None Of The Above
the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity
Friday, January 30, 2004

Lord Hutton, Tony Blair, the BBC, and a bucket of whitewash

I'm an unashamed liberal commie tree-hugging peacenik type, and I find it very, very difficult to see my government in a favourable light. I marched against the war when they told us Saddam definitely had weapons and they had the satellite photos to prove it; I marched against tuition fees the first time around, when I was in the first year of students to get hit with a £1000 reminder that Tony Blair's promises of 'Education, education, education!' didn't mean what we thought they meant. The government cannot be trusted, never have good motives for doing anything, and probably made some sort of Faustian deal with at least one demonic entity to get into power. If the papers revealed tomorrow that Tony Blair had been secrectly donating his entire salary to a charity set up to protect the innocence of fluffy little kittens, I'd be Googling for 'kittens connection Halliburton neo-con' quicker than you can say 'tinfoil hat.'

I'll be perfectly honest in admitting, then, that no matter what the Hutton inquiry had revealed, I would still be deeply, deeply suspicious of the government's involvement in the whole affair. Since the inquiry exonerated the government of practically everything, it's hardly a surprise that I think it was a smokescreen at best and a whitewash at worst, a failure and a missed opportunity to reveal the truth of what had been going on.

Liberal commie tree-hugging peacenik. This sort of thing comes with the membership card.

And yet, this time, I think it goes beyond the usual cynical muttering. Lord Hutton's conclusion wasn't based on secret documents that we unwashed masses aren't qualified to read or understand, after all - this was information that the public knows about. In the words of the Guardian:

"Fortunately, we have the inquiry transcripts to test against Lord Hutton's almost comically tendentious conclusions. We know, for example, that Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell asked the joint intelligence committee's John Scarlett to redraft that part of the September dossier which suggested Saddam Hussein might use chemical and biological weapons "if he believes his regime is under threat" - and Scarlett did so, by taking out the qualifications. We know that Campbell asked Scarlett to change a claim that the Iraqi military "may be able" to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes to "are able". But Lord Hutton is of the view that this is not at all the "sexing up" that the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan quoted Kelly as complaining about. We also know that Blair chaired the meeting at which the strategy for outing Kelly was adopted, even though the prime minister later denied having anything to do with it. But, in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Lord Hutton, that was entirely consistent and honourable."

The BBC did make mistakes, and need to be held responsible for that. However, in this case, the basic thrust of their claim - that David Kelly claimed the government had interfered with the dossier about Iraq's WMD capability, making the case seem stronger than it otherwise would - was right. By getting cleared by Lord Hutton, Tony Blair is presumably hoping that the public will believe the inquiry showed he never lied or misled us about Iraq, and therefore the invasion was justified. This is bad enough in that it's blatantly untrue, and that Hutton's conclusions held the government to such a low set of standards that the Guardian's comparison to the whitewash of Bloody Sunday in the Widgery report doesn't seem unjustified, but it could have very bad consequences for the BBC.

We like the BBC. We need the BBC. In this case, the BBC made mistakes, and were right to apologise for them, but on the whole they are still a valuable broadcasting corporation whose reporting fully deserves the high esteem it is held in internationally. The government's battle with the BBC is not limited to the David Kelly and Andrew Gilligan debacle, but encompasses a much wider set of grievances. During the lead-up to the war, the war itself, and its aftermath, some of us were left with the very strong impression that Tony Blair wanted news media which would roll over and play dead at his command, having evidently spent too much time watching TV in America while visiting Dubya. The public would suffer if the BBC was replaced with a Fox News-type of organisation overnight, but the government wouldn't, and neither would Rupert Murdoch, whose anti-BBC and pro-Blair tabloid monstrosity The Sun published the leaked results of the Hutton enquiry.

In 2006, the BBC will undergo its charter review, which happens every ten years. This aims to assess its budget and its performance, and could conceivably cut BBC funding to a point where Murdoch's own version of the news gets a significant boost on its slouch towards Gomorrah - or its aim to dominate the news media in all forms, whichever you prefer. I'd rather that didn't happen.

Click here to find out why.


Thursday, January 22, 2004

Don't stand so close to me

I knew I shouldn't have posted that thing about never giving relationship advice.

Well, I didn't know exactly, not when I was writing it, and if someone jumped out from behind the computer with a microphone the second I pressed 'Publish' and asked "So, do you think you should have posted that, then?", I'd have said "Yes, and I'm quite pleased with it, thank you." But I'm sure at some level very deep down, I knew. A bit.

Because Anna has now taken it into her head to tell me everything about her relationship, any time I see her, with a happy little "Oooooh, you'll never guess!" look in her eyes. And I should have known she'd do that, because that's the kind of person she is (not in a malicious sense, as such, although the effect is the same). She assumes that anyone who doesn't respond to anything she says with screams of horror and flailing arms must approve, and want to know more.

I don't. Now, I appreciate gossip as much as the next small-town person, and I've listened politely to the intricate story of all her relationships in the past, and of course I'd like some advance warning if an old friend is about to plummet headlong down a route of madness, but right now I Just. Don't. Want. To. Know.

But she tells me anyway.

I went to her housewarming party, where fifteen of us were packed into her nice but small flat, and she'd got one of those magnetic poetry sets on the fridge. The party itself was pleasantly uneventful - no arguments, no world-shaking rumours, nothing of more note than a "Hey, you watch Law & Order - just what do women see in Benjamin Bratt?" and the Mystery Of The Expensive Car (on which more later), and most of the party moved on to the pub by eleven. I stayed behind because I'm antisocial and Anna had agreed to give me a lift home, and entertained myself with the pretty shiny word magnets while Anna lovingly tidied the flat (and I'd helped earlier, okay?).

The magnets were still scattered randomly for the most part, with only a few grouped together into words. My friend Greg had written 'knife your girl' in magnets at the top of the fridge.

Nobody asks Greg for relationship advice, either. Maybe I should try his trick.

But, on the other side of the fridge, the Post-Its and memos stuck on with fridge magnets side, the words 'I love you honey' are arranged prettily above a scrawled handwritten phone number.

Um.

