Thursday, 24 April 2014

Fair Game

Racism is still taking centre stage this week what with all the St George and anti-St George rhetoric of yesterday. In fact racism is the prejudice du jour for anybody who wants to be anybody. But its ubiquity is a big part of the problem. As the definition is diluted and broadened and applied thinly to the merest perceived turn up of the nose we are rapidly nearing a racism event horizon, a Lenny Henry singularity whereby all failure can be excused by one’s appearance rather than by one’s performance. Black, white, red, yellow or blue (Scotland) and from under whatever national flag, it is all the fault of other people’s prejudice against your origins. We’re all going nowhere but at least we are equally victimised.

The trouble is where does it all stop? There have been genuine and sincere attempts to have ginga-bashing classified as a form of racism. Thank goodness the blondes haven’t risen up and complained; it’s probably because they don’t get it, a propos of which I bring you this oldie but goodie:

A blind man walks into a bar, taps the man next him, and says, "Hey, wanna hear a blonde joke?" The man replies, "Look mate, I'm blond. The bloke behind me is an eighteen-stone professional wrestler and he is blond. The bouncer is blond. The landlady is blonde and the bottle-washer is also blond. You sure you still want to tell that joke?" The blind man is silent for a few seconds while he considers his options. Eventually he makes up his mind. "Nah, I wouldn't want to have to explain it five times."

New-racism is founded on an odd paradox. While the old racism was caused largely by ignorance and a perfectly normal wariness of strangers, which led to antipathy against the interloper, modern racism turns inwards. Today’s racism is more a product of white self-loathing. So far have we moved from judgement by skin colour that the only uneasy colour is the one we refer to as ‘white’. Even that is a shocking stereotype; at best we’re a blotchy, doughy pink. It’s all gone too far, so today I launch the search for a new, acceptable prejudice.

It’s tricky old thing because most of them have been done already. Left-handers, short people, the bald, the short-sighted, stutterers, Sloanes, chavs, Scousers, the Welsh – see there we’re bordering on racism again, even though nobody seems to be able to properly explain what they mean by race. (Today even the Cornish have been accorded their own protected racial minority status) At a Manic Street Preachers gig some years ago somebody in our group casually remarked that they were good but it was a shame they were Welsh. A perfectly earnest student type felt the need to butt in. “That’s racist” he informed us. We assumed he was joking so burst out laughing. He was serious and now he was offended. Naturally we upped our game and all adopted cod Welsh accents until he piped down. 

But would you dare do that today? The reviews imply that even Ricky Gervais, who built his entire career on offence-causing has given way to opinion and toned down the caricature for the second series of Derek, which aired last night. Fair enough, I think most of us balk at mocking disability but even laughing and pointing at the plain, every-day stupid has to be done in ‘safe’ company for fear of attracting censure. No. We need a less defensible target; a group who, whatever the truth, is universally loathed and set apart from the rest of humanity, ideally by their own choice.

We need a common enemy

But what sort of person would deliberately set out to become a part of a despised minority? And furthermore, what sort of person would not only know they were considered reprehensible by everybody else but would continue, despite all the flak, to keep doing the very thing that attracts our opprobrium? Who could be so thick-skinned that almost any type of resentment against them would be considered fair game? In entirely unrelated news, Ed Davey is justifying putting up the electricity bills again. If only there were more people like him to hate?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

For England & St George!

It's St George’s Day and a recent survey shows that even though we may be secretly (and rightly) proud of our heritage, we are apparently scared of celebrating our patron saint’s day for fear of being seen as that most heinous of bigot – a racist. In my typical contrary way I tweeted that I favour the spelling ‘realist’ and as a result a few people ‘favourited’ that post but not many dared to publicly retweet it in agreement because, well, you never know how it may be taken.

It’s no surprise though, because even though the taunt of racist has become a parody now, with friends routinely outing each other over the tiniest of  twisted slights by deploying the R-Bomb, there is still some nervousness attached to it. There is, I believe, a legal definition which can be tested in court, but in real life nobody has the slightest idea where preference passes over into racism. For instance I would far prefer to work alongside a fluent English speaker with whom I share many cultural norms – not least because I like a laugh and a joke and punchlines rarely translate well - but does that make me a spitting Nazi? Yes, it would seem, to some.

