Wednesday, September 21, 2005

newgrauniad: newbritain? 

We is a doughnut: saccharine and hollow

Berliner? My arse. The only paper in Germany to share the Guardian's new format is the taz: same lower case fetish, but that's where the similarities end. One looks vaguely radical, the other like a corporate newsletter. And who said style wasn't substance?

Certainly not Alan Rusbridger, theguardian's editor, who's pimping out his pages to the highest bidder.

In an exclusive Press Gazette interview he said: "If I had to choose between occupying a niche on the left or being nearer the centre, whether you display that through your news reporting or your comment or both, I'm more comfortable saying this an upmarket, serious mainstream newspaper. There's more potential for growth there than taking comfort in political positioning."

The new-look Guardian will also embody Rusbridger's belief in "straight" news reporting, as opposed to the "viewspaper" model pioneered by The Independent in recent years.

He said: "I continue to believe that news is at the heart of a newspaper. It seems to me vital that the news is accurate, reliable and trustworthy and that people don't feel they are being spun a line."

Of course. Unless it's being spun by the government, big business or the military - in which case we'll report it as news, because news is at the heart of a newspaper and officialdom sets the news agenda, of which it comes top. Hooray! We're in hock to a cosy cartel - it's official:

UK media policy is dominated by a cosy cartel of politicians, government advisers and industry lobbyists, according to new research.

Despite government assertions that media policy is increasingly transparent, the report argues that it is centralised, opaque and controlled by a small number of advisers and media experts.

One day Rusbridger's rag rolls out these revelations; the next it's deriding their conclusions as conspiratorial. Enter the features pages, where not much else matters as long as it's written up with pizzaz. Hence Gore Vidal is just like Chomsky in Prada trainers. A proper Batty Boy:

"He may well be right about the malevolence of corporate America. But like most conspiracy theorists, Vidal's beliefs are so grand - for example, that the New York Times, General Electric and the nuclear industry are in cahoots to hoodwink the American people - that they rely on a rather optimistic view of human competence."

Chrs, Ms Brockes. Resplendent in your new colour photo byline - is it just my prejudices or do they all look so much more dysfunctional now you can see them properly? - you don't even have to trouble your pretty head with the contents of your own paper.

And it gets better on the leader page, where moral pygmies pronounce on the chaos in Iraq, under cover of anonymity:

"No one is arguing for an immediate pull-out, and Britain must discharge its responsibilities."

Of course. Would those include the hitherto undisclosed mission objectives of two undercover British agents who, disguised as Arabs, shot up the Basra police from a car that may or may not have contained explosives, depending on whether you believe the Iraqis on the scene, assorted aggrieved parties or the spin doctors in Whitehall? Of course not.

Nor does this dear leader include the swathes of antiwar campaigners who were arguing for withdrawal before "we" penetrated Iraq's borders in the first place. Still more alarmingly, however, at least from the perspective of logic, this absurd sentence also overlooks the front-page puff picture of new recruit Simon Jenkins beside the slogan:

"It's time to leave Iraq".

You couldn't make it up, part 94. Since they're obviously so anti-anti-American in the control room on Farringdon Road that they wouldn't want to give anyone the impression they were imbalanced, the only appropriate response seems to be: "Er, hello?"

Meanwhile, Mr Jenkins elaborates:

"Don't be fooled a second time. They told you Britain must invade Iraq because of its weapons of mass destruction. They were wrong. Now they say British troops must stay in Iraq because otherwise it will collapse into chaos. This second lie is infecting everyone."

Including his new employers. Over to senior columnist Jonathan Freedland for a voice of reasonable whimsy: of course Tony Blair is abhorrent, but you can only hang a column off what somebody powerful said recently. Otherwise... Well, it would be like farting in church and it just isn't done. We're just cogs in a machine, what? So better not to stick a spanner in the works. Or is it?