No, but it wouldn't be, would it? She might encourage G's current infatuation with her, but she wouldn't go so far as to allow him to write stuff on the fridge. Obviously I am just leaping to conclusions. I mean, she could have had these magnets for weeks. Anybody could have written it.

"Anna, when did you get these magnets?"

"This afternoon. G. brought them round for me! He's so sweet!"

Oh, bugger.

I entertain myself trying to find a word that rhymes with 'screams' and hope she'll stop talking, but she doesn't, and before long she does it in such a way that I have to listen because she's handed me a glass of Coke and a slice of pizza and I can't pretend to mess around with these magnets with my nose. We have the following 'conversation':

"I meant to tell you earlier about this, but I didn't want other people to hear, because you know what they're like!" Giggling. She's actually giggling, about a twice-divorced man in his late forties with some extremely odd emotional problems. "He came round earlier and brought the magnets as a housewarming thing, and we spent ages playing with them, and guess what he told me?"

I cultivate a look of entire, fundamental, void-like blankness.

"Okay, well, I'll tell you, but - ooooh, you know what he looks like, right?"

Yes, damn it. I know what he looks like. I nod, very slightly.

"I've got a better picture of him, though! Hang on, it's on the computer!", and she scrambles to turn on the computer and find the picture I hope to God is not named futurehusband.jpg, while I try to sneak back into the kitchen to play with the magnets. No luck. Before long, she's showing me yet another picture of the man.

"Hmm," I say, because she'd hit me if I said anything negative, and there isn't much positive I can say apart from complimenting the lighting.

"And anyway, like I was saying, he came round earlier. And he told me that he is definitely falling for me! He even sent me this text message later on, look!"

I try very hard not to focus on the text message, but bits of it get through anyway. Exclamation marks. The word 'luv' [sic., and don't you just want to kill the person who thought up that spelling?]. Lots of tiny xoxoxoxo style kisses.

"I like him too, like you can probably tell" - more goddamn giggling - "but, because he has all those problems with his ex-wife and his stepson, who is my age but really decent, and his other ex-wife's ex who she had to get a restraining order out for and who we think probably ended up in prison but that doesn't matter because she's such a bitch, we aren't going to do anything now."

I relax. A little.

"We're just going to wait and see what happens."

Inside, a part of me starts to weep, silently.

"And don't tell Vicky."

That part isn't really a surprise. Vicky would be brutally honest about the wisdom of this situation, as well Anna knows, and evidently Anna doesn't want honesty or she wouldn't be talking to me.

I spent a while thinking about this one. There is no way, no way at all, that any relationship between Anna and this man can have a happy conclusion, and I don't want to see her in pain. I'd also like her to stop damn well telling me about it, but I'm a pessimist. Vicky is her other closest friend, a person much better placed than me to deal with the screaming rage that will ensue if Anna gets any non-glowing responses to this situation - and Anna has all the rage of a saltwater crocodile with a papercut when challenged on personal matters. On the other hand, she said not to tell Vicky.

On balance, I'm going to tell Vicky. I accept this makes me a bitch for breaking a confidence, but hopefully Vicky can watch cautiously from the sidelines when I go back to university in a couple of weeks, and Anna will have somebody making sure she's okay and never know I told. And if she does find out... well, she'll know not to tell me this stuff in future, won't she?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Admire my mad drawing skillz!! [sic.]

After spending approximately four months trying to install the damn scanner (it's still missing a few things that it refused to install, but it seems to cope okay without them so far - I'm fully expecting it to burn through the table and declare war on Sweden tomorrow), I've finally got it to work.

In response for that, the universe has righteously smited all free image hosting sites from the face of the Internet. To see an example of the aforementioned drawing, go here. I'm better at ears than I thought I was, although they have come out a bit pointy.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Heh heh heh

"You will never guess who gets on the same train as me every morning," says Kate.

I've known Kate since we were both four years old and arguing over who got to use the black paint at primary school. We've been friends since, and achieved a brief moment of fame throughout our school for founding a short-lived but stylish craze for wearing ties Rambo-style around your foreheads ("it only says in the rules we have to wear them! It doesn't say where!" "Put it around your neck, now.") And yet she still hasn't worked out that I hate hate hate being told to guess. "Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lord Lucan. Rudyard Kipling. Halle Berry."

"Noooo... Tom Johnson."

Tom Johnson (which isn't his real name, but... Google, paranoia, refusal to give him publicity) is a boy we went to school with. At one time, 90% of all the girls in our class were in love with him in that way that only thirteen-year-olds can be, doodling his name all over their geography books to see if it worked with theirs or whether they'd have to keep their own surname after the wedding. Me and Kate, and the rest of our small group of social misfits banding together for mutual protection and tie-wearing tips, thought he was a bit of a prat but didn't deny he was a good-looking prat. White-blond hair, baby blue eyes, and a smile that would probably have passed for cute to people who didn't associate it with the little bastard stealing your coat and throwing it out of a second-floor window.

He revelled in his reputation as 'the really fit one,' even later on when his few redeeming features dissolved under the weight of arrogance. He was friends with the two most irritating and unpleasant people in the school other than himself, and together they formed a trio whose sole purpose was to preen in front of their admirers and make the lives of everyone else sheer hell. (They managed to annoy enough people that the ringleader ended up tied to a tree on the school field with fifty-two school ties, all donated by an angry mob with a common cause.) Being good-looking, Tom got away with this, due to teachers who wouldn't believe the little angel could do any wrong and kids who thought that laughing at his jokes was the best way to avoid being the target. I once punched him in the eye and got a day's worth of 'That was brillliant!' comments from people who didn't dare do it themselves, but still, every girl I knew bar my closest friends thought he was just adorable.

Now, according to Kate, Tom is a world away from cute. The blond hair is greasy, the blue eyes are bloodshot, and he looks perpetually hung over. Kate wants to know whether I can think how to rephrase "Aren't you Tom Johnson? God, when did you get so ugly?"

We ponder whether this is evil and wrong, remember what he was like the entire time we knew him, and decide it's not. And after a few minutes of discussion, we come up with the perfect line:

"Didn't you used to be Tom Johnson?"

