Saturday 31 January 2015

Richard Dawkins is a dork

Richard Dawkins, Romana and K9

Click bait. Websites that include advertisements use it to help boost their hits and increase revenue. It even exists on blogs that don't advertise.

One of my old blogging chums Not a Sheep is a firm proponent of one its incarnations: the fifth rule of blogging. This is the art of putting up pictures of pretty women in various stages of undress in order to attract visitors to your blog. 

Without realising it, it turned out that I was pretty good at employing Rule 5 on my old blog. It may have been closed for five years but, nonetheless, thanks to Rule 5 it's still getting a ridiculously large number of visitors seeking out sexy images of Emily Maitlis and Jo Coburn. [To quote Duffman from The Simpsons, Oh yeah!]

Now, right-wing newspapers and magazines are increasingly employing another incarnation of click bait. It's not got an official name yet, but it needs one. So here it is:
Rule 234: To boost your website's potential and attract thousands of readers and comments, regularly post something nasty about Richard Dawkins.
Telegraph fopinjay (fop + popinjay) Tim Stanley has put this newly-named rule to superb use today, and the Telegraph is plugging it right at the very top of its homepage. 

They know it makes sense.

Posted at 12:15 pm today, it already has [at the time of writing, 20:15 pm] a corking 2,630 comments.

Tim gets things off to a cracking start, with the words:
Richard Dawkins’ insanity has now become an English institution...
Now, obviously, the sainted Richard is very far from insane, but it's a fine, provocative start from two-eggs-short-of-an-omelette Tim - fruitily rude, a little bit nasty, and absolutely guaranteed to keep the comments coming. 

Rule 234. 

Spongiform Tim (as he's universally known at Torygraph HQ) keeps 'em coming.
"Britain's nuttiest professor"..."Dick"..."nutjob 180"..."Celebrity atheists"..."yawnfest"...
As an offence-monger, by the way, I'm deeply offended by Tim Stanley's offensive use of imagery associated with mental illness, which is (a) a very serious issue and (b) should never be used to insult vulnerable scientists. I'm starting a Twitterstorm to demand his immediate sacking. 

No, actually, he should apologise, be reported to the police, arrested, convicted, sent to Saudi Arabia (PBUI), and flogged. For starters.

The comments generated by Tim Stanley and the Telegraph are the usual stuff about whether religion is good or bad....and on and on and on and on and on and on it goes. Job done.

If you're not a 'twitter or tweet' person, then here are a flavour of Richard Dawkins's latest whacky tweets (burn him!) - all from the past five days:

My nephew Nick Kettlewell took Andromeda photo. No telescope, just tracked Earth rotation w simple electric motor. 

Wankers? Is Boris right to blame sexual frustration & low self-esteem? … … Might explain pathological hatred of women?

.@GeorgeBooth52 Oh yes, the poor wee studenty-poos mustn't have their little feelingsy-weelingsies upset, must they? Oh just grow up.

Decent, tolerant, multicultural, PC liberals: are we sleepwalking towards a violent, intolerant, freedom-despising  theocracy?

MT “@SecularSpeech: Students Union told us not to display Charlie Hebdo paper at refreshers fair at  Manchester ”. What do these priggishly officious offence-junkies think a university is FOR?   Manchester Student Union this time.

"Now it seems to be he the turn of liberals and Democrats to veer off into their own ideological fever-swamps":

Can't RT all the myriad specific examples @StopGulfSlavery cites of cruelly treated SLAVES, mostly in Saudi Arabia. Horrible if true. Look.

Be suspicious of those who say "infinitely" when they mean no more than "very".

 Richard Dawkins retweeted
 Dörte Faatz @Bitch2410  ·  Jan 28
There are 2 main streams of Islam: 
1) HasnothingtodowithIslam &
2) HasnothingtodowithIslamatall

Richard Dawkins retweeted
 Robert @robert1z  ·  Jan 28
@RichardDawkins Spot on by Rod Liddle. Excellent piece. @spectator

Oh NO, they're beheading my book ['The Selfish Gene' - and, yes, they really did!] and are going to eat it. Quick, find a flag to rip up and an embassy to burn. 

How DARE you believe someone when he tells you clearly & explicitly what he really believes? … Facts are Islamophobic

Michelle Obama goes some way to redeem the ignominy of her husband’s crawling to the odious Saudi regime. 

Think the problem is limited to tiny extremist minority? Polls quoted by @MichaelShermer may give you pause: …

Update /rude interruption.
I might or might not be exercising my right to offend, but this one is even better. It contains strong language for which I take fool respnsiblty lol. Sue XX

Tony Abbott's for the chop (according to Jon Don)

Warning: There may (possibly) be heavy sarcasm in the following post:

The BBC's impartial Sydney correspondent Jon Donnison is tweeting about Australian politics today - a subject area for which he's widely known. 

As someone who no one (in their right mind) would think of being anything other than a scrupulously fair BBC reporter, no sensible human being would ever (for one second) expect our Jon to be anything other than scrupulously fair towards the main politician in the country he's now reporting from (much to his evident delight).

Despite obsessive Jon Don watchers saying that they've never once seen him tweet anyething favourable to Australian PM Tony Abbott (or anything favourable to the Israeli PM for that matter), this post will affirm its sacred belief that Big Jon (the Saviour of Gaza) is scrupulously impartial in everything he does.

Thus this post wholeheartedly backs the belief that Jon Donnison's latest tweets about Tony Abbott are wholly impartial, and that they are unquestionably correct in their evident belief that Mr Abbott is very soon to be a goner...

....'cos if Jon Don's re-tweeting something it's just gotta be right.

Bye, bye Tony! 

So, who's going to be the Aussie PM next week then?

Almost forgot...

It's only a few hours ago that I was moaning about the BBC's habit of going to their favourite go-to person for breaking news from certain countries...

I forgot Spain.

Tonight's PM was talking about the large (Pegida) Podemos rally in Madrid. Who did they turn to first?