Subject: Tony Blair
Date: September 21, 2005 16:00:21 BST

Hi Jonathan,

I was puzzled by your latest column, in which you castigated Labour MPs for their supine acceptance of their leader's crimes in terms that applied almost equally to your own comments on the subject: "There is no outrage, just a shrug of the shoulders."

You observe that "there is no realistic way of getting rid of him." To what extent do you think journalists can contribute to that end? On the strength of today's mild-mannered musings on page 31, it would seem that the answer is not a lot. In which case, is there any such thing as a Fourth Estate?

I look forward to your response.

Thanks and best wishes,


I should be so lucky: still waiting for a reply to this.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The access of evil 

What drives a person to blow themselves up along with numerous innocents?

Who can say except those who do, who by definition can't. All that can be said for certain is that there is no conclusive answer, which makes protestations to the contrary particularly irksome, above all when they serve to justify The Great War For Civilisation that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Pure evil, they hate our values and other such warmed-over nostrums are as absurd as the notion that the criminal conduct of coalition forces and their masters explains everything while they exhort us never to surrender. Which isn't to say there's a Third Position that makes sense either.

So where's the voice of reason? Who can explain the unexplainable: where do we go from here? The words are coming out all weird.

What's surely beyond dispute is that Iraq cannot be airbrushed out of the analysis of What Went Wrong when War Tone declared we'd have to pay a "blood price" for mortgaging our national security to Pentagon planners.

We must fight Them on the Euphrates. Or between it and the Tigris. Or the Rubicon or the Styx. Or something.

Anyhow, it's one thing to argue that the insurgency in Iraq must be defeated by those whose invasion kicked it off, but quite another to avoid the conclusion that the war was anything other than "a strategic error of the first order", to quote Jeffrey Record, a professor at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

In the words of the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory panel:

"American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims."

In testimony before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Professor Paul Wilkinson, a leading authority on political violence, clarified the serious debate:

"Well, I think although all of us would breathe a great sigh of relief at the overthrow of the brutal Saddam regime, most observers on counter-terrorism would accept that there was a very serious downside to the war in Iraq as far as counter-terrorism against al-Qaeda is concerned because al-Qaeda was able to use the invasion of Iraq as a propaganda weapon."

No shit Sherlock. Even the Commander-in-Chief seems to acknowledge this, although he passes it off as part of a suck 'em in to whack 'em doctrine that his own intelligence services struggle to comprehend.

WASHINGTON, June 22 (Reuters) - The CIA believes the Iraq insurgency poses an international threat and may produce better-trained Islamic terrorists than the 1980s Afghanistan war that gave rise to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, a U.S. counterterrorism official said on Wednesday.

A classified report from the U.S. spy agency says Iraqi and foreign fighters are developing a broad range of deadly skills, from car bombings and assassinations to tightly coordinated conventional attacks on police and military targets, the official said.

Once the insurgency ends, Islamic militants are likely to disperse as highly organized battle-hardened combatants capable of operating throughout the Arab-speaking world and in other regions including Europe.

To cap it all, the same British spooks who signed off on Blair's dodgy dossiers on WMD, warned our dear leader and his senior colleagues that his misdirected war against nastiness would have nasty consequences:

"The [Joint Intelligence Committee] assessed that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq."

This is where it starts to get tricky and reason flounders in search of reasons, both for the distinction and the ever elusive Root Cause, in light of which the latest leak of Whitehall's collective wisdom is a sobering read, without apologising for anything:

"It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived 'double standard' in the foreign policy of western governments (and often those of Muslim governments), in particular Britain and the US. This is particularly significant in terms of the concept of the 'Ummah', i.e. that Believers are one 'nation'. This seems to have gained a significant prominence in how some Muslims view HMG's policies towards Muslim countries.

"Perceived Western bias in Israel's favour over the Israel/Palestinian conflict is a key long term grievance of the international Muslim community which probably influences British Muslims.

