Friday 31 January 2014

Bully for him!

Sticking with Thursday night's Newsnight, there was an extended section based on Ed Miliband's admiration for U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt: A report from the BBC's Allan Little, an interview with one of Teddy's biographers and a studio discussion between a Tory and a Labourite. 

Unconsciously, I suspect, the Labourite -  Rafael Behr of The New Statesman - gave us right-leaning bias-sniffers a big hint as to why Newsnight might have been covering this story. His opening words to Kirsty Wark were:  
Well, it's certainly clear that Ed Miliband would like us to be having this conversation about him having a grand vision of re-making capitalism for the 21st Century.
And here was Newsnight having that very discussion! (Ed will be sending the cheque in the post shortly perhaps.)

Ed's hero certainly came out glowing in glory from this edition of Newsnight. 

Newsnight presented Teddy Roosevelt as the heroic president who took on the 'predators', the big corporations, the multinationals of his day, using the power of the state to to do. It was left to the biographer, prestigious American liberal historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, to point out that Teddy also gunned for the big unions. 

As a fan of Theodore Roosevelt myself - surely the most interesting man ever to hold the American presidency - I rather enjoyed all this talk about TR, but I did note a typical bit of BBC leftwingery (as I see it). 

No right-winger, surely, would have thought of putting this cringing question to Doris Kearns Goodwin: 
"But it's interesting, because can you imagine American politicians looking to British history for their exemplars?" 
Well Kirsty, I could. What about Winston Churchill, or Margaret Thatcher? Many U.S. politicians have looked to them over the years.

Doris indeed made that very point:
I would hope that at certain moments, if we were in a moment where we needed a Winston Churchill, I'd bring him back from the dead in two seconds!
Why do some BBC types, such as Kirsty Wark, always assume the worst about how Britain and its politicians are seen? Why do they seem to find it so easy to forget Winston Churchill?

Of lesbians, lyric poetry and Kirsty Wark

As I'm somewhat demob happy, having excused myself from having to pay attention to Newsnight ever again - and also because it's Friday night and there's no more work till Monday - the following posts may seem a wee bit 'off topic'. That said, both Sue and I love going 'off topic' and they do all relate to this week's editions of Newsnight. So that's all right then.

Last night's edition of Newsnight ended with the news of the discovery of parts of two poems by the ancient Greek poetess Sappho. 

Sappho appeals to both Newsnight types and feminist classics professors as she's both the pagan patron saint of lesbianity and, to those in the know, a great landmark poet too. Consequently, Newsnight's Kirsty Wark discussed the discovery with an enthusiastic feminist, Professor Edith Hall of King's College, London. 

Should I froth and moan about that? The discovery of two new poems by a 'feminist icon'/'gay icon' from Ancient Greece is certainly classic BBC/Guardian territory and, perhaps, indicative of BBC bias.

Still, this selfsame story was also covered on Tom Payne's blog at the Telegraphand the top-rated there runs as follows: 
Before this thread gets closed down by the resident 'frothers' and moaners, thanks for posting up a story that is genuinely interesting. 

And, yes, it certainly is a genuinely interesting story: After some 2,600 years fragments of two poems are discovered by a very famous ancient Greek poetess previously only known for just four poems and lots of fragments. In 2014. 

The poems, written on papyrus, came from an anonymous collector (somewhere in London).

Excessive punctuation alert!  (but I think excessive punctuation is needed here): An anonymous collector?? Missing for over 2,600 years and now reappearing in the collection of a London-based Anon??!!?

What other missing glories of the past are still lurking out there then in the collections of other Anons? More Plato? Yes please! Lost Raphaels? Yes please!! Lost Bach cantatas and passions? Yes please!!!

Looking into the story a bit more, other Sappho findings have emerged in recent years, so these poems aren't quite so out-of-the-blue a discovery as Newsnight's presentation might have led us to believe, but...

Here are the translations published by Slate (the best I can find). They tell of Sappho's two brothers. 

That's interesting in itself as Edith Hall noted that scholars have previously been dismissive of ancient sources who complained that Sappho was always banging on about her brothers (rather than about lesbian love). 

But always you babble that Charaxus is coming
With a full ship. These things, I suppose, Zeus knows
and all the other gods—but you
don’t need to understand them.
Just send me and instruct me
to pour out prayers to Queen Hera;
and beg that, steering his boat here
unharmed, Charaxus

finds us safe and sound. The rest,
let’s consign it all to the stars,
for fair winds suddenly appear
out of great gales.

Those whose fortune the Olympian King
turns back from sorrow—
They are happy
and shine with blessings.

And we, if Larichus ever lifts his head
to become a man,
from great heavy-heartedness we’d be
quick released.

Poem II (Fragment)

How could anyone not gorge always
Cyprian goddess, whomever you should love
and fervidly wish to call back to you?

Edith Hall, before reading the poetry in the Ancient Greek - and it's not often you hear Ancient Greek poetry (in Ancient Greek) on the BBC - made some striking claims for Sappho on Newsnight: 
Sappho invents the love song. She invents the subjective 'I' voice, where you say how you feel when you're in love. She is the first great lyric love poet in Western culture. 
Whether that's true or not, or merely the result of our lack of precursor poems by precursor poets, is an open question I'd suggest. 

