Thursday, December 31, 2015 

New old proverbs.

"You live by the Sun, you die by the Sun."

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015 

The 15 best albums of 2015.

Honourable mentions, no order:

Floating Points - Elaenia
Joker - The Mainframe
Mumdance and Logos - Proto
Blanck Mass - Dumb Flesh
DJ Clent - Last Bus to Lake Park
DJ Roc - Practice What You Preach
Flying Saucer Attack - Instrumentals 2015
Four Tet - Morning / Evening
Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy
Battles - La Di Da Di
Chvrches - Every Open Eye
Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness
Joanna Newsom - Divers
Mattwizard - Phone Home

15. Mumdance - Fabriclive 80

The self-proclaimed "grimy John Peel", 2015 has been quite a year for ostensible grime DJ Jack Adams.  Building on last year's Take Time, Adams has been at the epicentre of grime's continued resurgence, surveying the best the genre has to offer and a lot more besides on his Rinse FM show.  His entry for Fabric's live mix series showcases both his influences and his tendency to go off beam - it journeys in its 70 minutes from a weightless, beatless opening through to up to the minute productions by himself and associates, before ending all the way back in of all places, happy hardcore territory.  State of 2015 stuff all the way it sure ain't, but it's all the better for it.

14. Refused - Freedom

Bit of a controversial one, this.  I might be around the only person suggesting this deserves the best of year moniker, as mixed reviews or not, the general consensus seems to be Freedom is a bit of a clunker.  And it's true, it's not the Shape of Punk to Come.  But it was never going to the Shape of Punk to Come all over again.  It's not meant to be the Shape of Punk to Come.  What Freedom is is a loud punk record, and despite Dennis Lyxzen screaming on opening track Elektra that nothing has changed, it has.  Freedom is the best that could have been expected, which in these times of celebrating mediocrity is no bad thing.

13. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Something is deeply unsettling about GY!BE's first album of completely new material since 2002's Yanqui U.X.O.  It's that, well, half of it sounds happy.  GY!BE's output in the past has been many things, but happy, rather than say joyful, exultant, or euphoric, would not be an adjective you'd use to describe it.  GY!BE's music has always seemed designed to soundtrack desolate landscapes, partially because its peaks and troughs seem to herald ascents to heaven and falls to earth, as though the apocalypse is upon us or something very much like it.  Hearing the ensemble appear to be playful is almost off-putting, and yet otherwise Asunder is determinedly the same band.  Thankfully, the group return to the dark side for the album's second half, and everything is once again right with the world.

12. Drew Lustman - The Crystal Cowboy

It's hard not to feel a little apologetic about choosing the Crystal Cowboy for a end of year best of list, as it is without doubt a side project to Lustman's main output as Falty DL, especially when those albums haven't featured here previously, despite my enjoying them regardless.  Perhaps Crystal Cowboy succeeds precisely because the pressure was off - essentially another of those tributes to jungle that have been doing the rounds of late, some a whole lot better than others, Cowboy takes inspiration from the 92 through 96 period without doing wholesale obeisance.  It also does so without outstaying its welcome, and in a year where we've had that Jamie xx album, that's something to cheer on its own.

11. Girlpool - Before The World Was Big

BTWWB is one of those albums it takes a while to properly adjust to.  The accents of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker grate at first, the instrumentation is sparse and rudimentary to the point of hardly being there at all, and the songs are almost over before they've begun.  10 minutes in though and it already starts to make sense: you adjust to the duo's voices, their harmonising starts to shine through and by the time it's over you want to listen again.  One of the year's sleepers, and more than deserving of the praise it has picked up.

10. Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld - Never Were The Way She Was

Yes, for anyone wondering, everything you hear on Never Were The Way She Was is produced entirely using sax and violin, recorded live, with no overdubs or loops.  That in itself is extraordinary enough, with the not always easy to impress Boomkat exclaiming at how the pair managed to create such low end.  What stays with you beyond the virtuosity of Stetson and Neufeld is the soundscapes they create, the heaviness of their music, and how impossible it is to categorise it.  Is it neo-classical?  Drone?  Pure avant-garde?  Does it matter when it's this good?

9. JT the Goon - King Triton

Despite many not realising due to his only recently emerging as a producer in his own right, JT the Goon is one of grime's originators, with his work as the man behind the buttons for Slew Dem Crew marking him out as such.  The title itself is a reference to the Korg Triton, and the artist's debt to the synth is made apparent throughout his debut album.  For anyone who isn't a nerd, though, it's the Goon's ear for a melody that will keep them returning to what is a peerless collection of instrumental grime of the kind 2015 has delivered a reassuringly large amount of.

8. Ipman - Depatterning

With dubstep all but dead, and some would also say the album format along with it, Adele notwithstanding, that any sort of statement has been made by someone most associated with the genre in 2015 is a bonus in itself.  Typically, Depatterning is not straight up dubstep, nor is it post-dubstep; indeed, it opens with the visceral Regicide, a breakbeat-led track more satisfying than almost the entirety of drum and bass released this year.  What follows is more about the texture of the sound than it is the constraints of either beats per minute, time signatures or drum patterns, and it's the kind of release Ipman clearly relished.

7. Rabit - Communion

At the complete opposite end of the grime scale to JT the Goon's melody led, tropical bursts of colour is Communion, the debut from another of the genre's bright young things.  Austere, often completely lacking in melody altogether and on occasion abrasive, it follows on from where That's Hari Kiri by SD Laika left off last year, all taut drums, sharp snares and often sounding like the soundtrack to an experimental film not yet made.  Eyes down doesn't quite do it justice.

6. Sleaford Mods - Key Markets

I must admit to previously being a Sleaford Mods sceptic - a bloke seemingly doing little more than spitting prose rather than verse over repetitive, minimal pre-recorded backing is the kind of thing I normally run a mile from.  What marks the Mods out beyond those who've been doing similar on the toilet circuit for years is just how damn funny Jason Williamson's lyrics are, how the anger and malice contained within are not the product of bitterness, as they could so easily be, and their genuine not giving a fuck attitude, affected by so many, but rarely surviving as little as the success the Mods have achieved.  Have there also been more applicable lines of late than these, taken from Rupert Trousers?

Idiots visit submerged villages in 200 pound wellies / Spitting out fine cheese made by the tool from Blur / Even the drummer's a fucking MP, fuck off you cunt, sir / Die trying whilst the others just live lying / Rife all polish, no strife

5. Tame Impala - Currents

On first listen to Currents, I was convinced from around the half-way point that it would be my album of the year.  Descending all the way into psychedelia, it's safe to say there hasn't been another album remotely like it this year, or at least one that hasn't been so widely recognised.  Why then is it not at the number one spot?  Sad as it is to relate, that feeling I had on first listen has diminished each time I've returned.  Don't get me wrong - Currents is still one of the albums of the year, but its emotional heft, its ability to haul you in and capture your attention fully dissipates over time.  It's not helped that there's a song as misjudged as Past Life wedged right in the middle, which with its not-quite sampled speech does a disservice to what surrounds it.  Great, but not destined to be a true classic.

4. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear

Were this a list determined not by the music and instead by liner notes, Father John Misty aka Josh Tillmann's Exercises for Listening would see I Love You, Honeybear at the top spot.  That it's this high based on the former is a reflection of how ILY, H is very much of its time despite all its musical pointers meaning it could have been recorded 30, 40, even 50 years ago.  Misty is a world-weary character clearly not all that distant from Tillman himself, the exaggerated avatar of the real person we've grown so familiar with from the comedy of the past 15 years.  It helps that unlike some of those characters, Misty is lovable while still being hilarious, but even if he was simply a jerk, the sheer loveliness of the melodies, tempered as they are by the bittersweet and occasionally simply bitter lyrics, would shine through.