"This perception seems to have become more acute post 9/11. The perception is that passive 'oppression', as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to 'active oppression' - the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam."

Hardly news, but this worldview is going to take some dismantling with things as they stand. And so once more unto the breach: the chicken and egg story about Western foreign policy and the politics of jihadism. A superficial sketch:

"For more than 60 years, Britain and America created, armed and funded tyrants across Muslim lands in exchange for access to oil and for co-operation in the Cold War. Whenever there were shoots of democracy or Islamic reformation - like the election of Mossadeq in 1951 in Iran - our governments destroyed them. Any wannabe democrats were swiftly tortured and killed. Generations of Arab democrats - their Garibaldis, Jeffersons or Chartists - were lost to history.

"In this warped environment, an undemocratic opposition movement was born. The Middle East was turned into a petri dish for the virus of Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism. Since democracy was not an option, this austere form of Islam grew in popularity as the only alternative outlet for rage at the obvious corruption of Western proxy rulers. It is a simple philosophy, expressed eloquently by every radical Islamist I have met."

Fuelled by oil politics, our dance with death in the Middle East continues, mitigated only by the insistence that democracy must prevail in the heart of darkness, which might variously be considered to be Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or, until the more comprehensible attack on Afghanistan, Mullah Omar's men against merriness, who don't appear to have vanished yet any more than Dick Cheney has been delivered his desire: the plattered head of Osama bin Forgotten.

In which case, why invade Iraq? The pre-war self-justificatory conflation of Jihadism and Ba'athism continues unabated, only now it's no longer a joke. And a withdrawal, were such a thing conceivable in light of our energy dependence and its significance to Middle East policy, would barely begin to undo the damage done. It certainly wouldn't bring back the dead.

Instead we appear to be stuck in this rut as the rot sets in, while the demand for a restored Islamic Empire threatens the foundations of our own, to say nothing of the existence of Israel. But we're rarely treated to an explanation by the wordsmiths of Western supremacy, for whom the defence of our values on foreign soil is as non-negotiable as the American way of life:

"A demand to abandon Western civilisation is not in our power to meet, and we should be proud to attract hatred from such atavistic forces."

To which specific demand does this refer? None exists except in the author's interpretation of the consequences of restoring the Caliphate to the jihadis, which would in any case be a Bad Thing for those unfortunate enough to have to submit to their totalitarian strictures, assuming it's not just the power of our nightmares which assumes they could triumph.

Britain's foremost writer on the subject is unconvinced:

"Today, the structure that was built in Afghanistan has been destroyed, and bin Laden and his associates have scattered or been arrested or killed. There is no longer a central hub for Islamic militancy. But the al Qaeda worldview, or 'al Qaedaism,' is growing stronger every day. This radical internationalist ideology - sustained by anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric - has adherents among many individuals and groups, few of whom are currently linked in any substantial way to bin Laden or those around him. They merely follow his precepts, models, and methods. They act in the style of al Qaeda, but they are only part of al Qaeda in the very loosest sense. That's why Israeli intelligence services now prefer the term 'jihadi international' instead of 'al Qaeda.'"

Whether or not the freelance franchises of Global McJihad prevail depends to a large extent on the outcome of a concerted and consensual battle for the soul of Islam, or at the very least its adherents:

"In our interconnected world, the people who now count most are not our security and emergency services, brave and competent though they are, but the hopes, fears, expectations and views of 1.3 billion Muslims, whether in Beirut, Bradford, London, Riyadh or Kuala Lumpur. They will decide who are martyrs and who are murderers."

Which brings us back home to the questions of roosting chickens, the enemy within and an estimated 16,000 adherents to the discombobulated distortions of religious rhetoric that serve to rally foot soldiers for the cold calculations of suicide bombing.

Since the abolition of religion remains as distant a fantasy as world peace and an end to living in tribes, a reformation of Islam is the new priority. "Uproot this ideology of evil" declares the Prime Minister. Time for the moderates to root out apostasy: fatwa off back down the hole you crawled out of, tabloids scream at the fundamentalists.

