Monday, October 18, 2010

andrew marr doth protest too much

The BBC's venerable Andrew Marr has seriously laid into blogging. In a speech at Cheltenham Literature Festival he said

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people.

OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk. But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.

This is someone in a glass house firing numerous stones of various sizes in all directions.

Firstly, and most obviously, attacking people for their appearance is cheap and low, and that goes doubly for elements of appearance that are not of their choosing. It's a cornerstone of why we oppose racism, sexism, homophobia, disability discrimination and so on.

Within that, however, consider the fact that Marr himself is not what many of us would think of as a looker. I'm willing to bet he was that mercilessly abused jug-eared lad at school that everyone called FA Cup.

He is perhaps outstripped in these stakes by the phenomenally ugly John Sergeant. Yet this has nothing to do with the quality of their reporting, even though they're on telly. With bloggers, they don't show you what they look like so it makes no odds whatsoever.

And because we don't see bloggers, we get to the serious point about Marr's charges. He doesn't actually know this stuff. He's just listing a variety of things we say about people we don't like, without any evidence. So much for his implied moral high ground of authoritative opinion.

It's notable that these accusations of warped male friendless nerdiness are exactly the same things that were said ten years ago about anyone who used the internet. They were ways for the people who saw the rise of online communication as alien and threatening to pretend they were above it.

By the same token, the mainstream media is feeling the ground shift under its feet, hence these outbursts from Marr and colleagues. Their old certainties, their aloof position, their power to publish where the only available space for retort was a Letters page controlled by the same publisher, it's all been swept away.

Which brings us to another problem with what he says. Yes, there is a lot of ill-informed, vile, misanthropic, intrusive stuff on blogs. Of that material, much of it is intentionally written that way. In this respect, it is no different to the tabloid press.

For Marr to talk as if reporters only write things that are considered, beneficial and true is to pretend that the best selling newspapers in this country have never existed. Such vitriolic, speculative, seedy tittle-tattle is the public's preferred flavour of reporting.

But to look at The Sun and use its standards as grounds to attack the likes of Charles Moore and Nick Cohen is ludicrous. So it is that our repulsion at the putrefying mass of tabloid-equivalent blogging is no basis for attacking the medium as a whole, let alone making Marr's snidey snipes. The lack of real facts in his criticism only underlines that point.

The stuff I love in blogging is the way that, every day, there are news stories dismembered. The bloggers walk you through their reasoning and cite sources that are credible. It's like a forensic version of The Day Today, teaching you to use your critical faculties with news media, keeping your bullshit detector at full power.

All those stories about how 'they're trying to ban Christmas' and making people call it Winterval in case it offends muslims? Not one of them is true. Likewise lots of the stories about immigration. But you wouldn't know that if you only read the papers and watched TV. It's when bloggers look into it that we get the truth.

There are large elements of crossover, because responsible reporting is essentially the same endeavour whether it's bloggers or professionals. Channel 4 News' Fact Check blog does a superb job of correcting what we're told, and conversely news broadcasters pick up rumours from blogs and turn them into stories. Last year there was something going round about Gordon Brown being on certain pills. It didn't appear to have any real foundation, but that didn't stop it being inappropriately being included in an interview by one Andrew Marr.

It appears that, fingers burnt, he's blaming bloggers for telling him to put his hand in the fire.

Friday, October 08, 2010

a bottle of fight the world

A website about Buckfast's source locality, Dartmoor, informs us that

a popular Scottish phenomenon is the 'Buckie Commando' who is an intoxicated, aggressive, fearless consumer of the Buckfast Tonic Wine... There now are numerous aliases that the wine is known by, some printable examples are; 'Commotion Lotion', 'Wreck the Hoose Juice' and 'Bottle of Fight the World'.

Strathclyde police confirm that there were

448 mentions of "Buckfast" in reports of murders, attempted murders, serious assaults and common assaults in 2008-09, out of a total of 7,483 violent offences. That equates to 6% of the total.

Of these 114 involved the use of a Buckfast bottle as a weapon. This equates to 1.5% of the total

A BBC investigation adds

This echoes a study carried out in 2007 at Polmont Young Offenders Institution. It found that of those offenders who had been drinking immediately before their offence, more than 40% had been drinking Buckfast.

The man who conducted that research, Alasdair Forsyth, says the findings were remarkable. "This is a product, a brand which unusually for any product, is always trumpeting how few units they sell, that they sell less than half of 1% of all the alcohol in Scotland," he says.

This has led to moves within the Scottish parliament to ban Buckfast in the country.

As Monty Python observed, 'contemporary government applies one standard to violence within the community and another to violence perpetrated by one community upon another'. There are times when that enhanced, fearless fighting spirit comes in handy. Are you being bombed by Nazis? Bucky will make it all palatable. This advert ran in the British press during the Second World War.

Buckfast Tonic Wine is made by a secret process and to a formula perfected by the monks many years ago. It is still made with the same unhurried care at Buckfast Abbey in the calm of the Devon Hills. Its recuperative properties are invaluable to meet the strain of war time conditions.