Well, going back to my old 2009-2010 blog, I complained there about Radio 4's The World Tonight:
Finally, President Obama's decision not to attend the latest US-EU summit in Spain was discussed with Spanish writer Miguel Morado, who the programme always turns to (exclusively) to discuss Spanish politics.
And who did PM turn to first tonight (five years on)? Yep, Miguel Morado.

As I'm in a good mood today, I'll put it this way: You've got to laugh, haven't you?

A letter to 'The Times'

Here's a letter to The Timespublished three days ago. It comes from former BBC reporter/producer Eric Abraham, and sums things up perfectly:
Sir, I read about the terminology used by Tarik Kafala, head of the BBC Arabic service, for the killers of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, with incredulity and anger (News, Jan 27). In line with BBC World Service policy he rejected the word “terrorist” for that of “two men who killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine”. What about using “killers” or “murderers”? But they inspired terror, so why not “terrorists”?
I am shocked at the climate in this country in which the most obvious term is deemed unacceptable through fear or misguided political correctness. Shame on you BBC.
Eric Abraham 
Former producer, BBC Panorama, London W8

Greeks, the BBC and go-to people

Here's a curious stat about the recent Greek election results which I've not heard much about on the BBC (or anywhere else for  that matter). Despite voting being officially compulsory, the turnout in the latest Greek election was 63.87% [lower than  the UK's turnout in 2010].

This means that the great red (as opposed to golden) dawn of Syriza on 36.3% of the vote was actually given to them by just 23.2% of Greece's eligible voters. 

Or, to put it another way, that 76.8% of eligible Greek voters didn't vote for Syriza. 

Paul Mason, Owen Jones, the BBC - take note!

And talking of Owen Jones, he was one of the invited guests celebrating the turn of events in Greece alongside Greek leftist Maria Margaronis. [The other guests were U.S. journalist Jeffrey Kofman and pro-Saudi writer Mina al Oraibi].

"Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive/But to be in the Dateline studio was very heaven."

Maria has been Dateline's Greek voice for a couple of years now. Typically for Dateline, her way of seeing things has been the sole lens through Dateline viewers have viewed the Greek crisis. Her sympathies with the radical shores of Greek leftism have never been in any doubt. She's also been the main Greek commenter for the BBC more generally, appearing regularly on Newsnight, The World Tonight and hosting Radio 4 documentaries on Greek affairs. I rarely watch the BBC News Channel, but I've even seen her on that a few times (including while passing the TV in reception at work, which is permanently tuned to the News Channel).

It's funny how that happens with the BBC. They find someone they like and they stick with them. When anything happens in France, they habitually turn first to Agnès Poirier. For Middle Eastern affairs, it's straight to Fawaz Gerges. For U.S. matters, Michael Goldfarb is the man. (He almost seems like their deputy North America editor at times). And for Greece, it's got to be Maria Margaronis.

Of course, this is an exaggeration. But it has more than a grain of truth to it, doesn't it?

This familiar point (the "speed dial" complaint beloved of us BBC bashers) struck me again because I found something surprising this past week - that I already knew two key Syriza ministers for the economy - Costas Lapavitsas and Yanis Varoufakis. Both have been regulars on the BBC throughout the entire Greek crisis, which I've been watching closely for years

Whilst on the BBC, of course, they were presented (up till now) as independent Greek economists -which they may have been before joining Syriza - but it's still interesting that the BBC has made so much use of them. What is it about this pair of anti-austerity, Marxist economists which first attracted the BBC to them (as Mrs Merton might have put it)? [There was a young, female advisor to PASOK who made a lot of appearances too.]

For old time's sake, Costas appeared on Monday's Newsnight and Yanis appeared on last night's Newsnight. The former found Evan Davis in a friendly mood; the latter found Emily Maitlis in an unfriendly one.

Yanis's unexpectedly hostile reception from Emily Maitlis appeared to take him by surprise too. He blogged:
As a fan of the BBC, I must say I was appalled by the depths of inaccuracy in the reporting underpinning this interview (not to mention the presenter’s considerable rudeness). Still, and despite the cold wind on that balcony, it was fun!
Monday's edition of Newsnight was given over entirely to the implications of the Greek election. Some commenters (elsewhere) had problems with this programme's pandering to far-lefty enthusiasm, with Katie Razzall interviewing a bunch of happy British Marxists (including Radio 4's Michael Rosen). I didn't mind it, and thought it was quite balanced on the pro- and anti- sides of the austerity debate. Katie's report even ended with her saying that the happy British Marxists were still a long way from where the British debate is. 

My qualm about this edition is that there were no right-wing Eurosceptics in sight. (Kenneth Clarke was an interesting choice). The nearest things to Eurosceptics on the programme were Diane Abbott and Costas Lapavitsas - and neither is strongly Eurosceptic. This lack of a key kind of voice on the subject persisted throughout the week, and suggests pro-EU bias on  the programme's part (conscious or otherwise).

Hey, what's going on? We've got a Frau Merkel on the line, requesting a song. Well, we don't normally do song requests here at ITBB? but she says Costas and Yanis will like this, so in the interests  of spreading harmony, and because she asked so nicely....

Surely not!?!

I see some BBC twitterers are pleased about the nominations for this year's Royal Television Society Television Journalism Awards, especially in  the 'News Coverage - International' category.

The three nominations are:   
  •  BBC News, Gaza,
  •  ITV News, Ukraine   
  •  ITV News, Iraq

A joke for the end of January

Jeremy Vine's brother Tim really is a witty man. (Sack Marcus and Mitch and bring in Tim, Radio 4!)

Here's one of his jokes:
Burglars have become very clever recently. Just last night my wife turned to me in the middle of the night and said, "Wake up! There's somebody downstairs!" So I got out of bed and quietly checked every room. 
Suddenly I realized that I don't have a wife.

"The huddled masses besieging Fortress Calais"

David Keighley of News-watch has written about how the BBC's pro-immigration bias has long shown itself through "paying disproportionate attention to asylum seeker problems", and especially by "focusing on the bleeding heart cases of those who were trying to obtain asylum". 