3. Jlin - Dark Energy

Of all the albums on this list, it would be fair to say Dark Energy was the one least likely to have found a wider audience and yet still achieved it.  A footwork album by a woman from Gary, Indiana, who works long shifts at a steel plant, or at least that's what we're told, not just exciting the usual heads over at Boomkat or FACT, but doing so pretty much across the board?  Dark Energy has done so mainly, it must be said, by not being a footwork record; yes, it's still footwork, but it drops the genre's over-the-top eccentricities and affectations, from the over-repetitive beats to the comedy/coarse samples that so often litter other offerings.  Jlin instead makes use of the genre's basic structure to create a sound that can one minute be playful, as on first track Black Ballet, to as puncturing, harsh and downright FWD as Infrared (Bagua).  If anyone pushed an entire sound to the next level this year, it was Jlin.

2. Oneohtrix Point Never - Garden of Delete

If you were to believe any of the bullshit supposedly behind Garden of Delete, how it's meant to be about a teenage alien called Ezra, or is influenced by Daniel Lopatin's touring with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, not only would you be somewhat gullible, it would also distract from what an astonishing album GoD is.  Lopatin has never been afraid to use irony in his music in the past, but on GoD he seems to firing at all and sundry, one minute channelling euphoric trance, the next the kind of crushing power electronics that figured on the Bullet Hell Abstractions part of his RSD release.  The result is a 48-minute long fever dream, at turns exhilarating and terrifying, but never anything less than thrilling.

1. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love

Like I expect a good few others, by the time I'd discovered Sleater-Kinney they had gone on hiatus.  2005's The Woods was, is, an utter behemoth of a record, the sound of a group seemingly at their peak, with the members deciding they should go out on that high.  No Cities to Love could then have been another of those disappointing, shouldn't of it done reunions, much like some feel about Refused's Freedom.  No Cities to Love by contrast feels like the product of a band that never went away, and in truth 2015 has been the kind of year made for a collective that were always ahead of the curve, with the rest of the world finally beginning to catch up.  While not as heavy as The Woods, not at least as it hardly could be, No Cities has the same number of hooks, the same battle cries, whether it be on A New Wave, the title track, Bury Our Friends, or most potently, No Anthems: "I want an anthem / An answer and a force / A weapon, not violence, a power source".  Rather than no anthems, No Cities has 10.

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Monday, December 28, 2015 

The worst music of 2015.



It's me.

Sorry, who? I don't think I've had the pleasure.

I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet.

No, really, who are you? I don't think we've met.

To go over everything.

Can we possibly start by establishing who the hell you are?

They say that time's supposed to heal but I ain't done much healing.

You're going to really need healing if you don't say who you are.

Hello, can you hear me?

Yes, I can hear you.  Now who the fuck are you?

I'm in California dreaming about who we used to be.

OK, we're getting somewhere. Are you genuinely in California or are you referencing the Mamas and the Papas song?

When we were younger and free.

No, wait. Are you listening to me? Will you answer one goddamn question?

I've forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet.

Our? Our feet? I work at Greggs, always have?

There's such a difference between us.

Well yeah, I don't phone random strangers and sing nonsense down the phone to them.

And a million miles.

Oh, so you are in California? I hope this is costing you a bomb.


*click, brr*

Culture in general in 2015 has seemed stuck.  Star Wars is the biggest film of the year, with the sort of reboot of Jurassic Park not far behind.  The charts have been stuffed with house music that seems to be directly channelling 1994.  The rest of popular music appears to be following one of three templates: the Adele minimalist template, where understated backing is accompanied by powerful, overwhelming vocal; the Ed Sheeran template, where blandness is king; and the Rihanna template, where when all else fails, just belt it out whether you can stay in tune or not.

A few years back this was rather presciently described by Peter Robinson as the new boring.  Adele is undeniably boring.  Ed Sheeran is unbearably boring.  Rihanna herself might have been relatively absent this year, but we've had Sia instead who somehow turns out to be worse, and is just as dull.  Rather than see a reaction against the new boring, almost any sort of reaction, instead the response has been to double down.  Not sated by Adele's new album?  Well, you can alternate 25 with your Sam Smith Spotify playlist, can't you?  They're practically identical.  Getting a bit tired of Ed Sheeran's unfathomably popular wetness?  Here's Jamie Lawson, James Bay, or you could go all out indie and plump for George Ezra if you're feeling a bit dangerous.  Want some more overbearing, strident and generally insufferable screeching?  There was a new Florence album while Paloma Faith was once again in evidence, to pick on just two.

Essentially what the Great British Album Buying and Film Watching Public have decided is they want the same thing, over and over again, only done very slightly differently.  I might think that 25 is 21 and 19 all over again, mining the exact same production techniques and once again featuring Adele's patented line in really quite creepy self-pitying keening, all shouted from the gob of a multi-millionaire, the kind that would be called out in thinkpieces if it was a bloke singing the same words, but who can argue with its success?  The critics can't, however many hints they drop in their hand-wringing 3 star reviews.  What are Coldplay other than a record selling machine, despite each album in turn being less memorable?  What was Writing's on the Wall but a direct attempt to ape Skyfall, regardless of why anyone would want to?  Rather than tire of Florence's attention seeking flapping around, her insistence on appearing the biggest arse going, she keeps on getting bigger.  Most horrifically of all, some of these people now want to impose tribute acts to themselves on us, as Ed Sheeran has done with Jamie Lawson, he of Wasn't Expecting That notoriety.  You spent the night in my bed / You woke up and you said / Well, I wasn't expecting that.  Why wasn't she?  Did you drug her?  Are you confessing to date rape through song, Jamie?

I could take it a lot easier if, to complain about the same thing for the umpteenth time, these efforts weren't regarded as being the very best that our society has to offer.  The Quietus opens its top albums of the year rundown by setting out the facts: despite ever more music being produced, ever fewer people are paying the creators to do so, and those who are getting paid are getting squeezed ever tighter.  The underground and the mainstream have never seemed further apart, and despite the internet meaning we can all subdivide ourselves into our own little corners where we do become aware of new artists in our preferred genres, the chances of them making the leap from those corners to the centre in turn diminish.  

When this is the case, why would record companies spend what money they do have to promote new signings on an artist that could well fail?  Why not just market a gay bloke who can sing about essentially the same things as Adele?  Why do something other than throw a drippy guy with an acoustic guitar and a line in bland lyricism that still somehow appeals across the board out onto the world?  As alluded to above, and bearing in mind music critics are rarely as acerbic or scathing as their film reviewing colleagues, there's little they can do other than doll out mediocre reviews to music which is mediocre, but which sells by the million.  Indeed, perhaps it sells so well precisely because of its very mediocre quality.  Adele isn't even Taylor Swift, for pity's sake, and yet to believe the hype she may as well be Christ Jesus Herself returned to Earth.

Nor is this water treading confined just to the pop side of things.  After a period where house seemed revitalised, it has once again returned to the groove it routinely gets stuck in.  The pinnacle of house to many is Robin S's Show Me Love, or more precisely, the Stonebridge remix.  Other names from the period, like MK, have made a comeback through producing mixes that sound almost the same as the ones they were making 20 years ago.  For those like me who were so excited a few years back by dubstep and its evolutions and mutations, only for them to collapse in on themselves and for grime to retake the mantle it held first, it's disconcerting to read the yoof declaring they got into clubbing courtesy of Disclosure, they of ever diminishing returns on the tropes of UK garage and 90s house.  Little wonder that someone like Jess Glynne, vocalising over the top of arid, empty, vacuous, meek EDM soundscapes can have one of the most successful albums of the year.

2015 also saw the return of another group with much to answer for, no one's friends, the Libertines.  Their success can probably best be measured by how I got a gig round-up email which had Sleaford Mods in the title, only for the body to reveal they were ahem, supporting the world's most overrated group.  Landfill indie may have come and gone, but in its place is what exactly?  SlavesWolf Alice, whose album must be one of the most epically overpraised of the year?  The only indie rock of any note this year has been American, as indeed has been the case for the last few years.  When probably the most anticipated album of the new year is the fifth from a revitalised Bloc Party, complete with new drummer and bassist, and it's up to the Sleaford Mods to try and bridge the gap between two worlds, something has gone very wrong.