Evil, we are.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

"DEAR SIR/MADAM"

For anyone else who's getting a bit annoyed with Nigerian scam e-mails (two this week - what do I look like, rich?), this is just brilliant.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The black dog that wants to fetch sticks

I don't have all that much in common with Hannibal Lecter, contrary to what close friends and family may believe, but we share a fear of boredom.

For most of my life, the strongest motivation I've had for anything has been making sure I'm not bored. When I first went to primary school, at the not-yet-bitter age of four and a half, I was left to fill up the day however I wanted to because I could already read. I sat in the corner of the classroom by the bookcase, reading whatever I wanted to read and listening to the other kids learn the alphabet. (Incidentally, I didn't learn the alphabet until two years later, when a boy in my class found out in horror that I didn't know it and decided to teach me.) It set a bad precedent for later, when I had to sit and learn things along with everyone else. For the rest of my life since, my brain has behaved exactly like a four-year-old child, refusing to sit quietly and listen - tell me a story! Entertain me! I'm fed up with this, let's do something else, now now now!

I spent most of my last two years at primary school staring out of the window, mentally naming all the seagulls that congregated on the field to fight over crisp packets, constructing elaborate seagull epics in the style of Watership Down as my teacher talked about times tables and punctuation and the Industrial Revolution. My parents were called in and told I might have learning difficulties. They said that I was just bored.

At secondary school, I divided up the year into smaller and smaller pieces. If I can last until halfway through the lesson, it'll feel like no time at all. If I can last three lessons, it'll be lunchtime and the day will be over halfway over. If I can last until Wednesday, the week will be over halfway finished. If I can last until November, it'll nearly be the Christmas holidays. If I can last until the Christmas holidays, I can start counting down the days until school is over for the summer. Being bored for a whole year was the worst thing that could happen to me, far worse than being told off by a teacher or failing all my exams. By the time I got to sixth form, and classes I actually loved, my English teacher asked my why I constantly looked at my watch all through her lessons - was I bored? No, I wasn't bored, but it had become a habit. I was dividing up the time again. Ten non-bored minutes, twenty non-bored minutes, half a lesson of no boredom.

Now that I'm feeling so miserable I can't think like I used to any more, so miserable that some of the time I think I'm back to normal until I try to remember what 'normal' feels like and I can't, I don't get bored any more. I can wallow in blankness and inactivity all day, and my brain does not object. I can truthfully answer 'Nothing at all' to the question 'What have you been doing this week?', and mean it.

And I don't even want to be more productive, or positive, or happy about things in any way. For the first time in my life, I want to be bored again.

(This ray of sunshine brought to you by September's service of laughter and joy provision. Normal witty and topical commentary will resume tomorrow, hopefully.)

Friday, January 16, 2004

The dice was loaded from the start

I try not to give advice on other people's relationships, ever since a schoolfriend told me she'd definitely want to know if her boyfriend was cheating and like an idiot I believed her. So now I'm a sounding-board for people who want to tell all and sundry about what idiotic relationship decisions they've made this time, but are afraid of what all and sundry will say in reply. I, on the other hand, just nod, and change the subject as quickly as possible with various degrees of success. ("He did? Oh, that's... enthralling. Quick, change the channel, there's something amazing on about EU fishing quotas!")

One of my oldest friends, who I'll be calling Anna for reasons having to do with some Google proficiency and this blog not being unfindable to people who know me, has a particularly interesting relationship history. When she was sixteen, she started going out with the 34-year-old leader of her church youth group, an odd-looking man with a doll-like hairstyle and an unnerving habit of hitting on all the girls in the youth group as soon as they turned sixteen. Anna was flattered beyond belief, and waltzed into school one morning to tell us all about him. I remember the scene, vividly - I was in the library desperately trying to finish a chemistry experiment write-up that I should have done the night before, and I grabbed her arm and said "Tell me you have some Tippex!"

"No," she crowed happily, "but I've got a boyfriend!"

It didn't work out, to nobody's surprise except the man involved. It would have been over a lot sooner if Anna's parents, who have never had more than a passing acquaintance with reality, hadn't refused to talk to her about it for fear that she would run off with the man if challenged, and they'd never see her again. Anna has spent her life trying to gain the approval of her parents, or of substitute parent figures when her own family become too spiteful and irrational to have any sort of friendly relationship with. Had her parents told her to marry the man, she'd have done it. Had her parents told her to tear out his heart and sacrifice it to Cthulhu - which coming from them would not be entirely unexpected - she'd have done it. As it was, she suffered four months of awkwardness before breaking off the relationship herself, with some gentle advice from her friends and some less gentle advice from the church, who got a new youth group leader.

Her relationships since have been no more successful. Something about her attracts men who take 'emotionally needy' to a level that even dogs wouldn't understand. Although she never sees this as a problem to begin with, it inevitably escalates to the level of suicide threats and heartfelt conversations about "I love you, but I wish my soulmate would take me back" in the early hours of the morning, and relationships don't usually survive that. So, now she's single and living in her own place for the first time, and I went round last Saturday for a girly night in.

By 'girly night in,' I mean that she owns more Babylon 5 videos than I do, and we are the type of people who enjoy watching fictional characters' five-year spirals into tragedy via interstellar politics and mysterious alien races. Had you going for a minute, there...

So, it's two in the morning, and ironically enough we're watching a painfully sweet scene about unrequited love, when her mobile phone beeps. She scurries off to check the message, giggles, comes back. "Did I tell you about G. last time you were here?"

Yes, she did. G. is a married man in his late forties, who in the past few years has broken up with a wife who spent twenty years cheating on him, remarried hastily only to find out that "I'll help you get over her" wasn't the best line he'd ever heard after all, and initiated divorce proceedings against Wife Number Two. He's agonisingly shy, touchingly well-meaning, and irredeemably messed up. "I remember," I say.

She shows me the message. G. wishes to tell her that everyone in his family thinks he's seeing someone new, because he's been so happy lately. "I didn't tell them about you - yet!" he adds. Anna further explains that G. has told her how he's falling for her, and how they both freely admit this is because very few people in his life have been kind to him and he doesn't yet know how to react to those who do. She seems incredibly happy about this.