As 2015 got underway we detailed an extraordinary burst of pro-immigration BBC reporting in the closing weeks of 2014. From Today to The World Tonight, from Broadcasting House to the BBC News website, there was something of a tidal waves of immigration reports and specials. Each and every one of them included a heavy focus on the sad stories (or 'sob stories', as some might call them) of desperate immigrants seeking to reach our shores. 

As we reach the end of January 2015, on it goes...

The latest BBC News website article on the subject [featured very prominently on the BBC's homepage]  bears the loaded headline The huddled masses besieging Fortress Calais

In it, BBC producer Darius Bazargan gives us the heart-tugging stories of several "desperate" illegal immigrants - all of which he recounts as fact (without attempting to verify their stories?). In his account, they all have good reasons to be on our doorstep (which, of course, they very well might). 

And they are all people with skills [implication: the kind of skills we in the UK could benefit from]. There's a "gentle, well-educated" Sudanese engineer called Osman; a statistician from Syria called Mustafa; a video editor from Kabul called Ahmad; and an English teacher from Iran called Hussein. Quality people. No riff-raff. 

They are having a terrible time of it in Calais, after all the terrible times they'd experienced before. Locals shout unfriendly things at them. "Far-right nationalists" are campaigning against them. It's enough to make your heart bleed.

"So what should we do with all of these skilled, desperate people on our own doorstep?", seems to be the unspoken question behind the article. The 'unspoken answer' being implied by Darius Bazargan's piece seems obvious: "We should let them in".

His half-hour documentary about Osman & Co. will be on the BBC News Channel at 9.30 pm tonight. 

Another day, another smear

Another day, another 'impartial' tweet from Jon Donnision.

Here's a sly insinuation here from the BBC' Sydney correspondent that Israeli governments either (a) provoke/threaten wars for electoral reasons or (b) simply provoke a lot of wars:

Searching for 'migrants'

If you do a search for the word 'migrants' (or 'migration') on the search-unfriendly BBC website, the resultant list of articles has an 'Editor's Choice' pinned at the top.

It's not, as you might expect, a balanced Q&A-type piece on the subject. No, it's an article called:
Global migrants: Which are the most wanted professions?
It provides an interactive guide, includes a piece (full of pro-immigration voices) entitled Mass migration: Who benefits and why? (by Andrew Walker, BBC World Service economics correspondent), some case studies highlighting positive individual stories, and a closing article called How it's worked out (by Camilla Costa, BBC Brasil) whose opening paragraph describes the "plentiful" stories  about "the problems [immigrants] allegedly bring" before adding a "But".

The BBC News website, therefore, has pinned a 'Editor's Choice' looking at the positive benefits of mass migration to the top of its list of search results for 'migrants'. 

So what happens if you search using the word 'immigration?' This time three 'Editor's Choice' articles result:
None of this exactly helps the BBC free itself from the well-founded charge that it has a particularly strong pro-immigration bias.

Ambassadors for the BBC

I've been struck by the extent of the praise - even on BBC-bashing blogs  (like this) - for the BBC's coverage of Holocaust Day [with the exception of The Big Questions], as well as for the commemorations marking the 50th anniversary of the death and funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

As with its World War One anniversary coverage, the BBC does seemed to have regained some of its old lustre when it comes to doing major broadcasting projects. This seems to have happened within the past couple of years. (Tony Hall?) Whatever its other faults [the main subject of this blog included], if it keeps this standard up it could fully regain its old reputation as the 'gold standard' broadcaster for such things.

There does seem to be more ambition around at the BBC at the moment. (Tony Hall?) Their Wolf Hall adaptation has been garnering laurels of applause. I've not watched it myself (and my friends at work who did gave up, saying it was "boring"), but I have seen/heard some of the discussions about it and watched some of the programmes that the BBC appears to have produced to tie in with it - such as Waldemar Januszczak's characteristically enjoyable Holbein: Eye of the Tudors

If you haven't seen that, I'd recommend that you watch it. [It's much more fun that listening to the latest Radio 4 documentary about hard-done-by Muslims in France]. 

Waldemar was clearly having none of the historical revisionism that has turned Sir Thomas More from a goody into a baddie and Thomas Cromwell from a baddie into a goody. Hans Holbein painted both, and Waldemar argued that his portraits of them told you all you needed to know about them. Cromwell's "piggy" eyes were those of a bad man. Waldemar will never forgive him for destroying vast swathes of English art (including Holbeins) during the iconoclasm of the Protestant reformation. 

He also argued that Henry VIII wasn't just bad for the health of More, Cromwell and several of his wives. He was also bad for Holbein, whose art lost some of its subversive, daring genius during his years of painting for the king. I could see his point. The genius behind the early drawings based on Erasmus and the ever-fascinating The Ambassadors [actually one ambassador and a bishop] did become a propagandist, and maybe the Anne of Cleves portrait was a bit stiff. But what propaganda! 

He also made the interesting point that our fascination with Henry and his wives may be largely down to Holbein. If we didn't have those mighty portraits of King Hal (looking mean, manly and magnificent) and his famous portraits of most of the queens, we wouldn't feel their presence anywhere near so strongly. Tellingly, possibly the most interesting queen of all - Catherine Parr - has impinged least on people's consciences. She was the one queen of Henry that we don't have a portrait of by Holbein. 

Waldemar is a brilliant communicator. He used to do wonderful series for Channel 4 before moving over onto the BBC. [While he was at Channel 4, BBC One largely stuck with Rolf Harris as their artistic go-to man]. 

I did wonder, though, about his self-awareness. He stood in front over several portraits of Henry VIII and make several wisecracks about the king's considerable size - "the widest man in Christendom". Curiously, he himself was stood in the same pose and is now as "wide" as Henry. Was he conscious of the irony?

Another brilliant communicator who used to be largely confined to Channel 4 is David Starkey. He also seems to have made a move to the BBC, having presented another anniversary-related progamme (with Lucy Worsley) called Britain's Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court and, this week, having presented a wonderful documentary this piece about Magna Carta, called - in typical BBC fashion - David Starkey's Magna Carta

[There was a period, some 15 years ago or so, when the BBC was having an affair with 'Whisperin'' Dan Cruickshank. They couldn't get enough of his breathy enthusiasm for architecture. Programme after programme, nearly all with titles featuring the name 'Dan Cruickshank'. So much so that I was hoping, in time, for one called Dan Cruickshank and the Dan Cruickshank of Dan Cruickshank].