Anyhow, this sort of thing beats watching Jeremy Paxman interview Ed Balls any day.

Bad Egg

Isn’t it odd that the BBC lags behind events in oh so many ways? When something they find distasteful comes along they drag their feet until they simply can’t ignore the elephant pounding on the door.
This time it was the black egg over on Channel 4. I rarely watch Channel 4 news because of the obvious political bias of Jon Snow. He really can be a disgrace, as Richard Millett will testify. 

But via Harry’s Place (I know) I was urged to watch the episode of Channel Four News that was aired on the 28th. It was broadcast before the Newsnight edition I mentioned here
That probably explains why the BBC actually deigned to address the issue - a catch-up type of thing.

“We’ve taken the decision to cover up the image in case it causes offence to some viewers..”
Anyway, it seems that Channel 4 introduced the Jesus and Mo debacle with an illustration of the offending cartoon. With “Mo” blacked out. They’d specially made a Mo-shaped blackout graphic that looked a bit like Mo was wearing an eyeless burka, or as the cartoonist described it “ a black egg.” 
The egg of Islamophobia.  It was asking to be lampooned, and so it was.
Here’s that Channel 4 news, which includes an interview with Mohammed Shafiq.
Note  how Shafiq repeatedly calls him Jon throughout the interview. In my opinion Shafiq is asking to be lampooned and at least he’s *against violence*. We really really need one of those old style impressionists. Who would dare to do Mohammed Shafiq? Rory Bremner? Culshaw? McGowan? 

“This sounds neither liberal nor democratic!” “ Who elected you? “  - some of the counter arguments put by Snow. But I don’t think his heart was really in it. Innit.

Busy with the fizzy

As this is a blog (primarily) about the BBC, I’d better stick to the way the BBC has been reporting the Scarlett Johansson business. Naturally I think she’s fantastic. A celebrity role model who is sticking to a principle, and a good one. But the way the BBC is reporting it is odd. In some ways it’s balanced because for once they have aired the Israeli argument, but  - as if they were afraid of being criticised for doing so - they’ve sought out the opposition in an almost gratuitous way. I would argue that it’s gratuitous because that particular position has been adequately covered by the BBC multiple times, with no little or counter argument.

Brendan O’Neill has said it in the Telegraph. 
He deals with this particular case, and the broader issue of the BDS movement, which is exposing its own hypocrisy more and more with each passing “From the River to the Sea.’
Even its arch proponent Finkelstein has described it a cult. Although I don’t know if all the protesters that stand outside Sodastream outlets with placards would openly admit it, their aim is the elimination of Israel  as  Jewish state and the creation of yet another Islamic one by default.
you make up numbers, fantasize and all of the followers are supposed to nod their heads.” 

The fact that charities like Oxfam have become politicised is gradually seeping into public consciousness, and this is reflected in the comments below Brendan O’Neill’s article. An increasing  number of people are expressing independent thought and many have decided to do a bit of low-level boycotting of their own - by not donating to Oxfam.

Even the BBC this morning on the Today programme had Kevin Connolly giving an uncharacteristically even-handed report, in contrast to various web articles that are to be found by searching “Sodastream”.
“Scarlett Johansson should know better.” What a strange title for that clip. I didn’t think that was the gist of the piece at all. It did feature a ridiculous quote from Amena Saleem, an activist of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK, who the BBC News sought out to speak to and devote a whole page to elsewhere on the web. Her comments sounded even more idiotic, unjustified and illogical in this context than normal.

As usual, BBCWatch provides the background that the BBC can’t face.

However, for once the BBC has attempted to give the other side of the story, which does make Amena Saleem and co-cultists look ridiculous, racist and purely vindictive. I bet the BBC will come in for as much flak for airing that as Scarlett herself has had to, for refusing to cave in to Oxfam. Will the BBC be as  steadfast?

Thursday 30 January 2014

By their tweets do ye know them

The ever-attentive DB at Biased BBC has highlighted a revealing Twitter response from a BBC News journalist, Roland Hughes, to the news of Scarlett Johansson’s decision to cut ties with Oxfam over the charity's criticism of her adverts for Israeli company SodaStream. 

Please give it a read. It shows a BBC journalist revealing his anti-Israel hand - and then hastily deleting it. 

And if that doesn't call for a picture of Scarlett Johansson I don't know what does!

The Newsnight of the Living Dead

Fans of Radio 4's Down the Line will know of the recurring character Khalid. He invariably rings up to ask 'What is point?' of something or other. Well, in the spirit of Khalid, what is point wasting time analysing Newsnight

After all, according to the Daily MailNewsnight attracts a paltry 600,000 viewers a night on average. The Guardian suggests the figure fluctuates somewhere between 600,000 and below 800,000, averaging somewhere in the middle of those two figures. 

Either way, those are truly dreadful viewing figures, and Newsnight ultimate demise seems now to be only be a matter of time. [Ian Katz (their ex-Guardian editor) is probably booking Jeremy Paxman a flight to Switzerland (and the arms of Dignitas) as we speak.]