Nerves and depression are largely physical, the result of an unaccustomed drain on your strngth and vigour. A wineglassful of Buckfast two or three times a day will quickly restore your energies and help to maintain your strength and mental poise.

They were not the first to spot its propensity for making people confident in violent circumstances. Those commanding the first world war knew that turning petrified shellshocked boys into Buckie Commandoes would be good for the chances of victory. According to Lyn Macdonald's book Somme, British troops were issued with an English-French phrase book sponsored by Wincarnis Tonic Wine with the slogan 'for the relief of nerves in the trenches'.

Indeed, in July 1916 as the Battle of the Somme was raging the British Journal of Nursing listed Wincarnis, saying

the primary effect is immediate stimulation and invigoration of the system, and the secondary an upbuilding of mental and physical vigour, and that as the secondary follows immediately after the primary effect, the upbuilding of bodily vigour occurs before the stimulating effect has worn off

A bottle of fight the world indeed. Wincarnis was originally called Liebig’s Extract of Meat and Malt Wine. The subsequent brand name 'win-carnis' means 'wine-meat'. These days they make it without actual meat, and nothing of Buckfast's altercation-inviting caffeine avalanche, but it's still a right radge tipple.

We should perhaps be grateful that Buckfast only augments its alcohol with caffeine. When tonic wines became popular in the late 1800s, many of them

used potent, poorly understood and often addictive ingredients. These included strychnine, morphine, opium, quinine, lithium salts and cocaine.

Buckfast with cocaine? Imagine the possibilities.

Graham Harding's book A Wine Miscellany informs us that

Coca wine, with cocaine, was already flourishing in late nineteenth-century America when Dr. John S. Pemberton created his “French Wine Coca” in 1886. He was a latecomer to the market, which was dominated by Angelo Mariani’s Coca Wine. This product, conceived and marketed by a French priest, added cocaine to wine.
Pemberton added both kola nuts and damiana (a natural aphrodisiac) to his drink and marketed it as an aid to overcoming morphine addiction. It was advertised as an “intellectual beverage” with the capacity to “invigorate the brain.”

Cocaine was removed from the drink in 1904, though the Coca-Cola Company continued to use “decocainised” coca leaves as flavoring for some decades. It is possible that they may still do so.

In 2002, the Bolivian authorities authorized the export of 159 tons of coca leaf to the United States “for the manufacturing of the soft drink, Coca-Cola.” The company was equivocal in its response to inquiries. “The formula for Coca-Cola is a very closely guarded trade secret. Therefore we do not discuss the formula.” Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

20% off the bnp

When people talk about the BNP membership list, who exactly do they mean?

The BNP's mailing list goes out to anyone who's ever had any contact with them. Every couple of weeks there's another letter, usually four pages long, always full of random use of capitals, italics and underlines (and assorted combinations thereof), references to Agincourt and the Somme as reasons to be proud of ourselves, plenty of personality cult stuff about Nick Griffin, and always the appeal for money.

It's that last aspect that's most interesting. Before the general election you'd expect fundraising, campaigns don't come cheap after all. But now, after Griffin failed to make good on his promises to march through the doors of the Commons (the BNP voteshare actually went down where he stood), they're not only still begging but are getting ever more desperate.

After several months of pushing their life membership scheme, the newest letter drops the price from £500 to £395.

(Contact details have been pixellated out, everything else is, in all its tacky glory, absolutely real).

This honour is being extended to a carefully selected group of British citizens, stalwart BNP members like you, and I would like to be the first to personally congratulate you for being among that special chosen group of people.

Special, chosen, stalwart 'members' who haven't been in touch since they once asked for a membership pack or poster three years ago. An 'exclusive' offer that only excludes people who decide for themselves that they aren't interested.

Even our brave young soldiers, heroes all, cannot have a homecoming parade without being spat at on our streets by Muslim fanatics or Marxist UAF traitors.

Cannot? I can find an incident where one person is alleged to have once spat at one soldier. I can find lots of reports of parades without spitting.

And oh, woe is me, those Marxists in the UAF like Ed Balls and Diane Abbott.

We have set the fee for LIFE MEMBERSHIP at £500, but if you respond to this personal written invitation right away, you can take advantage of this offer for the special invitation price of £395. This massive reduction is a token of my deep appreciation for your loyalty and hard work for the party.

But there is more good news for you. If you accept my invitation today - you'll receive all the valuable benefits only available to LIFE MEMBERS, FREE!

FREE top quality, exclusive, engraved watch, his or hers.
FREE exclusive LIFE MEMBER pin badge to wear with pride and dignity.
FREE lifelong subscription to Identity magazine 64pp. (£4.99)
FREE lifelong 'annual party reports'. (£6.95)
FREE complementary copies of the party's magazine, Hope and Glory, for your friends.
FREE prestigious LIFE MEMBER certificate parchment scroll for framing.
FREE limited edition 8x10 signed portrait of party chairman Nick Griffin MEP.

You will also receive a highly desirable GOLD embossed LIFE MEMBERSHIP card.