David Starkey's Magna Carta was a splendid narrative history with a contemporary political point to make. It romped through some big moments in British history, having got Bad King John and the barons out of the way fairly swiftly, before briefly relocating to the U.S. to show Magna Carta's continuing global influence. Along the way we learned that King John almost certainly could read and that Oliver Cromwell didn't reckon much to the Great Charter, calling it "Magna Farta". [Funny, the facts you remember from a programme!] 

While in the U.S. he made a brief but unhappy slip in saying that Magna Carta is still incorporated in the constitutions of many of the U.S.'s "52 states". Still, if Obama can do it, why not Starkers?

I also think that his libertarian political point was well made - namely that Magna Carta has been re-sidelined since 9/11, both in the U.S. and in the U.K. Security concerns, he argued, are increasingly being seen as more important than Magna Carta-born principles like 'no detention without trial'. He fears authoritarianism, and thinks it's already arriving here. He talked to a leading lawyer on behalf of the Gitmo prisoners and to Conservative MP David Davis.

Even if you don't agree with that (and I'm not entirely sure I do), it was expressed so cogently that it forced you to think - which is what you want from a programme. So, I'm recommending that too.

The BBC's Magna Carta coverage also included a superb series on Radio 4 by Melvyn Bragg. This was, as you'd expect from the man behind In Our Time, a considerably more detailed study, featuring lots of academics and experts. Like most episode of In Our Time it was absolutely fascinating - all two hours or so of it. It's still available, so - guess what? - I'm recommending that as well.

As I've said many times before, there's plenty to admire and like about the BBC's output. It even seems to me to be getting better in certain areas. Other areas (like BBC comedy) need working on. And as for the news output and the social/political bias embedded in so many areas of its general programming...

Well, yes, that's the primary point of this blog, I suppose - to damn the latter. It won't stop us praising the former though, whenever the mood takes us. It always seems a bit daft (or "miserabilist") not doing so.

SaturDay is Music Day

Anniversaries. The BBC loves them. So do I.

Today, 31st January, is the 218th anniversary of the birth of Franz Schubert.

And it that's not worth commemorating, then what is? It would be shameful BBC bias to say otherwise.

Owen Bennett-Jones might not approve, but...

I'd be failing in my duties as a hopefully-honest blogger if I failed to point [belatedly] out that - two Sundays ago - Radio 4's Sunday broadcast another excellent piece on the concern of Parisian Jews from John Laurenson. 

It's a must-hear.

John Laurenson's reporting has been the subject of several reports here and I'm going to persist in keeping faith with him, despite a couple of pieces pointing towards our displeasure with him. 

Our displeasure after all is sometimes what we need. If we aren't occasionally affronted by a BBC reporter who is clearly trying to report what he sees without apparent fear or favour, then shame on us.

Friday 30 January 2015

The Lords on Palestine

Yesterday the TV happened to be switched to “Parliament”. Before reflexively switching channels I spotted the word Palestine rolling across the bottom of the screen, so I turned up the sound.
Needless to say I kind of wish I hadn’t. It made me feel voyeuristic and angry all at once. You know when you see people rubbernecking as they drive past a motorway smack-up, sort of morbidly fascinated and revolted? Well. 
Car crash?  I suppose no-one was actually hurt. Not physically.

On the surface it looked like a bunch of doddery old geezers trying to read aloud off trembly sheaves of paper. Some made half hearted attempts to dramatise their homily, you know, act it out with supplementary vocal expression, like a troupe of geriatric Fiona Bruces. 

The weirdest thing was that each speech was completely independent.  Unlike a normal debate, in which opponents tackle and try to demolish each other’s argument, after which the opposition gets a chance to redress the balance with rapier-like counter-arguments, his Lord and Ladyships just ignored everything that had gone before and carried on reiterating abject nonsense, regardless. 

I do now see, if that’s the normal M.O. of the House of Lords, or the House of Commons, or western style democracy, no wonder people are asking whether any of it performs a useful function. 

There was only one speaker, Baroness Deech, who seemed to realise that, in respect of the Israel Palestine scenario, we’re talking about a ‘western style’ democracy versus a corrupt, duplicitous, Islamic fundamentalist, antisemitic, chaotic ungovernable shambles.

Never mind. What ever truths she had to deliver floated past the rest of them like celestial petals off a cherub’s back.

Every single one of the other speakers obviously regarded the Palestinian people as though they were as rational and well-meaning as, say, citizens of Ambridge. Well, perhaps a poor analogy, as I don’t listen to the Archers. We’re talking about the Middle East, not East Cheam.

Even though some knew that the Palestinians were ‘not quite ready’ to run a proper state, and that making unilateral bids, preempting, subverting and undermining negotiations was not necessarily going to bring about  the Shangri-la they all  foresee, they carried on as if it were.  “Everyone in this house would agree”  people kept saying, "that all everyone here wants to see" is:
 “Two States, Side-by-Side, in secure and sustainable borders”
 ..and the buuzzin of the bees and the cigarette trees, the soda water fountain - the lemonade springs and the blue-bird sings in the big rock candy mountain I thank you.

They’d have more chance of resurrecting Burl Ives than creating such a state, unless the problems with Islamic fundamentalism magically melt away. 
.....when the mail train stops/ And there ain't no cops/And the folks are tender-hearted. Where you never change your socks/ And you never throw rocks/And your hair is never parted’

That’s when.

The motion was the brainchild of former Liberal Party leader David Steel, aka Lord Steel of Aikwood. Needless to say he considers himself  a friend of Israel, but was president of “the excellent charity Medical Aid to the Palestinians” and has been part of a delegation to the Middle East, and been snubbed by Israel’s then PM Begin “because he disapproved of the fact that in Damascus we had had the temerity to have a meeting with Yassir Arafat, the leader of the PLO.” And of course he’s been to Gaza. They all have.