It's part of the process, to be sure. But what of the trigger mechanisms beyond our shores?

"The truth is that no amount of condemnation of evil and self-righteous resoluteness will stop terror attacks in the future. Respect for the victims of such atrocities is supposed to preclude open discussion of their causes in the aftermath - but that is precisely when honest debate is most needed."

It is an insult to the dead to deny the link with Iraq, declares the editor of The Guardian's comment pages. Indeed, as this eloquent northerner reminds CNN by butting into a live broadcast. But it is also an insult to intelligence to deny the importance of ideology which feeds off Western policy and its consequences, otherwise this sort of disclaimer just reads like an arse-cover:

"The London bombers were to blame for attacks on civilians that are neither morally nor politically defensible.

Clearly. But what drove them to do it? This is where leaps of faith of our own start to kick in if we're not careful. Draining the swamps of grievances for Jihadism to feed off is only one dimension of the struggles ahead. In short, the causal connection remains unproven:

"We can't of course be sure of the exact balance of motivations that drove four young suicide bombers to strike last Thursday, but we can be certain that the bloodbath unleashed by Bush and Blair in Iraq - where a 7/7 takes place every day - was at the very least one of them. What they did was not "home grown", but driven by a worldwide anger at US-led domination and occupation of Muslim countries.

Yeah but no but. It is also driven by an ideology which retails itself to Muslims as the legitimising rationale for indiscriminate killing and glossing over this missing link only serves to polarise the debate further when the importance of new coalitions is as paramount as the need to dismantle the corrupt one democratising with extreme prejudice.

And this is the real problem: how can any headway be made when it depends on overlooking the elephant in the room in Iraq, since that's apparently just not up for discussion? The only possible answer, dissatisfying as it may be, is to recognise the distinction between ideology and blowback, which requires widespread acknowledgement of the sources of mass anger in policies rejected by swathes of the British establishment in the first place.

Only then might such words of wisdom as the following be worth heeding:

"A first step towards 'confronting the voices of evil head on' is recognising the indivisible nature of Islamist terror against civilians anywhere in the world.

"Condemning terrorist attacks directed against civilians wherever they are located is an essential part of recognising extremism within the Muslim community. It is central, not simply because it recognises a universal human rights standard, but because acceptance of such murders as "understandable" or even "justified" is itself a part of the mindset which facilitates the journey of nice lads from Yorkshire into the hands of the salafi jihadists, who tell them that they too will be a hero to their friends, their family, and the whole Muslim people.

"Furthermore, if understanding of, or applause for, the murderers of civilians abroad becomes your mindset, you will be surprised again and again when your neighbour, who you thought had just become a bit more pious, turns out to be an ideologically driven mass murderer. You did not spot him then, and you wil not spot him next time."

In the end, all the posturing about geopolitics only matters if it's informed by this awareness while the moralising only has meaning if it's rooted in an appreciation of the consequences of our policies.

And if the fusion of these worldviews depends on our willingness to downsize consumption or go nuclear, it seems safe to say we're pretty fucked, one way or another. But I'm sure the Dunkirk spirit will help us through the Blitz.

If not, we can always rely on the words of Wilfred Owen to keep us company on the Tube:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

My school had this motto emblazoned above the stage of its assembly hall as an epitaph, together with a list of alumni slaughtered in its name. To this day I cannot be certain what message this was supposed to convey.

I wish I'd hacked it to pieces instead of engraving my name on desks and becoming a hack.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Barbarism begins at home... 

In the corporate media bubble

Thanks Reuters. Great ad.

Quoth a senior news executive:

"We are a capitalist company providing capitalist news..."