And then, she utters the dread phrase. "So, what do you think?"

I think she still searches from approval for people of her parents' generation because she never got it from them. I think she has never herself learnt how useful a boundary between 'close friend and confidante' and 'life partner' can be when dealing with someone so obviously damaged. I think that he should know better, painful history or no painful history. I think that she should know better. And I think that there is no way, no way on Earth, that this will end well. "Um," I say.

Luckily she takes that as an answer, and flops down on her stomach in front of the TV again. She gestures towards a character on screen. "Do you think he reminds you of G.?", she says.

Well, yes, he does. And that bothers me, because I adore this fictional character to the point of fangirlish obsession, but if I dared give her a real answer to her last question I'd be advising her to run as fast as she could away from G.

I wonder, for a while, whether I'm a hypocrite. I don't tend to find actors attractive, as such - I have terrible face recognition skills, which probably explains it - and I much prefer the characters they play. My favourite male characters, the ones that I would gladly run off into the sunset with should they step through the screen our out of the page and gather me into their arms, are all people with severe problems and emotional trauma which will lead to an inevitably tragic ending. Hmmmm.

"He does, in a way," I say, and think of the many benefits of fiction.

More blogs to look at

IraqNow is the blog of a US Army officer in, well, Iraq. If you aren't tempted to look at it because of the subject matter, or because he's a great writer, or because he actually posts a Wilfred Owen poem at one point - and I should mention, for me that would already be enough for me to read his blog and offer to bear his children - then this should convince you:

"Thought I'd take a break today and share a few emails I get from people. I can't thank them enough for writing, and for reading. I wish I could answer all of them. Unfortunately, the Web is slow, and I have to work very fast most of the time.

Some highlights follow:

I guess I just can't imagine the Secretary of Defense condoning these anti US statements by a Military officer on active duty.The practice in the past was for Officers to shut up and conform or resign before they started bitching about their country. I've written to Secretary Rumsfeld, and I have also asked Congressman Pete Sessions , and Senators Cornyn and Hutchinson for an inquiry.

Hey, word of mouth is the best advertising! IraqNow welcomes four new readers. :)"


Bellow is also worth a look, although for different reasons (except the one about writing). Her first post is some wonderful combination of Sex and the City and American Psycho, and it gets better from there. Go and read.

Monday, January 12, 2004

I have a what?

I was going to blog about the New Year's Eve party I went to, but I never got round to it (and, quite frankly, it wasn't all that interesting so you weren't missing much). One thing stuck in my mind, though, and it warrants a mention.

I was talking about compliments with a friend, and I mentioned that some people at the nursing home I used to work at once told me I had an 'old-fashioned face'. They weren't very descriptive about it, when I asked them - "oh, I don't know, it's just the best way to put it" - so I've remembered it as the second oddest compliment I've ever been given. (The first is "You've got to meet so-and-so - I told her all about you and she doesn't believe you exist!" Um, thanks.)

So, I mentioned that to my friend at the party. She looked at my face from several different angles, and said "but you do."

"I do how? What's an old-fashioned face?"

"Oh... I don't really know how to describe it. Maybe Fifties? That kind of face."

You what?

I still don't know whether I have an old-fashioned face, or what an old-fashioned face would look like.

"It's not the *government's* fault, it's not *society's* fault..."

Staying on the 'Right-whinger' point from earlier, some choice quotes from BBC Online's Have Your Say on the Robert Kilroy-Silk thing describe the basic points of any right-whinger argument better than I ever could:

"Does political correctness and the right to freedom of speech depend on whether the individual, group or race referred to pose a threat? It would appear not."

1. Appeal To Political Correctness. Despite the whole concept of PC largely being a myth, and only ever used to justify idiotic statements which are given some odd legitimacy by being prefaced with 'I'm Not Being Very Politically Correct, But...', the right-whingers view 'political correctness' as some sort of evil liberal repression which bars them from speaking their true views. The fact that they tell all and sundry what they think all the time, and often on programmes such as Kilroy's, is not relevant.

You'll notice that when the part about 'political correctness' is taken away, this person is saying that Arabs as a race pose a threat. That is, you'll notice that, but the right-whingers either won't see it, will agree with it, or won't care once it's dressed up as that martyred saint of a viewpoint, Not Politically Correct.

"It is refreshing in this PC-inflicted country that someone has the courage, intelligence and integrity to speak his mind. Let's face it there is a great deal of truth in what he said and it is refreshing in this PC-inflicted country that someone has the courage, intelligence and integrity to speak his mind."

"RKS is merely putting into print what we all know but are afraid to say. It is a crying shame that in this PC day and age we are punished for speaking our minds and opinions. Get him back on the air!"


2. Appeal To Common-Sense (with, in this case, a bit of 1. thrown in for good measure). Yes, on the surface, and if you listen to all the things those whiny liberals are saying, it might look like Kilroy is being a teensy bit ignorant here - but if you had the Common Sense to look at it properly, you'd see that it's really the truth!

This one goes along with anti-intellectualism ('you take all that book-learning, and I'll just keep my Common Sense, thank you very much!) and Emperor's New Clothes syndrome. Only those with no common sense whatsoever would accuse the emperor of being stark naked.

"I think that it's becoming increasingly more difficult for any non-Muslim/Arab person to talk about Muslim/Arab issues without being immediately branded a racist or an Islamaphobe."

3. The "I'm Not Racist, But..." disclaimer. Appeal to how we're all being lumped in with the racists if we dare speak out against, er, the Arabs, cleverly weaselling around the point that Mr Kilroy-Silk's views here were those of a racist and an Islamophobe.

"Kilroy-Silk is being held up as and example of how not to behave and his views may be a little extreme, however, do we not live in a society where we have freedom of speech?"

"Who said "I do not agree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it"? In our PC world is no one allowed to have any opinions any more?"