As have the critical faculties of more than a few people, and to a far greater extent than in rating Wolf Alice.  Yes, finally, we come to the great Jamie xx album debacle.  Never the best source for informed news 'n views on the bass music side of things, as proved by how highly they've rated Disclosure, Pitchfork gave Jamie xx's debut album as a solo producer a quite incredible 9.3 (although it's worth stating how odd it is that we react differently to a 9.3 score than we would to say, a score of 93% or 5 stars).  It's second on their best of the year list.  Not that it was just Pitchfork: In Colour was supposed favourite for the Mercury, it's 3rd on the NME's list (yes, I know), and ends up 14th on Album of the Year's aggregated list.  Boomkat meanwhile, which does know just a little about the music it sells, slaughtered it in a mere 177 words.  Key parts: "safe raving", "pre-eminent posh soul boy", "The putative "soul" of rare groove, boogie, hardcore and early jungle is sucked out and spliced with vocals in feathered arrangements ripened up for students and yummy mummys alike", and best of all, "it's as seductive as a Waitrose fridge on a warm day".  For good measure, the Quietus and Resident Advisor also joined in on the act.

And the latter reviews are all correct.  In Colour is no bloody good whatsoever.  It's bland background music as far removed from a club like FWD as it's possible to imagine.  This is all the more mysterious because, unlike some of those reviewers who hated Jamie xx from the moment he started delving outright into solo production, I really liked Far Nearer.  I liked All Under One Roof Raving.  In Colour's problem is that it's not a dance record, it's a bad xx record, an xx album like the one the band's detractors hear.  There's no emotion, no depth.  It's all surface.  You forget it the moment it finishes, and have no inclination whatsoever to listen to it again.  I've made this comparison before, but James Blake's first album was sneered at as coffee table dubstep, when it was nothing of the sort, a lazy insult.  In Colour is coffee table, dinner table, cocaine cutting table music, and unlike say the intro to the first xx album, which for a time was ubiquitous as a background to anything and everything on television, it's where it deserves to be.

In Colour isn't terrible, mind.  It's not David Guetta.  It's not Avicii.  It's mediocre.  How lovely it would be if the other mediocrities lauded and treated as superstars were as reviewed and rated as honestly.  If they were, we could still be saved from our broken record culture.  And that would never do.

P.S. Expect the 15 best albums run down to probably follow on Thursday, as I've still a few albums I'm yet to get to and some others I want to listen to again.  It won't be worth the wait, I promise.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015 

Christian values? At Christmas?

Whenever a politician decides to start spouting about Christian values, you can draw one immediate conclusion and in turn make one fairly nailed on prediction.  That said politician knows full well his policies are the antithesis of Christian values, and second, that within a matter of either days or weeks, figures from his party will be exposed as either serial philanderers, corrupt to the core, or in our modern age, acting like complete shitbags to both their staff and the general public.

Merry Christmas Dave.  Here's hoping it's your last.  As prime minister.

(And that goes for the rest of you as well, the first part anyway, only I mean it slightly more sincerely.  Thanks for continuing to humour me over the past 12 months.  As per, I'll be back next week at some point with the usual end of the year music round-up.  Till then.)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015 

Basic: journalism in 2015.

On the evening of Sunday 7 June, an easyJet flight from Bodrum, Turkey landing at Luton airport was met by police who escorted passenger Kate Moss from the plane for disruptive behaviour. The internet discussed little else for days, for this was a story with many talking points.

What were the police wearing when they arrested her?  Did Kate's dress match the plane?  Were those Schindler's Rungleforeskin sunglasses she was wearing?  Exactly how much Shatner's Bassoon fragrance did the police use as a makeshift alternative to CS spray to bring the raging model under control?

But all of that was by the by.  The detail of this story, one that literally changed the entire course of 2015, was the insult Kate threw at the pilot of the plane as she was escorted, kicking, screaming, clawing and foaming from the flight.  She called her a basic bitch, and overnight a hitherto, underground term of abuse hit the mainstream.

How we all roared with laughter at the crushing humiliation the "basic" pilot went through after being tongue lashed by this spoilt, overgrown 41-year-old millionaire brat.  What better way to make clear to such a pleb that the the normal rules clearly don't apply when it comes to a superstar model?

Because Kate is nothing like basic.  Kate is the very opposite of basic.  She smokes, she drinks, she snorts cocaine, she looks increasingly like a 65-year-old who has spent her entire life doing those things, but still all us fashion journalists love her as she is the ultimate get out.  When in doubt, write about Kate.  It's just so very basic.

Basic though has an extremely long heritage.  While difficult to pin down precisely when it was first used as an insult, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's bag-handler, is recorded as describing Catherine of Aragon, the King's first wife, as "being so basic she no doubt still enjoys Chaucer".  Oscar Wilde is believed to be the ultimate progenitor, explaining to a Reading gaol screw on admittance that "I have nothing to declare except my not being basic".  Most famously, rapper Big Dick Dwayne on his track Niggas, Bitches and Being Basic, proclaimed "Basic bitches on my dick / Basic bitches on my dick / Basic bitches on my dick / Basic bitches on my dick / All you niggas basic too".  More poignantly, Sylvia Plath's final journal entry before she stuck her head in the oven reads simply "Turns out I'm basic after all."

Basic works because it can mean whatever you want it to mean.  Sure, it's mainly used by vacuous, hateful fuckbubbles who imagine themselves better than everyone else because of what they've just bought when compared to what your mum just did, and anyone using it can be effectively written off as even shallower, even snobbier and even more empty a person than whoever it's being directed at, but it can also be thrown at an arrogant, vain man, and then it's perfectly acceptable.  Face it, we all live on a rock where life at best is random, if not completely meaningless, and if we journalists can't encourage our readers to also be self-regarding consumer slaves, then what can we fill space up with?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015 

Of all the bright ideas...

If there was just the one lesson to take from the past year, and bearing in mind how obsessed our politicos tend to be with the antics of our American brethren, it's not exactly a stretch for them, it would be that giving the police even greater freedom to shoot people is not the best of ideas.  Not that our police are instantly comparable to their American colleagues, nor do they face a public with such easy access to deadly weaponry.  

Where there is a connection is in the rarity of an officer being charged with causing the death of a member of the public, let alone being convicted.   The trial this year of the officer who shot and killed Azelle Rodney ended in acquittal, as did the officer charged with the manslaughter and murder of James Ashley, while in the other most egregious cases of recent times, those of Harry Stanley and Jean Charles de Menezes, no charges were ever brought.

In precisely which fantasy version of the United Kingdom then do the police need further reassurance they won't face sanction if they shoot dead a gun wielding terrorist?  This apparently is the backdrop to the prime minister ordering a review of the current regulations governing the police use of firearms, ostensibly we are told to ensure the police won't be worrying about repercussions should they face a Paris-style attack.  If it's merely unfortunate timing rather than something more sinister that the announcement came in the week when an officer has been suspended and arrested over the shooting dead of Jermaine Baker, with rumours circulating he was asleep when he was shot, rather than about to spring a prisoner as was first reported, then no embarrassment was discernible.  Then again, it always helps when it's a newspaper does the announcing.

You don't then have to be an arch cynic to detect more than a hint of politics behind this.  Rightly or otherwise, and Jeremy Corbyn did himself no favours with his unclear response to the gotcha questioning of Laura Kuenssberg, one of the major hits on the Labour leader has been over his seemingly equivocal response to whether or not the police should shoot dead running amok jihadists.  It ought to be patently obvious to everyone that in such a situation the police will respond in whatever way they feel is necessary; the very last thing on their minds is going to be what the leader of the opposition thinks.  Nonetheless, and not helped by the shameful response of some sitting behind him, the Tories know full well there is mileage in painting Corbyn as being so milquetoast, pacifist or even better, "terrorist sympathising", that he won't countenance "shoot to kill" in any capacity.  Merely setting up a review allows the Tories and their friends in the press to remind everyone of how Corbyn and by extension Labour can't be trusted to keep them safe.