That’s just to illustrate  the ‘temper’ of Lord Steel’s razor-sharp cutting edge steeliness.

The fact that many of the Lords had been on parliamentary delegations to the Middle East, shmoozed by CAABU, been presented with extreme anti-Israel and pro Palestinian propaganda and thoroughly groomed by Pro Palestinian political activists might shed a light on the prevailing wind in that there semi deserted, red leather chamber.

Even the noble Lords who attempted to put ‘the other side’ believed the settlements were illegal under international law and were an insurmountable obstacle to peace, which they quite happily equated with the Palestinians’ immovable refusal to recognise Israel. 

Lord Pannick (don’t!) was on the ball: 
On the Palestinian side, which of course we are debating today,instead of the distraction of grandstanding international gestures, Palestinians need unequivocally to accept that the State of Israel is here to stay. They must give up the notion of a right to live in Haifa or Be’er Sheva. They need to throw away the schoolbooks that demonise Jews and deny that the Holocaust occurred, and unequivocally to condemn the attacks from Gaza and the suicide bombers, who are responsible for the blighting of the lives of other Palestinians, which we have heard about today. Perhaps most of all, they need to recognise that Israel, for all its faults—and which society does not have faults?—has much to teach Palestinians, if only they would listen, about how a society born out of tragedy can promote free speech, democracy, the rule of law, scientific and literary achievements and, yes, prosperity for its people, with standards achieved in very few other places in the world, and of course none in theMiddle East, all in the 66 years since its creation—a quite astonishing achievement in the most difficult of circumstances, surrounded by people who wish to destroy you. 

Of course this went over the heads of the majority of the noble lords and ladies, especially those wearing the headscarf. 

Several of the Muslim and quasi Muslim Ladies made mawkishly rambling speeches, and Lord Pannick was followed by Baroness Warsi, who has been there, done that and got the Caabu T shirt. Not only that, but she has had a heart-to-heart with some Israelis! Not just any Israelis, but special, ‘Breaking the Silence’ Israelis.
 They wanted neither praise for their bravery, nor sympathy for the abuse they receive in Israel for speaking out. They simply wanted us to be informed about the reality of the occupation— which has so changed the landscape of the Occupied Territories: the territorial area which, according to the 1993 Oslo accords, would be the future state of Palestine. In 1993 there were 110,000 settlers in the Occupied Territories. There are now 400,000 settlers—and more than 500,000 if we include Jerusalem.”
If Baroness Warsi is particularly interested in expanding populations, she might also have mentioned the fact that the original Palestinian Arabs displaced in 1948, numbering approximately 750,000, who use their refugee status to demand the right of return to what is now Israel, presently stands at over 4,000,000.

Baroness Hussein-Ece, a Lib Dem added to the nightmarishness of the debate:
“The continuing expansion of illegal settlements that we have heard about is a flagrant violation of international law. All that has contributed to the loss of Palestinian confidence in the peace process. More and more people in the United Kingdom and across the world have grown tired and outraged as we have witnessed terrible suffering. Anyone with an ounce of human sympathy was absolutely sickened by what we saw in the war last summer, when thousands of innocent people, including 500 children, were killed and schools and hospitals were blown up. This was abhorrent to us all.”

After muttering something about tolerance and British values this Baroness obviously saw no need to include anything more than unadulterated anti-Israel rhetoric in her offering. 

Nearly all the good lords seem to have been chairmen of Medical Aid for Palestinians. Nearly all of them said they had ‘been to Gaza.’ It’s like going to Disneyland, something you have to do once in your life. Or not.

Lord Green of Deddington,  or was that Lord Dead of Greenington? has been there and done that.  He’s worried about Palestinian, Muslim and Arab frustration. 
“We can no longer disregard the pressures building up in the Arab and Muslim world, with their inevitable implications for our own society. The time for movement on this issue is now.”
Is that the terrorism he’s afearin’? On home ground?

Lord Winston made several sentient points. 
“I was very surprised to hear the right reverend Prelate talk about the status of Christians in Israel; after all, in Israel Christians are protected in a way that they are not in any other part of the Middle East, so it was a shock to me that he felt the way that he did.”
Quite so.
“I think that there are few people in this Chamber who read Arabic; I know that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, does. Anyone who does will know that since 1948, six and seven year-olds have been subjected to the worst kind of anti-Semitism in the writings they are given in their schools—far worse than anything that the Nazis put out at the time of Auschwitz. We have to say that that really is a very serious problem.”

His speech was followed by Baroness Tonge who has a special interest in this subject, though she selflessly confessed that she could read neither Hebrew nor Arabic.  (As if one needed Hebrew just to make sure the Israelis were’t indoctrinating their children in a similarly demented fashion)

“In the mean time, the reconstruction of Gaza, paid for by the international community following the murderous war in the summer, is being obstructed by the Government of Israel. Gaza festers and anger is building. I wonder what the Palestinians should do next.” 

What is a gel to do, but put on a suicide vest?
“The continuing injustice to the Palestinians and the hypocrisy of the West in regard to international law have sown the seeds of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, and we are now seeing the consequences.”
Islamic fundamentalism is our fault by the way.

Lord Farmer said:
How can Israel be safe and secure when Palestine is committed to its destruction? Further, I have grave concerns that this would be a state that violated the human rights of minorities living within its borders to practise their religion freely. The recognition of Palestine, without a negotiated settlement with security for adherents of all faiths at its foundation, would exacerbate the already precarious situation for Christians in the Palestinian territories, and especially in Gaza. Under Hamas, the official religion of Gaza is Islam, the country exercises sharia law, and the expression of other religions is challenged. “

Water off my lords’ back once again.  