4.
Appeal To Noble Cause. "I'll fight those nasty liberals on their own ground! They have to protect Kilroy's freedom of speech just as much as their own! Ha, ha, ha, mine is an evil plan!" Probably the aim is to get people so confused by the words 'free speech' that nobody points out Kilroy's own right to free speech wasn't challenged here. Right to have a BBC daytime chat show, maybe. (And it was Voltaire who said that, although better-worded and without a Daily Express column to say it in.)

Somebody, and it's annoying me greatly that I can't remember who and so can't properly credit it, mentioned recently that appeals to free speech should get their own corollary of Godwin's Law.

"I thought this was a country of free speech - it seems to me that the only people with free speech are 'foreigners' - people living here who are originally from other countries seem to be able to say what like, but whenever a 'British' person makes any comment whatsoever about another country/race/creed, we are immediately branded 'racist'."

5. Appeal To Non-Existent Persecution. See also 3., but this one's slightly different in that it immediately attempts to turn the accusation on The Others instead (the others in this case being, as it usually is, 'people living here who are originally from other countries'.) Yes, because after all, tabloid papers never cry out in rage when fundamentalist Muslim clerics in Britain tell their followers that Allah wants them to kill Westerners, do they? Why isn't the Daily Mail allowed to speak out against Abu Hamza, huh? Huh?

Oh, wait...

"Having lived abroad I can say that there is no free speech in Arab countries. Perhaps those who find his comments offensive should spend time abroad rather than criticise one of the best chat show hosts around."

6.
Appeal to Love It Or Leave It, one of the most bizarre right-whinger arguments out there. Not like they ever complain about the country, or anything. It also comes free with tones of the much more stylish "Get back to Russia, commie!"

"Once again an individual who states his opinion is jumped upon by the Politically correct brigade. We are now only allowed to express opinions in this country if it is the opinion of the view rather than the many. When will the BBC and the government finally sit up and listen to the average man and woman in this country, otherwise their will be segregation and a lack of education. Let's put some common sense thinking back in the UK. Well done Kilroy for expressing your views."

7.
'The Multi-Pack.' Get as many of the above arguments into one statement as you possibly can. For bonus points, include grammatical errors and spelling mistakes while talking about the need for a good education.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Right-Whingers

There's a certain group of people who I've always found it very hard to describe. They're the ones who write to local newspapers over the land about Britain being 'flooded' by asylum-seekers; they're the ones who write to Ceefax Letters Page about the bleeding-heart hand-wringing friend-of-Saddam liberals who are still going on about this weapons thing; they're the ones who write to their friends, in those letters some people tuck inside Christmas cards, about how their children are all doing well and the greenhouse is just superb but it's such a shame Tony Blair is selling out our sovereignty to Brussels. We get a lot of these people in the small town where I grew up; often they're people who spent their lives working for the big pharmaceutical company which is a major employer in the area, and don't seem to have found much happiness or purpose in their retirement.

'Reactionaries' would hit their political views dead on, but it implies a level of energy and motivation they don't seem to have. 'Idiots' is fair, but too vague. 'Conservative' is almost as vague and would also make it sound like there were far more Tories around than there are (the people in question tend to vote for the UK Independence Party, anyway). 'Ignorant paranoid ranters who have nothing better to do with their time except blame everyone else for every problem they've ever had' doesn't have that snappy sound to it. But today, I was thinking about what I would write on the Robert Kilroy-Silk thing, and the perfect term popped into my head.

Right-whingers.

Non-Brits unfamiliar with the word 'whinge' are provided with a good definition here. I think it fits the people I'm talking about exactly, and I'm quite pleased with myself.

Right-whingers are exactly the sort of people who made up the audience of Robert Kilroy-Silk's morning chat show, Kilroy. Every day, there'd be a different topic for discussion, and an audience full of angry people would talk self-righteously for hours about how Asylum-Seekers Are Destroying Our Way Of Life/Criminals Should All Be Hung, If Hanging Wasn't Too Good For Them/Kids Today Just Have No Respect For Their Elders/Help Me, Kilroy, I Was Taken Into Care As A Child And I Require The Approval Of You, A Former MP With A Dangerous-Looking Tan And A Political Viewpoint Somewhere To The Right Of General Franco, To Assure Me My Life Has Meaning. It was on at 9am, and was required viewing for any students who were out of bed at that time, so I've seen a few shows. It's been running for a long time, probably since Muffin the Mule first left TV to pursue his film career, and it's become somewhat of an institution for those of us with nothing better to do at that hour.

Kilroy himself, in an effort to advance the right-whinger 'cause' yet further (well, it's not like they do anything, they just bitch), wrote an piece for the Sunday Express newspaper last weekend called 'We Owe The Arabs Nothing'. The Express website is completely useless and doesn't have the transcript [insert pithy comment about scientific advances from Arab countries of centuries ago vs. website design of Express here], but there's a full text of what he said here, at the Muslim Council of Britain's website. (For anyone worried about those sneaky evil Muslims making the whole thing up, I heard Kilroy's statement read out both on BBC news and Sky news (Fox's sister channel, incidentally - get your faked missile launch footage here!), and this is indeed what he said.) It includes choice quotes such as:

"WE ARE told by some of the more hysterical critics of the war on terror that "it is destroying the Arab world". So? Should we be worried about that? Shouldn't the destruction of the despotic, barbarous and corrupt Arab states and their replacement by democratic governments be a war aim? After all, the Arab countries are not exactly shining examples of civilisation, are they?"

Note the typical right-whinger use of appeal to emotionalism of the Other Side (in this case, the anti-war crowd), appropriation of whatever the government are selling us as a war aim this week (democracy by force, apparently. Uh-huh,) and the overall tone of one marching behind a huge shield labelled "I'm Not Being Politically Correct!"

Few of them make much contribution to the welfare of the rest of the world. Indeed, apart from oil - which was discovered, is produced and is paid for by the West - what do they contribute? Can you think of anything? Anything really useful? Anything really valuable? Something we really need, could not do without?

Well, yes, Robert. Maths, science, engineering, and a multitude of other things they had and we didn't back when we were living through the Dark Ages and they were inventing algebra. But things like this do not matter to the right-whingers. They aren't campaigning against a specific thing, and demanding that a certain action be taken - they're just whining.