Compare Newsnight's audience ratings to those of Radio 4's Today, which seems to average around 7 million listeners a day - i.e. roughly ten times more people than Newsnight

Kirsty Wark and the 'Newsnight' production team

Yes, listeners appear to be all agog to hear Evan, Mishal, Jim, John, Justin and Sarah do their thing each day and, yes, Jim and Mishal seem to be much more influential (potentially-speaking) than Jeremy and Kirsty could ever dream of being these days.  

This is something (it seems) I keep having to learn, over and over again. (Pavlov's Dog seems to have fared better).

For years I thought monitoring The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One was the thing to do....until, to my great surprise, I learned that The Andrew Marr Show gets a significantly lower audience figure than Radio 4's Broadcasting House, which (as you probably know) is broadcast at the same time. Yes, Paddy is more influential, potentially, than Andy. (Crikes!!) 

Radio 4 is what Middle England listens to - and Middle England votes in droves. As a speech channel, it outstrips 5 Live by some margin.

So, I think I'll give up monitoring boring, snoring Newsnight and stick with Radio 4 - or popular BBC TV programmes. 

Please imagine me doing a Zombie dance (Kirsty Wark-style) with the Cookie Monster as the credits roll on this post. 

...that said I will review this week's programmes as a final 'good bye' to Newsnight

A bit of believing

“Now it takes a bit of believing that someone could be put in fear of their life by a cartoon but that’s the world we’re living in. When a Liberal Democrat candidate was shown a cartoon showing Jesus and Mohammad and then Tweeted that image, he so irritated some members of the Muslim community that they’ve demanded that he be stripped of his position in the party. Maajid Nawaz Tweeted that he didn’t feel threatened by the image despite the Islamic prohibition on likenesses of the prophet.” 
..............said Jeremy Paxman introducing the Jesus and Mo T shirt debacle on Newsnight.
(approx 5:53)

It certainly does take a bit of believing, and it sure does seem that “that’s the world we are living in”. The world - and sadly, due to a vociferous section of the British Muslim community, the country.

Zoe Conway reports:

“Maajid Nawaz says he was standing up for moderate Muslims whose voice is seldom heard when he tweeted an image of Jesus saying “Hey” and Mohammad saying “How ya doin’ ?”    she begins.
Then a brief clip from The Big Questions, the bit where two beburka’d women were offended by the T shirts and Maajid was not.

Did the students  have the right to wear Jesus and Mo T shirts? asks the BBC.

“It was the BBC’s decision not to show a close-up of the T shirts that prompted Nawaz to send the Tweet” continued Zoe Conway.

Thousands of Muslims (21,000) have signed a petition asking the Lib Dems to deselect Nawaz as  PPC (lib Dem) for Hampstead and Kilburn.

Beheaded publicly

“Some said he should be killed”. Newsnight did not shy away from reproducing these Tweets, which is a bit of a turn-up for the BBC.

Hang this man till death!!!

Mohammad Shafiq  and Irafan Ahmend are Liberals “with respect” and they say Maajid’s position is untenable.

“What does it actually mean to be a liberal?” asks Zoe Conway. I was wondering the same thing myself. “Anything I want it to mean” said Humpty Dumpty, but what does Paddy Ashdown want it to mean? 
Is Maajid Nawaz’d position safe? Paddy Ashdown doesn’t appear to be offering any guarantee” says Zoe’s voiceover. If she recorded that voice-over after her interview with Paddy she’s obviously as puzzled as I am.

This is a matter for the proper procedures of the party, but in order for somebody to stand down there has to be a clear case for that.” Says Paddy.

It wasn’t obvious which side Paddy was on from his demeanour. You couldn’t tell. I was confused. Was he defending Nawaz, Islam or the Lib Dems, or trying to be non-committal?
He continued:

“He has expressed a minority view, he has a right to do that. he has used, in my view, immoderate language in expressing it - he has apologised for that.”  Oh. So he’s criticising Maajid Nawaz?”

How do you know it’s a minority view? How do you know what all Muslims think? asked Zoe.

The statistics........You don’t have to know what they think. You have to know what their theology is! If you don’t understand that in Britain the vast majority of Muslims believe  that any image of the prophet is blasphemous. That’s part of their view.” replied Paddy

So Paddy is defending the Muslims religious “rights to be offended” (I think.)

But many are not offended.” reminds Zoe.

That’s true, and Muslims are entitled not to be offended, but the majority Muslim belief in Britain is against any image of the Prophet. That does not entitle the majority to tell those that hold a minority that they may not hold it.

So Paddy is defending Maajid after all? Or is he? Is he trying to straddle the divide by condemning everyone?  Does anyone know?

Paul Salahuddin Armstrong, who looks like what is known as a convert, or possibly a revert, thinks there’s no religious requirement not to draw the prophet Mohammadpeacebeuponhim, which he said very fast, like the true practitioner of religious requirements he is. There are many depictions of Mohammadpeacebeuponhim in art galleries around the world.

The interview with the heavily disguised cartoonist of Jesus and Mo notoriety placed Jeremy Paxman into the position of devil’s advocate.

The cartoonist is horrified and bewildered. He thinks most Muslims are moderate and couldn’t give a damn. 