So no wonder the knives were out for Nigel Farage with both mischief makers and concerned public alike determined to denounce a suggestion that an oversupply of labour depresses wages as racist. Racist? Yes, because these workers aren’t native born. This is a straw man fallacy. UKIP’s actual position is simple - open the borders to a plentiful supply of cheap unskilled Labour and those already here are at a disadvantage. That is a pretty simple economic realism which is hard to attack but wait, those cheap units are foreigners, therefore… You Racists! It’s almost as ridiculous as the witch quiz in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I confess to using it myself all the time. Ed Miliband’s dad was a Marxist, therefore Beaker himself must wish to enslave all of Britain under the yoke of communism. It’s a cheap jibe with which to express my opposition to another term under a Labour government, but it’s not clever. Ed would argue me under the table if I were to try and advance this as a serious political attack because it is lazy and wrong and who the hell am I anyway? No political commentator with any gravitas would ever support such a flimsy fallacy but Kay Burley threw caution to the wind and had a go anyway.

Her straw man argument (and that of many others intelligent enough to know much better) goes thus: Nigel Farage states that a flood of cheap labour depresses low-paid workers’ wages. (This cannot be denied – it’s one of the reasons many employers love the EU; such people will willingly do work that it has become uneconomic for many British born to do.) He, like thousands of other people in public positions employs his wife, a person uniquely available to help him in a way possibly no other person alive could. But wait, she’s German, therefore (and you can almost hear the cogs grinding) he’s not only a racist, he’s a hypocrite!

It’s as if the massed ranks of the media and the political classes put aside their mutual grievances, held a meeting and agreed some battle lines. Time and again, instead of attacking the many chinks (racist!) in UKIP’s armour they went for the man himself on the flimsiest of pretexts, cynically trying to poison him with an oversupply of the oxygen of publicity and betting that if they told the tale often enough it would transmogrify from fallacy into fact. Bomber pilots used to say “If you're not catching flak, you're not over the target.” Farage must be bang on; he’s certainly rattled the cages of some big beasts.

Do you want this dragon slaying or what?

Well today we celebrate - quietly, mind you - that racist heritage of ours as we raise a glass to a Greco-Roman-Palestinian who suffered torture and execution over his beliefs but is remembered in our folklore as a dragon-slaying hero. Be careful what you wish for, many critics said of Nigel Farage yesterday, as they repeatedly lashed out at the figurehead instead of taking on his army. Wise words you might do well to heed. The traditional way of creating a saint is to start off by making him a martyr.

Happy Saint Nigel George’s Day!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Woman's Hour

The radios in my car, my office and my kitchen are tuned to BBC Radio 4. I love it because, despite all the repeats and the fact that every time I’m driving the sodding Archers manages to elbow its way in, I get to hear all sorts of wonderful things I would never otherwise choose from the schedules. Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time is always fascinating, as is The Moral Maze. Every now and then I catch Any Questions and sometimes even Any Answers. And if I remember, I like to cook along to the comedy slot at half past six every evening.

One of my serendipitous guilty pleasures is Woman’s Hour. It’s like pausing outside an open window during a Women’s Institute coffee morning and hearing snatches of conversation about topics you never even knew existed. Yesterday, as I was driving through the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, the chatter was all about haute couture and looking pretty. This is as it should be and three cheers for the little ladies, I say.

At least they weren’t worrying their pretty little heads about gender equality issues – unlike one little girl’s complaint about McDonald’s Happy Meals. Dismayed at the apparently sexist slight of asking an eleven year-old child if she wanted a girl toy or a boy toy she wrote a stern letter in which she asked if it would be legal “to ask at a job interview whether someone wanted a man’s job or a woman’s job?”  Well silly, of course there are daddy and mummy jobs and always will be; you can’t expect mummy to catch the spiders can you? Just as you can’t expect daddy to give a toss about wedding planning. I’m sure she’ll grow out of it once she starts Secretarial College, or Nursing School.