It also works in the same sense as the "bash a burglar" nonsense that gets dredged up every alternate year just in time for the party conference season.  Each time it's suggested the law will either be changed or reviewed to make sure that homeowners can do whatever they like to anyone they catch breaking in, up to shooting them in the back as they run away or beating them to the point where they suffer brain damage, and each time invariably nothing comes of it or the review finds that the law, which allows for "reasonable force", is perfectly adequate.  The point as much as any is to make clear where the dividing lines on law 'n' order remain, and it sets up a trap for the opposition to either agree that an Englishman in his castle should be allowed to kill intruders in any way they see fit, or out themselves as hand-wringing criminal sympathising scum.

Where we get into even more questionable territory is in the suggestion the review is partially motivated out of preventing a repeat of the Jean Charles de Menezes process, should the police mistakenly kill a bystander in the process of dealing with the threat from armed gunmen.  One almost has to wonder if this is more out of the Met being concerned about officers not having the necessary training to deal with a Paris/Mumbai type attack, unlike the French police who acted quickly and decisively, both back in January and at the Bataclan.  If the Met isn't confident in its firearms officers, then why should the rest of us be? 

It might well be that as the Met also have insisted, a spree killing style attack is less likely here as it's more difficult to get hold of the weapons than on the continent (although those in the know suggest it's more a matter of lack of ammunition, rather than the guns themselves), yet surely if they do have these concerns, their priority should be on updating that training.  It would certainly be more worthwhile than moaning to the government about how the current law should be made more flexible, or releasing statement of the obvious videos which engender fear as much as they do inform.  Then again, they could hardly have a more willing partner in a Tory party always looking for new ways to further crush an already supine opposition.

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Monday, December 21, 2015 

Justice delayed is justice denied, but the furore over Janner was disgraceful.

Greville Janner is dead.  This much we know.  He died, his family say, from a long illness.  But then they would, wouldn't they?  The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are fairly easy to fake; all you need do is pretend not to recognise anyone, speak incoherently or not at all, forget how to do absolutely anything for yourself, and so on.  Isn't his death very convenient, just like Leon Brittan's was?  Sure, they say Brittan had cancer, but how can we trust them either?

Janner might well have been guilty of all he was accused of.  Equally, he might have been innocent.  He should undoubtedly have faced a trial, had he not been incapacitated by dementia, as it's now it's clear he was.

Now that he has died, and speaking as someone who watched his grandmother week by week deteriorate until she finally, mercifully, took to her bed and and passed away, Alzheimer's having triumphed over her at last, it would have been at least sporting if those who doubted the diagnosis made some sort of acknowledgement of those facts.  Nothing more, just accept that clearly he was ill.  His alleged victims had and still have every right to want their day in court.

It does though rather put the entire controversy over whether Janner should have been charged or not in a different light.  It suggests that Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, was right when she decided back in April that Janner was not fit to stand trial.  It remains to be seen whether or not the trial of the facts, established after Saunders' decision was reviewed, does continue, although it's difficult to see how it will be able to.  Janner wasn't able to participate, in any case, and as former DPP Ken Macdonald has said, a decision to continue would be "groundbreaking, and probably groundbreaking in an unfortunate way".

That decision to order a trial of the facts should itself now be reviewed.  Whether an opinion was sought or not on how long Janner may have to live, deaths as an overall result of Alzheimer's can happen quickly, sometimes within a couple of weeks of there seemingly being no change in overall condition.  Janner's alleged victims were given false hope, for the best of reasons it should be stressed, when it may have been better for Saunders' initial decision to have stood.

Saunders would have been criticised regardless of the decision she made.  Such however has been the tenor of the debate around child abuse post-Savile that there were open accusations, including by newspapers, that Saunders was just the latest official to be conniving in a cover-up.  The likes of Simon Danczuk MP said her position was untenable, and now comments that while it's "very sad" for Janner's relatives, it's "extremely sad" for those who had hoped for justice.  If he felt any doubt over his call for Saunders' resignation over such a marginal, balanced, difficult decision, then he certainly didn't let on.

Especially unpleasant in retrospect was the stand-off between Janner's representatives and the court, with the court succeeding in its request he attend a preliminary hearing.  After a year in which we've seen the most lurid of allegations made, without seemingly being any closer to the police investigations reaching the point of either charges being brought or the inquiries being dropped, despite the chief investigation officer deeming them to be "credible and true" back in 2014, the claims of conspiracies look set to run and run.

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Friday, December 18, 2015 


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Thursday, December 17, 2015 

That all new, all improved Westminster Christmas tradition.

Don't you just love Christmas traditions?  Kisses under the mistletoe, roasting chestnuts in the microwave, the EastEnders Queen Vic fight, the Boxing Day ripping apart of defenceless animals by braying hoorays, the opening up of wrists by people with no one to share all these magic moments with?  To which we have a relatively new innovation to add: the annual mass dumping of ministerial statements and other government business on the very last day of parliament before the Christmas recess.  Think of it as the polar opposite of spending the last day of school before the holidays playing games or watching Cool Runnings.

The aim fairly transparently is to bury any unpleasantness contained therein, leaving already put upon hacks with an impossible choice as to what to feature and what to leave out.  Add in how newspaper sales always plummet in December, when concerns are traditionally far from the news, especially at this point in month, and the chances of getting away with putting out a release authorising the slaughter of the first born increases exponentially.  They couldn't have counted on our tame Russian asset stripper deciding to get rid of Maureen today, but it could have hardly worked out better with Cameron also off at his latest EU masochism summit.

Almost certainly best or rather, worst or the bunch is an official DWP study into the bedroom tax, or as only the government calls it, the spare room subsidy.  The study finds that it works, as long as by works you mean impoverishes those subject to it to the point where they either go hungry or take out loans, therefore robbing Peter to pay Paul, and has also failed in regard to incentivising those penalised to move to smaller properties.  Seeing as punishing moochers for daring to claim anything seemed to be pretty much the point from the outset, Iain Duncan Smith must be delighted.

Coming in a very close second must be publication of the list of ministerial special advisers in post as of today (PDF).  This reveals David Cameron has a quite astonishing 32 SpAds, 31 of whom dish out their advice (call leader of opposition terrorist sympathiser, start war with Russia, don't fuck that pig) on a full time basis.  As the government doesn't need to make clear how much any SpAd paid under £63,000 is earning, we can only be certain that of those whose salaries have been disclosed, the total cost to the taxpayer for telling Dave to do his flies up is a mere £2,164,000 a year.  George Osborne by contrast gets by with just the 6 SpAds, with James Chapman, Thea Rogers and Sue Beeby sharing £296,000 a year between the three of them.  They'll presumably get by on such a pittance, unlike say those who were due to be getting the letters right about now telling them how much they would be getting cut from their tax credits, a wheeze that his 6 advisers presumably also thought was a terrific plan.

Which brings us neatly onto the Lord Strathclyde "rapid" review into what to do about the Lords daring to vote down the statutory instrument needed to push through the cuts to tax credits.  That the Lords' refusal to countenance the slashing of the benefit that helps make work pay was subsequently accepted as unnecessary by the err, chancellor himself, albeit with the cuts instead worked into the universal credit system makes no odds.  Strathclyde's recommendation is that the Lords still be allowed to reject a statutory instrument, but only the once.  If the Commons then overturns that vote, its decision would be final.  Whether this would amount to the effective curtailment of the Lords' ability to block secondary legislation obviously depends on the government of the day's majority: probably not in the case of the Tories now, as theirs is so slight, with the Lords' veto likely to make MPs think again and increase the determination of the opposition.  If there was to be a return to the days of the majority of the coalition or the 2005 Labour government though, let alone the 1997/2001 varieties, it would clearly amount to a power grab by the Commons, something there is not the slightest evidence it needs.  As plenty of others have pointed out, this is a mess of Cameron's own making: he had the opportunity to reform the Lords, and he declined to go along with it.  The government also has a majority of only 12 for a reason: the electorate declined to endorse the Conservatives more fully.  They should act like it and listen accordingly, not attempt to govern as though they have a majority of 100.  A bit like telling a toddler it has to share, I realise.