Paxman wonders if “he deliberately set out to cause outrage.”

A.  No, to have a laugh at religion and entertain atheists, he says.

Q.  But you do understand that depicting the prophet is a great offence to muslims? Says  the Devil’s advocate.

A. No. It’s not my concern.

Q. Isn’t it your concern if you give offence?

A. I don’t do that deliberately. if they take offence then that’s their prerogative. They can take offence.

Q. You don’t find something offensive about someone anonymously making others unhappy?

A. They might stumble upon it. it’s the internet. Occasionally I stumble on things I find very offensive, then I don’t go back. 

Q. But if these cartoons are done to give amusement to yourself and to your fellow atheists, if they should result in harm coming to someone, is that sufficient justification, the desire for a bit of humour, a bit of a laugh?

(Oh dear. Does this mean Jeremy Hardy and his fellow amusement-mongers could be at risk?) 

A. I can’t see that as my problem. I can’t be responsible for the actions of bad people. Some people find it liberating.

Heavily disguised cartoonist

I can’t believe it’s not butter, but I can believe someone can be put in fear of their life by a cartoon and several other trivial nonsensical things for the sake of a religion that hasn’t progressed for centuries, because the age of un enlightenment is here, and the BBC and the Lib Dems and governments past and present haven’t “progressed” since someone thought it would be a good idea to meddle with ‘the demographics’ and then turn a blind eye when things didn’t go as planned.
They ignored the warning signs for the sake of a lost cause - community cohesion. Of course what there was is long-gone. It departed when the world was turned upside down. Now that the BBC has decided to open one eye,  it’s too late. 

Here’s a spin-off from this unfortunate affair. Harry's Place.

Usama Hasan, the Senior Researcher in Islamic Affairs at the Quilliam Foundation, is due to speak at the University of Plymouth on the wider implications of the Arab Spring. But members of the islamic society have called for the event to be banned . 


They’re planning a demo and have called for all students to attend
through social media, the QuilliamFoundation members have recently posted derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad”.They go on to claim that “such deliberate insulting behaviour would be seen as provocative, lead to Islamophobia, restlessness and potential student disharmony”.The letter then calls for the university to “consider the withdrawal of the invitation of Usama Hasanof the Quilliam Foundation and cancel the event”.
This is Plymouth University. Plymouth! We all knew that Exeter is a hotspot for Islamic fanaticism, but Plymouth!  Plymbo, with the smelly railway station and the Hoe!  Good grief!

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Strange times

I can’t see anything on the BBC website about the protest march in Paris that degenerated into an anti-Jewish slanging match.
The Times reported it on page 33 the other day, and it's in the Jewish press - like this - but it seems that all the BBC is interested in is the private life of Hollande, and to a lesser extent, the financial transgressions of Dieudonne.

Also via Harry’s Place, a piece about David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission proposal. One of the members is to be Simon Hughes, the strangest of Lib Dem MPs, reputedly bisexual, who seems to support speakers who would probably kill him if they knew what he gets up to. 

There’s quite a bit of grumbling about the lack of coverage of Holocaust Memorial Day on the BBC. There has been some - Thought for the Day was given by the new Chief Rabbi, and as Craig pointed out, Newsnight featured Anita Lasker Wallfisch and a performance by her cellist son and grandson. 

There was a spate of vile antisemitic Tweets from one of the juvenile speakers at the City Hall Holocaust Day commemoration, which you can see on the Stand For Peace website. Some of them are surely as offensive as the Tweets that dominated the news only the other day, and which led to prison sentences for the Tweeters. 

The trend for appropriating this particular commemoration as a platform for opportunistic politically-motivated references is growing. People have mentioned Catherine Ashton’s speech, which completely avoided any mention of Jews.  That’s exactly how people who normally do nothing but criticise Israel and make antisemitic innuendos get away with their superficially sympathetic utterances about the holocaust.  By excluding any specific mention of the Jews, they make themselves champions of ‘inclusiveness’, and hint that the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis is comparable, and is what we should be concerning ourselves with ‘at a time like this.’  

The theme that invoking the holocaust is a debate-silencing mechanism which is part of what Jew-haters call the ‘holocaust industry’ is illustrated here in another H/P thread, this time about Dieudonne. 

“The irony in Dieudonne’s anti-Semitism is that he himself is the embodiment of one of his own anti-Semitic tropes. After saying on stage “all you have to do is roll up your sleeve and show a concentration camp number for the money to come rolling in [...]Perhaps it would be more correct to say “all you have to do is go on stage and attack Holocaust victims for the money come rolling in”. It is certainly true in his case.’
To think that there are people who strive to deny the holocaust or downplay its magnitude or its uniqueness and that there are those who sneer at what they call the holocaust industry, one has to wonder, cui bono? 

To whose benefit?  Who or what stands to gain? People who can’t bear to hear Jews, Israelis or Zionists invoke ‘never again‘ to explain why Israelis cannot tolerate aggression from hostile entities. People to whom invoking the holocaust and saying “never again” is considered ‘bleating’ and ‘bandying about’ victimhood-by-proxy. People who are afraid that admitting the truth would dent the essential psychological barrier of hard-heartedness that allows them to dehumanise Jews and protect them from confronting their own racism.