Baroness Uddin.
 “Let us recognise the historic initiative of the unity Government formed last summer in Palestine, which finally brought together the divided factions of Hamas and Fatah. Now is the time to take the initiative to put an end to decades of human suffering and apartheid. Let us not find that, through our inaction, we have contributed to a process of ethnic cleansing, continued deprivation and inhumanity in the Middle East. It is already an almost impossible prospect to consider the relocation of the 550,000 illegal Israeli settlers who now occupy Palestinian land. What shall we do when this number becomes 1 million? It is time for us to stop dragging our feet and to stand on the right and just side of history”

A few extra thousand Israel settlers in the space of just a few moments! Never mind, now that the divided factions are but one,  all that ethnic cleansing, deprivation and inhumanity could be a thing of the past, if only we’d stop dragging our feet.  Is Baroness Uddin a real live fairy godmother?

Lord Gold said:
In its 1988 charter, Hamas, which controls Gaza, called for the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine in place of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel. That demand has never changed. On that issue, Hamas has been and remains uncompromising. All here want peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Most would support the two-state solution, but this is not the way to achieve it. Just as we are debating here, in this mother of Parliaments, the proposition—
Here he was interrupted by Lord Dykes, who asked him somewhat rudely,  to get on with it.

Baroness Deech gave a speech that demonstrated much more than a superficial understanding of the situation. It merits full reproduction.
6.45 pm Baroness Deech (CB): My Lords, with unfortunate timing, this debate is taking place two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, despite the millions spent on Holocaust education and remembrance, the museums and memorials and the school visits to concentration camps, there is a gap in memory and education that needs to be bridged. The desire and opportunity to murder 6 million people of a different religion whose presence on his territory the murderer resents must not arise again.
The message Jews took from the Holocaust was that their nationalism was necessary. It has been a success. Israel is not Saudi Arabia; it is not North Korea, Iran or Pakistan. It is a flourishing and democratic outpost in the desert with an astonishing record. It is a safe haven, an imperative for existence that can be applied to no other country in the world. 
Yasser Arafat declared an independent state of Palestine in 1988 and recognition followed from 100 states. The subsequent failure to change anything on the ground demonstrates the truth of the international law on recognition: namely, that statehood has to be founded in fact, not in numbers of recognitions. 

Thursday 29 January 2015

Jarring awakening

I woke up in the night and switched on the radio, low,  to lull myself back to sleep. That usually does the trick. Unfortunately the programme then running was Assignment. (BBC World Service) 

Helen Grady has one of those piping voices that sounds particularly sanctimonious when she’s trying to promote Women’s Rights to Wear the Hijab and to publicise the ‘Frenchness’ of French Muslims.

I came in at the point where she was commiserating with the poor schoolgirl who couldn’t take her hijab-wearing mother on a school trip. The possibility of removing the offending garment wasn’t floated. 

I’m afraid that Helen’s pitch was remarkably different when it came to interviewing the nasty right-wing secularist republican. 
“What kind of threat would a hijab pose?” asks Helen, with tangible sarcasm.

Having ‘listened again’, I have to say the first part of the programme, which I had missed last night, did expose some of the relevant issues, albeit inadvertently.

However in the scheme of things, by which I mean the BBC’s campaign of normalising Islam and all the trappings, especially in the wake of ‘Je Suis Charlie’, yet another overly sympathetic programme about Muslims and their grievances really does go against the grain.

Still awake, I took in another of Angela Tilby’s Thoughts for the day. It concerned ‘Muslims’ and ‘Women.’ 
“Two years ago I was invited to speak at a conference convened by the Muslim Institute, a London based forum for debate and engagement between Islam and the contemporary world. I’d been asked to speak about my experience as a woman in the church, which I duly did, and at the end several people asked me when I thought there’d be women bishops. They were concerned because they felt that women bishops in the C of E would have a positive effect on the status of British women’s position in Islam.”
(She continued on the theme of Libby The Woman Bishop and feminism and women’s place in society in general) 
“The interest of those at the Muslim conference made me aware that what the national church does sends a wider signal to society.”
I don’t know what Angela Tilby is ‘on’, but she probably saw how ‘pleased with itself’ the BBC was over its Normalising Islam campaign, and said “I’ll have what the BBC is having”. 
(Apols to Harry and Sally)


There are two types of people whose testimony automatically has extra value when it comes to Israel and the Jews.
one: The non-Jew. The objective outsider.
two: The journalist. The insider (whistleblower) 

A while ago we highlighted Matti Friedman’s expose of Associated Press’s ‘institutional antisemitism’ by which I mean its bias against Israel.
Matti Friedman’s testimony counts for a lot because he is a journalist, but I guess some of that bonus will inevitably be forfeited in the eyes of the doubters because he’s an Israeli.

He gave a speech at a BICOM meeting in London which is featured Here and  Here. MUST READ.

One night several years ago, I came out of Bethlehem after a reporting assignment and crossed through the Israeli military checkpoint between that city and its neighbor, Jerusalem, where I live. With me were perhaps a dozen Palestinian men, mostly in their thirties – my age. No soldiers were visible at the entrance to the checkpoint, a precaution against suicide bombers. We saw only steel and concrete. I followed the other men through a metal detector into a stark corridor and followed instructions barked from a loudspeaker – Remove your belt! Lift up your shirt! The voice belonged to a soldier watching us on a closed-circuit camera. Exiting the checkpoint, adjusting my belt and clothing with the others, I felt like a being less than entirely human and understood, not for the first time, how a feeling like that would provoke someone to violence.

Consumers of news will recognize this scene as belonging to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which keeps the 2.5 million Palestinians in that territory under military rule, and has since 1967. The facts of this situation aren’t much in question. This should be an issue of concern to Israelis, whose democracy, military, and society are corroded by the inequality in the West Bank. This, too, isn’t much in question.

The question we must ask, as observers of the world, is why this conflict has come over time to draw more attention than any other, and why it is presented as it is. How have the doings in a country that constitutes 0.01 percent of the world’s surface become the focus of angst, loathing, and condemnation more than any other? We must ask how Israelis and Palestinians have become the stylized symbol of conflict, of strong and weak, the parallel bars upon which the intellectual Olympians of the West perform their tricks – not Turks and Kurds, not Han Chinese and Tibetans, not British soldiers and Iraqi Muslims, not Iraqi Muslims and Iraqi Christians, not Saudi sheikhs and Saudi women, not Indians and Kashmiris, not drug cartel thugs and Mexican villagers. Questioning why this is the case is in no way an attempt to evade or obscure reality, which is why I opened with the checkpoint leading from Bethlehem. On the contrary – anyone seeking a full understanding of reality can’t avoid this question. My experiences as a journalist provide part of the answer, and also raise pressing questions that go beyond the practice of journalism.