Lastly, and most amusingly, there's the long-awaited, much delayed report into how the Muslim Brotherhood are a bunch of extremist bastards.  Or at least that's what the likes of the Saudis and the Emirate states demanded of the government in one of their periodical hissy fits after being called out for being extremist bastards themselves.  Not that we still have the report itself, as that's for Dave's eyes only, us proles only being provided with the main findings (PDF) .  Suffice it to say, the Muslim Brotherhood is amazingly, a religious organisation that has at times not always been down with democracy, and has also never fully renounced the teachings of either its founder, Hassan el Banna, or most (in)famous ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, he of inspiring various jihadists groups and helping to popularise takfirism, i.e. the practice of declaring anyone who doesn't share your exact same brand of Islamism to be an infidel notoriety.  It also, shock, has at times defended Hamas, unsurprisingly considering Hamas is its sister organisation.

The report doesn't tell anyone a single damn thing they didn't already know, and while Dave in his usual authoritarian style declares that membership or association with the Brotherhood should be considered as a Possible Indicator of Extremism, the ban our allies in the Middle East so wanted does not seem to be on the cards.  Bearing in mind Cameron has repeatedly stated his wish to ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and still hasn't managed it despite now being PM for coming up on 6 years, the chance of the MB being subject to such treatment was laughable in the first place.

As is the bulk of the report itself.  Leaving aside the former ambassador to Saudi Arabia's criticisms of the MB's brief period in power in Egypt, brought to an end in a military coup, with al-Sisi recently invited to Downing Street for tea and cakes despite his overall responsibility for massacres of MB supporters and other protesters, not a mention of Syria is made.  If the MB is such a vile organisation, why then are we working with its Syrian branch?  Why if the Muslim Brotherhood is so terrible are we in effect allying with al-Qaida, as the Saudis and Qataris have done?  If the MB is bad, then surely Ahrar al-Sham, the biggest opposition group/militia invited to the Saudi talks, with its determination to create an Islamic state in Syria, is doubly so?  At least the MB has attempted to present a veneer of respect for democracy; the Saudis, Qataris and Emirate nations have no intention of allowing their people to vote for them in anything other than sham elections.

Our government doesn't have quite as much contempt for us as that, it must be said.  Nor though are they going to chance us properly holding them to account either, as days like today demonstrate.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015 

Droning on about targeted assassination.

In all the excitement over the decision to bomb Islamic State in Syria, you'd be forgiven for it slipping your mind that we err, already had been.  Not only were British pilots embedded with the Americans without parliament needing to be informed, a British citizen no less was also judged to be such an immediate danger to us back here that he needed to be evaporated via drone.  Rather than let the Americans do it, as they did our good pal Mohammed Emwazi, on this occasion we did so ourselves.  Why?  The answer seems to remain along the lines of "because we could" and "fuck you, we'll bomb what we want".

For the decision behind the drone strike on Reyaad Khan (for it was he), Ruhul Amin, the other British jihadi killed in the strike, and an unknown Belgian, remains completely opaque, as evidenced by today's appearance by defence secretary Michael Fallon before the Joint Committee on Human Rights' inquiry into the apparent change in policy.  Integral to the government's case that it is entirely legal to kill whoever it feels like so long as they are judged to pose a significant enough threat is Article 51 of the UN Charter.  This talks of "armed attacks", and how nothing in the rest of the charter should impair the right of individual or collective self-defence if one occurs.

If you find it dubious that the authors of the UN Charter were thinking of armed attacks by jihadists using improvised explosive devices, or quite possibly even knives when they wrote it, rather than say the actions of another state's military, then you're probably not on the attorney general's Christmas card list.  Individual terrorist attacks, the memorandum submitted to the JCHR by the government goes on (PDF), may rise to the level of an "armed attack" if they are of sufficient gravity, as the 9/11 attacks clearly were.  In any case, the "scale and effect's of ISIL's campaign" as a whole are judged to reach the level of an armed attack against the UK.  Islamic State, you'll note, has not directly attacked the UK, even if it has threatened to do so.  Force can also be used where an "armed attack" is "imminent".  It's not clear if imminent is the same thing as "highly likely", as in a terrorist attack is highly likely, as judged by the current and all but perpetual overall threat level, but we can take a wild guess and hazard that yes, it is.  Fallon for his part told the committee "I don’t think it’s possible to have a hard and fast rule about how you define imminent".

In other words, the government considers it lawful to kill Islamic State cadres full stop.  This seemingly applies outside of Iraq and Syria also, or at least that was the impression Fallon gave, as he said there was no overall policy on targeted killing at all.  Considering David Cameron had already hinted at the potential for future drone strikes in Libya this isn't surprising, and yet it would all but confirm the wholesale adoption of the US policy on drone strikes, with Fallon refusing to address questions about any substantial difference.  This would be the same US policy that has come in for heavy criticism of late, including from no less a figure than the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Quite why we would decide to emulate it at this point isn't clear.

If indeed we have, as it remains an open question of why Khan was targeted, as the memo certainly doesn't explain any further than the government did at the time.  Khan the memo argues could have launched an attack at any time, such was the danger he posed; it's extremely odd then that not a single one of the plots it is claimed he directed would it seemed have reached the point of being launched.  The memo interestingly notes that "some were foiled", presumably the ones newspapers splashed on, including the one the Sun itself claimed to have averted.  What then was the result of the others? Did they just fall apart?  Were they abandoned?  Did those recruited to carry them out get cold feet?  Or were these "plots" of the type like the one the Sun saved us from, of the inspiring and telling sympathisers how to make pressure cooker bombs variety?  As there still doesn't seem to have been a single person arrested for terrorism offences linked to Khan, it's worth asking the question.  The memo goes on to argue that there was no other way of stopping Khan as he had no intention of leaving Syria, and yet his plots seem to have petered out all by themselves.  Of course, there is no guarantee he would have continued to fail, but this rather undermines the claim he could have ordered an attack at any time.  Certainly, there has been no evidence presented to substantiate that, or that he had risen to that sort of position in IS.

It's almost as though the fact the newspapers were reporting on these apparent threats to events and people, however lacking in reality they were, was enough on its own for Khan to be put on the "kill list".  This might seem all but moot now that we're fully joined up members of the death to IS club, but how can it not be troubling when politicians take the decision to kill one of their own citizens on evidence they refuse to expand upon, beyond vague declarations of the righteousness of doing so?  Khan was not Emwazi; his guilt was not and is not obvious.  Fallon might have bristled about how the others killed along with Khan were not innocent civilians, which is true; did they deserve to die, however?  If the policy is expanded to countries like Libya as suggested, why should we have any confidence based on what we've been told about Khan that others won't be killed alongside the target?  At the very, very least there ought to be a genuinely independent investigation and review after the fact, as the JCHR suggested. 

The smart use of drones could be the least worst option when a real, genuine threat cannot be countered in any other way.  The government has not even begun to prove that is the policy it has decided on.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015 

The brilliant PR and distraction techniques of a terrorism sponsoring kleptocracy.

Unless you're one of those members of the general public we talked about yesterday, you won't have missed the wonderful news at the weekend of how a tiny number of Saudi Arabian women were able to vote (and stand for election) for the first time.  They were voting for local councils that have essentially no power whatsoever, the country remaining an absolute monarchy, or better described, a vast kleptocracy, Saudi Arabia literally meaning the entire country belongs to the Sauds, but such things nonetheless remain important.  At least as long as you regard such gestures as retaining meaning; the film Suffragette thought it was notable enough to include in its ending sequence of the year women first gained the vote, so who am I to argue?  It's the principle of the thing, and if say some women who wanted to take part weren't able to as their guardian refused to drive them to the polling station, as suffrage or not, women remain chattel, that can be worried about later.