Now I’m all for a bit of feminism, me. The world needs ‘the fairer sex’ because otherwise we’d never have curtains or fresh bed linen. So it was refreshing to hear that all is well and Jenny Murray and friends were happily discussing lovely clothes, just as they should. I’d far rather the girls spent their time chattering about proper feminist issues such as embroidery, hair, aromatherapy and horoscopes but over the years I’ve seen a disturbing trend towards an altogether uglier side; I wonder if you’ve noticed it too?

Every now and then, marauding metaphorical gangs of angry, stocky, short-haired women, makeup free and wearing sturdy boots, crop up in the media to further a frightening agenda of what can only be described as Scary Feminism. Like drunken gangs of losing football supporters the best way to deal with their threatening behaviour is to ignore them. Just close those pretty curtains and make some more tea until they’ve moved on. Chat about kittens and knitting and you’ll soon feel so much better.

What the scary feminists simply don’t understand is that the matter of gender roles has long been settled. You can always go off and make a spectacle of yourself by rejecting tradition if you like but in the main we all know how it should be. Men make all the big decisions in the world, such as whether we send space probes to Mars and how we tackle climate change. Men decide on important international affairs, such as foreign policy, quantitative easing and whether to spend £100billion to build a brand new giant national train set. These are matters women need not worry about.

Imagine letting her choose the curtains?

Women should stick to the little decisions. Such as: where you will live, how many children you will have, what you will eat, wear, drive and watch on TV… Where you will go on holiday, when you will go to the doctor, what furniture you will have, how the house will be remodelled, who your friends will be, how much you will drink, which parties you will go to… Where and when you will retire, how much time you will spend in your shed, what goes where in the garden… Gender equality, dear? Trust me, I listen to Woman's Hour - we haven't a chance.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Seasonal Adjustments

Twitter seems to have spent the entire Easter weekend going on about food banks, the Trussell Trust’s insistence that almost a million people rely on them to eat and the Daily Mail’s low tech ‘exposé’ of the relative ease with which they can be abused. Lots of name calling on all sides, as you would expect, but never a plea for common sense. This is how everything works today, it appears, ideological battles waged across the interweb while in reality nothing changes. Look, if people really ARE starving, where are all the reports of pantry burglaries and the hijacking of food trucks? With the exception of well-organised imported street begging, where are our indigenous beggars on every corner? And where are all these starving people housed and entertained; where are the resettlement camps and municipal soup kitchens? It’s poverty Jim, but not as we know it.

Browsing about I stumbled upon this article by Midlands UKIP MEP Roger Helmer about the way the simplest truths can be distorted. Put aside your automatic - and largely media-driven - abhorrence for a minute and have a read; it’s really rather illustrative of the mores of the mainstream media who know that people make up their mind based on headlines and captions rather than any detailed understanding of the issues, the facts, or their own common sense.

So I’m wondering what the manipulated masses will make of news that the EU has recently set up a Ministry of Weather. Pretty chancy even by their record, this is on top of the whole climate change industry which, as Roger’s blog makes clear, currently spends its time working out ways of making energy as expensive as possible. The Weather Commissioner, or to give him his full title Commissioner for Daylight, Precipitation and Air Quality, is an unelected and (at just over £220,000 per annum) highly paid official who is also a former crony of EU President José Manuel Barroso. As he has absolutely no power whatsoever to alter the weather it has to be asked just how, exactly, will he spend his days in office?

Well, contrary to expectations the department has actually been pretty busy and after consultation with the currently independent meteorological services of the member nations a number of reports have been issued and proposals drafted. The Commissioner obviously can’t change the weather but he has done - in the eyes of the EU - the next best thing and codified it. With immediate effect actual day to day weather summaries will be passed to the database and compared with seasonal norms. And any weather patterns falling outside those seasonal norms will be subject to sanctions. In the UK for instance, both last year’s exceptionally sunny summer and this year’s heavy rainfall would have attracted hefty fines.