Charlatan in eyeliner.

Have you seen the exposé of Mo Ansar on Harry’s Place? It’s like seeing, in print, something you already knew, but don’t exactly know how you knew it. Ah so.

The BBC’s tame Muslim spokesman, willing to appear on the BBC at the slightest opportunity - The Big Questions, Sunday Morning Live, anything to do with Islam, he’s there with his little crocheted skull cap and his same dress, same scarf thing and, according to  “Sheikh Ya Bhatti”,  black eyeliner.

He claims he’s a moderate one minute, a scholar the next, a lecturer, a marriage guidance councillor, you name it, he’s it. Only he isn’t. 

Why, only the other day he was opining on the Lib Dems’ deselection of Maajid Nawaz. (He is for the deselection) Oh, maybe not, he now says he only called for  "1. Full investigation by LibDems 2. Apology from Nawaz 3. Whatever sanction LibDems see fit".

His opinion was aired at great length on radio 4 last week and quotes from it actually made the headlines on several of their news bulletins. A comment on H/P reminded me of this. I had heard it myself, but when I tried to pin it down in the form of a link there was no trace; at least the BBC search engine showed nothing.
His opinion, which the BBC took seriously enough to promote, somewhat uncritically I’d say, concerned the threat from British Islamist Jihadis returning from Syria, and as another H/P commenter observed “If he is in touch with such people how could the BBC ignore that?” “With ease” was my first reaction. They have form
Of course Ansar is such a bullshitter he probably isn’t in touch with them at all, merely bigging himself up by jumping aboard a passing bandwagon, as is his wont.

The only thing that jarred in a very funny article was that the author took a pop at Nigel Farage, which I think was quite unnecessary as the media is already doing its best in that regard, unlike the other two he cited for their unwarranted status as media golden-boys, Mehdi Hasan and Owen Jones.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Closing credits

Still, after all this negativity about last night's Newsnight, at least the programme had the decency to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. The BBC may not be very supportive of living Jews but it often does justice to the victims of the Holocaust. 

We heard poignantly from Anita Lasker Wallfisch, a cellist who performed in the Women's Orchestra at Auschwitz - an increasingly rare survivor. Mengele heard her play Schumann's beautiful Traumerei ('Dreaming'). Gulp.

Her son, the wonderful Raphael - another cellist - and his son, Simon, played the programme out by playing that much-neglected master Ernest Bloch's touching Jewish Song from From Jewish Life. 

Turn again, Andy Verity

My goodness, isn't it surprising how much mileage a blogger about BBC bias can get from one single edition of a BBC programme if he (or, with due acknowledgement to Sue, she) really tries?

My third post on last night's Newsnight focuses on the third item on the programme's agenda - an item I was kind-of- prepared-for by a post by Alan at Biased BBC  - though Alan was a wee bit premature in thinking that the BBC had, in Orwellian fashion, 'vanished' it. 

Newsnight's report was by Andy Verity, who seems (semi-officially) to have been promoted to Paul Mason's old position. It was based on a report by the think tank Centre for Cities, an offshoot of the centre-left (Labour-aligned) IPPR set up (as Louise Stewart might put it, on a good day) by Labour's Lord Sainsbury - none of which background information was mentioned by either Newsnight or the BBC News website. Newsnight merely described Centre for Cities as a "research group".

London is, the report says (according to Newsnight), doing much better than other cities - and Andy was quick off the mark in drawing the present government into the blame for presiding over this disparity (we're talking mere seconds into his report.) 

We heard from Alexandra Jones of Centre for Cities (formerly of the IPPR), who pushed that same line, and Andy then stated (quite emphatically) that Vince Cable had it right in advancing the same argument. 

Now, I was starting to fume about bias by this stage (understandably?) but the next 'talking head' was Boris's friend Kit Malthouse (Deputy Mayor of London for Business), who dismissed the line of argument that London is a huge problem (as you'd expect from a Deputy Mayor of London). That's obviously a measure of balance.

Still, Andy then immediately countered him (narrator's prerogative) - and ended his report by saying that it was hard to see how London's stranglehold over the British economy could be overcome.

A studio discussion on the issue then followed, balanced between (mildly) Left, Labour's Graham Stringer MP, and (mildly) Right Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard. Graham's Londonosceptic while Sarah is clearly a Londonophile. 

This Centre for Cities report - which you can read here - looks interesting. It's the sort of report that needs time to digest, but an initial read-through doesn't present quite so stark (and negative) a picture as Newsnight. Many cities, according to the study, are also on the up. Newsnight only mentioned the downers (for which a 'tut, tut!' is in order).


As this is the year of Newsnight at Is (well, at least until I get sick of watching it), let's continue where we left off with last night's Newsnight

After Ed Balls's big-boned face had filled our TV screens (and accursed be he who invented Widescreen), it was onto the BBC's Katty Kay for a State of the Union report on Barack Obama's record. 

Katty is the entirely natural face of the BBC in the U.S.A., being the anchor of BBC World News America. Commenters on right-leaning American blogs seem to hate her bias but love her English accent and her alliterative name. Katty Kay. Katty Kay. Katty Kay.