If nothing else, the Saudis have great PR, and you can bet every foreign desk in the world was informed weeks ago of the approach of this great democratic advancement.  Turnout overall might have been derisory, most of those eligble might have taken part in the boycott, and it might have made Iran's managed democracy and presidential elections where hundreds of candidates are blocked from standing look the very model of free and fair, and yet the headline, that women were able to vote, will be all that matters to the Sauds.

The exact same thinking is behind the launch of a Saudi-led anti-terrorism military coalition of Sunni Muslim states.  Just as much play was made of how the Saudis, Emirate nations and Jordan were taking part in the bombing of Islamic State, sorties that lasted at most a few months before those jets flew off to take part in the other proxy war in the region in Yemen, it's not whether there's any realistic chance of the coalition doing anything whatsoever, it's that it exists.

Some might for instance think it a striking coincidence that last week also saw the Saudis play host to the first ever foreign meeting aimed at bringing the various opposition factions in Syria together, excluding Islamic State and the al-Nusra Front, of course.  Invited was Ahrar al-Sham and other groups in the same Saudi backed alliance that includes the al-Nusra Front, but can you imagine al-Qaida signing up to a declaration that Syria after Assad will be a rainbow nation of every colour and creed, democracy a necessity?  Granted, Ahrar al-Sham did withdraw and only returned when it was explained that their goal of an Islamic state could be achieved via a democracy that would then never be called on again,  but let's not splits hairs, eh?

Also purely coincidental is how this week sees talks between the Houthis and Yemen's nominal president Hadi, talks not being attended by Iran, the Saudis or the Emiratis, the key backers of the respective sides.  The Saudis and their allies have been reducing what was already the Arab world's poorest nation to rubble in a war backed by both the UN and our good selves, without so much as a smidgen of the outrage or opprobrium that has rained down on President Assad.  Like with the backing given to the allies of al-Qaida in Syria, one of the side effects of the conflict has been the advance of al-Qaida in Yemen, aka al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, aka until the rise of Islamic State the jihadist group most feared in the West, and the one linked to the two French nationals who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Cynics might be drawn to the conclusion there is some sort of connection between the Saudis making clear just how against terrorism they are while groups they either enable or actively support march on.  As Hayder al-Khoei has tweeted, this joke doesn't need a punchline.  It's too bad we're the joke.

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Monday, December 14, 2015 

The vicious circle of twatitude.

Hey, you there.  You're a twat.  Yeah, you heard me.  Now, wait a second, I didn't mean you're a twat in the sense that you, singularly, are a twat.  Far from it.  What I meant was, we're all pretty much twats.  I'm a twat.  You're a twat.  The people gathering around us anticipating you smashing me in the face with your clenched fist are twats.  That twat there with the beard and man bun with the smartphone filming all this, he's really a twat.  And all the people that had some sort of role in the production of that phone, whether it be the designer, the programmers that coded the apps, the poor sods in China that put it together while getting poisoned in the process, the people that marketed it, they're all twats.  Most of all, the people that will then share the video of you twatting me, the journalists who will write clickbait articles on it, all the people on Twitter that will laugh about it, they especially are twats.  Life isn't a bowl of cherries.  It's a neverending parade of twats, twatting about, twatting each other and shoving their twats in our faces.  Do you get me?

It won't have escaped your attention that a good section of the commentariat appears to have declared the general public to be twats.  Of course, they aren't talking about the general public at all.  The actual general public are completely indifferent to what the commentariat thinks about anything.  A good percentage of the general public never watches the news, listens to the news when it comes on the radio, reads a newspaper, or so much as visits a news site unless a huge, earth-shattering story like man bites dog breaks.  The real general public, if they are on social media, use it to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances and talk about everything other than politics or the news.  The commentariat are really talking about the people who don't agree with them.

And now, especially following the Syria vote, MPs too have decided that the general public, i.e., anyone who contacts them, are for the most part twats.  They're a bit more discreet than most hacks, but former MP Tom Harris rather lets the cat out of the bag.  Think Hugh Abbott in the have you ever had to clean up your own mother's piss episode of The Thick of It, only without agreeing with him that the public are another fucking species as it's impossible not to like him.

Harris, bless him, thinks just as how the way someone treats a waiter tells you a lot about their character, the same should be the case with how MPs get treated.  Leave aside just for a moment how there are plenty of waiters out there who could do a darned sight better job than a good number of the MPs we currently have, and just focus on the thought process behind that.  Waiters, MPs, what's the difference, apart from the power they have, the wage they get, the people they serve, the clothes they wear, the having to deal with incontinent brats barely past shaving whining about how their steak isn't precisely medium rare?  I'm stumped.

Just for good measure, Harris brings up Jess Phillips MP telling Diane Abbott MP to "fuck off".  Harris and all the people cheering on Phillips don't like Abbott.  Abbott just happened on this occasion to be right, in telling Phillips to stop being so sanctimonious about women not getting top roles in the shadow cabinet when there were more women overall than ever before, but that doesn't matter.  Phillips is to put it mildly, another of those MPs who believes the world revolves around them and if their name isn't in the press on any particular day they have failed.  They adopt a faux of-the-people persona, write comment pieces about how hard it is being an MP while at the same time not suggesting for a moment that they want or deserve sympathy, and then carry on stirring the pot for all it's worth.  The media as a result love them, regardless of how idiotic, repetitive, narcissistic or publicity seeking their comments and reactions are.  Simon Danczuk and John Mann have made great careers out of being loudmouth blowhards jumping on every passing bandwagon, with only the former ever held anything approaching to account.  Phillips will apparently stab Jeremy Corbyn in the front if it comes to it, thinks the public wanted to hear from Corbo that terrorists with AKs and bombs strapped to them will be shot in the head 10 times on sight, just like that Brazilian jihadist was, and the party needs to stop going on about Trident.  Because you haven't been able to move for the Labour party obsessing over Trident of late, rather than about itself thanks to say twats like Phillips not knowing when to shut the fuck up.

Which brings us to the media as a whole.  They love twats even as they denounce them.  They couldn't exist without twats.  While the commentariat denounce petition writing twats and complain about free speech being eroded, the hack at the screen opposite them writes up the latest piece about whichever petition some idiot on Twitter has just started, and how many people a second are signing it.  The editor demands yet another piece on what Trump just said, and another to go with it on what it all means, and then a thinkpiece by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett or someone of that ilk on why Trump has a dodgy hairpiece and herpes.  Of the brain.  Look at what this twat is wearing!  Look at what this twat thinks!  Look at how this twat looks tired!

It doesn't seem to occur that you can only go on regarding everyone as a twat for so long.  This is being borne out by, you guessed it, Trump.  The media in America might be slanted to the right to a ridiculous extent, but Trump supporters still don't believe a word they write.  And why should they?  They think the media are twats, and the people behind the media think they're twats.  It's a vicious circle of twatitude.  The same is the case here.  We saw it in the Labour leadership election, where the "modernisers", the "moderates", whatever you want to call them, exasperated the grassroots to the very limit.  The result was Jeremy.  You see it with the SNP and their supporters, who are convinced the media is biased against them, which it is, and that it matters, which it apparently doesn't considering the election results.  Look at this opening line from a Wings Over Scotland post, and try not to see either projection, or an irony so overwhelming that it should by rights knock you off your feet:

A strange phenomenon we’ve remarked upon numerous times since the independence referendum is the inexplicable undying rage of a certain subset of Unionist voters.

We heard lots about how the internet was supposed to be this great democratic force, how it will transform everything, how nothing will ever be the same ever again, the end of history, and so on.  In fact what it seems to be doing is quite the opposite: we've never been exposed to so many different views, and yet at the same time we've never been so prepared to dismiss them when they don't fit with our prejudices.  Like the old Marx (Groucho) joke about those are my principles, and if you don't like them I have others, if we don't like the fare offered by the lamestream media, there are a whole host of new and improved alternative news sources that will tell it just like it is.  Their content might be unbelievably narrow in scope and subject, but when they think the same people are twats that you do, what does it matter?