Mmm, I just love a gender segregated watch. And a limited edition signed photo of Nick Griffin? Limited to how many? Does it come with presentation dart flights?

And that prestigious life member parchment scroll (wouldn't want a non-prestigious one), is it available in perforated 2-ply with aloe vera?

The desperation to get the dosh in, banking on a lump sum today against the prospect of steady revenue streams in the years to come, speaks clearly of their motivations. They either don't expect members to stay for long, or else they are very strapped for cash indeed. Recent reports suggest a bit of both.

Concern about the BNP's finances has been exacerbated by news that the Electoral Commission is investigating the party's 2008 accounts and that its 2009 accounts are already late.

The BNP faces further legal action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission over allegations that it has failed to remove potentially racist clauses from its constitution. Lawyers say the case, due to go before the courts again in November, could see Griffin landed with a fine or even imprisonment for contempt of court.

The BNP refused to comment on reports that the party is more than £500,000 in debt or to confirm how many members had been suspended or had resigned.

Yet still they extravagantly add an extra sheet to the begging letter.

Like some Saga insurance or Littlewoods catalogue junkmail, it not only uses lots of positive terms for the gaudy cheapo free gift, and 'come on, what are you waiting for?' (ie 'please don't think about it or you'll decide not to'), but the punchline for these supposedly desirable watches is that spivvy disclaimer down there in the bottom right hand corner - Watches May Vary. It'll be these, or some other shit, we dunno.

It appears that there's a sort of ceiling for fascist parties in the UK. People feel scared by economic instability and immigrants, they feel ignored by the entrenched power of the big parties, so they vote fascist. But then once they've got a modicum of power and become a real threat, there is a big turnout to defeat them. The party then tears itself apart with in-fighting.

It happened to the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, it happened to the National Front in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and now it seems poised to happen to the BNP.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

bnp tolerance

The comments sections of news sites seemed such a bright idea at first. Democratising journalism and creating a new system allowing debate, challenge and correction to be on the same page as the article. This would surely lead journalists to draft their pieces more carefully, and to a better understanding and level of engagement for all.

It rapidly became clear that nothing like that would happen. Out there on the comments pages it's survival of the shoutiest, with access favouring those who've got the internet in front of them all day and nothing interesting to do. Shielded by anonymity, the need for civility and accuracy wither to nought.

Last year I pondered why news sites get this crap much more than Wikipedia.

Wikipedia's a reference tool, the Guardian is a news site. If you manage to skew the first wave of comments on a news article, you've effectively neutered the ability to debate. Who goes back to a four month old news article to start a discussion?

Most posts on this blog only get a couple of comments, if any. I've deleted very few, just the ones that were solely comprised of insults. I've let ones from climate deniers, Simple Minds fans, BNP supporters and people even further right stay up.

In May I did a post about BNP leaflets and the party's climate denial. Within 12 hours it had about 30 comments. About two-thirds were from BNP supporters, all bar one were anonymous, and none of them about the content of the post (that the source the BNP cited to prove there's no climate change actually shows the opposite).

It was during the period of the European elections when the BNP had clearly got their flunkies to trawl the internet and bombard the comments sections of anything that mentioned the party. The effect is rather like having them run into a meeting with airhorns. Nobody can be heard over the din, and by the time they leave everyone sensible's left the room. I've got another post about the BNP coming soon, and I'm half expecting the same flood of comments, so I thought I'd set out the rules in advance.

Free speech is one of those issues where I strongly agree with opposed sides. I think people have a right to be protected from hate speech, and it is blindingly obvious that extreme actions have their roots in seemingly innocuous incitement activities. We should not allow the fascists credibility and let them march the streets, creating an atmosphere of intimidation, normalising aggressive racism and bigotry. I applaud those who use force to confront and fight fascists.

Conversely, something in that feels a bit paternalistic, like we're saying we don't trust the public to be as smart as us in seeing through facist lies. If we don't trust the mass of people to discount stupid opinions then there is little point in any political activism as a decent future is impossible.

On a more philosophical level, where does the no-platform policy end? I agree with George Orwell when he said

If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

We can't have this apply to our controversial views but not those of others simply because we disagree with them. Or to put it another way, as Noam Chomsky said,

Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're really in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech.

However, Orwell qualified his point with stuff that makes obvious sense

If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilization means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.

So which ones are activities that deserve to be stymied because they 'harm the community'? Fascist attacks on ethnic minorities? Advocating the deportation of our neighbours? Making stupid comments online that inhibit proper discussion?

Here on this blog, I don't have to find definite answers. It's not a freedom of speech issue. If I were the BBC then I would have a duty to be impartial, but really, this place is no more powerful or laudable than a blog anyone could set up in seconds. So if I delete comments it is not shutting down anyone's freedom of speech.

It's my blog, and if I deem comments to be discouraging to the kind of debate and atmosphere I want to see here, stuff full of insults and not even on topic, then I'm free to delete them. And if you don't like that you BNP scumfucks then go cry to your mums.