As fans of David Preiser at Biased BBC (like me) will know, Katty is the business partner of Claire Shipman, the wife of Jay Carney, President Obama's official spokesman. (Has any other BBC reporter ever had such high-powered connections as Katty Kay?)

Katty talked to Chris Cillizza of The Fix, an influential reporter with the liberal Washington Post reporter and political analyst on the left-leaning counterpart to Fox News, MSNBC. She also talked to Robert Gibbs, someone very close to Barack Obama from the very start of his political career - and, coincidentally, another of MSNBC's top pundits. Next came MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell. 

Hmm, is a pattern emerging here?

Well, as Katty herself often guests on MSNBC (sometimes alongside Chris and Andrea), this seemed quite an intimate MSNBC circle...

...and it got even more intimate as, amusingly, Katty's report contained a clip of Katty asking her business partner's husband, Jay Carney, a question at a White House press conference - and it was as lifeless an exchange as any between two people pretending not to know each other could possibly be!

Still, we did get to hear from someone from the U.S. Republican camp - Michael Steele, former Sofa of the Republican National Convention. He launched into a highly critical assault on President launched into a highly critical assault on the record of the U.S. Republican Party. 

Curiously, Michael Steele is now an MSNBC political analyst. The intimate circle is now complete!


Presented this way, this may sound like a case of extreme BBC bias, but Katty's report was surprisingly downbeat about Barack Obama's presidency. 

Yes, she may have said that the Republicans are in an even worse place, but I can't imagine Jay Carney being entirely comfortable with it. It chronicled many of B.O.'s failures. 

..unless, that is, it was part of what our Katty called the White House's 'reboot strategy'. 

Barack and Jay's White House certainly does seem to be engaging in a 'reboot strategy'. Call me David Preiser, but this report could easily be seem as part of it. 

Or, counterfactually, could it instead be called 'conspiratorial cogitation' which conversely counters the claim that Katty Kay could be colluding with Carney in a computer-comparison-connoting connivance to reboot Obama...and also (Jay...Kay) boost both alliteration and assonance as well? (One for Span Ows there).

Still, there followed a studio discussion which had a balance of guests: Jon Favreau, Director of Speechwriting for President Obama, 2008-13 (and, yes, that was exactly how Newsnight captioned him) and Leslie Sanchez, "Author and republican strategist" (as Newsnight's caption put it - and, yes, a 'sic' is needed after 'republican'). Both were suitably partisan.

Of Ferrets and Interviewers

Last night's Newsnight began with a discussion of Labour's plans to re-raise the UK's top rate of income tax to 50%. 

The programme's opening words were: 
A Labour government brought it in. A Conservative government scrapped it. And now Labour wants to bring back the 50% rate of income tax.
Now, surely Jeremy Paxman should have said (in his ironic way):
A Labour government brought in less that one month before leaving office. A Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government scrapped it. And now Labour wants to bring back the 50% rate of income tax. 
I really don't think I'm the one being biased (or am I?) in asserting that it's got to be relevant during any discussion of Labour's policy on the top rate of income tax to mention - at some stage - that the top rate of income tax throughout 155 of the 156 months (ie. 99.35%) of Labour's 1997-2010 term of office was 40% - which is five percent below the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition's present top rate of income tax. 

Yet not once did either Emily Maitlis or Jeremy Paxman mention that, nor was Ed Balls grilled on that point.

Historical perspective is often lacking on BBC current affairs programmes though. Not so on blogs of course. 

So...after the major taxation reforms of 1973, the top rate of income tax stood at 75%. In  1974 it was raised to 83%. In 1979 in was reduced to 60% and then fell to 40% in 1988. It stayed at 40% until April 2010 when it rose to 50%. The present government reduced it to 45% as of April 2013. 

Emily Maitlis's report looked at the issue through a political lens, stressing in particular the concerns of the Blairites. Her 'talking heads' were entrepreneur Brent Hoberman (who has sat on economic boards advising the governments of both Gordon Brown and David Cameron) and Paul Johnson of the 'respected' Institute of Fiscal Studies. Mr Hoberman wasn't keen on Ed Balls's plan while Mr Johnson said no one could tell whether it would raise much revenue or not, saying the likeliest answer was probably 'or not'. Not a particularly helpful report for Ed Balls. (All watching Blairites would have loved it.)

Jeremy Paxman then interviewed Ed Balls at some length, and Jeremy was unusually restrained. 

Interviewing styles are fascinating. Kirsty Wark went at UKIP's deputy leader last week like an angry ferret up a trouser leg. (I am Northern, so please forgive the imagery). In contrast, Jeremy went for Ed Balls's lap like a cat, then seemed to fall asleep on it. 

Still, despite his purring tone, Jeremy did manage to sink a claw or two into the shadow chancellor's leg and the shadow chancellor did flounder a bit in response. Though maybe that's just Ed Balls.

Balls. Snigger.

Monday 27 January 2014


I’m  not the kind of person who goes “I hold my hands up” when they think they’ve done something a bit naughty, but just in case the things I wrote about the Liberal Democrats and the Jesus and Mo cartoons appeared to trivialize a serious matter by use of facetious or flippant language, I’ll elaborate.

