane crash and complaining that they just want to go home. I get it. Even after an idyllic holiday, there comes that bit at the end when you've packed up, headed to the airport, and your thoughts turn to being reunited with your own bed.

But, seriously, being stranded for a bit longer at a secure resort - and the resorts have stepped security enormously since the 2005 terror attack - is hardly the worst thing in the world. If I had to take an enforced extended Sharm holiday while I was waiting for a safe flight home and a news channel rocked up at my resort, I would happily appear on camera. I'd be thrilled to give a big up-yours to the terrorists by letting them know I was not scared of their murderous bullshit, that, despite the tragedy of the plane crash, I was determined to enjoy some bonus time in the sun, wearing a sinful bikini and drinking cocktails. Hell, it is only the fact that I am happily married that would stop me from adding fornication to my list of haram behaviour.

Of course, as soon as last night's Dr Who showed a scene where a plane was shot down, a Twitter fauxrage erupted. When I tweeted that the show is fictitious and the writers are not actual time-travellers who were to know that a plane crash, possibly linked to terrorism, was going to happen that week, some random internet stranger accused me of showing no respect to the Britons stranded in Egypt. Said internet stranger made no mention of dead Russians, just people stuck on sun loungers for a few more days.

This is the pathetic level of analysis going on at the moment - misplaced sympathy and kneejerk reactions to an episode of Dr Who. Of course, if the people who freaked out about the scene of the plane being shot down bothered to watch the entire episode, they would have seen it in its full context, which was a powerful allegory about the sorry state of the world and the futility of attempting to achieve peace with more war.

It was a stellar piece of acting by Peter Capaldi, it rose above such flinty noise as people whining in airports, and it was entirely appropriate for this Remembrance Sunday weekend.

Photography by Luisa Mota

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Censorship, students and unfashionable opinions

Congratulations, Cardiff University Women's Society, on your tremendous victory. Germaine Greer has decided not to speak at your campus on the topic of "Women and Power in the 20th Century". She has decided that, at the age of 76, she cannot be arsed with the inevitable hassle. She cannot be blamed for feeling as if her safety won't be guaranteed, that people won't throw things at her.

Well done, Cardiff University Women's Society, for successfully silencing a woman, for making her fear for her personal safety. I hope you are proud of yourselves.

I get it. You are upset with Germaine Greer's views on trans women. Her views on trans women are not ones that I share - indeed, I do not agree with her on everything and I doubt she would expect me to do so - but to react to her unfashionable views by silencing her or making her fear for her safety is ridiculous. Trans women face issues of personal safety that are unimaginable to many of us. Mental health issues are a major problem, suicide rates are unacceptable, bullying and harassment and violence are sadly commonplace, and the voices and experiences of trans women are often silenced and shut out.

But silencing one woman will not make things better for anyone.

This current craze for no-platforming is the kind of intellectually mild censorship that should have no place on a university campus, a place where your ideas are supposed to be challenged, where there should be no one dominant viewpoint, and a place where debates should take place between people of differing opinions.

As one of the leading figures in feminism of the 20th Century, I'd be very interested in what she has to say on the topic of "Women and Power in the 20th Century". Her perspectives, as someone who was part of the story as well as a commentator on the story, would have, most likely, been fascinating.

But now nobody at Cardiff University will get to hear her perspectives on this important period of feminist history.

It is a period of history that still has implications to this day - there are still debates going on around the world about the issues that angered women last century and people like Germaine Greer helped bring women's issues into the mainstream. It is because of Germaine Greer and her contemporaries that people started to realise that women's issues are not minority issues.

You may not agree with her views on trans women but it is hard to argue that she did not pave the way for women - and the views of women who disagree with her - to be heard. Have you even bothered to read The Female Eunuch and to understand it in its historic context so you can appreciate why Germaine Greer is important in 2015? Are you so arrogant, so fixated on one of her opinions, that you cannot appreciate the importance in learning from history and from someone who was part of that history?

Trans issues did not play a massive role in the 20th Century women's movement. Indeed, mainstream second wave feminism has been frequently criticised for being too middle class, too white, too heterosexual, and certainly trans-exclusionary. But here are a few constructive ideas for the members of Cardiff University Women's Society - why didn't it occur to you to attend Greer's lecture and ask her challenging questions about where trans women were during the changes that took place in the 20th Century? Or you could peacefully picket the lecture (while we still have the right to peacefully protest in this country...), or hold your own event with powerful trans women as speakers. Or just don't attend the lecture and get on with your life. "Freedom of speech" is not the same as "compulsory to listen".

Imagine if you attended the lecture and started a constructive conversation with Germaine Greer about trans issues. Universities can be amazing places where students achieve amazing things - science students have made breakthroughs that astounded their professors, humanities students have come up with world-changing philosophies, and Cardiff University students could have played a pivotal role in opening up dialogue on trans issues between the generations. But that won't happen now because the intellectually lazy route of censorship was the more comfortable ride.