Naturally, you can discount all of this as I'm a twat.  Indeed, I'm an even bigger twat than most, as I'm a twat pointing at twats being twats while being a twat myself.   If there's a coda to all this, beyond how we so often mistake those we disagree with as being twats or being the majority when the majority is never very interested in anything you're doing, it's that disagree on how serious what this group or this person or that petition writer is currently doing, there are some individuals who would rather we were less human, and they're not necessarily the Trumps of this world.  For example, see the conclusion of this otherwise fairly reasonable Laura Bates piece:

The feminist endgame is not to publicly punish everybody who makes a rape joke, or ban every advert that uses rape as a titillating way to sell products. It is to create a society in which it would never occur to anybody to do either in the first place.

That's a world I for one would not want to live in.  A society where we cannot make jokes about anything, to anyone, where the very human spirit of finding humour in the bleakest aspects of our nature is denied, even if that means Dapper Laughs or Jimmy Carr still existing?  Count me out.  I'll take my chances with all my fellow twats.

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Friday, December 11, 2015 

Cherry picking.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015 

Can you imagine if they had stopped a war?

Here's a challenge to someone of a cultured literary bent: write an alternate history short story/novella based around the premise that rather than fail, the February 15th 2003 Stop the War march led to the resignation of Tony Blair.  Ian McEwan set his novel Saturday on the day of the march, after all; why not a "what if" considering the ramifications had the march succeeded?

The incredible thing is that in the minds of some, that march did succeed.  How else to explain the vitriol, the gnashing of teeth, the sheer fury the Stop the War Coalition continues to inspire among those who demand it be condemned whenever it rears its head?  How can an organisation that is otherwise such a laughing stock, ran by far leftists who have never won a thing in their lives be regarded as such a malign force?  How can an group that has not stopped a single war it has campaigned against inspire otherwise well-grounded individuals, who insist they respect those with anti-war opinions, to repeatedly come out with the most childish taunts and absurd criticisms?

Believe it or not, today's Independent regards the latest machinations surrounding the StWC and Jeremy Corbyn as being the top issue facing the country.  Labour MPs and the likes of James Bloodworth are demanding that Corbyn, whom is attending the StWC's Friday dinner to effectively hand over the chairmanship that he resigned from after becoming Labour leader, to not go.  Corbyn in response has said that "The anti-war movement has been a vital democratic campaign which organised the biggest demonstrations in British history and has repeatedly called it right over 14 years of disastrous wars in the wider Middle East."

Well yes, but what exactly do opponents of those wars have to show for it other than being able to signal their righteousness?  Almost nothing.  At best, they can point to how, finally, the debate on Syria last week was somewhat better informed than previous ones and did consider if we could be making the same mistakes again.

Otherwise, what is there?  As has been made clear, to be against war is one thing; to campaign against it, whether that involves lobbying your MP or protesting outside an MP's constituency office is to risk being tarred as a bully or far worse.  In this world, a vigil organised in part by a local vicar becomes a mob, with the Labour deputy leader going so far as to say that if Labour members were among the crowd they should be expelled from the party.  Words taken completely out of context from blog posts that were hosted on the Stop the War site before being swiftly deleted and disowned are repeated over and over.  Yes, it does sound awful on the surface that StWC apparently said "Paris reaped the whirlwind", or that "IS fighters are the equivalent of the International Brigades", only they didn't, and the author of the latter has apologised profusely for any misunderstanding.

It is nonetheless impossible to pretend that the StWC are the ideal organisation or vehicle for mainstream anti-war sentiment.  They are not, and have always been tied up with the familiar baggage Trotskyist groups carry, some of whom do still believe in being anti-imperialist only when it's Western countries invading and bombing other nations.  They are however the only one we have, and there is no reason to believe if there was a new anti-war group created that was entirely separate from the manoeuvrings of the rump far left it would be regarded any more kindly when its goals would be the same.

This is because the majority doing the finger jabbing now are the exact same people who were condemning their comrades on the left back in 2003.  The standard flavour of discourse both now and then can be gleaned from a Nick Cohen piece for the Telegraph back in January of that year, when he complained of how the anti-war movement ignored Iraqi democrats.  12 years later, and what's being used as one of the principal weapons to bash the StWC, including by Peter Tatchell, who ought to know better?  That they won't so much as let Syrians speak.  The precise details, that these Syrians are in fact a UK group specifically calling for a "limited" intervention in their country, not against Islamic State but against Assad, something that would entail a direct confrontation with the Russians, are naturally left out.

When that gets a bit stale, it's back to the what-abouttery the Eustonites claim to be so against.  Why aren't they protesting outside the Russian embassy?  Why? Why aren't they condemning this, or this, or that?  Why aren't they doing what an anti-war group of my fantasy would, which is admit it's wrong about everything and commit ritual suicide on the graves of the victims they both blame and ignore?  There is simply no satisfying them, however much they claim to be reasonable: Bloodworth in his article writes "even on those rare occasions where the government appears to be acting militarily for the greater good, there is usually some base motive buried under it all," as though he has opposed any of the wars when in his words the government wasn't acting for the greater good.  The StWC could protest outside the embassies of every government involved in the proxy war in Syria, and still it wouldn't gain them any grudging respect.  Nor would it have any impact whatsoever; what is the point of gathering outside the Russian embassy when our government, about the only one that could possibly be influenced by such protests has so little sway over them?

What it all eventually comes back to is the touching faith the pro-war left continues to have, for reasons unknown, in politicians and military commanders who often hold views diametrically opposed to theirs.  The Iraq war was never about those Iraqi democrats, whom the likes of Cohen dropped just as quickly as the Americans did.  Syria has never been about protecting civilians, not in 2013 and certainly not now, otherwise we would have been serious about trying to reach a settlement in the early years of the conflict.  Hillary Benn can talk about fighting fascists, when to George Osborne far more important is that "we've got our mojo back".  Reducing bombing to being about national prestige, slandering opponents as terrorist sympathisers, both seem a lot more disreputable, repugnant and abhorrent than going to a fundraiser for an organisation that whatever its faults, has always exercised its democratic rights legitimately and lawfully.  In the end, there's a choice we all have to make.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015 

The petitioners and the Fury.

As another miserable year draws to a close, it does so with an air of deja vu.  The year began with demands that Ched Evans be denied employment with any football league club after being released on licence from his jail term for rape.  It ends with demands for Tyson Fury, not convicted of anything but with a whole array of obnoxious opinions, to be denied so much as a place on the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year.

Sports Personality of the Year has always been a misnomer; some might go so far as say an oxymoron.  Rare has the public vote ever been about personality as opposed to achievement, with it only coming into play when there is something resembling a choice on offer, as opposed to the usual one or two with the main claim to being the outstanding performer of the year.  And let's face it: when Zara Phillips can win (worth noting is that the infinitely more deserving Beth Tweddle came third that year), despite having no discernible personality beyond being a minor Royal and on the basis of being quite good on top of a horse trained to do something you can't so much as gamble on, there has in the past been something rotten at the heart of Dodge.

Fury everyone agrees does have a personality.  He is as Barney Ronay puts it in an excellent profile a more complex figure than merely a boxer with a sideline in expressing his unpalatable religiously influenced views on homosexuality, women and the fast approaching apocalypse.  Not many pugilists will during their careers admit to any sort of weakness, let alone as Fury has talk about depression and suicide.  Not many "dickheads" with boneheaded, antediluvian views will be able to outfight and outthink an opponent like Wladimir Klitschko, proving the experts wrong.  Not many from Fury's background will have a moment in the sun beyond getting the chance to appear on a Channel 4 documentary, to be gawped at, laughed about and feared all at the same time.

Fury in short breaks all the agreed upon rules of being a sportsperson in 2015.  No, you can't be a completely blank canvas and succeed, but nor can you be any more divisive than say, Andy Murray is, criticised in the past for coming across as grumpy and morose.  The vast majority will shrink from making any sort of comment on politics whatsoever, not least because it's often written into their contracts and is bound to come into consideration when sponsors make their decisions on whom to fund.  Only once you've achieved the success of someone like Murray can you then start to make your views known on a topic as controversial as Scottish independence and get away with it, personally and financially.