The Liberal Democrats are a shambles. They are though, are they not? 
I wrote that before everyone else started saying it. I even heard Michael Deacon say the same, days after I’d written it.  You’ll have to take my word for that. Damian Thompson has said it (twice) as well.

The Liberal Democrats are the party of .....what?

Are they the party of immature, superficial and politically impracticable policies (some say lack of policies) that can neither produce a definitive manifesto nor stop individual members bringing the party into (further) disrepute? 

Their undeliverable electioneering pledges propelled them into government; they were obviously taken by surprise when they woke up next day to find the electorate looking expectantly at them. They probably looked at each other and went: “What do we do now?” in a one-off moment of solidarity.

They did demand some concessions, like diluting any discernibly principled Tory strategies wherever they found them, (which might have been a good thing) and they succeeded in securing a governmental role for Vince, probably a shoe-in after the BBC adopted him as their go-to economic affairs pundit.

They were at odds with each other as well as the conservatives they were put there to prop up. They couldn’t please anyone, Nick Clegg was indecisive and had to cope with more rogue MPs than UKIP, who expelled theirs.

Look at the recent scandals. The media, (or maybe Mrs Clegg) prodded Nick into action over the media’s favourite topic, sexual misconduct, and Nick Clegg made a hasty decision that probably thrust them into an even deeper hole by confronting Lord Rennard who appears to be turning it into a full-frontal legal battle. The case over Mike Hancock MP, who they’ve  suspended, has caught  Nick Clegg claiming he acted ‘immediately’ amidst counter claims that he’d been informed about complaints months ago.

However, the worst thing of all is the horrible thing that’s had the least coverage. The BBC has barely mentioned it. I mean the dithering over Jenny Tonge, whose antisemitism was tolerated, right up till she crossed the proverbial red line by insinuating that Israel harvests organs from Palestinians. That was a glaring example of, well, dithering. And tolerating the intolerable.

Another example of the moral insensibility of the Lib Dems is their failure to censure a habitual
Israel-basher whose antisemitic pandering to his Muslim constituents frequently crosses that line. They gave him a light smack on the wrist last year, but he’s still at it.  
A thread on Harry’s Place showed a clip of him speaking in the HoC , and shoehorning the  Palestinians’ “right of return” into the topic of Holocaust Memorial Day, an event which he sort of implied he will be attending. 
“Many of us will be attending” he said to be precise, so it looks likely that he’s not actually attending after all.

“Does the Secretary of State agree with me..” he begins, that at this time we shouldn’t forget “The millions of displaced Palestinians”. 

The use of the figure ‘millions’ is emotive and misleading, because the original number of Palestinians displaced in 1948 - (by fleeing from a prospective war zone, primarily on the advice of the Arabs who were about to send their armies to eradicate the Jews of Israel, and not because Israelis chucked them out) - was estimated to be 750,000. That is not millions. What *is* millions, is the number of Palestinians who are claiming the right of return. 
The millions David Ward MP mischievously evokes, actually represents six decades of population growth amongst Palestinian Muslim refugees who for reasons to do with political bargaining can’t or won’t budge  because they’re steadfastly holding out until the world grants them permission to overwhelm the Jews in Israel, thereby making the Jews a minority in their only state.

Palestinian refugees are political pawns in the Arab World’s game of eradicating Israel, and to that end are the only refugees to have got away with a claim that refugee status passes from generation to generation.

But Clegg has equivocated over antisemitism all along. He and members of his party have been seduced into accepting guided tours orchestrated by pro-Palestinian CAABU. They believe they’re being shown ‘what is really happening in the Middle East’, which is exactly what they’re supposed to believe, and is exactly what they want to believe
His majority is slim, but the Muslim vote props up the likes of David Ward.

The Lib Dems don’t even know what to do about Maajid Nawaz. He was a one-time member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and although he’s no longer a member he remains a religious Muslim.   Surely in view of Quilliam’s alleged quest, which is to modernise Islam and prevent radicalisation,  a party with a genuine interest in creating a liberal society should look upon Nawaz as a PR asset. But their illiberal constituents have kicked up enough fuss so as to override such considerations.

If anyone can put to one side the improbability of a genuinely liberal society being achieved with an ever increasing pro-Sharia Muslim population, the Lib Dems can. They brushed it under the carpet long ago. If Islam itself seems, to “many of us” , to entail repression, restriction, constraint, slugs, snails and puppy dogs’ tails and all things antithetical to Liberalism, it’s perfectly obvious that the Lib Dems are pragmatic enough not to see it that way. 

This muddled statement from Maajid Nawaz’s facebook thingy shows what comes from trying to be a (L)iberal democrat Muslim. 

Mohammad Shafiq says his objection to Maajid’s blasphemous tweet (the cartoon) is all about freedom of speech. He contends that it’s the Muslims’ democratic right ‘to be offended’ even if that entails shutting down the opposition’s freedom of speech. Calling for Maajid Nawaz’s deselection, or appealing to foreigners whom you very well know will threaten to cut people’s necks off is all part of the democratic rights that devout Muslims exercise while demanding Sharia and calling for the end of democracy.   