Photo by Circe Denyer

Monday, 26 October 2015

Report on rape, expect idiocy at leisure...

The take-home message of my last couple of days is probably: Don't bother trying to reason with rape apologists and people who don't understand the basics of the British justice system because you will only end up beating your head against the nearest brick wall.

But that is exactly what I foolishly did and, wow, have I come across some of the finest minds operating in Britain today.

On the Evening Standard Facebook page, a link to a this story about a reported rape in my local area was posted last night. The headline, "Woman, 34, 'raped in south-west London park as she walked home alone" was like catnip for victim-blamers.

People demanded to know what the hell she was doing walking home by herself at 2am. It didn't seem to occur to these dullards that the buses had stopped running by then, it's not always easy to hail a taxi in that part of the neighbourhood at 2am, the night buses were still a walk in the dark away and possibly not even heading near her home, or that, quite simply, it was not a long walk and the Merton Police Twitter account likes to remind us all the time how safe the borough is.

Also, none of these variables and possibilities bloody matter because she had every right to walk home without getting raped. I've walked by myself in that area at night without expecting to be raped.

And there were the inevitable comparisons of rape to crimes against property. According to yet another academic giant, men (What? All of them?) take their Rolexes off when they walk through a rough neighbourhood. By this logic, if a man is mugged for his Rolex, that is exactly the same as the monstrous violation of one's body that is rape. I'm not sure if the men making these statements realise that men can be raped too but that notion might make their tiny heads explode.

Others added some racism to the victim-blaming, demanding to know why there was no description of the alleged attacker in the article. This obviously meant that she was attacked by an immigrant, probably an illegal one, according to the cavalcade of fools.

Or maybe it meant that she was attacked in the dark and was too busy trying to fend off her attacker in the dark to pause and observe him for distinguishing features.

There was no race-based description, according to one genius, because some people are "protected" by the police. Yeah. Except a quick peek at the news section of the Metropolitan Police website shows that if there is a description based on skin colour or nationality available, this will be publicised in the alerts about people wanted for questioning. If there is a clear photo of a suspect, which makes the person's ethnicity pretty obvious, the Met will publish that too.

Then someone called Emily Burton (and my apologies in advance to all the perfectly pleasant women out there called Emily Burton...) felt the need to send me a message on Facebook in response to my attempts to reason with a mob who were either angry with a woman for walking home alone or angry that the police were "obviously" hiding something.

Here is her delightful and sisterly message to me:

HEY LISTEN UP YOU DRIED UP OLD CUNT everyone is fucked off with your RETARDED OPINIONS , bet you've never had a shag in your life !!! never mind the fact you are the ultimate billy no mates , now go back to your bible you stupid bitch and FUCK THE HELL OFF !!! Georgia Lewis BRAIN DEAD CUNT

BTW if you don't know what the definition of a brain dead cunt is LOOK IN A MIRROR

The message went into my "Others" folder. If she didn't alert me to the fact she'd sent me a message on the Evening Standard's Facebook page, I probably wouldn't have seen it for months. I publicly thanked her for the message and told her that I hope she is never raped because I wouldn't wish rape on anyone, and because that would be a terrible way to learn why victim-blaming is an awful thing to do.

It would appear that she then thought better of announcing to the world that she sends unsolicited and abusive messages to people she has never met, because her comments disappeared and she now seems to have vamoosed from Facebook altogether.

And then the Wimbledon Guardian, my local newspaper, reported on the story this morning and posted it on their Facebook page. Lo and behold, more idiots!

This time, two people objected to the reporter's use of the word "alleged". One bloke called Dave asked why "alleged" and whether this is "something women do for attention". And a woman called Emma said: "Surely 'allegedly' should be used when finger pointing a suspect, not for what the victim has said. I'm sure the police can determine if rape occurred or not. Allegedly wasn't the right choice of word."

Er, yes, Emma and Dave, in a responsible news report "allegedly" is the right word. Until someone is arrested and unless that person is then found guilty of rape, the victim's report to the police is still an allegation.

I pointed this out to Dave whose stellar response was "If that's your opinion, mine's different."

Christ on a cracker, Dave, no. It's not my opinion. It is how the British justice system works to ensure a fair trial. The principle of innocent until proven guilty is a pretty important one. According to Dave, who adorably attempted feminism, this might put women off reporting rape.

No. The principle of the presumption of innocence should not ever put off a woman - or a man, for that matter, from reporting rape. You know what does put women off reporting rapes though? The victim-blaming crap that puts her on trial in the kangaroo court of online comments for having the temerity to walk home alone with the apparently outrageous expectation that nobody will rape her.

A rapist is responsible for rape. That is all.

Photo by jks Lola