We're told that the Arabs loathe us. Really? For liberating the Iraqis? For subsidising the lifestyles of people in Egypt and Jordan, to name but two, for giving them vast amounts of aid? For providing them with science, medicine, technology and all the other benefits of the West?

And the man claims to be educated.

Right-whingers do not, however, take kindly to people refuting specific claims like this. They have a great deal of emotional investment in the idea that no matter what the country's problems are, it's somebody else's fault. Part of that includes maintaining that everything good in the country (or the whole of Europe, at a stretch) can be directly attributed to One Of Us, and not One Of Them. Without this, they lost not only their justification for all those rants which begin "I'm not racist, but..."; they also lose their worldview. They don't give a damn about who invented the decimal system (and it wasn't us, Robert) - they only want to know that any problems they may face ever are someone else's fault, and we're the good guys.

In a way, it's too hopelessly naive and idealistic to be offended by. You want to laugh, and pat them on the head - "Oh, that's so sweet! You really do think we're in Iraq to liberate the Iraqis!". In another way, though, they're dangerous, because they recruit by word of mouth and they have proponents like Kilroy. Later on in the article, he gets to points like this:

What do they think we feel about them? That we adore them for the way they murdered more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders? That we admire them for the cold-blooded killings in Mombasa, Yemen and elsewhere? That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb-amputators, women repressors? I don't think the Arab states should start a debate about what is really loathsome."

I suppose it's necessary for everyone to go through a phase so blindingly idealistic that they can't see any of the facts thrown up in front of them, so strong is their devotion to the cause of whatever they support. We should realise that they're going to do this, at some level. But we should encourage them to grow up and face the hard, gritty reality before they do some real damage.

Wait - isn't that what the Right-Whingers say about us liberals?

(The BBC have taken Kilroy's programme off the air while the matter is being investigated. Right-whingers everywhere are angrily writing to their local newspapers in support.)

Friday, January 09, 2004

Hi there, family. Have we met?

"What are you doing on that computer?"

"My computer, Dad. My computer."

"Well, get off it and be sociable. You should be watching this."

"Watching what?"

'This' turns out to be a programme about UFOs. Uh-huh. "Dad, you're watching a programme about UFOs. Wait - you're all watching a programme about UFOs. Um. Why?"

"It's really interesting. You should watch it. Get off that computer and come and spend some time with your family while you're staying here."

A glance towards the TV shows Nick Pope talking about the Rendlesham Forest sighting. Nick Pope is a civil servant who used to officially investigate UFO sightings as part of his job. For a brief period a few years ago, in that hazy period between the X Files becoming mainstream and the X-Files becoming an utter pile of dreck, he was known as 'Britain's Fox Mulder.' "Thanks, Dad, but I'll give it a miss."

"It's fascinating. You should be watching it."

"But I already know this stuff." My voice starts reverting back to a very familiar fourteen-year-old whine. "Dad, I spent years watching programmes like this. I own every book anyone ever published about UFOs that I could get my hands on. I probably know more about this than Nick Pope does. And you never thought any of this was interesting back then!" I'm speaking more loudly, and more sulkily, than I expected to. This speech has apparently been building up inside me for many, many years.

A puzzled look. "Did you?"

How quickly they forget.

It's not limited to a few teenage obsessions, either. Right now, they're discussing care work with my youngest brother, who does painting and maintenance stuff in a nursing home as a summer job. I've worked as a care assistant in three different nursing homes, although not the one where my brother works. He's now the authority, apparently.

They've talked about how strange it can be that people with severe dementia remember some things so clearly:

"You weren't interested when I talked about that," I mutter quietly to myself.

How difficult it must be for the care workers to do such a demanding job:

"Oh, now you're sympathetic."

And, amazingly, how difficult it must be for care workers on nights to do such long shifts and try to sleep during the day:

"I worked ten-hour nights for a whole summer, and I did fifty hours a week, and you didn't mention any of this back then! On my days off you told me I was lazy for staying in bed past one p.m.!"

Puzzled silence from next door. "Are you all right in there?"

Oops. "Fine, fine. Just... talking to myself."

Because it's nice to have a conversation partner who'll put up with the occasional self-rightous rant. And it's really nice to have one with a memory extending back longer than three days.

...and the Witch-King of Angmar is NOT called Bret!

Now that bit of bleeding-heart commie tree-hugging liberal traitor rhetoric is out of the way (oh, I miss chatting in Yahoo's Current Events rooms), I feel like discussing something a little lighter. Fanfiction wars.

In the beginning, before Peter Jackson, before Arda Marred, there were people who wrote Tolkien fanfiction. Most of them were Tolkien geeks at a level I can only aspire to; they lovingly checked every single detail they wrote about, they ended their stories with notes detailing which version of a particular myth they were following, and why. They were dedicated, and careful, and treasured their communities and their writing.

Then came the films. People no longer needed extensive knowledge of the Silmarillion to write Tolkien fanfiction, and suddenly sites exploded with an abundance of stories whose summaries began with the words 'A girl from our world falls into Middleearth!!!!11' They cared not for canon, nor for research, nor for spellcheck. They were a world away from the earlier writers, but they were thrown into the same category since, at some level, they were writing about the same thing.

Irresistible force met immovable object. Immovable object muttered something about pretty blond elves being 'so hawwtttt!!!!!1', and called armies of its shrieking teenage friends to help. The ensuing sheer hatred, and the scale on which it's played out, surpasses anything ever known in the world of fanfiction. There's no sense of solidarity between the two camps, and 'kinslaying' would be too mild a word to describe their actions towards each other when angered. (It also wouldn't be as funny. The best review I've ever read of a bad LOTR fic contained the line 'Are you aware that fully 67% of the world's power is supplied by giant generators hooked up to Master Tolkien's whirring corpse?')

At this point, you probably think I'm going to take a detached view and comment on the amusement potential of the whole situation. I'm not. Although I've never written any Tolkien fanfiction myself, and have no plans to, I'm willing to fight and die for the first camp. I know, it would be funnier just to sit back and laugh, but I can't stand back and watch Tolkien's canon get mangled here. I just can't. Nobody with the enduring obsession love I had and still have for Tolkien's universe can be expected to watch happily as they're subjected to Elrond's 4,561st other daughter inviting herself along as the tenth member of the Fellowship, shouting at Boromir, making Gimli cry, falling in love with Legolas, and singing Blink 182 songs to all of Lothlorien (I am not joking).