We are then back in the parallel universe where some truly believe the aura of a sportsperson can be so overwhelming, it can subvert every norm and value inculcated in an individual since birth.  Ched Evans, the argument went, could not just waltz back into his former position at Sheffield United as he was a role model.  It would send the message that you could commit a crime as terrible as rape and be welcomed back afterwards as though nothing had happened.  With Evans there were the further extenuating circumstances that he continued to claim his innocence (his case has since been referred back to the Court of Appeal), that he was out on licence rather than having completed his sentence, and that his victim had been repeatedly named and abused on social media by supporters of Evans, connected with him or not.  The campaign as it was succeeded, and failing the quashing of his conviction it seems Evans will not play professional football again.  To me at the time it seemed a punishment out of all proportion with the offence, however grave; others felt strongly the other way.

With Fury there are no such extenuating circumstances.  Nothing he has said is or should be illegal, as Peter Tatchell for one has set out while condemning his views.  The absurdity of not so much as wanting the wider public to be allowed to reject him in a vote is made clear by the petition itself, which says

The BBC clearly do not understand that by nominating Fury, who has on a number of occasions expressed homophobic views and compared homosexuality to paedophilia, they are putting him up as a role model to young people all over the UK and the world.

In this strange view of how things work, it's not Fury's achievement of winning the world heavyweight championship that makes him a role model, it's the BBC's recognising of his success.  Leave aside that you can look up to someone's sporting prowess while at same time despising them in every other respect, as you can with the man Fury was named after, or as will become the case with Oscar Pistorius, and you're left with the impression the petition starter truly believes if only the media were to ignore or ostracise people who make their unpleasant views known in public, the remaining barriers to LBGT participation in sport would fall away.

Scott Cuthbertson presumably doesn't believe that, as discrimination is far more insidious and embedded in both sport and society as a whole than encapsulated by the brash statements of a throwback, and yet both he and 130,000 others seemingly don't want to chance the British public deciding otherwise.  While it can often seem as though the great British value of tolerance isn't all it's cracked up to be, do the signatories truly believe someone who says a woman's place is either in the kitchen or "on her the back" and speaks in the same breath about homosexuality and paedophilia can win such a major award, rather than Jessica Ennis-Hill, whom Fury insulted?  Wouldn't those who signed it better serve their cause if they campaigned for Greg Rutherford, who has made clear his unhappiness about Fury's inclusion but decided not to withdraw?  Indeed, wouldn't this country be a better place if the ridiculous pretence was dropped that a person's talent, or when it comes to "reality" stars complete lack of, means they should be judged and treated more harshly?

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015 

The left is to blame for Donald Trump adopting Douglas Murray's old ideas.

"The left is to blame for Trump" trills Douglas Murray over at the Spectator, as though the rise of the Donald could have been put down to anything other than the worldwide ranks of radical Islam deniers.  At the very head of those responsible argues Murray is President Obama for not letting that phrase pass his lips.  Most would probably take it as read that Obama has a low opinion of Islamic extremists; he has after all authorised more drone strikes on the leaders of various jihadist groups in more countries than his predecessor ever did.  Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, you name 'em, he's turned a "radical Islamist" into ground beef in one of them.

Murray's great disagreement with Obama isn't on any of this, naturally.  It's rather that in his view the President "refuses to name Islamist terrorism or identify where it comes from".  Considering virtually no politician anywhere points out it originates from Wahhabist thinking, and is still being spread by our great ally Saudi Arabia, Murray is right on that score, just not in the way he imagines.

Some people might reflect the wars and targeted strikes of the past 14 years don't seem to have had much effect, all told.  They would be wrong of course, as the reason why there hasn't been much effect is we haven't been fighting the wars properly.  We've been acting like a bunch of pussies, goes the Trump critique; we should be "bombing the hell out of them".  It doesn't expand much beyond that, like pretty much all of Trump's policies.  That Obama has been fighting about the smartest war possible (read: it's not very smart at all, but we're talking relatively), following on in many ways from where Bush left off after the clear out of the ideologues in the latter half of his second term is precisely what they so object to.  Counter-insurgency tactics, getting American troops out where and when it was politically possible, half-heartedly going along with arming jihadists to overthrow secular dictators (see Syria passim ad nauseum), even teaming up with al-Qaida to fight Islamic State, all the good stuff, these were all complex and difficult decisions as opposed to simple ones.

Murray agrees this is a complex problem that doesn't have easy answers, except obviously if only the president and the left were to admit Islam isn't a religion of peace then Trump would never have been able to get to a position where he could make the strongest possible signal of his intent.  If only the left hadn't for years "made the cost of entering this discussion too high, so too few people were left willing to discuss the finer points of immigration, asylum or counter-terrorism policy", then now they wouldn't be listening to a demagogue saying keep them all out.  Perhaps more than anything Murray is pissed that they didn't listen to the person back in 2006 who said "It is late in the day, but Europe still has time to turn around the demographic time-bomb which will soon see a number of our largest cities fall to Muslim majorities. It has to. All immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop."  Now that someone with the gravitas of Trump has adopted his stance, Murray disowns it.

To step back for just a moment from the snarkiness, there is a very small kernel of truth to the idea that Trump is in some way a reaction to political correctness.  It is incredibly tempting to look at how controlled the terms of political debate appear to have become, with both left and right intent on policing what is and isn't permissible in seemingly any discussion, and extrapolate that Mr and Mrs American Voter aren't interested in pleasantries, safe spaces or whichever practice is deemed to be getting shamed at this precise moment.  They just want someone to mean what they say, and when a figure like the Donald turns up and says something incredibly stupid while making clear how not stupid what he's saying is and how smart he and his audience in fact are, why should we think otherwise?

Except the truth is Trump is just the latest in a long line of Republicans who got where they are by giving their audiences precisely what they want, which is simple, moral lessons borne out of long-held values expressed with conviction, certainty, and strength.  Ronald Reagan was the master of this, but he was only following on from Nixon, and Nixon had adapted his strategy somewhat after Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy.  Trump might well be this strain of the GOP in its purest, more virulent form, possible only in 2015 where the abuse of anyone that either stands in your way or criticises you is no longer a barrier as it's precisely what a subset of Republicans have come to expect.  It also helps immensely that Trump's campaign is to an extent self-funded.  Make no mistake though: Trump owes his origins entirely to the American right post-Goldwater, merely given a new gloss of saying whatever "outrageous" thing comes into his head next, knowing that the coverage given to the resulting outrage seems only to work in his favour.

Trump is also different in that there isn't anyone behind the throne.  Much the same figures behind Reagan, given their first positions under Nixon, then came back to the fore under Bush Jnr.  Trump by contrast is his own man, another of the reasons why the Republican establishment is in such despair over the inability of his challengers to do him almost any damage whatsoever.  While there are a number of reasons to think it's extremely unlikely Trump could become president (assuming he manages to win the Republican nomination), not least demographics and his turning off of everyone other than the true believers, it's worth considering what's happened in the past when the Republican candidate hasn't faced a charismatic Democrat alternative.  Reagan beat a wounded Jimmy Carter and then Walter Mondale; Bush Snr beat Michael Dukakis, before losing to Bill Clinton.  Bush Jnr beat Al Gore and then John Kerry, before John McCain lost to Barack Obama.

Trump's all but certain challenger, Hillary Clinton, is the American equivalent of a Blairite, only without the charm of the man himself and lumbered with the political wisdom of Tristram Hunt.  There's no guaranteeing she can reach the same people Obama did, demographics in the Democrats' favour or not.  And as other commentators have been quick to note, once the previously unthinkable becomes thinkable, political discourse as a whole quickly changes.  That might be the real threat posed by Trump, but anyone betting on it remaining the only one is a far more optimistic person than me.

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