To a British citizen who has, up till recently, felt quite comfortable expressing skepticism about religious dogma, the sea change in British public discourse is alarming. Watching fatwas and alien Islamic taboos gradually become accepted, and almost mainstream, is astonishing.

Not just things like objecting to an innocuous cartoon, but expecting your religious demands to be respected and considered sacred just because they’re the norm for a particular religion - just compare and contrast with the way an African preacher who believed in witchcraft was scoffed at on The Big Questions the other week - and then, to use those bizarre objections about a cartoon as a reason for inciting murder, and unbelievably, being taken seriously by the Liberal Democrats and the BBC while doing so is nightmarish, world-turned-upside- down territory. 
Caving in to the demands of Mohammad Shafiq is completely ridiculous by anyone’s standards, and by a party known as ‘Liberal Democrats’, even more so.    

Anyway, Twitter. There’s ridiculous, as they say in Wales.

I mean restricting dialogue to 140 characters reduces communication to metaphorical stone- throwing. It’s okay to Tweet “breaking news” I suppose, but that’s necessarily subjective, often to a  dangerous degree. The worst thing about it is its potential for nastiness. Yuck. And the lack of supervision.  
I speak as an outsider. Personally I’m too wordy for  Twitter. I haven’t got time to write a short letter, as the man said.

So that’s why I think of the Lib Dems, Maajid Nawaz, and Twitter as ridiculous. I don’t have to bother with George Galloway because he’s travelled too far along the winding road to self destruction.  Nearly there George.

That leaves the cartoons and Islam. We know how Islam feels about cartoons. Cartoons and cartoonists are ‘haram’, as they say in Arabic. Oh yes, unless they’re depicting Jews as monsters. The Jesus and Mo cartoons deal with the subject of ‘not depicting the prophet’ head on. Right at the beginning Jesus asks Mo about this, and he says he’s actually a body double. So that clears that up to everyone’s satisfaction. Everyone except devout Muslims and the authorities at the LSE. The ridiculousness of that should be obvious.. 

I hope that explains any flippancy, and I do realise this isn’t directly connected to the BBC. But it isn’t entirely unconnected to it either. I contend that the BBC’s deliberate avoidance of openly tackling these indelicate matters and its conspicuous tiptoeing around them is allowing them to grow and grow like Japanese knotweed, which has become insidious and threatens to stifle everything in its wake.

Hound Dog

There were a lot of very angry elderly bingo players during tonight's The Unbelievable Truth. I even had to duck as an ashtray narrowly missed my head after one particularly fanatical player of Radio 4 Comedians Bingregistered her frustration at Marcus Brigstocke barely believable failure to attack The Daily Mail

Despite some mockery of Christian belief, all the Radio 4 comedians present failed to make any jokes about Michael Gove or the Bullingdon Club or baby-killing Tory prime ministers. It was the lowest-scoring edition of the programme yet, and a thousand cigarettes in the Radio 4 Comedians Bingo Halwere lit, quickly smoked and angrily stubbed out during the course of it. And, oh, the swearing!

The mood in the hall got even worse during Rufus Hound's 'funny turn' towards the end of the programme. Even the The Unbelievable Truth audience stopped laughing - and up till then they'd seemed capable of laughing at anything. Even Marcus Brigstocke. 

As Edmund Blackadder might have put it, Rufus Hound's turn on tonight's show was about as funny as getting an arrow through your neck and then finding there's a gas bill attached to it. 

Rufus, of course, is very much the man of the moment. Everyone's talking about him (except for almost everyone else). 

Yesterday, he was the BBC News website's 'Hero of the Hour', being granted a full-length plug article about his decision to stand for election for a pro-NHS party. 

Today, he's the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Biased BBC's 'Zero of the Hour' for saying (on his blog) that David Cameron "wants your kids to die (unless they're rich)". (Mr Cameron's own son Ivan died aged six a few years ago). 

Blog favourite Damian Thompson is certainly gunning for the BBC: 
BBC 'comedian' Rufus Hound says Cameron wants children to die. Beeb says nothing
Auntie, did you miss Toby Young's blog post in which he revealed that BBC comic Rufus Hound is telling voters that "David [Cameron] and Jeremy [Hunt] want your kids to die"? (He's standing in the Euro elections for some loony Left party "supporting" the NHS.)
Imagine if a Right-wing blogger joked that Gordon Brown wanted children to die. There would be an outcry – and, if it was one of the Telegraph bloggers, an instant sacking.
I don't want to spell this out the BBC, but it seems I need to. Mr Cameron, like Mr Brown, has lost a child; to suggest that he wishes that ordeal on other parents is despicable.
So, BBC, you can't escape this one. What's your response? 
While we're waiting for the BBC's response (and to re-lighten the mood), here's Elvis. Altogether now,
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Appearin' on Radio 4 comedy programmes all the time.
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Appearin' on Radio 4 comedy programmes all the time.
Well, you aint never made me laugh, particularly on tonight's The Unbelievable Truth,
And you ain't no friend of mine (particularly as I've never met you).