They warp canon out of all recognition. Elrond, my beloved Elrond (yes, really) becomes a grumpy old man who Just Doesn't Understand The Kids (sorry, Mr Jackson, but I'm holding you at least partly responsible for that). Legolas becomes 'Leggy', 'Lego-chan' or any other perversion. Elves become a repressive feudal society with arranged marriages. Sauron becomes a misunderstood man who just needs a hug. And everywhere, everywhere, there are Mary Sues.

To give you a brief example of the abomination which is being fought against, here's a sample of real LOTR fanfiction summaries from ff.net:

"Tawny arrives in M.E. and befriends Legolas, who asks her to help him win over a young elf named Ameth. But Ameth is trying to get Legolas and Tawny together, which causes some interesting situations, foiled plans, and unexpected romance."

"When Legolas gets hit by lightning and goes completely insane, how will the others take it? Just a completely random and pointlesstory... YAY MY FIRST STORY READ PLEASE!PLEASE REVEW!READ REVIEW This is a humorus story but wierd yeah"

"An unlikely girl gets dragged into another world and meets some strange people. She finds out from Celeborn and Galadriel that she's really an elf and is destined to save the elven kind. When she goes she runs into your fav. LOTR characters...R&R"

"Legolas feels his heart crumbling bit by bit, growing more ill every day, knowing Aragorn would never return his feelings. What will it take to let Aragorn realise he actually does? LOTR story revised to my liking, haha! AL Slash! Chapter 5 up!"

Those were all posted to the site in the past 24 hours. Tolkien fan or not, you understand our pain.

So, here are some links to the best and funniest parts of the war against the stupid fangirls ongoing debate:

Deleterius is a LiveJournal community/support group where people share tales of particularly hideous Mary Sues. Deleterius also deals with Harry Potter Sues, so each one is clearly marked by category (often described in terms such as 'Lord of the Blond Elfboys' or 'The Boy Who Probably Wishes He Hadn't Lived'). Their appearance, improbable origins ('Galadriel's Other Other Other Sue Daughter,' 'Hogwarts American Transfer Student #27381,') and choice dialogue are all presented for others to wince at.

The Protectors of the Plot Continuum dispatch agents into individual stories to assassinate particularly annoying Mary Sues.

The Official Fanfiction University of Middle-Earth is a very funny story about a proposed academy, run and staffed by LOTR characters, which teaches potential fanfic authors how to write Tolkien fanfiction. (There's a Year 2 of OFUM out now, which I've not read. Rumour has it, though, that Thranduil goes on a rampage. I don't need to know any more - it's going to be good just from that.)

Nine Men and a Little Lady is a wonderful Sue parody.

Game of the Gods is another parody, where Morgoth and Varda play a wonderful game of Sues. It also features Fëanor. Not that I ever had a crush on Fëanor, or anything. No, that would just be ridiculous...

And, finally, Henneth Annun is a whole archive full of good Tolkien fanfiction.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a heated debate to get back to over at a certain fanfiction discussion board. In which I'll be heavily referencing What Tolkien Officially Said About Elf Sex. Obsessive? Nah...

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Peacenik productions, inc.

MoveOn.org have presented the 15 finalists for their 'Bush in 30 Seconds' ad campaign. They're worth a watch. If you're only on dialup like me, and only want to see one of them, I recommend 'Human Cost of War'. While they're all good, I think that one should win.

It's possibly because many of the others focus more on specifically American concerns. This is perfectly fine, of course, since it's an American ad campaign. Something which targets the justification for the Iraq war, though, can be embraced equally by those on this side of the Atlantic - and those everywhere else, whose governments got involved in this thing.

Political topics pass in and out of fashion on Internet discussions. Big though this one was, the time is already coming - or perhaps has already arrived - when the Iraq discussions are rehashed, uninteresting, and avoided by anyone in search of a truly interesting debate. Nothing new happens, no new facts get brought to the table, no governments decide to change their position or respond to international or domestic criticism in any way. In this, it's getting easy to forget the most important fact, the one we should be beating our respective leaders around the head with at every opportunity - we were lied to.

I don't mean to preach, here. I do it myself, despite following the ongoing events in Iraq with an interest which has my non-political friends and family looking at me like I'm about to form my own militia. (Join the Army of Sept! Guns in a rack over there, grenades over at the table, and pick up a tinfoil hat as you pass the reception desk!) Iraq discussions come up, in chat or on discussion boards, and I skim over them in a cursory way before moving on to something else. Discussions about weapons seem so... well, so 2003. Our governments are doing their best not to talk about it, and when they do it's with the air that we won't let an old issue die - that the justification for the war isn't important now, that they only made up the weapons stuff because the mean old UN didn't want the Iraqi people to Know Democracy, that we should all just forget about it.

We know we were lied to, of course. We're not stupid. But if they can make us forget about it, appealing to the cynicism and media saturation of those most likely to bring the issue up, then they'll be happy enough. We aren't getting treated like avid Saddam supporters any more (unless we're George Galloway, and frankly, he deserves it). We're just hopeless idealists, naive appeasers, people who have their hearts in the right place but don't care about those of Iraqis. All the clever, realistic, people knew that the weapons issue was nonsense, but supported the war regardless. All the media-savvy people knew they were lying, but agreed with them. They didn't lie that much, and anyway, it's not like it was important.

We were lied to. And it was important.

People have a tendency to forget how much the weapons issue was emphasised before the war. AlterNet has a great piece on Ten Appalling Lies We Were Told About Iraq, which is worth a read when it's easy to forget just how specific, how scaremongering the lies were. We weren't told that there might be some weapons programmes going on somewhere. We were told that they had the weapons already, that we knew exactly what these weapons were, that they could hit our cities within 45 minutes of the order to launch them. (Anyone willing to bet that Tony Blair will be regretting that one post-Hutton, whatever the verdict is?) We were not only told that we knew where these weapons located - we were shown satellite photos which allegedly showed them. They lied.