I have been writing from and about Israel for most of the past 20 years, since I moved there from Toronto at age 17. During the five and a half years I spent as part of the international press corps as a reporter for the American news agency The Associated Press, between 2006 and 2011, I gradually began to be aware of certain malfunctions in the coverage of the Israel story – recurring omissions, recurring inflations, decisions made according to considerations that were not journalistic but political, all in the context of a story staffed and reported more than any other international story on earth. When I worked in the AP’s Jerusalem bureau, the Israel story was covered by more AP news staff than China, or India, or all of the fifty-odd countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. This is representative of the industry as a whole.

In early 2009, to give one fairly routine example of an editorial decision of the kind I mean, I was instructed by my superiors to report a second-hand story taken from an Israeli newspaper about offensive T-shirts supposedly worn by Israeli soldiers. We had no confirmation of our own of the story’s veracity, and one doesn’t see much coverage of things US Marines or British infantrymen have tattooed on their chests or arms. And yet T-shirts worn by Israeli soldiers were newsworthy in the eyes of one of the world’s most powerful news organizations. This was because we sought to hint or say outright that Israeli soldiers were war criminals, and every detail supporting that portrayal was to be seized upon. Much of the international press corps covered the T-shirt story. At around the same time, several Israeli soldiers were quoted anonymously in a school newsletter speaking of abuses they had supposedly witnessed while fighting in Gaza; we wrote no fewer than three separate stories about this, although the use of sources whose identity isn’t known to reporters is banned for good reason by the AP’s own in-house rules. This story, too, was very much one that we wanted to tell. By the time the soldiers came forward to say they hadn’t actually witnessed the events they supposedly described, and were trying to make a point to young students about the horrors and moral challenges of warfare, it was, of course, too late.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

No change

I don’t suppose everyone will have watched all the Holocaust memorial programmes as assiduously as we have (chez Sue) There are several reasons why I felt compelled to watch every one. First, I wanted to know as much as possible about this unique historical event out of curiosity about ‘man’s inhumanity to man‘ and so on. Also, I couldn’t help switching on my  - what’s the equivalent of ‘gaydar’ - you know, the antennae that twitches at the whiff of anti-Israel propaganda.  Thirdly, I wondered how the BBC’s  coverage would stack up in comparison to ITV / Channel 4’s.

One thing I did learn, something I hadn’t fully realised before, was how thoroughly Hitler’s propaganda machine had succeeded in making ordinary German people regard Jews as subhuman. I mean literally. It wasn’t as if they saw them as subversive, threatening, greedy malevolent people. They actually stopped regarding them as people. Not human beings at all. 
I’m wondering how many Muslims are affected by this sort of psychological manipulation. After all, there are numerous videos of radical Islamist preachers  translated by Memri showing that they regard Jews as ‘apes and pigs‘ despicable and subhuman.  

I still feel a frisson of alarm at the way all Holocaust-related remarks must now be seen to be inclusive. There have indeed been other atrocities, genocides, massacres and examples of inhumanity, which we must all reflect upon and grieve over.  Somehow, though, we are all scared to let the callous and calculated attempt to dispose of a whole ‘people’ and a specific racial prejudice that has never been fully explained, be considered unique. But it is.
The coverage of the Holocaust memorial day was pretty damned good. But I don’t think for one moment that it will make the slightest difference to the flibbertygibbet BBC.


Here’s something that kind of makes my point for me. (Thanks H/P.) The BBC, in its ratings-driven quest for exciting telly, has elected to invite George Galloway to appear on Question Time on February 5th. Imagine! It’s coming from Finchley, and even the Guardian recognises that this is at the very least ‘insensitive’. 

We all know that Galloway refused to debate with an Israeli, and that he called for Bradford to be an Israeli-free zone, so any Galloway supporters who claim that opponents of their hero’s forthcoming Q. T. appearance are trying to suppress ‘free speech’ haven’t got a leg to stand on. But they’re still trying. 

The slimy toad is astute enough to tailor-make his QT appearances to suit the occasion. For Q T, and Q.T. alone, he generally poses as the voice of reason, which doesn’t actually make for excitement. 
The BBC says:
“Whilst Mr Galloway’s views are entirely his own, as an MP he has a right to appear on the programme and has done so previously. Subjects for discussion are chosen by our audience ahead of each show and this edition of Question Time will be no different.”

Gene at H/P has suggested we bombard the BBC with the suggestion that they invite Eylon Aslan-Levy on to the panel. Now that would make exciting telly.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

The time will never come

Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest? asks the BBC. 
I can think of many other “Is the time coming?” subjects worth questioning, and many other institutions of whom ‘laid to rest’ would be a good basis for a TV debate.

This very question seems outrageous and insulting. Laying the Holocaust to rest means what, exactly? Putting it behind you? Shrugging it off?

On the audio version (BBC World service) of ‘BBC Trending’,  the presenters playfully explored the best pitch to voice “Shake it off”.  The higher the better, they decided, falsetto, with the shaking-hand gesture. ‘I just shake it off. You insulted me, but I Couldn’t Care Less”. Water off a duck’s back. Ha ha. 

Is that what the BBC is suggesting? The world has had enough, and it’s time to shrug off the Holocaust and ‘move on’?

It seems to me that with regard to the Holocaust, the BBC is out of its depth, and its attempt to tackle this subject exposes the BBC’s superficiality like no other.  But they plunged in, with a nice provocative Big Question. It was par for the course. A dumbed down approach aimed at a dumb audience. 