Much of the EU’s legislative workload is taken up by this sort of crap, with penalties levied for transgressions over which member states have little or no control. For instance, did you know that on top of having to accommodate our high immigration intake we are effectively fined for exceeding certain unfixed quotas? So on the one hand we must bear the infrastructure and subsequent welfare costs of uncontrolled immigration and on the other we must compensate those countries from where the immigrants originate for their loss of skilled workers. And on top of all that they just banned Milk of Magnesia for having too much milk of magnesia in it.

Wild Weather? That'll be £50k a day!

Of course, the EU does things like this every working day of the year and so much of what we formerly took as freedoms are being corralled into the EU pen to be controlled that we just can’t keep up. People notice things like the Milk of Magnesia story because sooner or later somebody points out its absence. But it’s unsurprising you have heard nothing about the weather business for two reasons. The first is that while the EU likes to spend lots of cash propagandising its supposed benefits it doesn’t trumpet the myriad petty rulings that spew from its chambers every day.

The second reason is that I just invented it. But how could you have known? Research (that I once again just invented) shows that most news is accepted at face value; instead of challenging the truth of it or querying the source it’s so much easier to just adopt a position. Hands up all those who already formed an opinion about it?

Friday, 18 April 2014

How green is my valley...

"The Reverend Eli Jenkins, in Bethesda House, gropes out of bed into his preacher's black, combs back his bard's white hair, forgets to wash, pads barefoot downstairs, opens the front door, stands in the doorway and, looking out at the day and up at the eternal hill, and hearing the sea break and the gab of birds, remembers his own verses and tells them softly to empty Coronation Street that is rising and raising its blinds."

        REV. ELI JENKINS

Dear Gwalia! I know there are
Towns lovelier than ours,
And fairer hills and loftier far,
And groves more full of flowers,

And boskier woods more blithe with spring
And bright with birds' adorning,
And sweeter bards than I to sing
Their praise this beauteous morning.

Dylan Thomas. Under Milk Wood


As the sun rises over the little green valley on Good Friday morn, Mrs Evans shoos old Dai out the door to gather flowers from his patch to adorn the pew-side baskets in the little chapel by the wood. She bends and straightens and before she hangs the bed sheets out to dry she waves at her neighbour, Widow Jones across the way.

“Good morning Mrs Jones!” she shouts, for the old dear is as deaf as a post. Hearing the sound Mrs Jones looks up, bent backed from weeding her path and begs a repeat. And so the morning starts. (If you can read it in a Welsh accent then all the better.) 

JONES: Sorry love, you’ll ‘ave to speak up a bit.
EVANS: I said good morning!
JONES: Oh yes, good morning, lovely.
EVANS: You going to the chapel, Sunday?
JONES: Eh?
EVANS: I said, are going the chapel? Easter Sunday?
JONES: Pardon?
EVANS: It’s Easter, love. You going to chapel?
JONES: Oh yes, of course. I never miss.
EVANS: Reverend Jenkins it is.
JONES: Eh?
EVANS: I said it’s the Reverend Jenkins
JONES: Sorry?
EVANS: Reverend Jenkins doing the service see.
JONES: Which one’s that?
EVANS: Tall. White hair.
JONES: Eh?
EVANS: He’s the tall one, love. With the white hair.
JONES: Pardon?
EVANS: Very tall. (She gestures) Snow white hair.
JONES: Oh? I can’t quite place ‘im, now.
EVANS: You’ll know him though.
JONES: Eh?
EVANS: He has a very loud voice
JONES: Pardon?
EVANS: Shouts a lot!
JONES: Sorry, love?
EVANS: I said, he shouts. A lot!
JONES: I didn’t quite catch …
EVANS: (at the top of her voice) BAWLS LIKE A BLOODY BULL!!

Green hill... not far away

Widow Jones, startled at the suddenly heightened volume and ferocity of the response, looks back at Mrs Evans and considers her reply. After a few moments she replies, cautiously, “Has he, now?”