IraqBodyCount.net now estimates the number of civilians killed in Iraq as between 7,960 and 9,792, numbers which will probably have changed by the time you click on the link. It mattered.

We haven't improved things in Iraq. They are now free to speak out against the government (with only a few protestors getting killed for it), but 'free' remains a subjective term, and after this article on things Iraqis can't do under the occupation, I'm not sure we can call them 'free' at all. To take one particularly repellent example of something we were told we'd be fighting against: If you're female and in Iraq and you're not wearing hijab, there are several extremist groups out there who will disapprove to the point of actual bodily harm. These extremist groups are not 'Saddam loyalists', 'insurgents' or 'foreign terrorists' - these, such as SCIRI (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), are the people we're working with. These are the people we've appointed to the governing council. These are the people we're going to give Iraq to when we've finished with it.

Wars like this need a good reason behind them, and we didn't have one. This is why I liked that particular Bushin30seconds ad best. We were lied to, and we shouldn't forget that. Jeremy Paxman once said (and Google seems to think odds are about 90% he's the first person who said it) that when interviewing anyone, the question he kept in his head at all times was "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?". Politicans can dodge Jeremy Paxman pretty well, but he shouldn't be the only one asking that question.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

How strange.

My youngest brother made tea (which, despite protestations otherwise from the rest of the English-speaking world, is the name for the evening meal) for me and Brother no.2 this evening. Without being asked, without being bribed, and without lacing it with poison. He's now sitting watching Friends with the other brother, and they're laughing happily and sharing tales of how their respective days went.

My family have been replaced by the Pod People.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Missing - one scarf, and fellow escapees

I hate losing Christmas presents. So far this year, I'm down one scarf, one book and the extended edition DVD of The Two Towers. The last one can't have got far, since I've only allowed it out of my sight for ten minutes since I unwrapped it, but I have no idea where the first two ended up. Evidently, all my belongings have the capability to evolve consciousness and motor skills, and sneak away the minute they're left alone. That scarf is probably looping its way, caterpillar-style, down the M6 by now.

There was a great news story in Friday's Independent that I meant to comment on, but somebody made the fire with that paper yesterday night. (The people who claim blogs are the 'future of journalism' must have central heating only.) Undeterred by that setback, I've found it on their website, here.

The story goes like this: On a BBC Radio 4 phone-in programme on Thursday, viewers were asked to suggest a law that would 'improve life in Britain'. The winning vote would then be helped into official status, if possible, by the MP Stephen Pound. Unexpectedly, the winner was:

"to allow homeowners "to use any means to defend their home from intruders" - a prospect that could see householders free to kill burglars, without question."

This story is worth commenting on for several reasons. The implication that our country might be swinging dangerously to the lunatic fringe of the right, for one thing. The possibility of a fix by supporters of Tony Martin, the farmer who recently completed a prison sentence for manslaughter after shooting and killing a burglar (aged 17, in the back when running away, and with a shotgun that Martin wasn't legally allowed to own, incidentally), for another.

Eclipsing them all, however, are the wonderful Stephen Pound's remarks upon hearing the winning choice:

"The people have spoken," the Labour MP replied to the programme, "... the bastards."

Well said!

Friday, January 02, 2004

Better the devil the country knows

Michael Howard, current leader of the Opposition (such as they are), has published a list of his beliefs in the Times (BBC article here). It's been translated very nicely over here.

It's conveniently vague ("I believe it is the duty of every politician to serve the people by removing the obstacles in the way of these ambitions"), charmingly idealistic ("I believe the British people are only happy when they are free" - no, we're happiest when we're complaining, believe me), and conveys the what-the-hell? tone of letters to everyone's local newspaper pretty well ("I believe that Britain should defend her freedom at any time, against all comers, however mighty" - you know you're in trouble when they start referring to the country as 'she' rather than 'it' or 'us'), but overall it's not too bad. Seeing how or whether it applies to Tory policy could prove interesting.

BBC Online says that the two-page article (what font size must that have been printed in to take up two pages? Good trick, Michael, but we're on to you) "will be sent to 100,000 Tory party members who will be urged to forward it to 10 more people." Yes, and by the time it ends up in the inboxes of the nation with "Remember! A true friend is a friend for life but what is life without a true friend! Forward to 10 people and Microsoft, Nike and Disney will ask your crush for your phone number!" tacked on the end, the Tories can be safely placed back in the "annoying and irrelevant" category.

Our beloved (ahem) deputy Prime Minister treated this in the verbal equivalent of the way he'd treat, say, a protestor throwing eggs:

"It's selling a product and he has got to be judged against his record, not his dreams. Howard's way is about dreams and not the past record of nightmares," [Prescott] told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Ugh. I hate agreeing with the government.

Happy geeky fun

150 things you may not have noticed about ROTK, from theonering.net. Including the kind of obvious:

"Sam's frustration and rage grows the more Frodo trusts Gollum."

The downright sweet, as in this mention of Viggo Mortensen's son having a cameo role:

"He played - one scene he was a Gondorian - so he was on my side. And then the next thing I know I'm running this gauntlet and he's the first in line with this meat cleaver. Fortunately the choreography called for me to duck and him to miss and Gimli to take him out. Because he probably would have finished it ..." Viggo Mortensen at the Wellington media roundtable on November 30, 2003"

The things I did notice, which made me squeal in shameless geeky pride at knowing:

"The lines "I give Hope to men" (Elrond) "I keep none for myself" (Aragorn) are from appendix A, only it's Gilraen's (Aragorn's mother) line to Aragorn the last time she sees him." (For those who don't mind being handy foils for me to bounce my Tolkien trivia off, 'Estel' - Aragorn's Elvish, and childhood, name - means 'Hope'. It's stylish wordplay. Because, see, Aragorn's father died when he was two and so he was brought up by Elrond and - okay, I'll go and sit over here now.)

And the people who were paying even more obsessive attention than I was:

Some of Shelob's eyes on the left side of her head are covered over with a thick crusty deposit of filth, probably hindering vision.