I know people who are well-informed, liberal and intelligent, but they sincerely believe, through too much Guardian, that Zionists and Jews invoke the Holocaust to shut down debate; they feel sorry for themselves because they’re ‘not allowed’ to criticise Israel without being thought antisemitic, which they insist  they’re not. They say Zionists and Jews exploit the Holocaust to defend the brutality of Israel, and to that end Zionists and Jews have created something called ‘the Holocaust Industry.’ 
It’s double ironic, in that the actual Holocaust was an industry. The extermination of Jews on an industrial scale using industrial methods. The Holocaust was unique for this, if nothing else. For certain people, whom I know, it is time to lay the Holocaust to rest. Then they can get on with vilifying Israel and muttering that the Jews, of all people, haven’t learned their lesson.

Of course The actual Big Question didn’t tackle the question that was posed in their sensationalist header. Instead they spent some time on a ‘suffering’ contest while saying that they didn’t want such a contest, but ‘other’ Holocausts mustn’t be forgotten, as though that negated the need for commemorating the ‘Jewish’ Holocaust.

The Big Question wasn’t, for once, stuffed with men with beards and women in headscarves. Several familiar figures were on the front row. TBQ staIwarts, Angela Epstein Laura Janner Klausner and  Peter Tatchell, all present and correct and raring to go.
Angela Epstein is a confident speaker, and she opened the discussion fluently but she didn’t get to the heart of the matter.

I don’t think the format of TBQ was conducive to getting to the heart of the matter in the first place. Too many people with conflicting agendas, and as Hadar Sela asked in her article, why did they need to bring in an anti-Zionist, BDS-supporting proponent of the notion of the establishment of Israel as a project of “settler-colonialism” to appear on the panel of the edition of their programme advertised as part of the BBC’s Holocaust Memorial Season.

It’s not a subject that can be hatched and dispatched in an hour, by so many people with so many conflicting agendas. Since the ‘laid to rest’ part of the question turned out to be mere ‘click bait‘ the discussion concentrated solely on the uniqueness or otherwise of the (Jewish) Holocaust.   What was not addressed in the programme was the uniqueness of antisemitism. The reason for antisemitism has stumped almost everyone who has seriously attempted to define it, so a superficial argument between a squabbling panel of pundits isn’t likely to fare much better.
 The Holocaust survivor, Iby Knill, spoke movingly. There were two highlights. The Muslim woman who spoke honestly about the antisemitism she was surrounded with as she grew up, and the child of Holocaust survivors who spoke eloquently and movingly of her father’s magnanimous attitude after his liberation. Both were given a well deserved round of applause.  

One  could all too easily dismiss Tom Lawson as a simpleton for arguing that the Holocaust should be put into context and redefined as a common or garden genocide on the  grounds that he looked, sounded and quacked like your typical university lecturer; an ill-informed lefty with underlying antisemitic and overtly pro Palestinian tendencies. 
But he is not an ignoramus. He might well be an admirable historian and lecturer. He teaches students! He has written a book, which got good reviews, and was described as 'scholarly'.  He must have watched the films we’ve watched over the last few days - the war-time recollections of Freddy Knoller, the horrific and unspeakable brutality in Night will Fall and Claude Lanzmann’s marathon-length film Shoah. Could he really have seen those films, studied the literature and examined Germany’s political and religious history? The rise of Hitler? Could he have read, for example Clive James’s powerful, highly critical review of the book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen? Clive James describes  the way Goldhagen obscures meaning by mangling language.
 “A ‘cognitive model of ontology’ is probably your view of the world, or what you believe to be true; and ‘ideational formation’ is almost certainly an idea; when people ‘conceptualize’ we can guess he means that  they think; when they ‘enunciate’ we can guess he means that they say; and if something ‘was immanent in the structure of cognition’ we can guess it was something that everybody thought.” 
I imagine Tom Lawson inhabits Goldhagen’s world.

A couple of vivid excerpts from Clive James’s essay:
“The Nazis didn’t just allow a lethal expression of vengeful fantasy; they rewarded it. They deprived a readily identifiable minority of German citizens of their citizenship, declared open season on them, honoured anyone who attacked them, punished anyone who helped them, and educated a generation to believe that its long-harboured family prejudices had the status of a sacred mission. To puzzle over the extent of the cruelty that was thus unleashed is essentially naïve. To marvel at it, however, is inevitable, and pity help us if we ever become blasé about the diabolical landscape whose contours not even Goldhagen’s prose can obscure, for all his unintentional mastery of verbal camouflage. [...]
“Very few among the innocent people they shot into mass graves were spared the most vile imaginable preliminary tortures. The standard scenario in a mass shooting was to assemble the victims first in the town centre, keep them there for a long time, terrorize them with beatings and arbitrarily selective individual deaths, and thus make sure the survivors were already half dead with thirst and fear before flogging them all the way to the disposal site, where they often had to dig their own pit before being shot into it. It was thought normal to kill children in front of their desperate mothers before granting the mothers the release of a bullet. The cruelty knew no limits but it didn’t put new recruits off. If anything, it turned them on: granted, which the author does not grant, they needed any turning on in the first place.”

How could Tom Lawson know all that, yet maintain that the Holocaust was ‘not unique.’ 
Does academia addle the brain with too much conceptualizing and putting things into context?
Does academic über-analysis play havoc with one’s sense of proportion?
Or is it plain old antisemitism? 

 A while ago there was a letter in a newspaper from the head of a local Mosque entitled ‘We must never forget the Holocaust’. It was published to coincide with that year’s Holocaust memorial day. This Imam wished to be thought righteous for speaking out against the boycott previously imposed, but subsequently lifted by Muslim leaders, and he wished it to be known that this year he would be commemorating.  One word was absent from his sermon.  Of course it was ‘Jew’ (and derivatives thereof) 
He couldn’t bring himself to utter it. His commemoration was dedicated to ‘all Holocausts”.

I have to say that the BBC’s coverage of Holocaust memorial day has been exemplary. The BBC never was prejudiced against the persecuted emaciated, pyjama clad Jew, It’s the healthy wealthy and wise ones they don’t warm to. 
I have noticed that some of the speakers at today’s commemoration touched on the rising antisemitism that is happening currently, and one man even spoke of the vilification of Israel. 

I’m not optimistic that anything will change at the BBC. Sad to say, they’re too much in the thrall of Islam.