But not about the biggest armed robbery in history. Another world is possible. We hope. This one's days are numbered.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

No pierced labia... story

AL Kennedy on da meeja:

"Today, of course, we have Vietnam II, the BBC is in tatters, Deep Throat turns out to be a mad-eyed geezer with a book deal and Ellsberg is still appealing for whistleblowers when no one will print their revelations unless they involve pierced labia, or Castro having sex with a dog. While all other public figures cannot appear in any format without being at least partially naked, sexually reassigned and/or masturbating a farm animal, our politicians are cocooned by embedded sycophancy. Not that I'd want to see Blair stripped with his parts in a jar and laying hands on a helpless donkey, but equally I am very tired of bombshells such as the Downing Street memo bringing us no nearer a transatlantic war crimes tribunal."

Readers write back in disgust at the product of these perversions:

"I do not read the 'big' newspapers because I am sick and tired of being lied to and manipulated with lies and non-factual stories that are designed by big business and almost always in their favor. I am not necessarily a 'right' or 'left' wing person, but I can see the newspapers manipulation of facts to appease their biggest customers." (Guardian non-reader)

Keep tryin' to keep it real while makin' it up; the motto of modern journalism is loyalty to the caste, preferably unconscious.

"It took six months for Henry Higgins to mold Eliza Doolittle into a duchess. If a Higgins was around, I had no idea how to find him. I didn’t even know I should be looking."

Imposters and fraudsters unite, you have nothing to lose but your brains.

"Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse." (The Journalist and the Murderer, by Janet Malcolm)

Cue paranoid depression: Fourth Estate = 4 the state.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Whither whither? 

On the wall...

The message is the medium is the product is the peddler. Stars in their eyes, innit?

"Reporters must be strong story-tellers and writers, have a drive for original and challenging journalism, and be hungry to get on screen."

Style snorts at substance again.

Which means it's time to bestow hope and deliverance on our little brown brothers. Take Uganda:

"The reluctance of rich countries to make waves in a country held up as an African development success story has let the conflict fester - despite massive suffering at the hands of a brutal rebel group that forces children into battle and cuts off the lips of its enemies."

Roll up, roll up for some human rights fundamentalism in the heart of starkness.

"For the militia of abducted villagers and teenage gunmen terrorising northern Uganda, the first step towards justice crushes an egg."

How quaint, we scoff: watch and gurn (streaming movie).

Friday, May 13, 2005

Letter to The New York Times 


A month out of sync, time keeps on tripping in the computer:

Date: June 7, 2005 10:52:20 BST
Subject: Re: uncover your eyes

To The Editor:

Nicholas Kristof ("Uncover Your Eyes", Column, June 7) refers to "the fear that Darfur may be another black hole of murder and mutilation, a hopeless quagmire to suck in well-meaning Americans - another Somalia or Iraq."

Since the quagmire in Iraq and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents are the direct product of an American invasion, ostensibly to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime of weapons it did not possess, I would be interested to see the evidence that has convinced Mr. Kristof of Washington's well-meaningness.

Yours etc...


Monday, April 11, 2005


The last rites

Ever uninfallible, the Pope must die. Praise the fraud: it's a miracle!

Meanwhile, all that remains of The Great Pontiff-icator is his unholy dream for a requiem, courtesy of a double-thumbed fist of artillery.

"I'd like to have several explosions. He loved explosions."

Quite. Even the Imperial Holy Tribute confessed the earth had moved. Eat the Rich for a taste of the truth: what's missing from The News is the news. But what about the backing track for this last post? Hang onto your guts for the lowest common denominator:

"Through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way."

Shrink-rapped and rotten to the core; 'twas ever thus with enlightenment values. So what to do? R.I.P. to the rusting pieces arresting peace: the journey is the destination.

"This is the moment. A planet brings forth an opportunity like this only once in its lifetime, and we are ready, and we are poised. And as a community we are ready to move into it, to claim it, to make it our own.

"It's there. Go for it, and thank you."

Don't believe the hype: it's all over.

The End.

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